Thursday, August 02, 2018

Spiritual Journey First Thursday: New Season

On the first Thursday of every month, a group of us post about spiritual growth, and this month's theme is, as our host, Pat puts it, "waiting for my favorite things of each season to return."

I've written here before about how, living in the tropics, my year is not as defined by seasons as it is for people further north and south.  But we're about to enter the next season, one that I've been entering nearly every year for my whole life: School.
(I took this photo on Sunday.  I don't know what kind of tree it is, but it's beautiful and seasonal.  Does anybody know?)

My parents have always been teachers, and once I started school myself when I was five, I really didn't have a break from it - school, college, graduate school, teaching - until I gave birth the first time and stayed home with my daughter. Even then, my husband was working at an educational institution, though at that time he was in an office and not teaching. When I stayed home with my son, several years later, my daughter was in school, and when the earthquake tore me from my job in 2010, my children kept going to school, and before too long I found a volunteer job in a school. The season of Back to School, the rhythms of classes and weekends, term and holiday, have always organized my world.

This year it's coming again. The summer was short, as it always is. The supplies are purchased, as they always are. I'm going back to the same classroom I've worked in for lots of years, to teach the same subjects.

Pat said she's waiting for her "favorite things," not that she's looking forward to anything new. The challenge is keeping it new every year, remembering that even though I've taught this book many times, it's the first time through for this seventh grade class. And even though I've opened and shut dozens of lockers hundreds of times, these seventh graders have never worked a combination lock before. My eighth graders I know already, but there will be new things for them, too: new books, new experiences, new emotions. I can't yawn and check out because I've been through it all before; they haven't, and they need guides for their first time to travel this way.

So, some of my favorite things in the season of School:

The new Dry-Erase markers, brightly colored to write the August dates on my white board.

The box of locks to be handed out to kids who think having a locker is an exciting development.

The new faces in the faculty meeting.  (I have mixed feelings about this, I confess. I know some of those people will become my friends, but I've just said goodbye to some others who became my friends and then moved on. It's not easy to open my heart again.)

The blank walls of my classroom, ready to be decorated again by me and by my kids.

The class lists: once my husband said that each class list is a holy document.  Each one of the names on that list belongs to an eternal soul, and who knows what awaits this year and into the future because of the combination of all of those eternal souls hanging out together in Room 23?

All of these things, and more, are coming up for me next week as I head back to meet with my colleagues and set up my room, and the week after, as my students arrive.  It's a new year, a new season, a new set of challenges which I will soon learn.

I wish summer could last a few more weeks, and yet I'm ready. I'm ready for my mind to be occupied with work that never stops stretching me. I know that even though it looks right now as though we can't possibly have everything in order in time, we will.

Do I have what it takes? At our last meeting back in May, an administrator gave us each a manila file folder which we were supposed to wear on our backs.  Our colleagues lined up behind us, and then we behind them, to write on the file folders: words of encouragement, preferably. Afterward, when I read the words, many of them made me smile and feel great.  "You survived seventh grade.  You are a hero." (Yeah, that's kind of true.) "You maintained my sanity through the way you humorously viewed teaching our students.  Middle School forever!"  (Yes!  That's why I'm here!) "Thank you for loving and appreciating middle schoolers as much as I do." (There's nothing like 'em, even on the days when they make you want to scream.) Other comments made me wonder if the writers really knew me.  Patience?  That word was there quite a few times. I know the impatience of my own heart, but I guess it's good that I at least give the impression of being a patient person - that's a start. One person used the word "serenity." Me, serene? Try intense, jumping out of my skin, as overly emotional as any middle schooler, though with many more years of experience at managing it. One person wrote about my resilience. "Your resilience is beautiful." That's one I want to be true, even though I sometimes doubt that it is. I've got many scars as I enter this, my - I stopped to count - twenty sixth year of teaching (I think I have that number right.  I know which year I began, but I get a little confused about how many of those baby years there were).

As I reread what my colleagues wrote two months ago, I reflect that God has given me what I need for this year - at least they think so. I've definitely done it all many times before. I'm ready to help the newcomers with a reminder that if it seems like the hardest thing they've ever done, that's because it is - but it will get easier, and they can do it. I'm cultivating patience and serenity and resilience, and I bet I'll get plenty of opportunities this year to continue that cultivation.

Here we go again, new season, old friend!
Be sure to visit Pat's blog to see what everyone else wrote about their spiritual journey. 


Irene Latham said...

Dear Ruth, I am loving these thoughts about patience, serenity and resilience... a friend used to refer to me as "Serene Irene," and I thought, oh boy do I have her fooled! I do think my insides better match my outsides now than they did then, but yes we quiet ones can present an air that isn't quite true... I've often related to the saying about the duck: calm on the surface, but paddling like hell underneath. :) Thanks for sharing your back-to-school season. As a person who's moved A LOT in my life, I can relate to your mixed feelings about new faculty. For so long all I wanted was a life-long, permanent friend! I've learned to embrace the seasonal friendships, too. They don't have to be long-lasting to be valuable and nourishing. Appreciate your post so much! xo

Carol Varsalona said...

Ruth, as your seasonal story unfolds, I wish you many peaceful days, a group of eager, young learners, and the serenity to take in the beauty of the returning season. There is so much in life to be grateful for and each season proves that nature is constant, God is love, and we are together as a group of faithful friends.

Karen Eastlund said...

Ruth: Thank you for this post! It has me thinking in many directions, but the one that strikes me most is your husband's thought that your class list is a holy document. To hold those children in your prayers! You deserve all our prayers as you return to your classroom this fall. I honor you for this work, and send you my prayers for a year of calm, sweetness, and deep learning.

I look forward to fall as a respite from the heat, for the bounties of harvest (the wonderful tomatoes!) and for the beauty of nature. Fall is my favorite season and it always fills my heart. Blessings to all....

SW said...

Thank you for yet another great post! Your students are fortunate to have you for a teacher! Blessings on the new school year!

Ramona said...

Just reading your post makes me a bit homesick for that "back to school" energy. This will be my fifth fall since retirement. My last bunch of sixth graders will be juniors this year. Living in a small town means that I still have young people come up to me to chat about sixth grade. I totally love your husband's observation, "Each class list is a holy document." And then your comment, "who knows what awaits this year and into the future because of the combination of all of those eternal souls hanging out together in Room 23?" I met my BFF in 7th grade! Guess I could say I was truly blessed that year (and who says that about junior high?) Like you, I love middle schoolers. Blessings as you enter the classroom for another year of learning and discovery!

A Gift to Open, Again and Again said...

I had a few years in room 23 while you were enjoying your babies! I remember putting up half-curtains so the students wouldn’t get SO distracted. I remember starting readers’ and writers’ workshops and that the students loved them! I remember the students reading so quietly that one could wonder if anyone was really in the room. Great memories, fun days. This year begins the draw down and I will teach part time. I think I’m excited about the possibilities of doing what I love without all the stuff I don’t love. Enjoy!

jan godown annino said...

I believe the Serenity comment on your back's praise file folder does fit you, Ruth.

And what struck me like a bell - your husband's thought that each year's class names list is holy document.

Vibrant wishes for a profound new school year. Appreciations for your dedication to those young spirits.
And for this uplifting post.

Patricia J. Weaver said...

new faces, new challenges, new goals How exciting! Really enjoyed your post ... I think I'm going to think about returning to old adventures...
just so you know, I always loved my kids teachers and I was the mother they all came to for help... which they always got... but I never really liked beginning of school.. See I was a strict mom with set bedtimes, limited tv and homework before anything
I loved lazy untamed summers where we might go to the pasture and have a cookout or take the kids camping with a trap over the truck bed....
sigh I miss those babies

Mary Lee said...

Give your husband a hug for me, please. I love his take on class lists. I will hold that in my heart as I begin #33 in a couple of weeks!

Michelle Kogan said...

Quite a journey Ruth, so much here to think about. I can relate to the "intense" emotion. Good luck on this years journey!