Friday, April 22, 2011

More than ABC’s

Why I Teach….

As of late, Education had become a major political football and the yelling so loud that all sense and reason is lost in the noise of angry finger pointing and blame. It really is quite disheartening. As the debate turns on test scores, standards, accountability and failure, budget cuts, unions, and attacks on already low pay, I am often asked why I teach. My reasons are expressed in oft handed notes left in my mailbox or on my desk. Sometimes they come randomly in emails, sometimes a Facebook post years later.

"Thank you for all the help and advice you have given me. Even though I was hard headed and never really did anything in your class (sorry!) You still tried to help and didn't give up on me. You are the only teacher who tried to help me no matter how dumb I would act."
"Most teachers would have just kicked me out of class or wrote me up if I did something wrong, but you were different. That's why I am so much different now. You taught me how to show respect…."
"You have made me realize so much stuff!! First, I would like to thank you for having so much faith in me. I knew I could do it. I just had to try. Second, I thank you for telling me I am a leader. You made me think and now I know I am a leader. I love to lead, not follow and I know you are the same way too. You lead me in the right path and I thank you so much for that. "
"I just wanted to thank you for encouraging me and my poetry. Because of the non-stop essays, I passed proficiency. Your advice and pushing me forward has gotten me far and gave me strength to believe in myself."

They are the lessons that will be remembered long after all others are forgotten. Amidst all the noise, it is these 'voices' that keep me grounded. While the focus is on content and test scores, these notes focus on what really matters. I don't catch them all, but I catch the ones I am supposed to. Whenever I start to lose my way, get caught up in all the negativity and begin to question myself, it is the kids who bring me back, years even decades later. The following student explained it so much more eloquently than I ever could.

"I pray this letter finds you and your family doing well. I want you to know there is not one day that I do not remember your compassion and beauty. I have written several papers that encompass your depth, warmth, and intelligence. All of which existed as my saving grace in 1993. That (your) effect, has permeated into not only every part of my soul but also my ambitions. I can say, with sincere intention, that everyone who knows me, Jackie, also knows a wonderful portion of you because you helped me discover myself and my worth.
Well where do I begin? I graduated w/honors with my Bachelors in English Language Arts. Currently, I am student teaching at a rural area 3A high school. I have worked in several school districts over the last four years- some very low socio-economic areal – others very affluent. I have learned- with no real surprise- that teenagers are the same all over. They all exist in a state of mind that is so sensitive and perceptive- they watch, they listen, they learn, they love, and the morals and characteristics I exemplify become their foundation. I have the blessing of exerting influence on these fresh, wonderfully made minds, hearts and souls – and I know in a nonverbal or verbal "second" I can make or break their prescious spirits. I will and do choose to keep it real (like you used to say) so these young adults can see that life is more than what a TV commercial says you should have or what 'they' consider 'right'.
My experiences in life, good and bad were all valuable – and teachers helped me know and believe this. Teachers like you and my dad and my maker took/take time for me and my development – as a 'human being, not a human doing" (quote from my self-esteem folder –your class-) I pray I can touch lives like you touched mine!"
Sincerely, Jackie

I knew this young woman in 1993 as a sixth grader, my first year teaching. We just sat and talked about life and poetry. She gave me a book of her poetry, which I still have. Out of nowhere, I received this letter in 2008 when I was having a hard time and questioning. You never know, who or how you touch someone, it's just nice to know that you do. Sometimes, they touch you back. 

Author’s Note:  Last year (2016) I was again questioning why anyone would do this job.   That night, out of the blue, this same young woman forwarded me a letter her student had sent her.  It was almost identical to the one she had sent me years before...

“Hello!  This is Jackie.  I wanted to share a letter with you.   When I read it, I was immediately taken back to the 6th grade with you.  I did for her what you did for me and the beat goes on and the circle is not broken…”

She’d paid it forward…

Despite the all district directives, legislative mandates and political discourse,
what we do really does matter.  It is our ‘Legacy’…

Have a great summer!

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Wrestling Demons

There lies in each of us
a place no one sees,
a dark place
kept hidden away from the world,
a place
where demons dwell. 
that lurk in the recesses
in shadows
of our minds and our souls,
watching and waiting,
waiting and watching
for a chance,
a moment of weakness
to emerge
and wreak havoc
upon a fragile psyche. 
forged out of trauma, despair,
pain and betrayal. 
Hurts accumulated over a life time
and buried deep
left unattended,
to fester upon unacknowledged anger 
feeding upon deep seeded fear.
Deep into the night
the battle wages on
as oblivion consumes
Held at bay in dreamless sleep. 
Only to fade
Into the shadowed recesses
behind the masks we wear
In the light of day,