Shooting Star Or Falling Star?

The traffic moved steadily down the highway yesterday morning as the sun made its ascent from behind the Sierra Nevadas.  It’s a dramatic sight to see the rugged silhouette edging above the mist-laden countryside.  The sky lightened into its pinks, oranges, and periwinkles.  The scene allows for quiet reflection of how lucky I am to witness dawn’s arrival– it’s a time to embrace a new beginning.  Yet, I was not embracing new beginninings; I wondered instead if maybe I should have called in a sub and stayed home.   Did I really have the energy to make it through another day?  Fatigue and exhaustion creaked in my bones.  News of my friends’ personal tragedies, setbacks, and questioning weighed on my mind and heart.  In the past two weeks I shared tears with three friends and colleagues, and many of my students were also on the verge of tears.  Many of us, it seemed, were barely hanging on.  In that moment on my drive a meteor shot across the sky.

Meteors are also known by the more fanciful names of shooting stars or falling stars.  After watching its bright light pierce the sky, I wondered if it was an auspicious sign of fortune– was it something I wished on?  A sign of hope and potential of shooting towards goals and destinations?  Or was it an omen? A sign of falling , burning out, extinguishing from shining so bright for so long?  It symbolized the crossroads that many of us are in.

A broken clock greeted me as I walked into my room.  My failing LCD projector that I need to use my clickers and document reader, to show film versions of Othello and Pride and Prejudice, and to have my students present their power point presentations, said “Hi ya!” from its defunct perch on my ceiling.  My sluggish computer groaned its greeting as it half-heartedly opened my grade book.  The stack of essays panted like a hyperactive Pomeranian jumping at my heels, “Read me! Read me!”  As always I restrained my impulse to kick them.  My whiteboard petulantly demanded the opening activity, and I resisted throwing my dry-erase markers at it.  My overhead projector gloated over the fact that it was the only piece of technology that actually worked correctly; we all know how riveting overhead transparencies marred with my messy handwriting are.  I won’t even go into  the mechanizations that are happening outside my classroom and campus that are working to change our school.  Do I sound bitter and burned out?

There’s one factor that can save teachers from burn out: students. Teachers can list all of the things that suck about their job: lack of technology, aggressive/indifferent parents, poor morale, testing, grading, etc.  There is always one big BUT that saves us: the “but my students are great.”  Yesterday it was my students who carried me through.  They have been working hard for me all year, but yesterday was just one of those special days.  My history students embraced the Spanish-American War news-cast assignment.  They excitedly planned their roles, asked if they could bring in props (including a fog machine), one group wanted to borrow my swords that I use for Othello, and one student, who is the most disengaged, proudly told me that she was going to be Commodore Dewey.   They wrote me nice notes in their self-assessments.  My TAs made me a nice poster and hung it on my cupboard doors as a surprise.

My seniors used their time to review for their exam by reading their notes quietly.  One came up to me and verbally told me all that he had learned (which turned out to be everything).  As some began to finish early, I wrote a quote from Othello, which we will begin next week, on the board and asked them to write a reflection on it.  They quietly got our their pens and paper and uncomplainingly responded to: “Oh, monstrous world!  Take note! Take note!/ O world, to be direct and honest is dangerous!”.  I walked around the room, read some of their responses, wrote my response and questions to their thoughts, and they continued writing to answer those questions.  The amazing thing about this is that I said not a word– all of this happened in silence as we all showed respect to those still taking the exam.  Those who used the entire class time for the test scribbled down the quote to respond to it over the weekend.  It was a teacher’s dream.

Their actions showed me that while I was tired and worn-out, I was not yet burned out.  How could I burn out when my students still burn brightly for knowledge and thought? When they still strive for improvement?  It was one of those days where I saw myself and my students as a meteor shower of shooting stars– reaching, striving, ready to make our mark on the world.

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20 thoughts on “Shooting Star Or Falling Star?

  1. Wow, good reading. I am glad your not burnt and still carry the torch for the young ones, leading them on. After reading this I reflected on my own high school days. I never seem to have thought about what those teachers did from day to day, behind the scenes. At such a young age, all I cared about was fun. You write so well, and always thought provoking. 😉

    1. Thank you. I don’t think students understand how much they impact their teachers. I feed off of their energy. If I felt the fatigue I have now and had a group that didn’t care– I would be well into full-on burnout. Since my students are so motivated, it makes my job easier and I’m motivated to stay healthy and upbeat for them. When I was a student there were some teachers who I thought about what they did behind the scenes, but they’re also the ones that shared stories about their lives. They made themselves human to us.

  2. Really nice piece of writing, kudos! Great references to the environment and all of the mechanics and other such devices that surrounded you which really brought this post to life. I am guessing that the clock didn’t really greet you and that the projector thingy didn’t really say ‘hi!’ Of course, if they did, please, tell me what world you are living in, for I wouldn’t mind buying a house there – sounds awful nice. Also, I have my own view on meteors and falling stars. I think a falling star is only ever a sign of misfortune and bad luck if it happens to land atop of your head. If it simply hurtles through the sky – I personally believe it is a thing of beauty. Cheers! Again, great post!

    1. Thank you. Yeah, a meteor landing on your head would be a pretty bad thing! Talk about an explosive headache. Unfortunately, my gadgets don’t really talk to me, which is fine since the students talk enough already. However, if I do find a place where it happens, I’ll send you the real estate listings. 🙂

  3. It sounds like you’re working really hard and it’s paying off. I’ll bet your students wouldn’t be as engaged, motivated, cooperative, respectful etc. if you were a different kind of teacher. As a parent of a child that will one day go to school, I appreciate all you’re doing!

    On another note, I was talking to a good friend of mine the other day who also blogs and she brought up a blog she reads. Written by a teacher named Amy, living in Sacramento. It’s not you though… weird.

    1. Well, if it’s the Amy I’m thinking of, it’s about to get weirder. She and I work together. Ask your friend if that Amy has “hippie problems”. Thanks for the kind words. I’ve had some classes before that did not fit those descriptors, so I’m really glad that I have my current kids at this point in my life.

  4. From the description of the ascending sun and mist, to the classroom environment, to the clean layout of the story(which helped captivate the reader), I have to say you write GOOD!!!

    F

  5. I guess each one of us feels burnt out sometimes. It’z amazing to have students or even colleagues (in my case my patients too have sometimes made my day)….who uplift our depressed spirits.
    Shooting stars …..if we chose to see in that light…are but a shower of bright, beautiful stars. 🙂

    1. It is uplifting when we have those around us who have faith in what we do. Sometimes I feel so caught up in life that I forget the impact that I can have on others and they on me– just like you and your patients.

    1. Thank you. I really lucked out on my kids this year. One of my students, after I walked off with his pen (a common habit of mine), went to my desk, got one of my pens, and then came up to me to trade. How cute is that? No snarky attitude– he just solved the problem. I also came up with a way to respond to essays quicker, and that cut my grading time in half. I almost looked forward to reading them. I know you just started, but how is your new job going?

      1. Feast or famine, kind of. At least right now, they’re either totally dead and asking people to voluntarily drop a shift or two, or they’re so busy they’re calling for people to pick up an extra shift.

        The tutoring aspect is kind of weird because it’s asynchronous–students submit an essay, a tutor responds later. I’m still adapting my style to this method.

      2. That’s got to be interesting/frustrating. It’s much easier to give feedback when you can actually talk to the writer and make sure they understand your comments and suggestions.

  6. Ya, it just makes our day, when our seemingly little actions have made a positive impact on others’ lives and they express their trust in us in larger things … It happens in my class, and I remember d first time u told me that my experience will count in a place where I may be the eldest of the lot… 🙂

  7. I would totally dig watching you interact with your students for a week… If you inspire your students half as much as you do those who read your blogs, YOU are doing what we all dream of: changing the world!

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