This I Believe

Nina - High Falls, North Carolina
Entered on June 27, 2007

I believe in the simple joys that are found in high school graduation.

As I sat on a football field one Friday evening a few weeks ago, I was fortunate to participate in one of life’s best moments. As the sun went down (picture perfect, of course)behind the pine trees that line our field in northern Moore County, North Carolina, I finally stopped and just watched what was going on around me. Happy people were everywhere…pure and simple. All of the paperwork was done, the grades were in, and the grandparents and aunts and uncles had arrived for cookouts, gift-giving, and a momentous occasion. Good old-fashioned family moments were being played out everywhere, and only once a year does this happen with such simple, loving joy at high schools everywhere.

This night reminded me, once again, why I became a teacher. There are no feelings like the ones experienced on graduation evenings, and I am thankful for them.

You see, I have been teaching high school for thirty-one years. During that time I have seen a number of educational trends and ideologies come and go, yet I have stayed with teaching even when constantly confronted with the bad news that I was participating in a failed mission. Teachers must endure hearing from the politicians and the media how schools are failing, only to witness real progress, imaginative learning, and the success of our students every day in our own classrooms. Sometimes, as a teacher, I wonder how many classrooms the politicians and the media actually visit before writing their “failure” stories. Of course, there is room for improvement in all schools, public and private, but that can be said for everything that exists, politics and media included. Until society cleans up its act, schools will reflect whatever ills are present. The “gloom and doom” crowd just needs to stop talking and go to school. Writing about what goes on in school and teaching school are very different, I have observed. I thought about this as the happy reality of those green and gold gowns floated toward their seats on that football field.

Our schools are so much more successful than the media reports. This I believe because of all those Friday nights I have been privileged to experience high school graduations. I am weary of people who refuse to acknowlege success, and I consider myself fortunate to be a daily witness to the realities that being a teacher affords.

Every student has his or her own story, and I thought of those stories as I saw each one walk across the stage because, you see, I know my students. Some graduated in spite of alcoholic parents who abandoned them; some have been working since they were fourteen because their parents are unemployed. Some have triumphed over incredibly debilitating learning disabilities, yet they graduated. What I witnessed was not a failed endeavor in any way. What I witnessed was the culmination of a successful organization’s efforts, one filled with caring teachers and administrators who made sure that these students received their diplomas.

Such a pure, simple joy could not exist in a failed environment, and next year when I see or hear from my former students in their jobs and at their colleges, their excitement and their stories will again remind me of just how successful we were together.

This I believe as I start my thirty-second year of teaching and as I prepare for another high school graduation. I wouldn’t miss it for the world.