For every student, everywhere, every day.
My childhood was full of adversity, the odds were stacked high, and the fact that I have achieved the level of success that I have is nothing short of a blessing rooted in grace, favor, and mercy. Frederick Douglass said, “Without a struggle there can be no progress”, and that has been my mantra in life. Throughout my educational experiences, I have had both weeds and seeds planted in my life. My 1st grade teacher, Mrs. Lyons, never questioned why I went from having outstanding to unsatisfactory work. What she did not know was that sometimes I had to do my homework in the dark because the electricity was cut off, sometimes I went to bed hungry, or that sometimes I could not focus on my work because of the turmoil in my home. She tried to plant a weed, but I turned it into a seed. I decided that failure should never be a viable option for any child. Mrs. Holmes, my 5th grade teacher, believed in me and loved me beyond my circumstances. This was a very rough time in my life, as my parents got divorced; we lost our childhood home, and I had to move away from an affluent neighborhood to the inner city, but Mrs. Holmes picked me up and dropped me off every day for a year just so I would not have to transfer schools so that a situation that was all but normal could maintain a small piece of normalcy for me. She planted a seed in my life. I chose teaching because it allows me to plant seeds in the lives of my students. I water them, nurture them, and watch them grow. Like Mrs. Holmes, I strive to be a hope builder, a dream pusher, and a future forger!
Over the years, I have taught many students like Jariah, who was one of my best writers, Alise, who is now the President of DECA in the state of Kansas, Tamaria who is working at a University as an athletic trainer, Nikoleta, a hard working mom and wife, Ramon who is in his residency to become a doctor, Quinton, Dishaun, Aaliya, and Nakiya who were my track stars and are all preparing to start their lives after graduation, and Annie who has chosen service as a way to give back and has travelled to schools in Africa this past year.
As the years have gone by, teaching has not always been easy and has had its challenging moments, like in school year 2014-15, when the students seemed to be so apathetic towards their work; however, it motivated me to try new strategies, and to create programs like my non-profit organization #Squad Up For Education, Inc. as a way to encourage them to be their best and do their best. That group of students eventually went on to earn the highest scores on their standardized tests in the school that year because of those efforts. The struggle and challenges made me a better teacher – I am so thankful for the trials. I realize that teaching is my purpose in life – I impart hope.
Three months ago, I was at a Black History month program as a speaker. As I walked into the venue, I saw Dishaun, a student that I had five years ago who is now a senior in high school. “What are you doing here?” I asked him as I gave him a hug. He told me that he just happened to stop by the school.
As I walked towards the gym, I reminisced over the time when he was my student. While I could see the potential he possessed, at the time that he was my student, he was unaware of it and found himself in precarious situations. I decided I would not treat him as Mrs. Lyons had treated me. I set up parent meetings, kept him at lunch for tutoring, and even created a space so that he could be productive in my class. I convinced him to join the track team that I coached as well, which allowed him to see that he was valuable as a team member and a student. I noticed that he had a care and patience for students with special needs, so I spoke with the Special Education teacher to see if, as a reward, she would allow him to volunteer in her classroom when he was finished with his work to which she agreed. I watched him transform that school year. To see him as I walked into that gym, I swelled with such pride and joy knowing that he is why I teach. I was confused to see him walk towards the podium, as I thought he was only there visiting. I leaned over to my Superintendent and said, “I am so proud of him. I wonder why he is speaking.” He proceeded to share his accomplishments: Captain of the Track and Varsity Football team, President of the Keystone Club, Junior Reserve Officer Training Corps Staff member, and a member of the school’s Squad Leadership team. After high school, he explained he would be joining the Air Force and he would pursue a degree in Special Education. He looked at me and said, “Mrs. Wing’s efforts helped mold me into the young man you see today. She showed me that an education is the most important thing you can have. I just want to thank her.” He said as he walked towards me with a bouquet of flowers. With tears streaming down my face, I thought, this is why I teach, this is why I stay: for Dishaun, for Nikoleta, for Tamaria, for Jariah, for Annie, for Ramon, for Quinton, for Alise, for Aaliya, for Nakiya, and for the many other students who make me so proud, who allowed me in, and who let me plant seeds in their lives. It is all about my students. I was created for this – I am a teacher, and I am so thankful and grateful to God to be able to teach and learn every day!
Kelisa Wing is an 8th grade Language Arts Teacher and AVID site team member for Faith Middle School in Fort Benning, Georgia. She is a 2016 ASCD Emerging Leader, the 2017 Department of Defense Education Activity State Teacher of the Year, and a Flocabulary Master Certified Educator. She is also the Continuous School Improvement Chair for her school. She is an Army veteran, a proud graduate of the University of Maryland University College, and the University of Phoenix where she earned her Educational Specialist degree. In her spare time, she enjoys volunteering in the community and spending time with her family. *All thoughts are her own. You can follow her on twitter @kelisa_l2teach.
This piece is part of a series from Inservice entitled, ‘Why I Teach’, where we asked teachers from various backgrounds and years of experience to reflect on their why. Check back every day this week to read from other teachers as they write about why they’re a teacher.