I was teaching a group of highly motivated school leaders and coaches near Phoenix the other day. They were engaged, they were asking questions, they were laughing, and, as we regrouped after lunch, I told them I think they are my favorite group ever. I then told them that I often call Dave from the airport or my hotel room to tell him, "You aren't going to believe it. It was such an amazing day. They were such great participants! This may have been my best group ever." Dave now responds with, "This group simply can't be the best group ever. You just said that last week about another group." My participants in Phoenix said, "Call Dave and tell him we were your very best group ever." I laughed and said, "You're so funny that you think he wouldn't be out on the golf course right now." (every "now" is more like it). So, the next day during our training, one of the school leaders gave me this shirt they had screen printed the afternoon before (this is obviously a person you want on your school team, right? She gets things done!). I was so very touched. And I can't wait to go back and see them again. And again. And again.
I may have mentioned a time or two that I love what I do. But I also love what I did before...and before that...and before that. It is possible that I didn't always love working in fast food, but I still usually loved the people with whom I worked.
I am truly grateful to love what I do, as I am well aware that not everyone loves their work.
I was thinking about the themes that have created this "I love my job" blessing throughout my life, and I thought I would share them with you.
1. Laughter is an integral part of the day. From the first year of teaching students with emotional disturbances, I found that laughter would be the thing that sometimes kept me from crying. Those 3rd, 4th and 5th grade kids in inner-city San Antonio were tough, but hearing Mario ask me, "Miss...you look stressed. Do you want a sammage?" when he meant to say "massage" made me giggle every time. As an elementary guidance counselor, I experienced one of my sweet 5th grade girls run into my office, throw up into my sink, then turn to me as she is clutching her stomach and ask, "Mrs. Arneson, what's it want?" That one still makes me (and Cindy Dooley, the best administrative assistant on the planet) laugh. Laughing with colleagues and participants and doctoral students is what makes a great day even greater.
2. Passion for the work is palpable. Not only do I believe in the power of teaching, I also love watching for it. One of my participants, Stuart, told me the other day, "I dreaded coming to this workshop. I didn't want to spend all day doing this. But I am a changed man. I am on fire!" We joked and said he not only drank the koolaid, he is making his own koolaid and setting up a koolaid stand for all the kids in the neighborhood. We all need something about which we can be passionate. For me, it is the power of working with people to create something better than it was before. If I can leave a conversation, work group, training session, teacher observation, conference with one new idea for my own growth, the time has been a huge success. When I was a middle school guidance counselor, one of the assistant principals noticed I was spending a lot of time learning all the names of the 8th graders with whom I worked. I laughed and said, "I think I have more success saying, 'Jeremy, come over here. Remember how we talked about how unsafe it is to try to tackle your friends in the hallway? Save it for the football field." than saying, "Hey, hey, hey, you all need to walk in the hallway!! Hey! Hey!"
3. Acceptance that not every moment is perfect. I got to my training site the other day and realized I had left my computer at my hotel. I had to drive all the way back and was almost late for my training. Guess what! The day turned out just fine. Teaching is hard work. It doesn't pay enough. It can be a challenging and complex mess, fraught with politics and major frustrations. Yes, yes, yes. All of that is true. But if we get caught up (and worse yet, stay caught up) in the "woe is me" attitude, we will likely burn out pretty quickly in the field of education. I invite everyone who feels a little bit of that to say it aloud, whine a little bit and then figure out the next right thing to make our chosen field just a little bit better. I have to remind myself that I chose this! One of my favorite kindergarten teachers with whom I worked a few years ago, used to start every year saying, "This group of kids is so tough! They are going to be a handful." I would joke with her and say, "I'm recording this and playing it back to you in October." Why? Because by October, she was never saying that anymore. The problem, we discovered, was perspective. She was, as we often do, comparing this new crop of ants (I mean kinders) to the group of mature kiddos who had just left her nest to fly off to 1st grade. We have to accept that there will be bumps in every road in education. Just put your seatbelt on and hang on for the ride!
Take a moment to think back on what all you accomplished this past year. What gains did your most challenging student make? How were you able to solve communication issues with that parent who has never been satisfied before? What were some new learnings you had about the metacognition about your lesson planning? What new engaging strategy did you try that worked so well, you now have eight new iterations of it?
Even as I write this blog, I am getting excited about leaving tomorrow for my next workshop in Michigan on Tuesday and Wednesday. I plan on laughing with my participants, putting a note on my computer at night to remind me to take it with me and get on and off my passionate soapbox a time or two. Just another day in the life of a teacher looking for the best day ever!