Autumnal Resolutions and A Quest for Perfection

English: Autumn on High Street Autumnal view o...
(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I’ve never really left school. Well, that’s not exactly true. I did take a gap year between college and earning my teaching credential. And then there was that one year after Cameron was born – the only year in the last 14 – that I haven’t stood in front of 13-year-olds on a first day of school. I’ve changed the ways I teach the first day over the years, moving from teacher directed bore-them-to-tears rants about rules and procedures towards student centered get-them-writing-and talking activities.

So I find myself, the last evening of Labor Day weekend, home and going over the first of 52 weeks of grading. Only three official days in, and nothing has really changed. I still got the first day jitters, I still spent the weekend in my classroom preparing lessons, and I still wonder how I’ll make this year better than the last. I strive for something close to perfection.

As I was skimming over their freshly written ‘author pages’, one question and response kept jumping out at me: a far too overwhelming number said their one goal for this year was to get straight As.

They’re 13 years old at best. They want to be perfect. Boys and girls – no difference there. And I sit here, taking in the enormity of their request, and wonder – is that what THEY really want?

And this time, after teaching 23 years of 7th, 8th and 9th graders, I just stopped and sighed, and I realized that if this was what my kids were expecting, I might be the very person to keep them from reaching their goals. I just cannot imagine a world where everyone is perfect.

And it made me think about my own kids, my own life, and how as I move closer and closer to my fifth decade of living, how this idea of perfection has ridden copilot with me for a great long part of my life, too.

For me, the rhythm of the academic year has always been the back beat to my life. New Year’s Resolutions haven’t had much impact; for me, it’s the autumnal resolutions that make most sense. This autumn, I’m back at it. What do I really want from this year? What will make my heart shine, my spirit ignite, and in June, what will I feel I’ve done that made a difference?

It’s most certainly not about personal perfection for me. That quest was left behind in the last decade – no sense in revisiting that now.

It’s taken me a few days to write this, mainly, I think, due to that idea of how to simultaneously push kids towards their future while teaching them that life is oh, so much more than a quest for an “A”. How do I show them that it’s so much more about the experiences along the way, the knowledge they soak up as they read and write and talk and think…how do I teach them to WANT it? The idea that learning and success take grit, that no matter what comment I write on their essay, or what grade they earn on a test, that learning doesn’t end at the bell, that every day is ‘to be continued’ and all we can do is our best. How can I show them that really the only goal I have for them this year is that they walk out the door in June feeling that they are stronger, more confident, thinking deeper and just a touch more articulate than they were when they walked in last week?

My autumnal resolutions. I’ve got some work to do, and not just in the classroom.

What about you, dear reader? What is your autumnal resolution? Are you on the perfection quest, too?

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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Open Every Door

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“Not knowing when the dawn will come
I open every door.”

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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Leaning Forward Into the New Year

I woke early the first day.  Perhaps it was the thunderous thump that shook the walls of the snow covered house; convinced a bear had hurtled through the downstairs window, I sprang up and searched the house for disturbance.  Finding none, I instinctively checked on my son; although 13, I still follow my maternal tug for ensuring he’s still breathing.

Uncovered and in 55 degrees, he must have thrown himself against the wall searching for warmth.  I kissed his forehead, pulled the flannel-encased down comforter back over his long body, and quietly closed the door.

The downstairs was dark and quiet,  the glow of the porch light hitting the snow providing the only illumination.  Quietly, I began to greet the new year with candle and coffee, journal and thoughts.

It wasn’t enough.  I”m approaching the fifth day of being stuck on the couch, felled with the teacher’s curse of sickness on vacation.  Self-pity set in.  Frustration.  Disappointment.  Lonliness.  Blame.  Pessimism.  Despair.

This is not the way to spend New Year’s morning.  Yet, I just couldn’t feel it-the optimism I knew everyone else was waking up with..

Mired in my thoughts, I glanced out the window for direction.  The sun, beginning to glow through the trees, tempted me.  I should walk to the lake, but it’s 5 degrees outside.  Maybe tomorrow.  Maybe next weekend.  There’s always another sunrise.

Turning to Facebook, I stumbled on Susan Tweit’s essay, Learning Forgiveness, and this quote about her dog, Isis:

“ Still, Isis was simply happy: to be in the world, to take walks and eat three meals a day, to snooze on her cozy bed. Her friendly good nature was so obvious that her beauty, not the scars she would carry for life, was the first thing people noticed when they met her.”

I need to be the person my dog thinks I am.  I need to walk out the door.

Tahoe Park Blvd.
Tahoe Park Blvd.

My snow boots crunched on the icy road as I cautiously made my way down to the lake.  Simple tributes to children’s joy caught my eye, and reminded me of my own son, who had spent the dusk hours of New Years Eve tumbling around in the snow alone, creating his own happiness.

Commando Cam

I knew what I would see: the sun was up, the sky blue.  I’d already missed the dawn, I chided myself.  I’ve greeted nearly 27 new years here.  The snow still kept the gate ajar.  The path still offered entrance, although showed signs of many travelers in the last few days.

But I was wrong.  As I crossed the slight knoll, the lake appeared unlike I’ve ever seen it-at first, I thought I was dreaming.  The mist swirled over the buoys like a magical cauldron  the waves lapped rhythmically, despite not a breath of wind.  And it was silent.

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To experience this with me, watch the video:

I was alone, but what beauty, what strength, what power was before me.  No one else was witness to this spectacle, only me, only because I walked through the door.

I let go.   Fresh energy pumped through me.  I can start anew.  Today.  I leaned forward, let go of the past, and forgave myself in the image of the rising sun.

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And it felt glorious.

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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Questions and Answers

“There are years that ask questions and years that answer.” 
– Zora Neale Hurston

Zora had a point.  We all may start off each new year with our to-do and to-don’t lists, our resolutions, our diet plans, our financial makeovers, travel itineraries and dreams for the upcoming year, but somewhere things always seem to go a little off course.
 

There’s a reason why gym memberships and weight loss centers see a spike in memberships in January and a decline just a few months later.  Humans just seem to operate that way.  What seems ‘good’ or ‘right’ or ‘popular’ in one moment can quickly fade to black in another.

Today’s world is creating a culture that allows and even encourages shallow thinking.  Instant messaging, texting, information at our fingertips and the ability to lose ourselves in games, videos and social media that we carry in our pockets fosters constant mind chatter.  Working parents and over scheduled kids find it easier to succumb to these temptations, seduced by the images and messages of what ‘we’ should be like, look like, and act like.  Sadly, many of these icons are just as lost as the people who are finding solace in their stories.

Perhaps what we need to do most is re-look at the way we see ourselves.  By focusing on the ‘issues’ we see in our lives we deny the deeper, richer, more powerful parts to surface.  Comparing ourselves to some media enhanced ideal of the perfect mother, father, parent, student, child, family or athlete surely places us in a state of lack.  Instead, finding solitude and time alone may allow us to relax and listen for what is really meaningful and valuable, and give us a chance to question what is missing in our lives.

What if we intentionally go into this new year to either ask for questions or search for answers in our lives?  What if we push aside all the lists and resolutions and instead resolve to look within?  What if we spent 10 minutes a day on ourselves, in solitude, asking and listening for answers and resolving to trust in the messages we receive?  What would happen?  Would that be scary?  What would shift in our lives?

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This year, let’s set ourselves up for success.  Throw out that resolution list and instead use that time to plan a daily session of solitude.  Ask questions.  Listen for the answers.  Choose this year to be the one that makes a difference.

You might just amaze yourself.

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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