Why am I here?

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By MATT MORAN/Wolfskill High School

I’ve been sitting recently asking myself the question, why do I work at a continuation high school? It’s not all it’s cracked up to be. Mixed in with the appreciation that you are working with “those” students is the reproach that “oh, you are working with those students” — equal parts, “you must be a saint” with “how’d you screw up to be stuck there?”

I don’t feel I should be applying for sainthood any time soon but contrary to popular belief, I asked to work at my school. I was working in the independent studies program and assigned to teach one period a day at Wolfskill. After my initial year, I asked to be transferred over full time. Ten years later, I have never regretted that decision. In my first year, I discovered that the students wanted to learn but didn’t quite know how to go about learning.

My day is spent working with students who have not had the best success in their academic careers. Some of those issues stem all the way back to elementary school while some are more recent. Some of the issues are of the student’s making, although I do struggle with the idea that a 2nd grader is determining their academic career. Some of the issues stem from home and shockingly some of the issues stem from the schools themselves.

Some days the students are happy to see me and some days they aren’t. Some days I’m happy to see them and some days I’m not. So, I get treated with respect and even admiration some days and other days with scorn and distrust.

As I ponder my professional existence, the one truth that comes through is that we — students and myself — are struggling to find our place in the world. They, on the cusp of their professional lives, laying the foundation for their future, and me, on the cusp of retirement, laying a foundation for my future. I have more experience but they have more energy.

I realize my exasperation, my frustration, with my students is mainly because I see their potential and they don’t. For whatever reason — home, school, choices — they aren’t sure of what they can do. They have, for lack of a better term, lost their way and in some ways, we have let them get lost.

I look at my students and realize these are the students who are most likely to stay in the community, to lay roots here. They are most in need of guides to help them find their path. I’m lucky to be one of those guides.

I can guide, but I’m not responsible for their future. Still, I can be one of those influences that leads them in a positive direction. Not just by teaching but by example of how I act and treat others around me. When I tell them it isn’t about being “honest,” it is also about having integrity, it means nothing if I don’t demonstrate it in my own life.

I realize that they appreciate it. The students know I’m not doing this just for a paycheck or for the prestige. I run into ex-students who have graduated and they tell me how they are doing. I also run into ex-students who didn’t graduate and they also tell me how they are doing, usually with a caveat that they wish they had graduated.

I come back to working at Wolfskill is not all it’s cracked up to be — it’s more. It is watching young people struggle with life, growing up, maturing but also enjoying being a kid. It is laughing with students as we share a joke or something silly.

It’s feeling the pain a student goes through when they or someone they know has made a bad decision that is affecting their lives. It is feeling the hope that they will move beyond and learn from the experience.

It is the realization that I am helping shape our future, not just theirs. I guess in the end, I’ve answered my question. Why do I work at a continuation high school? It is struggle, laughter, pain, hope and the future.

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