A former coworker and friend ran into one of our former students this week. I say one of our former students because that is how we operated on our teaching team. There were several of us teaching World History and we had an open understanding that all of the kids on our hallway were "ours". It was standard procedure for teaching teams to work together on lesson planning anyways, but we truly had something unique going. We fought hard to ensure our students success. None of us will lie and say we knew every kid's name that passed through each other's classes, but we did have a good sense of what was going on with a lot of the kids we came across. You would be hard pressed to find a teaching team in the district that matched us in the way we worked together and operated as a family. The kids knew it too, we would get asked, "What's up with you guys" because we really enjoyed working together. Students would ask us for the dirt on each other and we had none to give. They would start to say something about one of the other teachers (especially in reference to one of our eagle eye teachers who sent a lot of kids down for dress code issues) and we would stop them saying "That's my co worker and that's my friend."
We also really took to heart the idea that we knew what was best for our students in our classrooms. We pushed the bar, we set a tone for expectations, and we fought for what they needed. We put ourselves out there in order to engage students in lessons. We had a chaotic lesson that involved "trick or treating" through several classrooms to get information, we wore togas and other costumes, we chopped off heads to teach about the French Revolution, we rapped on video to review major concepts (no, I will not show you that), we mimicked K-Fed and Zac Efron for a particularly humorous take on the American Revolution and tweaked and fine tuned our way through several thousand years of history. Frequently we would sit down to a team meeting and one of us would start a conversation with "Now bear with me" or "Call me crazy" and by the end of the meeting we were all adding our "and what about this" and "I think I can put together this" in order to have a lesson that was perfect. The students would frequently walk out of our classes saying "I can't believe they did that" while shaking their heads.
My co-worker running into this student the other day is further evidence of what we did to make sure our students were successful. This student worked hard in our class. She had to repeat the class and was frequently frustrated with what she "didn't get". She had to work to pass our class and to be successful on the 11th grade TAKS test. She frequently told us it wasn't worth it. She frequently thought about giving up. However, we refused to see this girl lost. We all worked with her despite the fact she was officially on my roster. We all had her in our classroom after school for extra help and studying time. She cried in at least three of our classrooms as she struggled through the year. She cried again with my co worker as she bubbled over in delight at seeing one of us, recalling our class, how we fought for her, and how she ultimately went on to graduate. My co worker sent us a text message and wrote three of the most amazing words "She is happy". This is how I know what we did together was absolute good. There are so many times in teaching that you doubt, there are so many times that you think you are wasting your time, there are so many times that you feel like you will never succeed...and then a little shining light is placed in front of you and you remember. Teachers deal with a lot of crap. A lot of times that comes from many different directions and sometimes it comes from a lot of directions all at once. But moments like that, to hear that a student recalls the good we did and is thankful for it and attributes herself (the same self she once doubted and beat up on) as being happy, that makes it worth it. I don't know the impact that I had on the kids I interacted with in school, and I won't say that we were able to make this kind of effort with everyone, but we did try and we did put ourselves out there, and at the end of the day...I think that's enough.
While I am done with my teaching career, I am so grateful for the incredible teachers on my team for helping me through it all and I fondly remember (most) of my kids. I admire and respect all the teachers out there, especially the ones who worry "Is it enough." I assure them, it is.