When I was a kid, they used to show the movie, “It’s a Wonderful Life”, non-stop in the few days leading up to Christmas. Before the Scrooges at NBC bought the rights to it and decided to show it only once a year, you used to be able to find it playing on various channels continuously. My family made a game out of switching among several stations to watch our favorite parts of the movie over and over again. Never mind that we had it taped on VHS and Betamax (1000 bonus points to anybody who knows what that is).
For the two or three of you that have never seen it, here’s a (not so) brief synopsis:
George Bailey (the amazing Jimmy Stewart) is a regular joe whose one desire is to leave his small town home and “build things”. But due to circumstances beyond his control (his father’s death, his brother’s marriage, WWII) he puts off his dream to run the family business, the “Building and Loan”. This small bank is the last hold-out from the infamous Mr. Potter, a crotchety old fart whose only desire in life is to own everything and everybody in town. Over the years, George helps a lot of people in his town of Bedford Falls, but he can’t shake the feeling he was meant to do other things. Eventually, George becomes so distraught with his lot in life, that he “wishes he had never been born”. That’s where Clarance Odbody (Angel, Second Class) comes in. He shows George that life for many people in Bedford Falls would have been quite different (in a bad way) if George had never been born. It ends with George realizing that he was, indeed, meant to “build things”, but the “things” were relationships, not buildings. And then everybody brings him money, and Harry comes home from the war, and Clarance gets his wings, and they all join in a rousing chorus of “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing!”
(And Potter gets away with the $8000 that went missing, which always bothered me…)
Sometimes, I feel like George Bailey.
I see the many obstacles we face in education (not the kids–the kids are never the problem), and I wonder if I can do this for another 25, 30, 35 years. I wonder if my effort is better placed elsewhere. I wonder if I’m really all that good at my job. I wonder if what I teach is all that important. I wonder if my colleagues and I will ever garner the respect we so desperately crave from the public for our work.
I wonder if I should learn to hold my tongue and not be so vocal about the things that bother me, that anger me, that seem like injustices. I wonder if I shouldn’t be so personally invested in my work and my students so I won’t be so broken up when we fail. I wonder if my presence is really that imperative to the growth of my students.
I wonder if I’m really making a difference.
Then, I get a message like this out of the blue:
And I remember why I do what I do. I am reminded that living out your calling doesn’t mean it will be easy. It doesn’t mean it won’t come with its fair share of difficulties and even doubt.
But it does and will continue to bring great satisfaction when we see our students go on to “build things” of their own.