Schools and Culture: Hope in Small Things

The heavy and long days of winter have descended in this Northern climate, and so too does the school year begin to lose the freshness of the new fall school year, and begin the long slog through winter darkness toward spring, the longer days, and the brighter weather. The anticipation of two weeks of vacation is part of the rhythm of this deep winter, for students and staff both. Both attention and energy wane as the daily school routine plods on.

I am not self consciously a Christian any more than I have always enjoyed the Christmas story, all wrapped up in school holiday and presents, and having been raised in an environment that inevitably has left me with some Christian perspectives, mostly those that Christians share with other religions. Nonetheless, I find myself reflecting on the meaning of this season, which in a secular fashion represents the rebirth of hope, not only of salvation in the Christian sense, but the notion that after the winter comes the spring, after a low cycle, a higher one, after struggle an accomplishment.

I wonder what this means for me as a school professional, at times wearying of the sundry battles with students for their attention and energy, with myself for efficient use of my time, and with the system within which I work for the respect of being listened to – all battles conducted on a daily basis by anyone who cares about what they are doing with kids.

When I despair that my efforts with kids seem not to bear enough fruit, or I am angered when my rational input is rebuffed for insubstantial reason, I sometimes am tempted to withdraw my energy from the game, and reapportion it to my private life. Yet, dang, just when I least expect it, some fruit of my labors ripens, and voila! I am encouraged to press on, because sometimes there is progress. I am reminded that rats learn more thoroughly through partial than consistent reinforcement. I, rat.

As I pause to visit family in Florida, here are some reminders to myself of gifts received in my work recently at moments when the grind threatened to turn me sour.

I thank my heretofore good student Enrique, who so mysteriously left school last week, vowing for private reasons that he was done, who suddenly showed up Friday, and announced he was back in the game.

I thank the teachers who turn thoughtful while discussing their students, whether in a staffing, or providing me with input for college recommendations.

I thank the district counseling coordinator, call him Hernando, who has resurrected an older successful practice in our district counselor meetings by opening them to genuine dialogue between levels. We counselors feel more respected, and the district will be better for the kind of input folks in our position can provide to district concerns, such as the drop out rate, the failure rate, and the like.

A bright Somali fellow, in country barely a year, but with better English than that, with whom I share a joke of subtlety that belies our generational, cultural and linguistic barriers.

A grandparent picks up the dropped responsibilities of a parent, and may guide him yet, with our help, to graduation in June. A grace for the student; a gift to our labors just when we might have lost him.

It’s a long run to wherever it is we are going with this education thing, with schools and their reform. It is imperative we note the moments within the turmoil and the frustration and the defeat that bring uplift and resolution and even triumph, though it be in small things, and that we allow these events to salve us our toil, justify our efforts, and keep us going.

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year.

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