This I Believe
When I became a teacher, I hoped that I would change lives. I remembered fine teachers I had known who inspired, touched and motivated me. I thought of characters in films and books like Our Miss Brooks, Stand and Deliver, The Dead Poets Society, Goodbye, Mr.Chips, and The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, who shaped minds and became their pupils’ inspiration, if not exactly their friend. I wanted to teach, and later, to be a mother, because I believe in the future.
Some events came to a confluence in my life that reinforced my belief in what I do. My father-in-law, Art Waters, died recently. As we are told that our parents are our first teachers, I see how he taught my husband to be a caring, temperate, supportive father. When someone chooses to parent or teach, to influence another life, they may do it out of ego, to keep a little part of themselves on this planet after they are gone. Art became a parent out of an impulse of generosity, as a way of sharing his experience and joy with others, watching them fill up with knowledge and life, recharging his own enthusiasm in the process. This is also my goal. It’s a goal I don’t always reach.
My AP English class barely responded to my instruction this year, and I agonized over how to motivate this group of seniors at 6:55 every morning. I tried everything: letting them teach the class, creative projects; I even walked on the desks during a discussion of Waiting For Godot one day. They were, unfortunately, only waiting for graduation. Not much else would move them.
Now, if this were a Hollywood movie, I’d figure out the magic moment that would set them on fire, and we’d all sail off triumphantly into the sunset with the secret of life rolled up like a treasure map under my arm and a pop song playing over the credits. If this were a gritty, cynical 1960’s play, I’d give up and quit teaching, my dreams crushed by my own naivete and my students’ apathy. But this is real life, and as I have learned through experience, we don’t always see immediate results for our efforts. Witness the parent rejected when they try to give their embarrassed teen a hug at the drop-off. That same child hugs gratefully, desperately as they step into the adult world in cap and gown, diploma in hand. My father-in-law often thought he had failed, and did, in fact, fail – as a professional singer, as a chicken rancher – but as he had learned in his youth and as he taught his own children, you get back on the horse after it bucks you off. Art Waters was a success as a parent and a teacher.å
So I will return to school – actually, I am teaching right now. My current students know enough about failure that they have to take remedial class in summer school. The end of the first week looks promising; I think I have seen a few lights go on. Not enough to illuminate a big city, but enough of a spark to inspire hope and encourage me to keep trying.
And tonight, one of my AP seniors phoned, thanking me for making a difference.
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