I used to believe that my job rendered no results. This changed one random Wednesday morning (the day that, to me, seems like it should just be taken off the calendar) when I walked into my classroom and began my usual routine. I opened the door and crossed the dark classroom to turn on the lights, illuminating 30 empty seats. On my way to turn on my computer, I noticed a little yellow sticky note that read, “Ms. Zeman, you have taught me to love reading.”
I sat stunned. This must have been left after I had gone home. Home to where I sat for hours trying to figure out something, anything that would make them happy and excited to learn–home to where I read books on how to be a better teacher whom they both loved and respected. And now, who cared about morning announcements or the agenda for the faculty meeting? Who cared about what I had thought were wasted hours? Someone had learned to love reading. Maybe it was just one student, but to me, it felt like them all.
Don’t get me wrong. Not every student will appreciate Holden Caulfield, the self-righteous bastard whom I clandestinely admire. Not every student will care about The Salem Witch Trials, The Red Scare, or Edward R. Murrow. Not every student will smile as they finish To Kill a Mockingbird and imagine him as their father. I started teaching hoping that some would, and based on nine simple words, I was now sure that one had.
From an early age I learned that reading was a secret pleasure that could drive you wild with new sensations, thoughts and hopes. I wanted to share that secret and that desire, and so I became an English teacher. Through Nick’s voice in The Great Gatsby I hoped that my students would connect prohibition, the 1928 World Series Scandal, and its effect on today’s capitalistic world. I wanted them to create their own ideas about Afghani-American relations and if who we have become is morally justified. I wanted them to maintain the hard work of learning, but to retain that same joy of reading that I did as a child and still do as an adult. However, the simple fact that I am a teacher sometimes equals in their minds meaningless essays and worksheets. And so I had reached a point where I wondered if my thirty-year debt from graduate school was really worth my perpetual attempts to get them to believe in the power of books.
But with nine simple words left discretely on my desk, I learned that my work is not for nothing. It is for that one, maybe two, maybe three, maybe hundreds of students whom I can possibly teach the love of reading in my next decade of teaching that I continue to open my door and turn on the lights every morning. In this, in them, I believe.
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