I believe in fighting, not for the sake of fighting, but for the right cause; I believe in serving my country, but I also believe there are many ways to serve, many battle fronts, some with rocket and gun fire, some with wild fire, and some with the silent battle of will it takes convince a classroom of adolescents they are not defined by their cell phones.
Service has been a tradition in my family; my dad was a Marine Corp Helicopter pilot, serving a tour in Vietnam. His father a Corsair Pilot and career Marine who served in the pacific in WWII, Korea. My mom’s father fought in the Battle of the Bulge as a very young man. My cousin recently returned from a tour in Afghanistan with his Army Airborne division. It was his second; the first was in Iraq. They are all brave, tough men proud of their military service. My grandmothers and my mom, left alone to hold families together for years at a time, now those are some fighters. How they have served.
The military would have been a cop-out for me, especially after moving about five times before the age of six when my dad got out of the Marine Corps. I knew at an early age that I didn’t want anyone telling me where I had to live; I wanted to control that much of my destiny. After college, I caught a break and got hired as a wildland firefighter on a hotshot crew, a specialized fire crew dispatched anywhere in the nation to fight wild fires. This was hard work at times, but mostly a privilege.
Ultimately, I knew I wanted to follow the lead of another family member: my mom. She wasn’t a Marine, didn’t fly helicopters or fighter planes, didn’t fight in the biggest battle in human history, and never dug fire line with trees torching like giant fireworks. She served in a different way: she was a teacher.
Not having quite what it takes to teach elementary school,I became a high school English teacher and wrestling coach. Teaching is a different service with different challenges. I am not in harm’s way like my cousin was in Afghanistan. No one is trying to kill me every day, although the thought may have crossed someone’s mind. Yet I am proud of the challenge I have undertaken and I know I am among brave people who face a tough audience daily, asking unpopular questions: “where are you going in life when you get high before class?,” or “why is it my job to make sure you have something to write with?” or, “why do you think your cell phone is a right rather than a privilege?”
I’ve reached an age of appreciation: some know it as forty. I literally appreciate the hair on my head, as I have a greater sense that it won’t always be there. I appreciate being able to get up every morning and go to work, even when I feel like slapping snooze one more time than I should. I appreciate the opportunity to grade my sophomore’s essays, because amid the fragments and run-ons, the punctuation nightmares, the unfortunate decision a student made to plagiarize, the catsup stain on the title page, there is intelligent thought: compassion for Elie Weisel’s ordeal in Night or even an analytical thought about why there are no girls in Lord of the Flies.
And when the last bell rings, I appreciate being able to put my wrestling shoes on and teach a good single leg. I still appreciate the days when I can go a few live takedowns with a seventeen year old who is twice as fast and agile as me, and yet I have more tricks up my sleeve. Win or lose, I’m still in the scramble, and I’ll be up for the good fight tomorrow (even if it takes a few more Advil than last year). I appreciate being able to serve on my chosen front: the American public school.
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