12/22/2011 11:19 am ET Updated Feb 21, 2012

Lesson of the Year: No Excuses

As the end of the year draws to a close, I reflect back to some of the most poignant lessons I learned this year. I simply need to reflect back to the first week of school.

I work in a classroom that is reminiscent of the 1960's ... desks neatly lined up into rows and columns, a chalkboard with fresh chalk and unused erasers, a desk with a globe and textbooks, a map of the state of New Jersey and an American flag. It sounds normal, but I ask myself should I be upset that I have no projector? I wonder if I should be upset because I don't have an overhead projector, let alone a projector that is computer link-up capable. I ask myself if I should be upset that my building doesn't have internet capabilities, or that the building isn't aesthetically pleasing, or that the building leaks or that the textbooks are worn out or that the walls in my room are dirty ... I know that I sound like complaining, but I'm simply stating the facts.

What I've learned in a short amount of time is that many people have a lot of grand ideas that may actually do some good to the individuals that those ideas are meant to benefit, but those same people with those same ideas often "jump the gun," or they "put the wagon before the horse." I am all for folks having a vision. The Bible says, "Write the vision and make it plain," but vision without a plan for implementation is no vision at all. I am taking part in the unique opportunity to help begin a new school as the one and only social studies teacher. But one thing that I find challenging, as any professional would, is the expectation of success when you've intentionally been placed in a situation that is unsuccessful to begin with. But in spite of the challenges, magic has happened every day since the first homeroom bell last Tuesday morning. What magic you ask? Not the magic performed by the likes of Copperfield, David Blaine or Criss Angel. The magic that happens in my classroom is the kind where a student realizes that they can actually have fun and learn at the same time; it's that "a ha" moment a young adult has when something that they've learned begins to make sense; it's when a young adult begins to question what they thought they knew. My students think that they're just here to learn world and United States history, but I know they're here for much more than that.

People love picking on Americans; American students have been the butt of many jokes due to our educational standing worldwide. Even we Americans look at countries where the supplies and resources may be limited and we point to those students as a model of how our students should be ... we say that our kids are fortunate because they don't have to walk miles to get to school, that they don't have to share one textbook for six or seven students, or that they don't have to be crammed in a room with one teacher and 40 students, all of whom are in three to four different grade levels. But we do have students who persevere. The kids at my school, they catch the bus at 7am from their homes to come 15 miles to another municipality for school. They catch the bus home each day at 5:30pm and sit in traffic each afternoon and don't make it home some nights until 7:30pm. They get homework in every class and have readings in almost every class. Yet they don't complain. On the contrary, they come willing and prepared to learn even more than before. They crave after more knowledge ... as long as you (the teacher) have knowledge to give.

My students make it hard for me to complain, to cry, to whine or to get annoyed that I don't have the comforts that technology provides. They understand that despite their lack of resources as students, I expect their best and I was reminded that, despite my lack of resources as a teacher, they expect my best. No excuses; the lesson of the year.