I live in the school district in which I taught for 35 years, so it is not too unusual for me to bump into former students around town. I have seen two students in the past few months who are now adults, but who are dealing with sad issues in their lives. Both of these students are wandering aimlessly, living at home, and depressed because of their particular circumstance. I spent over an hour with each of them, and it felt just like I was back in the classroom and they were in 10th grade again.
Sometimes, families members walk around problems, because they hope by not addressing those issues, the problems will go away. (That method never works. I know this for a fact, as I have tried it myself.) Instead, as my former students poured their individual problems out for me to hear, I led them to recognize and say aloud what their parents or significant others would not say to them - they did not know their purpose.
Knowing and having a purpose is so fulfilling. At the end of the day, it just feels good to finish a project, to help a friend or neighbor, to do a good deed, or to put in a hard day's work. When grief or sadness or anger try to steal away happiness, one's purpose and work can go a long way toward helping to keep an even keel. I, personally, believe that our life's purposes are constantly changing, and that we must open our minds and our spirits to embrace the purposes with which we are presented.
When my parents both died unexpectedly within 82 days of each other back in 2002, I was very depressed. Both died of massive heart attacks without any warning, and there were no final goodbyes. I continued to teach and coach, to be the best wife I could be, and to try to make my life as normal as possible, which really helped me personally. When Scott died in 2012, I had already retired from teaching, but I continued to coach and to do all of the paperwork that comes with a death. My purpose was also to clean up our house to be sold, and to find a new condo for one, which was maintenance-free. It took 5 months of 16 hours a day to do all of that, but each night, I could go to sleep knowing that I was fulfilling my purpose for that time. Moving and the death of a spouse, along with the deaths of both of my husband's parents and a diagnosis and treatment of oral cancer (no, I never smoked-very scary) took some time to work through, and I knew I had to find a new purpose. I had started writing my book for student teachers some years before, returning to it now and then. I suddenly had the chance to really write, as I no longer had hundreds of English II essays to grade. I began this blog, and finished and published the book.
I feel lucky that I have had so many purposes, and I feel for someone who can't find one. I told both of my former students in separate conversations that they must go back to what they love to do. Work and purpose must be enjoyable to be good for one's mental health.
It seems silly, but for both, those words were what they needed to hear. They walked away from our conversations with hope in their eyes, and I hope they are both on the road to discovering their individual purposes.
Here's to all teachers knowing their purpose and to helping their students to find theirs.
Rittman Publishing, LLC
Dede's book, STUDENT TEACHING: THE INSIDE SCOOP FROM A MASTER TEACHER, has won 7 awards! Buy it at www.dederittman.com
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