By Fellow Meg Freeman

It was a cold winter night in Jersey City, New Jersey. That morning, the city had experienced its seventh shooting in twelve days. I parked my car across the street from the community center where I was having a meeting about an upcoming event I was hosting. Several men stood on the street corner smoking. 

I was almost across the dark street when I saw a hooded figure approach on a bicycle. 
“Mrs. Freeman,” he called out. 

“Jonathan,” I smiled, and rushed to greet him. He gave me a hug. He was a former student of mine. We spoke about the job that he currently had and his continued education at the local community college. He asked to be remembered to the center director of the building I was about to enter. We said goodbye. 

In reflecting on the incident, I realized how much I have changed since becoming an educator. If I had been faced with the exact same scenario fifteen years ago, I would have been afraid. It was dark. I was in an “unsafe” neighborhood, and I was being approached by a hooded figure. But now, I rushed to embrace this member of a community that I hold dear. 

When people hear that I am an educator, they often remark that I am a blessing to my students. I always correct them, for they are the gift to me. They have given me the gift of a fuller life by continually challenging the perceptions that I have about poverty and community. Every day, they remind me that life is not about the things we have or the things we do, but the people that we touch. 

Last month as I was about to leave the school building after a long day, I ran into a crying Keisha. She explained to me that she had missed the school bus to her championship volleyball game. Keisha had run home after school, and I could tell by what she wasn’t telling me that something had happened to prevent her from returning on time. 

“I have money for the city bus,” she said, “but it’s raining, and I don’t know which bus to take.”
We went to my office and looked up the bus schedule. One would arrive in ten minutes. I handed her my umbrella. 
“I can’t take this,” she remarked. “What will you use?”
I laughed, “I will get wet. But I have a car, and I am going home. It’s not a problem.”
“What if I break your umbrella?”
“Then, I’ll buy a new one,” I commented. “You making your volleyball game is far more important than this umbrella.”

At this time of the year, when we think about giving and getting, I am most thankful for this gift that my students teach me daily: people are worth more than things. Being an educator is an endeavor where I try to positively change others, but often find that I am the one who is most changed. Each year, I find that I am more aware of the needs of others and more aware of how I can help. Communities that I once thought were different than mine I now see as the same. They have given me the eternal gift of being more cognizant of myself and others. And so this holiday season, I find that I that I am more compassionate, open-minded, and thoughtful, all because of my students. 

Margaret  (Meg) Freeman is dedicated to helping to close the achievement gap, spending the first seven years of her career teaching English, leading professional development, and mentoring colleagues in Jersey City, NJ.  In 2013-2014, she was Hudson County Teacher of the Year. Meg is currently in her 3rd year as a Vice Principal, where she supervises the Humanities and Guidance departments.