My new CASDA office on the University East Campus in Rensselaer overlooks the Capitol. As locals know, it’s the very best place to watch Empire State Plaza fireworks on the Fourth of July. Today, though, as I write this in the days before the start of the new school year, I find myself reflecting on the year just past and all the momentous and confusing activity which took place there.
I think of my friends and colleagues in schools and districts on the receiving end of changes which have emanated from Washington and Albany or which have resulted from a deteriorating economic situation. The past year has been unique, even strange in some ways, but it has also been a critical time which will dramatically affect how we think and act as educators in the coming year and beyond.
And yet, it is time to begin another school year. September is always such a hopeful time, a fresh start for students and educators alike when all things seem possible. Children enter with high hopes and, since it is such a special time for them, so it is important and special for those of us who teach and support them.
It’s an odd set of conflicting emotions which many of us feel right now—anxiety and uncertainty on one hand and a sense of excitement and hopefulness on the other. How can we reconcile these conflicting feelings and ensure that we maintain our positive September attitude all year long? A few thoughts:
Control what you can control.
So many forces act upon us which are beyond our ability to control and we can easily dissipate our energy when we worry or become overly frustrated about them. Years ago, Stephen Covey recommended that we work inside our circles of influence where our efforts do make a difference. It’s still good advice.
Do your best but remember that your efforts, while essential, are not usually by themselves sufficient.
I learned this one in Boy Scouts. There it meant to hold up your end and pull your weight to help the team be successful. Given the complexity of educational problems and the elusiveness of solutions, we are called upon to do our professional best but also to recognize that effectiveness in educational settings comes from consistent teamwork over time.
Never forget that you make a difference. As a child in the 1950’s and 1960’s, I was taught by wonderfully skilled and dedicated teachers who had come of age during the Great Depression. They, in turn, had been taught by a generation of educators who, despite hard times, invested in the youth of their day. Their efforts, like ours, reverberate across the ages.
Know that you are the best person to help. Though it’s not always easy, given your experience and dedication, you are the best person to assist children to be successful. In the movie, A League of Their Own, women’s baseball manager Jimmy Duggan, played by Tom Hanks, responds to catcher Geena Davis who complained of the hardships of life in baseball, saying, “Of course it’s hard; it’s supposed to be hard; if it wasn’t hard, anybody could do it.” And then he added, “It’s the hard that makes it great.”
And so, it’s time to begin again, amidst all of education’s complexities, challenges and opportunities. We may experience some confusion and constraint, but we have each other and we are all needed in the quest to help all children realize their potential in a 21st century world. For my school friends and colleagues, I wish you all a year filled with great success (and some clarity).