Days on Days

“Snow is falling, snow on snow…”

“In the Bleak Midwinter,” Christina Rosetti

It’s been snowing for two hours in Kandern. Apparently, two hours of steady snow is all it takes to transform the town from dingy winter to snowglobe splendor. It wasn’t promising when it began, this storm, just a few errant flakes escaping the clouds to melt on the sidewalks. But now, the silent covering turns our world into a dusky blue, and an end is nowhere in sight. Beautiful.

While I’d usually seize a snowfall to go for a walk, it’s getting dark and I’m feeling tired, so I sit down to answer an email instead. The inquiry came from a former student yesterday, now in college, who is considering becoming a secondary teacher. What advice did I have? What should he consider? And how did I become a teacher in the first place?

And without a moment to gather my thoughts, I’m sitting in my parents’ dining room, biting my lip while my potential student teaching supervisor, Kristin, looks over my sparse resume.

“I have some concerns,” she said, looking up at me.

“Um, OK?”

“Your grades, for one.”

I tried to remember the exact decimal I’d put on the paper, failing to see where I could have given offense.

“I… my grades are…” I stammered.

“Really good,” she finished. “They might be too good.”

“Too good,” I repeated blankly.

“You do well in school. In the classroom, you might not do so well. You’ll fail. Things will go wrong. Often. Sometimes it will be your fault, sometimes not, but it will happen. I need to know that you can keep going anyway.”

This is what I was afraid of–most afraid of. That after all these years of wanting to be a teacher, it wouldn’t go as I expected. Or hoped. That somehow it would all fall apart. I nodded, hesitant.

That was the beginning of a long journey of grace. Grace from her, the grace she demanded that I give to myself as a novice teacher, the grace I doled out to my students and sometimes received from them. That’s what I write to my former student now. Learning to be a teacher is learning from a thousand mistakes, from the hard days, from the experiments that melt into the past like the first snowflakes on the sidewalk.

It’s always a privilege to hear from students–and news that they’re pursuing teaching is enormously exciting–but I finish the email thankful, most of all, for the chance to reflect. My students began their second semester on Monday with reflection, looking back on what they’ve learned this year and making “resolutions” for how they’d still like to grow. I asked them, as I do every few months, to consider why they’re here and why “we spend so much time reading, discussing and writing about things that never even happened.” It’s important to think, to remember the why of what we’re doing as much as the how.

It took a long time for me to become a teacher, I write. But eventually, all of those difficult days built up, and it got easier. I learned. Like anything worth doing–like starting a marriage or a family, like learning a language or to ride a bicycle–it is both extremely hard and extremely good.

As I’ve spent the year meeting with new and new-to-BFA teachers, these are the lessons that I remember. That it takes time to grow into anything, whether it’s a new vocation, a new relationship, a new home. That, in the end, sometimes it’s simply an accumulation of intentional days–days full of risk, experimentation and grace–that makes us teachers, wives, German speakers, bike riders.

The snow covers the trees, the fenceposts, the grass now, draping them all in white. The white of Gatsby’s party tent, or Miss Havisham’s wedding dress. All those snowflakes, so small alone, have fallen into seamless beauty.

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