Since I was a little girl I wanted to change the world. I have never been able to tolerate the sight of human suffering when I know there is nothing I can do to ease it. That is one of the main reasons I rarely watch or read the news. The sheer pain of the many is more than I can stomach. This does not mean that I am looking away. It means that I prefer to focus on problems I can solve. This is ultimately why I teach. It is rare that the efforts of one person touch a large sphere but the efforts of the many can make real changes. The best thing one individual can do is to inspire changes in others. This can then have a sort of domino effect where ones actions can begin to effect the actions of many people toward great actions. When a leader with truly great humanitarian intentions is able to inspire millions of people to make positive changes, these changes begin to occur as in the case of Ghandi, or Martin Luther King Jr. (my heroes).
I realize that I am no Ghandi but I also realize that I have a natural gift for teaching. I am not a patient person but when I teach, I really can be. I have a great ability for meeting the learner wherever they are and helping them to achieve their potential on any given day. It is not clear how or why I have this ability but it seems that perhaps I was really meant to teach. It does not seem to matter what I teach or who I teach but it is in the role of teacher that I find what is best in me.
Lately I have found it hard to reconnect with what I love about teaching but there have been glimmers. Every day I stand and guard the east hallway of my school during hall sweeps first block where late students are sent to the cafeteria. Every day I see this little (ok, big) fat kid get swept up. He is always breathless and I keep thinking about how he tried so hard to get to class on time, unlike the kids I see sauntering by with their electronic devices and their group of friends. Every time I see him I wonder about him. Does he have friends? What is his life like? Why is he so fat and breathless at such a young age? He never sees me but I almost cry when I imagine that his life might be really hard and sad. Seeing fat kids always makes me feel sad. Strange as it may sound, that is also why I teach. I teach for the kids that are outcast and alone. I teach for the kids who may not see another person smile at them all day except for me.
On Friday my 10th graders read a story called “The Circuit” by Franciso Jimenez. The story helped me remember again why I teach. The narrator of the story was a little Mexican boy who belonged to a family of migrant workers. The family moved from farm to farm picking things. They never knew where their next job would be and the little boy never had a place to call home. He and his siblings often could not attend school for months and they had to hide from the school people so the family would not get in trouble. During the picking season, the little boy worked seven days a week, 12 hours a day. School was his beacon of hope. It was a vacation and an opportunity beyond his difficult life. When he finally got to go it was November. He was behind, had almost forgotten English and he could barely read. He had no friends but the teacher supported and helped him. Near the end of the story, he went to the music room to try playing an instrument and the teacher heard him and offered to start teaching him to play. When he got home, his family was packing up to move again.
I could hardly believe it but I found myself crying about the little boy’s story. My students looked at me in surprise as I cried and read. Finally, through my tears I told them, “This story is so sad. This little boy could be one of you or someone in your family. It is so sad that he wanted to go to school and couldn’t. This is exactly why I am a teacher.”
I was embarrassed by my tears but I also hoped that the story and my emotion would have an impact on my students. I hoped that they would recognize what they really have because this story is the story of the life of so many migrant and illegal immigrants in the United States. At the time, it was hard to gauge their reactions but I noticed that they all did their work afterward and were very well-behaved.
The next day I read their reactions to the story and what do you know, their comments ranged from, “That story was so sad” to “I know a kid like that.” I also got comments like “That is the best story we ever read.” This made me realize something. Even if their comments were designed to illicit my approval, they are actually listening to the things I say. I guess one teacher can really make a difference. Deep down I always knew that but sometimes even teachers need to remember why it is we teach.