I was recently reminded of a short piece I wrote back in the mid to late 90s. It was written for the staff at a school – not our school. It was written at a time when the school and district I was affiliated with was undergoing some challenges. Different time, different place, different people. But, you know what? Not terribly different from any other time or place or institution. This essay is delightfully dated. But I don’t want to change it to fit ‘modern’ times. It was written for educators, but it applies to all. Just replace the word ‘educator’ with nurse, truck driver, checker, dentist, whatever you do. I hope this piece blesses your day.
Please keep reading below my signature.
May the Peace of Christ (way beyond what you can understand) be with you today,
How Good Is Your Grain?
My uncle is a farmer south of Chester, Illinois. He has been a farmer his whole life. Every year at harvest time, just like all farmers everywhere, he takes his crops to the market to get the best price he can.
He lives out in the middle of nowhere, and depending on what he is selling, there are a number of routes he can take to get to where he’s going. When he gets to the selling place, I’m sure there is a certain amount of conversation about farming and other things, but the main business of the day is to determine how good the grain is. I doubt if he is ever asked about which route he took. That isn’t important. It certainly doesn’t have any effect on the produce.
When I think about my uncle’s yearly experience with his crops, I can’t help but see a comparison between that and what we do each year as educators. I don’t feel completely comfortable with equating student performance with a “product”, but that analogy will work for my comparison here today. We do strive to produce results from our efforts and hope that these will enrich the lives of our students. I think that we get ourselves into trouble sometimes, though, when we become overly concerned about the route by which we achieve these results.
Our district has been involved in some enormous undertakings over the past calendar year. Last year, it seemed at times that we would be consumed by the demands of the Quality Review process. While that was going on, two curriculum committees were putting the finishing touches on extensive studies to choose new Language Arts and Math curriculums. As you are well aware, those are being implemented this year.
By this time, I know that some of you are really feeling the stress of the many new demands which are being placed upon you. Our new Math series has many requirements to be fulfilled, and they have to be completed in a certain order and in a certain way. The Language Arts series is full of texts and materials which also must be used in a particular way – whole language in a kit. Those of us who haven’t worked a lot in whole language are concerned about diving into a new arena of teaching, while those who have been teaching whole language for years are concerned that they will no longer be allowed to practice their tried and true methods. And I haven’t even mentioned the computers that the central office and I have been pushing (yeah, I know I have),
Don’t think for a minute, though, that I’m putting down these new ventures. The programs we now have have been studied long and hard by Triad professionals. They were determined to be the best programs available. We have to trust the judgment of our peers. Maybe you were part of the process.
My purpose for writing this message is not to discourage you, but to encourage you to remember why you chose education as your profession. My guess is that, somewhere in your reasoning, you will say that you want to make a difference. Don’t let the demands of our business keep you from remembering that. The routes we take to get to the end result will vary over time as trends come and go and as our profession evolves. What won’t change (what we can’t let change) is that we will always strive to end up with a good product.
At the end of each day, ask yourself, “Is some facet of the lives of my students/my colleagues/my community better than when I began this morning, because of something I did”? Yes it is. Well done.
J. Bruce McLaughlin