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Leah Thomas

“It doesn’t feel like enough,” a fellow artist declares. “Right now, it’s not good enough to say that we make a difference every day just by teaching these kids. The world is in a bad spot; we have to do more than this.”

As a teaching artist working in a Title 1 school, I take part in trainings that have morphed into something not far removed from therapy. Teaching artists from schools all across the San Diego Unified School District convene on a weekly basis to find motivation and inspiration for their work. These meetings often involve creating art while artists take turns discussing daily work struggles, frank conversation between members of a very specific community.

Cynical though I am, after my first meeting I was sold on the benefits of meeting, speaking, and making art. I wish all teachers had meetings like this. It is good medicine.

It is so easy to feel overwhelmed with work. Educators will tell you that they have 60 hours of work to cram into a 40-hour week. Teachers are taken advantage of because of the nature of their work: “You’ll do this, because it’s not about the job, it’s about the kids.” Teachers grit their teeth and bear it because they believe this. Unfortunately, that makes us susceptible to apathetic individuals and organizations. It is the very good-naturedness necessary to being a good teacher that is used against us.

I don’t know how often I’ve heard this: “Even if that (fill-in-the-blank: boss, co-worker, parent) doesn’t respect what we’re doing, it makes a difference to all those kids. That’s what matters. It’s for the kids.”

While that is a passionate sentiment, it is an idealistic one. Though it hurts to admit it, there are many children for whom our presence may not make a great deal of difference. We’ve all had educators we’ll never forget, but there are also likely those we’ve forgotten. It is impossible to leave a meaningful impact on every student.

But does this mean we try any less? Even if our efforts are not enough to alter the state of the world, that does not demean those efforts. We should remain realistic: sometimes we might not reach our peers, our employers, or even our students. But we can reach some of them. You teach for all in the hopes that you will reach a few. And when it comes to making art, you do the same – you give it your all in the hopes that a single soul will respond to it. We can’t ask for more than that.