Saturday, November 13, 2010

A Miner's Treasures

"Real success is finding your lifework in the work that you love."  (David McCullough)

Like a coal miner, emerging from the deepest, darkest tunnels at the end of his long shift, I sit at my desk on a Saturday morning and look outside my window, squinting at the outside world as though it was a new, unfamiliar world.

My, my...where have I been for the last three weeks?  Busily at work in the "education mines" at South Medford High School - digging for gold nuggets of knowledge, trying to polish my students' minds into diamonds.  Twenty-seven years of doing this - it must still be a labor of love for me.

So, some observations and thoughts about what it's like to be "in the mines" with me.  The first quarter of the school year just ended, so it's a good time to "catch a breath" and look back and see what I've learned.

  • I've been amazed at how much "newness" I've had to adjust to these first 9 weeks: a new school, a new classroom, new students, new computers, new software programs on the computers, new copy machines, new "neighbors",  a new schedule, new furniture.  It seemed like nothing at work was "old and familiar" or where "it used to be" - not even my wastebaskets!  Each day at school has been a quest, an adventure - that has sometimes left this Horatio Hornblower pooped!
  • A funny irony!  For so long (24 out of 27 years) I've taught in rooms with no windows - I told myself I'd love being in a room with windows galore and a beautiful view to boot.  But more days than not, I find myself shutting the shades to cool my room, or to keep my students focused on what's happening in the room (it's OK for me to daydream every now and then, but not my students).  I guess it takes awhile for this "old miner" to get used to the sunlight again!
  • One of the funnest things about teaching is learning new stuff!  I love tackling new topics, doing research to share with my students, and trying to think of new ways to teach them new things.  In my Contemporary Issues classes, we did a "Great Debate - Liberals vs. Conservatives" - something I hadn't tried in 20 years, that while it wasn't perfect - was fun trying to figure out how to do, and fun listening to what the students argued about.  I'm happy that after a quarter century of doing this job, I still enjoy being "a student" still.
  • Meetings, meetings, meetings!  They are a constant drumbeat in my busy week.  But I've been working hard to not resist them.  To complain about them, resent them, grumble and mope about them is like hitting myself on the head with a rubber mallet (ala Daffy Duck in a Looney Tunes cartoon), and then wondering why I have a headache!  So, I've been using meetings as a good time to work at being present, being positive, and even volunteer to do something extra, every now and then!
And it's humbling to be reminded how much of this job is all about successfully relating to and communicating with people.
  • To truly listen with all of my attention in a moment to an anxious student.
  • To say "Hi" to a student in the hallway, shocked that I remember their name.
  • To stop to laugh with a colleague, or tell them they're doing a good job.
  • To correct without being confrontational; to direct without being disagreeable
  • To tell a student you know they can do better, and then help them do so.
These are all that make teaching a labor of love for me.

So, hi ho, hi ho, it's back to the mines I go.

Hoping to find other "Pearls" in the next quarter...

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