Today, I continued work on my basement. This has been an ongoing project for the better part of 2 months now, and it has been wrought with fits and starts the entire time. Today’s work was less than ideal. There were a series of setbacks that resulted in a seemingly wasted day.
The beauty of working on my house, and in my past experience in construction, is the immediate gratification that comes from altering the landscape in which you are working. No matter what I do in my house, or in any of my friends’ houses when I help them, there is an indelible difference when I leave compared to when I got there. When you walk into a work site, with a plan, and then execute the plan, the satisfaction of a successfully completed job is extraordinary. The ability to minimize outside factors that could possibly thwart the realization of the project is extremely satisfying. Using reliable tools and materials in a reliable way to the sole purpose of their design can be extremely gratifying. Achieving a clear objective to its termination is a feeling unlike what many school days can feel like.
On a day like today, however, I was unable to do that, and the work put into my house, became burdensome, frustrating, and altogether familiar. Teaching can feel like this so often. We put into writing (or not, sometimes) a clear plan, with clear, standards-aligned objectives, with differentiated techniques and materials, supports for struggling learners and extensions and enrichments, valuable thoughtful learning objectives, and spend hours devising a plan for a lesson that is a fraction of the planning time. This happens at school, outside of school, on the train, in my kitchen, in all hours of day and night (with my dog doing his best to distract me, as he is now) and is ceaseless to even this teacher in his 9th year in the classroom.
And then, the lesson goes off the rails. In ways that could have been anticipated, or more often, in ways that could absolutely not have been. The fact that this is the week we celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birth and life is a reminder (if we needed one) of the trauma and challenges that our students face every day in overcoming the adversity that they face regularly. Sometimes the best laid plans of mice and men go awry, and man… can it be frustrating.
After marinating on the disappointment in not having as productive a clearly outlined day as I had planned in my basement, I recognized that the frustration of construction is also its true beauty. I realized, too, that the beauty of teaching, especially after a day of un-impactful weekend construction like today, is the unknown of it. The energy spent, and anxiety it entails, and struggle I put in today, was only matched by the learning, growth, strength, understanding and unique experience I had that will serve me well in the future. When someday (sooner than later, I hope) I am able to enjoy the space, there will be a resonant feeling of accomplishment, similar to that which we experience as teachers, that is unique to the moment and the good in it that I choose to see.