"There are things known and unknown and in between are the doors."
-- Jim Morrison
I stand on the outside of my classroom door, weighed down by too many bags, as I dig for the keys that have, yet again, found their way to the most unreachable corner of my purse. As I pause, I touch the poems along the entrance, glance at the light bulb covering the wall with the words: Think. Question? Learn! Grabbing the handle, I can't help but look into the mirrors I've covered the door with, reminding everyone who walks through it to "See yourself ______ today!" Yesterday's word is still there: spirited. As I turn the handle, I recognize the daily ritual of crossing the threshold.
As I cross the quiet room, I see magnetic poems written on pizza pans, drawings of everyday objects turned into metaphors from last week, half-empty boxes of books, hand-written posters with every process we've used so far this year, and student photos that cover the back wall. Now, from the place I prefer — the back of the room — I see the "stuff" of our semester thus far, and I wonder about the doors we walked through to get here.
[Download your "I Am Thankful For..." sign here.]
Were they the right doors? Were they wide enough or too narrow? Were they heavy with fortitude or flimsy? Did I open them on time or too early? This staccato of questions is a quick reminder of how easy it is to move through our days without pausing to be thankful. In our zeal to get everything in, to meet standards, to take care of the humans we do all this for, we can get stuck in the space of our questions, in the space of our unknowns. It's important to stop and think about the paths we didn't see and what we now understand. And it’s the teachers in my life who tether me to what I know for sure, who continue to usher me through doors I sometimes didn't even know existed. For some of the many teachers who continue to inspire, guide, and ground me, I give thanks.
Mary Lou. The first one who taught me what it meant to be completely present as a learner. You sat beside me. We wrote together. As a 9-year-old it was an affirmation I have hung onto ever since.
Donna. You taught me the power of getting great feedback. I remember sitting on a bench on campus and your words made me feel like I was more than a student -- I was an empowered learner.
Jon. You gave me the two most important questions to ask every day: what do they need to learn and did you teach it to them?
Lois. You taught me the doorway to wisdom is through our narratives; as stories become anecdotes, anecdotes become analogies, analogies become wisdom.
Kate. You taught me forgiveness. You always remind me that we need to forgive our teaching selves, and it's our ability to do this that helps us see our students more clearly.
Byron. You taught me the power of letting go, and how that release empowers students to exceed our expectations.
As you walk out your classroom door this week, and walk through those of family and friends to celebrate this season of gratefulness, do so knowing that you too are a teacher someone is thankful for. And remember that as we work to empower learners, as we strive to make school more than just a thing to do, as we negotiate the space between the known and unknown, it's the doorways — those guiding teachers — who give us entrance to our best teaching selves.
Here are some of my wonderful Teaching Channel colleagues sharing their #TeachersRock signs:
Sarah Brown Wessling is a high school English teacher in Johnston, Iowa. She is the 2010 National Teacher of the Year and is the Teacher Laureate for Teaching Channel. Connect with Sarah on Twitter – @SarahWessling.