The beautiful thing about my job is that everyday I have an opportunity to be on the front lines of this next generation, and try to take who they are and shape that raw substance into what they will eventually become long after they leave my classroom. As much as I absolutely love doing this, there is also a heartbreaking aspect to teaching. I have so many 13-14 year old minds who have already given up on life, content to live defeated lives with no hope for a better tomorrow. I have students who, for whatever reason, have already decided life is not worth living, that education is not the key to a brighter future, but an instrument of their demise formulated by “da man” just to keep them from doing whatever loaf-ish things they want to do.
I refuse to accept that. I don’t blame parents, well totally. I grew up in a time where my teachers and others around me became joint investors into what I would eventually become. If I misbehaved, I not only had to worry about my parents finding out, but also everyone in my parent’s circle. These were the professionals who owned businesses, who held both white and blue collar jobs. These were the individuals who always stopped to ask me how I was doing, and were not content with my answer until I could give them a “real” response, not some rote slogan that we become conditioned to say.
As a teacher, I feel accountable to the future for what I am sending it’s way. I feel accountable to God, who has gifted me with all of these young minds to mold and to love. I feel accountable to my family, who have educated in various avenues for years. I can’t hide my head in the sand and just allow things to happen in my class that I know will lead to destructive futures. I am not simply a teacher. On some days, I am a parent. On other days, I am a “friend” (though, I hesitate to say that word because people freak out at the mere mention that a teacher could actually be a responsible friend to a child). On some days, I am a counselor. My official job description is teacher, but I told my students on the very first day of school that my job is to prepare them for life, even more than it is to teach them whatever content the government dictates they learn. This is why I spend so much time talking to them. I need to know what makes them tick. I need to know what makes them sad, or happy. They are such a ball of emotions and hormones at this age, that any outlet we can provide for them to find proper means of expression is sure to be of some benefit.
I allow them to see my failings. I freely make mistakes in front of them, so that they can see what real accountability looks like, but also so that they can see that if we aren’t making mistakes, then we aren’t trying to get better. I talk about what life was like for me in junior high, when I was bullied to tears almost everyday, but through all of that discovered that I had some kind of gift for expressing myself in words. I talk about my “hood”, and the violence that I saw and heard, and about how my parents and others shielded me from that kind of life. Then I tell them that because I made it, they HAVE to make it. In my class there is no CAN’T. There is only WON’T. I accept no excuses. I accept no lies. We are truth dealers and we deal with the consequences of whatever our truths are.
So I fight. Everyday. These are lives that I must preserve, but not just me. You! You who are surrounded by students. You who see the same kids everyday, even if they are not your own. Buy some stock in this generation. They need investors who are willing to get their hands dirty and work them until they provide the kind of ROI that shapes this world for the best. They can do it. They just need our help.