December 12, 2009

Now Do You Understand Why I'm a Teacher?

I fell out of touch with my best friend from childhood when I was in college. We became BFFs the summer before middle school and stayed that way all through high school--even after she moved to a different city a few hours away during our sophomore year.

There is no exact moment when our friendship ended--that I can recall anyway. We started to grow apart about the time she voiced her disdain for my career choice. You know, being a teacher. We teachers (and teachers-to-be) have a hard enough time in society that we don't need the flak from our friends and family members. Of course, she became a chemical engineer, and right out of college her starting salary was about $30,000 more than mine--especially in Utah, where at the time, had I been able to get a job there 13 years ago, I would have been making about $18,000 a year. (I did much better by moving to Nevada.)

I guess our perspectives about the world were different by that time in our lives. She thought a career like hers was better than mine, and I suggested to her that she would never have gotten where she was had it not been for teachers. She was smart, and I'll admit she was always smarter than I was--especially in math and science--but she didn't come out of the womb ready to be a chemical engineer.

It's hard to say what was going on at her end that she would let our friendship fade. My own motives may not have been all about my career choice, as I lost touch with nearly all of my high school friends by the time I was in my mid-20's, but I know I have always felt particularly bitter about her non-support of me.

We reconnected about six years ago, but it was through just a few fleeting e-mails, and in the end, I felt her judgment through the great tubes of the Internet. The details are not the point of this post, though.

Just last year, we reconnected, once again, through the wonder of Facebook. I'm a major fan of Facebook, as I was of MySpace, too, because it brings me great joy to see how old friends are doing. When she requested my friendship, I was initially reluctant because I have this damn grudge. I am not even one who holds grudges, but this one is deep. After many weeks of ignoring the request, I decided there was no harm.

We don't talk. She's a friend whose updates I read, and only occassional check the "like" button or perhaps will include a lighted-hearted comment about something, like, "Way to go on running your marathon!"

Last night she posted her thoughts about the importance of educating women, after listening to a podcast where Greg Mortenson, author of Three Cups of Tea. If you're not familiar with what he advocates, here's what he has to say about the value of educating girls, in reference to his work in Pakistan and Afghanistan:

“In Africa, they say, ‘Educate a boy and you educate an individual. Educate a girl and you educate a community.’” Several global studies show that sending girls to school significantly decreases infant and maternal mortality rates, helps stabilize population growth, and improves the quality of health and life for everyone in the community. And, Mortenson emphasizes, educated mothers are less likely to condone their sons’ joining terrorist groups. He sees a direct link between building schools in an unstable part of the world and security at home.

You know I want to comment on that so badly. This is a concept I use everyday with my alternative education girls, right here in America, especially the ones who are pregnant or have children. I tell them how proud I am that they are trying to make a better life for their families and how important it is for them to be educated mothers. It is so hard for them to stay in school when they have so many responsibilities. Sure, as moms, they won't fight terrorism, but they will fight poverty, broken families, racism, and perhaps even violence. Their circumstances are real and right here.

My middle school girls are typically in much better situations, but right now we happen to be doing a Pennies for Peace campaign, which stems from Mortenson's work, and whenever I can, throughout the year, I emphasize to all my students how blessed we are to live in a country where all students, including girls, have all the opportunities they could ever imagine to have an education. The focus on global awareness in program helps them think about how they might make a difference in the world, in places where there are wonderful people, wonderful cultures, but terrible circumstances.

What I like to say to my friend:

Your revelations about the world saturate my daily life. The power of education, which you find to be a profound thought, is the force that drives my life's work.

I am a teacher.

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