Goodbye 2016

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Let’s be honest, there are some years that we would really like to forget.

Like 2016.

My year started under a cloud of negativity and quickly went downhill from there. From challenges at work, to multiple trips to the emergency room, to serving as a juror on a long murder trial, it seemed to be one thing right after another. But if I am honest with myself, each “bad” experience came with a good one. The good and bad were simply two sides of the same coin.

I experienced the kindness of strangers on my multiple visits to emergency rooms and doctor’s offices. I was touched by the love of my family when I needed help getting dressed, or when I needed a hug. I was supported by friends and colleagues when I needed a ride, or support with work. In the face of pain, I was shown love. Even at times when I was not sure I deserved it, I was met with the grace and compassion of the people around me.

As I write this, I am embarrassed that I spent much of the year saying “I can’t wait for this year to end!” This was the year my parents celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary. My sister safely returned from three years in Sierra Leone. My daughter started high school. I was reunited with some old friends. My wife says she still loves me.

Here at work, in the face of some enormous challenges, we ended up reaching and helping more students and teachers than ever before. I am blessed to be surrounded by the most caring and hardworking people I know. The organization is as strong as it has ever been and is poised to broaden its impact.

This is my big re-learning this year-as a father, husband, friend, and teacher-the good and the bad will always be together, joy and pain are intertwined and interdependent.

I say I “re-learned” this because I vividly remember learning this lesson as a teacher.

I can remember sitting alone in my classroom at the end of the year saying to myself, “This year is so hard, my god, I need a break.” Or I’d walk into the faculty room and hear someone say, “Just get me to the end of the year!” or more often, “I need a drink”!

When we have a student or parent that poses particular challenges or when we have a class we struggle to connect with, it can sometimes be all we can focus on. The joy drains from our work. We overlook anything positive and good that might have occurred that day.

But along with those challenges there are rays of hope and many good times that remain hidden, overlooked by our focus on the negative things.

We forget the joy we feel when we receive a “thank you” from a former student; or the satisfaction we get when we watch a smile creep onto a student’s face as she finally figures out a problem that was really hard. Powerful teaching is by its very nature a combination the good and the bad, the successes and the challenges. We can’t have one without the other. So it goes to reason that if we celebrate only the successes, then we are only celebrating half of the whole.  Perhaps this year we might also consider celebrating the challenges we face because with them comes the joy of also experiencing success.   It also feel so much more empowering.

So now I say “Hello 2017.” I am coming to you with open arms, and hopefully ready to embrace your challenges, and perhaps a little bit wiser.