Dear Soon to Be Students,
I am looking forward to being your teacher this coming school year. I have high hopes for this year. A couple of themes for our year are stories and questions. I am looking forward to learning about your stories. What inspires you? What are you curious about? What questions do you have? What questions can you form about the topics we are studying? But first, I have some requests for you as you enter this year.
First, as we enter this new year, I am going to ask you to step out of your comfort zone as a learner and as a classmate. It is easy to sit back and do what you always do. You may be really comfortable with certain classmates; you may be really comfortable with one genre of books, one way to solve a multiplication problem, one style of writing. I am going to ask you to reach out to someone that you do not know, try reading a different type of genre, look at doing a math problem in a different way, pushing yourself as a writer. Participate in class discussions, work collaboratively with your classmates, and push yourself to try some new things. This summer, a good friend of mine asked me to pick her up at the airport as she was returning from a year living in Ireland. I quickly told her I would and then I started to worry. I had never in my 36 years of driving, driven into the airport. I really dislike driving on major highways, I dislike driving into Boston, and I find the airport really confusing as a passenger, who wasn’t driving. Since my friend was also bringing her dog back, the pick-up was not going to be as straight forward as finding her on the curbside. But she was my friend, and I was going to help her out.
That sunny August day dawned, and it was time to pick up Genoveva. I debated in my head whether I should take the back roads to Route 128 or just go down Route 2 to 128. Passing the road where I would need to turn to take the “back roads”, I headed towards Route 2 to Route 128. I learned tip years back from our Health Curriculum Coordinator called “self-talk” And trust me; I was talking to myself the entire ride from Route 2 to the Mass Pike on Route 128. I paid the toll and headed into Boston on the Pike. The traffic report said that there would be some congestion near the Prudential Center, so I “psyched” myself up for that. Heading towards the second toll, I asked the toll taker what lane would go to the Ted Williams Tunnel. This is a rule of myself, “use your resources”. I then knew what lane to stay in to get to the airport. The ride through the narrow tunnel wasn’t bad until a tractor-trailer truck came up right on the back of me. I again talked myself through the situation and soon enough, I was out at the airport, looking for Terminal E parking signs, and determined not to miss it since that would require having to go back and circle around again. I did miss the turn for the overflow lot, but it was easily rectified. Relieved to be there, I walked over to the terminal to meet my friend, happy to know that at least on the way back, I would have Genoveva for company. So, step out of that comfort zone. I know as a teacher, I am always trying out new things that aren’t familiar to me. I’m asking you to do the same.
The next thing I am going to ask you to do is to set challenging goals and persevere in reaching those goals. Set a goal that is going to take some work to attain. If reading isn’t your favorite thing to do, set a goal to read three books by the holiday break. If you tend to be quieter in class, make a goal to first participate in a class discussion once a day and keep increasing that number. If you tend to rush through assignments, slow down and do your very best work. But don’t make it an easy goal. It will be more rewarding if you know you worked hard to obtain your goal.
This summer, I set a lofty goal to walk the Battle Road trail out to the end and back, which is a total of ten miles. I had thought about this goal for a couple of years, but I never spent the time getting in shape to actually be able to do it easily. However, during the month of March, I decided to seriously start walking. I would leave school about a half hour after you all did and walk. My walks ranged in distance from a couple of miles to about four miles. I could feel myself getting faster.
So right after school ended, I decided to see if I could do half of the goal distance, 5 miles. I set off the trail on a pretty good clip, starting at the Meriam House, going out to the Smith House and back. It took me 71 minutes 49 seconds to do the 5.2 miles. I felt great after doing this, and a week later, I tried going 6 miles, starting at the Meriam House and going to the Revere Capture Site. For the 6.27 miles, it took me 92 minutes and 4 seconds. I felt pretty confident that I would be able to accomplish this goal with a little more training.
At the end of July, on a very hot and humid Saturday morning, I thought I would go 8 miles, which would then make it pretty close to my target goal. Within a mile, I felt pretty lousy. At seven thirty in the morning, it was about 80 degrees and the dew point was a balmy 74 degrees. Sweat was running down my face before I got to the end of the first mile with seven miles to go. I had brought my camera along to take some pictures of fields of sunflowers that I had previously spotted on my walk, so carrying that on my back, along with a bottle of water, was kind of on the heavy side. After about three miles, I started to get a little more in the groove and felt better as I strode along on the wooded path. I didn’t usually walk on the weekends, so I was surprised to see so many people out walking, running, and bike riding along these historic grounds. I reached the four-mile turn around point and felt really pretty strong at that point. However, at about six miles, I started to experience a sharp shooting pain on the top of my left foot. I slowed up a bit, but the pain stayed pretty present. I also started to notice small rocks in my shoes. I didn’t stop to address that as I figured it wouldn’t bother my foot. So, on I semi-limped along, one foot in pain on the top, and the rocks on the other foot shifting along with every step I took. The last two miles seemed like they took forever, the sweat was running down my face, and I would use my t-shirt to mop it up. The strings on the bag on my back seemed to cut into my shoulders. Finally, after about 121 minutes, I rounded the corner to the parking area. My face was beet red, the top of my foot was aching, and I found that the little rock in the bottom of my right sneaker had caused a huge blister on my heel. I wondered if I was going to be able to actually complete my ten-mile walk. I was going to have to let my blister heal, figure out what was going on with my foot, and find a cooler day.
Several weeks later, after buying a new pair of sneakers that were more comfortable, letting my blister heal, I was ready to try and reach the goal. I carefully looked at the Weather Channel since I didn’t want a repeat of the hot and humid day. It was Saturday, August 18th and I thought perhaps I would try it at the end of the next week. But, then I thought about it. The weather was relatively okay that day, the humidity was low, and I needed to take a walk. So, at about 3:00 p.m., I headed over to Meriam House to make my attempt. My goal was to try to get it done in about 2 and a half hours. I wanted to stroll relatively easily, but before I knew it, I was walking fairly quickly for a long walk. I was passing other walkers and moving very quickly. Perhaps too quickly for the distance. But I kept going. When I got the four-mile mark, the path suddenly turned up hill. I knew where the path ended, so I kept on walking hard up the rutted path. When I got to the official end of the trail, I looked at my pedometer to see how fast I had done the five miles in. However, I hadn’t done five miles yet. I had only done 4.5 miles. I debated on whether I should just turn around and call it a nine miler, or should I continue on the sidewalk to go the full five miles before turning around. So, I continued on the hot pavement, still going uphill until I reached a full five miles before turning around. That mile was physically challenging as well as mentally challenging. The next five miles went by fairly quickly. Learning my lesson from the last time, I stopped and emptied out my shoes when I felt small stones. After two hours and 19 minutes, I reached the parking lot, elated to have finished this goal. I have now set a new goal to perhaps walk the entire marathon distance. So, when you reach your goal, set a new one. Keep trying to challenge yourself.
The third thing I am going to ask you to do is to look at things from different points of view. We will do that in social studies a fair amount, which is a better way to study history. However in class, instead of perhaps snickering at a classmate’s answer, think about why they may have that perspective. We often sing a song at assemblies, called “Walk a Mile in Your Shoes”. Be empathetic to others. Look at a problem in many different ways. When we go out to the river, don’t always just look across. Look up, down, and to the side. Get a real snapshot of your place by looking at it from different angles. This summer, I visited my best friend from 5thgrade. We ended up going to a concert at the “Met” in New York City. These tickets were day of the performance tickets, so I wasn’t quite sure where we would end up.
When my friend Dan came over with the envelopes, he was smiling and said, “I’m not sure what this means, but it says we are sitting on the stage.” And indeed, we were sitting behind the musicians on the stage. I had never seen a concert from that vantage point and it was really awesome. Some people might say that I only saw the musicians’ backs, but while that was true for the musicians in the back row, I had great views of the musicians on the side and I had even a better view of the conductor. I could see him as he nodded at the violinist, I could see the expressions on his face as the music changed tempo, and I could see him smile at his musicians after they finished a challenging piece. It was an awesome seat from a totally different point of view and I saw the concert in a very different fashion. So, don’t be afraid to try and look at something from a different point of view during this school year.
Finally, the last thing I am going to ask you is to find joy in life. Slow down sometimes (and ask me every once in awhile) to slow down as well and look around you. The world is full of fascinating things and you need to be “open bowled” to find these items. I spent time this summer just looking at a bullfrog for 15 minutes, looking at flowers, and just looking at my surroundings in deeper detail. Be happy learning. Last year, my students were interested in a storm drain behind the school and we spent countless rainy days out there checking it out. Being out in the rain was glorious. It will remain one of my fondest memories of my teaching career. Being able to watch the conductor from the different point of view also allowed me to witness his great joy while conducting his group.
So, as these waning days of summer come to an end, I look forward to having you all as my students in this coming year. I look forward to inspiring you to be the best learner you can be and I look forward to your inspiring me to be the best teacher and learner I can be.
See you Tuesday,