I was always destined to teach. For me, the title was optional, I just always felt the need to help others in some way. As a child, I always wanted to be a super hero, engrossed in comic books that depicted exploits of men and women far more amazing than I, and the battles they encountered every day to make the world a better place. To me, this sounded incredible- saving the world seemed like a very enticing career choice, if only I could leap buildings, soar through the air, or pick up trains without breaking a sweat… However this also felt slightly unrealistic, as I quickly learned that I did not possess any of these special talents beyond ‘reading quickly’, ‘eating without gaining weight’, or ‘waking up early’, and those felt like pretty lame super abilities. Very early on, I decided that even if I wasn’t specially gifted with a superhuman faculty, I still wanted to help others in some way- but how?
Enter my school-age years. In elementary school I quickly learned two things- One, that I had a natural ability to learn and quickly apply that to my schoolwork- meaningI didn’t spend a lot of time studying because school came relatively easy to me. Two, that the passion of a teacher for a subject made all the difference in my interest in learning it as well. These people wield such incredible power to not only inform us, but to inspire us to bigger and better things. Year after year there were always several teacher choices, and my mother, a teacher herself, would often get feedback and request the teacher that she heard was “the best” for one reason or another. And sometimes she was right, and my days were filled with story telling, and experiments, connections and enthusiasm that shined so bright that I could not wait to get back to school the next day. And sometimes she was wrong in her selection- and I spent week after week filling out time-wasting materials intended to help me learn, but completely devoid of any connection to my learning or application to real life. Not surprisingly, the classes where I had a motivating and passionate instructor I thrived, and in the classrooms where worksheets and trivialities dictated the lesson, I struggled. The interesting thing about this however was that I was always a good student, but in some classes I would try harder than others, and in some years I was more passionate about one subject than another. What made the difference- the teacher at the front of the classroom designing our activities each and every day. When they didn’t care, I knew it, and neither did I or many of my classmates. By high school, I realized that I wanted to care, and in my favorite classrooms, I pictured myself at the front of the room, inspiring others just as my teachers had accomplished with me. I knew that someday I wanted to make a difference, and that this would most likely be the place I would do it.
My mother also served as a great inspiration to my early career aspirations- a teacher herself, she spent her days working with small groups of students on recovering missing work, building organizational habits and reteaching fundamental skills. Yes, she was a paraprofessional, without a teaching degree or any college degree for that matter, but so many students succeeded in her tutelage that I quickly learned that credentials mean nothing when you have the ability to reach others and apply lessons to their lives, to make them care about the work they are doing. Her passion and her efforts to help others, despite minimal pay and recognition, convinced me that education was more than a career, it was a calling for special people, and I wanted to be among the few who made a difference.
These lessons helped me to learn that while there are no such things as superhuman beings, superheroes do roam this earth. Men and women who rise before the sun to teach a classroom of learners who may have no motivation, who may have given up because of their own confusion or doubts, who may have circumstances at home that we can’t even imagine. These heroic figures take on a challenge that few would dare attempt, battling daily against forces who do not truly understand their work, yet try and regulate, sterilize and dissect it with curriculum guides, pacing guides, high stakes testing and various other mandates. This impossible challenge may be daunting and it may sometimes feel downright impossible. But these amazing people still stand up, for very little pay amidst challenging circumstances, because they care, not because they don’t have anything better to do. My mentor teacher once told me that his job felt as if he was the lone rock standing on the edge of a cliff, set against a surging waterfall. He knew that all around him, everyone, against their will or not, succumbed to the force of the current. And yet, every day he returned to his job, to stand against these waves of reform, distrust, and despair. Why? ”Because its my calling,” he’d say with a smile on his face. “I choose to do this because I want to help young people learn and grow and think.” This job is difficult, but it isn’t impossible, in fact, it can be incredibly fun and rewarding when one is willing to put in the time and effort.
And that is the challenge facing us today- should we allow ourselves to be taken in by the floods that rage against us and give in to the current, or do we stand up for what we believe in and become those rocks for our students to grab onto when they, too, are unsure of what to do to weather the storm? As former President John F. Kennedy once stated, “We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win.” Making a difference in the world today is not easy to do, which is probably why so many people choose not to pursue such a goal. And never would I surmise that I, alone, can change everything, because I can’t. But success lies in the choices we make and the effort we give to make a difference. I just hope that both in my classroom and through this experiment, I can help to inspire others to do the same. Today, like every day, the choices we make and the effort we give will impact the future. We need to make connections, tell stories, motivate and inspire our next generation of leaders and heroes.