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It’s amazing what realizations can come to you when you’re not looking for them.
Last Sunday, I was up early for a pre-dawn mountain bike ride at Brown County State Park when such an epiphany occurred.
I started pedaling into the woods at 6 a.m. with a solid 45 minutes at my disposal before sunrise. I strapped on my headlamp and was almost immediately in my personal happy place: alone, with my thoughts, on my bike.
Five minutes in, the blinking light indicated that my headlamp’s battery was dying. It flashed, then dimmed slightly. And after about five more minutes, it would happen again, each time getting a little dimmer than it was before.
My state of mountain bike Zen was being disrupted, and I was preparing for the inevitable moment when I would have to stop pedaling and wait for the sun to rise. I didn’t want to risk injury, and I reasoned that if at any moment I didn’t feel safe, I would have no choice but to stop.
I didn’t like the idea. Going nowhere sometimes feels like going backward. But that moment didn’t come. I mean, yes, my battery died, but when it did, I decided that if I just pedaled slowly, I could keep progressing forward.
Each minute yielded a bit more visibility, a bit more assuredness that the sun would come to me. And of course it did.
As this was happening, an extended metaphor took shape in my mind: My ride was an encapsulation of a new school-year experience.
Each year finds me starting out feeling prepared, reinvigorated by the summer off and in awe of the perfection of things. Then, the honeymoon period wears off, just a little bit at a time, and I have flickers of doubt.
Like my very real dilemma of running out of light, as the newness of the school year wears off, we (teachers and students) start to feel the accumulation of work, fatigue, responsibilities and routine.
Then, the scary questions come. When the new school year’s culture building, content review and “fluffy stuff” pass, it’s time to get our hands dirty.
But then what?
What if I run out of time to cover the required standards? What if I can’t meet my students’ needs, whatever they might be? What if they don’t like the class?
I think all teachers have these periods of doubt. Unlike some occupations, each year is both a fresh start and a roll of the dice.
For me, it’s a big reason why I love the job. I don’t ever want to know exactly what is going to happen, either on any given day or year (or bike ride, for that matter.) Inevitably, it all works out. Just when the school year starts to feel overwhelming, light flickers through.
Sometimes, this appears as a surprising performance at the end of a first unit or project. Other times, it’s the point of realizing that you actually know your students, their strengths and, most importantly, what excites them.
Almost all the time, it’s that sense that we’re all in this together. We are working toward common goals: academic excellence, preparation for life beyond school in college and careers, relationships and personal growth.
Each school year is an adventure. No matter how we prepare, the fact remains that we don’t know what awaits us. The fun and reassuring part is knowing that no matter what happens, we will continue to move forward, knowing that each day, the sun will come up and we’ll be able to see just a little bit more clearly than the day before.
Andrew Larson teaches at Columbus Signature Academy New Tech High School.
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