I used to be one of ‘them’. I often sat blankly as the ‘I’ spoke about our history, and attempted to make connections to today …. make it relevant for the ‘them’. I sat as the ‘me’.
I was the one that didn’t challenge myself, the one that drifted by. I was never challenged either, so it was a cyclical nature.
Every week now ‘my’ high school history class now listens to ‘I believe’ statements and ‘we’ discuss societal connections and influences. I now see life through this medium …. their life, my life, our life. I believe in ‘them’. They discuss, they listen, they argue, they absorb our society, our culture …. and ‘I’ learn from ‘them’. I try to imagine myself in the classroom with them, and I fear what I would have done. Would I have challenged myself? Would I have drifted by? Would they have allow that? I see the answer in their faces, their comments, their questions, their passion and their honesty. I see their answer in their eyes. I know now I cannot afford to get by, cannot afford to hide, cannot afford to drift. Today it’s different. My new classroom is the one ‘I’ am supposed to be in charge of. The roles have changed. Or have they? I would argue they have not. Everyday, I am still the student. ‘I’, as the teacher, am the one learning from ‘them’ …. the students. My classroom challenges me as I have never been challenged before in the classroom. I no longer can just ‘get by’. I can no longer not challenge myself. If I don’t, they will know it. They will see it in my eyes. I can no longer hide, and I love it.
When I was in college I took a jazz history course …. mostly to get by. I saw it as an opportunity to learn a little jazz, and get a credit on way to a degree … a piece of paper to me at the time. In the class, we had guest speaker / performer that sampled improvisation on the saxophone. The man, an older gentlemen, was passionate in the way he held the horn, the way he pushed the note through the horn, and the way he spoke of his own passion for the horn. He was ‘me’ that day, and I will forever remember his final words as I sat there as a ‘them’. When asked how, after approx. 45 years of playing how he kept motivated and passionate about his practice, his reply was simple. He believed that his best was yet to come. He truly felt that he was just hitting his peak, and strived to get better everyday. I take that lesson to the classroom as a teacher. I look to creatively motivate and teach ‘them’, while ‘I’ myself integrate as ‘them’. I need to have the passion of that man on the saxophone. I need to continuously strive for my peak. ‘They’ are my saxophone, and I strive to show ‘them’ theirs.
Every day I walk into the classroom, I see ‘me’, and feel it my duty to grab ‘myself’, challenge ‘myself’, and connect with ‘myself’. Every day I walk into the classroom, I both fear and love the challenge and the pressure that I must rise above mediocrity, not for legislative accountability, not for myself and my attempt to be successful or the love of my profession, but for ‘them’ ….. because I used to be one of ‘them’, and in the end, feel I always will be. For this want and need as an educator, I do not thank my education. I do not thank my school. I do not thank NCLB. I thank ‘them’ …. I believe in ‘them’. I believe they will demand this. I believe they will demand it from themselves, and I believe they will demand it from me.
If you enjoyed this essay, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to This I Believe, Inc.