They don’t tell you that if you teach long enough—if you teach enough students and touch enough lives—then one day you’ll open the newspaper and find one of your former students in the obituaries. There will be a picture, and when you look at the picture you will recognize their smile and their eyes, and it will haunt you. You will read about a life that was still bursting with promise when it stopped.

Maybe they were just out of college and ready to start a career. Maybe they were a young mother or a young father. Or they were still in school, struck down by one of those monstrous diseases that prey on children. No matter: it will be far too soon and it will be senseless, and it will cause the foundations of your world to tremble.

They don’t tell you that in teacher school, but they should.


They should tell you so that you can prepare yourself. They should tell you because it’s true. And they should tell you because it is the foundation of the most important lesson a teacher can learn: You are in charge of leading your students toward rich and full lives—not tomorrow, but today. 

Deep down, we don’t collaborate in order to develop 21st-century skills; we collaborate because human connection is essential to human flourishing. Our classrooms don’t serve others to provide real-world context and increase engagement; we serve others because life is lived best when it’s lived selflessly. Teachers don’t develop student curiosity to increase retention; we live curiously because the world is a wonderful place that deserves our fascination.


This is the start of a new year. It might seem ridiculous and morbid to remember how few we have left. Remember it anyway—because brevity instills life with power and poignancy. Remember it today, when you greet them in the morning and when you send them home: your class doesn’t prepare students for the real world—your classroom is the real world. Make it as full of meaning and passion and purpose as you can.

That’s an incredible responsibility, but it’s also an incredible opportunity. When your teaching is is deep and meaningful and memorable, you are changing your students’ lives. When you laugh and get excited and overcome obstacles together, you are making memories they will hold onto forever. Teaching is hard; but teaching is incredibly rewarding too. And it’s rewarding because of those moments that resonate deeply. My hope is that you and your students live rich lives together this year, filled with the things that make life wonderful: creativity and empathy and adventure; wonder, compassion, hope, and joy.

What about you? Share your hopes for 2020 in the comments below!

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