I’ll confess that, this summer, I haven’t been feeling my regular slow build of excitement. It usually starts around the middle of July and steadily builds into the fevered pitch that hurls me enthusiastically into September classes, starry eyed and hopefully greeting the new year. Between COVID, working on a writing project on my own, and the addition of an infant to my daily life, it just wasn’t happening. I honestly felt some dread and even a little fear. With all this change and upheaval, what if my pre-schoolyear enthusiasm didn’t kick in? What did my classroom look like without my pent up summer energy running rampant?
Good news: it kicked in. But what did it for me wasn’t the usual things. It wasn’t the lesson planning, the Twitter threads, or the comments from students starting to roll in on summer reading blogs. It was something new. It was a single day in which I received 3 letters from different graduated students, all updating me on their lives, wishing me well, sending a hello to my lil babe, and remembering things we learned together. I saw their handwritten words, I remembered their unique voices and passions, and I was immediately over the moon to work with students on their skills as writers this year.
It got me thinking. This year is going to be hard. There are going to be a lot of changes, and we are going to be tired. I think that, for many of us, the fire and joy that fuels our lessons and interactions with students may be elusive. I realized that I, and probably all of us, need to start planning now. I need to start accumulating a storehouse of things or ideas or practices that infuse my teaching with life, love, and joy. Because I don’t know if those things are going to organically arise in this new pandemic-riddled teaching landscape. Because our students deserve teachers who are excited to see them and who are filled with joy at the prospect of learning alongside them this year. Because we are going to need to keep ourselves going strong through a difficult time.
The first thing I’m placing in my storehouse of things to remind me of my teacher’s joy is this stack of letters from my students. But I’m thinking I may also want to include a few particular quotes from teachers and writers I want to be like, the practice of praying for my students daily, and some work from students who have long since moved on. I have a magnificently illustrated copy of Strunk’s The Elements of Style given to me by a student that never ceases to get me jazzed about rhetoric and writing. Historically, I have stumbled upon these things as I go about my business during the school year, enjoying the unexpected joy and excitement they infuse into my day. Now I’m thinking I might need to use these things intentionally in order to keep my head, and my joy, in the game.
So, for me, part of my preparation for returning to teaching this fall, whatever that may look like, will be accumulating my storehouse of treasures so that I can recharge my teacher’s heart and teach with genuine joy. I think this will look different for each of us, but we may want to get started on this now because this next year of teaching will stretch us. We can do this!