Today in an interview, I was asked about my “best experience as a teacher so far.”
I was (and am) stumped. It’s not that I don’t have a “best experience” that has caused my stumptedness (that really should be a word); it’s that I have too many “best” experiences. I have come to the conclusion that the word “best” is problematic. It’s too narrow; it implies one, singular.
Nonetheless, I have tried to come up with one, with a “best” experience, and here it is:
The best experience I’ve had as a teacher is watching as my current students and ex-students advocate on behalf of others and/or on behalf of important issues that face our country. Granted, I am somewhat cheating, because many of my students and ex-students are advocating in some way on behalf of others, but I was at least able to group many experiences into one—the best.
In the past two weeks alone, I’ve seen two ex-students get articles published in a well-known magazine, both of which about the recent election. I’ve seen one student get elected to office, and I know for a fact that he will be pushing hard to protect people and resources in Arizona. I’ve seen current students go out of their way to push back against racism and homophobia—and other “isms” and “phobias.”
I’ve seen students and ex-students work on behalf of various candidates who were running for office. In fact, as I’ve gone to canvas or make calls on behalf of candidates, I’ve actually run into current and past students who were also volunteering. In fact, one of them, on behalf of a candidate, called me, but she didn’t realize it was me. “Hello,” I said into the receiver. “Ms. Marsh?!? Is that you?? I’m calling on behalf of so-and-so to make sure you vote….”
I’ve seen ex-students intelligently and insightfully advocate for candidates and issues on Facebook, which always makes me so proud. While a lot of my Facebook feed has been filled with vitriol and animosity, I’ve only seen productivity and solution-based posts from my ex-students. Granted, it might be that any of my ex-students who would post vitriol are simply not my FB friends, but I like to imagine that it’s because they’ve all become critical thinkers. I’m nothing if not idealistic, and idealism has served me well, so I’ll stick with it.
I’ve seen a generation of young people who make me proud. And, really, some of my ex-students are not so young anymore, so maybe I need to change that to “I’ve seen a few generations of people who make me proud.”
They give me hope for our country’s future, which is ironic because I’ve given a lot of speeches about hope; however, the speeches are always in terms of what teachers can (and should) give students. Hope is the single most powerful predictor of a student’s future success, more powerful than any combination of any test scores. In fact, hopeful students are 30 times more likely to succeed than their less hopeful counterparts.
But getting hope from students?…that’s the best experience a teacher can have. The best.