Saturday, August 9, 2014

Teacher, Keep Faith

Summer's sunny activities are slowing bit by bit, and teachers are streaming back into classrooms that smell of floor wax or fresh paint or just that indescribable, unique scent in your own individual building.  The excitement of decorating, organizing, and preparing is easy to coast on for a while.   Then you have to remind yourself that, as the Peace Corps used to say, you're going back to the toughest job you'll ever love.  It's daunting---and a career inundated with chaos at this particular moment in history.  You might be intimidated, especially if it's your first year as a teacher or your first in a new school.  It doesn't have to be scary; you only have to keep your focus. 

You will see the best and worst of human nature played out before you every day.  The beautiful and terrible will visit you often, sometimes in the very same event.  After a while, it could become easy to take these miracles for granted; try not to, for appreciation of miracles is essential to receiving them.  Perhaps more than anyone, teachers are blessed with an abundance of them.

Anyone can be afraid, but you are bold.  Learn to look in the face of anger, pain, frustration, fear, and horror without flinching.  When you do, your students will trust you, and you can help heal those things within your power.  Do not grieve for those which you cannot heal; there is only one perfect power, and you aren't it.

Hold fast to the motive that brought you to teaching in the first place.  No matter how much you change or how much you adapt your work, that motive will continue to inspire you if you allow it to remain pure.  Tune out nay-sayers, burnouts, short-timers, cynics, and the endless hoard of reformists who have neither the knowledge, skill, nor ambition that you do.  Listen instead to those who encourage and uplift you and your profession---even when you must do the encouraging and uplifting yourself.

Wear your sense of humor like a protective skin.  This will enable you to laugh at yourself when the lesson you planned so carefully fails utterly, and also when you get a Christmas card that says, "I love your class.  I really love it when you get mad and your face turns red."  Humor will get you through rowdy classes, long meetings, short weekends, and boring anythings.

Learn the art of humility.  Approach everyone with the attitude that you each have something to share, something to learn, and something to teach.  Be humble enough to ask the cosmos, "Please let me get this just right.  If not that, at least let me do more good than harm."  Don't be too proud to ask for help, nor too afraid to follow your own vision. 

Keep your mind and your heart open.  They are elastic and will accept as much as you choose to fill them with.  When a student breaks your heart (and they will, though usually not on purpose), realize that theirs was broken first, and remind them that there's more room in a heart once it's shattered and mended.  To be broken is a sign of life and humanity, not of weakness. 

Make your students feel special by truly believing they are, and they will return the favor and forgive you almost anything.  This includes standing your ground and doing what you feel is best for them, even if they don't agree, and also admitting when you are wrong and apologizing if necessary.  Believe that they are worthy of your best self, every day, every hour.

Maintain your sense of self.  If you don't know who you are out of the classroom, it isn't likely you'll know who you are in the classroom, which leads to chaos for everyone.  Bring your personality to work, but don't make work your personality.  You were drawn to this profession because you are outgoing, intelligent, curious, creative, and giving.  Plugging those qualities into other outlets away from school will bring even more energy to your classroom.

Think of yourself not just as a teacher, but as a lover: of knowledge, of ideas, of expression and connection to others.  As you would downplay the annoying habits of your beloved, downplay the bothersome details of our work by focusing on the benefits: young minds and spirits waiting for the intellectual spark you strike, young hearts that need hope, young lives craving direction.  As with many great loves, the bad parts fade with time, while the good parts grow exponentially.

Keep your arms wide open, and all the world will come to you. 

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