How We'll Make it Through This School Year

Sep 08, 2021

Last month I was flying home from Kansas City and had a short connecting flight before I made it home. I nodded off 15 minutes into the 30 minute flight, and woke up an hour later doing circles in a thunderstorm over Lake Michigan. The conditions at the Grand Rapids airport were too severe to land, and so after two turbulent hours of dodging thunderheads, screaming newborns, and seeing what lightning looks like up close, the pilot finally had to put the plane down at a closed airport in South Bend, Indiana- at 2:30AM! 

 And so after a terrifying flight, I found myself walking down the streets of South Bend at 3AM to the only hotel in the area with an open bed.

I was not a very happy camper.

All I could think of in that moment is that there is no way I’m getting on an airplane tomorrow.

But since there were no rental cars available in the entire city, I had to get creative and ended up driving home in a U-Haul truck!

This is not what I had planned, and was not a lot of fun at the time. 

But I have to say, it makes a pretty great story. And this story is an accurate analogy for the last one-and-a-half years of our lives. No one could’ve known what was in store at the beginning of 2020. If you’re an educator, you probably had a pretty good idea of what your school year was going to look like and how you would engage and interact with students. 

And then you flew into a thunderstorm. 

I just spent the past couple months spending time with teachers all over the country. After over a year of virtual meetings, I got to share physical space at back-to-school kickoffs and PBL workshops with educators who had just been through the gauntlet. Of course I was beyond excited to be in rooms with people again, but I wasn’t sure what to expect. Would everyone be ragged after all that 2020/2021 teaching has been? Would teachers be excited to be back with students again, or would the anxiety of a pandemic overshadow the energy I’m used to seeing at the start of a school year? 

Would teachers still want to teach?

Here’s what I learned. Yes, many teachers are feeling tired and a little ragged. Yes, the anxiety is present and it’s real. Yes, people are frustrated and disappointed that we are still wading through difficult and unknown territory.

But the energy is still present. In every auditorium, media center, and cafeteria I stepped foot in, I was met with educators who are still burning with passion for their work. People are still eager to grow in their careers and find new ways to connect with and teach their students. The pandemic has done a number on everyone connected to schools, but there is something about the professionals who work in these schools that is resilient.

Something is still fueling this passion and energy that pressure, politicians, or pandemics could not strip away. 

And what I learned is that something is purpose

One of my favorite quotes is, “A strong why allows us to withstand any how.” I’ve heard story after story about teachers caring about their students’ success. Caring about their physical and emotional well-being; a desire to see students’ lives transform in their time in school. Of course educators work for stability and an income, but I have yet to meet one who started in this profession for any other reason than student-success. It is the driver of hard work. It’s the motivation to continue to discover new ways to adapt and adjust to this ever-changing education landscape.  

It’s why Emily in Philadelphia is starting her 23rd year of teaching this year. It’s why Bree in Florida is starting her first year. This motivation is why Brad in Kansas City is learning about Project Based Learning, because he believes it will help his students succeed. It’s why a principal in Kentucky named Kirk has his teachers’ backs as they figure out how to teach during this hectic school year. 

Because educators have purpose. This is what has helped them through this past year-and-a-half, and what will keep them going as we move forward. Researcher, Angela Duckworth surveyed over 16,000 people who have achieved personal and career success in life, with the goal of discovering a common denominator. What do people with the tenacity and grit to overcome adversity and find success have that others do not?

High IQ? No correlation.

High pay? No correlation.

Career with easy job descriptions? No correlation. 

What all 16,000 people had was a higher-level purpose. 

Having purpose, knowing your efforts are serving something bigger than yourself, has tremendous power. This is precisely why I think educators are so resilient, adaptable, resourceful, and impactful, because their work is inherently about serving their students, which serves their community, which serves society, which serves the world.

We don’t have to find the silver lining for everything all the time. There’s no doubt that this time has been hard, and we can recognize that. But in the midst of the storms, the holding pattern over Lake Michigan, we can remind ourselves why this work is worth it. Why being an educator is a profession that serves something bigger than ourselves, and recognizing what that is can be the fuel to thrive during all of it.

If you loved this article, I think you'll love this video I made about "the noise" of school.

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