Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Shifting Gears

How Stuff Works
For me, and every other teacher on the planet, it's true: shifting gears is How Stuff Works. The photo above was taken from the site I linked to it, about bicycles. In my (our) case, I'm referring to the schizophrenic years we have.
First, a teacher's year begins in late August, not January. It ends in June. Those months in between are not part of the year. They're "summer", an alternate state of being. In "summer", you can have a second cup of coffee in the morning, read a book for pleasure, and urinate at will, not at the sound of a bell. People call you by your first name, and you don't have to wear a badge. You can wear sneakers and shorts. Denim is OK in the summer. You can stay up later that 9 PM, and your pets get to know you again. You can have a glass of wine without worrying about tomorrow. True, you are most likely taking a grad course or two, or writing curriulum, or coaching, or developing lesson plans, but your body and wardrobe are yours for awhile. You remember what "quiet"means.
Then that first day arrives (or in my case, as I'm writing, the night before). You wonder what your students will be like, what administrative goals you will have to fulfill, what contractual changes you'll be experience, if you're lucky enough to even have a contract. If not, you wonder how your year will play out. You wonder what your day will be like; what duties will you have? What new colleagues will you meet? Who will be gone? Who will remain? You know your leisure time is over; your days will be full, and your nights will support them. You will think, breathe and live for your students. You jump on the bike, and start pedaling. You will pedal until June.
There is joy and pain in teaching. The joy of discovery, of reaching unreachable goals, of touching a heart or glimpsing a future. There's pain in constraint, in the endless paperwork the system demands, in the politics and pressure to succeed. You get to know your students, and they're real people with real problems, and as much as you'd like to, you can't fix them all. You want to mother the hurt ones. You can't. But there's a lot you can do. You can give them tools. You can give them safety. You can show them the best roads to travel. You can lead. You can make it safe for them to follow.
Every year is a new beginning, and each year holds echoes. Wish me luck. Tomorrow is the beginning of a new story; every Labor Day is. What will this new year bring?

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