I believe in potential. I grew up in a family that could find the beauty in the things that were discarded and neglected. If there was an old rocking chair at a barn sale all it needed was to be stripped and refinished to become a valuable antique. Every dilapidated home was a Victorian beauty just waiting for the right person to come along and restore it. Needless to say I grew up in a house that took 20 years to finish.
I am a 7th grade science teacher. Sometimes as a teacher what you believe in is all you have to hang on to. So this is what I believe in not just as a teacher though it sustains me but as a human being. I believe in potential.
When I tell people I teach middle school I get one of two reactions: usually sympathetic with “you must be a saint” or second “you must be crazy”. Well I’m no saint and I’m just a little crazy. Early puberty can be a miserable time for both the students and the adults who have to interact with them. I have some very focused students but in general many are not interested in studying or any thing long-term. They are more interested in friends and pop-culture. Many are masters of doing everything to do nothing. I have students that are fluent in text messaging but are failing English. They can set up their “My Space” pages with the finesse of a computer engineer but won’t look up their textbook on line to finish a homework assignment. However if you are a sucker for potential like I am then middle school is the place to be. Each student is a beauty under baggy pants, belly shirts, Axe body spray and shinny lip-gloss.
I won’t lie there are days that go by when it’s a battle to get the minimum out of my students and then there are unexpected moments of beauty, compassion and genius that sustain me for months. Like the time my students participated in a fundraiser so we could earn the money for the pain medication for our classroom pet rabbit, Blaze who had cancer. Then all of the hugs and sympathy notes I got when I finally had to put her to sleep. Or the small group projects were they had to research an animal and then write a play or story for 4th graders. One story about Garfunkel the Iguana, a funny ingenious story about an iguana that saves New York City. It had all of the correct information about taxonomy, habitat and behavior blended with a story that was humorous, clever and with comic book like illustrations. Or every time I have a student complain about how difficult a lab is and how they are not smart enough to make it work, then discover the correct process and go on to teach it to their lab partner. Their delight and pride is contagious. I could continue with examples for an hour.
Unlike old furniture or a dilapidated house a person is never finished. The potential is always unfolding and expanding as long as they live. This was difficult for me when I first started teaching. Some times I wondered what the point was if I never got to see my students fully realized. It was a lesson I needed to learn if I was going to be a good teacher. I am one person in a life time of people and events that would have the opportunity to shape the raw potential in my students so they could express the ability, creativity and intelligence that was always there. My hope, that once exposed to their potential they would take ownership of their own ability. My small part in their development gives me enough satisfaction to continue school year after school year. And every now and then a graduate of my classroom comes back to tell me were they are going next, what instruments they play, what classes they love or what college has accepted them. These moments are like bits of gold and I treasure them. I believe in potential and the satisfaction of helping someone reach theirs.
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