The other night I awoke at one in the morning and lay tossing and turning for an hour or so. Many things raced through my mind as I tried to find comfort in my twisted sheets, but it wasn’t until I got up in the morning that I realized what really woke me up. Another academic year is over. I have seen my seniors for the last time, and have watched them graduate into the lives they will lead; I have said goodbye to my younger students. This year is a hard one to let go of, but not for the reasons you would think.
I have been teaching for 16 years, and this was the first year I spent any time on the computer searching for another career. This year marked my moment at the crossroads. I looked closely at my teaching, at my students, and at myself and wondered if there was anything else that I could do. I never thought of leaving education entirely, mind you, just pondered where I could be more helpful. Where I could enact the kind of change that would truly make a difference. Because, in so many ways, and for so many reasons, I think we have forgotten that that’s why most of us enter this profession. Yes, the job has changed. We have become data crunchers and curriculum writers, editors, and re-writers. We have become “accountable” to everyone and for everything, and the definition of accountability seems to be constantly in flux. We have been told to raise our standards, make our courses more rigorous, and always to recommend every student for the toughest course possible. Everyone takes AP English, but no one learns how to craft a letter to his boss, or craft a budget. All of these anxieties about EDUCATION as an ideal, about EDUCATION as a concept, frustrated me and angered me throughout the year. I lost two former students to gang violence and blamed it on our schools. I sat through mind numbing professional development and got angrier. Nothing seemed to be helping the students I most wanted to help. What were we really doing here? What was I doing at all?
But today. Today, I think of my students, the ones who struggled and the ones who soared, and I am flooded with joy at my choice of career. I know each of these individuals. Over the year, we have laughed so hard together (mostly at my life’s foibles, which I tend to hold up proudly for them day after day). We have created nick names and in so doing created trust. We have shared some brutally honest moments in discussing our world and ourselves. I have learned toughness from some and compassion from others. And I have watched them work, harder than they thought they could. I have seen them strive. In their last days of school, I saw their pride and I matched it with my own, and I knew finally and completely that I should not be anywhere else, doing anything else. I am exactly where I need to be, and this has been true all along.
Not everyone was born for a profession, but I was born to teach. This is my life’s blood and that more than anything is the lesson of this year. But even passion is a muscle that needs to be stretched. When we get too comfortable, it reminds us through its throbbing pain that attention must be paid. So this summer I will read and revamp and ready myself to attack another year with the emotion and excitement that comes with this renewed dedication to my job. And little by little, the concept and ideals of EDUCATION will change, because so many of us are working from within our classrooms, in our own small ways to make sure that every child within our reach has what he needs to lead a life of excellence (whatever that may look like). It’s worth it to remember that by changing the conversation in my classroom, I am changing the conversation in the world. And that’s enough for this one teacher.