Arendt’s biggest lessons about hope are that we all gain most when we are honest about the challenges we face and open to the unexpectedness of life. What can give us hope, then, are the concrete relationships with our students, our willingness to be there for them and to not be defined by the accountability culture that now saturates schools. If we believe our own claims to know the limits of what is possible, then we all will be constrained by those limits. The unexpected occurrences of our teaching can be merely annoying interruptions to our plans, or they can be surprises that, in our responses, take us where we might never have predicted. Our responses to the unexpected can either further entrench our own sense of powerlessness, or they can open up the unpredictability and possibility of our interactive lives for us and for our students.
Arendt shows us how three common narratives of hope upon which teachers depend—hope through progress, hope through goal-directed action, and hope through rebirth—can be a source of frustration and hopelessness because they all misunderstand the unpredictable nature of the interactive lives we lead. Yet she also shows us that if, on the other hand, we affirm the unpredictability of our lives, we can find a renewed sense of possibility and hope in our teaching, and our students can reap the benefits of this hope as much as we can. As I spoke with my former student about his teaching in Alaska, he was just starting to come to this realization.