I heard from one of you today, someone feeling down and an awful lot like not-enough. That’s tough to hear, and I can’t say it’s the first time that I’ve heard it. It’s tough because, in some ways, as your trainer, I feel like I’ve raised you. That’s ridiculous, of course. You came to me already so accomplished. Most of you are parents; some are grandparents. Many of you have enjoyed careers in fields like social work, graphic design, nursing, and accounting. Some of you worked in factories, others in labs. More than a few of you have never stepped foot into a classroom as anything other than a student. And yet, you came into our program willing to learn to teach. You also came in willing to serve children, families, and schools who may have otherwise gone without. And when I first met you, believe it or not, you were already much more than enough.
There are days when I won’t be able to convince you of just how amazing you are. I know that. I’ve had those days, too. On those not-so-great occasions, I have done my best and it doesn’t seem to matter. My student’s head is elsewhere, or her heart is broken, or her belly is loud, or we may have strayed into the land of “can’t.” There is such a land, I am sorry to say. “Can’t” is where a student’s skill level just can’t stretch another inch, not yet, not even when both of us have given our absolute best. “Can’t” can only be avoided by practicing patience, by trying again, or by seeking out or creating different paths. This is so frustrating, I know. It is hard, hard work that we do only to end up in “can’t.”
I have asked you so many times to believe that your student can learn. Because I believe that every student can. What I forgot to say in the same loud way is that not every child will learn in the same way, or at the same level or pace. The sky is never the limit, not really. There will be a final number for your student, one day, when they exit our program, and that number may not be what you had hoped. But I’m willing to bet that there will be progress reflected in that number, no matter how small, and I encourage you to celebrate every hard-won inch of it. It could be that your student had issues well beyond what you could ever address or control. Your student may have been homeless, otherwise traumatized, or just profoundly impacted by any number of learning differences, some yet to be named. And yet, you hung in. You smiled at them. You planned your lessons with only them in mind. You taught them something, every day. You did that. And that’s not just something. That’s everything.
This is not a pep talk, in case you’re wondering. This is a thank-you note. Another year is ending, and you are still here, with us. Despite your bad days and your worse days, you are still working with us to end illiteracy, to battle ignorance, and to allow children to become their full, amusing, inquisitive, astonishing selves. You work in schools, in libraries, in coffee shops, in cafes, in churches, in conference rooms, and in our offices. You work tirelessly, even when you’re frustrated, even when you feel like maybe there’s someone better than you to do this heavy work of lifting kids up. Trust me, there isn’t. You are amazing. You are so very much more than enough. My only wish is that there were many more of you.