As I wrap up my ninth year of teaching know that I need this blog post just as much as anyone reading this does.
Amidst testing, spring fever, and the end of the school year inching closer and closer with each passing day teachers grow weary in April. Teachers, do not lose heart. Teaching is hard. Many things in and about life are hard.
The other day after school as I sat at my computer checking emails my eye caught a jar that sits on the windowsill in my classroom. This particular day felt a little like Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day to me. Students argued. Lessons did not execute as I planned them. I sat exhausted and disheartened. Then I saw that jar. This jar sits on my windowsill for moments like this. Moments for me to remember where I came from and how I got to where I stand (or sit in this instance).
I used this jar my first year of teaching. The label reads “Moments of Greatness” for a reason. A moment of everyone doing the right thing was all I could seem to pull from that first class of second graders nine years ago. Every time our entire class showed a mere moment of greatness, we earned a marble. It took almost the entire year to fill up this small jar. I will not lie to you, at times I cheated and added marbles after school in hope to get us to our goal.
Why? Because I had “that first year” of teaching. I had the horror story first year. The year they write movies and books about. I started at a small sweet school and ten days in had to move to my current school in the same district because that small sweet school did not have the numbers to keep me. I then inherited the class no one wanted.
I had students on the autism spectrum, ADHD, ADD, ODD, and ED students. A fourth grade teacher and I braved it alone in a double wide trailer with no running water for that first year. We had to go inside to go to the bathroom, lunch, specials, library, pretty much anything. I had no control and spent late nights trying everything I could imagine to gain some semblance of control. I had a chaperone overdose on a field trip. At one point, I had an application for Starbucks and Quick Trip filled out. I figured I could get stock options and insurance.
I wanted nothing more than to quit. But I couldn’t. Despite what seemed stacked up against me, I fought each day for my students the best I knew how. I had just spent four years training to teach and I felt as if I failed. Despite that sense of failure every day I woke up hoping I could make a difference. And yet, always ended up feeling like failure. I wish I could say I had a Freedom Writer’s moment my first year where I saw the difference. I did not. All I had, that mostly empty jar of marbles.
A jar of marbles. Though that year felt like an utter failure, I know I learned valuable lessons and I would not change what that experience taught me. Because of that experience I now know I can teach anywhere. My first year took my limited bag of tricks and expanded it at exponential speeds. I faced things seasoned teachers do not face and I learned how to navigate those experiences. I learned what to do in the face of adversity. I learned how to show up when I really did not want to show up. I learned how to more fully trust and lean on God because He was all I had.
But I also learned that sometimes life gives us moments of greatness despite us wanting seasons of greatness. In hard things I look for and expect the long stretch of perfect and grow disheartened when I don’t see it. But it shifts my perspective to look for a moment of greatness. A moment of God’s goodness.
As I look for those moments, I train myself to see the joy in the minuet. And the more I see the joy and success in the small things, those moments stand out more. The habit of finding greatness grows.
I begin to see how those small moments can weave together a day filled with moments of greatness. Those small moments shift what may feel like a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day into a day where a student showed kindness, students cooperated, and another student did the right thing when no one else did. Even when those moments may not stretch across an entire day, they happen and I notice them. Those moments keep me grounded in God’s hope.
Whether you find yourself in the classroom, at home wrangling a toddler, or in a job you do not like I challenge you to search for the moments of greatness in your day. Watch for the small flicker of goodness. Keep your eyes peeled for the good in the world around you. When you find it, celebrate. Celebrate by sharing that anecdote with a coworker after work instead of just the negative parts of your day. Celebrate by writing down the good thing you see and putting it in a jar to read as a reminder on the day when the good seems impossible to find. Celebrate by sharing the greatness you saw with the person you saw it in.
As we make seeking out the moments of greatness a habit our thinking will shift. Our perspective will shift from the negative to the positive. It will not change everything, but seeing those moments can help sustain us until the change we desire to see breaks through.
My great-grandpa always said, “you find what you’re looking for.” So, let us all look for the moments of greatness this week. Even in late April, I stand confident moments of greatness exist. I am determined to find them for my students, me, and the sake of my own sanity!
Below are some small reminders for myself. Though this year looks different than I planned and held challenges I did not know I would face, it also holds far more than I will ever know this side of heaven. This school year bursts with more beauty than I can even see. It holds laughter, tears, growth, joy and peace. In the midst of what seems impossible lies hope. Look for the hope. Cling to the moments of greatness. They exist.