Tuesday, September 13, 2016

We GET to Love Them

We are required to teach them, 
expected to engage them, 
encouraged to know them, 
We GET to LOVE them. 

As teachers, we are required to teach them. It's kind of imperative to our job description, right?  That means we know our curriculum, we understand the standards, we have an arsenal of instructional strategies, we are well-planned, data-informed, student-focussed and we're constantly reassessing how things are going, how children are growing, and what needs to change. There's no easy way to sum up the job of a teacher, but in a nutshell, we teach. That's what we do. Lately though, guys, I've been thinking about the job and what makes us stick with it when it's hard and when we feel spent or when conditions are less than desirable. I've been thinking about what compels us to stay up late at night reading each other's blog posts, participating in twitter chats, pouring over brain research about how to help our struggling learners, and how to push our high-achievers. I've been pondering why it is that even on my most exasperating work day, when the notion of a different, more glamorous or perceivably "cushy" job comes up in conversation, it's a notion I just can't abide. "Not now", I tell myself, "I don't think I could love anything as much as I love this". I say. But why?
It's true that I LOVE to teach. I love the planning, the innovating, the creative process of planning a lesson and seeing it through (and on a really good day, seeing it work out better than I planned). I love seeing the light bulb moments. I nerd-out over improved assessments, evolved writing, advanced problem solving and I get chills when the most shy student in the room finally feels ready to take the mic and share something they are proud to have written. I mean really, how lucky are we to bear witness to such authentic moments of pure magic?!?!
It's true that it's a privilege to teach. It is also true that it doesn't always feel that way. But here's what I've found..for me, and for so many of the incredible teachers that I know (personally or via the interweb) the part that makes us feel so abso-stinkin-lucky, the part that keeps us coming back determined after a rough day, or a rough year or maddening meeting or disappointing test results, the part that COMPELS us to do more, do better, keep searching and scouring for resources and strategies and success stories, is this: we've figured out that the real privilege is the part we don't necessarily get paid for or trained for or even recognized for (although I'd argue the greatest recognition I've ever received was from students who felt it) is that we GET to love them.
We get to. We don't have to. We don't need to. It's a choice we can make or not. But guys, when I choose to, it comes so easy and all the rest of it starts to come easier too.
This is probably not a new concept to you. You are most likely more evolved than I am in your metacognition. I guess deep down I've always known it too, but the other day, I was walking my class of 4th graders down the hall after a pretty bangin' morning of accomplishing things in class, and I hung back just a bit to let the line get ahead of me, and I watched them. I do this a lot, my eyes feel bigger in my head when I'm looking at them in this purposeful way, looking to learn or see something new about one of them, or  about the group collectively.  One of my young souls had some extra swagger in her walk. She was walking the way she's expected to, but also, dancing a little. It was as though she had a sick beat playing inside of her head and she just couldn't keep her body from sassing and shimmying right along with it. I love the fire she has, the spunk. It occurred to me that with the school year still just starting out, I'm just learning this girl and the ability she has to march to her own beat...and I love her already. I get to, and I do, and because of that I'll fight for her. I'll fight to make sure she's getting the help and the challenge that she needs. I'll fight to keep her interested and engaged, I'll fight to help her keep hearing that song in her head and never let anyone drown it out with one that makes her feel less free and alive and powerful. Already, I love this kid, and the rest of them too.
 I'm reminded of the time that I sat in my son's new classroom across from HIS newest teacher and realized that the woman describing my son was someone who saw him, someone who loved him. As a mother, I can't tell you how absolutely reassuring that was. He'd had great academic teachers before, ones who pushed him, challenged him, rewarded him and held him accountable, but this one was different, and knowing that filled me with a trust that this year would be his greatest growth year to date- and it was.
Because like Kate DiCamillo says in Desperereax is true: Love is ridiculous and wonderful and POWERFUL. We're supposed to be teaching them, but we GET to love them, and I think we should find moments to remind each other of how precious a gift that is. In choosing to love them, we choose to see them and we GET to really know them and help them and learn with and from them all along the way. When we feel overwhelmed or lost or bogged down by the pressures of standards and time, we GET to trust that our love for them has helped us to really SEE and KNOW them and so we will be able to reach them, and move mountains to help them be successful- because that's what Love does (h/t Bob Goff). The risk and reward are magnified simultaneously as we let our hearts expand for the souls entrusted to our care. You know all of this, you've been operating this way for years. So I guess really, I just wanted to take a break from my grading and planning to look across the desk at you and say "Hey! How lucky are we? We GET to do this big and important and magical thing every day and it's hard and it's work and it matters, but it's also pretty fantastic that we GET to learn and know and LOVE a new group of souls every year, and a whole bunch of them, will even love us back!"
 Carry on, Teacher Titans! Thanks so much for learning and loving a room full of future world-changers the way only YOU can!!

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