Like all great literature, Maya Angelou’s powerful poem I Rise speaks to the human collective. I apply her message to the teachers who serve our children and our society tirelessly amid unprecedented challenges. John Goodlad calls their battles no less than “the struggle for the soul of the American public school.”
Webster defines persevereas “to continue in some effort in spite of difficulty or opposition.” Successful teachers, of whom there are so many, not only persevere but rise to overcome. In this way teachers serve as role models for their students, who themselves carry unprecedented burdens.
In their stamina teachers mirror more famous cultural icons who, despite setbacks, persevered to success. Winston Churchill noted, “Success is never found. Failure is never fatal. Courage is the only thing.” Of his many setbacks Thomas Edison said, “I know several thousand things that won’t work.” Albert Einstein quipped, “Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.” Wayne Gretzky, pro hockey all-time scoring leader, observed, “You miss 100 per cent of the shots you never make.” Michael Jordan, the highest-scoring pro basketball player, has said that over his career he missed more than 9,000 shots, lost almost 300 games, and failed to make the game-winning shot 26 times. Jordan reflected, “I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”
Unlike these famous heroes, America’s teachers are mostly unsung; nonetheless, they are the glue that holds schools together, championing what John Dewey called “the fundamental method of social progress and reform.” Teachers commit. They hang in there. For themselves. For their students. They persevere when they see what others don’t see, do what others won’t do, hold on tight-as-a-vice when others let go, envision success for their students and make it happen, over and over and over again. That’s perseverance. That’s a teacher.