Yesterday was one of the longest, but most validating days I've had as a teacher in a long time. Nothing really eventful happened in my classes, but I had three separate affirming experiences with two former students and a current student that reminded me why I became a teacher in the first place. It's been a long, long time since I felt like I was making any real difference. It's easy to get caught up in the everyday drudgeries: the contraband cell phones, the general apathy of students, uncompleted homework, grading, etc. I know I've been feeling less than committed for a while, which is part of the reason why I think I need to be out of the classroom. But days like yesterday, while long and tiring, reminded me that I can impact kids.

The first thing that happened was with one of my current students. This kid was in my very first Environmental Sustainability class and is in my advanced class right now. He's been apathetic about college and what he's going to do next year and hasn't had any real motivation. Yesterday, he spent two periods in the Writing Center enthusiastically researching and brainstorming what he wants to do while he goes to school: start a biodiesel co-op. He did an outstanding project on the relative ease with which you can create your own biodiesel from used vegetable oil and use it fuel diesel cars. He decided that he's going to become a self-made expert on making and using biodiesel from used veggie oil. This sounds like a crazy pipe dream, but it's actually much simpler, cost-effective, and practical than you would think. This is a kid who didn't even recycle when he started my class. Two years later, he has motivated his whole family to live a little more lightly and wants to pursue a sustainability-based career. Great success #1.

Last night, I was Facebook chatting (shut up, it was the very first time I ever used that feature, and he messaged me first) with a former student who has graduated and gone far away to college. This kid was also in my very first sustainability class. He's now decided that he's going to be a sustainable farmer. He can major in it at his hippie-ass college, and he's going to intern at a farm this summer. Great success #2.

The best teacher validation I had, though, far and away, was running into a former student who moved away at the Cardinals game last night. This student is very near and dear to my heart and I hadn't seen him in over a year. My first two years in my district, I worked half-days at our alternative school, where I served a very small population of the most difficult to reach students. This kid was with me for both years, and he was quite a challenge. Not only was he completely disengaged from school, but he was ADHD, dealing with issues stemming from his family, and had gaps in his learning from so many suspensions. Despite this, and despite the fact that he drove me crazy, he was, at his core, a sweet kid who was whip-smart when he wanted to be. I desperately wanted to know that this kid would be okay, that he would "make it", but just when things were going well, he'd get suspended. Finally, after his sophomore year, his mom moved him to a bigger school. I saw him once right after he moved, and he was still trying to adjust to this bigger school, but I hadn't seen him in forever. Lo and behold, he was at the game last night. He gave me a big hug. I asked him how he was doing, if he was going to graduate on time this spring. He said he was, that he was doing really well at his new school. I asked him what his plans were for after graduation. He said he was going to college! He got into Mo.State and will be heading to Springfield in the fall. I wanted to cry I was so happy. I felt like the auntie you never see that fawns all over you once a year and embarrasses you, but I didn't care. I can leave teaching knowing that if a kid like that can make it, any of them can.

So, yeah, I had to blog-brag about it.


Rebecca said...
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Rebecca said...

This literally made my eyes water. I'm not sure if you know, but I worked at an elementary school last year as a Social Work Intern. It was a super tiny school; so I got to spend all of my time doing individual counseling with both special and gen ed kids, group counseling with the behavior disorder kids, and classroom lessons with 1st, 2nd, and 3rd graders. It was seriously the best experience; but the lives of some of those kids, the mental illness, the abuse, the family situations, the anger, the dangerous behaviors, the kids with ADHD, bipolar, ODD, autism, aspergers, and on and on and on. . . it was enough to break your heart. And it really hurts to not know what impact I made; what kids might remember me and our conversations; what kids will make it, which will falter. I think about it a lot; and I was only in the schools for one year. I can't imagine an entire career of those uncertainties.

Gregg said...

What an great day for you! I would think one of the tough things about being a teacher is that you probably rarely see the impact you have.

It's nice to have that validation once in a while! I've had similar situations where years after an event, I'd run into someone that mentioned how big of an impact, or how great a memory something was.

It's always nice to hear. I'm hoping parenting turns out that way, too!

jyoseph said...

Good for you. I know I sort of egg you on when you rant (all in fun) but it's equally as nice to read this. Even through the ranting you get a pass from me because we're all human. You'd have to be super human to not let some of that "get to you". I know I was a pain in my teachers ass, it was my goal as a young punk kid.

I did have teachers who made an impact on me when I was going through tough times, some of them I still talk with to this day.

Anyway, good to hear. You go girl! (did I just say you go girl? weird)

Jaelithe said...

Woooooo hoo! I am so glad you had this day of seeing the impact you've been making on kids' lives. Like I told you before, if it hadn't been for ONE teacher, I might never have made it to private school or gone to college.

Good teachers are one of the most powerful forces for good on the planet.