Larry Efird column: ‘To change or not to change …’

Published 12:00 am Sunday, January 31, 2021


ith all the changes we continue to endure and experience, I naturally want to know what my students are thinking—and how they are feeling.  I don’t only want to know how they’re doing academically because their emotional well-being is perhaps even more important during these perplexing days than their grades.

Because teachers have only virtual communication with their students presently, many of my colleagues and I include a daily “wellness check” as part of our daily assignments.  It’s a simple way to gauge how they’re feeling and how they’re coping while isolated from their friends at school.

One of the fun parts of teaching is that you never know exactly how a kid might respond to a question.  And even if he or she doesn’t put it in words that would be acceptable for an AP essay or scholarship application, there can be no doubt regarding their opinion. Notice how one such student responded to a recent daily writing prompt.

“Accept what you can’t change;

change what you can’t accept.”

What is something in your life to which this applies? Why or how does it apply?

Her candid response was, “If you ain’t   going to do nothing about what u complaining about, shut up. If you going to change what you’re complaining about you no longer have to complain.”  That made me smile — and cringe — at the same time. But it also made me realize how simple the answer was in her mind. She was simply telling the truth in her own terms.

I appreciate honesty in all forms.  The truth can hurt a little and it can hurt a lot. But that doesn’t mean it’s not true. I don’t know if being married for 43 years or being in education for four decades has taught me that concept more.  Either way, I’ve had to learn how to deal with the truth, welcome or not, more than once.

I’ve also had to face things I could not change and at the same time face up to things that I needed to change—mostly about myself.  I can’t focus on changing the world until I am willing to change myself. That’s just how it works.

At some point in our lives, we all have to learn to accept what we can’t change. If we don’t, we are going to end up bitter and depressed. We also might end up alone because no one will want to be around us.

At some other point in life, we will be faced with an opportunity to change what we can’t accept.  Education is helping many of my students and their families grow past a substandard lifestyle they will not accept by default.

Another student response on this same assignment was, “I think this applies to my life as a whole. I need to learn to accept the things that I cannot do anything about. But, I need to be willing to change the things that I am unable to accept or that are causing damage in my life.”

Obviously this response was more polished than the first but they were both sincere.  I was actually impressed by how mature all the students’ answers were in how they handle the things  that they can’t change such as their parents’ divorce  or a  personal or a physical limitation.   

I was also impressed by their sensitivity and willingness to change things that they could not accept on the behalf of others.  Most of them wanted good lives for themselves, but they also wanted others to have the same opportunities.  Kids know  that bullying  or racism should not be accepted, and I applaud them when they stand against such harmful issues which threaten those around them.

As adults, are we willing to change ourselves, or at least our closed mindedness, so that we can understand someone else and open our eyes to their plight? If we are willing to change the things that are causing damage to our own lives, why can’t we be willing to change the things that cause harm in the lives of others?  It’s not really that hard of a question.  But then again, maybe it is.

Larry Efird teaches at A.L. Brown High School in Kannapolis.