Last week several encounters reminded me of why I chose to spend my career teaching and learning with young adults. First, the articulate students arguing for meaningful curbs for violence moved the needle more than adults ever have. Their fierce determination to make the world safe for all students inspired me. Their courage and resilience kept them from backing down in the face of adversity. Their unwillingness to be silenced helped to bring about change.
And they reminded me of the students who had inspired me as I fought to help establish Gay/Straight Alliances in my district. They, too, refused to back down. Their articulate demands, their fortitude, and their mutual support inspired me. Because of them I did not back down. Because of them, the GSAs are still going 18 years later.
And I had three delightful encounters with former students. On Tuesday night one of them joined my writing group. She and I had reconnected before – in fact, I blogged about her in “What’s Behind the Mask?” She contributed to our rich discussion so effectively. When I smiled and said, “You must have had good English teachers,” she replied, “But, of course.” I’m delighted that she’s decided to join us. The next morning I finally had a much delayed coffee date with the former student I’d blogged about in “Relationships Are a Two-way Street.” The delays had been my fault, but the wait was worth it as I discovered this vibrant young woman as an adult with an interesting life and entertaining stories. I look forward to seeing her again, too. And the very next day I saw, as I so often do, yet another former student as I checked in a friend at the gym. This lovely young woman and I first connected there in a Zumba class, and she now works the front desk. Every time she’s there when I check in, her smile of encouragement inspires me to work out well.
I always hated the old joke that the three best reasons to teach are “June, July, and August.” I used to think my reaction stemmed from the work I did most summers: curriculum work, reading new materials, teaching teachers about problem-based learning. And I resented the way it diminished the unreasonable pace of the school year which made some summer time recovery a necessity. I now realize, however, that my antipathy stems most of all from its diminishment of what really matters, the students. They provide the real payoff for teachers.
I became a teacher to impact students, and I hope I did. I expected to teach them, and I did. But the true gift of being a teacher comes from learning from students and the many ways they impacted me. Reminders of those lessons filled my life last week. I feel incredibly lucky to have spent my professional life with students.