This year has easily been my most difficult year teaching. This isn't my story alone; it the story of most of my friends and family in education. My students have been hopelessly apathetic (although incredibly nice), the climate of my school has been challenging, and the state in which I live has made an already thankless job somehow even less valued. I've questioned my career choice on more than my one occasion. However, an encounter last week with one of my graduating seniors restored the drive to keep teaching (at least for one more year).
My student, I'll call him "Mick", was in my class all year. He failed my writing class first semester, and due to a deal I made with his guidance counselor to stay on him until passed, he returned to the same course second semester. He is one of those kids who drives me insane! He's a nice kid, a deep kid, an artistic kid. I love this kid, but sometimes, I want to scream at him because he throws away his potential. He knows that I believe all these things about him. I've told him on multiple occasions as I stand in the hallway and ask for an explanation as to why his homework is not done...again. I told him the day he served a detention with me for not having homework done (it's worse to spend a detention with a teacher like me than in school's detention because you have to do something). That's also the day he opened up about his angst over the world we live in. He questioned how a fellow classmate could die so young. I didn't have an answer, but I did listen.
With all of this, I shouldn't be surprised that it was this kid who reminded me why I teach. Mick was serving yet another detention with me on Friday. This one wasn't from me, but instead of sitting with everyone else, he asked if he could serve a detention with me. I agreed, but told him that since he didn't write all of what he was supposed to while in my class, he'd spend his detention writing. His prompt: "What did you learn in my class this year?" The following are excerpts from Mick's response.
"Knowing that all of the MLA stuff is going to be stuck in my head for a good length of time should at least give you some satisfaction. I know that I learned more than my grade reflects. Although much of the knowledge would not show in any grade. It is the knowledge of actual things, not words on paper or how to earn money or have a big house and car and wife and kids. It is knowledge that I could go out and apply in any situation I am in. It is common sense, self-awareness, and being able to think independently....I know you may end up feeling like you didn't do your job properly, or that you could have done better. This I only know from previous conversations, but you did just fine, Mrs. Samples. Exceptionally better than most, as a matter of fact. Even though you are making me sit her and write, I truly don't mind it. You actually gave a damn....Thanks for everything."
Yes, Mick, I did. I do. And at least for one more year, I will continue to care about who my students become and that even if they don't really get MLA, they will really get that someone believes in them, knows that they have potential, listens to them, and gives a damn. And Mick, thanks for reminding me why I became a teacher in the first place.