As a new school year begins, I wanted to share a reflection from Marsha Pincus, a retired high school English teacher who worked in Philadelphia public schools for 34 years. Here’s an excerpt from a longer piece on her blog, Her Own Terms:
I retired from full-time teaching six years ago, but the lessons I have learned and the people I have encountered remain with me. I carry their stories in my heart.
Six years out, here is what I know.
Even in the darkest moments there is always a light shining through to the classroom. Even the angriest, most defiant child harbors a spark of possibility buried in his despair. Human beings have the capacity for enormous resilience.
I have been given one of the greatest gifts any teacher can be given — the privilege to continue to know so many students after they left my classroom. I have been to their college graduations and their weddings. I have seen them earn graduate degrees, become teachers and principals, businessmen and community leaders. I have seen them with their own children and watched as they’ve become role models for other young people in their communities.
I have also been to funerals — more than I want to remember. But such is life in all of its complexity.
Every child, no matter how old or seemingly jaded, starts the school year with the hope that maybe this year will be the one.
Maybe this year I will finally love school like I once did, when I was little and the teacher put smiley faces on my papers and my mother packed me lunch in my Peter Pan lunch box.
Maybe this year, people will see me for who I am and value what’s inside of me.
Maybe this year, I will connect with a teacher who will help me understand the ways to realize the dreams I barely let myself imagine except late at night, right before I fall asleep.
Maybe this year.
Marsha’s essay reminds me of how important it is for teachers to have empathy. This can be easy to forget, or overlook, when there’s so much on teachers’ plates already, especially in the beginning of the school year.
I should know. Looking back on seven years in the classroom, I realize how much better of a teacher I would have been had I focused less on Getting Things Done, and more on helping my students feel seen and heard.
I think Marsha shows the way empathy can help teachers see their roles more clearly.
For more of Marsha’s story — including how many times her car’s been broken into, and the many nicknames she’s had throughout her teaching career — please read her full essay. You should also check out her portfolio on teaching Macbeth on Inside Teaching, a great resource that features units for all class subjects.
Oh, and one more thing —
I’d like to wish all you returning teachers the best for this school year. Don’t forget to be kind to yourself on the first days of school! 🙂
First Day of School – Talking Back to Harry Wong (Teacher in a Strange Land)
Teaching Is Not a Business (New York Times)