When I went to that conference in Minnesota in June to present, our keynote speaker was an educator who had moved up through being a first year teacher, a master teacher, a coach, and into administration. She’s not one local to me, but rather well known up der in the cold, cold, Nort. She connected with all of us, even me as the foreigner, on a heart level–one of the first things she did was share her first few days of teaching. Like most of us, they were horrible, exhausting, confusing, frustrating, and utterly deflating. We’ve all felt it. We’ve all considered Trader Joe’s as an career option. We’ve all wondered if we were really cut out for this. The women I sat with were simply fantastic women–one teaching in Kuwait and considering moving back to MN to marry and begin work in more traditional schools, another couple with several years experience just looking to learn and grow–because we never stop doing either one.
The keynote speaker shared the story of her first few days, how deflated she was over how things had gone and how none of it was what she imagined–she ran out of plans before 2pm every day and went into “What the hell do I do now?” mode–because that’s what you do when you are just starting out. She cried about how the day was not how she imagined, and her work wasn’t how she envisioned it, and the connection to her co-workers wasn’t what she hoped…she was the newbie and everyone could tell. And she talked to us about the exhaustion…the utter exhaustion that was unlike nothing she’d ever experienced. The dragging her teacher bag home at night with all the best intentions of grading All. The. Things…and then falling asleep with them around her on the floor of her apartment. And she cried. But then her mother asked, “But how were the kids?” And she was able to reframe all of the frustration, sadness, disappointment, and this-is-not-what-I-signed-up-for-ness…because the kids were wonderful and amazing and beautiful and perfect. Joey was such a kind-hearted child. And Sarah was struggling something fierce but wanted to learn. And Amir was just learning English and was eager to learn both the language and the content and figure out his role socially with all these kids who couldn’t understand him that he couldn’t understand either. And all the others…their stories… The kids were amazing.
I spent last year creating systems and processes and trying out some things, learning to set boundaries and grow areas that I felt needed growing. And I loved the majority of it. The thing I lost among all that work, however, was the kids. I saw them, and got to work with them some, but it wasn’t the same as it had been in years past. And at the end of the year, a soon-to-be-graduate left me a note in the middle of all my plans on my whiteboard.
As I listened to the keynote speaker, she noted that we do what she calls Big Work. This is Big Work, she said. Nothing about what we do in education is small–not for any of us, from the custodial staff to the Superintendent. It’s all Big Work. The prep, the planning, the compassion, the collaboration, the advocacy, the frustration, the learning. All of it is Big Work. And every bit of it is for the kids.
I have a lot of projects on my plate and I kind of prefer it hat way. It gives me a sense of autonomy and flexibility in my day that I wouldn’t get if all I did was discipline and attendance. I get to work with teachers through coaching and induction development, create workshops, presentations, and do conference planning, provide service in support of families, dabble in marketing, work to support those who can’t be with us just yet so that their hard work doesn’t get tabled, experience a new role as SAC, and work on other opportunities and my own professional growth as an educator. All of it is Big Work…every bit. But my purpose in doing is the same…the kids. The note left by my sweet kidlet, who will forever be mine, even when they are out in the world doing their own Big Work, reminded me of why I do this work at all.
So this school year, this year’s Big Work has a theme to it.
But How Are the Kids?
What’s your theme this year? What Big Work will you take on? And after the first few days of school, be sure to ask yourself…but how are the kids? Schedule time to reflect on that all year long…because we do all of this Big Work for them…