I do not bungie jump, or mountain bike or run marathons. I hike an occasional hill, but serious backpacking does not frequent my to-do list. Yet today as I sat buried in a pile of papers, books and snack wrappers I began to realize something monumental. Amidst all of my don’t-do’s and all those challenges I so easily back down from, teaching has always been one I face head on. It is my Everest. Impossible, imposing and treacherous. But I welcome the cold, breath-taking feat.
As if it isn’t enough to simply get to the top of Mount Everest, I’ve also begun to realize that I don’t like to take the easy route. Not the elevator, not the stairs. I like the slow, winding, unbeaten path. The one with crags and mud, and an occasional snake here and there (I won’t mention any names). Teaching is a task that I know is entirely possible, but not everyone can do it. It takes training and perseverance and a thirst for more.
I can think of some people who claim that they “teach.” These are the people who claim that they like to “camp” but really have an air conditioned RV with a 40″ tv inside. I don’t mean to belittle what they do. Certainly, it’s an experience with it’s share of challenges. But if you can come home from a day of teaching without a little mud on your face, you weren’t really teaching.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t claim to be a saint. Nor do I claim to be God’s gift to education. I am lazy and unmotivated many of the days and often uncertain my efforts will ever make much of a difference. But without getting too spiritual about it, teaching and learning are two things I actually believe in. They exist, they are powerful and they change lives. But this act of teaching and this blessing of learning are not natural, givens in our current educational system. They are squeezed out of dire situations, like the last drop of shampoo after you’ve already added water to make it go further.
I believe in the power of good education. Like believing in the wind because you see the effects of the wind. Or better yet, it’s like believing in a hurricane. There’s no denying it, because it you can see the trees being blown over and feel the pelting rain sting your skin. Education saved my good friend from taking his life when he was fourteen. It showed me that I was able to learn science, even when my high school teacher told me that I couldn’t. It’s how a fellow teacher of mine became an influential leader in migrant education after she was told she should “just be a maid or secretary.” It’s the dream of discovering treatments for cancer because you learned all too soon what it does if you don’t catch it soon enough. Teaching and learning are the seeds for miraculous potential.
So as I sit here and peer over my daunting task-list and preparations to climb Everest these next few months, I breathe deeply because I know it is possible. People have made it to the top. Surely, it wasn’t easy. But they made it.
© 2011 D. Willson