Tough Teachers and the Grace They Deserve
Guys, I need to talk to you about grace. It’s a word I haven’t explored much until this past year, this past six months even more so.
I will be the first to admit that I give little in the way of grace in my work. Hustle. Be thoughtful. Work hard. I don’t know that I’ve always given the people I work with much in the way of grace. I push hard and I expect the same of those around me. There hasn’t been much space for the humanity of my peers and, as uncomfortable as it makes me to admit, myself. Care and tenderness can, I am learning, go just as far, if not farther, than toughness.
In opening Riverdale Ridge, the toughest work we’ve faced has also been the most unpredictable. It was impossible to know just what kinds of people this new institution would bring and building community is a fragile and difficult process. Our principal reminded us one day about mid-semester that that work in and of itself is monumental. Add to it the arduous task of raising the bar of expectations for student achievement through rigorous new standards and frameworks.. Add to it our new resources and digital learning tools. Add to it adjusting to a four-day workweek. Add to it the hundreds of new systems and processes we’re all trying to create as we go.
I came late to this career because it took me an extra bit of time to find the strength and courage to trust that I was worthy of being a teacher. That faith in myself waivers almost daily and has been on particularly treacherous ground through this kickoff semester.
With the four-day week in full swing and the busyness of our first semester, our staff doesn’t get much time to see each other. Just the other day, four of us happened to converge in the same hallway and we were collectively giddy at the rare moment of togetherness. That’s where it’s at for us right now, folks.
In the moments I have gotten to spend with my coworkers, I’ve noticed a common theme in our discussions. The wavering of faith I’m feeling echoes back from them as well. We’re all experiencing these fraught moments of self-doubt.
Teachers are tough. They’re tough to get through the long days. They’re tough to keep coming back every day. They’re tough on their students. They’re tough on themselves.
The end of a semester brings with it a chance to reflect. When we are tough on ourselves, that reflection can often turn inward and not always with the most positive results. I am consistently struck by the selflessness of teachers as they reflect on their practice. The concern my colleagues have had about their work has been less around what are our students not doing for us, but rather what are we not doing for our students. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve heard my coworkers note their sense of failure as they look at grades or turn in rates or student behavior. When their students fail, they fail.
Teachers, in their toughness, don’t stop there though. Teachers are change agents and they work tirelessly to adapt and edit and work harder and give up more to help their students succeed. More often than not, my coworkers have had their tearful moments and then they gather themselves, pull up their bootstraps and get better.
What I see not happen in the moments of improvement is teachers stopping to give themselves grace. I myself am probably (ok definitely) guilty of this. In our particular environment right now, there hasn’t been much space to stop and find grace. Grace for all that we have done. Grace for all that that means. The big task is happening and all of the small things will work themselves out.
As I look back on our first semester of this new adventure, I can’t tell you how proud I am to call myself a Raven. To get to work with such incredible people and to know that our bonds will only strengthen with time is infinitely encouraging. And so, I hope that the best thing I can contribute in these final moments before we head off to a break is a little bit of grace for us all. We deserve it.