on purpose & gratitude

This is my second year teaching at a school. It’s also the fifth school that I’ve worked at–not always as a teacher. There have been struggles with each and every job. Most of the struggles internal. For me, teaching is not just what I do. It’s who I am.

I’m a teacher. As much as I am a sister. And a daughter. And a writer.

And with all of those things, I have to do it right. Some of this means I have to do it on my terms, but a lot of it means that I need purpose.

And that’s been the greatest struggle for me in my current school. Admittedly, I was only there part-time last year at 10 hours per week. This year’s part-time status had my hours jump to about 30, but I still struggled. And this all came to a breaking point on a student retreat in which I broke down in front of the adult I was paired with for a reflection.

I just don’t know what my purpose here is.

More than any place I’ve been, I didn’t feel that my students wanted a teacher. They want grades. They want to pile up APs. They could care less what I have to say about being a citizen, a person, a friend. They don’t want lessons on expressing themselves or commanding their own voices. They just want to memorize and get an A.

In my first full-time teaching job, my mentor told me that my students would likely forget the subject I taught, but they would never forget what I taught them about being a person. And I’ve held onto that because I really believe it to be true.

The only thing that really matters to me is that my students learn to think for themselves, act with integrity and work to make the world a better place than it is. Yes, I harp about their writing skills and put them through a brutal semester-long curriculum in writing, but it’s not really about the writing. It’s about the discipline, the accomplishment, and the thought process behind it all.

Just as I had resigned myself to another a year of not understanding, the clues started to come in slowly.

Handing in a 14-page term paper, a student said, “I’ve never felt so accomplished in my life.” I didn’t know how to respond.

But the best was my course evaluations. Everyone warned me not to read them because the students would use them as a way to “get back at me”, but I had to merge the responses. And I realized that although I may not have seen it, my teaching was working. I was thrilled that in addition to “essay” and “writing”, the most common responses were “improved”, “learned”, “confident”, and “helped.”

And then I walked into my classroom on the last day and was greeted with a surprise white board full of thank yous, including this one:

Makes the ending of the year just a little bit easier.

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