We recently completed a persuasive speech unit in my sophomore English class. I showed my students this inspiring clip of a recently graduated high school student from Baltimore addressing teachers. He encouraged them to tell their students that education was not a ticket out of their communities, but something that could help them change their communities. He wanted students to develop a deep love for the people around them. He wanted them to be inspired to make life better in tough neighborhoods, rather than merely focusing on escape.
One thing he said particularly impressed me. He asked his audience what Mahatma Gandhi, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Mother Theresa all had in common. His answer? An extreme love for people. They advocated for people who didn’t wanted to be advocated for. They fought for people who didn’t want to be fought for.
This is one reason that teaching teenagers is such a difficult and emotionally taxing career. We are advocates for people who don’t want to be advocated for. When we assign homework, we sometimes get sighs. When we correct thoughtless misbehavior, we often get eye rolls. When we confront worse offenses, like plagiarism, we usually get animosity. We think, “This is going to help you. This is going to make you grow. This is good for you, but you won’t realize that for a long time.”
It’s a long road to travel. It helps to hear success stories from alumni, but those are few and far between. In the meantime, we work hard, mostly in the dark, and we trust God that our work is not in vain. We have to help people who don’t always want to be helped in order to prepare them for an unknown future. Lots of people become teachers because they want to inspire kids; they want to change the world: “Teaching–Changing the World, One Inspired Student at a Time.” That’s a fine thing to put on your mug or in a Hallmark card, but if you as a teacher want to see real change in your community, you need to be okay with that change occurring through a trickle-down effect that can take years. You have to be okay with planting,watering, and weeding (oh, so much weeding) but not reaping the harvest. You have to be okay with mostly doing backstage work so that other people’s shows can go on.
Of course, that doesn’t mean we sit around and do nothing for the community.
We have school service days and the students have yearly service hour requirements to meet. Those are real things that make a real impact. Kit Carson Park, where we serve every year, calls us a “blessed tornado,” because we come in with 60 people and do months’ worth of maintenance on the grounds and skate park in a single day. However, even service day is mostly for the benefit of helping students see the needs around them and hopefully inspiring them to transform their communities in a distant Someday. And that’s okay.
I think I speak for most teachers when I say that we’re not here for the applause. We’re not here for recognition. We’re definitely not here for the money. We’re here for the students because we want to be their advocates–whether they like it or not.