When I became a teacher, at the age of 22, I knew it was for the long haul. Teaching was how I chose to serve, and I knew it would take a lifetime to develop a practice that would be worthy of the calling. I was curious, well read, well-intentioned, and inspired. That’s what I had. I did not have much experience, but I knew that If I kept reading, stayed intentional, cultivated my curiosity, and sustained the spark of inspiration, it would only get better. And it did. People debate whether teachers are born or made. It doesn’t really matter, because born or made, teachers take time to become fully who they can be.
Great teachers believe in great beginnings. Each fresh start is one more run toward getting it right. This month teachers are having all kinds of adventures, but I know from experience that whether in a tent in the woods or on a bridge in Paris, part of every teacher’s attention is on that bright shiny start in September.
Teachers don’t talk as much about endings, but last September I began with a deep curiosity about ending well. Committed to the twin intentions of beginning well and ending well, I threw myself into my work. I knew it would be my last year and I wanted to savor it. I wanted to teach well and to make it good to the last drop. I slowly confided in my closest friends and administrators. I needed the support of my tribe while I tested my decision for certainty and peace. I began to try to listen to and practice what I preached as both teacher and mentor:
There is not a problem that cannot be solved
If you don’t get it YET, take a break . Then keep going or ask for help.
The secret of getting done is getting started.
Brainstorm ideas to find the most elegant solution
If it is too big to accomplish, break it down.
If you want to do something big, do something small.
Set the goal, see the goal, achieve the goal.
Anything worth doing is worth doing with good manners.
Don’t be afraid to ask for help.
I wrote and wrote. I wrote about the beauty I saw in the classroom, I listed the moments that made the day come out right. I wrote about messes. I wrote about the things that fell apart and how they came back together. I taught and taught and taught. And thanks to a glorious class of students (and their parents), and to a generous host of angels in the form of friends, former students, student teachers, and parents, it happened. We ended well. We successfully tied a loose knot in the golden thread that runs though every teacher’s story. There was just one final step. I began this last year with a curiosity about the ending. And now I’ve ended this year with a curiosity about beginnings and the way they gently take shape. So I end at the start of “next” and wait for next gently to take shape. I begin the way May Sarton began her journals and the way I begin mine. I begin with these words: “Begin here.”