Hearts and Seasons

Hearts and Seasons

As teachers, kids come and go in our lives like a revolving door. I’m about to finish my tenth year in education, so the door has been revolving for a while.

I’ve had the honor to teach about 300 students. Some come and and go like an easy breeze across a sandy beach. Some I miss. Some not as much. Some kids are quiet, and I don’t get to know them as well.

Others sink their hooks in deeply. Those are kids we’ll never forget. Those are the kids that not only enter our lives for a season, but touch our hearts for a lifetime. I’ve had a handful of students like that. I was fortunate to have one this year.

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On Purpose, For a Purpose

God brings you every student on purpose, for His purpose.

I try to make this my prayer during the days before each school year starts. Frustration has been getting the better of me lately. I've been slipping with it.

Teaching is not just a 9-5 gig for me. It's an extension of who I am. It taps into my very core as a person. On my best days, I truly feel I'm doing the work God has put before me. I need to remember it on my worst days too.

I don't believe in coincidences. The sovereign God of the universe isn't going to leave something as important as a class roster up to chance. My students are with me this year for a reason. Each one of those kids that crosses my classroom doorway is there on purpose for a purpose.

It's time I start acting like it again.

The Awesomesauce of a Week Off

The last few days of class have been heavy. I mean heav-y. Anyone could see from the body language alone that a break is due. The weariness and fatigue have been almost palpible.

I am so glad we have an entire week off for Thanksgiving break. There is just something about having a whole week break. It’s a time for physical rest, but also some mental and emotional recharging.

I know me. I know it will take a good three days to unwind. I don’t even want to thnk about school or students for those threee whole days. I’ll take some time to reflect after that. Reflecton is vital to the teaching process. It is so easy for me to get tunnel vision in the day-to-day trenches of classroom lessons. This is such a great time look back at the last few months and recalibrate.

The simple questions I’ll be churning on my mental rotisserie grill are:

  • What’s working?
  • What’s not working?

Just about everything I’ll need to stop or start will come from those two questions. But for now, it’s time relax.

A Gas Station Sandwich

I was happily enjoying my gas station sandwich during my 20 minute lunch. I like to call them power lunches when I bring in outside food- even if it’s from a gas station. It just makes me feel better about life.

My team was chatting with a substitute at our table. After relaying a story about his visit to a Comic-Con, he asked me what I did for fun. I had to stop and think about that for a minute. Actually, I didn’t answer him for long enough that he answered for me. “You mean you don’t do anything for fun?” I joked with him and asked if laundry and driving my kids around counted. Humor is my default defense mechanism when I’m uncomfortable.

I don’t know what it is about me, but I am a magnet for unsolicited advice. I get it constantly from all sorts of people. He told me that I had better find something to do for fun, or I was going to burn out big time.

The truth is, I have a very hard time making time for anything resembling a hobby or social life. I play my drums once or twice a year. I pick up my guitar every so often. I tried moderating #4thchat for a while. Once upon a time I even updated this blog (kinda) regularly. I guess I watch movies in between breaking up my childrens’ fights and take an exorbitant amount of time to read short novels. That sorta counts. Right?

I don’t want to burn out, but I don’t know how to take the time to enjoy much for myself. My wife, my four young children, and this teaching gig are already more than I can handle. All I wanted to do was eat my gas station sandwich in peace. I just don’t know…

The Rhythm of Teaching

I love the rhythm of teaching.  It's actually one of my favorite things about school.  It has a motion and movement like a well composed song.  There's a natural give and take that I know I wouldn't find in other professions.

My school district is very traditional with its schedule.  We begin in late August and finish in early June.  We're off on all the usual holidays.  We get a week off in the fall around Thanksgiving and two weeks off for Christm-, I mean, winter break.  Then there's the spring holidays to make a few three-day weekends.  The ebb and flow is lovely.

Then, of course, the controversial summer break.  I know it's archaic and based off an agricultural planning calendar that isn't nearly as relevant.  But, it's all I know.  My entire life as a student and teacher has been with a summer break.  I look forward to it as much as the kids do.  And, I'm a better teacher for it.

There's a rejuvenation and a renewal that comes with that kind of break.  I wish the summer slump didn't happen.  I wish so bad it didn't.  In a better world, all the kids would keep reading, keep writing, and keep learning.  I know there's a drop off because of the summer, and that's a shame, because no two week break can really compare to the magic that happens over two months away.

My favorite thing is all the stuff I forget.  I forget how hard and challenging teaching is.  I forget how exhausted I am at the end of a week.  I forget about difficult kids and challenging parents.  I forget about all the bogus paperwork and secretarial minutiae that I have to shovel out of my way.  I forget about everything I dislike about being a teacher.  I forget about it just long enough to remember how much I love it.  I come back in August with a perspective that I couldn't get otherwise.  I have a feeling most students do to.

The rhythm of teaching is a beautiful thing.  It's about to crescendo in a few short weeks.  Can you hear it?

Sugar Crashes and Moments of Clarity

The sugar rush fades.  The roar dies down.  The crafts and papers are gathered.  The last few lingering students cross the doorway.  On their way out, they smile.  Many tell me to enjoy the break, and there are more than enough shouts of "Merry Christmas" to last me well into next week.

Then they're gone.  And suddenly, after the most energetic day of the school year, there's the empty room and me.  I slump down low in my rolly-chair.  Scanning the empty room, I can still feel the thick weight of this week.  It's just exhausting.  My eight years of experience tell me to brace hard.  But this week still hits me like a freight train anyway.

The letdown.  After cramming so much into a week- poof, just like that, it's over.  Then, in the quiet, a thought starts to bubble to the surface.  A precious moment of clarity.  The stillness and emptiness remind me of just how much I still enjoy this.  The testing, the accountability, the paperwork, the tutoring, the documentation, the stress.  It's almost more than I can bear at times.  But then I have moments like this.

I'm not thinking of Scantrons or No. 2 pencils.  I'm not thinking about how to integrate our new writing textbook or assigning report card grades.  I'm remembering how I got my rear handed to me today by one of my GT students in a chess game.  I'm remembering jamming on guitars with a ten-year-old kid who's cooler than I am.  I played a hilarious game with an amazing girl that involves trying to narrate every second of your life out loud.  I finished reading a wonderful book to my precious class.  I took goofy pictures of them while they made gingerbread houses.  And I laughed today.  A lot.

The simple fact is, I love teaching children.  Their smiles, and wonder, and curiosity satisfy something deep within my heart.  I just need days like this to remind me.

It's About Who We Teach

There is no magic bullet for education.  There is no enchanted cure-all or one-stop shop that's going to fix most of the ills in our schools today.

That's not to say we shouldn't try.  We have a great responsibility as educators and parents.  We have an obligation to grow and learn and fail and try and grow and learn and fail some more.  We should use all the best tools available to help our students as much as possible.

But no computer software is ever going to save education.  No new framework or model will ever truly revolutionize our schools.   No language arts program is ever going to fix the way all kids learn to read.  We're never going to figure it all out.

Because the thing is, education is not what's really broken. It's the people who are broken.  And there's always going to be people.  That's why it can never be as much about how we teach or what we teach.  It has to be about who we teach.

What I've Been Thinking

Yep.  Still here.  Still teaching.  Still thinking.  Still writing- just not publishing much.  A post from Brian Barry (@Nunavut_Teacher) got me thinking enough to write this post.  I came across a great quote the other day:

Writing has nothing to do with publishing. Nothing. People get totally confused about that. You write because you have to – you write because you can’t not write. The rest is show-business. I can’t state that too strongly. Just write – worry about the rest of it later, if you worry at all. What matters is what happens to you while you’re writing the story, the poem, the play. The rest is show-business.
— Peter S. Beagle

So, yeah.  It's a very busy time of year, but I'm writing and I'm thinking.  I'm thinking about being grateful that I have a job next year.  I'm thinking about gamifying education and motivation.  I'm thinking about how the last day of school is the most important day of the year.  I'm thinking about my own procrastination and reluctance to change as summer break approaches.   I'm thinking about all of the things I didn't do this year that I swore I would back in August.

I'm thinking about what defines success and failure.  I'm thinking about the state test scores that we finally go back.  I'm thinking about the student who cried in confidence when she found out she failed.  I'm thinking about the student who cried when she got a commended performance because she couldn't wait to tell her dad.

I'm thinking about all of this and I'm thinking about how I fit into it.

I'm thinking...