By Alysia D’Urso, Central High School, Providence, RI
As I was winding up my third year in the classroom, I sometimes caught myself wondering why I continue to teach. My reason for becoming a teacher seemed to get lost, or at least overwhelmed, by the daily grind of trivia that is a big part of the world of teaching. I certainly did not become a teacher so that I could drown in piles of papers, or pound my fists in frustration at copier machines that won’t make copies, or tell–again and again–some 14-year-old boys to stop making animal noises in the halls. And I didn’t become a teacher so I could work in my classroom until 7:00 PM but get paid until 3:05 PM.
I came to the classroom to make a difference, but how do I know if I am? When I lose sight of the big picture, I visit a wonderful colleague, Stan. Stan has been teaching for over 15 years and–ironically after over a decade of this stress–he looks 10 years younger than most people would guess. When I am in a crabby mood, Stan hands me a Halls cough drop and suggests that I read the wrapper because, just like fortune cookies, each cough drop shares a few words of motivation with its consumer. Unwrapping the medicated candy, he reads, “Be unstoppable,” “Don’t wait a precious minute” or “Conquer today.”
The brief message is just his jumping-off point, a humorous way to get serious. After laughing about the cough drops that he claims keep him on task, he inspires me to reflect upon my reasons for teaching. He pays me a huge compliment by saying that my willingness to share my feelings with him actually motivate him to work harder and smarter. Remember, Stan tells me, that our students need us to provide routine and stability, no matter what comes our way. We have to be strong because many of them have chaotic lives outside of school. He reminds me that we cannot give up because we hold their futures in our hands.
I teach because I won’t give up on my kids, on their futures. For their sake, I will rise above the petty stuff and “conquer today.”
And on the really good days, the kids themselves remind me of why I work as hard as I do. Because I am an English teacher, words matter. This is what 15-year-old Mia wrote in a lovely end-of-the-year note (after grades were in!!):
I hope you don’t forget me. Also have a great summer; enjoy it now because when you go back to school in September, you will have new freshmen! I’m just saying, good luck.
Also, thank you so much for helping my writing and my ‘sharing out loud’ become stronger.
Thank you so much, I love this class. It was a fun year for me. Thank you for not giving up on us!
And so I continue to teach, despite the noises freshmen make and copiers that malfunction. I continue to teach because I will not give up on Mia or any of my students. I teach because of their potential. I can’t wait to find out what great things they will do in the future.
Reprinted with permission from Education Week.