“This year must really be a whirlwind for you.”
When people aren’t quite sure what to say to me in those inevitable awkward pauses that come in small talk, they say this. Whirlwind kind of captures the experience, but a whirlwind is something you get caught in, something that happens to you. The whole process of the Teacher of the Year is something you are chosen to do, something you choose to do; something you sign on for. So for me, it’s much more accurate to say:
“This year has been like one bull ride after another.”
Not that I’ve ever ridden a bull, but I have been a fan of bullriders because they sign up to do something really scary. Just look at the 27-second clip of J.W. Harris embedded at the top of the post. This is the metaphor I keep coming back to because the whole business of trying to represent something as big as 3 million teachers and U.S. public education feels about as foolhardy as climbing on top of some giant beast and trying to hang on. You just hope you can keep your form, be somewhat graceful in your dismount, and not get trampled.
For someone who is basically an introvert to decide that yes, she will try her best and attempt to do what her predecessors have done so masterfully , feels much like climbing up on a giant, irritable beast. And thank God for them because they showed me that it can be done and done with style. (Seriously, click those links – they’ll take you to their awesomeness).
And so, as I try to reflect at the end of the year, what keeps coming back to me are the faces of the people I’ve met. They’re saved in pictures on my phone, sure, but they’re embedded in my thinking, in my speaking. What I know down deep is that the same kind of person becomes a teacher. I don’t care where you live or what you teach or what language you speak. You, like me, believe in concrete hope.
Hope is no abstraction and no cliché for us. We believe that the seeds that we plant in our students every day will bear fruit in a better world for all of us. So many teachers work in what feels like anonymity, but they are vital to their students. They are the person for them who is unrelentingly positive, who stands at doorways in classrooms everywhere saying, “I’m here and I’m going to help you. You can do this and I’m going to help you find out how.”
When it’s quiet, when I catch my breath, I think about the teachers who do this work. They’re riding their own bulls and making it look so easy. They gracefully handle the beasts of poverty, addiction, mental illness, trauma, domestic violence, despair, and snarls and snares of bureaucracy. To be a teacher is to master all of that while keeping one hand free for whoever asks for your help. That doesn’t mean there aren’t bruises and there’s not pain, but man what a ride.0