I am a member of two worlds. The teacher world and the non-teacher world. In teacher world, for the most part, faith in students is taken for granted. I am told, student actions come from teacher actions. Student mindsets come from teacher mindsets. To what extent I truly, deeply believe this is for another post. I’d like to believe it but I also see a whole host of other factors that can derail a lesson at the drop of a hat.
And then there’s non-teacher world.
It’s strange for me, to go back to it, every so often. Maybe once a week. Or a few times a month. Invariably, I run into old friends, or old mentors, or strangers so curious about TFA, and they ask me. How do you do it? How do you keep believing? Don’t you get discouraged?
The answer, of course is yes. Yes I get discouraged. Yes, there are days when I wonder whether I’m doing the right thing at all, when I wonder if all my efforts are for naught. There are days when I believe I am making literally 0% difference in the lives of my students. There are days when I know for a fact that drugs and alcohol and negative influences and peer-to-peer interactions affect my students far more than their two hours of instruction from me each day ever will.
In the midst of it all, though, I think of two ideas. Both faith. Both religious or not-religious. Both keep me going.
One is a quote. Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. The evidence of things not seen. Teaching is difficult because of the incredibly delayed gratification. It is difficult because I teach middle schoolers, whose brains are wonderful but still not fully-formed. It is difficult because these students have trouble expressing gratitude, purely from a developmental standpoint. And yet I must assume that my impact is not seen (at least not yet). I hold onto this with the hopes that I can be a positive influence for at least some students…that our journeys through tone and characterization and the breathless beauty of words may someday teach them about the beauty of their own lives, and that though I may never see evidence of this, it will still happen.
The other one comes from a separation tale.
In the Old Testament, the story of Ruth means something significant to me. Ruth and Naomi are parting ways, and in the sadness of their separation, Ruth replies:
Don’t urge me to leave you or turn back from you. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God.
It’s easy, of course, to view all of this in a religious context. It’s harder to look at the Old Testament as a work of literature and dissect it, bit by bit, as evidence of a bygone worldview.
Your people shall be my people. I teach because we, in this world, are responsible for one another. In an every-man-for-himself society there is no progress, no beauty, no love. I teach because children are children – no matter where they come from – and so they are all equally deserving of the best. I am certainly not at my best. I won’t be a good teacher for four, maybe five years. I am humbled every day, and I am committed to remaining in this until I’m truly good at it. Until I can teach a child the same way I would want my own child taught. Until I can have complete faith that I am the best teacher I can be. Until my faith in my own ability and my students’ futures comes to me every single day – not just in times of struggle.
Between the evidence of things not seen and children who belong to us all…that’s how I do it. As The Weepies say, it takes faith and heart.