Facing the fire hydrant

Reflections on the end of the school year and the moments that feel like they may drown us.

Earlier this month, I brought one of the student teachers from my department along to a policy panel discussion on teacher evaluation.

When we left, he looked completely shell-shocked.

He told me that he and his peers likened student teaching to trying to take a drink from a fire hydrant. Adding policy advocacy to his already long list of things to think about, learn, implement, review, grade, perhaps wasn’t the best activity for the last month of school.  I felt a little guilty about turning the water up. Thankfully, though, even in his overwhelmed state, his enthusiasm was unwavering. The next day, he dove head first into the stream and secured his first teaching job!

Later in the month, I joined my peers as we honored our retirees at an end of the year luncheon. As is tradition at my school, each of the three retirees gave a speech. There were many thanks given to the administrators, teachers, students and peers that shaped them into the educators that they became over the course of their careers.

Each speech was unique, but they all had one thing in common. No one talked about the worst day of their teaching experience. Instead they focused on the moments of their career that kept them going. They talked about the fact that teaching is a career where the rewards often overshadow the difficulties. Their speeches were poignant and celebratory reminders of the impact each of them had on the thousands of students they have taught.

I’ve been teaching for eleven years. There are still many days when I feel like I am lining up to get my dose of high powered water pumped down my throat, but I have also learned how to adjust my stance and angle so that it doesn’t always feel so overwhelming to do what I do every day.

Because here’s the thing: Teaching is a career where the days and years, difficult or easy, go by quickly. The million small decisions that a teacher makes on a daily basis must be made at the speed of life.

Decisions about how to differentiate for students who are struggling, to engage students who are checked out, to celebrate growth and progress become second nature. If we hesitate, then the water can feel like it is knocking us down. If we learn to trust ourselves, there is exhilaration in facing the stream head on.  

There is much to learn from both ends of the spectrum. Brand new teachers are enthusiastic, idealistic and ready to get wet. Retiring teachers have absorbed many ideas and trends and are more than happy to wring out their experiences for our benefit.

As a teacher smack dab in the middle of my career, I am grateful to have both of these perspectives to look to as I finish this school year. Engaging with the student teacher helps me to remember where I’ve been; listening to my seasoned peers inspires me to strive towards where I’m going.

While I am definitely feeling a little waterlogged at the end of May, looking to either side of me, helps me to remember that I’m still thirsty. I hope the water slows down a little over the summer months for all of my teaching friends. I look forward to taking sips of great conversations, books, conferences and virtual collaboration and hope that you will all join me here in the Collaboratory so we can remind each other how much we love the water that surrounds us and prepare ourselves for the fire hydrants we might face next fall.

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