Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Turning Corners in My Teaching Career

Sebastian Ballard [CC BY-SA 2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

I have to admit that somewhere in my teaching career I turned a corner. Twice.

It’s not that I don’t love Spanish any more; I love language and the logic behind it. I love discovering new words and connections to other words, and I love when the lights come on for students. Teaching Spanish is fun!

At some point, I realized that I love teaching. It doesn’t matter the subject (gasp), I just love helping others learn. And I think it shows. It’s exciting and I like to share that excitement. Reading books, attending training sessions, reading educator and administrator blogs, listening to other teachers-all of these are thrilling and inspiring. I love to learn new ways to teach, and I love to experiment. Teaching is fun!

In an ideal world, I can go to work each day and have the time of my life. There are new lessons to craft, and old lessons to tweak. My “unread bookshelf” is full and I am reading any number of books all at the same time.

Back in the real world, some days aren’t as awesome as others. At times I go home discouraged, tired and overwhelmed, and I need to distance myself from it, at least for a time.

It’s not that I don’t love teaching any more; I still love to teach. There is a thrill in implementing a new idea, in stretching myself to grow through failure or success, and in helping my students to do the same.

But, I’ve realized that I have turned another corner.

I love my students. I love each of them, regardless of yesterday, today, or tomorrow. 

Love is a choice, like my career. I choose to love them; it is my decision to make. 

Love is a calling, like my career. I am called to love them; it is my responsibility to do it.

What sends me home depressed at the end of the day? An unsuccessful lesson? No. A grammar error I made? No. A jam in the copy machine. No.

It is the relationships. I share in my students’ joys and sorrows. I worry about them, grieve over them, celebrate with them, and sometimes communicate my frustration to them. I want to see each of my students become a man or woman of honor, to choose what is right over what is convenient, to take responsibility for himself or herself.

Their success or failure is not ultimately up to me. But I have a role to play. I can believe in my students. I can show them the right way. I can challenge them to care and to dare.

I love when I hear from or about my former students:
  • one is in medical school;
  • two are pursuing doctorate degrees in the sciences;
  • several have graduated from Ivy League schools;
  • one has graduated from the Naval Academy;
  • three former students now teach in our school district;
  • one is currently serving with the Peace Corps in Paraguay;
  • one is in graduate school to become a Spanish teacher (awesome!);
  • several serve in the military;
  • many are raising families;

But there are other stories:
  • my students often move away (transience is a large issue in our school);
  • some students bounce in and out of classes, or in and out of cyber, alternative, and public school;
  • at least three of my former students went to prison from high school;
  • many of my former students dropped out of high school;
  • at least five of my former students have died from alcohol, drug use, careless accident or suicide;
  • more than a dozen of my former students have had criminal charges against them, and many continue in that lifestyle.

It can be very discouraging.

But I cannot give up.

My students today have not made their choices.

I do not know the future.

Therefore, I choose to love today. I cannot fix their yesterday, but I can help with today, and I can invest in tomorrow.

The choice is theirs, but I am going to be the best coach, encourager, parent, teacher that I can.

I choose to love. 

Teaching comes second. 

Spanish comes third.

I choose to love! 

Which students most try your patience?

In what ways can you demonstrate belief in those students?

How can you find encouragement on the long and discouraging days?

<Note: I wrote the blog and published it previously (12/13/15) at>

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

"Happy" is a Choice

My last class of the day is Spanish 1. It's really small, just 14 ninth graders. During class each day I try to make sure that I speak repeatedly with each of them, both about class topics and about personal ones. As class began on the first day after Christmas vacation, I circulated the room checking materials (more on this in a subsequent post), and inquiring about the students' vacation and current condition.

Carmen still hasn't let down her guard and doesn't fully trust me yet. Sometimes I see a little relaxing, but most of the time her defenses are high, her answers are terse, and her attitude is combative. When I approached her desk, she showed me her materials, handed me two late assignments, and asked,

"Why are you always so happy?"

Quickly I responded, "I love my job and I love my students. Why wouldn't I be happy?"

She shook her head and didn't say anything back to me, though when I walked away I heard her recalling grumpy teachers from her past.

Two days later, the question is still ringing in my ears. Why am I always so happy? I have a lot of answers, mostly borne out of knowing who I am, understanding that I am called to teach, and believing that I have been gifted to do this job. But there is something more:

"Happy" is a Choice.

In today's society, "emotions" are given the right to run lives. People make "snap" decisions, make and break relationships, react and overreact, and allow their emotions to determine what kind of day and attitude they have.

Emotions CANNOT drive our lives. We must employ our minds and bring our emotions under control. It is possible to "BE" happy without "FEELING" happy.

When I begin each of my classes, I deliberately choose to begin with a positive attitude. I choose to greet my students in an uplifting manner, regardless of what he or she might have done the day before. (*Disclaimer: I have had days when I did not present a positive attitude; but students will remember the way things usually are.)

I am not always happy. Some days I struggle with debilitating headaches, and on other days I am sad, worried, angry, frustrated, preoccupied, etc. But I CHOOSE to be happy. And usually my choices actually impact my feelings, and I am happy.

Some of my students live in a whirlwind of emotional choices and reactions. They don't reign in their emotions, and they don't experience family or friends doing this either. It is yet another part of their lives that lacks any self-control.

Perhaps my consistency will impact some of them. Perhaps I need to find a way to explain it to Carmen, and to my other students. Could I convince them that "Happy" is a choice? How can I teach them to choose their emotions? 

Do you rule your emotions or do your emotions rule you?

In what ways have you chosen to override your emotions and present a positive attitude to your students?

How might your consistency in emotion benefit your students?


(This blog is a conversation between my good friend (and instructional coach), Mrs. Stephanie Sandrock, and myself. As is often the case, I...