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Catherine Okafor Headshot

Unspoken Lessons From Our Greatest Teachers, Our Students

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"Ms. Catherine, I got accepted!"

Those were the sweet words that came from one of my students two weeks ago. It was the moment that he was patiently waiting for. He had finally been accepted to a four-year university after receiving rejection letters from the six colleges in which he applied for admission.

I was puzzled as to why the admissions counselors couldn't see what I saw in him. He is a young man with big dreams, big personality that would make anyone smile. His dedication to his studies were like no other. If he failed, he'd get up and dust himself off just to go back and try it again. What more could he do to show them that he wanted to go to college?

His ability to stay hopeful when it seemed as though "he wasn't good enough" to gain admission to college as the rest of his peers celebrated their success. He stayed in the fight. Since plan A wasn't going as planned, we regrouped to make sure his goal of going to college came true.

We began meeting weekly to plan out the alternative route. He studied and prepared to retake the ACT, revised his college essays and continued researching other colleges and universities. For weeks he kept up with the plan and I made sure to help him stay on track.

There were times that I knew deep down inside he probably wanted to throw in the towel but he didn't. That same dedication he had, taught me a lesson that I didn't foresee.

Staying hopeful in times where it seems like the world is against everything you are striving for, is hard. I've had my share of setbacks but during those trying times something inside me would still push me to remain hopeful. With or without support, it was just something that I knew I had to do.

The same goes for my student. He is the oldest of four children and the first in his family to go to college. He is experiencing all the "firsts" that he can later teach his younger siblings. His pride never got in the way of admitting he was rejected for admission. The hope in his heart never faded away. For that reason, I'm so proud of him.

He taught me a lesson that I didn't see coming but I'm grateful for. While some look at their students as "lazy," "ungrateful" kids, I see something much better. Our students are the ones that can teach us things that we would never expect. That's why I teach; that's why I love what I do. I give my students hope and they give me the same in return.

Being an educator is a hard profession but moments like this make it worth it. It's a very humbling field if you are willing to be a student to the lessons that your students can provide you.

"The only way to do great work is to love what you do." -- Steve Jobs