This I Believe

Michael - Houston, Texas
Entered on May 26, 2008
Age Group: 30 - 50

Teaching is hard. Every year the newness of a new year wears off by mid-September and then it’s eight months of a grueling uphill battle. I know Sisyphus’ frustration. I question often whether or not it’s worth it, all the work and sweat to try and teach my students mathematics. They don’t get it. They don’t study. They don’t have an inquisitive bone in their bodies. They don’t do their homework. How can I teach them anything if they don’t respond to my efforts with effort of their own? If only my students knew just a little what I go through to provide them with quality instruction maybe then they might start to appreciate. The little things are countless. I write recommendation letters with maybe a “thanks”. I bake cookies once and never hear the end of why don’t I bake more? I create engaging lessons about planets following elliptical orbits and ocean tides modeled by trigonometric functions and volumes of solids revealed through revolution, integration, and play-doh and my students are too busy texting their friends to notice. The only thing they complain about more than tests and homework is an alternative assessment to tests and homework. The year is long and by the end I am so battered and bruised and tired that I wonder why I do this. I feel ineffective. I feel like my students stopped listening. I feel like I am not making the difference I had set out to.

But then a funny thing happens on the way to the prom. I’m a little bitter giving up yet another precious weekend night to chaperone. The bitterness is eased by my lovely English-teacher girlfriend on my arm. From the second we arrive we are mobbed by student after student wanting to say hi. They are very interested in meeting my date. They express their surprise that I hadn’t in fact Photoshopped her into the photo of us sitting on my desk. They approach her with a “hi Sarah, nice to finally meet you. We’ve heard all about you. You really have a lot of work to do with Mr. Vogel’s grammar.” Just when you think they never listen to a word you say. And as they turn to me, say hi, give me a hug with their eyes sparkling for the first time since the first day of school, I see something in that moment. I see the relief in a very long year drawing to an end. I see genuine care and respect and admiration where I swear I saw nothing but contention and apathy and disinterest. And I see gratitude. I see that simple little thank-you I’ve wanted to hear all year. Thank-you for caring. Thank-you for all the hard work. Thank-you for teaching me the Quadratic Formula. Thank-you for being a teacher. Thank-you for being my teacher. I exchange all the heartache and headache of this year, past years, and years to come for this. Teaching is hard. And it is all worth this one moment. This I believe.