Friday, May 12, 2017

Looking For Boxes!

It is May 12th, 2017. Your 2016-2017 season is almost over. Another season in your career as a teacher. Done.

It is a time where you can see and feel the finish line, and yet you are also and almost exhausted. But you will get there. You always do.

Each season is like one marathon followed by another, and then another. Each of them unique. Maybe this school year you started out strong in August, but by October, the forces of life knocked you down, or made you angry, or frustrated you out of your skin.

Maybe, those forces of life – both personal and professional didn't knock you down until a bit later in the year like it did for my wife Susan and I when we lost the community of life with both her Mom, and our friend Rick DuFour in January and early February.  

Maybe 2016-2017 was just your best year ever! So much joy in your work! And you are trying to figure out how to hold on to these moments, these kids, these colleagues, and these parents… yet, like everything in our profession, transitions are part of moving on when you become an educator.

You will have to let them go.

In 2017-2018, it will be new students, new parents, maybe a new Principal, or a new school for you, or maybe even a different job within the profession you love- teaching. In most cases it means that somewhere in the next month you will need some boxes. Maybe you are looking for those boxes now as you pack things up and get ready for the transition to summer and the next season that lies ahead.  

Comedian Jerry Seinfeld explains it like this:

To me, if life boils down to one significant thing, it is movement.  To live is to keep moving.

Unfortunately, this means that for the rest of our lives, we are going to be looking for boxes. 

When you are moving or leaving, your whole world is boxes.  All you think about are boxes.  Where are the boxes?  You just wander down the street going in and out of stores looking for boxes.  It is all you can think about. 

You could be at a retirement party, and everyone around you is sad/crying, and you are looking for more boxes. That’s a nice box. Anyone know where that guy got that box? When he’s done with it, do you think I can use it? When you retire, then what? Well, you will either unpack, repack, or store the boxes.

Before too long this school season will be strangely reduced to fading memories, one season blending into another. They are not always easy to tell apart. Maybe those memories are in storage somewhere. Maybe they are in the box in your car. Maybe you will repack that box before next season begins.

And yet, there will be defining moments in those boxes. I remember distinctly the summer of 1986. July 24th (A Thursday). It was the day I turned in my keys, said goodbye to my summer school students, my girls on the Basketball team as summer camps ended, and to my room. Room 210. It was a room full of my teaching memories, and…

My boxes were packed.

In two short weeks I would shift my professional life to become a teacher and leader at Stevenson. But for the moment I was held captive by my 6 years at West Chicago. They had been filled with joy and laughter, and sadness and tough times. I had loved teaching in that school and teaching my students from that very dichotomous community. I was 28 when I arrived. And 34 when I left. Six of the best energy years of my life, right? 

Fast forward 30 years, and those seasons fade in your memory. There is one box left from those six years. It sits in a cupboard of our garage. I think you just remember those years the way you choose to. I remember them as a time of strength and fighting for what was right. Of knocking on doors and insisting students attend school. I wanted to offer life lessons for success far beyond my classroom walls.

And then this past week, I received a wonderful end of the school season gift: An email from a 1980-1981 student of mine. He jogged my memory, reminding me of how difficult of a student he had been, and how strangely enough my class was one of his favorite memories of those difficult days a long time ago.

His name was immediately recognizable to me. I also taught his sister. It works that way with families, as their children grow up. He connected some dots of names and moments, and they flooded back for me pretty quickly.

To say the least, he did not need or really use the content of my math class to achieve his successful career. But he did remind me that he took away a feeling of hope. The feeling he had of a teacher that refused to give up, or give in. I told him, that his note, or more specifically the sentiments expressed, was so much of the reason I decided to join this profession.

As this season ends and you reflect on your work, engagement and effort, know that above all else you are a hope provider: You provide direction, your demonstrate faith, and you give guidance toward student growth and learning.

Great teaching does not just sound exhausting. It is.

So my advice: Re-charge this summer! Prepare for the next marathon of a school season that looms ahead! Who knows, the next one may be even better than the one drawing to a close this month.  

Make and cultivate a few very close friends. Stay in touch with people. Give of yourself. Read widely. (What is on your summer list?) Exercise regularly. Fight the rut of routine. Leave time for leisure. Have more fun. Take up a hobby that gets you outdoors. Eat less. Laugh more. Encourage at least one person every day. Plant a garden. Loosen up your intensity.

Start today.

And for those of you packing up your boxes for the last time? Keep them somewhere close. They are your seasons. And they made a difference. Thanks for giving yourself to such a great profession. 

Your students, are packing their boxes too. May those memories be great ones indeed. 


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