How Quitting Was the Most Courageous Lesson I Ever Taught

courageous lesson

“Fear keeps your achievements unrealized, hidden from yourself and the world. Love will set them free.” –Ralph Marston

My last 6 posts have partly told the story of what gave me the courage to quit my full-time high school teaching job so that I could write full-time.

To put that story into perspective and hopefully illustrate why I had to leave, I want you to read something I wrote after my first year of teaching.

7 Truths of Teaching and Learning


“Are you afraid?”

That’s the question I was asked when first interviewing for the Louisiana Teaching Fellows program. A wonderful principal asked me this because the program recruited teachers for the “toughest inner city schools” in Baton Rouge.

I never even thought to be afraid. Afraid of what? That question could be answered in two ways.

I could potentially be afraid of my self—doubting my abilities, feeling unworthy of the task, etc.

I’m sure, though, she wanted to know if I was afraid of teaching “those kids” who are often perceived as loud, ghetto, uncontrollable, violent, dangerous, and… unteachable.

It never occurred to me to be scared because I was too busy loving. I’m kin to my students. I am my students.

I had tea today with a couple who went through the teaching program with me, so teaching has been on my mind. I hiked a steep learning curve my first year, but here are some truths I’ve picked up along the way from personal experience, fellow teachers, books, and most I already knew from the life I lived before teaching.

1) “Fear keeps [my students’] achievements unrealized, hidden from [everyone]. Love will set them free.”

2) Students sense fear. When they act out in response to our fear of them, it’s probably to inflict pain similar to the pain they feel knowing that someone feared them without even knowing them. Also, they’ll take being feared over being threatened. Society has taught them that those who are feared stand a better chance of survival.

3) Every child is beautiful and BRILLIANT!!! But most importantly, they need to know it, and they need to know that I know it.

4) There’s no such thing as a student who “just doesn’t want to learn.” Students may not want to learn what we want to teach them, but they want to learn something.

5) I must be a student of my students, learning ways to best serve them. Teaching is not about me, so I scale my ego down to size. Teaching is not about my subject, so I dismiss the notion of sacred texts. No book, no curriculum, no standard could ever trump the sacredness of my children’s humanity.

6) I must love my students for who they are right now rather than for who formal education conditions them to be. I mustn’t tell them they can be somebody some day. I must show them they are somebody right now. Even if they have tattoos, gold teeth, or purple hair. Yes, even those things make them special.

7) The world cannot afford to lose out on my students. The world needs each of them to be productive citizens who know, live, and share their value daily.

Teaching and learning is not about fear; it’s about loving.

So, the final question I asked myself before realizing that quitting would be the most courageous lesson I could teach to the students I loved, was this: How can I lecture to my students about going after their dreams, when I’ve never even attempted to go after my own?

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