Thursday, July 2, 2015

Why I Teach...

Teaching: It’s not a career—it’s a lifestyle…

As I sit and ponder @MrsDSings’ blog challenge “Why Teach?” I am overwhelmed by memories, thoughts, feelings. I will do my best to sift through the chaff and present you with wheat.
I unabashedly and unreservedly believe in the power of education to change lives. I believe in those epiphanies when the little ember of learning is fanned into life and becomes the flame carried by a life-long learner. I get high on those “a-ha” or “eureka!” moments. Those moments are my drug. I truly get an adrenaline rush from class discussion, those unplanned teaching moments, from walking around and talking one-on-one with students, from winning students over to the “Dark Side” of reading for pleasure. Last time I “performed” Patrick Henry’s “Speech to the Second Virginia Convention,” I was so pumped, I had to pace around the room to work off the adrenaline (the students thought it was hilariously awesome or awesomely hilarious).

Let me add a quick disclaimer: I am not perfect. I have made some big mistakes in my teaching career, but with everything in me, I know this is what I was born to do.

I won’t romanticize the career: it (along with parenting and marriage) is the hardest thing I have ever tackled. There have been days when I did not want to get out of bed; days where I questioned my job, my choices, my career, my sanity, my life’s journey; days where I have curled up in the fetal position and cried because my heart was broken for my students (and to a lesser degree, myself), days where I thought any job must be better and easier than teaching spoiled little brats who didn’t give a damn about anything except their weekend plans.

But then…I read Othello with my “at-risk” students, and we discuss current implications of racism and discrimination and evil.

But then…my “at-risk” students realize they aren’t second-class citizens—they matter as much as anyone. And, currently several of them are married, with children, and working on their college degrees.

But then…I have a Black student loudly curse me out in class. But I refuse to treat him like a problem or stereotype. I treat him like the human he is--a human who is having a bad day and needs to rant-- and we become friends, and at 20 years old he walks across that stage to get his high school diploma.

But then…I co-teach with a special education teacher so we can include more students with disabilities in the regular ed classroom. We allow homogenous grouping and see those “special needs” students become leaders and push other special needs students to work harder and strive for better.

But then…that atheist student thanks me for standing up for him, especially since he knows I’m a Christian. He tells me it’s the first time a teacher told the class we would respect all beliefs and not treat anyone disrespectfully.

But then…I see that student who has struggled with reading and writing for his/her entire school career finally understand a piece of literature because we read it in class and discussed it together, or he/she successfully wrote an essay for the first time (and the student is in 11th or 12th grade).

But then…that student who never thought he/she was good enough for college realizes he/she actually could go and be successful. And he/she finds comfort in the knowledge I will help in any way I humanly can. 

But then…I hold a student’s head in my lap as she fights throwing up: a scary thought as her jaws are wired shut. I must be prepared to snip the wires so she doesn’t choke on her vomit—and I continue giving the rest of the class background on The Crucible. Later, I hold that same student’s hair back while she dry heaves in a trash can at my desk, while leading a class discussion.

But then…I buy extra snacks to keep in my classroom so my students know they can come to me for food (or band-aids or cough drops or a place to cry or rant or talk through an issue).

But then…that student comes to me because he/she has been molested and wants help taking action, and for some reason that student trusts me.

But then…a student comes to me because he has thought about killing himself, and he needs help. And again, as my heart is ripped from my chest, he trusts me to help.

But then…that student shyly asks me to read his/her poetry. Of course I agree, but I’m not looking forward to it. But I sit down and read this student’s soul poured onto paper. Who cares if it’s “good”? It is beautiful and real and brings me to my knees.

But then…that student tells me she is actually transgender but wants me to still use feminine pronouns because part of his family doesn’t know, and he can’t be open and honest in his community. And I take that student out to eat, and there’s an agonizing moment when he ponders the backlash and tries to decide which bathroom to use. Like a mother bear I firmly state, “You choose which one you want. I will defend your choice to anyone who says anything.” Again, I wonder what it is in me that inspires confidences and trust.

But then…I take a student to buy clothes to prepare for college. I also buy her make-up and give her lessons because mom has never been around. We discuss why I will not allow her to wear band-aid colored bras! J

But then…each graduation rolls around, and I cry bittersweet tears knowing I will no longer have that daily contact with my babies.

I teach because I know students need reading and writing. They need to learn effective communication to be successful on any path they choose. They need to learn about the big, wide world full of possibilities and dreams and beauty. They also need to know about the ugliness and hatred and discrimination—and how to fight those things. I teach so each student knows he/she matters. I regularly tell my students, “You were unique simply by being born. Each of you has a place and a voice in this world.

I do not share these anecdotes to laud myself. Rather I share one teacher’s experiences among many. I get embarrassed when people thank me or compliment my teaching because I am simply doing my job—what all teachers should be doing, every day, in every classroom, for EVERY student. We should be leading the charge against discrimination and making sure all students are heard. That is why I teach.

I am not worthy, but every single day I strive to be my best so I am worthy of this highest of callings: educating each one of my precious babies.