Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Tramping the Last Mile

"All right endeavor calls for the ability to tramp the last mile, shape the last plan, endure the last hour's toil....This spirit is the one...we must possess if we are to face the future as finishers." (Henry David Thoreau)

Today's the last day of the school year for me.  Students have been gone for almost a week; grades done, yearbooks signed, room cleaned and organized.  Another year done - a 27th chapter added to this book called "My Career".  But unlike some years, when I can't wait to race away from school and escape into summer, today I find myself lingering, and wanting to reflect.

This year has been both rewarding, as well as challenging.  Funny how it seems that the most valuable experiences we go through in life are often like this.  They demand more of us than we ever think we can give.  But if we stay, if we perservere, we are usually rewarded with gifts we couldn't have received any other way.  This past school year (and trying to keep up with my wife while she runs!) has reminded me of this "Pearl".

What were some of the challenges of this past year?
  • Moving into a new building.  Having to teach "old school" with an overhead projector because my high-tech computer and Activeboard weren't ready to go for the first two weeks of school. New computer programs to figure out.  New building layout to learn (and to hike!)
  • A new schedule (our 4th in 6 years!) - I never did know for sure what bells ringing when meant what!
  • Tons of new expectations.  Essays I was required to assign as part of a school wide "Literacy" program; state reading work samples to do; department "curriculum maps" to haggle over and finesse (but will probably never be used by any classroom teacher).  So much time spent doing things other than teaching Economics. The Kronus Krisis! (teachers should not - and will not - "punch in"!)
  • And a constant drumbeat behind all of this...looming budget cuts (once again) promising a future of more work, more students, fewer resources, fewer teachers, and less pay... A sad and grim reality for teachers all across this nation.
But despite all of those challenges, and many more, it is the rewards of this year that I remember now.
  • The fun I had with my A.P. Economics class this year.  They were a group of mostly squirrely Juniors (and squirrely Seniors!).  During the year they sometimes exasperated me.  But we grew together as we worked together.  I was flattered when some of them told me I was the best A.P. teacher they had had that year.  I also feel good about how I'm growing as an A.P. teacher - I did many new things this year and am excited about doing more next year.  I love finding new ways to teach stuff!
  • How satisfied I felt in helping some of my most difficult Seniors finish the year strongly and graduate.  Talk about "Tramping the last mile"!  I may not have planned on working that hard to help them, but the smiles on their faces when they shook my hand on Graduation night made it all worthwhile.
  • The fun I had, and the "15 minutes of fame" I received (that stretched a whole lot longer than that!) for my Justin Bieber impersonation in front of a class last December.   Who woulda thunk that a strait-laced, up-tight, "Boy Scout" of an Economics teacher would "bust a move" and shimmy and shake like I did!  Just cracks me up to remember it and wonder, "Was that really me?"... Yes, it was!
And most of all, I enjoyed the rewards of working with my fellow teachers:  people who year after year strive for excellence, and try to teach others to do the same; people who may grumble and complain, but rarely turn cynical and cold; people who have been both mentors and colleagues.  Some of this year's retirees - Bill Rowan, Mary Boyarsky, and Joan Edwards - have been friends for a long time, and have taught me valuable lessons through the examples of their work.  I will miss them.

The book called "My Career" still has at least one more chapter to be written; a little further to go before the last mile has been tramped. 

"Life is my college.  May I graduate well, and earn some honors along the way." (Louisa May Alcott)

But summer calls and I'm ready to relax.  Putter in my yard, go gallivanting on some adventures, big and small, and pamper my beautiful wife just enough to make her smile (but not so much that she tells me to "Scram!").  And in a couple of months, return refreshed and renewed - ready to begin the race again.

School's out.  But here's to the learning, and the growing, continuing.