I can do hard things.
Like many other ACErs, I adopted this common mantra as an inspirational tool during my first months of teaching. It came in handy during the particularly difficult moments: standing at the classroom door at 6:30 a.m., waiting just a few seconds to muster the courage for another day; feeling inadequate when a lesson didn’t go quite as planned; or meeting with a frustrated parent nearly three times my age.
While helpful in those first months, this mantra was all about me. It was a coach pushing me forward: “Peter, you’ve got this! Go get ‘em!” As the year progressed, the personal nature of the mantra no longer seemed to match with the work I was doing or the life I was leading I soon found myself uttering a different phrase: “We need to do the hard things.”
This small change reflected a shift in my understanding of my new life as an educator: there is something compelling us to stay the challenging course. We have no choice but to do the hard things.
The shift came out of a most powerful question I started asking my students and myself quite often: why?
Why am I doing hard things? Why do they matter? Why are they worth my time?
On one of those early mornings staring at my classroom door with a tinge of dread in my step, a deep sense of understanding in my heart answered that most powerful question: "I love these kids, and they need love." Right here in this place. Right now. I’m doing hard things because love is making me do them.”
My community members also showed they had answered the most powerful question in a similar way.
It was love that compelled Jill to stay many hours after school tutoring students learning English; it was love that compelled Melissa to write each of her students notes reminding them that someone cared about them; it was love that compelled Leo to coach a sport every season, while also maintaining the highest caliber of excellence in his classroom. Love was why.
My time teaching in ACE taught me that a life well-lived doesn’t mean winning the protracted battle or finishing the difficult race. It’s about wholly expending oneself in a loving endeavor.
This loving answer to the most powerful question leads us on different paths. Melissa and Leo are both continuing to impact lives in the high school classroom. Jill and I are sitting on the other side of the teacher’s desk again, pursuing further graduate studies.
We are all united, though, in our answer to the most powerful question. Why do we need to do hard things? Because we love the world and want to make it a more kind, loving, and just place. It's a tall order, but we've done hard things in the past and we're not stopping anytime soon.