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Happy New Year!

By Michael Faggella-Luby

In my first post for Hawk Hopes, I wrote about the hope that teachers embody during difficult times. At the dawn of a new school year, my thoughts for this post turn to the hopes of new beginnings that come each fall for teachers and students across the country.

Teachers are fortunate in that we receive two formal “do overs.” Two chances to begin anew: The traditional January first start of the calendar year, and my favorite reboot—Back to School.

I often marvel each fall that the students keep coming in waves, magically remaining the same age—a somewhat irresistible force of energy, passion, and challenge. Yet, as the wave will inevitably move past us, on to the next grade level, we the teachers remain—the immovable objects of…well, energy, passion and challenge!

This is not say that we do not grow and change. Rather, that we remain so that we are given the chance to do it all over again with a new crop of students, and hopefully better this time. We are gifted with the opportunity explicit in the film Groundhog Day, to reexamine what and how we engage the learners of our classroom—seeking the impossibly perfect lesson, perfect unit, or perfect school year. Because of course, not only do we live in a new context each year (changing practically day-to-day), but the waves of students we encounter change from year-to-year, and moment-to-moment. We must be ready to change with them, to tinker with our lessons and paradigms so that we meet the critical needs of the students in front of us, rather than the students we idealize (or worse yet, the student we once were).

Teaching can be a life-giving adventure, especially for those who find teaching to be their vocation. A vocation is something that gives us voice. Vocation is a call we hear and must respond to in the actions of our lives. For me, my vocation is teaching. Simply put, I could not be anything else.

Yet teaching can also be draining. To borrow from Teddy Roosevelt, I don’t know anyone who “spen[ds] themselves in a worthy cause” who is not exhausted in the spring. Maybe the end of the school year was thrilling and energizing for you! Maybe it wasn’t. Maybe you dreaded the final grading that never seems to get read, creation of cumulative folders to be passed on (and again, never seem to get read!), the packing up (and often moving) of a classroom. Maybe you dreaded saying goodbye to a retiring colleague or someone who had decided to move on. Maybe it was the weariness of arriving to school long before the first bell only to find yourself arriving home long after the sun had set. Maybe it was personal frustration with the misguided passions of youth, or as likely professional frustration with the stagnation of those unwilling to change.

When I feel run down and worn out, I return to my roots as an English teacher. In a poem by William Wordsworth entitled Lines Written a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey, there is much of beauty in nature for the reader to reflect on. Perhaps my fondest memory of this poem, is that the narrative finds the poet sharing this natural beauty with his sibling, hoping that she will someday, in times of trial and struggle, be as he is, able to draw upon the memory of such a place to provide a fountain of energy and renewal when times are most difficult.

The notion of finding a wellspring to allow us to start anew, even after we are worn down by the giving ourselves to our students, is a powerful idea. I think of it as the Magic of Summer: The impossible-to-predict moment when I transition from tired and spent in the previous year’s struggles, to the optimism and reflection for planning a new year of learning for my students.

I have found that the magic does not always come where I think it will (a family vacation or attended wedding), though it can. Instead, the magic often sneaks up when I am not looking, when I am fully present in life’s little moments of joy instead of the big ones. For me this year, the magic was tied to nature and to water.

First, it came in the sweet words of my four-year old son whispering an unscripted prayer for his recently deceased uncle. Words that were at once heartbreaking and heartwarming.

Next, it came in the splendor of ocean waves reflected in my 18-month old daughter’s eyes as she saw the ocean for the firs time. She ran toward the water, suddenly stopped, and turning toward me shouted, “Pool! Pool. Pool?”

The magic of summer came in the screeches of laughter from my nieces and nephews as my father’s birthday was celebrated with a rented dunk tank! Each successive splash of aunt and uncle into the chilly water leading to cheers of, “More! Again! Can I try? Me next!”

There were many more moments I am sure, but these stand out at the end of the summer as the guideposts of renewal. These magic moments reach out and tap me on the shoulder, whispering, “It is time to return. It is time to find your voice again. It is time to grow. It is time to teach.”

I wonder what your moments were? Perhaps you will leave a comment below and share something that was important to you. Something that changed your heart, or gave you a boost, or said: It is time to return. It is time to teach.

So Happy New Year to you and yours! May your passions for the vocation of teaching be rekindled in the year ahead! May the tidings of the new school year be filled with hope for our colleagues, our students, and for you!

PS—One great thing about having New Year’s in the fall is that no one asks you about your weight-loss goals! : )

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Dr. Faggella-Luby is an Associate Professor of Special Education in the College of Education at Texas Christian University (TCU). He is also institute faculty in the Alice Neeley Special Education Research and Service (ANSERS) Institute.

Dr. Faggella-Luby teaches courses related to preparing educators to evaluate, select, plan, and implement research-based methods and instructional materials for teaching students with and without disabilities who are at risk for failure. His scholarly interests focus on learning disabilities, literacy, reading education, special education, diverse learning needs, instructional design, secondary education, and school reform. He has written publications related to cognitive learning strategies, response-to-intervention (RtI)/scientifically research-based instruction (SRBI), self-determination, literacy, and urban school reform.

Dr. Faggella-Luby’s primary research interest focuses on embedding instruction in learning strategies into subject-area courses to improve reading comprehension for all levels of learners. He received the 2006 Outstanding Researcher Award from the Council for Learning Disabilities and the 2007 Annual Dissertation Award from CEC’s Division of Learning Disabilities for his dissertation study Embedded Learning Strategy Instruction: Story-Structure Pedagogy in Secondary Classes for Diverse Learners.

Before joining the faculty at TCU, he was an Associate Professor at the University of Connecticut, including positions as research scientist at the Center for Behavioral Education and Research (CBER) and associate research scholar at the Center on Postsecondary Education and Disability (CPED).  Dr. Faggella-Luby was a doctoral fellow at the University of Kansas Center for Research on Learning under the direction of Drs. Donald Deshler and Jean Schumaker. Dr. Faggella-Luby is a former high school administrator and teacher of both English and Chemistry.

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