Friday, February 17, 2012

Delayed Gratification

In few professions besides education is the gratification for a job well done so delayed. Firefighters? They rescue and extinguish. Chefs? Their customers eat and praise. Project managers? The client and the boss are pleased. Truckers? Product is delivered. Pilots? Passengers delivered. Athletes? Race, game, match won (or at least done).

Teachers? Teeth pulling, hair pulling, pushing kids, pushing buttons. We grunt and groan through our jobs sometimes, coaxing and encouraging and suggesting. Then we watch and wait. And watch some more, and wait some more. Sure, we might see results on a unit assessment, or on an essay, or at the marking period's end. In a perfect world, these are the appropriate indicators of success, where benchmarks are measured and noted. But for so many of our students, and hence, so many of us, these moments are few and far between, and rarely are they recognized as highly meaningful.

I mean not to diminish results based on standards. They matter (and will soon matter even more). But for me, the true measures are not measurable. And while some are instant (the scribbled notes of appreciation on my board, the kid asking me if I was feeling better today), the best ones come later... sometimes much, much later.

Twenty years ago I watched a student graduate who'd come to school as a freshman completely disinterested in anything academic. Actually, he was disinterested in anything, period. Except maybe lacrosse. But even his fervent passion and extraordinary skills in that sport were no match for the malaise that governed his every day. Somewhere between that first year and his last, he grew to at least be responsive to the gifts of time, encouragement, knowledge, and compassion that his teachers and coaches shared so readily with him.

Today, I sat in the audience and listened to this same former student share his story with current students at his alma mater. I was a guest, and a surprise guest at that. I wasn't sure what to expect, but I knew that my pride would carry me through the experience. And while he spoke - of his struggles, of his growth, and of his deep appreciation for what we teachers had done for him - I knew this would become a moment that I would replay in my mind for a good long while. He was gracious and understanding, inclusive and grateful. He noted that he'd been a "handful" and then he thanked, by name, several of us who'd been there through it all. What a joy to hear it. What a joy.

Moments like today's carry us through the weeks and months we may go without a moment like today's. I have been lucky to have many such moments in my career - former students who write to say they've become teachers because I have inspired them, parents whose end-of-year appreciative comments and emails recognize my influence in their child's growth, administrators who praise my work in conversations and evaluations, colleagues who recognize the time and energy I dedicate to them as their union president.

This week I scored in every category. It was a very good week. And since it might have to suffice for a while, I'm going to relish it. I might even take Monday off.

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