Sunday, November 17, 2013

Vulnerability and Gratitude at the Amusement Park

"It's not a sprint, it's a marathon."

I have written about it on this blog before. It's part of my Twitter intro. A charm on one of my bracelets says it.

But still, that's not enough.

It takes a human being to say it to remind me of its truth and importance in my life.

The last few weeks, maybe even month, have been more challenging and emotional than anything I've ever experienced before. Generally, I am a very happy person. I start and end my days with smiles and excitement for the cool things that happened and are to come. I don't wish to stay in bed all day or shout TGIF from the rafters, but, man, this teaching thing got real.

See, with student teaching, I was lucky to be with two awesome cooperating teachers - supportive and encouraging, who already did the hard work of establishing safe communities for productive learning. And each placement was only seven weeks long. So the first week or two was spent observing and getting my feet wet with a few classes. Then, I picked up speed and got comfortable. Things were a little more difficult around week five with assessments, and grading, and students who figured out which buttons to press, but I knew I only had two weeks left, so I made the best of it. I could see the tape at the finish line. And I realized how much I was going to miss the comfortability of the classroom that had nearly become my own.

Now that I'm flying solo, I don't have a seasoned vet sitting across from me every day curiously asking how I am going to help the students craft engaging intro paragraphs or sharing nerdy stories that only English teachers would appreciate. Yes, I have my team and we share concerns about students and administrative duties (SLOs, STAR data, RTI groups, and parent/teacher conferences seem to dominate the agenda lately) - which is one reason why I prefer middle school to high school. But it's not the same.

If being a teacher is like riding a roller coaster, I have had to remember to sit with the people that will make sure I buckle tight, that will scream with me, will hold my hair when I get off and want to puke, and encourage me to get back in line again. And I can't forget all those who made sure I saved enough money to get into the amusement park in the first place.

I'm grateful to have a lot of those people in my world.

It's so easy to get caught up in all of the plans that didn't go as planned. The students I'm not supporting enough and the students I'm not challenging enough. The positive feedback I didn't give and the data I haven't analyzed. It's overwhelming and makes me second guess if I'm doing anything right at all.

I think it is safe to say that all pre-service teachers fantasize about all of the long lasting impacts on students. The reality is, though, that there is much day-to-day frustration and feelings of inadequacy. A payoff like that is far away. So it is important to find your people that will remind you that the trip to the amusement park is worth it. Maybe have a friend who you share a reflection sandwich with at the end of each day (something that was awesome, something that could be better, and something that was awesome). Find someone who will give you new ideas to try. Find someone to make a pact with, agreeing that you will both call at least one parent a week with good news about their child.

After watching this TED talk as part of a PD day, I am realizing more and more that being a successful teacher requires vulnerability - with your students, their parents, your colleagues, and especially with yourself. As Brene Brown says, you must "lean into the discomfort" and be willing to embrace relationships that might not work out. She ends by saying that we are all imperfect, we are set to struggle, but, more than anything, we all deserve love. Practicing gratitude is key to living a whole-hearted life.

So, to all of "my people," thank you.