A Tribute to Educators and the Paradoxes They Meet Each Day

A Tribute to Educators and the Paradoxes They Meet Each Day  

What Will You Pack Up and Bring Home?


The sun was beaming this afternoon as cumulus clouds scattered vicariously around the pristine blue backdrop. Suddenly,   large nickel sized raindrops fell from the blue with no gray or nebulous forewarning. A paradox in nature mimics the happenings in this time for students, parents, school leaders and especially teachers as the school year draws to a close. 

Teachers spend on the average 12,000 hours with students during their K-12 educational years. Next to a parent, a teacher is one of the most influential persons in a child and adolescents’ life. Many of my friends and colleagues are immersed in education year round.  As we, in this profession and the community  near the end of another school year, it feels so important to honor and applaud the tumultuous, challenging, victorious, ever changing nine to eleven months you  have encountered and embraced, in spite of the so-called frustrating and often times endless discussions,  angst, power struggles, and intense pronouncements  from political and educational reformers who, quite honestly  have not walked in your shoes, sitting inside your responsibilities, asking  and assisting to  personalize these school days,  “What can we do to improve the well-being of every stakeholder? “ 

I am sometimes asked from reporters or journalists for the “big stories” the monumental happenings, the life changing experiences that school leaders and teachers meet inside the reported ongoing revolution of educational reform. I cannot think of a bigger or more important story to share with our community than the raw, honest and heartfelt thoughts shared by those who are inside the classrooms each day meeting the most diverse, populous and often times impoverished   student population that are often times, trying only to survive; getting a little sleep, caring for siblings or relatives and trying to manage what feels to be a chaotic and stress-filled existence outside of school.

How do these variables affect our teachers and school leaders personally and professionally as they once again pack up their reflections, thoughts, feelings, disappointments, anxieties, victories, and intentions for students who in a few short weeks or months will re-enter   with a plethora of experiences, cultures, free will, and belief systems?

A veteran first grade teacher wrote to me today from a north side public school district and these were her thoughts: 

“My burning question is this, in order to have a valid and conclusive science experiment you must pare down and single out the variables that contribute to the results. This is the only way you can tell without a doubt which variable is the root cause. Where is this concept located in the state’s teacher evaluations? The “powers that be” selectively forgot that the variables of free will and cultural upbringing “ and within each student is a wild card that eliminates the possibility to realistically place blame for failing students on teachers alone!

My class this year is composed of 22 six and seven- year -year olds.  I have spoken and met with three quarters of these families about their child’s challenges, trying to understand and find ways to engage these young students. In our end of the year NWEA testing last week we had a third o of our first grade students not meet the reading goals that NWEA had set for them after their fall testing period. These students were all our highest performing students! These tests are completely multiple choice in nature. Do we really know if the initial test results were accurate, or did they contain a fair amount of lucky guessing?  

Lori, I am working from 7:30 AM to 6 PM everyday and constantly trying to create new lessons to grab students’ attention. I’ve tried every behavior modification strategy in the book and have overhauled my entire system of positive and negative rewards, but see very few changes.  Many of my children are on medication for ADD, oppositional behaviors, have very difficult home lives, and come to school exhausted, distracted and unable to sit still to even listen to a short story at such a young age.   I am exhausted.”

Last week I sat beside secondary educators from one of Indianapolis’s largest township high schools and I was amazed at the inquiry and vocalization of a heartfelt desire to improve student engagement and well-being. The teachers were open, honest and reflective in their desire to see and experience improvement in providing relevancy and meaning inside their many standards, assessment and instruction.   I was so inspired to see these public school educators reach out for ways to meet the holistic needs of their most vulnerable students.

There is no doubt that teachers need to be evaluated and assessed for proficient performance but the significance placed on student  growth models coupled with very subjective teacher observations measuring academic performance that happen periodically and inconsistently  are leaving many educators feeling hopeless, overwhelmed  and under served.  Most teachers are working 50 plus hours a week and their work load equates to a 12 plus  month profession, but the difference between teaching and other professions lies in the active and ongoing engagement coupled with the developing  young lives an educator stands beside 40 hours a week! As I have shared with my graduate and undergraduate students/teachers, teaching is one of the most honorable, rigorous, and challenging professions in this time.  And those who are choosing this profession are sitting inside a pool of contrast as the old industrial models of educating children are breaking away and we are forced to take a hard look at student and global evolvement and what that requires of us as educators. Our students today are digital learners, they multi—task like no other student population. Information is coming into their lives at record speed and record quantities.  On the average, adolescents are sending and receiving over 300 text messages a day.   Our roles as educators are changing and changing quickly! The perceived stress on teachers must also be acknowledged and understood.  


As the 2012-2013 school year comes to an end, what can we give ourselves to pack up and take home for a few short weeks this summer?

  1. A broadened and flexible perspective allows us to see inside the world of our students and our own strengths, challenges and those experiences or relationships that trigger negative emotion! Take deep breaths this summer and spend some time alone reflecting on a perspective that takes a new snapshot of a challenging teaching situation that has many viable solutions when we step away and open up to what is possible. 
  2. Pack up those teaching moments that didn’t go so well, but the paradox is; they were exactly what you needed to grow and expand determining next fall, how it will improve and what you learned. 
  3. Teaching is never about saving a soul. When we fill ourselves up with positive emotion, experiences and relationships, we have so much more to give those around us when we need to. Get very quiet, take walks, go outside and notice how you feel and what you need. Take time for yourself and surround yourself with those people and experiences that bring you joy!
  4.  Pack up those two, three or four student dispositions that were stressful and explore what you could do or how you could be in those situations next year. Talk to your colleagues, other children and adolescents and see what other perspectives have to share.
  5. Create two or three intentions for next year.  Take an authentic look at what is in your control and what is not.  Spend time envisioning a great upcoming school year and writing down three or four affirmations daily or few times a week about how you envision this new school year.
  6. Applaud and affirm all that went well this year, no matter how small or insignificant it felt. Write a letter to yourself with your new intentions, self-reflections, disappointments, successes, goals and dreams for next year.   

“Every encounter in our lives happens for a higher purpose, every meeting is a chance for evolution. We should always ask ourselves how we can grow from our associations, challenges and friendships. This makes our connections and partnerships far more meaningful and empowering.”  James Wanless in Little Stone       




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