Wednesday, June 11, 2008

This I Believe: The Intrinsic Value of Learning

Every year I have my 9th graders write a "This I Believe" essay. If you haven't heard about this fantastic NPR series, now you have. There is no excuse. My first year of teaching I was a little too gung-ho, I wrote my own This I Believe Essay for two reasons. First of all, this essay had been waiting in the soft corners of my mind for a while. Secondly, I thought this was something my students needed to know about their teacher. I hoped it would be an example in more than one way.

I came across it while exploring the documents on my dying computer today (I'm on Alice's computer lately), and thought I'd share. Enjoy.

I believe in the intrinsic value of learning.

I am the youngest in a big "yours, mine, and ours" family. There were many mouths to feed growing up. My parents "got by" the best they could. While both attended, neither graduated from college. Mom often tells stories about my grandfather's refusal to help her with college, "Adele, why would I waste good money to send you to college when you'll find a man to take care of you?" Women's Lib hadn't hit full force in her hometown yet.

College was encouraged in my family, however. While my parents couldn't back me financially, they put a roof over my head and helped wherever possible. After a year of saving up, I started at a commuter school just five miles from the house I grew up in.

My first semester of college, a new dimension was opened for me. Here people generated ideas, debated theories, and dissected knowledge. There was a passion for learning that erupted in me. The world I'd always lived in seemed suddenly dynamic and vivid the more understanding I gained. I recognized that there was more available and waiting for my discovery than I had time to find. I threw myself into my education, worked odd jobs that fit my schedule, took out student loans, and competed for every scholarship I could find. At the time, I knew that this experience must have been well worth the sacrifices. I grew: in self confidence, in my capacity for analytical thinking, in the very way I interacted with other human beings.

Now, more than six years after that first semester in college, I have transitioned from student to teacher. This decision came at that pivotal point in every student's education where they must ask themselves, "So, what is the actual practical application of my major?" Practicality was what first drew me to teaching. But this passion for learning I'd been fueling made me recognize I had to share this gift of learning. I wanted to help someone experience the same opportunities I had.

Today I teach English to high school kids. When it comes to teaching, I am a novice at best. Once again, I am consistently reminded of how very much I have left to learn. In my students' faces I see some who have already caught the learning bug and others who, unfortunately, struggle through each grueling class period. It is for these students I work hardest, catching them away from their peers to talk not only about future goals, but about what learning can do for the human soul. It is for these students I've spent late evenings at school hunting for materials and methods which will reach their "bored-out-of-my-skull" gazes and strike even slight interest in the power that comes hand in hand with knowledge. I work hardest for these students because they need and deserve the best I can give. It is consistently defeating work. Self-doubt runs rampant. I tell myself that if I can help just one student recognize their potential and give them tools for the road of learning and sacrifice ahead, I have made a significant impact and all the difference in the world for that one person.

I believe the gift of learning is a lifelong process that requires sacrifice and has no final destination. Education is the currency required for true success. True success, by my measure, is an ability to think and feel the force of constant challenge. Education is the ticket to a higher quality of life, a better understanding of self, and a deeper appreciation for everything and everyone around you. If there is one message I have for my students, it is this: Learning has value in and of itself. And this, I believe.


Jen said...

Excellent thoughts. It is a sad thing to be peed or barfed on every day before noon. This I believe. Be glad you can still use your brain in the way it was meant to be used, rather than as a vacant occasional thought receptacle that loses more capacity than it uses on a daily basis. No, I'm not bitter. Why do you ask?

Kimmy said...

That was a good reminder for me for why I finished by BA. I haven't been able to directly apply my college education, but I'm glad I did it. I see the world and people differently and especially myself. I hope someday that you can see in others what good you do. You just never know...

Rie Pie said...

Seriously, what a perfect motivator. I have been having the hardest time getting back to school. Your rock lady. Write on.

Alice said...

Nicely done my friend. I have often thought about writing my own "This I Believe" Essay, but have yet to produce one on paper.

Like so many of the conversations we have had a thousand times before, the value and journay of learning is truly amazing. Teaching is an admirable profession, but those kids have no idea how lucky they are to have such a great teacher. Well done Ms. Rookie, well done. :)

Blackeyedsue said...

That was amazing.

And I am totally jealous that you are hanging with my sis and my momma! I hope to hear what happens on the river THIS year!