A Teaching Not In Vain

In professional wrestling, there’s something called “pop.”  When a wrestler’s signature music plays indicating they are about to make their appearance, the explosion of the crowd’s roar is called pop.  Pop measures excitement.  Pop measures how the crowd and what the crowd feels about that wrestler.  When great wrestlers have been injured or have taken a hiatus, their initial return back is welcomed usually with an arena-shattering pop.  Or in wrestling speak, pandemonium has ensued.

Oh that teachers would receive this kind of pop.  I sometimes imagine that would be the case at the end of a lesson or when I return from having a sub or when I’ve meticulously and patiently taken students through a novel.  Long sigh.  But no.

We don’t have elaborate names or wear flashy costumes.  At least most of us don’t.  We might not ever jump off the top rope, ever hail “From Parts Unknown” or know what it’s like to be the main event.  But as teachers, we take beatings.  Demands body slam us.  Paper work is a vise-like headlock.  The expectation that we can do it all is a cheap poke to the eyes, or worse, an explosive low blow that lingers and lingers.  Tired, stressed.  We are stretched.  The job is like an angry foe that’s got us in a camel clutch, pulling and pulling, asking if we’ve had enough.  But we are stubborn, we’d rather go to sleep than tap out.

Sometimes, I imagine myself a barker, standing outside my classroom door with my classroom voice exhorting everyone who passes by to “step right up and step right in” to my fascinating classroom world.  But nobody dares explore The New World inside except for those who see it as a refuge, which is a privilege in itself.  But too many times I feel like, what? a shoe shine guy the modern world passes by, a payphone in a world of cells.  Nobody gets excited over those things.  There’s no pop there.

In the same way that I have seemed to lose my ability to age younger people because I’m getting old, I sometimes cannot see how my teaching is making a difference or has.  Which I know isn’t true.  But, if I had a hose of water and was spraying it into the ocean, I couldn’t tell if the ocean was getting any bigger.  That’s the feeling.  Then again, maybe what I am looking for will never be found where I am looking.  I am looking for shoots in a hundred-acre field where I have planted a million seeds; hoping my voice has haunted someone enough to take the road less traveled.  To live and teach without knowing is fearful.  To know that you have, is grace.


Facebook message conversation between me and a former student from my first year teaching in Stockton, California. 

3/13 9:56 p.m.

Mr. Soza, how have you been?  I hope you remember your number 1 student (student name).  Lol.  It’s good to see you Mr. Soza.

3/13 9:57 p.m.

Of course I remember you. Why the heck do you think I friended you like years ago. I hope you’ve been good.

3/13 10:02 p.m.

Sorry Mr Soza. I’ve been off Facebook for personal reasons.  I’ve been great.  I have a bachelors in business marketing.  You did always tell me I was smart.  I just was on the wrong path and now I’m living the good life.  No more street (expletive) or nothing.  Mr. Soza, thank you man for believing in me when you seen something I couldn’t see in myself.

3/13 10:03 p.m.

You got my eyes wet over here loco.

3/13 10:07 p.m.

Hope their tears of joy.  Lol.  All I can say is I made it Mr. Soza.  A lot of guys that were in our class are dead or in jail.  It hurts but they couldn’t see the bigger picture besides the street life.  I had to change for me and my family.  I pushed my self harder until I opened my eyes.  

3:13 10:08 p.m.

That’s awesome (student name). I’m glad you made the necessary changes in your life to be successful. When is your graduation?  You’re so right. My last year at Jane Frederick I lost two students to the streets and one got sent to county for a few years.

3:13 10:10 p.m.

I graduated in June.  I went to Washington State in Seattle.  I just moved back to Stockton.  I just had a new born 3 weeks ago. I’m a changed man now.

3/13 10:13 p.m.

Come on now!  This story keeps getting better and better.  I would love to hear your whole story one day when your down, leaving Stockton and getting things right. Must have been a very interesting process, lots of stories to tell I bet.

3/13 10:16 p.m.

One day I would love to tell you about my story and I would like to have young people hear it because if I made it out of Stockton and got my life straight anyone can accomplish their dreams.  Are you still in teaching in California?

3/13 10:20 p.m.

So proud of you (student name)!  I had to get out of California.  I live in Idaho and work specifically with refugee students, students who have seen war in countries like Iraq, Afghanistan, Congo, man from all over the world.  Many of them have severe trauma, some of them come to me with very little academic skills, it’s a different kind of population from Jane Frederick but similar in a way; Stockton is no walk in the park you know what I’m saying. It’s war there too, hard to live, dangerous, you know.

3/13 10:27 p.m.

Wow Mr Soza, you’re on another level with students.  It’s amazing.  I’m glad you can teach students who wanna be taught and not (expletive) kids who just go to school to be (expletive). 

3/13 10:34 p.m.

Nah that’s good man.  I would love to talk to you some more but I have to get to bed. I ran 10 miles today, am super tired and this time change has not helped.  Your story is definitely a good one because I’ll tell you what, my first year there as a rookie, many times I didn’t feel like I knew what I was doing but I definitely know that God had me there for a purpose and for a specific time. I’m going to bed now (student name). Thanks for touching bases. Congrats again on your accomplishments. Oh and, you can call me Zeke! Mr. Soza is my father.

3/13 10:43 p.m.

It was good speaking to you again and I will write my story on a piece of paper for you.  God is good.  He puts our faith to the test.  I’m happy for you and I will keep in touch Mr. Zeke. Have a blessed night.


A blessed night, indeed. 





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