You Rock

relationship-happiness-gratitudeBy Peggy Wuenstel — Maybe teachers should not wait to travel until August, the last month of summer break.

This year I had no choice. I was a full-time student until the end of July and my husband’s work commitments meant that we couldn’t leave together for Boston and Bar Harbor until the second week of the month. Jackie Drummer, a recent presenter at my district’s back to school professional development described it this way: June is like Friday night where you can let your hair down.

July is like all day Saturday, a mix of getting things done, hanging out, connecting with others and having fun. August is like Sunday night, with the looming demands of work more clearly visible on the horizon. I also found myself looking both at and for kids on my recent vacation, enjoying their antics and connecting them with the students that I am looking forward to seeing in the near future.  But I also found something that might resonate with other teachers returning to class.

I am giving a smooth river rock to each of my colleagues to mark the beginning of the 2013-14 school year. Each of them is free to use it as they wish, a paperweight, a worry stone, a reminder of the weighty requirements of a school year. After a half day in-service with law enforcement to give us some tools to keep our students safe, they might also use them as weapons.

Walking along, not IN the North Atlantic (the water temperature was about 55 degrees), I noticed the smooth stones on the beach. They were a stark contrast to the rocky coastline that gives Massachusetts and Maine much of their natural beauty. Now, in the interest of full disclosure, I did not remove these from the waterfront at Acadia National Park. I am far too much of an adherent to the rules for that. They are from a local garden center, but the metaphor is the same.

The way that these stones change is not because of the considerable power of the pounding waves, but of the persistent effect of the water over time. Just like rivers cut canyons into solid rock, systems change takes time. Jagged edges are gradually worn away, contours are rounded, and colors become more muted. But these stones also shine more brightly in both the sun and moonlight.  They are now able to reflect what is presented to them. They fit more comfortably in a hand or a pocket. They are easier to carry with you or to carry your weight on a waterside walk. Where destruction often happens rapidly through earthquakes, severe weather, violence, or in the case of school, politics; gradual change often reveals beauty and offers surprising results.  Our students are very much like this. The process of educating them is like the ocean they are immersed in.

Living in the Midwest we don’t witness the impact of the tides, a concept so aptly taught this past year by my grade 4/5 colleagues. The way things look in the morning might be completely different than what they look like in the afternoon. It is often only when you look below the surface that you find what is really there. Sometimes the view is not pretty. It might repel us with sights, sounds, and smells we find offensive. Maybe it even startles us. Sometimes it reveals incredible beauty. If we don’t stick around for the passage of time we might miss it completely.

We don’t have a lot of control over what the rock is made of or where it washes up on our shore. Those things will have a significant impact in how the stone turns out. But over time, we do shape, polish, enhance, and soften the stones in the roads and on the beaches, the students in our classrooms. We should not expect that it will happen quickly. It requires our patience and continual friction, and our willingness to factor in where we started in our evaluation of where we ended up. It gives us students we want to hold in our hearts, with the rough edges and the dangerous aspects gentled.

Diamonds only realize their true beauty with skilled cutters. It can be what we take away as well as what we add to our students that help them shine. Kids come to school frightened, hungry, sad, angry, and with less than they need to be successful. Often we are in a position to peel away those layers to find the brilliance at the core. That can last forever. I wish I could give them all diamonds, or a hot stone massage at a local spa. These stones will have to do, but they carry with them my fondest hopes for a wonderful year and a beautiful rock garden of lovingly polished stones.

PeggyRock

PeggyDiamon PeggyFalls

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