I Believe in Don Quixote
When I was twenty-one years old and about to graduate with a Bachelor’s degree in English, the question I heard most often was, “So, what do you plan to do next … teach?” Although in the last five years I have realized that this question was less insult and more honest bewilderment, at the time I responded as if the questioner was suggesting I take my diploma to the streets and panhandle—an option I later discovered might actually have been more lucrative than most entry-level jobs available to recent college graduates with liberal arts degrees.
Thrusting my chin out angrily, I would respond the same way: “I can do so much more than just teach.” Implicit in this statement was the idea that teaching was for suckers. I had always enjoyed school and would even admit that it was my high school teachers who encouraged me to study English in college. Despite my enormous respect for the nobility of the profession, however, it seemed to me that choosing to become a teacher at the beginning of the twenty-first century was fundamentally absurd. The hassles and potential dangers of attempting to teach young people while a culture of mediocrity and violence seem to be taking over our schools often overshadow the rewards, even when you take into account the luxurious summer vacations.
Despite initially scoffing at the profession, after a series of serendipitous events, I somehow wound up in a high school classroom. And although I am no longer a student, it is I who have learned an important lesson: Teaching may be a frustrating, thankless, exhausting job, but it is what I want to do. In the last five years, I have learned to believe in teachers.
I have learned to believe in the people who enter this profession and stick with it despite the countless reasons to step aside, to give up, to find something easier with a better paycheck.
I have learned to believe in teachers because, despite the constant and inevitable griping that seems to take place in every faculty room at every school, most of us are secretly optimists. We wouldn’t continue teaching if we weren’t. We show up every day to face an often reluctant, sometimes downright hostile, audience. We struggle to make our subjects relevant to kids who’d rather be listening to their I-Pods, texting their friends, or sleeping. We attempt to create relationships with adolescents who have learned to mistrust all adults, many with good reason. And sometimes we are lucky enough to have a real impact, however slight, on the life of a young person. That’s why we do it—because we believe we can help our students.
I have learned to believe in the idealists tilting crazily at windmills, the people who have committed themselves to helping students fight the “impossible” fight, to encouraging adolescents to dream “impossible” dreams. I believe in teachers because teachers believe in their students.
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