“I Teach I Touch The Future” — license plate holder

Honing hope, that’s what I do all day long in my job as a public school teacher.

I am surrounded by clichés and double-speak as I move through my day in a surreal daze of abstract terms and meaningless jargon. I use these by accident and also on purpose because I am brainwashed in a school system that feeds off itself. It is not a creative system but one of mindless conformity and whimsical, sudden directives.

To even attempt to describe what I like about my job feels like I am about to jump into a vat of swirling, empty phrases (well, their abbreviations, anyway) that I could easily drown in if not for one four-letter word: hope.

This word is tiny but it is like a magic vitamin that can kill any dreaded disease. I swallow these vitamins by the handful. I am not alone.

Hope is what I hang onto as a teacher. It is what drives everything I do. Despite being on the brink of qualifying for the senior discount at Ross, I look forward to going to work. Surrounded by comic geniuses, talented actors, stone cold philosophers, inventive poets, and artists in their current guise as teenagers in my English class, each day is a fresh start.

I am lucky to get to practice hope and see it in action. I witness hope. Hope challenges everyone to a duel. It is a fight to the death, to our deaths. Hope is on our side, though. It becomes action and positive change. It can be addicting. Hey, out of all the other things to be addicted to, why not?

This hope is not mine alone. To be of any use, it must be shared and shared generously. Short of sounding like a zealot, hope is what turns all the wheels in my head, in my heart. Getting others hooked on it means they might not give up, they might not give in to whatever detrimental path is laid out in front of them. They might actually pick up a pencil and begin to work. They can access and rely on the hope they felt just a few short years before, in the midst of childhood. Teenagers can continue to hope. It is OK.

Introducing my students to great ideas in the language arts and literature, and practicing good habits of reading, writing, listening, and speaking in an academic setting can give my students and myself a smidgen of resilience in the junk culture of consumerism, waste, and war. Hope is not a cliché. Like peace, hope exists beyond the everyday yet that is exactly where it can be found and found again.

When Natalie Goldberg signed her book for me at the Maui Writer’s Conference in 2004, I asked this writing guru if writing and teaching are different pursuits, if they should be kept separate. She answered, “Absolutely not.” She said that they go together.

Others have said that they use the same creative energy. I see now that they are both process-oriented, both a practice. If I can get as many students as possible to continue on the road to reading and writing, I am doing my job. It truly is the cliché of seeing light bulbs going off above people’s heads, only it is probably more like solar cell batteries lighting up garden lamps at times you won’t be around to see. The sun is there, what is happening and being stored won’t be apparent until later.

Within this dream to impact the future in a positive way by introducing younger people to what has happened, what is happening now, and what might possibly happen is, on the other hand, one of the most exciting places to be: it is like touching the future with loving hands before it is your time to go.

Susan Kay Anderson teaches English at Pahoa High School and Hawaii Community College on the Big Island. She has taught in island schools for nearly two decades.