Monday, March 19, 2007

Where does it get me?

I was sitting at a student desk, waiting for a meeting to start today, when I announced that I had set up a new blog. My colleagues were interested and even one decided to read it right away. (I felt so special!) Rather than appreciate the blog in its entirety, the others simply asked what it was about. I informed them that I had an awakening, literally, on Sunday morning when I got out of bed and nestled into the couch to watch CBS Sunday Morning with my husband. I had come to the realization that teaching is just “hard”. It takes a lot of work to be good at what you do in anything, and I am not trying to convince others that my profession is more difficult than theirs, but we as educators are taking on more and more with the different (and sometimes difficult) situations our students are facing at home.

The “student and home life” situation will need its own blog entirely! Rather, the comment that caught me off guard is as follows: I was telling my fellow teachers that we have to work very hard in order to be good at what we do. A particular individual responded with “And for what? Where does it get you?” Where does it get me? It doesn’t necessarily transport or move me anywhere in particular, but I began to digest his comment right away and over the next few hours, it "got" me somewhere.

Why do we do anything? Seriously! I mean, why do I run marathons? When you really think about it, why on earth do I torment my body over 26.2 grueling miles in half a day’s time? Why do I spend the time and energy over months and months to train and prepare myself for just 5 hours? Why do I run so hard that I am sore for 3 days and my heel bleeds from running in the rain? Why do I set goals for myself? Why do I get excited when it gets closer and closer to race time, when they shove you into chutes like herds of wild mustangs waiting to be branded? Why do I even bother?

Maybe I’m just a competitor. Maybe I enjoy challenges. Maybe I like the sense of accomplishment. Maybe it’s all or none of these. But, knowing that I tried my hardest and did the best that I could on that particular day, well, I just sleep better. My mind is more at ease, my stress levels drop and I don’t beat myself up for not trying harder. There is nothing heavier than regret – regretting not to say something to someone, regretting not to plan better, regretting not taking advantage of a situation that could make use of your full potential. My college volleyball coach gave me some advice that still sticks with me to this day. I was just having a rough week in practice, and I guess I wasn’t performing up to his standards, so he called me into his office. He sat behind his huge cherry desk and informed me, very nonchalantly, of all of my shortcomings and imperfections on the court. I truthfully don’t even remember him saying anything positive. I sat there for a moment, stunned and trying to think of how I could defend my efforts, so I simply told him that I was trying my best. His response: Sometimes your best isn’t good enough. You know what? He was right.

Sometimes your best isn’t going to be good enough, but at least you have the peace of mind knowing that you tried. I am not sure if that is enough for everyone, regardless of their profession, but it’s good enough for me. I don’t need the mansion, the Benz, the fat bank account and the recognition… I just want to do my best.


Simonisays said...

Well done Jess. Unfortunatly, the type of people who would say "where does it get you" do plauge our school systems. They are just warm bodies that take up classrooms and have little positive impact on students. Understanding that people like this make up a small minority of teachers will help your keep your sanity, but also knowing that you are doing everything in your power to help students is the best thing you can do. You make sacrifices on a daily basis for your students whether they know it or not. Those that do will appreciate it now and those that do not will come back to thank you someday soon.

Debbie said...

I haven't read a fragment, yet, but everything you've written has certainly been meaningful.

So, was your colleague wondering about the big question? Why do we teach? I teach, therefore I am!? Maybe that's it. I am a teacher. That's my identity, I can't help myself. I just have to teach. Not be an expert, know it all. Just a teacher. A guide. A leader.

Good teaching is all consuming. Nothing else can be in your mind; you must be intellectually and physically active every moment in which students are present. I like that. I enjoy pushing myself to figure out what each student needs and how am I ever going to provide for all those needs. If I don't try, who will? My 4th grade teacher, Sister Leandra, told me that every person has a purpose in life; a reason to exist. She told me to seek my purpose, look for "signs." So many signs led me (and I bet this is true for you, too) to teach.

Teaching may be the last bastion of altruism. A place where you can give of yourself for a greater good. If you are a skilled, thoughtful, intelligent practitioner, you can sleep peacefully every night knowing you've spent your waking hours engaged in small, but daily acts of heroism and compassion. Now, "where does that get" me?

Those of us who love teaching, never ask "where does it get you." That question just never comes up. Hang in there Jess. You're just not the kind of person who can be comfortable without the challenge of living a meaningful life.