I’m lucky to routinely be surrounded by professional educators, especially K-12 educators, on a very regular basis. The patience, passion, and dedication that a great educator at any level must have for their students is awe-inspiring. Quite frankly, I sometimes don’t believe that I have one of those qualities…it’s the one I deem most important: patience! If a parent ever came and yelled at me because of THEIR student performing poorly – I think I would lose it. It’s for reasons like these that I, also, should never work in customer service and strongly prefer higher education (students who are older, more independent, and hopefully have more advocacy than a teenager or pre-teen might) to K-12.
BUT, in all seriousness and much more importantly…
In either arena, in any service-based profession, and especially in education…the amount of reward and pride that you feel once your customer or student or whomever is satisfied, smarter, or whatever … that’s what you work for. Seeing them be happy and, in education, seeing them use the tools that you shared with them is so wonderful. That’s what makes a late night, or a grumpy parent, or an annoying customer, worth all of the trouble, in my opinion. It’s those meaningful interactions, even if they are short, that remind you why you do what you do as an educator.
That’s exactly how I felt last night.
It was Nats night! I was enjoying the Washington Nationals’ ballgame with my friend Sarah C. She came up from Fredericksburg, and it was her first MLB baseball game – how exciting! So, even though the Nationals were losing miserably, it was still a good time, as my friends Zack F. and Michelle S. came up for the game too! Toward the end of the game, a student, who I’ll call “Nevin,” came up to me out of no where…at a BASEBALL GAME.
We were actually on the hunt for some funnel cakes toward the bottom of the 8th inning (crunch time!), and walking around the ball park. It was at that moment that, off in the distance, I hear someone say “Hey! That’s Justin Graves!” What? This doesn’t happen in environments this large…oh man who is this going to be…am I going to remember their name? oh no…(these are all the thoughts that I had rushing through my head in that moment)
Mind blown and heart racing, I turn around, and I see a young man wearing a maroon polo. It took me about half of a second to place him, and then I immediately remembered – I had just spoken at his school last week! At Jefferson Academy here in Washington, D.C., the students wear uniforms. I would remember that maroon shirt anywhere. It was a nice Hokie maroon, too. :)
I had just met him on Friday, only 5 days prior. I remembered that “Nevin” asked me some of the best questions of all of his classmates. It was Career Day at his school, and I volunteered my time to come and speak about my two very different careers – my day job that sees me serving the American people as a project manager and policy analyst through the federal government, and also my passion job that sees me traveling the country to inspire others, particularly students, as a motivational speaker. After taking just 10 minutes to explain both to them, I invited them to ask questions about what, exactly, they wanted to know about, for the remaining 40 minutes. Of the 3 sessions, every single class had MORE than enough questions! :) Sharp kids.
I remember particularly, at the end of Nevin’s class, being posed a question by the teacher. The teacher asked me, “if you could, just one more time remind these students why it’s important to accept differences in other people. Why is that important to YOU?”
I had already lectured them a bit about my motto, “life is all about what you have done for other people,” and the importance of community service in the world. I had already told them about how the value of a first impression, and a solid, friendly first handshake. And, after that, I reminded them that NO one else in the world they meet is going to be exactly like them. And that if they treated others badly, simply based on that fact, then they would be making EVERY single person around them feel bad. I remember making eye contact with “Nevin” after I said that and, for some reason, I just felt like it clicked for him. I just felt it. I didn’t know for sure, but I thought it did.
Afterward, some students would focus on the policy part of my job with their questions. Others would focus on the students I get to work with. Some would ask more about my disability – it was quite the range. But that’s exactly why I decided to do this. Students and their curiosity, together, are just so inspiring to me. The amount of knowledge that young people just want to soak up reminds me how great it is to be an educator – especially when you have those students who are as motivated. And when you’re the guest speaker, something outside of the norm for them, it’s easy to have them just completely and wholly engaged.
As a professional educator, yes, you have to deal with the students who might not be as intrinsically motivated and be more difficult to handle. But every professional educator I know tells me that it’s just part of the ride. As a non-traditional educator, it’s moments like “Nevin” walking up to me and giving me a bright smile, a firm handshake, and literally exemplifying many of the things he’s learned over the years in making a fantastic first impression on Sarah and I. It’s so damn moving to me. I don’t know this kid…and I don’t know the next time I’ll see him. But if what I said that one day in his class had even the smallest affect on how he interacts with others for years to come…mission accomplished. THAT is why HESONWHEELS exists. That is why I do what I do, on top of everything else that I do.
There’s one more story from last night that got my mind really rolling as I tried to fall asleep last night. A woman, who we’ll call “Pam,” that I met yesterday after the game as we hung around the ballpark. I thought her chocolate Labrador Retriever pup was gorgeous, and complimented him as I walked by. She offered me the chance to pet him. Of course I accepted!
She was my 1 new person last night, and she shared not only her dog and her beer with me but also a story about how the school she works at is on 80% free and reduced lunch. Assuming that’s correlated to a high rate of low-income families, along with the racial tensions she explained…all reminded me of the perils (but the proportionally greater reward, I’m sure) of being a professional educator. The challenges that come with working in an environment like that…took me back to another (read: the most) moving experience that I had earlier this year as a non traditional educator…
Over the past few weeks I’ve been giving a presentation called “My Passion Job & My Day Job.” It’s Career Day season here in D.C. public schools, and my motivation to develop this presentation and explore the opportunities to work with students from this angle came from an experience that I had in Austin, Texas this past March.
I was in Austin to speak at SXSWedu, and my session, titled “Everyday Philanthropy,” thankfully went off without a hitch. I was in town for two weeks, and after my session was done, I still had a week and a half to explore the other SXSW conferences. That night, I decided to go to a few mixers, network a bit, and then dip out to head next door to Alamo Drafthouse and catch one of the films that were showing as a part of SXSWeduFilm. Typical Justin though; I was on J. Graves time, and was too late – the film house was full, and there was quite the line to get in…
Never one to shy away from the opportunity to chat with a stranger in line, I start to chat it up with the woman standing next to me in line. Ironically she had actually attended my session earlier in the day. This wonderful woman, Susie S., is an educator in Austin’s school system, a fourth grade teacher. It turned out to be absolutely fate that Susie and I didn’t get into that film viewing, in my opinion. I wouldn’t have made a new friend out of it and the opportunit(ies)y and ideas that came from it would have never happened either.
Yes, I really do believe in fate, the Butterfly Effect, and how we are all in certain places for very intentional reasons.
More on that opportunity in this post, coming later this week … :) For now: thanks for reading!