It was a few days ago. The question had been floating in and out of my thoughts, never really landing. When my thinker was all thought out, I did the only thing I could.
I messaged a former student. Nestled snug in a dorm room somewhere on the campus of my college alma mater, he got back to me sometime in the middle of the night while I was fast asleep.
His answer? Genius. I knew it would be. He’d been smarter than me even as an 8th grader in my English class, a philosopher even then.
Our exchange has reminded me of the powerful truth of being a teacher.
I am often the student.
That’s the way of it for educators, if we allow it.
When we stand with hearts flung wide open in front of students long enough, when we see humanity stare back into our eyes day after day, when we listen to the words not being spoken, we can learn.
Because there are lessons my students teach. Collectively. Individually. They teach me every day.
Oh, how I’ve learned some powerful lessons.
My call is to love—not judge. All humans need a space to belong, a safe space. We all cry the words Just love me, accept me for who I am…And when a student feels accepted? His light burns bright.
Every voice matters. Every one. When you know your voice matters you know you matter. And in this life? Knowing you matter? Earth quaking. Soul shifting. Life changing.
Choosing battles is a necessity and choosing grace can win a war. One will never gain ground in a shouting match with a teenager. Or with anyone else. Shouting viewpoints never changes minds or hearts.
Words have power. My words have power. Like a fire, they can provide warmth needed to survive or they can ravage leaving only a burnt down soul. Saying the wrong thing and seeing the hurt in my students’ eyes? One time is a time too many.
I can be wrong. And I need to say so.
Because wisdom has nothing to do with age. My students? They see straight through ignorance. Admitting what I don’t know is powerful.
Different theologies and philosophies can respect each other. Though I love Jesus, many students I’ve taught don’t. But the wealth of knowledge and understanding I absorb just from hearing their hearts is far better than only listening to what I agree with.
Racism and discrimination is still very real. Having a beautiful black student stand in front of his classmates to give a speech against racism that recounts just one of many racial slurs that had been poured over him? The tears on my cheeks were from eyes opened wide to his authentic struggle and the struggle of countless others.
The beauty of a soul comes in every shape, size, and color. When our nation stops paying lip service to this ideal? Only then will we heal.
The best lessons are always unplanned—unscripted. Always.
No one wants to fail. I’ve looked into the eyes of one who has stopped trying. Begged and pleaded. Grasped and held tight. But staring back are the hollow eyes of one who already calls himself a failure. It breaks my heart. Every time. Because no child dreams of failure on the playground.
Giving up is not an option. For any teacher. Ever. If we can stop just one more kid from giving up… If we can pound determination into just one more student… If we can inspire just one more life to keep trying…
There is always hope.
Because the next generation is beautiful. Their creative ideas and thirst for understanding is inspiring. Their gifts and talents and intellect have nothing to do with some test-crazed world ranking. No. They have the power to change this world.
I believe in this next generation.
Not because of who I am. But because of who they are.
May I never stop learning.