I spend a lot of time thinking about what it is that I want my legacy to be. Maybe it is the teacher part of me that is constantly trying to create lasting lessons in my students while fostering the desire to become lifelong learners, or maybe being a mother has helped me to look to the future and to the world that my children will inhabit after I am gone. For whatever reason it is, I think it is important to consider what footprint we are leaving on the world and what impact we are having on those around us.
There are many roles that I occupy in my daily existence – teacher, coach, mentor, mother, stepmother, wife, friend, daughter, sister, the list is extensive. It often feels impossible to fulfill all of these roles concurrently, but that is the nature of the world we live in. I have tried to give myself more grace recently because I know that having unrealistic expectations means that I am focusing more on what I am NOT accomplishing instead of all that I AM accomplishing.
This is self-defeating, and I certainly need less of that.
This year, I have tried my best to show my students and my children that I am not just the slice of me that they see every day in their 52 minutes with me or the time we spend together at home. Buried below the mother part of me and the teacher part of me, there is my identity. There is the person that I have spent 37 years coming to terms with, chiseling out the parts that I deemed unhealthy, growing the qualities that I love about myself, and continuing to search for the person that I am when I strip away all of the titles that I have. And accepting that person. And then sharing that person with those around me.
I spend a lot of my time learning more about Shakespeare, researching new pieces, honing my ability to teach grammar, developing my vocabulary, expanding my repertoire of writing strategies, and coming up with new ways to engage my students in a world where the content that I teach seems to have less and less importance in their lives. But all of this content knowledge pales in comparison to what I consider the greatest lesson that I teach my students. The lesson that being yourself is okay. Being imperfect is perfect.
See, I don’t just show my students my life from the best angle. I don’t only teach content that I am an expert in or that I love. I don’t pretend to be someone that I am not. I don’t smile when I don’t truly feel it. Because they get enough airbrushed, Photoshopped versions of reality presented to them in their daily lives.
They need to see what real life looks like.
I struggle with mental illness. There are days when my depression makes me feel like I am underwater. Some days my anxiety makes it difficult for me to make eye contact with people. Occasionally I get stuck in what I call an “OCD loop,” and my rituals dictate my day. Sometimes I don’t love the poem we are reading. Once in awhile, my son drives me crazy and I lose my patience. Often times, my lesson doesn’t go as I planned it, and we have to adjust to make it work. I don’t hide this from them. I want them to see me struggle. I want them to see me persevere. I want them to see that you can have imperfections and still contribute to the world around you in meaningful ways. Because each of my students have something to offer to the world.
I work in a district where more than 80 percent of my students receive free or reduced lunch, where drug and alcohol abuse touches many of their lives, where abuse is more common than I even know, and where many students feel they have more obstacles to overcome than the average person. I cannot fix the environments that they live in, but I can help to shape their perception of themselves. And I want them to see that just because every aspect of their lives is not what they would consider perfect or even ideal, they can still survive. And then can still thrive. Because more than anything else, I want my students to know that whoever they are and whatever they have endured, I believe they are valuable.
And maybe that is because when I think about the saying, “be the person you needed when you were younger,” I wish that I appreciated and valued myself sooner. The years I spent hating who I was, wanting to be someone different, or wanting to not exist at all are certainly years that I don’t want others to have to experience.
But those years, those experiences, and those feelings allow me to connect and relate to many people. Those connections keep me going.
Those connections get me out of bed each day and provide the energy to give all that I have to those who need it.
Creating connections and helping others to grow is ultimately why I do what I do – in every role that I take on. They help me establish a stronger sense of self and see the value that I hold. My students and my children help to strengthen my identity while also feeling like an integral part of the world around me.
I want that for them as well.
I want my students to carry a strong sense of who they are and self value along with them into the future and help to teach others to value themselves.
That is what I want my legacy to be.