I want to start this post by saying that I’m not really a fan of those trite sayings that simplify complex ideas into catchy witticisms. You know, something like:
“Insanity is doing the same thing over and over and expecting different results.“
Sayings like this might make a great T-shirt or a snarky meme, but they don’t really capture how complex things can be. I’m also sure if one were to look in the DSM-5 for the psychological classification of insanity they would actually find a different definition. But that’s not really the point of this post.
I heard another saying recently that has bored a hole into my brain and I’ve been mulling it around a bunch since hearing it. And I’m not a person who is typically prone to these sayings. But here goes…
“The definition of hell is on your last day on Earth, the person you could have been meeting the person you’ve become“
I’m not a really religious person so the concepts of heaven and hell aren’t ones the typically resonate with me. But for some reason, this quote has stuck around. I did some googling and the quote seems to be much more pervasive than I initially realized. While it was the first time I’ve heard it, the quote has been shared a ton of times on Twitter, Goodreads, and other places online. I’m sure someone somewhere is sporting a motivational T-shirt with it.
But, here’s where my brain has been going. Is there an educational version of this phrase? What does a vision of “hell” look like to an inspired, critically reflective educator? So, I did some workshopping. I started by replacing “person” with “teacher” to create something like…
“The definition of hell is on your last day on Earth, the teacher you could have been meeting the teacher you’ve become”
I’ve been teaching for 28 years and while my edited phrase is still moving, it loses some of the punch. So, I thought what could be a little more “hellish.” So, I tried:
“The definition of hell is on your last day on Earth, the teacher you wanted to be at the start of your career meeting the teacher you’ve become“
But again, this lacks some punch. I also recognize that people’s visions of teaching changes over the career. So, it might not actually be “hell” for every teacher. So, I went back to my mental drawing board and thought about hell some more. I thought about what we do as educators and what would torment me in the afterlife. So, here’s why I landed…
“The definition of hell is on your last day on Earth, you meet all of the students you could have inspired and reached but didn’t“
And that’s a vision of hell that is pretty terrifying to me.