Tuesday, November 20, 2012
It's not often that I delve into my past on this blog, but sometimes the past just finds you ... and it speaks.
I had the privilege of working in education for five years, from the time I was 18-23. I say it was a privilege, because it absolutely was. I think teaching is the most noble profession, and those who are so fortunate to work with our youth have a tremendous opportunity set before them: they can mold the future.
One of the reasons I see the way I do politically and vote the way I do, is because I worked in education. I really think everyone should work at a public school for a bit. It is humbling; it is a wake-up call. If only our politicians and elected officials had all been educators at one point in the public school system ... oh how different our world would be.
I loved working for the A.V.I.D. program at the high school level, and tutoring English. I liked it far better than being a substitute teacher. When I look over these years, I am filled with an immense happiness. I think I was less selfish then. I was and continue to be, so proud to have worked with so many amazing human beings, and so grateful that I got to meet these teenagers and be part of their lives. A teacher can make a world of difference, and if that is not your primary goal as an educator then you should not be one. It sickens me to think of those who abuse their position of authority or care more about wages and benefits. The news makes many teachers look bad, and in fact, some are. A.V.I.D. was about sending kids to college, and ironically enough, we experienced many teachers who did not support that mission. Our youth is struggling, our system does not always work, we have many a community in need, and a big factor in solving those persisting equations is having teachers in classrooms who care about their students. That is at the core of everything. That is what I learned in my five years as a public servant: you have to care. In education there is no room for just doing your job. I would argue there never is. You should always care about your work. I cared about my students; I still do. They were never just "work" to me. I hope upon hope they all know that. In fact, I still continue to pray for them daily.
I learned this morning that a former student was arrested in connection with a terrorist plot. This news disheartened me so greatly. My whole day has been off balance. I had always wondered what I would hear of my former students, and after hearing this, I feel so disconnected from those fond memories of school bells and the smell of textbooks. Naturally, I have to ask if I had contributed in any way to letting him down years ago; to not reading warning signs; not showing him enough attention and care; not discussing non-violent opposition enough; perhaps I never lent him the right books. Of course I know this incident has nothing to do with me, but the thing about education is, it forces you to examine problems, what you got wrong, and sometimes, why you have failed. You examine in hopes of learning, in hopes of bettering; so that the next problem, the next kid, the next crisis, has a solution that works.
Except now I am reminded that my days as an educator are over, and I am not sure when the next time will be for me to apply all those things I learned so many years ago. I have posted a few pictures I have from some of the years in the school system, but I didn't post too many and I haven't named my former student because in my head these people are still children, still under my charge, and I would like to protect them. I am so happy that most of the pictures I have from these days are not digital, so they can't be uploaded here. They are in my photo albums as relics of how things used to be; it was a different time. These kids and I grew up in such a different world. And now I shudder to think about the world they live in and raise their kids in; a world where they are not even safe from their former classmate, and I can't help but feel that we as a society are letting them down.
I am passionate about education. I think it is the answer to so many of the plagues that are engulfing our world today -- hate and intolerance being chief among them. I write this as explosions rage in Gaza. And I would not know how to write this or where Israel is located had I not had teachers who cared about me. I write this because I think it so urgent that we all remember to read, to learn, to study, to accept differences, and collaborate to find solutions so that we can all move forward. I would love to teach again someday. I would love to share those writings that taught me so much about others, about peace, about our civic responsibilities. I know many think this all so idealistic, but I would hate to live in a reality without the possibility of something ideal. I am so thankful for being allowed to have a difference of opinion, being able to cast my own vote, having worked in our school system, and having worked alongside some of the best and brightest kids ever; I am so thankful for my education and that I was involved in the education of others, even if it was just for a little while.
And in the end, I write this post for all those students who I once worked with, who maybe felt a little off balance today, or maybe wondered in the years since if anyone ever really listened to them or remembered their face from high school. I would like them all to know that they have given me something to write about; inspired me to cast my vote; fight for better education; and that I still have all those pictures of our time together and these photos not only makes me smile, but I still remember everyone's name. The future is what you make of it. In the meantime, I will continue to say my prayers for you every night. Tonight especially.