Humanities Moments

Saving the world may just mean saving one person's world

Contributed by Gerald Evans, 43, English Teacher (high school and middle school)
T2T Humanities Moment.PNG
My Humanities Moment starts off years before I became a teacher, but it culminated when I realized what my ultimately mission was as a teacher. When I grew up, I was a very poor student, and there were many reasons why (poverty-level upbringing, broken home, alcoholic parent, mentally-handicapped parent, poorly identified learning disabilities, etc...). most of those reasons led to a nearly functionally-illiterate student through middle school, and that didn't change much through high school.

Eventually, after stumbling my way through my formative years, I went into the U.S. Army as a military police officer. I did this very much as a means of escaping my location, the demons from my upbringing, and my poor academic success. Early on in my military career, I was found to be dyslexic, and that was a game-changer for me. It not only gave me an identifier for why I was the way I was (as a student), but it gave me relief in knowing that there was a cure (or at least a fix). Once I tackled that piece of my learning issues, a whole new world opened up to me, and I felt liberated.

Fast forward to my first year of teaching: I knew even before I got my first teaching job what kind of teacher I wanted to be. Coming from the home and academic experiences that forged me, I knew full well that I wanted to be the teacher that I never had. I wanted to be the teacher whose mission was to save the world. I wanted to be a safe space for my students, I wanted to be dynamic, and I wanted to open up worlds they didn’t know existed, but most of all, I wanted to save all of them. The problem with that last goal is that a student who needs to be saved looks identical to students who do not need to be saved. In knowing this, I approached (and still do approach) every student as if they are the ones whose world I needed to save. My first year of teaching probably went much like everyone else’s, but my Army and law enforcement background let me master classroom management early, but content and instruction… eh, not so much. In order to make up for that weakness, I focused on being the safe space for my students.

Not long after that first year started, our principal read us the following parable: One day an old man was walking along the beach, and he stopped to watch a little boy frantically running to the edge of the water, throwing something, and then running back up the beach away from the surf. As he watched, he realized the boy was frantically trying to save the stranded starfish laying on the beach in the sun (of which there were hundreds). After a while, the old man walked up to the boy, put a calming hand on his shoulder, and said, “son, you can’t possibly save all of them. You just can’t make a difference here. There’s hundreds!” The determined boy, with an offended scowl on his face, shrugged the man’s hand off of his shoulder, bent down and picked up another starfish, ran toward the tide while reaching back as far as he could, and chucked the starfish into the ocean. As he ran back up the beach to grab another, the boy looked at the man and said, “Maybe, but I made a difference for that one.” When I heard that parable being read, I realized that this little boy was me as a teacher. Sure I wasn’t going to be able to save them all, but I would be able to save some of them, and we all know that saving some is far more rewarding than saving none. So, while I save some, I will continue to think of a better way to save them all. That is my Humanities Moment.

Title

Saving the world may just mean saving one person's world

Description

My Humanities Moment starts off years before I became a teacher, but it culminated when I realized what my ultimately mission was as a teacher. When I grew up, I was a very poor student, and there were many reasons why (poverty-level upbringing, broken home, alcoholic parent, mentally-handicapped parent, poorly identified learning disabilities, etc...). most of those reasons led to a nearly functionally-illiterate student through middle school, and that didn't change much through high school.

Eventually, after stumbling my way through my formative years, I went into the U.S. Army as a military police officer. I did this very much as a means of escaping my location, the demons from my upbringing, and my poor academic success. Early on in my military career, I was found to be dyslexic, and that was a game-changer for me. It not only gave me an identifier for why I was the way I was (as a student), but it gave me relief in knowing that there was a cure (or at least a fix). Once I tackled that piece of my learning issues, a whole new world opened up to me, and I felt liberated.

Fast forward to my first year of teaching: I knew even before I got my first teaching job what kind of teacher I wanted to be. Coming from the home and academic experiences that forged me, I knew full well that I wanted to be the teacher that I never had. I wanted to be the teacher whose mission was to save the world. I wanted to be a safe space for my students, I wanted to be dynamic, and I wanted to open up worlds they didn’t know existed, but most of all, I wanted to save all of them. The problem with that last goal is that a student who needs to be saved looks identical to students who do not need to be saved. In knowing this, I approached (and still do approach) every student as if they are the ones whose world I needed to save. My first year of teaching probably went much like everyone else’s, but my Army and law enforcement background let me master classroom management early, but content and instruction… eh, not so much. In order to make up for that weakness, I focused on being the safe space for my students.

Not long after that first year started, our principal read us the following parable: One day an old man was walking along the beach, and he stopped to watch a little boy frantically running to the edge of the water, throwing something, and then running back up the beach away from the surf. As he watched, he realized the boy was frantically trying to save the stranded starfish laying on the beach in the sun (of which there were hundreds). After a while, the old man walked up to the boy, put a calming hand on his shoulder, and said, “son, you can’t possibly save all of them. You just can’t make a difference here. There’s hundreds!” The determined boy, with an offended scowl on his face, shrugged the man’s hand off of his shoulder, bent down and picked up another starfish, ran toward the tide while reaching back as far as he could, and chucked the starfish into the ocean. As he ran back up the beach to grab another, the boy looked at the man and said, “Maybe, but I made a difference for that one.” When I heard that parable being read, I realized that this little boy was me as a teacher. Sure I wasn’t going to be able to save them all, but I would be able to save some of them, and we all know that saving some is far more rewarding than saving none. So, while I save some, I will continue to think of a better way to save them all. That is my Humanities Moment.

Source

A well-known parable known as the starfish story

Date

2007 (my first year of teaching)

Contributor

Gerald Evans, 43, English Teacher (high school and middle school)

Identifier

saving-one-persons-world

Referrer

Troops to Teachers program: National Humanities Center

Location