There are moments for each of us which define our lives: who we are, what we do, what we stand for, and how we will live. The tricky part is recognizing those moments and living into them. Unfortunately, we sometimes let them pass us by unnoticed.
When I decided to take a few years off from working on my graduate degree and teach public school, I arrogantly thought that I would be doing those kids a favor by becoming a teacher for two years, and then go back to college and get my “real” degree. Isn’t it funny how we sometimes stumble into where we are supposed to be, almost in spite of ourselves?
To be honest, teaching was hard. The first week, my students told me that they had a reputation for “breaking” new teachers, and that my first year to teach would be my last. They vowed to make me cry. I went home and cried that night, but I never let them know. I went back the next day, just determined to survive.
As the days turned into weeks and the weeks turned into months, the evil little creatures who had threatened me, began to morph into people. I didn’t really know all that much about the material I was teaching, so every night I poured over the next day’s readings, just trying to stay one step ahead.
One day, during lunch, a young girl sought me out. In a heart wrenching 15 minute session, she revealed that she was pregnant, and that she didn’t know what to do. That was one of those moments. Nothing in the world was more important to me than being there for her, and supporting her as she faced this terrifying moment in her life. I don’t remember what I said to her, but I do remember knowing that it would be a very long time before I went back to college to finish that graduate degree, and the life-defining moments of me being taught lessons by those beautiful, amazing, and terrifying creatures began to multiply.
I fell in love. With every single one of them. And they changed me. Forever.
Some of you will never know how deeply you shaped the person I became. In times of doubt, I think of the strength of so many who have sat in my classrooms. In times of pain, I remember those students who showed such courage in the face of some of the most difficult circumstances I have ever witnessed. And in times of uncertainly, I gain strength from the memories of classroom discussions, amazing stories, crazy school trips, quiet counselings, and beautiful personalities which I was blessed to see bloom before me.
As I faced one of the greatest lows of my life a few years ago, there were many days that the only reason I got dressed and left my house was because I had students who expected me to be in a classroom. You will never know how important you were in those hard days.
That first class who threatened to “break” me was in 1998, and in the last 18 years I have cried because of my students many times. I never did get that PhD., but I did get pictures on Facebook of weddings and new babies, graduations, and accomplishments, new jobs and awards. Some of those students have gotten PhD’s., and I could not be more proud.
To the thousands of students who have sat in my classrooms, thank you. Thank you for teaching me how to be authentic, fearless, compassionate, and young. You have defined my life, and I love you all.