Monday morning, I was in the shower, pretty much dreading the end of my winter break: having to be up so early, having too little time at home, having too little time to spend with my husband and boys, having to go back to school, back to the piles of work to be graded and papers to be created — you know, the grind of perpetual behind.
And then I thought, Wait a minute! My Word for 2009 is thankfulness! And that thought alone forced me out of that pout-whine-complain mode. It sharpened my focus a little, and I ended up inspired (and, I hope, inspiring, as well).
I’m thankful that I have a job, was my first turn-it-around thought. I said it out loud.
Then, that positive thought could expand:
— I’m thankful that I have a job that allows me to feed my family.
— I’m thankful that I have a job that allows me to keep my family in a nice house in which all three kids have their own rooms.
— I’m thankful that I have a job that is fairly recession-proof.
— I’m thankful that I have a job that doesn’t force me to work long hours outside (like my husband’s often does).
— I’m thankful that I have a job that enables me to have a couple of months off during the summertime (or to work and make extra money).
— I’m thankful that I have a job that lets me off when the weather’s bad (although it rarely is here in southern Virginia anymore — boohoo).
— I’m thankful that I have a job that allows me to have nights (if I choose not to work), weekends, and holidays off.
And then, the zinger: I’m thankful that I have a job that enables me to do more than my job.
Now, that I can run with. That is where my job-related inspiration lies.
No, I’m not referring to the hours and hours I spend on my job as a high-school English teacher outside school (when I would much rather be spending time playing with my kids, hanging out with my husband, singing, writing, reading, working on my websites, etc.), but to the what-I-teach that’s not exactly English: respect, tolerance, dignity, honor, inspiration, responsibility, motivation, and a whole metaphorical pile of other positive, potentially life-changing abstracts.
Don’t get me wrong. I love English, and I love the reading and writing and collaborating and researching and speaking that it incorporates. But it’s generally not the English that inspires me. What inspires me is how the English affects me — and how it affects my students, how they are positively impacted, changed in some (even slight) way for the good, seeing with eyes maybe just a tad more open. That inspires me.
So my focusing on being thankful helped me to realize that I need to focus more on what inspires me about my job. That doesn’t mean that I should wipe out all of the mandated objectives; it means that I should teach those mandated objectives in such a way that students learn more than just the subject matter. And it means that I should teach some other things that aren’t part of the mandated objectives simply because they have the potential to teach life lessons. Refusing to simply teach-to-the-test is not a new choice for me, but it has now been overwhelmingly reaffirmed.
That very day, our first day back from the holidays, I decided to add an extra element to my classes’ daily agendas. I had my students do what I had done, what has the potential to change all of our lives for the better: choose a Word of Intention for 2009. =)
In each of my five ninth- and tenth-grade classes that day, we talked about resolutions and intention, the latter being a new word for some students. Most of them had experience with failed resolutions, though, so we were able to talk about real ways of turning those DOs into BEs. And I told them about my experience that I wrote about above.
I copied the long list of possible words that Christine Kane posted and pasted them into a Word document, so I could enlarge them. I stapled them to the corkboard above my white board, so my students could have lots to choose from. My first-period class also added some others to the board (that I should’ve written down before I erased).
I handed out index cards and told my students that I wanted them to choose a word that represented what they want to BE in 2009 and write it any way they liked on one side of the card. Their cards, I told them, will be bricks in our Wall of Intention, the one that we are going to build in the hallway outside my classroom, and I encouraged them to write their name on the same side as their chosen word as a shout-out to the rest of the school.
Then, I got out the crayons, scissors, markers, construction paper, and highlighters and gave them a little while to work.
I’m really excited about the cards they turned in! Some students, as usual, went all out with design and color. A few simply wrote their word in pencil. Most chose to write their name on the front of the card for the world to see. But I gave the same completion grade, regardless. (Yes, I grade everything!)
I know the activity has not inspired everyone. Several times during the end-of-semester grade conferences, I asked failing students what their chosen words were, and they looked at me like I was stupid. No clue. Not surprising.
A few students, though, seemed to take heart in their focus words during our conference; one who hadn’t bothered to complete the assignment grabbed a card afterward, wrote his word, and showed it off to the class. And then, a few already motivated students have mentioned their word during class: “Look, Mrs. Hawke, I’m showing determination by doing my work!” :P
Now, I just have to decide if I want to wait until students return to class after exams to build the wall themselves, or if I want to go ahead and build it on our workday Friday. . . I’m so inspired that I don’t know if I want to wait!
And wait until you see the pictures!!