My Students are my Heroes

They are. They’re my heroes because I have students who are some of the most courageous, tenacious, and authentic people I know. Most days I can’t believe I get paid to do this job.

The past few days I’ve spent at a student leadership retreat with members of our Student Council. We’ve spent time learning about the importance of leading with integrity, honesty, and purpose.

I have to admit the past week I’ve been struggling with this whole teaching thing.  PBL/inquiry is tougher than it should be at times. You can’t always figure out what works right away. So often you feel like you’re floundering around, wondering if you really have any idea what you’re doing. It makes you doubt your ability as a teacher.

During our last session last night, I wondered if I should be doing this teaching thing at all. Parts of it are not going well. I feel like I’m not making a difference.  And I want to make a difference. I want to do something that matters.  Sometimes I wonder if I’m the only teacher who feels this way.

Shortly after the session ended, two of my students made a bee-line towards me. One of them looked at me and said,”I’ve decided that after I graduate I want to pursue social justice. I don’t know if that means I’ll go to school, or if I’ll just start helping people, but that’s what I want to do with my life.”

Okay, forget it. I make a difference.

Then they both looked at me and said, “We want to raise money for Invisible Children again.” One girl paused and then quietly said, “But the school won’t let us do it again.”

Nope. It won’t.

I looked at her and said,”We’ll find another way to do it.”  Surprised they stated, “Really?”

Yep, really.  And I’ll help.

What are we going to do? I have no idea. I don’t know where we’ll meet, what we’ll do or how we’ll achieve this goal. What I do know is that my students have found something they’re passionate about — something much larger than themselves that gives them a meaningful role to play in our society.

Last year, we were involved with the Schools for Schools competition. My students set a goal of $20,000, and by a complete miracle, we ended up raising $23,000 in less than 50 days.

In August, four students, who were the core of our Schools for Schools campaign, had the privilege of being part of an advocacy conference hosted by Invisible Children in San Diego. During the four day event they heard from speakers such as Gary Haugen, the director of International Justice Mission, an organization that seeks to free people, around the world, from slavery.

That weekend, my students learned they are part of a global movement seeking change, and their contribution makes a difference.

While raising money for Invisible Children started out as a classroom activity, one year later it still captivates their hearts and their souls.  How often does that happen in school? How often do our students find something to dedicate their lives to within the walls of a classroom?

I refuse to be an adult who does not support my student’s dreams. Not happening. Students need adults, who they care about, to believe and support them. And that’s what I plan to do.

So what does our year look like? In our English 20 class, we’re fighting human trafficking. We’re in the midst of creating a social media campaign to raise awareness of human trafficking in Canada.  Then we’re hoping to join with classrooms across Canada to lobby the government to pass anti-trafficking legislation that actually matters. Legislation that helps abroad, convicts offenders, and offers hope to victims. There’s power in numbers; our student’s voices matter.

Outside of school, we’re hoping to raise $30,000, and this time, my students have some concept of how much money that is. They want to raise it anyways. Why? Because they’re brave. But also because it costs about that much to build a rehabilitation centre for child soldiers in Uganda.

During their time in San Diego, my students met kids whose lives had been changed by the kindness of strangers through this organization — kids who have been given a second chance at life.

I think school should be this risky, all-in, exhilarating, adventure; my students agree. We’ll see what happens.

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About shelleywright

I love education & learning, which likely explains why I'm a teacher. My areas are ELA, Sr. sciences, and technology. My classroom is best described as a student-centred, tech embedded pbl/inquiry learning environment. I am currently a PhD student in the area of Curriculum and Instruction. My focus is play-based learning in high school, and it's impact on brain development.
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13 Responses to My Students are my Heroes

  1. I have been following all of your posts sent you “went PBL” I have started in a PBL high school this fall and find what you have done inspiring. I really want my students to care about a project like this too. I also want it to come from them not me so I am going to be patient and let it happen naturally as we get into human rights areas of the class.

    Thanks again for sharing!

    • That’s what happened with this particular group of students. They’re the ones who decided to help child soldiers in Uganda. It’s been life changing for some of them.

      So there is a great deal of wisdom in choosing the route you have. We can choose an issue for our students, and they’ll oblige us by doing something about it, but it’s a completely different story when it becomes driven by something they’re passionate about. I’d love to hear about it when it happens!

  2. Lauren says:

    Wow. You are an inspiration and you do make a difference. I am trying to come up with a service project for my students this year and for all years to come. I hope ours is as successful and makes a difference like you are!

  3. Ben Braymer says:

    Wow Shelly! I wish I could have been in your English class. Tell your students ” they rock” for me! Thanks for sharing.

  4. Shelley, I love reading your posts! You put how I often feel into words. Inquiry learning (teaching) is a messy business but the results are worth it.

    You absolutely aren’t the only teacher who feels like this at times! Hang in there!

  5. bhewes says:

    Hey Shelley :)
    I’ve been PBL-ing for a year now and share that ‘what am I doing?’ feeling.
    Reading your posts actually makes me feel like ‘holy crap I’m doing it all wrong’ again. That’s not a bad thing. My kids haven’t done anything this big or community/globally-driven.
    I will try again.
    Fall down, get back up – that’s what PBL has taught me this year :)

    • I doubt that you’re doing it wrong. I’ve found that PBL can look a hundred different ways, all unique and right. I think that’s one of the great things about it. I love the global/community aspect because students can do amazing things! It’s wonderful to see the transformation that takes place when kids find something they’re really passionate about.

  6. Andy McKiel says:

    Shelley,
    I love your honest reflections about the teaching and learning that takes place within your classroom. Your students are so lucky to have you to bounce their ideas off of – your willingness to let your students explore possibilities and make connections beyond the walls of your classroom is truly inspiring. At Unplug’d, I was moved by your story of the difference your students made in the lives of other kids halfway around the world. I can’t wait to see what they come up with for this year :-)
    I’ll be following their journey…

  7. Insightful and inspiring. Keep up the great work and never stop believing in the power of your students.

  8. You are SOooo Inspiring! Thank you for sharing your thoughts with the world!

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