And now, a word from our sponsor...
"If a man is called to be a streetsweeper, he should sweep streets even as Michaelanglo painted, or Beethoven composed music, or Shakespeare wrote poetry. He should sweep streets so well that all the host of heaven and earth will pause to say, 'Here lived a great streetsweeper who did his job well."
I remember hearing those words from an airline stewardess whose face remains etched along my mind but whose name is no where to be found. I was twenty-two years old, flying to Pittsburgh to see my family for the Christmas holiday, and so much had changed for me that season. In July of that year, I had moved to Houston, Texas with only one thousand two hundred dollars to my name. I had come to fulfill my dream: To become a teacher for students with hearing loss.
I remember how depressed I had been on that flight, and it had all been due to lofty and daring fancies that had been torn apart by institutions. No one ever instructed me in college that education was politics. No one had told me that there was only one philosophy to what was right or wrong in a classroom. No one had informed me that teaching would also mean parenting. I was faced with the most absolute truth that I heard throughout my entire college career that, up until that moment, I had always believed to be a joke: "They don't teach you how to be a teacher in college."
So imagine my curiosity when the airline stewardess sat down beside me and struck up a conversation. Imagine even more when we started talking about Martin Luther King, Jr., and how she remembered listening to his powerful speeches, captivated by his words. When she told me that quote, something inside of me lit on fire - literally. My stomach turned, and my heart pounded.
My conscience had a knock at the door.
"I don't feel like I'm being the best streetsweeper I can be," I remember telling her. I can recall her gentle smile even now as she said, "Then you better pick up your broom and get back to sweeping, child."
I'd love to tell you how it all just changed magically right then and there, but that would be a drama best left to movies. The truth is that change crept upon me in small steps with small events that left small, significant impressions upon my heart. It wasn't until I was asked to move into the itinerant department for children with hearing loss that I realized how different a teacher I truly was.
I'd love to tell you that I'm a fantastic teacher now. I'm sure there are plenty of people who think I am, but I'm also fairly certain that you'll find those who say I am not. I'm realistic in that regard. However, there's one thing I think both camps would say about me that sets me apart from my peers: I'm idealistic. For better or for worse, that's the rub of the whole thing.
I try to face my work as a task assigned to me and as a priviledge which I am thankful for having. I know every day that there is a child on my current caseload who needs someone, and sometimes, that need has nothing to do with our current objective of the day. I am aware now of a greater impact that I possess simply because I decided to show up for work. I am finally cognizant that the trite phrase "making a difference" need not be considered trite, but rather, precious because it is rare.
As I enjoy my hamburgers, hot dogs, potato salad, and cold lemonade, I will be smiling. I will remember what a joy it is to do my job, and how it is my goal to fulfill the challenge set out by Dr. King forty years ago. I hope you join me in this as well during Labor Day weekend, but if by chance, you find yourself feeling like you are unfulfilled, useless, or stagnant in your field of work, let me be the first to say to you:
You better pick up your broom and get to sweeping, child.