Eye on the prize, GIRL!

Two years ago I sat in an auditeria with a room full of about 1000 other teachers and education support staff. A new school year had just begun and we had our annual professional development meeting in our district. Unsure of what we would see that day I sat eagerly waiting for the 3 o’clock end of the day because that was a treat for my usual 5 o’clock end time. But as our speaker was introduced my attitude changed. Standing in front of us was, Principal Kafele, a speaker that I had no idea would affect my own teaching for the following years to come.

What happened was he began to speak and I began to feel as if it were just he and I in the room. Very rarely had I heard someone speak about teaching the way I felt about teaching. His focus is primarily working with students who fall into the gap. The gap as defined by society that tries to foretell a students success based mostly on the factors they have no control over. He believes in all his soul and purpose that this lies within a students attitude from those factors and he works with educators and parents to help them understand the impact they could have on students attitudes.

After two years of teaching at the university level I found myself drawn to these students. Students who struggled to look in the mirror and see anything. Students who didn’t believe they could be anything, but I knew somewhere someway they had found their way to my classroom therefore they had some fire somewhere. I just tried to ignite it.  For me I saw the opportunity to teach at an early college and I took it because I knew the EC model worked primarily with students like this.

After teaching in this setting for a few years I recognized my school doesn’t necessarily fit that model, but I did realize that most schools do now EC, traditional high school, middle school, college and elementary. Our youth are hurting and being left behind for a myriad of political and personal reasons that have nothing to do with me.

So there on that early fall day I found myself connecting with another human who understood my passion and reignited my own fire in finding my purpose in education. For some they could say they always knew they wanted to be a teacher and I admire that. I believe in some ways that was my dream too. But my dream was different. It was about seeking out students who didn’t see their greatness and pushing them in front of those mirrors. He said, “You must see them for more than they are right now. You have to see the future they cannot.” And I do.

Sometimes my students call me mom and that is great, but that is NOT what I am seeking. I am NOT seeking to be a favorite or the coolest teacher. I want none of that. I want that push and pull relationship that is a constant. A constant that they can count on.  That means I hold them to high moral and academic standing no matter where they are from. That means when they fall short I remind them and support them through the consequences and I will always rejoice in the good.

Three years into this setting and I can tell you I know my students. I know every single one of them. I make it my mission to know them and remind them of their futures. And sometimes that means I am not their favorite because I call them on the tough stuff. I call them on not being their best. But they need it because more than anything they need to know their greatness.

Sometimes this means I go home broken hearted because they are teenagers and they do make mistakes. And sometimes they get mad at me because I do say, “Hey, you aren’t being the best you.” But they also know they always have me in their corner reminding them they can and will do it. They see me live it in my own life. A sign in my room right next to my desk is a published article by a Phd prof I had. He gave me a copy before it went to print. I wrote in sharpie marker to myself, “Eye on the prize GIRL!” I did this for the exact same reason I teach the way I do.

Life is too easy to get caught up in the crap. The crap can be defined however you want and we all got it. But most of the time the crap weighs you don’t and keeps you from your intended path. They know I get it because I have lived it. I am transparent about that. My own life I could apply it right now. I live it. Passion for  where you have been, passion for where you are going, passion for where you are and passion for where you are headed.

In my last five years teaching I have bargained with myself that if I ever lose that I will switch careers. When I start seeing my kids as less than who I believe they can be I can’t teach. I run the risk of ruining who they are and who they could become and I don’t have the right. I will never ever have that right and that is why I respect this profession so much. I recognized the impact I have on the faces I see every day.

I can’t and shouldn’t bend them to my will and my beliefs. I should instead encourage them to find their own in the ways I have. Find their dreams. Speak their dreams and make their dreams happen. And should worst ever come to worst they have a place to come to remind them failure is an option and sometimes it happens. That place is me. I have been that place and will continue to be that place.

I recognize that this passion of mine sometimes takes me past my contract hours, sometimes creates an emotional connection that I sometimes take home. As the years pass I get better at compartmentalizing it or I sulk for a day and find a way to move on past it. But this is a career I love. A career that does not feel like going to work. A career that allows me to work with content that I admire and love and with people who I feel the same about.

If you are a teacher or a parent even and you are looking for someone to ignite a fire in you I cannot recommend more highly this youtube clip by Principal Kafele. He has a great series in Messages to your son, Messages to you parents and messages to you educators.

Rita Pierson also provides a similar message to educators and her rhetoric is amazing.


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