On the first day of school, despite being dressed in professional clothing, I was stopped by a school safety officer the second I walked toward my classroom. Let’s face it: standing at a whopping 5 feet 5 inches with an acne-sprinkled face, it was obvious I look like the high school students I would be teaching.
Many people mocked me for going into teaching: “You still look like a kid,” they would snicker. “How are you going to teach these teens when you’re smaller than they are?”
I’ve always said size does not matter; the knowledge that teachers impart has a greater impact in the classroom. Any concerns I had about teaching students so close to my age faded during a recent discussion in my 11th-grade English class.
In the first days of school, a number of my students were either too shy or too brazen, constantly flashing their cellphones around. But my students’ attitudes suddenly changed days into our unit on F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “The Great Gatsby.” When I asked my students, “How would you tell your crush about your feelings toward him or her?” multiple hands sprung up and the cellphones disappeared. The quietest students in the class were leaping from their seats as they tried to get my attention.
I promptly called on the usually silent student in the back corner. “Miss,” he said nonchalantly, “you gotta slide in those DMs.” The others looked on in agreement, nodding and high-fiving each other as if they knew a secret language.
Some students caught my perplexed expression.
“What are you talking about?” I asked. The class stared at me in total disbelief.
“Missssss,” a student screeched. “You don’t know ’bout Instagram?” The students shared gasps and oohs.
“She looks 16, but she’s like O-D 50,” someone whispered as giggles filled the room. Suddenly, despite my young appearance, I seemed like a dinosaur to them.
“Teach me, then,” I said, a grin spreading across my face.
The next 20 minutes seemed to fly by as the students took turns telling me how to “slide in those DMs,” which I later discovered meant “send a direct message” to someone on Instagram.
According to the class, this is how to show your affection in the modern teenage culture:
Step 1: Have an Instagram account with mad (many) followers.
Step 2: Follow your crush and hope that he or she follows you back.
Step 3: Like and comment on three (no more, no less) of your crush’s pictures. One of the pictures should be a “TBH” (to be honest) post that explains what your crush is looking for in a relationship.
Step 4: Your crush must like and comment on three of your posts.
Step 5: Slide in the DMs.
Upon learning this, I laughed. When I shared how I had once spoken to my crush — now my fiancé — in person, the room burst into fits of hysterical laughter.
“You can physically talk to your crush,” I said. “I mean, it isn’t like Jay Gatsby slid into his crush’s DMs … Instagram didn’t exist then.”
Students started to flip through pages of the book, begging to read “The Great Gatsby” to find out what Gatsby’s story was. When the bell rang, I nearly had to pry the books from their hands. As they left the room, a few of them came up to thank me and say how much they looked forward to the next day’s class.
At the end of the day, I might look like a teenager, but the experiences I’ve had and the ability to captivate my students with interesting ideas will take my students on an adventure I hope they do not soon forget.