Surfing the internet right now you are sure to find many articles and rants about the many problems with the school system today. From testing woes to teacher evaluation systems and the common core there seem to be many reasons why teachers are leaving the profession on a daily basis. I feel these same pains and I understand your frustrations, but I am so glad that I had a reminder today from a student on why I love my job and would never leave.
I teach in an urban public school where 99% of our students receive free lunch and breakfast every day. Many of our students are sent home with food bags in the evening as well because, for so many, school is the only place where they are fed. We hold coat drives in the winter and see Children's Services in our school office on a daily basis. Drugs, homelessness, poverty, abuse, neglect are all a part of daily life for many of our students. At my school we are not just teachers to these students...we are counselors, their only means of medical attention, friends, a safe haven and, in the words of several of our students their "school moms." We wear many hats and the stories that we could tell are enough to depress and cause outrage in even the toughest of individuals (my husband has asked that I stop talking about school at home because he finds it too depressing). Through all of the grief and hard work, however, I have found more inspiration than I could have ever imagined.
Two years ago I was lucky enough to teach the toughest class I had ever had. The "highest" students in this class were on grade level, but the vast majority of these students were performing at least 2 grade levels behind expectations. Most had been suspended, expelled or frequently found themselves in the office. I made a vow to myself that year that I was going to make it the best year I could. I would greet each student with a smile and make a genuine effort into getting to know each student's needs and interests. Much of the beginning of the year was spent on building trust. Once that trust was built, however, amazing things happened.
In this class there was one particular student who had been kicked out of school more than he was in the classroom in years prior to when I had him. At home, everyone he had known and loved in life had been taken away from him or abused him in some way. He took care of himself as no one was ever home to care for him. In the words of one of my favorite sayings at school he showed that he needed love in the most unlovable ways. I made it my mission to reach this child. That school year he read his first chapter book, earned his first "A" and felt like a success. Fast forward 2 years and he is now a 5th grader. I continue to work with him and serve as a mentor to him. His family is in an even rougher patch than normal this year and he has been forced to move. On his last day at our school he brought me a note explaining all that I mean to him and thanking me for all I have done for him.
Beyond my excitement in the fact that he took the time to write a well written 2 page letter, I was even more excited to have a student put into words the true importance of this profession. A teacher's importance isn't measured in test scores, evaluation ratings or report card grades...a teacher's impact can only be measured when one truly examines the impact they make on the whole child.