Day after day she prepared lesson plans and poured her heart and soul into making literature come alive. Yet time and again her students came to class unprepared and she was convinced that almost none actually read the books she assigned - they opted for the Cliffs Notes instead. Yes, there were those bright students who engaged her now and again, but those seemed few and far between.
She didn't want to go to school today because she truly didn't know if she was making a difference.
Once upon a time there was a volunteer at an after school program that bused in students after school. This volunteer had been serving at this post for several months now, yet all he could show for it was a pack of rowdy kids and exhaustion by the end of the day.
It seemed that no matter what games he came up with or outing he could plan, the kids would either complain or sabotage the whole event. "Jackson, stop fighting!" and "Lisa, please stop sneaking outside!" became the most common form of communication. Not that all of the times with this group of kids were bad; there were many laughs and a few hugs at the end of the day. But for the most part, they seemed to run all over him no matter how much of an investment he made in them.
He was thinking hard about telling the director of the program that some other things had come up and he couldn't help anymore. After all, he truly didn't know if he was making a difference.
Once upon a time there was a set of parents who were struggling mightily to raise their teenage son. It seemed that no matter what they said or did, he criticized their decisions and showed defiance at every turn. Family meal time? Why can't I hang out with my friends instead? You've used to much data on your phone this month, son. You guys don't understand what it's like to be a teenager today! I have to have my phone! This isn't fair!
Frustrated, they reached out for help wherever they could find it - family, friends, the pastor at their church. They were surprised and strangely comforted to find that their struggle was not unique, yet they still felt as if they were isolated on an island with no solid answers for their plight. Could they make it to the end of high school in one piece?
As much as they loved their son, they secretly wondered if life wouldn't be easier once he was grown and out of the house. After all, what difference were they making in his life?
Then one day a family in the community was wrecked by a nasty divorce. The father had been unfaithful to his wife and had suddenly packed up and left without so much as saying goodby. The wife, teenage daughter, and grade school son were devastated and felt as if their world was turned upside down.
At school the next day, the literature teacher was at her desk looking over her notes during her planning period when she heard a knock on her door. She looked up to see one of her third period students standing there, tears streaming down her face. The student ran in the room and almost fell into her, crying uncontrollably. When she was able to calm down, she told the teacher the story of how her father had walked out on her family last night and she didn't know what to do. You've always been so patient with your classes and a good listener, I knew that I could come to you. What am I going to do?
When the bus dropped the kids off at the after school center that day, one of the little boys immediately went to a corner and sat with his head buried between his knees. The volunteer had come that day with every intent of quitting, but when he saw the boy his heart was drawn to him. Yes, this kid had been a holy terror almost every day, but now he saw that things were different. This young boy was grieving over something that was bigger than he could handle.
The volunteer gingerly approached the boy and sat beside him, juice box and cookies in hand. The boy looked up and instantly grabbed his arm, crying into his shoulder. My dad has gone away and he's not coming back! I know it's all my fault because I've been so bad, but I just want him to come home! What's going to happen to me and my family?
Immediately after school the mom noticed that her son went straight to his room after the carpool dropped him off. Normally he would raid the fridge and play video games, but not today. She thought this was strange but decided not to invade on his privacy. She didn't want to push too hard and have her son lash out defensively.
When her husband came home, she told him about the situation with their son, who was still in his room. They agreed that something was wrong and they quietly approached his closed door, knocking softly. To their surprise he told them to come in, with no hint of animosity in his voice. As they entered his room they saw him sitting on his bed writing in a journal, his eyes puffy from crying. I didn't know our son had a journal? Why is he crying? These thoughts flashed through their minds but they did not verbalize them for fear that he would withdraw from them.
They sat on either side of the bed, mom touching him gently on the hand and dad asking if everything was alright. With a trembling voice their son told them that his girlfriend's parents had just split up, her dad walking out on the family. Why did he do this to them, mom? Does this mean that she will have to move away, dad? Mom, dad, you won't leave me like that, will you?
Everyday heroes aren't only found in fairy tales or action movies. Sometimes the most heroic acts occur when we engage in the mundane every single day, working jobs that seem thankless or negotiating frustrating conflicts on the homefront. Is the struggle real and the battles exhausting? You bet they are. But know this: The difference that you are making may not be evident now or in the near future, yet you will never regret the investment that you are making in the lives of students or your own children. The battle is always worth it.