June 3, 2022
Dear BUSD Teachers, Classified Staff, and Leaders,
Today is the last day of school. It’s the last day of a long year that has been – again – the hardest we’ve all experienced in our careers. We are saying goodbye to our students and each other today with such heavy notes sounding here in our community and our country. Like you have for the last 180 days, I know you offered even more smiles and love today, and I know that you’ve been hurting and now badly need to rest.
As this heaviness continues, and incomprehensibly seems to deepen, I think about you continually – what tenacity you’ve shown, what resistance as the collective heart of our profession has broken so many times this year. To honor you in some small way today, in the minute you can spare during such a busy day, I want to describe what I see about your resistance, about the hope you have offered to so many people.
If you’ve never taught, or served as an aide, or worked in an after-school program, then it’s not possible to know with any accuracy how hard a job it is. It’s not just the lesson planning, the technical aspects of assessment, working with anxious love-filled parents, detecting the emotional undercurrent of a group of young people – these skills and many more all come together over time. If you work really hard, these become second nature.
But what continues to be hard, over and over again, year after year, is that you work so closely with the raw material of students’ growth. You are intimately near to the frustration, impatience, aspiration, mistakes, intensity, and passion that are unavoidably parts of growing and learning. You become connected and intertwined with this energy. In our calling, in fact, this raw growth energy is the substance of what becomes learning energy. You help this process; your work to support this process becomes part of you. Eventually, you teach students to do this for themselves and in this way the world becomes a better place.
I can’t think of anything more important to our community than this. Especially now, I just can’t think of anything more important. This work, this alchemy, is like a forest returning oxygen to the air. Or, pulling from a Buddhist teaching, it’s like turning arrows into flowers.
For every instance of your work this year when you helped our students’ energy to become constructive, to lead to learning, I thank you. Whether anyone ever saw it or acknowledged it, thank you.
I know as well that you feel deeply how the unfairness in our world and in our schools makes this learning process much harder for so many of our students. Still, you help our students to resist and work against this unfairness. Humbly, reverentially, thank you for this.
Of course, being in continual close quarters with this energy is also the sustaining force in our profession. It is greatly enriching to be so proximate to children’s continual discoveries, to see over and over again our human innocence, our unconditioned kindness, and our capacity for open exploration. Being in the presence of beginners, of the beginner’s mind, is itself a deep gift. Shunryu Suzuki wrote this about it, and I think it applies: “In the beginner’s mind there are many possibilities; in the expert’s mind there are few.”
Isn’t that right? Do you also feel the gift that comes from being present with “beginners”, with young people who so openly show the vast potential of all of us?
I hope on this last day of this hard year, you come away feeling the presence of the gift we receive to work with our young people. I hope you feel recognized for the gift you also give, for the alchemy of helping our young people to become self-actualized. You have the right to be tired – and to feel proud.
I know that I am very proud of you.