As I settle in to another year teaching at an Oakland public high school, my days seem to be getting longer and more stressful. There are one-on-ones, parent conferences, SSTs, IEPs, lesson planning, grading, and the exhausting job of just teaching.
Occasionally I slow down long enough to remind myself why I love my job.
What I often return to are letters written to my students from Holocaust survivor and Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel.
Each year, my tenth-graders tell me they have never heard of the Holocaust. Many can't say whether Hitler was "good" or "bad." And World War II is a forgotten battle.
Yet after they read Wiesel's haunting memoir, "Night," my students are bursting with questions and insights. In one class assignment, my students wrote letters to Wiesel. "I … relate to feeling unwanted in a place," wrote one undocumented student. "People where I come from [are] jumped for wearing the wrong color or being a certain race," wrote another. "I can't compare my experiences to yours, but I relate to the violence and hatred you witnessed."
Three years ago, I was so impressed by my students' responses, I decided to send them to Wiesel, who at 85 is still working as a professor at Boston University.
I didn't expect Wiesel to write back. But three months later, his letter arrived. Wiesel told my students he was "deeply moved" by what they had written. He answered their painfully personal questions and advised them to "continue to struggle against the rise of hatred."
He closed his letter by saying, "I have hope because of young people like you. By your example, you can make a difference: start somewhere, anywhere."
Since that first letter, Wiesel has written us back each year. And each year, as I reread his letters, the stress of the school year melts away. For a moment, I can focus on a simple lesson from a great educator. Elie Wiesel is still counting on young people to make the world a better place.
And so am I.
With a Perspective, I'm Annie Hatch.
Annie Hatch teaches 10th and 12th grades at the Life Academy for Health and Bioscience High School in Oakland's Fruitvale neighborhood.