As this school year starts for most people around the U.S., I thought this might be a helpful idea to keep in mind. I've said it before, but I think it is the key to being an effective educator.
"Education is the most important and the least important thing in a child's life."
I know, it doesn't make sense, but I couldn't do the job I do without understanding it. It started for me eleven years ago. I stood out in the hallway with a senior. He needed my class to graduate in just a few months and he couldn't have cared less. I actually gave him the "what do you want to do with your life?" speech.
He made it, barely.
Fast forward six months. That child died as a result of a car accident. Six months earlier I had actually said "what do you want to do with your life" to this child, and now there is no life to do with.
I could share several other stories like this, but in the grand scheme of LIFE, what did my 90 minutes every other day for nine months mean to that child.
A few years later, in a group discussion about budget and salaries, an administrator remarked that our work was just as important as the work that goes on down the road at the University of Virginia hospital. Most of the time when I visit that place, I look at it in awe as I recognize how many lives hang in the balance in those walls, how many families have had lives changed, for better or for worse, in an instant. I'm not sure that my job deals in life or death that closely.
But, I've seen the difference that my job makes. I know there are students on career paths that have been influenced by me. I know that my institution has enabled success for numerous students that perhaps they could not have found elsewhere. I even inspired a tattoo this year (that's a post for another day). I know how important education is, perhaps maybe even a matter of life or death for a few in the long run.
That's the balance that drives my work. When I prepare and engage with students, I do it because it is the most important thing in the world. I give it my all. I hold them to a high standard. I expect hard work and effort from them. I'm driven to learn and to constantly refresh what I do to meet the changing needs in a changing world. I'm driven by this because it is the most important work in the world.
But, when I see that a student is struggling. When I'm unable to finish a task because I my family is a priority in my life. When the fire drill or countless unexpected interruptions foul my plan. When I try something different and fail. When I get frustrated by mandates, or initiatives that I don't like. When a child falls short of expectations and we have to try again. I am not beat down because this is the least important work in the world.
As our school years begin. I hope that you are able to see the life of a child and develop the desire to change it for the better. I also hope that you have the wisdom to know that often, the most important thing in the life of a child will happen outside of your four walls of influence, and that's o.k.
Good luck with teaching this year, the hardest and the easiest job you could ever have.