Thursday, May 29, 2014

Wrapping Up 20 Years: Advice From an Old Guy

The final curtain went down on our family's first ever dance recital.  Hands hurt from clapping, eyes were moist, and there was an excited buzz about the auditorium. I'd like to tell you that my daughter was the star of the show, but she was merely on stage for about four minutes of a two hour long performance.  However, there were quite a few familiar faces up there with some roles a bit more major than my little one.

"He acts like he doesn't know us when he sees us in public, but I secretly think he likes it when I say hi to him," I explained to my mother-in-law later in the lobby about one such performer. "He was the kinda the class clown back when he was in our classes. But he found drama and everything changed." After a moment of quiet contemplation, I added, "If I knew then what I know now, I would have been a much better teacher 15 or 20 years ago."

Tomorrow is the final school day of my 20th year of teaching. In this year, I have had a blast reconnecting with many of those kids who were dragged kicking and screaming under my tutelage. I've laughed at great memories, been quietly surprised by others, and have grieved missed opportunities.  I wish you heard all the stories, and I still have hopes that some will be told through the summer.

Hats off to the roughly 1000 kids who I have had the blessing to call "one of my kids!" You have made my job a true joy.*

Wrapping this series up, I have some advice to those of you who are still youngins... and maybe to some of you old curmudgeons like me. 

That student is more than what you see in the moment. That behavior you see, that paper you just graded...they are just small (and sometimes inaccurate) pieces of the entire puzzle.

Here's what I learned through these conversations:

  • Find that hidden love of drama (or science or writing or coding) in a kid and try to pull that out.
  • Get to know that child beyond his ability to spell or multiply double digits.
  • Think outside the box. Don't just create a bigger box than the teacher down the hall. Spend so much time outside the box that you sometimes forget where you put the box.
  • Don't get me wrong. Teach those rote skills too because they are the building blocks for something more spectacular.
  • Your relationship with that student does not end when you wish her a wonderful summer. Some might say that is merely the beginning. 
  • If you don't mind me quoting the Bible, here is a great verse to ponder. "If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal." (1 Corinthians 13:1) Your greatest lesson will be just a clanging cymbal if the kid in the seat doesn't feel your love.

Thanks for following my 20th year journey! It's been an amazing adventure!

*Before I get too sentimental, let me add this footnote. Not every moment has been a true joy. Some of students/parents/colleagues have made my life miserable in the moment.  I figure it's been a fair trade since I've probably added some misery to your life too. In general, the first 20 years of my career have been awesome and I'm hoping the next 20 are even better.

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