Next year will be my twentieth year in the classroom, and I suppose that has me feeling pretty nostalgic. When I started, I never really thought I’d stick with it, to be honest. I wanted other things for my life. The draw of relationship with my parents and kids was strong though, and every year, I thought, I would leave for a different job, and then…I just didn’t. There was a student coming up the next year that I wanted to work with…a parent that told me that they couldn’t wait to get me…and I was roped in once more. After a while, I didn’t even think about leaving. I looked forward to coming back year after year.
That’s not to say that it was all roses. It was not. I remember moving to Florida and trying to get my first job. It was tough. The first third of my teaching career I taught in private Christian schools. I remember being told that ‘I’d never make it in public school’. Sometimes, when you leave a school principals are in a lurch and they can’t let go…and say things that are really disappointing. I grew up in a Christian home and went to Christian college, and some of my greatest hurts came from experiences within the Christian school movement. Not to say that they are all bad…but I knew if I was going to give teaching a real go, I had to make a change. Public school or BUST! 🙂
So…that got me to thinking…what IS it that’s made me stay in this for so long. Certainly not because it’s easy. I can’t even say when I started I even LIKED it. The whole teaching thing kinda grew on me…and now it is JUST ME. How did that happen? I think these qualities have helped me to stick with this crazy profession through it’s ups and downs. Let’s see if you feel the same….
Once I had a principal say in a staff meeting at the beginning of the year that we’d all better learn to be ‘like Gumby’. He was so right. That year, I was asked to do so many different things than what I was used to. I was stressed to the MAX, but I learned so much that I was able to take with me to my next school. To this day, when someone thanks me for my flexibility, I think of that principal…and what his style of leadership branded on me that has helped me…in spite of how difficult that year was.
This one probably seems crazy, but…seriously. I try not to do the same things over and over. It’s the secret to my secret sauce! Sure, there are some things that I have HAD to do again and again, but…when it comes to learning to teach to the standards, or embracing new styles and approaches, I have learned to try new things and expect the unexpected. It keeps me fresh and peppy in the classroom, and it keeps my students always asking…’What’s next, Mrs. Russell?’
I put my whole heart into every class, every year. Some years, I feel such a strong connection to my kids, I think my heart will burst when they leave. This year is no different. To know that I am a part of a story for 18 little people every year makes me come back again and again. It makes me advocate for my kids in spite of the mediocrity that sometimes challenges me. It made me start this blog four years ago and share my story. It made me apply to be a trainer for SDE…it’s what keeps me going. There were times in my career I couldn’t get hired. It was my passion for the job that finally got someone to give me a chance. Passion trumps ability. Ability can be taught. Passion is either there or it isn’t. I’ll know that I’m nearing the end of my teaching story when passion is overshadowed by my circumstances.
If passion is the vehicle, inspiration is the gas. I can not do this job without it. I can’t even pretend to. I need to know that I am valued. I need to know that my kids are valued. I need to feel like I’m a part of a larger story. If I’m not inspired, what’s the point? Sure, the journey is not going to FEEL inspired every day, but…when you’ve been inspired, you know..and when you’re not, you need to feel like you can turn to the person in the trench next to you and say…’Are we gonna do this?’ and have them look at you and say ‘Yeah, we got this’…and then you go conquer that challenge together. I am so thankful for those friends who have come along side and been inspired with me! What a blessing. I would also add for my new teacher friends, just because you are young…doesn’t mean you don’t know anything. Don’t let veteran teachers take your shine. As a veteran, it is my job to know how to best GUIDE your energy…not abuse it, or stick it in a corner. Rookie teacher: You find yourself an inspirational veteran and tuck up under them! Soak them up like a sponge! The best veterans will help you grow faster than you ever could by yourself. Pray God provides you someone that sees your youth and passion as an exciting opportunity!
It’s been twenty years friends.
Not all beautiful.
Not all triumphant.
All worth it.
I didn’t just survive…I THRIVED.
Twenty solid years of being in the work. Sweating and straining, grinding and praying. Hoping that the job I’ve done is enough…yet knowing instinctively that it was all that I had to give. This calling has required all of those traits: flexibility, unpredictability, passion, inspiration. I couldn’t have been a teacher in the tough times without it. When I’m on the mountain top, I know that its been these qualities that helped me with the climb.
Here’s to twenty more years of this life.
I for one can’t wait.