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Monday, September 1, 2008

Why I teach

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.


Weeble Girl said...

There are many reasons why we teach but the most important one is one you touched on today; we care and we are willing to show that caring to our students.

People who don't teach may not ever understand how difficult it can be for us to reach out and give of ourselves day after day, with rarely any positive comments or reflections from people around us coming our way.

We teach because there is something inside us, some spark that begs to be lit and carried forth in the hopes that someone, even just one child, will light his or her torch from ours.



You hit the nail on the head.

Sometimes it is so very difficult to continuously reach out and within each child to find that spark which can grow and spread.

The moment a student takes that first wobbly step and tests his footing and balance is an exciting one. And it's a gift to be witness to those first awkward steps.

Congratulations on helping those young minds to learn how to walk on their own.

Jen said...

That is such a beautiful story, Nadja. Everything you write is always so genuine with no pretense. I must say too that most people are not suitable to be teachers, and it takes a certain quality to want people to learn. I don't have that quality, and I envy it in others. I also notice that you and Lisa both nurture other bloggers' feelings and encourage them. That is why you guys are teachers.

Denver Refashionista said...

Thanks for all the insight and encouragement ladies. I can tell you get it.

Merely Me said...

oh my goodness...i just want to hug you up. you are so sweet...and so genuine. teaching is wonderful for those special moments.

you are a great teacher for the very fact that you love it so. you are making a difference!

you are inspiring me to get more excited over my new teaching year at home with my son. i used to teach a lot of people with special needs and now i just have one student. it is fun. one thing i am addicted to is buying school supplies.

anyways...great post!

Kim said...

Nadja, you are such a blessing to your students! I wish there were more teachers with your compassion in our schools. Thank you!

P.S. I changed the kimmiloo blog to

Xenu said...

Judging by what you've written here, in this entry, you are an amazing teacher.

Thank you for giving and for working to make a positive difference in the lives of children and young adults.


Denver Refashionista said...

Thanks Merely. I bet your son has the best supplies on the planet!

Denver Refashionista said...

Kim, I'll update your link later today. Thanks.

Denver Refashionista said...

Thanks Ms. Xenu. Helping others and doing a good job at it is what really floats my boat and keeps me going even in hard times.

pat said...

You remind me of a teacher I had in high school.When I look back to see my healthy influences and why I do the work I do, I see her handwriting on my life. You seem to have the unique talent to leave that mark too. One which will speak to many generations beyond your own. I see a selflessness about your work which carries the viltalty of change.You are a divine domino Nadja.It's that strong warrior spirit I saw in your blogs fighting the good fight.

Serina said...

What a great post! I'm sure you are a great teacher. The kids are lucky to have you.
I heard a principal that goes to my church once say that it was easy to teach "Sweet Suzy", but the true measure of a great teacher are those who reach out to the kids that don't already "have it all", and the ones the really need that extra attention

Denver Refashionista said...

Pat your words encourage me.

Denver Refashionista said...

Serena- you are so right. I love to teach the sweet, respectful kids who want to learn. I teach the others because I hope they will choose a good path and that school will help them achieve their dreams.

pat said...

Good, because courage REQUIRES witness. Without the medal, who can call courage a virtue? We muddle through,don't we? Stumbling, groping along,feeling the wall with our blunted fingertips, just dying to know if we're connecting.This I can say with certainty; you are a citizen of Oz! Unveiling the curtain to a young generation, and having them love what they see.