During my senior year of high school, I was incredibly blessed to be able to work with my AP English Literature teacher, Mrs. Elliott, to perfect a number of scholarship essays and my valedictorian speech. When most people found out that I planned on entering the education field, they would often do their best to discourage me. Many of my teachers told me that I should pursue something worthwhile like law school or medical school, not an education degree. I was told I was wasting my talent. My own high school principal advised me to go into "anything but education." Mrs. Elliott was different. She encouraged me to pursue my dream of becoming a teacher. We talked about the difference I would be able to make in the world. (Of course, I think she is still disappointed I am making a difference in the world by teaching mathematics instead of English!)
Just over six years ago, my senior English teacher helped me to take my feelings, my dreams, my desires and put them in more eloquent words than I could have ever imagined possible: "My goals keep me focused, eternally striving, and determined to overcome life's obstacles. Life is too transitory to waste in search of riches or celebrity status. I accept that teaching is not going to make me rich. Nor will it bring me fame. The self-fulfillment resulting from the knowledge that I have touched the lives of this country's future engineers, congressmen, doctors, lawyers, teachers, and astronauts will provide an intrinsic joy that cannot be found elsewhere. A teacher's profound influence may never be fully known, but unlike fleeting fame and wealth, it is immortal." And, those words still ring true today. Teaching has definitely not made me rich. And, I only have to deal with the fame of teaching when I go to Wal-Mart or the only grocery store in town.
But, my every action touches the lives of the 85 or so students who sit in my classroom on a daily basis. Add to that the 65 students that I was blessed to teach last year. I realize that doesn't sound like a lot. There are 7.125 billion people in the world, and I have impacted the lives of approximately 150 teenagers. I don't see the numbers, though. (What a shocking thing for a math teacher to say, right?) I see the faces. I see the face of the girl who won her first ever award for her performance in my Algebra 1 class. She was so shocked to hear her name called during the awards assembly that she didn't come up to the front to be recognized. I see the face of the student who passed her Algebra 1 EOI last year after failing Algebra 1 the previous year, Algebra Fundamentals the year before that, and 8th grade math the year before that. I see the faces of the parents who tell me that they had never heard their child say that they liked anything about school, or (gasp!) math, until they took my class. I remember the face of the boy who interrupted my lesson one day to say, "You make math fun!"
Sadly, these aren't the faces of this country's future engineers, congressmen, doctors, lawyers, teachers, or astronauts. These faces belong to students who have lived harder lives than I could ever imagine. These are students who I will never see walk across the stage, donning their cap and gown. They have dropped out, moved away, made irreversible decisions. But, I have still made a difference, an unquantifiable difference.
I get to spend my days surrounded by students. I teach them math, and in return, they teach me about life. They teach me about what it looks like to overcome unimaginable obstacles. They teach me about the power that a single word can carry. They teach me things without even realizing it. Joy punctuates my day. I laugh. I cry. I get way too excited about polynomials. I tell jokes to my students. They try their hardest not to laugh. Okay, not laughing usually doesn't require that much effort. We celebrate the good things that are happening in their lives. They are my students, my kids, my life.
So, to the student who asked but will likely never read this blog, no. No, I would not trade this job for a job I hated, even if the other job offered $2 million dollars. I can't imagine another job that could make me feel so fulfilled. Yes, there are the days that are characterized by stress and not so good parts of being a teacher. But, even those days are made better by my students.
Veterans Day was one of those days. I was stressed to the max, trying to get the PowerPoint presentation ready for that afternoon's assembly. After running upstairs to check and see if the Veterans Luncheon was going smoothly, I returned to my classroom to grab my lunch. I got the surprise of my life when I walked in the door. Two of my students had brought their lunches to eat in my classroom. This was not surprising. I often have students hang out in my classroom for all or part of their lunch period. No, I was surprised by the fact that they had pushed two desks together, covered them with a red table cloth, placed a glass vase on the table, set a "Reserved" sign on the table, and lit a tea candle. An origami flower ornament had been commandeered from my cabinet to set in their vase. And, there they sat with their lunchables, sweet tea, and dill pickle potato chips. I couldn't do anything but stop in the door way and laugh. Without realizing it, these two sweet girls had made my day. And, I can only hope that I do the same to someone else at least once a day.
|A Lunchtime Surprise|