Tales from the Front Lines - Blog by Paul Gamboa

Tales from the Front Lines - Blog by Paul GamboaBefore moving to fifth grade, I taught third grade for more than a decade. One of my favorite parts of the year was the novel study we did for “Charlotte’s Web.”

In this classic, one of the chapters is called “The Crickets.” This chapter, as the entire book superbly does, beautifully makes the music that the crickets of late August make with the coming of fall.

As I was walking my dog a few evenings ago, the noise of the crickets was as loud as I’ve heard it in ages. It’s fall.

For me, in the past that has meant getting my classroom ready, catching up with coworkers and preparing to implement new curriculum, new ideas and getting ready to start the rollercoaster ride that makes teaching the truly magnificent profession that it is.

This year is different though. I have taken over as the president of our association, which means I’m out of the classroom full time. I have been honored with being chosen to represent the almost 2,000 teachers in my school district. It means that things are going to change.

As I was driving past our local teacher store a few evenings ago,  I looked over and noticed that the parking lot was empty. I thought to myself, “OOOOOH! I can get in and out with a surgical extraction and avoid the lines!!!!” Instinctively, I reached over to put the turn signal on and then remembered a sobering reality. I don’t need to go there this year.

For the next day or two, I was somewhat down when it truly sunk in that I no longer get to do a job that I truly love. Then something magical happened. I met our new teachers.

My first main act as president was to welcome the 130-plus new teachers to my district. We host a luncheon for them during our five-day new teacher induction period every year. What I saw in that room was one of the most inspiring things I’ve ever seen.

You could almost see the energy and the enthusiasm radiating from the people in that room. It was a powerful reminder of what we do and why we’re here.

There’s a lot of negativity that is surrounding the teaching profession right now. Common Core is at a crossroads and under fire. PERA and student growth data are looming.  We have political chaos surrounding education, swirling around us everywhere.

Teachers are being stretched to the point of breaking, stress levels are through the roof and it doesn’t seem like we have many people on our side right now. Plus, I’m going to completely ignore the fact that “Charlotte’s Web” is an allegory for what we’re facing in the upcoming governor’s election.

Don’t worry, that column will be coming shortly.

However, what I witnessed in that room is what everyone who is privileged enough to be able to teach our children needs to remember. The relationships and bonds that we form with our students is everything to us and is why we put up with what we do.

There are an infinite number of memes and clichés out there about what testing and other issues have done to our schools. Most of them, I don’t disagree with.  However, anyone who has ever spent a second in a classroom knows that a great teacher knows that this isn’t what our profession is about.

A great teacher knows their students. A great teacher cares for their students. A great teacher puts the bonds that we form with our students above everything else. It is those bonds that allow us to make a difference in people’s lives. It’s something that is easy to forget, but something that we never can lose sight of.

We are all here for one reason, to fight for the right of all students to get a great public education. Watching the faces in that room and the nervous, but overwhelming positive, energy in that room was like a B12 shot for me. It reminded me of all that is awesome about our profession.

This year, I don’t get to form the bonds with my students that have defined my time in the classroom.  However, I get an even better role. I get to be an advocate for all kids and all teachers in my district. I get the privilege of working collaboratively with the administrators, school board, and other groups to try to get the students in our district the best public education possible. I get to be a voice for 29,000 students and 2,000 teachers.

It doesn’t get much better than that.

There are going to be a lot of things swirling around us this year. There’s an election coming and its outcome could likely define our survival. There is going to be discussion about standards, more choking assessment and myriad other issues.  What that means is one thing: Cherish what it feels like right now, and remember what teaching really means.

We’re really lucky to get to do what we do. It might not seem like that a lot of times, but how many other professions are lucky enough to get to touch the number of lives that we do, and do it in such a positive way?

There aren’t many.

The new teachers are people we need to keep in the forefront of our thoughts. Their enthusiasm inspired me and is something that all of us need to remember. They know how fortunate they are to get to be a part of the lives of kids and help them grow, learn and flourish.  It’s a truly valuable point that can get lost way too easily but shouldn’t.

Here’s to a wonderful year for everyone and remember what we’re here for. Take time to breathe and take time to think about how great it is to get to work with the kids that you do.

I look forward to hearing your thoughts and comments in the section below.  You can also follow me on twitter at @paulgamboa.

Paul Gamboa is a teacher who is currently serving as president of the Indian Prairie Education Education Association.