A student asked me this in class last week. The simple answer is “I want to make a change in the world.” However the answer is much more complex than that. I feel driven to make a change. I need to change the world! That may sound self-indulgent so allow me to elaborate.
I did not become an educator till I was 50 years old. Over the years I have gained a perspective that was lacking in my youth. Growing up white middle class from a supportive family offered me privileges I did not realize till later in life that I had.I was the first in my family to go to college, (one of the first to graduate High School) but even with all that I felt lost and directionless I wandered through a parade of jobs and supposed careers , never really “finding myself”.At the risk of sounding condescending ,I see how difficult it can be for our youth trying to cope with an ever increasing hostile reality.
I teach Special Education and Alternative Classes. The majority of my students have been disenfranchised and come from a lower socioeconomic strata. Many do not have strong family support. I hope to be able to show them that they have power within themselves. They have a voice to ask the questions they don’t yet know to ask. Things are hard as an adult, and unless they understand that they are the agents of change for the future, they may get stuck in the same systemic loop. I believe it is the responsibility of those of us who have come before to hand down what we have learned to the next generation.Not to do it “like I did”, but to offer them a broader perspective, and some real life experiences.The call of generativity to give back is overwhelming. Not to be the hero teacher riding in on a horse to tell the students how they should be , but, to be there to assist them in finding out what they can be.
I certainly don’t have all the answers, I am not sure if I have any answers, but I can help to prepare them for the harsh reality of the”real world”. In my history classes I use the story of history to show them how American Society came to be. For them to make changes in a system they need to understand how it developed , how it works, and how to become a component of the change they want to implement. There is a lot that needs to change and these students are the ones who in a few short years will go into the world to make these changes. I am not just teaching historical facts, history is a device and a tool to give them a broader perspective, to combine their world view with others who have “been there, done that”.It will be advantageous for them to learn how to think in broader pictures than the ones they see every day. To see that things were not always like they are today. Also, to see that change can and does happen. But, change is not a passive activity, change may take time, change has to be pushed, prodded and pulled. Students need to incorporate that with the understanding of how they can affect the future, not just for themselves, but for their community and society. But to do that, they must believe in themselves, and that they have the ability to do this!
I teach so i’m there when a student needs to sit after school to discuss what he’s going to do after graduation. I teach because a former student tells me I taught him about respect for others even when you disagree with them, or for a student to come by and show off his child and talk about his job and supporting his family.I teach because my generation did not do such a great job of changing the world.We were the generation of peace, love, and rock & roll.We were going to change the world !! Ow, we did some good things, but, over all we kinda left it a mess. I want the students to learn from our mistakes,so they will be prepared for a new world outside of school . I teach because I want the students to see that risk is OK.The greatest changes have come from not being afraid to fail. Learn from your mistakes. Combine the lessons of the past with the fresh outlook of their generation. Not to accept what has always been.Understand that they have support. See that the world , their world, can and will change if they accept the challenge and risks.That’s why I teach.