Seeing a journey come to a close can be full of joy, relief, excitement and wonder. Some journey's ends are filled with sadness. Yet in all journeys there are lessons because to walk a journey is to move through a particular experience with a particular group of people, for a particular purpose. From each of these faucets of a journey come moments of challenge, clarity, and change. To walk a journey takes stamina, perseverance and a guiding force.
In my life I have walked many journeys, some long and requiring more faith, patience and endurance that I would prefer. Others more simple. The ebb and flow of life's journeys keep me moving along toward an understanding that journeys are very rarely meant to be traveled alone. As I wrap up the final week of my SMU M. Ed. I find myself inspired by the many teachers who have in some way or another joined me on this journey toward the goal of obtaining more knowledge on teaching and learning.
Last Sunday I sat and listened as normal, every-day-teachers shared in inspirational discussions on the teaching and learning happening within their classrooms. I got to see the behind the scenes of many teacher's planning and execution of great instructional practices. And it wasn't the strategies that were the most inspiring (though they were helpful and I plan to use them), what was most inspiring was to see how deeply so many teachers care about the students in their classrooms. And not just the students they teach, but also the families from which each student comes.
In the American culture (unlike most other cultures in the world) there is an overcast of negative media on the educational system. One would be hard-pressed to put forth an argument that American's value education based on the dominate negative voices of the media, the constant focus on and criticism of student standardized test results, and the lack of funding provided to allow for smaller classes sizes and smaller student to teacher ratios. Sadly, the shadows these cast on the culture's perspective of education often prevent the stories of how teachers passionately devote their lives, day-after-day, to being in students' lives. Lost in the negative voices is the reality that there are thousands of teachers each your pouring themselves out to help students access doors of opportunity--both in public and private schools. But those of us on the inside know...we know that teaching and learning are not able to be measured by a test, nor should teacher's and school's reputations be built on a number posted in the paper. We are not driven by these cultural measures.
We know that teachers shape and mold the way children and teens see themselves and the world. Teachers are guides on the journey children take from childhood to adolescence and from adolescence to adulthood. We recognize just how precious those hours we have with our students are and we desire deeply to make those hours matter. And that is why we gather to discuss best teaching practices, best assessment options, and best practices in creating community in our classrooms. We know that content will only get our students so far, and that the rest of life's lesson are just as important. So we strive to foster places of safety, places of equality, places of encouragement, places of celebration, places of positively because in those places students are most capable of learning. And we know that creating such places doesn't just happen because a teacher and students show up in classroom. The creating of such places requires time, patience, intentionally, intuition, reflection, and persistence. None of these things can be measured on a standardized test or even observed in a one-time visit to a classroom. Instead, the journey toward a healthy learning environment is created and experienced by those who walk into the classroom daily. Yet, the impact of such a place spreads beyond the boarders of the classroom as students bring what they have learned and felt out into the other parts of the world they encounter.
As teachers we so desperately want our culture to get us. We so desperately want our education systems to understand the whole student and the whole teacher. And sometimes it is hard to see that anyone gets us. But as I sat and listened to teacher discussions from 8am-4pm last Sunday, I knew I was on the inside. And I knew I was among friends. And I was reminded why I was a teacher...because to be a teacher is to be called on a journey--not a solitary one, but one in which one travels among the dreams of children and the aspirations of young adults, and fellow dream-catchers. Yes, I think teachers are dream-catchers. We get to watch as dreams develop in our students and help them reach to catch them. And we sometimes catch onto to their dreams and ride a little while with them. And we catch onto the dreams of other teachers: dreams of a better way of teaching, a better way of meeting student needs, and we journey on in an effort to create places for new dreams to be born.
So as I walk the last steps of this journey I am most thankful for the inspiration I have been given from being able to be on the inside of so many teachers' journeys. And though it will be a little bit sad to say good bye to this journey, I believe the excitement of completion will override any negative emotions. I do not consider it by chance that I was able to walk this journey. I choose to believe that I was given the gift of this journey and that because of this journey I will be allowed to access new and exciting journeys with a unique and sincerely grateful perspective for the gift of journeys and the gift of places and the gift of experiencing both with people.
This week I have spent a few hours reading the work of fellow SMU M.Ed. leaners' Review of Literature (ROL) and Action Research (AR) papers. These represent, for most of us, nearly a year's worth of research and writing. Wow! What a journey we have all been blessed to travel!
What I have learned from both my own ROL/AR experience and after reading the work of others is that to be in the teaching profession is to be among people who care deeply, work passionately, and never quit learning. How many professions out there is it expected that you continue to learn ALL the time? How many professions out there give one an opportunity to literally change kids' lives on a daily basis? How many professions out there allow one to be the coach to dreamers, inventors, scientist, writers, artists, mathematicians, linguist refiners? Not too many.
In how many professions is it truly valued to be a teammate over a competitor? In how many professions is it best practice to share your work with your colleagues in an effort to help one another be the best each can possibly be?
Not too many.
But in education we have this unique built-in sense of camaraderie, because at the end of the day if we are all our best teacher selves, students are the winners. Our schools become better places. The students who will be tomorrow's leaders will be better at leading because we were good at sharing and spurring one another on.
I consider it a great privilege to have been given the opportunity to be a part of the SMU M.Ed. program. Not because I loved having little to no spare-time for actual hobbies, or because I enjoyed stressing over writing deadlines...but because I got to learn from so many amazing teachers. Real-live, unpublished, un-medaled, honest-to-goodness, awesome teachers. Most of them won't be publishing a book or winning a Nobel Prize, not because they couldn't, but because they are too concerned with the academic outcomes and well-being of their students to spend time seeking such things for themselves.
While I spent time reading the work of teachers who don't teach for accolades or simply to get a pay-check, but teachers who are clearly passionate about being great at meeting kids where they are and helping them grow intellectually, behaviorally, and emotionally, I considered it an honor to be part of such a community.
The teachers I had in high school changed my life because they helped me through some tough teenage years. To them I am incredibly grateful. Without them I am not sure I would be a part of this honored profession. Now I can also say teachers, as peers, have changed my life because they have inspired me to never stop learning. To never stop striving to implement better instructional practices. To never stop pushing myself as a learner...the next generation just might be depending on it.
Links to all the, Go and See Study, sessions.