Call it “It’s a Wonderful Life” side effect, but I am thankful for the knowledge that I am important in this world and that I have value. For this, I am thankful again for my students.
It was about two years ago. My first year substitute teaching. At the time, I thought substitute teaching would be a quick stop, a job that would last one year, before I began graduate school in Fall 2012. I had applied to a handful of schools for English PhD programs, determined that I would get into at least one that I wanted. When the emails notifying me of the admissions’ committees decisions came, revealing that I was not accepted into any of the PhD programs, I was devastated. I had worked so hard my entire undergraduate career and post-college to be told an ominous “No,” by the schools.
I began to question my worth. What was I going to do with my life? Although I had thought about the idea of taking the MTELs to become a certified teacher, I knew then as I do now that I want to teach at the college level. I felt as though all those years of hard work, all those hours studying, all my research was suddenly not important, didn’t matter, because a handful of schools didn’t admit me.
Even worse, I questioned my importance and my value. All because a small number of schools told me they did not want me.
Then one day I found myself substitute teaching for a group of first graders. Here’s the thing I have found about students: elementary school students are the ones who will vocalize how much they need you the most. When I substitute teach at an elementary school level I know that I will not be able to sit down because there is always a student who needs attention.
By the end of the day, I had received a couple of drawings from students. I had received drawings from students before, and that day when I went home I put the drawings with the others I had received before. I found myself looking at these drawings and thinking about not just the students who gave them to me, but all the students I had ever had in class. I began to cry because it hit me that students don’t care about what my grade point average was, or my presentations, or my publications, or my academic skills and abilities. The skill they are most concerned with is being able to be there for them, and the ability they value is compassion.
I realized that my importance and value are not determined by, or centered around, academia. Because one’s worth does not result from one’s mind. One’s worth comes from one’s heart.