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Friday, July 20, 2012

The Journey and the Destination are equally important

Yesterday I took my kids on a hike up a local canyon. Our destination was the waterfall at the end of the hike. I hadn't been on this particular hike for about four years and had never been on their with my younger kids (9,11). It's not an easy hike and turned out to be longer than I remembered it. During the hike I could't help thinking about how the hike was like life and in this case teaching.

The hike to the waterfall took about 1 hour 45 min. The beginning was full of annoying switchbacks filled with sand as we zigged and zagged to to the top. The sun is bearing down and there is nothing to look at. But it's necessary to get to the top. It reminds me of frontloading the year with teaching students procedures. It's not all that exciting, but necessary to get them to go where you want them to.

Once we got in the canyon we were sheltered by the trees and near a fast running stream. It was peaceful and nice to get out of the bustle of day to day life. Most of the journey was uphill. I kept thinking we were close only to realize that the waterfall wasn't just around the next bend. It became increasingly more difficult as my nine year old struggled in parts. A few times he needed physical help, my eleven year old was more self sufficient but at least once or twice needed a hand. I couldn't help but think of my role as an educator to help out and give students what they need to succeed. Sometimes its not what they want. Sometimes they get in a tangle and need our help, other times they figure out on their own. As we watch and guide them we evaluate what they need to improve and how we can best support them.

As we neared the waterfall, without knowing we were, I asked a group that was going back if we were close. They said yea, but it's still at least 15 min. I said that I thought we'd be there by now. They replied we kept thinking the same thing. But its worth it when you get there. I smiled to myself knowing that I had just thought about turning back. We had gone almost 2 miles it was nearing 2 hours and we still had to hike back. "But it's worth it" That's what kept me going. I knew it was, yet I had forgotten, it had been a while since I had done the hike. While in the grand scheme of things the school year is short, as you go through it, there are times it seems like the end will never come and you wonder if it's worth it. You know it is and you are on the right path, but it would be so much easier to stop and do something else. Those are the most important times to keep going.

Finally we turned a bend and there it was. And yes it was worth it. The kids looked for rocks. Why they do this I don't know? I told them they could only take a few, but they were taking them back, not me. We rested had a few snacks and just enjoyed the site. It was worth the struggle and would be worth the way back. All I could think about was that I needed to make sure that my destinations were worth the journey. I do believe that the journey in and of itself is an important thing, but it should take you somewhere. I am a big dreamer and want to do worthwhile projects and assignments. I want the journey to take me somewhere special. I have reflected on my past years and made some major changes for next year. I want to have a fantastic journey take me to an amazing destination.

Funny, I think the way back was fraught with more problems then the way up. We did it much faster, just over an hour, but got off track countless times. I let the kids lead the way and a few times they picked the wrong path. I have to admit I wasn't really paying attention until we all realized we were on the wrong path. They looked at me to fix things. One time I had to cross the stream forage through the brush before finding the right path. It reminded me why I was there. It would be nice if we could just say learning is completely student centered and go off on your own. But these are impressionable kids that usually act and say before they think things through. They still need guidance and support. I kept thinking it's okay if we get off course as long as we are moving cause in the end I know we will find our way.

Pace was an interesting thing to consider as well. On the way up I pushed the pace and they followed. On the way back, they led, and although messy at times we still went at a good pace. Each kid moved at a different speed and ability level. It was a microcosm of my class. Differentiation is one of the toughest things in education, but really important as well. Every student is unique and should be treated as such. I think it's the toughest thing for math teachers, if a student doesn't get it, there is no time to slow down and get them up with the rest of the pack. I have to think there is a better way than the way we do it now.

When we finished the kids talked about how great it was and how glad they were that we went on the hike. We were all tired and grabbed and pizza and downed a lot of water at the house. It was hard and long, but worth it. I couldn't help thinking that the journey is just as important as the destination. You need to make sure your going somewhere and that the somewhere is worth going to. That is the burden of teaching; how to get each unique student to believe they can do it. All I can think of is "But it's worth it." Easy to say in July much harder in the dog days of winter in January when the honeymoon period has long since worn off. Waterfalls are hard to imagine with the icy roads and snow covered landscape, but they will come in May and June if we keep moving forward. Just remember it's worth it and then get the students to believe it as well.

1 comment:

  1. I loved the connections you made between the hike and the school year - boy, you were spot on! From the initial enthusiasm, the doldrums of midyear, the benefits of differentiation to actively guiding from the side, and always trying to stay focused on the goal, which really is "worth it". Thanks for your thoughtful and inspiring post.