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To Be Part of the Song


Today I read an essay about a monk in a monastery, who, when asked why he was a monk, said, “Because it’s hard.” 

The essayist was startled, and we would likely be started, too.  Rarely do people say with a grin that they do something because it’s hard to do it, but his answer rang within me.  

Actually, it sang within me.

Why did you go back to teaching?
Lots of people ask me this question.  It’s a good and fair question.
And the answer makes me smile, and startles me a little.

I get paid to think and love and listen.

I get paid to collect pens and markers and stickers.

I get paid to teach history.  Math.  Science.  Reading.  Writing. Which calls me to perpetually learn it all again, sometimes for the first time, if I’m honest.

I get to teach these children the history of Colorado, and I am careful to help them to know what I didn’t know for a long time, that yes, this land is your land and my land, but that people took it and plundered it and drained the land of its resources and separated children from their homes and their parents because they wanted power and money, and none of this came without a cost to somebody.

I get to tell them to lean in close and listen well, because I need to tell them a story that’s hard to hear, and when they finish listening, they won’t be able to do anything to change it.  And I instill in them this life skill, that when someone tells you their story and there’s nothing you can do to change it, the best thing you can do is lean in close and listen well.  

I got to listen to a little girl in my class, when she said, with very real tears in her eyes, “I just don’t know how I can go outside for recess when I know what happened to the Native Americans.”

I get to hold their stories while they wait for new babies and wish for new siblings and welcome new rabbits and kittens and puppies into their homes.  I get to hug them before their early dismissal when we know the call from mom means the puppy is very, very sick.  I get to hear how the puppy faired the night.

I get invited to birthday parties and lacrosse games and violin recitals.

I got to be the one to teach the fourth grade boys that the genre of romance isn’t just gross love stories, but also adventure, and if they like stories about pirates, then they just might be romantics.

I get to introduce them to Mr. Rogers when they think they know everything about Daniel Tiger.  I get to empower them with the freedom to enjoy the toys and TV shows of their early childhood, because I get to teach them the word “nostalgic.”  Now they can have a name for the reason they still like Bluey.

I get to sing to them It’s You I Like.

I get to nurture the bridge from third grade to fifth grade, a very important year from primary to elementary, from curious to skeptical, from inclusive to exclusive, from “kind is cool” to “unkind is power.”  If someone doesn’t carefully mind the weeds of that path, they think the latter is better than the former.  I get to protect the seeds of their character.

I get to celebrate the ones getting their braces on or off, the completion of the roundoff back handspring, the catch that wins the game.  They come to me on Monday, to tell me the very best things about their weekend, about their lives.

In the essay, the monk said he became a monk because he thought it would be a good use of himself. He wanted to be an implement, “something like a shovel with a beard.”

I want to be an implement.  An instrument.  Like a Ticonderoga with curly hair — making words and sentences and stories and memories.

The monk said he wasn’t sure he could be good at it forever, that he doesn’t know if he will be good at it for years and years, or maybe his whole life.  So he doesn’t think of it that way.  It’s too much.  He tries instead to be a good monk for a week at a time.

Again, his words sang to me.

I don’t know how I will do this for years and years, all the conferences and lesson plans and angst over test scores and contagious negativity and toxic positivity and so many many many hearts and hands to hold, and the almost-every morning when I think of somebody else’s children while I brush my teeth.  

So I will try instead to be a good teacher for a week at a time.

Tomorrow is Monday.  And I only have five Mondays left.

I am a teacher because it’s hard.  And it’s good. 

And I wanted to be part of the song.

Tricia Lott Williford

Leave a Reply

  1. Wow. Sing your song girl, you’ll do great, for as long as you can. You are such a blessing.

  2. I love this so much! I’m not a teacher, but I’ve been a childcare provider and also a classroom aide. Now that I’m retired, I’ve gone back to elementary school (4th and 5th grade) as a foster grandma with AmeriCorps Seniors. I love all the adventures I’m having with students and staff in this season of my life!

  3. Wonderful! Thank you so much for loving the kids in your reach so beautifully.

  4. YES! This is why I taught for 27 years! My greatest joy was having them for six years in a row as their music teacher (K-5) and knowing them well by grade 5.
    What a delightful post!

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