A Shrewdness of Apes

An Okie teacher banished to the Midwest. "Education is not the filling a bucket but the lighting of a fire."-- William Butler Yeats

Sunday, April 22, 2007

Living the Good Life

A friend of mine is getting ready to retire. He is looking forward to years and years of rising at his own schedule, the opportunity to travel, to dandle the grandchildren on his knee, and basically reap the reward of prudent investing so that he can be master of his own fate.

A superintendent I know has been on medical leave due to a very serious illness and is retiring at the end of the school year. Just a few short months ago, he was planning for his district's next state review and cheering on the football team, and then sudenly he was fighting for his life. He was planning many more years as an educational leader, being a relatively young man, and now he acknowledges that the twilight years will probably arrive far more quickly and be far briefer than he had originally planned.

Planning is at the center of a teacher's life. We are taught to plan lessons, units, assessments. We decide upon essential questions, objectives, and we sift and seine lesson material and information to help our students make sense of the subject. In particular, we are constatnly admonished to evaluate our use of time and emphasis to prepare for that overwhelming behemoth of modern public education known as "THE TEST."

But you know, really every day is "THE TEST," and there are things for which we cannot plan. As I consider the fact that none of us are promised even one more hour, I have to ask myself: "What if this were all that there ever was going to be in my life? Would I be satisfied with my life if I had nothing more than what I already have done thus far?" This is the test which I need to apply to each day.

And you know, I have to say that, yes, I would feel that my life had been worthwhile if I never get to that place where one gets to rest upon their laurels. I have a wonderful family. I have caring friends. I have a career that makes a difference in people's futures, in which I truly get to minister to young people and help them to discern the paths of their lives. It's often too difficult to feel a real sense of accomplishment in the teaching profession, because we never get to see a final product. People don't work that way. An education is a work in progress, and it does not end by spring testing or by graduation or even by dropping out. The lessons we impart and the information we give may not come to fruition in a students' life on our timetable. It may not seem to make a difference in time for the state test. But it may make a difference eventually.

And that IS the true test.

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At 4/22/07, 8:03 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for this post.

My mother is going through a divorce that is not of her choosing; her husband of nearly 12 years decided that he's done and doesn't want to be married anymore.

Mom's assessment is that her husband is experiencing a mid-life crisis; that he's looking around at what he's done and where he is (and is maybe comparing himself to others he sees around him) and finding that he's coming up short in his assesment of his life.

I've been thinking about her hypothesis quite a bit and, while she may be right about what's causing his angst, I don't think that the same thing will happen to me. I'm mindful enough every day, like you said in this wonderful post, to recognize that I am enough. I don't define my success against the kind of car I drive or the figures in my bank account. I have a strong, healthy marriage, two healthy, beautiful daughters and friends who would get in their car in their pajamas at four in the morning if I needed them. I have a job that, while it would be insufficient to maintain us if Mr. Chili were out of work, is one that I find very satisfying and rewarding.

Why is it that we are, in general, never satisfied? How come most of us can't see how good we really have it?

At 4/22/07, 8:19 PM, Blogger QuakerDave said...

I have it good. I really do. I have a loving family, with two great kids, I have my health, I have great job. And after 26 years, I still love teaching. Because every day is indeed a new day, and a new test.


I am planning so that when I can, I will retire. And I will not look back.

At 4/22/07, 8:55 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

This I say to my students, when I first meet them, and throughout the year:

I hope that one day, you will be as fortunate as I am. I am doing exactly what I want to do, exactly where I want to do it. I I look forward to coming to school, I come to school every day smiling and leave the same way. If I should go face down in the classroom right now, I would die happy, knowing that I had the opportunity to make a real difference for all of you.

Prepare? Yes, by living well, being involved, being a good servant, loving deeply and praying not for an easy life, but for the strength and wisdom to deal with the life you have.

If you go face down in the classroom tomorrow, will you go happy? If not, order your life so that when that day comes, you can embrace, not resist it.

At 4/23/07, 9:25 AM, Blogger Ruth said...

Great reminder on a day when I'm sitting in a room with my seventh graders while they fill out their little bubble sheets.

At 4/23/07, 6:23 PM, Blogger EliRabett said...

The best argument for teachers unions ever...pension protection. They really made Mom's (and Dad's for a too short while) possible. Before the union there was nothing. Even after the union won decent pension rights, there were those (a cousin among them) who swallowed the Kool Aid and opted out for a couple of extra bucks a month.

At 4/24/07, 12:03 PM, Blogger Rebecca Haden said...

I don't think we're in disagreement on this, but I felt I had to say that life is not a multiple choice test. That is one of the maddenning things for me about the whole test focus. What about making sure the students have the ability to accomplish things? to interact well with other people? to make decisions? Life is the real hight-stakes test, of course, but I wish the classroom assessment had more elements of real life in it.

At 4/24/07, 9:02 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the this post. It was confirmation for me. I have recently considered going back into the special education classroom because I enjoyed my work but was unhappy with the salary. Now that I have grown spiritually and professionally I have come to realize that making a positive difference in the life of a child is all that matters to me. Now I will not be rich by monetery gain but I will be richly blessed.


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