Why Bother Applauding Volunteerism?

Why Bother Applauding Volunteerism?

As an elementary public school teacher, I teach all the subjects to my fourth graders; math, reading, history, science, and writing. I could teach one subject a day for a year and still not get through all the content of any one of the curricula. Though I know more about these subjects than my fourth graders, and consider myself a lifelong learner, my knowledge is not as deep as I would like it to be. So, I applaud the volunteers who willingly and without pay, spend time in my classroom sharing their expertise with my students and with me. 

      The Willing Experts

Fourth grade is the year students learn about the history of Idaho and this year I began with the unit on the geography of Idaho. Our state has some spectacular landscapes; deep lakes, raging rivers, steep mountains and volcanic rock beds. Since I don’t know everything about geography, I recently invited Tony, a retired geography professor, into my classroom to teach my students and I about the history behind how some of the lakes in our area were formed. I know some vague facts about the glaciers and how they shaped some of the landscape, but Tony’s life is steeped in the study of land formations. 

Tony tromped down to my classroom carrying a bag of rocks, his briefcase of brochures and large maps tucked under his arm. He taught at the college level, so I was a little worried about how he was going to relate to my high energy fourth graders who lack much self-control. But Tony was not taken aback by them.

He showed them pictures of wooly mammoths, let them hold various rocks left behind by the glaciers, and held up big colorful maps of our lake to explain its unusual shape. He held his audience captive for most of the time and when he didn’t, he knew how to capture it once again. 

Two days later, we met up with Tony again, this time on location. We drove to different points on our lake and Tony’s narration from the classroom came alive as we stood on the windy shoreline looking out at the lake and mountains. I could imagine the ice flow coming down from Canada, and carving out the landscape of where I stood. I’m not sure what my students imagined as they shuffled their feet in the rocks and inched their way too close to the drop-off.  But Tony was not taken aback by their high energy. He seemed to soak it in and enjoy it.  

Afterward, Tony and I exchanged a few words with each other. 

“God bless you for teaching these kids,” he said.

“God bless you for crossing over the threshold of your retirement and into my world,” I replied. 

Why bother applauding volunteerism? I am grateful for those who possess more knowledge than me and who willingly step into my world to share their expertise. We all benefit from each other.

Why Bother With Steadfastness?

Why Bother With Steadfastness?

The balance poses and inversions that I practice on my yoga mat motivate me to be steadfast in my everyday life. Although my ability to stand steady on one foot varies from day to day, I persist with practicing my balancing poses every day. Finding my center point in order to hold myself in a headstand takes concentrated effort and everyday, I focus my effort, in order to balance on my head. Falling out of any one of these balance poses is inevitable, but so is my ability to try them again and again and again, finally achieving the balance in the pose. 

The Drive To Move Forward

The 2020-2021 school year is nearing its end and my students are excited and eager for summer vacation to begin. Though teachers look forward to the summer break, before we wave goodbye to our kids and close our classroom doors, we still have a big task to complete. At the end of every school year, we reflect on the professional and personal goals we set for ourselves at the beginning of the year. We look back at those ideals we set in September when our kids were new and fresh and assess whether or not we aspired to meet or exceed our target goals.

Though my intentions were good, and my plan realistic, I did not reach my goal this year. The number of students I’d predicted to become proficient in math, reading and writing, according to the state tests, did not score high enough. Though I worked hard with my students day in and day out, though I was steadfast with my instruction, they did not reach the standard I’d hoped they’d reach. Looking at their scores, it is tough to not see myself as a failure.

Yet, when I don’t meet the expected outcome, when I cannot celebrate a completed goal, I can’t let discouragement hold me captive or keep me from trying again. If I do, then I have failed as a teacher. Just as I have taught my students to learn from their mistakes, so too, must I learn from mine. 

Even before this year is completed, I reflect on how I will be doing things differently next year. I believe every child has the capacity to learn, but next year, I need to discover sooner than later how each student learns best. This year, I watched how well my students learned from each other, and next year, I will find ways peers can teach peers. My students came to class everyday eager to take on responsibilities and next year I will give them even more to grapple with. 

Being a classroom teacher is a lot like practicing balance poses and inversions on my yoga mat. If I persist, practice every day, and refuse to see myself as a failure when I fall out of a pose, then eventually, my steadfastness will lead me to achieving what I’ve set out to achieve, balance. 

Why bother with steadfastness? It is worth the concentrated and daily effort it takes to strive toward success. But falling short does not equate failure. Only when we don’t try again and again and again, do we fail. 

Why Bother To Handle A Heart With Care?

Why Bother To Handle A Heart With Care?

Growing up, I did not aspire to become a public school teacher, instead, I thought I wanted to be the president of the United States. But entering college the first time, I set my sights on becoming a social worker because I wanted to help people. Then after two years and an associate’s degree, I fell in love, married and set aside college for the career of wife and mom. 

    Growing A Teacher’s Heart

Along the parenting pathway, I stepped into opportunities such as teaching children’s Sunday school, organizing Vacation Bible School, and coaching one of my sons’ soccer teams. About the same time our oldest son became school aged, I joined a homeschooling coop, taught my kids at home and volunteered to teach P.E. to other homeschooled kids. It was a good run, so to speak, raising our sons while participating fully in their education. 

But still, in the back of my mind, there was that unfinished business of completing my own education and returning to what I’d left when I’d married; figuring out what I wanted to be when I grew up.

After we launched our two oldest sons from the nest, I returned to college.  Our youngest son was close to crossing the finish line in high school and it seemed like the right time for me to finish what I’d started; college. 

Though a much older student now, I was not too old to learn. Completing my bachelor’s degree, I went to work in a public school as a teacher’s assistant. But after my first day on the job, I realized I’d never be content as an assistant.  I wanted to be the teacher. Off to school I went again, and two years later, my teaching certificate earned me my own classroom. 

Even after years of teaching Sunday school and educating my own sons, it did not dawn on me that teaching was my forte, my calling, and passion.  But now I know and so do my students. 

It is a privilege to be entrusted by parents to nurture their child and a privilege that children entrust me to teach them. On any given day, students share their excitement  about some family event; a sister returning home from college, a father coming home from his long distance job, or the trip they will be taking to visit relatives.  

They entrust me to fix their friendship problems, to stand up for them when someone puts them down and to extend empathy when their pet dies. They feel vulnerable when we practice verb conjugation, use a protractor to measure angles, or writing essays. They know they don’t know everything, and they don’t want to feel dumb. But they also know that nobody knows everything, including their teacher. In essence, my students trust me to handle their hearts with care.

Teaching in public school requires an education, but as a teacher, handling a student’s heart with care is something my students teach me every day. 

Why bother to handle a heart with care? It is worth it because that is something students ask for, more than anything else.