Reasons to Teach

Initially, I just wanted a glance at non-profit education initiatives when I decided to teach seventh-grade language arts at Breakthrough Austin, a non-profit organization that prepares middle and high school students to be first-generation college students. Maybe non-profit and summer school routes would keep me out of the state-mandated loop, making school seem a little less prison-like.

That summer, brutality visited Pulse in Orlando, then Alton Sterling, then the cops in Dallas, and finally two young, black Austinites a few miles from where I was living. All the while, the students in my class were either at Breakthrough (making smart and engaged comments about current events) or safe enough at home to afford to sleep in and miss the bus.

Before this summer, I had perceived public school and adolescents as hopelessly broken, and I perceived myself as  too broken to seek teaching as a career. I and all my were pieces with broken, jagged edges. But broken or not, we all pieced together to form a mosaic.


otto.jpg

I adopted this cat

Otto

despite knowing

the reasons not to

adopt him.

 

        I pursued teaching

                    as a career interest

despite knowing

the reasons not to

        adopt teaching.

Like adopting Otto,

I have no regrets adopting teaching.

eggsincarton

Eggshells

are hard

and fragile.

The phrase

walking on eggshells

refers to uncertainty

and the likely chance of failure.

During the strange,

uncomfortable ages

between elementary and high school,

we embody ourselves

like an egg embodies its shell.

Masked as a tough and rock-solid,

these bratty teens

are no more a rock

than a fragile layer of an eggshell.

Eggs have a round base

and thus rock

on a pinpoint

when placed on a flat surface.

Without support from all sides,

the egg topples over and breaks.

humptydumpty.jpg

Middle school students

seem like rocks.

Heavy,

        burdensome,

and hardly breakable.

In reality,

they fall

too easily

and are no more solid

than whites and yolks.

Even if we sweep the scramble

off the ground,

there’s no guarantee

that we can scoop

        every

                    last

                                bit

into the pan.

There’s no guarantee

that we can fix

        a neglected child,

especially a child

      fallen, burned, and hardened.

Like a broken egg

burned to a solid,

an unsupported,

        fallen child

can only become one piece again

        through pain and fire.

platocave

Plato said

that education

is the pathway

up and out

of a cave.

Before we are educated,

we believe our shadows

on the cave wall

make up reality,

and we become educated

when

a teacher

drags

        us up

                    the stairs

        into the sunlight,

where we see

three-dimensions,

color.

platostairs

In Plato’s analogy,

the teacher

        is a student

that descends the stairs

        back into the cave,

                    even after

        their eyes have adjusted

to the sunlight

                    and even after

        their feet have softened

to the grass and mud.

I thought descending

back to grade school

to bring students up with me

would seem easier,

since I had made the trip before.

salmon

But that wasn’t the case.

Going down and up a set of stairs

while I’m still sore

from the last trip

weighed

like the gravity

of swimming against a waterfall.

With

all

the

reasons not to

become a teacher,

all the encouragement not to

become a teacher.

bear.jpg

I expected that the end of my teaching journey

would end in the mouth of a bear,

in the mouths of everyone

who said I could never teach

because

        “panic disorder”

                    “spaz”

        “stuttering”

                    “Asian”

        my deformities

on the sides of a puzzle piece

make it

                    IMPOSSIBLE

to fit inside the spot

        that reads “teacher.”

madface

Teaching

middle school

seemed hostile….

 

madface2

                                                                    …at first glance

fullface.jpg

…but it seemed less so…

…when I saw every piece.

waterthanbear.jpg

The mouth of the bear only occupied a small portion of the final picture—

there’s so much more water

than bear

at the top of the stream

 

and there are

much stronger reasons to teach

than reasons not to teach

at the end of the school day.


Amy Gu is pursuing degrees in the liberal arts and thrives on opportunities to contribute to education and social justice. A Chinese-American Texan from Austin, she loves quirky art, slam poetry, local cafes, tea and cats.

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