Hope and change

Somebody was making fun of President Obama the other day and asked me what “hope” and “change” — two of his big campaign buzzwords — meant.

I didn’t bother to answer, because the question was obviously intended to draw me into a pointless political argument at a moment when I was more interested in painting lawn gnomes and building dragons … but I thought about it later, and it occurred to me that as an urban high-school teacher, I probably understand the ideas of hope and change at levels people outside the profession can’t.

Hope is the academically challenged student who turns out a professional-looking fact sheet about her favorite cause on the first try.

Hope is the depressed boy who writes a note thanking me for caring about him after I let him make up some missing assignments.

Hope is the Cheshire-cat grin I give the administrator observing my class as the kids get into a spirited discussion that obliterates my carefully crafted lesson plan and teaches them far more than anything I could come up with.

Hope is the teachable moment, the unexpected compliment, the spontaneous hug, the fleeting but precious sense that maybe I’ve made one minute of one kid’s life a little better.

And change?

Change is what happens as a result of all those little reasons for hope.

In my classroom, hope and change are not campaign slogans. They are my raison d’etre, and I couldn’t function without them.