Pivotal educators invest day-to-day in their students’ perception of themselves and the world. The impact of their work is boundless, ultimately steering the trajectory of humanity. The power of transformative education is recognized by teachers, students, and families in their continued sacrifice for it.
Socially distanced 2020 graduation for the seniors of Cristo Rey Twin Cities.
Emily Byrne shared a Pivotal Moment of hers, grounding these sacrifices in the boundless potential for transformation through education. Emily shares…
One of the most popular school assemblies we hold each year is the ‘College Acceptance Assembly.’ We turn out all the lights, crank up the music, turn on spotlights, and call each senior down who has been accepted to college. This assembly is always a surprise; seniors never know when we are going to hold it and we have their families there to cheer them on. The best part is the end of the assembly when we have a parent share with the whole school community what it was like to find out that their son or daughter had been accepted to college.
A mother stood up and spoke of how she walked across two countries in Africa with three children to escape violence and unrest. When she made it to the refugee camp they told her she would be relocated to Minnesota. She shared that since then, only half her heart had been happy because she was so far from her warm home and family. However, she said, ‘Today, my son got into college. Today, every sacrifice was worth it. Today, my whole heart is happy.’ That statement alone made me want to be the best teacher I could be every day for my students.
I conduct interviews with students who ask me for letters of recommendation and when I ask where they see themselves in ten years, it is not infrequent that I hear that they want to earn a degree so they can live without the stressors that poverty brings. A roof over their heads, food regularly on the table, and bills paid are quotidian occurrences that so many in our country take for granted, but my students believe that a solid education will bring those things within reach. What strikes me most often though, is the altruistic nature of their dreams for their future. Many of my students dream that education will not only lift them into economic freedom, but they endeavor to bring their family with them as well.
When I think of my student’s mother and what she sacrificed to ensure her children’s safety and future, I cannot apply the power of that word to my career. I experience joy and career fulfillment daily in my job, and this helps me navigate the tradeoffs that come with teaching.
I watch my friends who work in the corporate world follow the typical career path of promotions, salary increases, bonuses, and their professional lives could not be more different from mine. There is no ‘promotion’ for a teacher—I will never be the regional-vice-president-of-the-upper-Midwest of U.S. History or the CEO of the Social Studies Department. Teaching success will always be measured in the growth, happiness, and achievement of my students. Whenever a teacher leaves my school to pursue a full-time graduate degree I tease them, ‘What will it feel like to be responsible for the learning of only ONE person instead of a 137?!’
It is paradoxical that while the ceiling for promotion is mostly fixed in teaching, the challenge never ends. Every year another group of wonderful students will enter my door and every single one of them will be different than the hundreds I have taught before. I will have the privilege to listen to their unique personal stories and the daunting challenge begins anew to help each one reach their potential as students and as people. There will never be a year when a group of completely self-actualized teenagers show up and I high five them and declare my work finished. And I am so glad that will never come to pass. Life is more beautiful if we believe we can grow and change ALWAYS, and I have the joy of being a travel partner for these evolving teenagers as they embark on that journey.
We understand our network between educators, students, K-12, and higher education as a space for fostering transformation in ourselves, our communities, and the world through learning and growth. Emily’s Pivotal Moment reminds us that the sacrifices we make for education are ultimately rooted in love.