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Teaching can be as frustrating as it is rewarding. For David Ellison the path to more reward and less frustration started with some advice from a friend.

I have long been an exasperated teacher. You see, I know how essential a great education is, providing students with choices, opening the doors of their future to opportunity and, ultimately, to power. “Nothing will change until we get people like you,” I cajole, “women and people of color, into positions where you can make a difference.”

I can see it. Why can’t they?

Worse, I’ve traveled often through developing countries and met children who would give anything—anything!—to have the opportunity so many American kids squander. It makes me so frustrated when students won’t do their homework, won’t even try. What’s wrong with them? What’s wrong with their parents?

Of course, behind much of my rage is my own insecurity, the fear that I’m not a great teacher, perhaps not even a good one. Maybe another, better educator could motivate my students. Truth is, I often fear I’m a failure


A friend recently taught me to see things differently. After listening to one of my tirades, he replied, “Wow! So, you’re God!”

“Excuse me?” I said.

“Yes, you, with your infinite knowledge and wisdom, you alone know precisely what each of your students and their parents ought to do. If only everyone would listen to you, behave exactly as you insist, then all would be well…and you would finally be happy.”

I’ve pondered that conversation, and have since changed my thinking. My students and their parents are not there to serve me. I serve them. I cannot control them, only myself. So, I keep striving to learn what works for kids, but worry less about being great. After all, it’s not about me. I strive just to do my best and to let go of the rest.

I enjoy my job a lot more, and my students seem to enjoy theirs more, too. At least more of them do their homework.

I only wish I’d figured this out long ago.

With a Perspective, I’m David Ellison.

David Ellison teaches American history and LGBTQ studies in Union City.