A Journey to the Unexpected

Closing the Teach For America Blogging Gap
Nov 15 2012

I Teach for Malala

I remember one of our first pro-Sats, in which our Icebreaker was to finish the phrase, “I teach for…” You’ve heard the expected responses. “I teach for that student whose life I changed forever yesterday.” “I teach for my classmates who went to prison because nobody believed in them.” “I teach for the single mom who just wants her kid to be the first in their family to go to college.” When I started TFA, those made sense. I’m pretty sure at this particular moment in the year, however, I had no “I teach for” reason, except maybe “I teach for the hope that I will not always be this miserable.” Classy, and oh so selfless.

Finally, after a year and a half of teaching, my reasons are restored, all because of a 14 year old girl on the other side of the world. As a relevant side note, the vast majority of my students are 14. I must admit, I didn’t follow this young blogger at all until she got shot in the head. To make it worse, please don’t judge me, but her story hits home when it reminds me of the various students and their family members who have come to school after being shot in their heads, even if it was just with a BB gun. How in the world, you ask? Because of Malala’s own words– “If this new generation is not given pens, they will be given guns by terrorists.”

I know my students are pretty far removed from today’s terrorists for now, but that doesn’t mean they don’t need pens. One or two of my students that I have challenged to pick up pens instead of razors actually have, and boy, does it make it pretty heavy to grade their writing journals sometimes. And while I recognize that a shotgun and an AK47 are meant to be very different tools, it unnerves me to hear my 14 year old boy tell me about the time he almost shot his best friend after losing a video game when he was drunk four years ago.

I by no means want to criticize this area of the country, nor am I even trying to make a statement about gun control (for once!). I simply am inspired by the fact that a teenage girl’s dream from a world away can encompass my own for my girls, and my boys for that matter. I dream of a world where my girls will know they are valuable simply because God created them, not because a senior guy wanted her to sext him instead of asking her best friend. I dream of a world where they will be educated and employed, instead of bored and on benzos. I dream of a world where my young gentleman will say “I’m mad” instead of throwing that first punch that gets them suspended.

I know that the girls in Pakistan have bigger battles than my kids, who dream of the day that they won’t “have” to go to school anymore while she’s fighting for the right to go at all. In some strange way, though, as we talk about her story, my kids are exploring a whole new world, and as they learn to say “I, too, am Malala,” I’m re-discovering the reason I started teaching too.

I teach to give this new generation a pen that will reach around the world.

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