Back in August I wrote down the following reminder to myself, “if you aren’t improving you are falling back, it is almost impossible to stay stagnant”. When I wrote this down, I was hoping to remind myself to continue to improve my practice. I was motivating myself to take on things like supporting my colleagues, designing new innovative projects, become National Board Certified, and bettering my school community to name a few. All these ideas seemed amazing and ways to impact the world around me.
As April rolled around, I was sitting with my assistant principal, and he said basically the same thing to me I written down in August. This time those it didn’t inspire me the way it did 9 months ago. I wasn’t energized any more. All the work I had taken on just felt like work that wasn’t pushing me in ways I had thought. On the surface, my administrators and colleagues still talked about how excellent I was doing and the impact I was making. Unfortunately, I didn’t feel or see it, and now I all I could think about was how I had been feeling stagnant in my career and ability as a teacher. Did this mean I was actually falling backwards?
I began to doubt if I was in the right path, is this career choice right for me. I knew I loved teaching, I knew I loved kids, and I knew I loved curriculum. However, I found myself wondering is love enough overcome this stagnation I felt. I began to think about other paths that would be right for me. As forever a Type A planner, I even starting making lists and brainstorming different things I might want to do. Even as I began to make these plans and brainstorm, I kept teaching on the list because leaving would be the most heart wrenching thing I could do.
Fast forward to this weekend at the Magnet Schools of America Conference, the keynote address was done by Manny Scott, one of the original Freedom Writers. He started his session saying that he knows we as teachers are overworked, under paid, under appreciated, and have millions of completely valid reasons to leave the classroom, but his goal was to give us one reason to stay. As he said this all I could think is, “I already have my one reason to stay [the kids I love], but is loving the kids enough?” Over the next hour, he spoke about his life. This wasn’t just a retelling of the story of Freedom Writers, but he spoke of math teachers, coaches, lunch ladies, and yes an English teacher impacted his life. During this time, I was reminded how Hollywood made it appear that only one person impacted student, but that couldn’t be farther from the truth. He spoke of truly a village who helped raise him into the man that stood before us.
As the hour was wrapped up, Manny shared with us a story from a previous talk he gave. The story went like this:
He was in Texas discussing the idea that you can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make it drink. Then a true blue cowboy stood up and said, “No disrespect but that is simply not true. Yes you can’t force a horse to drink, but you sure as hell can put salt in his mouth to make him thirsty.”
He then challenged us to be the salt for our students: be the salt for the student who loves learning and school, the salt for the student who is only at school for the sports, be the salt for the students who struggle, and be the salt for students like him, who have more going on than anyone can ever imagine. He challenged us to go back to our classrooms, keep fighting the good fight, for our kids need us more than we know, and to make our kids thirsty to learn and better themselves.
As I walked out of the talk, I was feeling inspired and reminded that although my job was hard and I didn’t feel like I was making a difference I probably was impacting someone. I pulled my phone out of my bag for the first time in the last hour (a testament to how engaging Manny was as a speaker) to find a message from a former student. In this message, she told me about the impact I had made on her. She talked about how she always felt safe in my room, that I was a person she could turn too, and on top of that I was a fabulous teacher. I don’t share this to toot my own horn, but to explain the shift that has happened.
These two experiences reminded me that despite all the reasons I want to leave, my reason for staying is better than all of them. I love the kids. I love joking with them, teaching them, supporting them, and inspiring them to be better people in whatever manner they choose. One day this love may not be enough, but for now it is all I need as a reason to stay.
Now that I have decided I couldn’t possibly walk away from the kids I love, I need to find a way to make sure I never feel the way I felt sitting in the conversation with my assistant principal wondering if I was actually getting worse at my job. I don’t yet have an idea how to do that, but now that I know what I want I can start figuring that part out.