I remember going to practice for rugby and thinking that all of the running and diving and sliding in the summer heat was fun, but not that fun. Then, I got into my first game. The intensity and athleticism required pushed me to a new point of physical exhaustion. I was spent, but exhilarated. I went back to practice with a new enthusiasm. I played harder and harder, pushed my exhaustion point further and further. I felt like Superman because of what I was proving to myself I could do.
The same is true of the opening of school years. The relentless drudge of the meeting machine. The mind-numbing banality of printing lists, labeling folders, etc. The more exciting, yet still somewhat low-impact, drive to revisit lessons and revise them into better, more effective incarnations of themselves (or to pitch them on the fire of high-minded yet unpractical ones). The moment when the chrysalis of anticipation blooms into the butterflies of the first day. Getting to know new kids while saying hello to those already known. Some teachers say that the first day is almost like Christmas morning. I agree. Teachers on the first day are just like those children on Christmas morning: recipients of a gift that we know is beyond our deserving, the gift of opportunity.
I encourage you all, as you start or are preparing to start after the holiday, to remember the what it means that people entrust us with their children. Some might do so because we are an institutional constant, a necessity born of truancy laws and a vaguely democratic ideal, but that does not change the respect I have for my position as teacher. It is an awesome (and not in the trite, cliche, Spicoli-esque use of the word) responsibility to be a teacher. I find that most issues that arise in the classroom are the result of the moments when we forget that.
And I do not blame you if, in the middle of your planning weeks or your first days, you get frustrated, question your decision to return. I have been there. This year, I have the opportunity to see it from a different perspective. This year, I have to watch from the sidelines as colleagues go back to classrooms. Having recently moved to the Southeastern region of Pennsylvania, I am currently without a teaching position. My wife, also a teacher, was asked to come work in the region because of her exemplary success with her choral program. We made the move unaware of how difficult it would be for me to get a job in the area. So, now I am on the sidelines, trying to get back to the classroom, but grateful for the opportunity to observe. In my observations, I have seen teachers complaining about having to go back, wishing that their summer-long lack of students would go on. As they complain, I seethe. How could they be so unhappy when they have jobs? Then the self-righteousness of my soapbox collapses and I return to earth. I have done the same thing. I have made the same complaints.
So, from my seat on the sidelines, I have become more aware of how special a time the beginning of the new year should be. I now lay this challenge before you: before you launch into the day's issues, before you complain about that kid, before you lose your patience with that administrative policy, try to think of something for which you are grateful. I would never support the rhetoric of the past few years, the idea that any one should just be thankful they have a job, but I would encourage each of us to take the time to remember why we love what we do.
This letter is my attempt to do just that. Of course, the job search is frustrating and infuriating; however, I am grateful for what I have learned about myself while I sit on the bench. Take up the challenge, and take it to twitter. The High School Matters twitter feed is @HSMatters. I am challenging you to comment here or tweet there (or both) about what you are grateful for at the beginning of this school year. When you tweet, use the hashtag #teacheropp so that others can easily find them, especially when they need a shot of optimism. I look forward to seeing what you all write. If I have learned nothing else in all of my professional development with teachers, it is that we are surprising sources of hope and optimism. Let's see if we can start a movement of hope and optimism this year.
Best wishes as you embark on the new school year,