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Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Teach to Last

I woke up at 3:37 am this morning, the last day of school. Now, in the den at 4:32, the word "last" has hit me.

  • What is the last impression I'll leave the kids of this school year?
  • I'm so exhausted right now, how can I possibly last in this profession?
  • I am now one year closer to my last year of teaching (whenever that is) and I wish I could do this forever.
  • I have too much to do -- how can I last?

As I ponder the word "last", "reciprocity" hits me as an apropos word for today as well. An excellent school year -- one that lasts in the hearts and minds of a student and the teacher is one where both of them learned from each other and gave energy and effort to each other. A great relationship of reciprocity emerged in a great school year.

This year has been another great one but in my exhaustion this week some moments I wonder, "why do I do this?" "Does it mean anything?" "Do I make a difference?" It feels pointless and I feel worthless.

Sometimes I wonder why teach at all -- it takes everything I have -- but then a child comes to me and gives me a hug or says thank you and I remember.

Some great men are carved on mountains and monuments but great teachers carve the future on the hearts of children. We cannot underestimate the importance of what we do in our classrooms.
My Granny Martin always said "sometimes you gotta
tie a knot and hang on" - this time of year is knot
tying time!

Don't give up on yourself or teaching

I'm asking you to suspend judgement on your year and yourself for a bit. Wait until you're rested and have a bit of the spark back in your spark plug.

Don't give up on yourself. Margaret Thatcher said:
"You may have to fight a battle more than once to win it."
You may have to reinvent yourself many more times before you become the great teacher the good Lord intended you to be. Every year there are some great things and some things I didn't like. There are things I cherish and things that are rubbish. There are things I want to remember and other things I want to forget. Such is the nature of teaching.

The Real Classroom
If you're looking for perfect, go buy the most expensive diamond you can find, go in a dust proof room with the best magnification glass you can find and look at that diamond. You'll find that the diamond has flaws because the only perfect diamonds are fake-manmade diamonds. Likewise, the only perfect classrooms are fake, manmade classrooms on the pages of books and blogs that surgically remove the unsavory aspects of teaching.

The fact that teaching is an imperfect endeavor doesn't detract from the fact that teaching is one of the most important endeavors that the world undertakes.

So many people shake their heads and say, "I could never teach" but I always respond, "Well, I can and I love it."

But I can't let the fact that I'm not perfect make me want to quit. I can't let the fact that I'm exhausted make me want to go to sleep and never wake up. If I want to last in this profession, I have to get ready to REST.

Rest is something
Rest is not doing nothing, rest is most definitely something. I shared a recent infographic on my blog that shows that teachers work 99% of the hours of other professions but in 25% less time. There are many of us that do far more than that.

Here very soon I'm going to be going to the mountains.

  • I'm going to take off my shoes and wade in bitingly cold streams. 
  • I'm going to do some white water rafting in a ducky all by my little self. 
  • I'm going to hear the roar of water falls in my ears and hear the laughter of children sliding down a sliding rock that has a bump at the end that is enough to tear up your hiney if you hit it just right. I'm going to tube down Deep Creek in a wooden-bottomed tube and do all kinds of things that people say a 40 something year old woman can't do. 
  • I'm going to lay down on the ground and take photographs of the tiny little mushrooms that grow up in the dew of the morning and get as close to a flower as I can get and still focus for some incredible macro shots like I love to take. I'll frame some more and hang them in the kitchen.
  • I'm going to sit on the back porch and drink coffee as the kids roll down the steep hill and slide on the grass until their knees are green. 
  • I'm going to rate splashes on a scale of 1-10 as kids jump in the pool and get me soaking wet. 
  • I'm going to find some new music to listen to and play it so loud that no one can hear in the kitchen.
  • I'm going to cook some awesome new food that my husband will love.
  • I'm going to read some amazing new books and make some new friends on Twitter.
  • I'm going to finish writing my second book and get it off to the publisher and continue working on my third.
  • I'm going to lay on the couch under a blanket and watch old episodes of Little House on the Prairie, Andy Griffith, and every old Star Wars movie I own. I'm going to cry watching Chariots of Fire and Secretariat and throw in a few movies where everything gets blown up for good measure.
  • I'm going to redo my workout area to find some things I can do now that my knees are bothering me so I can work out every day and get this weight of the last few months back off me.
  • But amidst all this going to I'm going to rejuvenate my soul.
A teacher who can't read her own body's signals isn't going to be in any shape to teach a child to read in the fall. You need to take a break or you'll break... you won't last.

Build the habits into your summer routine to accomplish your goals

But as you think of your summer remember that you are a product of your habits. I'll be sitting in my den this Saturday, my first official day of summer, making a list of the goals I want to accomplish this summer. Then, I'll plot out my typical day with the habits that it will take to accomplish those goals. 

Rainfall is random but irrigation is an intentional channeling of water towards a specific direction. Your life is like water -- design your habits and they become the channels that direct your life into your lake of legacy. 

For now, be careful out there.

I haven't worked out all this busy, craziness of life. My attitude isn't so great right now. I'm so tired that I feel like I can't go on another second. Yet, I'm putting one foot in front of the other so I can end well. 

I know that you're there too. So, be careful out there. Don't do anything rash. Don't quit your job. Stay away from gossip. The gossipy, negative attitudes of coworkers are like arsenic in the hand of the suicidal during crunch times like the end of the school year. Let those who are poison be around each other. Listen to good music when you can. Get some rest. Keep your focus. 

My oldest son and me at a friend's lake a few years back.
You CAN Last
But know that you CAN do this. Teaching is a legacy. Teaching is a noble calling. 

Great teachers are heroes but poor teachers are scoundrels. Don't let the scoundrels get you down, they will reap the legacy that they've sown but you'll reap yours. The existence of scoundrels doesn't make you any less of an important, incredible, vital person. In fact, it makes you more important than ever because you have to serve as a counterweight to the negative impact of that teacher.

But for now, think about lasting. Rest so you can last. Celebrate these last moments with a group of students that will never be in quite the same relationship with you again. It is ok.This is what we do. We say goodbye but very soon we will be saying hello and wishing we had enjoyed this moment. 

You can spend so much time living tomorrow that you don't take care of today. Today we must finish well and we must rejuvenate so we can last. 

And my friend, you need to last because the world needs good teachers like you. From one teacher to another, what you are doing is important. No one really knows the sacrifices you're making and you're never going to be paid or compensated fairly. You're going to be misunderstood, maligned, disenfranchised, and discussed but you'll never lose your place in history if you do this job well. You are a teacher and I'm proud to be among you. 

Here's to you. Here's to me. May we all teach well to the last and may we last as long as possible in this great, noble profession that needs us.
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