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In 2001, I became a first-grade teacher at a public school in New York City. Upon starting my new job, a senior teacher told me that I could expect a "honeymoon period" during which students would be on their best behavior for the first week or so of class. I lost control of my classroom on the first day by lunchtime.
I remember feeling my stomach churn as I walked my class down the hallway, and how they caused such a ruckus that the other teachers peered out of their classrooms to see what was going on. Their expressions seemed to suggest: this guy isn't going to last another day.
From there, things only got worse. I couldn't get the students to listen to me or to stay seated in class, and I became wrapped up in worries about what other teachers and parents thought. The first week went by so painfully that I wanted to quit. I had no other option than to confront my situation with my Buddhist practice. As I chanted Nam-myoho-renge-kyo to the Gohonzon, I realized that if I were to quit without challenging my situation, I would leave with regrets. So I decided that despite my limited teaching experience, I could use my Buddhist practice to help me put in 100 percent effort, and I made a determination to give it everything I had and carry on teaching until the end of the year.
From then on, I woke up early every morning to chant abundantly, and I read the following guidance from SGI President Daisaku Ikeda over and over:
When your determination changes, everything else will begin to move in the direction you desire. The moment you resolve to be victorious, every nerve and fiber in your being will immediately orient itself toward your success. On the other hand, if you think 'this is never going to work out,' then at that instant every cell in your being will be deflated and give up the fight, and then everything really will move in the direction of failure.
I was always the first teacher to arrive at school and the last to leave. I exerted every ounce of energy into preparing my lesson plans and also sought advice from other teachers. Deep within my life, I was learning so much from making these efforts. However, on the surface, I was still struggling to control my class.
Toward the end of the school year, the principal informed me that I would face a review from my peers and that I might not be asked to return. I vented my frustration by chanting to the Gohonzon in order to achieve a breakthrough. As I chanted Nam-myoho-renge-kyo, I realized that for the first time in my life, I had put my whole life into something and through doing so had won over my weaknesses. I determined: "I have to continue teaching next year to prove what I can really do. Just watch me!"
During my review, I shared enthusiastically about all that I had learned. I said that I would absolutely teach again next year, regardless of where. Surprised by my fighting spirit, the principal responded, "That's what I wanted to hear," and she gave me one more year to prove myself.
All the efforts I had made in the first year bore fruit the following year, and I was able to improve dramatically, winning the trust of my colleagues. I was able to stay on for a further two years. When I was about to complete my fourth year at the school, I began to chant about what kind of contribution I wanted to make to the field of education. I decided that, as a disciple of President Ikeda, I had to face my fear and hesitation. I realized that my passion is teaching music to children, and I decided to pursue a new career in music education. I also did my utmost to fulfill my responsibility as a young men's leader within SGI-USA, making as many efforts as possible to support and encourage other young men in their Buddhist practice.
I learned that a new school was opening up in the Bronx, where I live, and I felt that working there would give me the opportunity to help build something from scratch and contribute to my community. Surprisingly, the principal of this new school knew many of my colleagues and inquired how I was as a teacher. Many of them gave me such positive reviews that the principal decided to hire me despite the fact that the school had not intended to hire a full-time music teacher. I have now been teaching at that school for seven years. related article Committed to Justice by Alvin Sykes, USA Civil rights activist, Alvin Sykes says his practice and study of Buddhism strengthened his determination to fight for justice and deepened his belief in the power of dialogue.
My previous teaching experience enabled me to deepen my understanding of my Buddhist practice and take on larger challenges at the new school. However, recently, I found myself falling into the trap of inertia and losing the spirit to challenge. As a result, my relationships with my colleagues weakened to the point where I no longer enjoyed going to work.
Over the summer break, I felt the need to chant deeply about my work situation and was inspired by another piece of guidance by my mentor, Mr. Ikeda. He writes, "When greeting others, it doesn't matter if your greeting isn't returned. Taking the lead in greeting others is important. Those who can respect others will be respected in turn. Those who can greet others cheerfully, sincerely and warmly are truly admirable." These words made me realize that I had stopped striving to do my human revolution at work, and I redetermined to take full responsibility to make my school as warm an environment as possible for the students.
When the school year started, I took the initiative and went door-to-door, saying to the other teachers with all the enthusiasm I could muster: "Hello! How are you?" I could immediately sense my environment beginning to change. For example, one teacher, with whom I had a strained relationship the year before, praised my attitude and noted how organized and attractive my classroom was. I also determined to become the best music teacher I could be. Pondering what I could contribute to the school and its students, I came up with the idea of composing and teaching children's songs to help them learn their multiplication tables. Other teachers have since adopted my songs in their classrooms.
I truly enjoy my work again and I feel I have uncovered a new dimension to my passion--my unique mission in education. I am determined to make the type of contribution to the field of education that my mentor can be proud of, and this, I know, starts with fostering as many happy children as possible.
[Adapted from the March 29, 2013, issue of the World Tribune, SGI-USA; photo courtesy of Daigo Otabe]
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