In Ray Bradbury’s novel, Fahrenheit 451, a character comments, “It doesn’t matter what you do… so long as you change something from the way it was before you touched it into something that’s like you after you take your hands away.” The first time I read this line, I was a first year teacher, and it felt like a light bulb went off. I finally had words to really define my obligation as a teacher, and why I loved my job.
Education is truly a place where you get the amazing privilege of lighting a spark in kids—that same spark that a teacher lit for me back when I was in school. Even when I feel exhausted and I want to give up, I can’t. I have to keep believing that with faith and hard work, these kids can grow and have a chance. However, it’s also a bit daunting to realize that if I want my kids to be a little like me even after they leave my classroom, I need to make sure I’m someone worthy of emulating. If I tell my kids to be lifelong learners, I must be trying to do the same. If I expect respect and patience, I must master those same virtues.
Now that I’m in my 6th year of teaching, I realize that Bradbury’s philosophy doesn’t just apply to my influence on my students, but also to my students’ influence on me. Each year, I realize that I am both a different teacher and a different person entirely. I have a lot to learn from my students. I believe that even after they’ve left my classroom, they’ve left an imprint on me that will never go away. I’m so grateful to have a job where I have the chance to learn from the ideas, experiences, and attitudes of some pretty incredible kids.
After all is said and done, I may not be able to reach every student. But I cannot stop trying. It cannot be because I decided they weren’t worth it. It doesn’t matter what I do, so long as they leave knowing I cared and knowing that they mattered.
Jodi Goodman, author, is a teacher at Cardozo Education Campus where City Year Washington, DC’s Microsoft Diplomas Now team serves.