23 May 2017

Worth It


I don't think I'd ever heard the words "...will major in K-12 Spanish education" on graduation night before this week. Over 10 years teaching Spanish--nine as the only language teacher in the school--and no one before had left knowing they wanted to follow in my footsteps.

Now this kid is brilliant, and has a flair for languages that we in the field get to see only a few times in our careers. An ordinarily very reserved and shy guy, when he got in front of the room to rap in Spanish for the first time, you could have picked 20 jaws off the ground when he finished that one Anita Tijoux chorus. The point being, the guys is gifted, so it's not necessarily a case of "the highest form of flattery" so much as following those gifts.

Except he is gifted in so many things! The other teachers were certain he was going to be a scientist--wouldn't have surprised me either, to tell the truth (he was the one who chose physics for his Genius Hour project back in Spanish I). But when he first scheduled time to talk with me before school about teaching, I knew this had to happen.

At the time he wasn't sure if he wanted to teach science or Spanish or maybe even German, which he had started teaching himself. Despite his talents--which were glaringly obvious to all of his teachers and classmates--he struggled with self esteem issues, even at the top of his game. So knowing not only that he was, well, a dude considering education, but also the kind of quiet, sensitive dude that might not always see someone like himself represented among caring authority figures, I could think of no future more beautiful than one with this dude teaching.

We talked a few more times as he started exploring his options for college. I shared my "wisdom" about dual certification, the future employment prospects for language teachers. I gave my Appalachian homies a heads up that he might be headed their way, and that they must must must take care of him if he goes that direction. He did make it a point to stop by my classroom when he got into App, and so I made him promise to have cookies with me and my family on one of our regular trips up to Boone for creeks, Pokemon, and the Insomnia Cookies shop.

I positioned myself off to the side of the stage on graduation night, snapping what photos I could of all of these babies who made me so proud just making it through. But I wasn't prepared when it was his turn to cross, not prepared to hear those magical words.

Because it would have been magical having any student who sat through my classes decide that what I did was something worth doing for them too. Several students have at least "been thinking about minoring in Spanish," but never before had they planned to teach it. Having inspired any student that way would have made a mama bear proud. But that it was this student?

I started bawling instantly.

What this student's major declaration meant to me was that teaching Spanish means hope to him. It tells me that this cerebral young person who wanted to help others with all his heart had decided that teaching Spanish, doing what I had done with him, was the best way to do that. That the same degree I got from the same school I got it was the best way to keep hope alive. I mean, I can't vouch for his exact thought processes, but knowing what I know about his journey and about his motivations and his talents, I know that this young person--whom so many, including myself, admire immensely--thought long and hard and decided that he could do the most good becoming my colleague, doing what I do.

I have to tell you, my heart has been battered with doubt about what I do this year. Maybe it started with SCOLT, maybe with the frustrations of online teaching, maybe with the suicide of a former student last May followed by the tragic accident that took his classmate in December.

But if one kid--THIS kid--believes strongly enough in what I do to keep it going another generation, that it is the best use of his ample talents and the best way to give to others, to help the world, well then.

Maybe this is worth doing.