Timeliness

Regardless of your spiritual persuasion, it is difficult to deny the serendipitous nature of life as it affirms you at just the right moments. Entering what I view as one of the most pivotal stretches of my career, albeit still abbreviated, doubts and some other scions of stress have been creeping into my mind lately. Is this the right decision? Can this be done without alienating some of the stakeholders? I am struggling with questions that don’t have exact answers.

Then this email arrives on Sunday from a former student of mine, who is now a senior in high school. Granted, since I’ve jumped around in the last few years, I don’t get many of these, so some of you might find this commonplace, but for me it landed in my inbox at the most opportune moment.

I actually am writing to thank you, because it was your class that showed me
what I want to do with the rest of my life. If you remember we did a huge unit
on human rights and the Burmese conflict. Ever since then my eyes have been
opened to the world. I’ve developed a passion for human rights and developing
countries and just plain helping people. I’m graduating this year, and in the
fall I will be enrolled at The University of Chicago as an International Studies
and Arabic double major (and a softball pitcher). One day I want to work in the
field of economic development and human rights. I’d want to work in Southeast
Asia (the Arabic is just because I love languages—I take French, Spanish and
Latin in school) and also join the Peace Corps. I hope to one day help further
the peoples’ struggle for democracy in Burma and similar conflicts all over the
world, anyway I can. In fact, this summer I’m going to Thailand, Cambodia and
China to volunteer at refugee camps, schools and orphanages. I’m very excited
since for four weeks I’ll primarily be working with Burmese refugees on the
Thai-Burmese border. Last summer I went and worked in Thailand for two weeks; it
is the most beautiful and peaceful place I have ever been. So basically, I
wanted to let you know that you were my favorite teacher ever and that you’ve
really made a difference in at least my life and indirectly made a difference in
the lives of those people you’ve convinced me I need to help and hopefully will
succeed in helping. Supposedly teachers like to hear that sort of thing, so I
thought I’d track you down and let you know.

Often we forget role we play in the lives of students, and the wonderful thing about them is that they often don’t forget that role. I couldn’t be more proud of this student, and after reading this letter. Proud that she’s looking at her future as a connected and global undertaking; she’s looking “big-picture,” and proud that I had the ability to be a part of her growth as a learner.

At the same time that the US News and World Report released their claim that teaching is one of America’s most overrated careers, we need more discussion of the intangibles that separate what we do from any other career.

Image Credit: “Global Warming,” from chatirygirl’s photostream

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