Slushie to the face!

Wow – what a way to end a brutal 10 work hour day.  Tonight after a day of teaching, an afternoon of coaching, and an evening of parenting teenagers – my other half seemed to be having some philosophical questions as to the purpose, and perhaps futility, of parenting and vented them my way:  “What does it matter?  They are just going to do whatever they want when they get out on their own.  None of this matters – they are who they are.”  That was the gist.

My insides kind of imploded as I tried to understand the harsh feelings I was having in reaction to his comments.  Don’t get me wrong.  I, too, go to this dark place sometimes – wondering about the futility of it all…trying to train teach teenagers/children how to be responsible, productive citizens.  How to teach them to be kind, generous, honest, and humble (and how to write an outline).  I want them to learn how to take care of themselves without being selfish and I do my my very best to lead by example.   But today I sort of needed  a rock to lean on  when I got home, and instead, I got a slushie in the face.  All day today I stood in the library with high school students telling me that there were no books…that is a post for another day.

Now, I try to raise my students with all the love and patience I give my own children, but, of course, with the added dimension of trying to teach research skills and strategies – and boy do I fall short sometimes.

So – my husband did not say that I am worthless.  Not those words.  He is not responsible for my reaction to and interpretation of his words.  And when I told him what I was hearing…that my whole life has been dedicated to teaching and raising children on the premise that they can be nurtured and molded and he is telling me that it is all for nothing (ie I am worthless)…well… he felt badly and immediately stopped speaking,  gave me a hug, and told me he loved me.  He tried with all his might to fill the love bucket he had just accidentally kicked over.  he started laughing and went downstairs to bed. Ugh! Gracie!*

All people are the products of nature and nurture.  The two are forever entwined.  Some personalities clearly reside in nature and some abound with learned behaviors.  Some bad and some good.  If I did not believe in the effects of nurture I could not teach, nor would I have children.  However – I also believe that most kids people are average – and that is okay.  I do not need to raise the valedictorian, or the sport superstar, or the trophy winning whatever.  You don’t need to be the next President, you don’t need to make a million dollars, and you don’t need to be famous to live. Have aspirations – but be grounded.

I want my kids to know love, family, and hope.  I want them to know joy and have faith.  I want them to experience life and not fear it – even the bad parts.  I want them to find success – however it is defined.  If they do these things then, really, they will be anything but average.  As a parent, as a teacher – I can give them these things – show them how to find these things for themselves.  Maybe along the way I can teach them to read, write, and make an argument.  I have worth.  Indeed, I have worth.

*Gracie is the name that I gave my marriage years ago.  After having kids and realizing how much work motherhood is and what having a solid marriage requires, I decided to treat my marriage like one of my kids.  I try to give it just as much attention as the other kids demand.  It is easy to loose your spouse in the family,  put date nights off, and fail to connect as you push through raising those little cherubs.  By giving it a name – Gracie – it helps me to remember to treat my marriage with patience and love.  Tonight, Gracie is in a time out!

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***Update: My husband totally redeemed himself the next morning.  As I explained to him the day ahead included attending a softball game to watch my students play I followed it up with “I know, I know I could just say no”.  To which he replied as he made the bed, without missing a beat, and with nothing but compassion, love, and understanding in his voice, “no you can’t, that’s why you are a such a great teacher”.  What I heard:  What you do matters.

Simply, love the child.

So, as District Teacher of the Year (DTOY) I was given several opportunities to address all the teachers in the district.  This particular occasion was the summer institute – the 2 first days of summer for the kids.  Every year these are optional staff development days immediately following the end of the school year.  Well, the second one is optional, and the first is required.  On one hand, the training provided can allow us to prepare for the following year with the new information/strategies/tech – whatever.  On the other hand, by the time the day comes the burnout rages through the crowd and enthusiasm remains elusive.  The purpose of this speech rests somewhere between inspiration, motivation, and exasperation.  With the 1:1 technology implementation at the end of its first year, teachers are ready for a break.  However, the theme of the event is transformation – not just using the tech in the classroom, but transforming the way we teach.  As you can imagine, the audience ranges from the technology proficient to the technology resistant to the straight up technology noncompliant.  After a year of mishaps, frustrations, network issues…and I am to bring them all together and motivate them to take the next step, now, on June 5th.  (deep sigh)

Our superintendent went about 20 minutes long – I was immediately told to cut mine short, the tech did not work right away for the next presentation (the technology department), several others spoke briefly.  It is unusual to have the DTOY speak at this event – so it was unexpected.  I was the last one on the stage, just when the whole group thought they were out of there.

Here is what I said:

Simply, love the child.

Good morning. So, today is about transformation. Wow, that can be a scary word because that means change. And what do we know about change? I know change can be downright horrifying. It can be exciting.  I know that sometimes trying to change the behaviors of others is like talking to a brick wall, right? We have all had those experiences.

But change from within – It takes effort. It takes risk. It takes perseverance. Change takes knowledge and learning, right? Well then – we’ve got this. Because I just describe the traits of every hard-working, life-long learning, stubborn teacher in this auditorium. We’ve got this – one step at time.

As you go through the next two days, feeling frazzled, overwhelmed, inspired, confused, enlightened, exhausted, satisfied, hopeful, and just plain tired…..just remember the reason you are here, the reason we are all here – and no I am not talking about your contractual obligation – I am talking about the child. We are here today and every day because we love the child. Now, I say child and not children because I want you to get a picture of one special child in your mind. That one child that you want to help or that you may have already helped. Take a moment to think about that one child you want so badly to reach – no matter how tired you are, no matter what new initiatives or new standards are thrown your way, no matter what extra duties you get at work or extra chores you get at home, no matter what the time or the date is – this child always stands out in your mind. This child may even haunt you.  Maybe you had him in class this year or maybe you are already anticipating him for next year. Perhaps you taught this child years ago – but he still haunts you. Keep that child in your mind as you go through the next 2 days and gain your motivation to transform and learn from him. One step at time.

You know, it takes a lot of energy and commitment to transform these little cherubs into productive citizens – from pre K to senior year – and to get them across that stage every year. And I am moved to tears every single year at graduation. High school teachers in the district are required to go to graduation. We may grumble about this that or the other about this requirement, but when it comes right down to it – that is the prize – seeing that child walk across that stage – I wouldn’t trade that for anything. It is a shame that every teacher, at every feeder school  does not get the opportunity to participate in graduation the way we do at the high school – to see that child cross the finish line. Now I am not recommending a change in policy – I am just trying to make a point. Each and every educator in this room had a hand in all of those success stories that I have had the privilege to witness and celebrate every year. So let me take a moment and say thank you. Thank you to all of you for giving me a better future. Thank you to all of you for transforming the child, that child in your mind, into a high school graduate and a productive member of our community – one step at a time.

So, over the next 2 days simply look within for your inspiration to change, to transform with this technology. You are all already able to inspire that transformation and change in the child. I believe the same power, the same energy will get you through these next two days and into the technology proficient classrooms of tomorrow – one step at a time. And if that can’t get you going, then just remember to simply love the child, as I know you do, and you will continue to accomplish great things.  Thank you and have a great day.

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