Leavetakings Part One: When Two Years is Enough and Not Enough All At Once


A few weeks ago at our Teach for America Alumni Induction, my peers honored me with the award for Transformational Change. I have mentioned this phrase often in my writings as being a ‘catchphrase’ but very real and necessary at the same time. And while I know that I have so much growth left to be the best teacher possible, it touches my heart beyond words to believe that those who know me and have seen or heard about what I have tried to do with my students, feel that it has changed them. And as I close this chapter of my book on my search for educational equality, I do not know where to even begin.

This morning, just like any typical weekday morning, I got up bright and early, got dressed, and walked to my car to head to work. It was the moment that I started on that all too familiar route to work that I started uncontrollably crying. The memories–good and bad–and the guilt, the triumph, the wavelengths of emotions of two years hit me like waves crashing down against the morning sun of the 79th Street Causeway.

For me, leaving is always a process. I have to slowly digest my choice and slowly accept what comes with that choice. First, as difficult as it is, I recognize that leaving is a “second-hand conscious” decision to negatively impact others. Me leaving will have a negative impact on others. I have made a decision that will HURT other people in the process. But that is real, and that is ugly, and that is the process of change.

It took months to process that.

It took months of wondering what could I do with my students if I stayed. Months of thinking that maybe I’ll hear in the future that horrible things happened to my dear students after I left, and I would be eaten alive by the guilt of not being there.

But I’m also not the only catalyst for change. I’m not the final marker of success or failure for my students.

I cannot help but feel the guilt of knowing that the job at Northwestern is not done, that we have not reached our full potential as a beacon of hope and change within Liberty City. I know my two years here just isn’t enough to do that. But it is enough to be part of that. And while two years could never be enough, it is enough all at once. I have to believe that if planted deep enough, roots of change will hold fast and continue to grow long after the gardener is gone–because those flowers know how to find sunlight. No longer will the excuse of not having the right teacher or the right materials be acceptable, because over the last two years, my students have focused on becoming inquisitive learners. They will ask the right questions and find the solutions they are looking for. Real change is sustainable. And if it’s not, then it’s not real change–the type that will keep going long after I click that lock one last time on room 3085.

Then, just like last year, when I wonder what will my students remember of me, I got some answers from the only voices that ever truly mattered: my students.

(Letter below is from a student who has been labeled ‘very difficult’ and I have really struggled for two years to help him realize his potential. Second is from a girl who truly came a long way personally over the course of the year)

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