It all started with a Facebook message.
One of my former fourth students at Clevelend Elementary School was graduating from high school. Top of her class.
What happened next is best described as being blanketed by pure emotion. There is no feeling like seeing your students succeed in the classroom or seeing them evolve into beautiful, successful people. Watching them achieve. Watching them grow.
When this happens, your teacher heart grows upteen times and every bit of the sweat, tears, and soul you pour into your work is suddenly realized right in front of you. You are a piece of this. Your work is not in vain. You, as a teacher, truly matter.
But then my emotions quickly changed, with a tidal wave of guilt washing over me. I’m not teaching in my fourth grade classroom anymore. I teach teachers. I have left the public education classroom. Am I still a meaningful part of the system? Am I still privy to this brand of joy? Am I still making a difference?
I’m a Dear Sugar fan. For those who don’t know Dear Sugar: She is an advice columnist. And an amazingly funny and honest one at that. I’m so addicted to her writing that I hear her voice in my head quite often: She’s at times my Jiminy Cricket conscience, perched on my shoulder and chirping witty life advice in my ear.
One piece written by Dear Sugar that especially speaks to me is “The Ghost Ship That Didn’t Carry Us.” I reread it in response to feeling the particular brand of guilt above. About career choices. About tossing and turning over whether I am or am not still impacting students. About contemplating returning to the fourth grade classroom.
In her “Ghost Ship” piece, Dear Sugar (who is in fact Cheryl Strayed!) talks about a poem by Tomas Transtromer called “The Blue House.” And in this poem, the author speaks of a sister ship, of a pathway in life we could have taken, but chose not to. As we go on our current life journey along shore, our sister ship is the ghost of our path not taken. It’s a life parallel to the one that we are currently living, though did not choose. And it follows us, allowing us to see it at times.
So as I look to the ocean, I see my ghost ship sailing in parallel to my current voyage. On that ghost ship, I see my silhoutte in the classroom, surrounded by elementary school students and living in a world of pencils, paper, desks, and faculty meetings. I see many high school graduations, I see the smiles of many wide-eyed faces. I see what could have been.
But this is not the path I have taken, for I am on a different ship.
So, to all of us who have made tough career choices, who are looking at our ghost ships and questioning the choices we have made, whether it is to remain in the classroom or step out through those doors: Let’s agree to leave our guilt at the juncture where we made our choice, where we boarded one ship instead of the other. Let’s write that guilt down on paper, roll it up tightly, bottle it, then throw that bottle out to sea. Let’s realize that our impact may look different, but each part we play in education is vital. And no matter which ship we have boarded, it is where we are supposed to be.
Special thanks to Jennifer Jacoby and Brianna Crowley for introducing me to Dear Sugar. She has truly sprinkled our lives with joy manifested in text!
Photo entitled “Ghost Ship” courtesy of David Walker.
The opinions expressed in An Edugeek’s Guide to K-12 Practice and Policy are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.