A Scrooge-Free Plan for My New Year Classroom

A MiddleWeb Blog

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Mary Tarashuk caught the essence of the season for educators in her Kids on the Cusp post from last winter.

Reflections, Not Resolutions

As 2016 ends and 2017 begins, I find myself surrounded by conversations about the New Year, about goal-setting, about making resolutions. This can be a dangerous area for me.

I am starting to realize that I can’t make a list of New Year’s resolutions, the goals we make to “solve” things…again. Perhaps I just can’t make resolutions in the traditional sense of the word, whether it be 1998 (my first year teaching) or 2017. There are just too many things which may never be resolved, and maybe that’s just how life is.

Confronting my inner Scrooge

When I’ve made lists in the past – when I’ve chosen to take that more traditional approach – the task has always become too overwhelming. The list is far too long. Just thinking about making my list summons that negative, inner voice that wants me to look at all that there is to “fix” in the world of education today.

And when I listen to that voice, the problems become the focus. The list of what can be “done better” becomes an agitator, an aggressor. I start looking at all of the mistakes I’ve made along the way, awakening my inner Scrooge. Well-intentioned resolutions become chains, and reflecting on the gifts of the season becomes strangely elusive.

I don’t like admitting there’s a little Scrooge in me. I don’t like adding to the negativity in the world. There’s enough out there already. Besides, I’ve always been more of a Tiny Tim, trying to be consciously aware of the gifts in my life and, for the most part, appreciative of them. But there are moments when the magic of the season disappears amidst the list-making, goal-setting, and the responsibilities and stressors of everyday life.

Like Scrooge, I need reminders to adjust my attitude. I need time to reflect, but the type of resolution I need to focus on is more about sharpening the images of the past, so I can take a good look at things and put them into proper perspective. So, like Scrooge, I needed some of my own ghosts to pay me a visit.

My ghosts, via the US Post Office

mt-ch-crd-stackThey arrived while I was sitting in front of a fire, in my pajamas, on the first morning of winter break. There were no rattling chains. Quite the opposite. I’d finally found a much needed moment to quiet my mind, to reflect on the past year. On the couch to my left were three, unopened Christmas cards. They had all been delivered the day before, but I hadn’t had a moment to open them.

I’m glad I didn’t. I’m glad there was no time to open them the night before.

They were my visit from the Ghost of School Years Past…and they’d arrived to remind me that, quite often, we truly have no idea how deeply we impact each other, unless we take a moment to reflect. With a quiet mind and a cup of coffee, I picked up the first envelope and opened it.

Anna’s gentle impact

Anna’s family stares out at me from their front porch. Anna, the shy, sweet ten-year-old from a school year long past, is now a beautiful young woman with a confident smile. She is one of many priceless gifts I’ve been given.

I had never imagined that, years after Anna was a member of 4T, she would be the inspiration for my second “official” Kids on the Cusp blog, launched by MiddleWeb in July of 2013. Looking at her image now, a knowing chuckle escapes my lips and I think, “That little girl has no idea how much she’s changed my life.”

To this day, my students still call circles “kircles” during geometry units. This started during Anna’s year in 4T over a decade ago. It was just a small moment, made bigger by a thoughtful and heart-warming email I received from Anna’s mother that same school year. At the time, it was just an acknowledgement of my impact on her child, a fun inside joke in our classroom, part of the classroom community that I strive for as a teacher, part of keeping things light.

Laura, my friend across the hall

The second card I open has two faces, squished together. It is a close-up of the Fenn kids. They are smilin’ big and squinty-eyed, just like their mom, Laura. She and I found each other as first year educators back in 1998. It was laugh at first sight. We stumbled through our first year as classroom teachers together, giving each other a level of support that can never be put into words.

mt-snow-hikersOur kids are almost the exact same ages. I had my son. She had her daughter. Two years later, I had my daughter, and she had her son. And it was my doctor who delivered her son (under a strange set of circumstances)…the same amazing young man that is beaming out at me from this card, 13 years later, as he hugs his big sister with a look of sheer joy on his face.

Years after their births, their mom would become the inspiration for The Walking Classroom, a program that has become an integral part of my teaching and my students’ learning. The Walking Classroom transformed itself from an idea into a reality, and, through the years, I’ve been given the gift of watching Laura’s vision grow in directions I could never have imagined. Thinking about this, and the endless possibilities it represents, started making it harder to “Bah, Humbug.”

Coral, a generous colleague

The third and last card is from Coral. It has no family photo. It doesn’t need one. It has its own unique charm. It’s a shot of Frosty, with those familiar, animated kids circled (or should I say “kircled”) around him. His hat lies in the snow next to the hopeful group. Frosty is there with his big smile, but his eyes are dull and lifeless. Coral’s dog, Magic, has been photo-shopped into Frosty’s hat, and the card simply reads, “There must have been some magic in that old silk hat they found.”

frosty

Coral was my mentor teacher during my very first year as a classroom teacher. She continues to inspire me each day. She was the muse for many an early blog, and still gracefully shares herself and her wisdoms with me as we muddle through our 19th year of teaching together. She is yet another gift I forget to appreciate at times.

My 2017 Resolution has started to come into focus…

Scrooge was visited by three ghosts. I was much luckier. My reminders came in the form of holiday greetings, happier reflections and reminders, designed to help me release my inner Ebenezer. These three Ghosts of School Years Past remind me that there is still an awful lot of magic in an old, silk hat. There is magic in our teaching practices, in the connections we make, in the stories we share, and in the curious intertwining of our lives.

mt-purple-ribbon-hatThere are many gifts to be found in the small moments, the reflections, the remembering of what has led me to today, to this moment…to 2017. When I pick up my old silk hat, I can find that magic again…if I look for it.

Keeping my inner Scrooge at bay and channeling my inner Frosty is a far better course of action than making a list of what I can “do better.” Remembering the magic of school years past helps me see things more clearly.

So instead of making resolutions this year, I think I’ll just put the hat back on again, grab a colorful scarf and a handful of new ideas to accessorize, and start the New Year in style!

Mary Tarashuk

Mary Tarashuk teaches 4th grade at Wilson Elementary School in Westfield, New Jersey. Mary has been an educator for over 20 years. She has served as content writer and creative consultant for the national, award-winning initiative The Walking Classroom since its inception in 2005. Mary’s work has been published in Education Digest and was honored with the SmartBrief Education 2016 Editors’ Choice Content Award. Trying to balance her old-school teaching style with New Age methods that integrate ever-changing technology keeps her on her toes. She believes that fresh air and exercise enhance learning and engage students of all ages. Follow her on Twitter @maryrightangle and check out her Kids on the Cusp page at Facebook.

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