Not too long ago, in a fit of frustration, I told my students
“I don’t even care anymore.”
Before that day, I had never lied to any of my students.
So I wonder how those words could have passed my lips.
I wonder how any teacher in the history of the world could ever think those words for even a moment,
And still consider themselves a teacher.
Teachers don’t teach for themselves.
No teacher has ever looked at the ridiculously small paychecks and the ridiculously large student loans, hard work, and the eye rolls of teenagers trying to find their place in the world and said:
“Yep. That’s my ticket to the easy life.”
Teachers teach because even though they hear the whispered words in the hallways,
even though they see the sneers and the poorly-hidden cellphones and the side conversations out of the corner of their eyes,
they still think that those students in their desks are worth it.
That those students have something in them that they can offer the world.
Something that they can present
That no one has ever offered before.
Because for whatever those students do
Whatever slurs they whisper or assignments they ignore
Whatever face they make to their friends when their teacher says something—anything—passionate,
Those same students still have a chance of being something so much more than they are now.
And maybe they don’t realize it.
Maybe they don’t look in the mirror and realize they’re special.
Maybe they don’t see someone that, someday, will die knowing that they lived a different life
Than any person that had ever come before.
That no one has ever experienced the exact same things they did.
No one has ever seen the exact same things they saw.
No one has ever lived the life they got the chance to live.
Maybe you hate Shakespeare
Or don’t care about politics.
Maybe you think that geometry can’t possibly be more important than the text that just made your pocket vibrate
(because lol. K. is totally going to make a difference in your future).
And maybe you don’t think that your teachers are worth the respect they ask you to give them for fifty minutes a day.
And maybe you’re right.
Because what intelligent person would work that hard to cram information down your throat when it’s obvious that you won’t ever use it and you could be learning more right now out in the real world?
Maybe you’ve wanted to tell your teachers that.
Maybe you’ve wanted to scream at them. Or hate them.
Maybe you wanted to beg them to leave you alone,
Let you live your life.
Maybe you wanted to call them a Bitch.
And maybe you did.
Maybe you did call them something.
One simple, over-used, derogatory word.
Because maybe you didn’t have the knowledge yet or the time
To call her a conceited, incompetent, soul-crushing and oblivious harpy.
Because I’m sure those are the words you would have used,
If someone had taught you
That sounding intelligent adds power to your arguments.
Maybe you’ve always called the sunset beautiful
Because you never took the time to say
that the earth was glistening in golds and reds,
the light dancing across the prairies like ethereal mist over hills of grass that rolled likes waves.
Maybe you’ve never had the chance to figure out that the butterflies in your stomach were more than that.
It was like a squeezing in your heart and abdomen, and when you saw that person—that one, amazing, wonderful person—you wanted to laugh and cry at the same time.
You wanted them to see you, to notice you, and to look past the blushing cheeks.
All you wanted was for them to hold you
Letting you cry or scream
As you explained all the things in the world
That just aren’t fair
And nobody seems to care about any of it.
Except for you.
Maybe you’ve always wanted to explain
All those feelings inside.
The ones that make your head hurt and your stomach clench
That make you want to slam your fist into the wall
Or scream from the rooftops.
Maybe you wanted people to understand that you’re falling
That you’re alone, and scared,
And no one’s listening.
Maybe you wanted to say all of this and more
But you never had the words
Or the chance
Or someone that would be willing to listen
Or a reason to say anything at all
Because that would be stupid.
No one does that.
Except for those crazy people that write things down
Putting it all in beautiful, gruesome details
That no one will ever read.
And maybe you’ve wondered whether or not
if someone ever read what you wrote
If anyone would care
If you would even care.
Because maybe you think it’s stupid.
And yet, sometimes there are things in the world that make you feel
Scared, loved, beautiful, amazing, hate-filled, enraged.
There are things all over the world that make your emotions bubble up inside you
And you’ve never told anyone.
I get that. I’ve been there.
All of your teachers have.
Because, believe it or not. We’re human too.
We were students once.
And we are here for you.
Because whatever part of us that made us become a teacher in the beginning
Is the same part of us that knows it’s worth it.
What we do matters.
And maybe someday, you’ll realize it.
But until then, I will teach you.
I will teach you Shakespeare. I will teach you grammar.
I will teach you poetry.
Like so much of the things in high school,
Some of you will say you hate it
Some of you will refuse to do the work
Some of you will love it, secretly
Some of you will embrace it openly
And I will be there to drag you through it, kicking and screaming.
And in the end, you will realize
That somewhere along the way you created something
That you care about.
You will create something that has never before been created
You will make someone understand the things that you’ve always wanted to say
And never knew how.
You will see the pieces of the world that have made you who you are
And you will examine them.
You will hate the things that have harmed you,
And embrace the things that made you feel joy.
You will see the layers of yourself
And though you might mock the process
You will understand what truly makes you feel the things you feel.
Rage, triumph, excitement, joy, fear
And you will describe them all in ways
That you never thought possible.
And in the future you will look back
And realize that maybe you did learn something in high school.
Maybe your teachers really were doing what they thought was best for you.
Maybe you truly did have something to offer to the world.
Even if it was just a poem
That no one had ever written before.
Maybe, someday you will see
That the things that make us feel
Are what makes us human.
And, if nothing else, high school made us feel a lot of things.