I often feel like a complete failure as a teacher. I am tough on my students. I set high standards and I do not change those expectations for them. I expect them to meet or surpass the goals I’ve set. It is a regular occurrence for students to tell me how much they hate me and how mean I am. Often teaching feels as if I’m getting beaten down over and over again. When my students aren’t mad at me their parents are calling me asking why I’m failing their child; instead of asking why their child has earned the grades they’ve received.
As frustrating and stressful as teaching can be it is equally as rewarding. Teachers are not paid very well, but most of us do not go into teaching for the money. We go into it for the interactions with our students. Seeing them succeed is a reward in and of itself. Now, please don’t think that I am bragging about being selfless or some kind of perfect human being that gives of themselves wholeheartedly. That is far from the truth. I often get frustrated and angry with my students (I’ve already admitted to this short coming in the post “Why Am I Angry?“). And as mentioned above I often feel like a complete failure. I have left teaching twice; complaining about burn out.
It was in the midst of one of these low points that a former student of mine sent me an e-mail. He was a challenging student that barely passed my class. I was tough on him. He was charming and knew how to talk his way out of anything. I would often tell him how important it was to study and work hard because high school teachers and college professors would not accept his lackadaisical attitude. He always laughed it off. Then, on the eve of his high school graduation the e-mail pinged in my inbox. My former student, who I hadn’t spoken to since he’d left middle school felt compelled to e-mail me about how important I had been to him over the years. He told me I was right about everything: how hard he needed to work, how demanding his teachers were, and how important everything I taught him proved to be. He let me know that he was going in the Air Force and on to college. As I read this e-mail I began to cry and blubber. I’d never received anything so heartfelt and sincere from a student. It made my career choice seem worthwhile. I felt validated.
Now, you’re probably wondering why I’m telling this story when the title of my post is “Give Back To Your Community.” The answer is: teaching is my way of giving back. I teach middle school and I work with the YMCA in their after school and summer programs. My life is devoted to kids. Again, this is not always selfless; but over the years I’ve realized how much I can affect my community by working with these kids. My high expectations allow these kids to maintain high expectations for themselves. In my life as a teacher I have found that ensuring my students become open minded and kind has been more vital than teaching them the subject matter of my class.
This is how I shape my world. It has taken me a very long time to come to terms with the fact that I am an educator and I am good at my job. Far too often I saw this career as a place holder in my life until I found what I “really wanted to do.” Now I recognize that this is how I choose to give back and create a better world. I know that sounds awfully grand and conceited, but it’s the small acts done by many people that make our world a better place.
So I ask; how do you give back? What will your small act be? Where do you see room for improvement in your community that your involvement could help change? It is cliche but Ghandi was correct, “Be the change you wish to see in the world.” The first step is to get involved. Volunteer at an animal shelter. Read stories at a children’s hospital. Donate clothes to a homeless shelter. Help prepare meals at a soup kitchen. Find your strengths and pass that along to others. Encourage friends to volunteer with you. My devotion is to education and my students. What is yours?
I encourage you to comment here with your ideas for giving back to your community. The more ideas that can be generated the more people will begin to implement those ideas; then the change happens quicker.