August 18, 2008

Back-to-School Joy

Over the last few weeks, I’ve informally surveyed my teacher friends of all stripes – from preschool educators to those who teach advanced biology students – and in all circumstances – those in large and small public schools, various private schools, and home schools. My question is always the same: So how are you feeling about starting back to school?

Two friends in one district are extremely discouraged. They’re among hundreds who just received word of an accounting error from June, the result of which is that their two September paychecks will be garnished for over five hundred dollars each. A third person dreads returning to never-ending battles with his principal. Another has started having her annual back-to-school dreams – some positive and some scary – a sure indication to her that she is both excited and nervous. Someone else is implementing an innovative technique with her teaching partner so she’s jazzed and more than ready to go. Some have been planning for weeks because they couldn’t help themselves. Others refuse to give any energy to their jobs until their first required workday.

As I thought about the spectrum of responses I’ve received, I saw a common denominator. Those who can put their focus on the children they will teach are joyful about returning, whether it be to a lecture hall or the kitchen table.

Conversely, those who are distracted by other matters – district bureaucracy, interpersonal conflicts, frustration with testing requirements, curricula, and the like – view the start of a new year as drudgery.

Obviously, those kinds of struggles are inevitable, and it’s difficult to avoid fretting over them. But they can be dealt with in due time. So I want to encourage you – as I’ve tried to encourage my friends – to refuse allowing those things to steal your joy right now.

I’ll bet it’s safe to say that you’re a teacher because you love children, you want to serve them, and you revel in seeing them grow and mature. In short, you do what you do because you want to celebrate kids. So do that!

Purpose today, whether you’ve been back to school for a week or won’t return until after Labor Day, to focus solely on your students for the next month. Close your door to distractions, and learn about them, academically and otherwise. Let them know you – and let them see your joy at being their teacher. Your joy will be contagious. It will bring peace, to you and to your classroom. Can you think of a better way to start a new year?


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