Tuesday, August 17, 2010

In praise of teachers

There’s an exercise program on the stationary bike down at the gym called “Random Hill Climb.” Punch it in and the bike sends you off on a series of simulated uphill grinds—some easy, some harder, and one or two that bring you right to the edge of chest pain.

There’s a graph in the display on the bike that shows you what’s coming up. You can see the sadistically steep hills ahead—and fret about them long before you get there.

Sitting there the other day, pedaling, yet another Mount Everest looming, I found myself thinking this must be how teachers feel in August—looking ahead… seeing another school year only weeks away.

Here comes the grind. Time to grit your teeth and lean into it again.

New students. New parents. New routines and regimens. Bigger, ever-more-diverse classes. Smaller, ever-tighter budgets. No doubt about it—It’s all uphill from here.

And, this being an election year, candidates at all levels and from all parties will use you, your peers and your profession as red herring, political footballs and whipping boys. It’s amazing how problems are never the politicians’ fault—but how quickly they step in to take credit for any success.

I’ve logged almost two decades as the parent of school-aged kids. Almost two decades of projects, reports, and sitting in those small desks for conferences. Counting my own adventures in grammar school, this year will be my fifth trip through eighth grade. Not counting substitutes, music, gym and art teachers, that’s thirty-nine different classroom educators—from starry-eyed young idealists to grizzled old veterans. I have yet to encounter a single one who didn’t love kids and pour his or her heart into the job.

And it’s August in Minnesota again. Any day now, they’ll open the school doors and teachers will start moving stuff down summer-dark halls that smell of sweeping compound and floor wax, back into those timeless classrooms of theirs. The uphill grind will begin all over.

If you’re a teacher on the way back to school, while it may look uphill, I’m pretty sure the whole state says, “Go get ‘em. Dig in. Bear down. And here’s hoping this year lets you love what you do.