This past Sunday our pastor shared a thought that resonated with me. Of course, my educator brain connected it to teaching. He talked about how we wait in life for those moments of inspiration, those mountaintop moments to define us and move us forward. He went on to point out the problem with that. Life is lived mostly in the valleys.
Our teaching lives, our lives in education are much the same. Isn’t the standardized test day nothing but a mountaintop (or mountainous!) day? Where is the recognition of all the days learning took place, all the questions asked, tasks completed, practice problems worked in order to gain the knowledge? And how did we get to this culture that focuses so heavily on that one moment, that one snapshot in time?
In thinking about that question, I came to realize that our society looks at mountaintop moments and memorializes them as what “good teaching” is and should be. Think about the movies about teachers, the books popular in the mainstream about teaching….I’m not going to list them because, well, you know them. But they memorialize teaching as these awe-inspiring moments…these great stories complete with drama and success for all students at the end. Not that these moments don’t deserve to be celebrated and applauded, but there are teachers every day doing good things, no, GREAT things, that will never make it to a movie screen.
We know that the real work goes on in the valleys of the school year. Those days we leave exhausted, wondering how we will get up tomorrow and do it all again. And yet, we do. Those days when we end the day thinking “that was a good day!” without being able to put our finger on exactly what made it a good day. Those days that end and we realize we didn’t have to send anyone to the nurse or write an incident report or a referral. Those days when our students begged us for “Just ten more minutes to read, please?!” Days when everyone had their pens or pencils on the paper and wrote for the whole 15 minutes of quick-write time and even after we told them to finish that final thought. Those days when a student sends us an email or slips us a note to tell us they appreciate us or love us or hope we have a good weekend. When we get a phone call from a student who just couldn’t wait to get to class and share their epiphany moment from that day’s reading. Those days when we look around the room at those young people we are charged with teaching and realize how much they have taught us.
Those days may never make it to the big screen or be the backbone of a best-selling autobiography. But they still deserve to be celebrated. So, I invite you to share your days in the valley. Come back here as often as you like. Share with us. We’re waiting to listen. We get it. A day with no broken pencils? Cause for celebration. A day in the spring semester when your entire senior class brings their homework completed? A reason to dance. A week with productive, thoughtful, meaningful meetings? Break out the bubbly! Drove to work without spilling coffee(or the breakfast you ate in the car) on yourself? We salute you! Live in the valley, my friends. And let’s celebrate.