Well here we are, hopefully all rested up and ready to go. Our teachers returned to the district on January 2nd and the students returned for semester tests on January 3rd. Second semester has started and we are getting in the groove again. From now until spring break, we are pretty much buckled in and holding on tight! There isn't a holiday or other break in sight for quite some time. I hope that you aren't getting depressed by reading this, I'm just stating the facts. On a positive note teachers will probably tell you this is time of the year when we see the greatest gains in student achievement. Many of our students will go through nice growth spurts. I tend to agree with that analogy! Anyway, I was going on and on about how we are in for a long ride the next couple of months. Its cold, dark, and for the most part we are all cooped up with one another. I suppose logic would suggest this is why a lot of learning takes place. After all what else is there to do?
Last week at our administrative meeting I mentioned all of this to the principals. As is always the case this time of year, we are getting ready to make a lot of decisions. Scheduling, staffing, negotiating the contract, and just general planning for the next school year are at the top the list. Teachers are also busy getting ready to administer the Iowa Assessments, and the legislature will be in session in a few weeks (when the legislature is in session I spend a lot of time wondering what kind of crazy 'thing' we going to have done to us this time). This year we have the added pressure of a state accreditation visit, so there are extra items on the to do list. With all of this stuff going on, it is pretty easy to get stressed out, and maybe catch a case of cabin fever. I reminded my principals to make sure they keep everything in perspective and to take it one day at a time.
To help combat the winter blues, I try really hard to get out into the district to see people, visit classrooms, chat with teachers, ask students what they are learning about, you know, the normal things. The trouble is that it has just been too cold to do much of that, and besides right now there is just too much to get done. The last week I have been chained to my desk and haven't had a lot of time to do much of anything except file reports, answer email, and get ready for my next meeting. A couple of times [before I even realized it], it was 5:30 and I still wasn't where I needed to be for the day. So, I would pack up my stuff and head for home, continuing my work into the night or on the weekend. With it being dark and cold with so many projects that need attention, it is pretty easy to lose site of what the purpose of our work is, and who we are working for.
I got a great reminder last Friday morning. Let me tell you what happened. Every day about mid morning, my secretary brings in my mail and drops it in my inbox. Throughout the day, she will bring in a variety of items that need my attention; from purchase orders to letters that need to be signed. No matter what it is, it goes in that box. Some of it is important, some of it is not. If it is something that is time sensitive it will get handed to me or put next to my desk. So the inbox will just sit there until I get time to look through it sometime during the day. On Friday I noticed a manila envelope in my box, you know the kind I am talking about, right? The kind that you put papers in that you don't want to fold. It was kind of buried in there, so at first I didn't pay it a whole lot of attention. I thought that it may be from the AEA, which definitely would be something that could wait! (If my good friend Roark is reading this, sorry about that!) But on my way to the outer office for something, I happened to glance at that envelope and noticed the writing on the outside looked like it may have been written by a child. Out of curiosity more than anything else at this point, I picked it up and looked at it. Yep, it was from a child.
It just so happened this child is a former student from my days as an elementary principal. This young person is now in about 5th grade, which means when I left my previous position he was just finishing the 2nd grade. This youngster also attended preschool at my school, and one of his parents was on staff, so over the course of my tenure I got to know him quite well. As is often the case with small children, they really don't seem to understand what it is that a principal does and live most of their lives in fear of getting sent to the office 'where bad things happen and your parents get called'. Not this guy though! He would come right up to me whether I was in the hallway, in the classroom, my office, or on my way to a meeting. Sometimes it would be kind of tough to peel myself away to get on with what I needed to do next. And as is sometimes the case, he would end up 'a client' in my office for whatever malfeasance or infraction may have been committed on the playground, classroom, or hallway. I remember him being so upset sometimes! But afterward (sometimes within five minutes of the scolding), there he would be--wanting to chat me up again. Oh, and how bright and interesting this kid is! He knows many interesting things and is able to hold a conversation like you wouldn't believe. I remember asking him once how he knew [that]. He told me that he learned it on the Internet. (When I had the Internet hooked up in his classroom I could count on finding him there everyday after school looking up Greek Mythology, the solar system, or something to do with science--every single night).
Anyway I am sure you get the point, so back to that envelope. I opened it up and pulled out a thick packet of paper and a letter from him. This is a little bit of what it said:
Dear Mr. Voss,
You would always let me talk about my interests in your office. Thank you so much. I wanted to share my first article with you. I started reading H.G. Wells "War of the Worlds". It is awesome! I decided to write about Mars and the rover Curiosity. I won honorable mention and $50.00. Cool!
He went on with a couple of other items, included a copy of his published article and a Christmas card with a few pictures. Also included was a copy of their family Christmas letter. I tell you what, I couldn't wait to get home that night so I could share it with my wife and read everything in detail. I got home and as is always the case Ann would ask "How was your day today?" When I told her "Awesome," I am pretty sure she thought I was going to tell her that I got a major report finished or figured out how to solve some problem that we were having in the district. When I told her about the letter she smiled and said that was pretty neat.
Here's the point. Yes, it is cold, dark, and we are all cooped up together--longing for spring break. Sometimes it is easy to get lost in the details of our work and lose sight of why we are here and what is really important. You never really know how, or under what circumstances you are going to make a connection with a student that is not only going to have a profound impact on their lives, but yours as well.
Now I remember. I have a ton of work to do yet today-but first I think a young student in 5th grade is waiting for a letter from me.