This past week, I was struck with the fact that I am reaching the end of my time with the students that I have served for the past 2.5 years. I have less than 5 months to mold the students into the young people that I know that they can be. As any teacher does, we look at the distance from which the students came and rejoice at the fact that in some way that we may have had something to do with their growth. Unfortunately this is not the case for all of our students— some seem to be stagnant in the place where we started. After all that I and others have tried to do in order to light their fires, they are stuck in the same place. Only now, the candle of hope is waning. This week, I don’t feel much like rejoicing. I find myself caught in a sorrowful gaze where all I see is those who I have failed to serve. My colleagues have told me not to take it personally. They say: it isn’t it about me. They too know that this is an impossibility in the heart of a teacher. In the heart of a teacher, the students that they serve therein lie. Their success is the success of the community they have built. Their failure is the failure of the community that they have imagined and created to serve all students.
Now more than ever, I look at the students who seem to be stuck and realize that teaching is not about the content. It’s about far more than making the numbers work so that x will be the solution to a statement. It is about multiplying their heart by the community in order to equal the success of all. It’s about making the connection to the student who feels lost, depressed, neglected or disconnected so that they realize that their well-being is connected to yours— their success is linked with the success of all. I have taken under my wing students who are struggling to see themselves not merely as students but as a people of value— as people who are worthy of love. My colleagues were right about one thing— it’s not about me. It’s about the students that I serve who fail to see their culture as worthy, to see the color of their skin as beautiful, to see themselves as good and know that no matter what their grades may suggest: they are beautiful and brilliant people deserving of love.
While I sit here writing and reflecting, I am asking myself the same questions that I always ask: How can I get my students to see themselves as great people who are worthy of great things? Why hasn’t my message and the message of my colleagues resonated with some students? What else can I do to break through the walls that have been built around their hearts? These are the questions that I will continue to ask myself until the day I finally hang it up. I want my students to know that I will never give up on them even if they have given up on themselves.
Great teaching is not just about the content you teach, the creative activities that you create, or the way that you present. Great teaching is about relationships that we build within the community that we serve. It’s about being vulnerable and putting your heart and soul into the community of young people that sit before you each day even when you know that it is likely to break. Eight years later,