The adventures of a fourth grade teacher in East Central Illinois.

Serenity, Courage, Wisdom, and Change

As I was driving home from a meeting late last night, I heard a radio host talking about serenity. She spoke about in terms of the famous prayer attributed to St. Francis of Assisi. I have no desire to let this get into a religious discussion, but I found myself pondering the three components of this statement:

  • Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change:
    I started thinking about what serenity is (other than a really cool spaceship from a fantastic television series that I hope will somehow make its way back into the hearts and minds of society). Serenity is a sense of calm and peace. There are so many things that I don’t have any control over, but it can be really easy to let all of those things fill up my mind and distract me from what’s important. But if I can be calm and at peace with the fact that there are some things that I simply cannot change, I can begin to focus on the things I can. Which leads to the second part…
  • [Grant me] the courage to change the things I can:
    Courage is “the ability to do something that frightens one” or “strength in the face of pain or grief.” When it comes to change, it can be scary. Do I have the courage to stand up for what is right, to call out error and injustice when I see it, and to make change when it needs to be made? More importantly, do I have the courage to change myself first? If I do, then I can move to the final part…
  • [Grant me] the wisdom to know the difference:
    Wisdom is understanding how to apply knowledge. I can know in my mind what things I can and cannot change, but do I understand how to make use of that knowledge? What can I change? Again, it often has to start with me. I cannot make any other person do anything. I can encourage, I can cajole, I can even threaten, but ultimately, they are the ones who have to do it. I can, however, make me do things. I can change myself.

What does this have to do with teaching? Everything! There are so many things that happen outside my classroom that I cannot change, but they directly impact what happens in my classroom. I talk to my colleagues and I find out that they are encountering the same issues, the same challenges. We can complain about it until we are blue in the face, but complaining about it isn’t going to make a lick of difference. As one of my coworkers said a couple of years ago, “Once it becomes cathartic, it is no longer productive.” Words have to be followed by actions. That’s where courage comes into the picture. Wisdom is required to make use of the knowledge, skills, and resources we have to set about making changes that will actually make a difference for good. But we always need that sense of calm and peace to keep us centered on what’s most important.

I’ve got to be willing to forgive others when they make mistakes. Including myself. I’m not perfect. My students aren’t perfect. Their parents aren’t perfect. But I do believe we are all doing the best we know how. This has been a roller coaster of a week. I’ve felt a lot of stress pulling me in every direction at once. Tomorrow is Friday. It is also the last day of the first quarter. But it is as good a time as any to start making some changes. Starting with me. So I am going to take a few steps back in my classroom and reevaluate what I am doing and why I am doing it.

It reminds me of my all-time favourite episode of the longest running American primetime television show in history and the longest running American animated series in history: after one of the main characters returns to a job that has a lot of unpleasantness to it, his boss puts a demoralising sign in his office that says, “Don’t forget you’re here forever.” However, with some carefully placed photographs, he is able to change it to reflect why he’s really at his job:

I love my job. I love my profession. I love teaching. I love learning. I need to get better at blocking out the distracting, demoralising messages being thrown at me and at my students all the time and focus on doing what’s right for the right reasons: it isn’t about me; it’s about them.

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