Many, many years ago when I first started teaching, I read a story about a teacher celebrating Columbus Day with his class. I can not find an actual copy of the story and I have no idea where I read it, but it stuck with me, so I think I can retell it for you. As a matter of fact, I think it may have just been a comic strip that conveyed the idea, so I'll take some liberties here...
As you read it, think about where you might be in relation to this teacher's journey.
Once there was a first year teacher. He was a history buff and was so excited to share this love with his third graders. When Columbus Day rolled around, he and his students built replicas of the Pinta, Nina, and Santa Maria. They wrote and performed an original play for the rest of the school dressed in full costume. After all the hoopla, he was exhausted but thrilled. As he reflected on the day, he couldn't imagine not celebrating like this every year!
Now in his fourth year teaching, this teacher noticed that Columbus Day was coming up. He also noted that some important assessments needed to be completed around that time. He decided it might be best to forgo some of the normal Columbus Day activities. They didn't really have time to write and perform the play, so he found a great read aloud that they used as Reader's Theater and instead of making replicas of each ship, they used ones he had saved from the year before. Still a great learning experience and he was happy.
Now he was in his eighth year of teaching and Columbus Day was rolling around. This teacher knew he couldn't spend as much time as he normally did this year, especially since learning about Christopher Columbus was no longer in his grade level expectations. So, he decided that he would just dress up in his costume and read that great book to the kids, the one that he used as Reader's Theater a few years ago. He still felt pretty good about things. After all, how many teachers dress up in full costume to read a book?
Now in his 10th year teaching, Columbus Day was upon him once again. He thought about putting on the costume, but he didn't really have time to change before going to teach his after school test prep class, and he knew that he couldn't wear it to teach those kids. They had a hard enough time paying attention. So, he just read the book to his kids and gave them a wordsearch to complete. After that, he didn't really reflect upon the day at all.
Now in his 15th year teaching, he looked at his calendar and realized it was already Columbus Day. He hadn't had time to plan anything special between teaching his test prep class, committee meetings, data analysis meetings and parent conferences. Oh well, he thought, it's not in his grade level expectations anyway. So, he showed the class a video about Christoper Columbus at the end of the day. He actually felt a little guilty taking the time to do that because he had so many other things he was supposed to cover that week according to the district curriculum framework he was now mandated to follow.
After teaching for 20 years, this teacher looked at the calendar and realized that Columbus Day was yesterday. And for a brief moment a smile slid across his face as he remembered how he celebrated with his first class. He couldn't imagine taking the time or energy to do that today. So, he shook his head to clear the memory and told the kids to pull out their math books.
When I heard that story for the first time, I most closely identified with the eager, ambitious, energetic first year teacher. I remember thinking that I never wanted to get so jaded and I vowed not to let myself fall into the stereo-typical, burned out teacher that I saw him as at the end. I have to say, now that I am close to my 20th year in the classroom, I have more empathy than contempt for this fictional teacher. I can see what happens over so many years to lessen the enthusiasm of a new teacher. As I've said many times, I felt like I might be going down that path when I decided to start my blog and focus on why I loved being a teacher. That decision has been the reason that I'm not shaking my head at the end of the day to get rid of the memory of better times. Instead I'm more determined than ever to make them a reality for my students.