Tomorrow I begin my 32nd year of teaching. I wish I had a crystal ball to see what the school year will hold—the high and low points, the most challenging and most memorable students, the ways that my teaching and learning will evolve and what will be the biggest influences on my own professional development.
While some measure of predictability would be nice, it’s really not the best part of my job. In the first few days, I will take the measure of my students and classes, trying to figure out what they most need and use that as the basis for my time with them. I hope my 31 years of experience will come in handy at least occasionally, but if it doesn’t, that’s OK too. We have to start where we are, and figuring out what that means with each class is the most important thing I will do this week and maybe every week.
That’s the great thing about such a people-driven occupation. I’m not the same teacher I was a year ago, a decade ago, and certainly not 30 years ago. I’m still looking for ways to reach students in new and different ways, and I’m constantly trying to discover and integrate the meaning of my work life into my life as a whole.
Similarly, my students are unique individuals experiencing a time of life when they are in search of their identities. Sometimes they will be inconsistent and unpredictable, but that’s all part of a much larger discovery process. Maybe I can play a small role in that process. Maybe they can play a role in my process too.
This summer I read Burned In: Fueling the Fire to Teach, edited by Audrey A. Friedman and Luke Reynolds. One contributor mentioned this quote from Thomas Merton, and it resonates strongly with me in these times when so many critics of education think the answers can be found in policies or data: “In the end, it is the reality of personal relationships that saves everything.”
To any teachers reading this, I hope you have a great school year, full of discovery, meaning, and just the right amount of pleasant surprises. Let’s have some fun!