I think it’s human nature to want to see results from our labors. We sow, and we want to reap a harvest later. For those of us who teach, we want to see evidence that our students have learned – and we want to see this evidence within the semester or marking period. If we don’t feel as if we “got through” to a particular student in the allotted time, it’s tempting to count that as a loss.
And since we don’t “get through” to all of our students, it’s easy to become discouraged.
I’ve seen friends and colleagues become jaded and disenchanted with their jobs, and it saddens me. But I know how easy it can be to slip into despair when we work so hard, care so much, and don’t feel as if we’re making a difference.
These are the times when I remind myself: My job is to plant seeds. My students are (for the most part) young people who are being exposed to new ideas for the first time. Some of these ideas might go against things they’ve already been taught. Some may be difficult to grasp. Some might seem to upend the status quo where they find comfort.
And that’s okay.
Venturing outside of our comfort zones is challenging under the best of circumstances – when we really want to, when we’re eager to learn, when we’re feeling brave. But some of our students may not be ready. Some may not really want to be here. Some may not be willing to consider new ideas and ways of being in the world.
That readiness, that willingness, may come much later. Perhaps years from now. If we are honest with ourselves, we know that we were slow to understand some life lessons, and weren’t able to grasp them until we had a few more years on us, a bit more experience. We had an “aha” moment where an idea or story resonated with us, sometimes years later.
Teaching is an act of faith. I remind myself of this when I start feeling discouraged. This is not the kind of profession where I’m going to see immediate results (at least most of the time), but I have to keep believing in the value of what I do.
So I keep planting seeds. They won’t all germinate, but that’s no reason to stop. Maybe it’s a reason to plant even more.
The students are taking the final exam.
I look around the room at their bent heads, their facial expressions. Some of their faces say, “piece of cake.” Others say “I really should have studied.”
I think about each of them. That guy in the back was always a ray of sunshine – engaged, interested, and smiling. People are drawn to him, and he’s smart, too. I hope he will use his intelligence and charisma in positive ways. Over there is a young woman whose quiet demeanor hides a passionate heart. She wants to change the world, and I think she will.
Thirty young people, heads bent, scribbling away. Our lives touched for a while, we got to know each other a little. I’ll probably forget most of them within a week, but a few of them touched my heart. I wish all of them the best.
I always feel sentimental when I leave a classroom for the last time. I look around at all the empty desks, then turn out the light and pull the door closed behind me. Soon, there will be a new group of students in this room, and the cycle will begin again. For all of us.