I always enjoy teachers’ convention. I appreciate it more now that I know that we as Alberta teachers are fortunate to have dedicated days for this professional development. Most teachers in Canada do not.
In addition to the learning that occurs, it is also a time to reconnect with our colleagues, to reignite the spark, and reaffirm our purpose. (Not to mention actual bathroom breaks and a sit-down lunch!)
I often try to take in at least one of the keynote speakers. This year it was Rick Mercer. As you might expect, I found myself laughing at his wit and humour, and feeling proud to be Canadian. What I didn’t expect was an affirmation of my choice in career. Near the end of his session, he talked about the Spread the Net challenge that he put out to students in 2007: the school raising the most money winning a visit. The fundraising challenge continued each year with the goal of purchasing hundreds of thousands of bed nets to reduce malaria in African nations.
As I watched the videoclips of the students involved in their fundraising efforts, I couldn’t help but feel proud and humbled by kids. Students, young and old, were passionate about the campaign: raising money through bottle drives, bake sales, and the selling of candy-grams. Some teenagers even donated their entire monthly paycheques to the cause.
As teachers, we are so fortunate to be surrounded by the enthusiasm, hope, and innocence of children. Kids speak their minds. Kids react in the moment. They add humour and fun into each day. As demanding as our profession can be, kids make it worth all the effort.
When I think of the students who I connect with most, it is often those who struggle for some reason or another. Some face medical challenges, some have experienced significant loss, some come from difficult home situations, and some have even faced trauma in their young lives.
These kids often need an adult in their corner: someone reminding them they are valued. They need to be taught specific strategies to help them face obstacles and cope with overwhelming emotion. They need an outlet to release their rage, fear, confusion and sadness. These kids need our time.
But what they give back is inspiration. These are the students that teach me about perseverance, determination and hope. They remind me that “There are some things you can only learn in a storm.” (Joel Osteen) And, it is after the storm that the sun seems to shine the brightest.
I have the pleasure of meeting many teachers both within our district and in other areas of the country. My conversations with teachers remind me of the similar demands we face no matter where we happen to teach.
With a never-ending to-do list, it is easy to fall into the pattern of working six – or even seven – days a week. And yet, when we take a break from our work, we return refreshed and rejuvenated. We know this to be true but it can be difficult to practice.
Whether it be baking, playing cards with family, watching a game of hockey, a hike in the slowly-warming-weather, or even a weekend get-away, a break is vital to maintain a work-life balance.
In Teaching Well: How healthy, empowered teachers lead to thriving, successful classrooms, Lisa Bush says this: “Teachers working around the clock is neither good for our education system nor our students.” “If we are going to energize and inspire our students over the course of decades, we must make our mental and physical health a top priority.”
For me, this is still a work in progress, but I know it is worth the effort.
A few weeks ago, an assistant principal shared this quotation with me: “If we create a culture where every teacher believes they need to improve, not because they are not good enough, but because they can be even better, there is no limit to what we can achieve.” Dylan William
I work with many teachers in my role. I am energized and motivated by those with a desire to learn and improve. This desire does not imply a weak teacher; in fact, it is usually quite the opposite. Teachers who are in a constant state of learning and reflection are the teachers who are going to have the most impact with the students before them.
The very thing that makes our jobs exciting, also makes it challenging: no two students, two classes, two days, or two school years are ever the same. We must always be responsive to the students and the situations before us. Our learning can never end.
The good news? When teachers are excited about learning, kids are too!
I love to write. So much so that I have carved writing days into my weekly schedule. Yet because of an especially busy time, I haven’t been able to take these days to write over the last few weeks.
Yesterday I attended an author’s event. Hearing the author read from his book and speak about the process, made me long for my dedicated writing time even more. That novel that I’ve got started hasn’t had my attention for a while… neither has my book for parents… not to mention the third teacher resource idea that I’ve got percolating.
It feels good to get back at it. The longer I go without writing, the harder it can sometimes be to re-engage.
What about for our students? Do we carve regular writing time into the school day? Do we make writing a given? A way of thinking? After all, the more we do it, the more natural it is.
This week, an elementary class in our district lost their teacher. Her unexpected death came as a shock to all. Although my to-do list seems never-ending and the hours in the day limited, I must keep perspective. My woes are inconsequential.
Today, I pray for her students who are dealing with a range of emotions they have likely never felt before. I pray for her colleagues as they come to grips with the reality of the situation. Most of all, I pray for this teacher’s family who have abruptly lost their daughter, sister, granddaughter and niece.
I am comforted by the words of Thomas Campbell: “To live in hearts we leave behind is not to die.” Rest in peace Colleen.
I have accepted a challenge to read 52 books this year. (The picture books I read to students day in and day out don’t count!) 52 novels, biographies, nonfiction texts or memoirs. Ambitious? I think so given my schedule but I’m happy for the challenge.
Even in these first few weeks of the year, I’ve changed my reading habits. I have always read at bedtime but I find myself carving out more weekend time for reading: time I might choose to spend otherwise. I’ve also started bringing a book with me wherever I go. I read a few pages here and there while I’m waiting for appointments or a meeting to begin. In fact, the other day I was reading Hillbilly Elegy as I waited for the chiropractor. (When he walked in the treatment room he commented that I was the first one that day not on my phone.) I am also trying to keep two books on the go: books of different genres that I can choose between depending on mood.
I’m keeping track of my reading progress on Goodreads.com. Join me if you wish!
“I do believe something very magical can happen when you read a good book.” JK Rowling
A few days into last week I wished someone a “Happy New Year” and asked how the break was. “Break? What break?” Isn’t it amazing how quickly we fall back into the routine of school? Christmas, holiday visitors, New Year’s, and holiday indulgences suddenly feel a distant memory. There’s no easing back into work as an educator. Once we’re back, we’re back!
- “Teacher! She’s bothering me.”
- “You know what happened this Christmas?”
- “But he did it first – “
- “Please excuse the interruption… the temperature is currently -20 degrees. It will be an indoor recess.”
Yes, once we’re back, we’re back. Fortunately, along with the demands come the hugs – especially in elementary. Some of our students might even say, “I missed you over the break.” And you know what, they really did.
Gotta love teaching!
Over the last week, I found an unexpected parallel. I read Becoming by Michelle Obama and I watched Won’t You Be My Neighbor? – the documentary about the life of Fred Rogers. You may not think they have much in common. And yet, I drew many parallels between Barack Obama and Fred Rogers.
When I read Michelle Obama’s words about her husband, she speaks of a man with vision, a man who thinks beyond himself simply as a course of being. She describes the first time she witnessed this quality in Barack. He challenged a room full of people by saying “Do we settle for the world as it is, or do we work for the world as it should be?” His words are not simply words: they are indicative of his daily actions and interactions. His call to action is one he responds to each and every day.
When watching Won’t You Be My Neighbor?, I saw the same quality in Fred Rogers. He was a man who chose to do something not for his own advancement, monetarily or otherwise, but because he, too, had vision. He, too, wanted to do something beyond himself: in his case, with children.
As we begin this new year, I find myself asking:
- What is my purpose beyond myself?
- Do I go about my days for a pay cheque or because I am called to make a difference in the lives of educators and children?
- Do I work for my own good or to make this world a better place?
- Do I believe in my own potential to make a difference?
This year I will strive to respond to Barack Obama’s call to action. I will not settle for the world as it is; I will strive to work for the world as it should be.
I spent much of last week surrounded by extended family. I now know that our close relationships are not as common as I once thought. Growing up, I believed families like my own were the norm. I was often surrounded by grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins. Many of my cousins are as close as siblings.
I don’t want to suggest that we all get along all of the time. There are certainly moments of hurt, anger or disappointment. Ultimately though, we support each other in times of celebration and rally around each other in times of need. We love each other despite our flaws and stumblings.
One of the reasons I appreciate teaching elementary school as much as I do is the opportunity to develop intimate classroom families. By spending ten months of the year together, day in and day out, we develop relationships with our students and they with each other. We read and learn together; we problem solve and compromise; we celebrate the highs and comfort through the lows; we laugh together and cry together.
Families come in many forms. Home. Work. Church. School. The events of the last few weeks have reminded me to enjoy each moment with our families. We just don’t know what lies ahead.