“Did you work at Citizens Academy?”
I strained to recognize the face of an 11-year-old in the bright eyes and warm smile of the young woman on the other side of the counter. She finally took mercy on me and reminded me of her name, and we launched into a flood of happy reminiscences from 8 years ago. I had dropped into the local ice cream shop to give my kids a treat only to receive a wonderful gift from a former student: seeing the poised and confident young woman -- off to college and to conquer the world -- that she had grown into long after our time together.
Educators are profound optimists. We put years into nurturing and developing our students or creating the conditions for others to do so. We lose sleep -- and sometimes even shed tears -- over them, but we rarely see the final outcome of our work. We send our boys and girls off to write the next chapter in their own stories with the faith that we’ve served them well and the hope that we've helped prepare them for the challenges to come.
Seeing how well a former student is doing, being happy for her success, and feeling proud for being one of the countless people who helped as she has charted her journey made me think about why I started doing this work.
Like so many others, I was drawn to education as a path to social justice. I thought it was the best way I could help transform my community was to help transform the trajectory of what is possible for the children living in it. Sometimes the work has been wonderful and other times its been utterly heartbreaking. It's rarely been easy. It's almost always been worth it.
Even when I questioned that, I used to take comfort in the difference I hoped I was making. I’ve only recently realized the difference those experiences have made in my own life. The families I’ve served and the people I’ve served with have made me a better parent and a better person. I hope that, in some small way, they would say the same.