No activity reinforces my devotion to teaching like a classroom discussion. My 8th graders, who exist in that middle school paradox of self-absorption and social consciousness, will debate issues of justice and flavors of Pop-Tarts with equal ferocity. Ordinarily, the rewards of such discussions are difficult to articulate (How to describe pensiveness or critical questioning?), but a few weeks ago, a student gave me words to grab on to. Groaning and folding his arms, he said, “Every time we talk about things in this class, it makes me so mad. It makes me want to change the way the world works.”

If my principal had been in the room, I suspect she would have assumed I had paid him to say that. Rest assured that if I had fabricated that statement, I would also have made up a much better response than the one I gave, which was a flabbergasted, sputtering, “That is … great, Michael.” Pause. “Um, open your vocab books to lesson seven.”

What startled me, and what I could not communicate to Michael at the time, is how succinctly his words summed up my purpose in teaching. If it is trite to say that I teach to change the world, then I will say this: I teach to help my students change the world.

In five or 10 years, my students will surely forget gerunds and participles, and the difference between assonance and consonance, and much else that can be neatly tracked and measured by multiple-choice tests. What I hope — what I need — them not to forget is to stand up for what they believe is right. The more I teach, the more I find I can connect nearly everything,

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