You’ve probably had this conversation: some starry-eyed young college graduate starts to tell you about how he’s going to become a teacher so he can inspire his students and help the parents and do all these great projects and…
I remember when I was that young teacher how deflating it was to hear veteran teachers grumble about how things have changed and all the joy has been taken out of teaching. As a novice teacher, I vowed to never get all bitter and grumbly.
I’m about to start my 18th year of teaching. I guess that makes me a veteran in the profession. And just the other day I had a conversation with an idealistic future teacher. I wanted to grab her and yell, “NO! Don’t do it!” To encourage her to find something else to do. Something easier. I was tempted to tell her about all the changes to the profession in the past decade. About all the meetings and mandates that do more to frustrate us than they do to improve our practice.
I did manage to stop myself before I popped her idealistic, Crayola-colored bubble. Because all that dark reality isn’t the whole story.
Today is one of the first warm days of our very grey summer and guess what I’m doing? I’m thinking about the few short moments that remain before I have a new group of first graders. And I’m excited. Butterflies in my tummy, stars in my own eyes, brain buzzing with new ideas. Excited.
Even though I think teaching is monumentally, impossibly, exhaustingly difficult, I still love it. I live for those moments when the light of understanding goes on for a struggling student. My eyes still tear up when one of my little ones begins to really read for the first time. I delight in their brilliance and creativity. I laugh at their nonsensical jokes. I love watching them push boundaries and find safe places. I love teaching.
The year ahead does not promise to be an easy one.
We will watch our state once again debate the merits of charter schools.
We will be working out the kinks in a new teacher evaluation system and rewriting our curriculum to align with Common Core State Standards.
Our televisions and mail boxes will be flooded with politicians of both parties making campaign promises to fix our failing schools and oust all of the “bad” teachers.
Huge federal budget cuts could be coming our way soon.
It’s going to be a tough year. It is the kind of year that invites our participation. There is a lot to learn about evaluation and Common Core. There will be moments in the political process when our voices will matter. There will be tough decisions to make and we can choose to participate in the conversations and shape their outcomes.
While all that is happening in the grown-up world, we will still have rooms full of children. Children who need to learn to read and add and think and work together. Children who depend on us to create a safe, magical place for them to learn and grow. In the middle of an often hostile national conversation about education, our students keep us grounded.
There are 1,040,000 students enrolled in public schools in Washington state. Twenty-eight of them will be in my classroom. Their curiosity and resolve will remind me every day of what is really at stake, and why this matters so much. It isn’t about policies and data points, it’s about their lives. It’s about how their day goes today, and how what they are learning prepares them for tomorrow.
I have lost the idealism of my first year in the classroom, but in its place is something better than just the hope that what we do matters. It’s the certainty that it matters.
Teaching is hard. It is complicated. And I still love it.