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Always Strive to Be a Better You

600 Reasons to Do It Again Next Year

As another school year vanishes in a cloud of dust, sweat, and tears behind us, we're left with time to reflect, to relax (perhaps), and to rejuvenate..

I cannot begin to share the number of times that I've sat alone in my car at the end of a long day of principaling. I sit, unwilling to turn the key as dusk creeps into the staff parking lot, and wonder aloud, "Why, exactly, do I continue to do this?"

As thoughts of testing, budgets, deadlines, lawsuits, conflicts, and the weather cloud my mind, questions rumble louder than my lunch-less belly: Am I really making a difference? Are children truly benefiting from my work? Will the gains we make today expand tomorrow, or will they wither and collapse before the morning bell rings? Am I actually impacting anything in a positive manner?

If you are a human being, you've likely shared some of those same thoughts, or at least some variation of them. You've wondered about your purpose, your goals, your consequences, your influence, your attitude, and your direction. Then, if you're like me, your worries turn toward dinner, picking up the kids, and the rising price of gas. So you hustle home.

When the dust of the day settles and I really have time to reflect, I can always find justification for why I keep at it. Here, from my own experiences, are five of the 600 reasons I saddle up each day -- and each year -- and ride again.

Jasmin. Jasmin, a delightful yet disheartened student from Mexico, was reading at a pre-primer level midway through fifth grade. About what one would expect from an English-language learner who qualifies for special education, right? That's what the teachers who worked with her thought, too, and they dropped her from the remedial reading class to get "more bang for the buck" by placing another student with more potential in her spot. That didn't set well with me, so I assigned the primary-grades reading specialist to work with her. With a little attention, a serving of specific instruction, a dose of encouragement, and some serious love, Jasmin progressed to a mid-second grade reading level, and her eyes shone again. Still three years below grade level, she now was equipped with confidence, some beginning skills, and the knowledge that she was not alone in this battle.

Manuel. Manuel, another fifth-grade student, was raised in a house where gang activity ruled. To help give him options, we enrolled him in our after-school programs and kept him as occupied as possible in the afternoons. One morning, he was not at school. We soon learned that he was at the hospital with his brother, who had been shot twice during a gang-related squabble. His brother survived, but when Manuel returned to school a few days later he thanked us for steering him straight. He is now our local role model and spokesperson for avoiding gang life. He knows the consequences all too well.

Derek. Derek, who suffers from attention-deficit disorder and its associated anxiety and depression, struggled mightily in school throughout his elementary years. During fifth grade his parents pulled him out of school to live with his grandparents in Montana while they sorted out options for his future. Eventually, they requested a transfer to my school, where they had heard he would get individualized attention and truly differentiated instruction. The change in this young man over the course of his sixth-grade year was staggering. His reading level rose three years to grade level, his self-confidence exploded, and he learned the subtle difference between literal and figurative language. He now understands humor and sarcasm, which opens a million doors for every child.

Becky. At our school, literacy is considered the cornerstone skill of a well-balanced education. Some children, like Becky, have circumstances in their lives that might preclude the necessity to learn to read and write. This fourth-grade student suffers from neurofibromatosis. Her body makes tumors, several of which are inoperable in her brain. Doctors doubt she will celebrate her 12th birthday. Nevertheless, she bounds about campus, smiling from ear to ear as she converses with classmates and teachers, embracing her homework assignments and striving to keep pace with her peers in reading and writing. A few months ago, when her father came to the office to tell us they had purchased their first home and would be leaving our school, he had tears in his eyes as he expressed his gratitude for the development of his daughter. Though she may not have a future, she certainly has a future.

Lamont. When Lamont moved to Reno seven years ago, he was embarrassed to come to school. One of his hands was slightly disfigured, he was academically low, and he teetered on the precipice of gang involvement. Once a week, I drove to his apartment and literally dragged him to school. With the promise of shooting baskets at recess as a hook, he came along. I changed schools and did not see him for five years until the night I attended a high-school playoff basketball game. Lamont scored 38 points and led his team to victory. When he saw me on the floor after the game, he embraced me warmly and we reminisced about his elementary school days. Now known as one of the top high-school basketball prospects on the west coast, who knows where he would be if I hadn't put in the relentless effort to keep him in school all those years ago?

When I need a pick-me-up, I turn to my memory bank. I'm sure you can do the same. You can search your own experiences and find those five, 10, or 30 children who you can use to define your impact. Find the Lamonts, the Dereks, and the Jasmins of your life -- and take a moment to smile. For every Becky, there are 599 others just like her who benefited in subtle, silent ways from your work. For them, you have offered a ray of light, a moment of inspiration, a touch of life -- and the only place you'll ever know it is in your own heart. You may never see the ultimate growth, hear the gratitude, read the accomplishments, or observe the changes -- but they happen all the same. And you're a big part of it. So saddle up, pardner, and ride again.

Always strive to be a better you,

Article by Pete Hall
Education World®
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