being the change

I didn’t get into teaching to “save the world.”

I know that is what every idealistic young teacher seems to be doing, but I wasn’t.  I really decided on teaching because I wanted to get paid to read and talk about books. I also wanted to maintain a life that was divided neatly into semesters.

I saw the movie Dangerous Minds as a senior. I wanted nothing to do with being that teacher. That looked hard. Inspiring, but hard.

The education courses I took on “classroom management” and “social & political issues in education” did nothing to prepare me for kids who fall asleep in class because he was up all night working to help support his family or the lack of support state governments actually give to local districts.  In fact, the policy that I had to read about my junior year of college was outdated and obsolete by the time I found myself with my own classroom less than five years later.

That stuff just didn’t matter to me.  I also didn’t care about getting students to write or learn grammar or vocabulary.

I just wanted to read books and plays and poetry and talk about it.  I wanted students to get as excited about Macbeth’s “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow” speech as I do.

I figured I would go to college, student teach in my old high school, and get a job in my old high school.

Yeah, that’s not how things worked for me.

The university I graduated from has a policy that all student teachers much do their placement in a district that fits urban/diversity requirements.  No one ever got placed in an “affluent” district.

This scared the crap out of me because I was from an affluent district. I was afraid of students who were not “easy.” Surely this white chick who has suffered a total of ZERO in her life and was from Whitetown, USA would never survive among kids with real issues.

But no matter how many excuses I came up with, I was placed in the school district where I currently teach.  That was thirteen years ago last month.

Now when students and others ask me if I ever tried to get a job closer to home (I have a 35-45 minute commute twice a day) and to a “better” district I say, “nope. Not ever. I already work in the best district! Why would I want to leave?”

I’m telling the truth.

The district for whom I work is amazing. The personal relationships and bonds the teachers form with our students is unparalleled anywhere else.  We are like a huge family.

That is why when I have students who are suffering, it weighs really heavily on me.

Often I find myself crying on my way home from school telling God, “I wanted to talk about books,  not change lives. Not save anyone!”

But this is what he gave me.

I do get to read books and talk about them. Today we read the scene in Macbeth where Lady Macbeth tries to repeatedly wash non-existent blood from her hands. The conversation was great. We will finish the play tomorrow and I have students who don’t want it to end.

But I also get students who tell me (verbally and in writing) about the struggles in their lives.

I spend a lot of time listening. I also share my personal struggles.

I give so much of myself and the only thing I hope for in return is for them to not treat me like dirt…to not throw my kindness back at me and trample on my heart.

To not let me down.

But it happens. More frequently than I care to admit.

I work with teenagers, not saints.  They aren’t doing it out of meanness (most of the time), but out of teenagerness. And troubled teenagerness.

You know, not developed brains and such.

I try not to take it personally, and most of the time I don’t.

But those kids.  Man, if I don’t love ’em.

I find myself praying for them.  And asking others to pray for them.

Man, I didn’t set out to save the world, and I still don’t think that is within my grasp, but something in me has changed.

Instead of just coming to work, reading and discussing, I am there for so much more.

I’m not just the person who assigns readings and papers and vocab.

I’m there to change a little something in each student.

I’m there to be changed a little by each student.

It’s not the world, but to some of those students it might feel like it.

I hope.

About Katie

Just a small town girl...wait no. That is a Journey song. Katie Sluiter is a small town girl, but she is far from living in a lonely world. She is a middle school English teacher, writer, mother, and wife. Life has thrown her a fair share of challenges, but her belief is that writing through them makes her stronger.


  1. While it may not be what you had in mind you are most certainly changing lives by building relationships, teaching them how to express themselves an believing in them.

  2. Dude, you are the change in many lives. You are also the light and the love. And that is amazing, and all you.

  3. So powerful. I think no matter how much we don’t want to change lives, it is a reality that we will, no matter what we are doing or who we have relationships with. By living in community, we change the world for everyone we live with, and it is important to question whether we are changing it for the better or not.

    You, my friend, are changing it for the better.

  4. “because I wanted to get paid to read and talk about books.” Oh, I do love you.

  5. Katie, you do change the world. People who care and connect and inspire change the world. You do that – and your students leave your classroom feeling that. You might not have started out with that mission in mind, but I think that your caring, along with a love of what you do, cannot help but impact them.
    Also, how cool that they don’t want MacBeth to end.

  6. OK, that does it – you HAVE to change districts. You need to come to SD 58 Thompson-Okanagan-Similkameen. Because we NEED you here! xoxox

  7. Love this. The world just seems more hopeful when there are people like you teaching.


  8. I am fairly convinced that most of us who turned out to be decent, intelligent, and caring adults probably learned first at the knees of our mothers — but then were inspired to continue growing by the heart of such teachers are yourself. I am mom now and high school was many scores (out damn age spots, out!) ago — but I still remember that one teacher very vividly.
    I don’t think it was any coincidence that I went on to university to also study English Literature. He wasn’t quite as funny as Robin Williams – but close. And he was really cool to think that Pride and Prejudice must simply be read while having high tea.
    or milk and cookies in our case. 🙂

  9. I don’t have much else to say here other than I think you are an AMAZING teacher and person and woman and friend. Maybe it’s best that you didn’t set out to change the world. Because now the changes you DO make mean so much more.

  10. Oh Katie… I love this so much. You know that I think you are amazing. And you do make a HUGE difference. I wish teachers, especially ones like you, got the support they needed from the public AND the government.

  11. Amen.

  12. Oh, Katie. This made me cry. One little change in a person CAN change the world. I believe that wholeheartedly. It’s what God promises us.

    You are an amazing person.