Saturday, November 12, 2016

And This is Why I Teach

Some thoughts--
This week was difficult.  First, on a personal level.  My husband has been having various health complications involving hospital stays which reached a pitch this week with an investigation of his heart. In the end, all came out well, but balancing work and health is always extra difficult when you are a teacher with some 180+ students to occupy with substantive material while you are gone. Teaching is not a call in sick and get back in bed kind of job.

And then, of course, there were these election results.
When I got to school on Wednesday, the anxiety in the students bristled.  "My dad will be deported," a student told me.  "He hasn't passed the citizen test yet.  Will they still let him take it?"
"How can this happen?" I heard.  "How can a candidate who was supposed to be a joke win?"
"How can someone win the popular vote, but not become the president?"
"Are you disappointed in our country?" I was asked.
"Who did you vote for?" I heard again and again and again from children with apprehension in their eyes.
"I'm not supposed to say, " I responded, hoping my tone would be enough of a clue. And then, "But my candidate did not win."
My students are the children of hopeful immigrants whose parents are often cleaners, construction workers, yard men or gas station attendants.  Their parents left unstable or hostile governments in Eritrea or Bosnia or Nigeria.  They are also from Egypt and Vietnam and Colombia, from Taiwan and Nepal and Ethiopia. Some of them are the children who were rounded up at the borders of Mexico and detained.

Sometimes people ask why I do this job. Sometimes I ask myself.  At least once year or more, I find myself exhausted, trolling through Linkedin looking for a different kind of job--one that pays better, one where you can, on occasion, shut your office door, or put your head down on your desk if you have a headache, or at least go to the bathroom when you need to; a job where you don't have to spend your weekends and evenings working even more, a job where you aren't always always always a role model, a job where people don't call you a saint for doing it.

And then comes a week like this and I know why I do it.  I teach because I have to walk the walk.  I have to put my money where my mouth is.  If I want to see change in the world, I have to work to make it so.  I have to immerse myself in the hope of tomorrow--these wily, hormonal, exuberant youths who sometimes can barely read on a third or fourth grade level, who know little of the world and fail standardized tests that are written for those whose parents had time or knew to--or could-- converse with them, read to them, or take them to the zoo or museums or the woods.  I have to embrace these kids, meet them on their level and pull them up so they will not fall into the fatal social morass of gangs or drugs or cyclical welfare.

Youth is inherently optimistic.  Young people believe they can change the world.  And I believe they can too. But they need support--especially kids like I have.  Kids with very thin safety nets.
So, I can't go to work helping people who are selling soft drinks, or running an airline or a television station.  I would never be happy doing that.  I have to help society in my small way, by teaching kids to read and write and be decent human beings.  To be decent human beings.  To add to the world, not detract from it.  To be decent in spite of it all.


  1. You are indeed my hero, to help these children learn and reach higher, with respect for each other, it is a humbling job I am sure. Especially in these rough times, they need a safe place to be and grow.

  2. I don't know how you do it - all of you teachers. It's a gift and a calling, that's for sure. God bless you and your students. Thanks for posting this and for doing what you do.