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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7 thoughts on “Full Circle

  1. Pingback: Volume 2, Issue 1: Service | Dirt Path Publishing

  2. OMG, Nicole, that just about sums it up for me…it is definitely how that room full of people have lived their lives…again, you brought a tear to my eye.

  3. The single most important thing I have ever done is teach –as a parent, colleague, teacher, and principal. It is imperative that those of us who have become professional educators have a passion for, and a belief in, those who are learning from us. I love beyond measure the students, families, and colleagues – yes, especially the difficult ones – that I have had the privilege of teaching.

    Teaching truly is an art. Great art does not just happen. The artist has a firm vision, meticulously plans, gathers resources, and then carries out the details that result in great works. Creating a masterpiece can be messy and challenging, but every child deserves to become a masterpiece. Take the time to be a great artist.

    ALL children need to be accepted and cared for – and know WHY they are worthy of love and have a significant adult who models, guides, and inspires them so they feel self-worth and dignity. Only then will they be able to attain the knowledge they need to make their place in the world.

    It’s the respectfully caring, nurturing relationship between the teacher and learner that is the single most powerful tool for learning.

    Sheryl – Retired SLZ High teacher and principal

    • So important to remember that “teaching” is a part of a true teacher’s purpose, no matter where it takes place. Maya Angelou says, “At our best we’re all teachers.” I think you captured that in your comment. I’m exceptionally grateful to have been one of your students :)

  4. “You don’t know what you’ve got ’til its gone” Joni Mitchell. As an ex-high school teacher, I still dream I’m teaching young students.Whenever a new article comes around -finally- to say that teachers are what counts when it comes to …teaching,I want to take the next plane back and teach. I wanted to see the looks on students faces when Obama got elected. I want to help them see what opportunities they have to be empowered in the US. I want to keep learning from them and feeling that I made a difference for an hour or two here and there. French teachers can be as passionate, though perhaps are less encouraged to express it. I am thankful that I learned my craft at a place where it was cool to care whether you were the classroom teacher, the janitor or the bookroom lady. . Because the love of children is what keeps this world sane. I suspected it as a teacher and now as a parent I am certain of it.

    • I love the wisdom that comes from being both parent and teacher. Quite a gift to be a member of each group, but to be a part of both brings a depth of understanding unfound otherwise. Thanks, Laura!