Full Circle

It’s Sunday. In the Lusiani-Elliott house that means it’s cooking day. Every Sunday I cook a traditional Italian meal in hopes my children, as 4th generation Italian-Americans, can stay connected at least in part to the culture that is so important to me. Maybe one day it will be equally important to them. For now, however, they participate because I ask them to, and that’s enough for me.

And then I think of my students; many of them also participating in this thing called “social studies education,” not because they are enraptured by the stories of those who came before them, but because I ask them to. I’ve developed relationships with them that lend to them indulging me in my excitement over historical and political issues, just as my children indulge me in my stories about my grandparents. Some of my students will be bit by the social science bug and go on to study one of its many strands in college; others will move forward with some new content knowledge, a few new skills, and a simple knowing that they were seen and respected and even loved.  That, too, is enough for me.

Some may argue that fact. They may say that, because they didn’t master the content and score well on a test that, in fact, I didn’t really teach them at all.

What would I say in return? Bullsh*t.

A week ago I may have given a different answer. A week ago I was struggling in my understanding of what it means to serve my children, what it means to serve my students, what it means to serve my community. Today, however, I am clear.

This clarity came after spending the day yesterday with almost one hundred educators bound together whether we knew each other or not because we have all served the San Lorenzo community by working (and living and laughing and crying and growing) at San Lorenzo High School. The reunion’s theme was “Once a Rebel, Always a Rebel,” and that spirit filled the hearts of all who attended.

We were there to honor the retirement of a beloved former principal, to celebrate the 20th anniversary of our school winning a National Blue Ribbon for Education award, and to spend some time reconnecting with exceptional colleagues. We inspired each other with our integrity and an ethic of care unmatched anywhere else. We helped each other weather the political and social storms that are educating youth in a high needs community. In short, we were better simply by working together. For some of us that work continues; for others who have retired or moved on to other endeavors, the saying “Once a Rebel, Always a Rebel” continues to ring true whether or not they’re still fighting the good fight at school.

For me, however, it was a unique experience. I wasn’t a teacher when we earned national recognition; I was a student.

A full circle moment if there ever was one.

My test scores weren’t among the school’s highest. In fact, if I succeeded in school at all it’s because of the relationships I had with my teachers. And if I succeed now in my work as a teacher it’s because of the relationships I have with my students and what’ll they’ll agree to do simply because they trust and care about me, as I do them. I met a teacher recently who said, “You can’t underestimate the power of goodwill between a teacher and her students.” I agreed with him then; I understand the complex nuances of what it means to be on both the giving and receiving end of that goodwill now more than ever before.

There are not words to describe what it feels like to be surrounded by people whose support changed the trajectory of my life as well as people who picked up the charge to support me in the work I now do in response. It made me wonder, have my students ever felt this kind of gratitude–the moment when we realize just how better off our lives are simply because we’ve been served by others?

And if they have, then maybe my children will one day come to that place too, as I have for my family and the gifts they’ve given me. And they will come to a realization as I have today that nothing in the world matters as much as serving others. That, in fact, is exactly why we’re all here in the first place: to see, to value, to connect, and to serve.

What a beautiful life awaits them if they are able to live in the knowing that they have been served by the best. As I come to the end of my third decade, I realize that, even better, I continue to be served by the fact that I am doing the same for others. I know why I’m here and I am able to look forward to the next 40 years living that very purpose, be it in B2 of San Lorenzo High School or somewhere else entirely.

Wherever I end up, I will carry with me the anthem, “Once a Rebel, Always a Rebel,” and I will live in gratitude from here to eternity for the service of those who share the same song.

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