Thursday, August 8, 2013

"Advice from a Tree" to Teachers Preparing for a New School Year

We teachers can learn much from trees about how to anchor ourselves against the outrageous and ongoing attacks on our profession. A trip to Muir Woods inspired this post, which is based on Ilan Shamir's Advice from a Tree. 

Stand Tall and Proud!

Politicians may not understand the sacrifices of family time and finances you make. The public may not get that you are a seasonal employee who works on a limited contract, who puts in 12-16 hours a day, who pays for classroom supplies, books, and professional development often by working a second job. Stand tall and proud anyway. You are part of the vast forest of teachers, so...

Sink your Roots Deeply into the Earth.

Those children from kindergarten through senior year depend on our sustained commitment to them and to our profession. It isn't easy for young teachers to plant roots in a profession that seeks to script nearly every word. Be like a tree whose roots forge new paths when exposed to obstacles. 

Go Out on a Limb. 

Experiment with new lessons. If you've considered implementing a choice reading program but have hesitated for fear of failure, take a chance. It's never too late to try something new, and I can honestly say this from experience. I'm a bit restless and change units and lessons in some way every year. Kids these days want and need to feel empowered, and we teachers need to offer them a sense of autonomy while guiding their learning, similar to the way sun and soil and rain do so for trees. 

Think Long Term.

From seed to sapling to old-growth forest, time is a tree's best friend. We rarely see the fruits of our labor in the classroom, but America's sustained economic and creative leadership are owing to those many teachers who came before us, to those of us still teaching, and to those teachers who will follow in our paths. So be wary of rhetoric that labels schools as failures. Doubt the quantitative data from standardized tests that reduce reading and writing to bubble sheets. Be like the Redwoods and Sequoias. Live a long teaching life. You will see more rewards at the end of your career, both among students and for yourself. 

Be Flexible...and
Seek Nourishment from Good Things in Life. 

Take a vacation, even if it's close to home. Read for your own pleasure. Exercise. Get a massage. In short, treat yourself better than the outside forces treat teachers. Go to a conference. Seek professional development your way. We can't change much alone, and it often feels as though we have little control over our own lives and teaching destiny. I was reminded of this just a couple of days ago, so I'm writing this to myself, too, because I can control my own reaction to disappointments. I can be flexible enough to nourish myself professionally in other ways. I can Let [My] Limbs Sway and Dance in the Breeze. 

I can...

Embrace with Joy the Changing Seasons. 

I hope you can, too. Remember, summer vacation will return in 2014, less than a year from now! 

*All photos taken in Muir Woods, August 7, 2013.