At the end of my second year, I was having doubts about my future in the teaching profession. I was so immersed in the day-to-day obstacles of teaching first grade that it was no longer the joy it had once been. I remember the excitement of the beginning of the year, but could feel the smile slowly disappearing from my face as the year progressed. This was when I realized I had forgotten about Andrew.
The first words I heard Andrew speak five years ago were, “I’m dumb. I never get anything right.” His negative comments and doubts seemed never ending until reading Sadako and the Thousand Paper Cranes at HOPE Youth Ranch, a therapeutic youth ranch where I volunteered. Andrew was in awe of Sadako’s relentless pursuit of hope rather than choosing righteous anger in response to circumstances out of her control. The negative outlook Andrew had adopted stemmed from the verbal abuse he had been subjected to growing up. What had once seemed impossible for Sadako was now within her reach, so why not for him as well? Andrew began questioning how fixed his abilities were and a new world emerged for him to explore. Faced with my own challenges, I had forgotten how the liberating power of education had transformed Andrew and could transform the students in my classroom.
I had to realize that when solving for my WHY, I had to first ask myself:
- What am I WILLING to do to impact my students?
- What’s my HEART’S passion and how can I use this to help me overcome challenges?
- What have I not mastered YET and what am I going to do to get there?
In rediscovering my why, I grew professionally and emotionally, and paved the path for my students to discover their “why”. By modeling strength in pursuing my “why”, I could help them focus on their passion and not their circumstances. Andrew could have focused on the lies he had been told throughout his life. Instead, he learned to choose hope, refusing to live within someone else’s limits. I could have focused on the obstacles and given up on teaching five years ago. Instead, I have guided the students in my classroom who reminded me so much of the foster children from my youth, like Andrew. By refocusing on the “why”, I stand strong with my students to transform my challenges and theirs into opportunities. Together we all can identify our why and face our struggles with hope and open-mindedness.
Photo Credit: Caroline Maxcy Photography