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Gratitude for Teaching: A Mirror to the Soul

My friend Evi Wusk asked me to write a guest post for her blog, Gratitude Gal, about what I am grateful for as a teacher. The reflection that resulted has been a game-changer for me. It’s been a busy and challenging school year, but digging deeper about why I continue to choose to be an educator has uplifted my attitude and helped me deal with the daily challenges of teaching.

Capture

Here is what I wrote:

“Gratitude at its deepest level embraces all of life with thanksgiving: the good and the bad, the joyful and the painful, the holy and the not so holy… I am gradually learning that the call to gratitude asks us to say, ‘Everything is grace. “–Henri Nouwen

I am grateful to have had two grown-up careers—five years in advertising sales and the past 23 years as a Business educator. It is teaching that has taught me about the importance of practicing gratitude.

I am grateful to see teaching as a vocation, not just a paycheck. When I made my career change, it was certainly not for the money. I have never looked at teaching as just a job; it is a spiritual calling. Parker Palmer in The Courage to Teach writes, “I believe that knowing, teaching, and learning are grounded in sacred soil and that renewing my vocation as a teacher requires cultivating a sense of the sacred.”

I am grateful that I have stayed in education even when it can be soooo hard. Several years ago, I tried to capture the essence of the evolving nature of teaching through SoulCollage®. When I started my first teaching job, I was incredibly naïve and idealistic about what it would be like, represented by the black and white, “country school” image —students with smiles on their faces, eagerly waiting to learn, happy, compliant, respectful, and totally mesmerized by every word I said. The reality is that teaching is a much more “colorful” role than I had expected or could have imagined.

SoulFul Teaching

I am grateful that teaching has shown me how diverse my community is and has given me the opportunity to grow in understanding and compassion. My students are more economically and racially diverse than earlier in my career. Students have more challenges than they did when I first started teaching—m­ore personal and family traumas, mental illness, learning disabilities, poverty and more. Teaching has become much more than delivering curriculum, it is about connecting to the personal experiences of each student. Committed to learning about the impact of poverty, racism, and traumatic experiences in my students lives has been both eye-opening and heartbreaking. Recognizing blind spots and facing my own privilege has challenged me to the growing edge. I want my students to succeed, to become their best self, to reach their fullest potential. I grieve when I see that a student who comes from an environment that does not encourage or support that.

I am grateful for the creativity and spontaneity that I can bring to my lessons.  Perhaps the most exciting part of teaching is surrendering to the sweet surprises that can occur during a school day. My lesson plans give the day structure and order, but being flexible and willing to let go of plans to respond to unique situations, questions or spontaneous discussions, is sometimes messier, but much more “colorful” and always well worth it.

I am grateful for students who love learning and for those “light bulb” moments that can happen in the learning process. I am grateful for teaching a subject that I have never lost my passion for. The joy that comes when a student learns something new about business or about themselves is the best reward for teaching classes that can be relevant to students now and in their future.

I am grateful for the opportunity to begin again. I am grateful that I can keep learning. I am grateful for the educators I work with who also have a commitment to growth and learning. Two of my favorite things about teaching are discovering new ways to share the love of learning with students and the chance to start the next semester with a clean slate. Fresh ideas, new teaching strategies, another opportunity to grow, learn and improve—and hoping a little of that rubs off on my students—are the greatest gifts of being a teacher.

I am grateful that I can accept my own imperfections (most of the time…I’m still practicing). I think I’m still learning that I will never get it just right. I will never be perfect. But I love that I can be creative each day, trying new things, forgiving myself for what doesn’t work and starting over again the next day, week or semester.

I am grateful I have had the courage to stay put and grow in my profession. It is the Benedictine promise of stability that has given me the courage to stay in teaching, to learn the valuable lessons that can only be learned slowly and over time. My commitment to teaching is a little like my marriage. It takes work. I give. I get. It is hard. I want to quit. I recommit. There are days, weeks, months, sometimes years, that don’t seem very rewarding. But there are moments that are so affirming; it is then that the reward is revealed. It is only over time that the fruits of the labor can be truly appreciated. 

I am grateful for the memories of deep connections with students. I was with students the day the World Trade Center towers came down and when I went to the 9/11 memorial. I’ve journeyed with students when they’ve made big mistakes and major accomplishments. I am grateful for the students who have stayed in touch through the years, celebrating their careers, marriages, and new babies.

I am grateful for my business teacher colleagues who care about students and believe in what we teach. I love the solitude and community we have—we respect each other’s individuality but also work well as a department and professional learning community.

I am grateful that teaching reveals more about who I am, giving me plenty of material for reflection and growth. “Teaching holds a mirror to the soul. If I am willing to look in that mirror and not run from what I see, I have a chance to gain self-knowledge—and knowing myself is as crucial to good teaching as knowing my students and my subject.” –Parker Palmer

I am grateful for the good and the bad days. Not every day, nor for every student, do I feel grateful. But gratefulness is a feeling; gratitude is a practice. It is a grace to embrace it all.

“Teaching tugs at the heart, opens the heart, even breaks the hearts—and the more one loves teaching, the more heartbreaking it can be… If a work is mine to do, it will make me glad over the long haul, despite the difficult days.”—Parker Palmer

More posts about teaching at BeingBenedictine, HERE.

More posts about teaching at SoulFullyYou, my other blog HERE.

Where Were You When The World Stopped Turning?

Where were you when the world stopped turnin’
That September day?­
Teachin’ a class full of innocent children
Or drivin’ on some cold interstate?

We remember when the world stopped turning because, for most of us, it felt as if it did. Time stood still. We remember where we were, who we were with, and how we felt. And, since then, we feel compelled to share our experience with others. I don’t think it’s about reliving tragedy, working through stages of grief or some kind of talk therapy, I think it’s more about remembering the connectedness we felt with the people we were with. We felt something together, a soul experience that goes beyond words—perhaps fear and despair, likely sadness and shock, but also a collective yearning for faith, hope, and love.

faith hope and love

Teachin’ a class full of innocent children
As a high school teacher, I sometimes forget that my students are really children, but there was never a day when I felt that more than September 11, 2001. Together, we witnessed the second hijacked airplane fly into the World Trade Center, watching both buildings crumble to the ground. The day the world stopped turning, I was profoundly aware that I was the adult and responsible for the children in my classroom. I felt an obligation to hold it together, to remain calm, to comfort, to help them process difficult feelings and to find a reflective, intelligent way to answer their questions with as much of a knowing “I don’t know” that I could muster. Continue reading “Where Were You When The World Stopped Turning?”

Foolish Fears of The Night Before The First Day of School

It’s the night before the first day of school and it is debatable who might be more nervous—my freshman students beginning their high school experience tomorrow or me, a 21-year veteran teacher.

I love starting a school year for lots of reasons—“Every day is an opportunity to embrace “newness”—new technology, new family and social dynamics, new attitudes, new behaviors, new teaching strategies, new curriculum. I am a teacher with experience, and yet I still have so much to learn. I dance between both realms.” (excerpt from “Why I Teach”)

SoulFul Teaching
SoulCollage® card: My vision of what teaching would be like, in my idealistic naiveté, is represented by the black and white, old-fashioned image—students with smiles on their faces, eagerly waiting to learn; happy, compliant, and respectful, mesmerized by every word I said.
The reality is that teaching is a more “colorful” role than I had expected.

It’s the “so much to learn” part that makes me anxious. Each school year, there is the nervousness that goes with meeting new students. But this school year, I move into a new classroom with brand-spanking new computers to teach a new Digital Design class. I will need to learn Adobe software programs throughout the semester, often just a day or two before I teach my students. I am also cooperating with a new student teacher as she begins a career in education.

“Embracing newness” feels a little scary right now and, truth be told, I’m afraid that I won’t be able to answer student questions, that there will be problems I cannot solve, that I won’t be knowledgeable enough, that I won’t look and feel like a good teacher. Continue reading “Foolish Fears of The Night Before The First Day of School”

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