The Tuesday after Labor Day, or perhaps earlier—as all teachers know—is our New Year. Forget January. This is when our year begins. There’s no popping open champagne bottles or singing of Auld Lang Syne, but, just like with the Julian calendar New Year, there is a list of resolutions to be better, do better, get better. We promise to slow down, find balance and be in the now.
As a student-teacher, I did not know how important the New Year was. I watched as my lead teacher established herself and the classroom culture, but it was all done so fluidly that I didn’t even realize it was happening. I was young, going with the flow and had no idea what I was supposed to be noticing. By the time I got my own classroom, I wondered why it didn’t feel and flow like the one I had been in. I knew I wasn’t as soft-spoken as my lead teacher had been. Maybe that was it. I tweaked my style and lowered my voice. I tried whispering a lot—that’s what I had seen my lead teacher do. I sat and nodded like her. But none of it worked. In fact, I’m pretty sure on those days when I tried her style, everything backfired and the class would be particularly rambunctious. So, I experimented. Sometimes my ideas worked, sometimes they didn’t. I did this every New Year, until my own style was created and cultivated. Each New Year got stronger. And now, many years later, setting up a supportive learning environment is done fluidly—but, still, not without its flaws.
No matter how experienced we are, we are not flawless. The minute, impactful changes we make each New Year to our lessons are due to our willingness to try out a new protocol, arrangement, technology tool, or, perhaps, because things did not go as planned. The photocopier wasn’t working and instead of handing out packets, we moved around the classroom, collaborating and writing on anchor charts. These unplanned opportunities remind us we can think on our feet, we can save a lesson and, most importantly, we can continue to learn to strengthen our practice. Each New Year and new lesson reminds us that we are always learning.
Each New Year gives us the opportunity to commit to praising that challenging student or students. A few years ago I sat in a meeting listening to remarks about my soon-to-be- students from the previous year’s teacher. I appreciate the important facts shared during these meetings, and struggle with keeping them from impairing my own judgment. After many New Years, I know how important it is to establish a supportive relationship with all students and it was hard to predict whether one teacher’s challenging student would present with the same challenging behaviors under my leadership. I remember leaving this particular meeting making a promise to praise this one particular challenging student every day. I told my principal, “I am going to love that student.” That’s what the New Year offers us. The chance to start again with students who need new starts.
Every New Year we are better because of what we have learned in years past. Every New Year comes with new challenges that remind us we have yet to see it all, know it all, be it all. Every New Year offers us the opportunity to learn and make some mistakes. Our students are not the only ones doing the learning in our classrooms.