In September of 1991, I began teaching Health and Physical Education in Camden, New Jersey. While I’d already taught previously, it was exciting to explore this new opportunity despite the minimal resources and space available (Washington Elementary had no gym or lunchroom). I’d met the principal, Mr. Kozieja, a white-haired, former member of the Armed Forces who assured me that great things would come my way if I worked hard. He was right and we became close friends through his mentorship!
On the second day of school, my second-grade class for was headed outside for Physical Education. Again, because we had no gym, all of the classes met on the blacktop behind the school. The students were really excited to get started. We began jumping rope and doing various relay races. As class was really going strong, a second-grader, Eric yelled out, “Mr. S, the trash truck! Look, the trash truck!” I turned around, and to my amazement, a giant trash truck was rolling into our P.E. area. The students yelled “ooh it smells”, as juices from the back of truck spilled onto the blacktop. I, of course, had never planned for a trash truck interrupting our lesson. Nor did any college class prepare me for this kind of situation. I screamed, “Everybody to the side–now!” We moved all the equipment to the side and waited for the truck to drive past. Once it cleared, I got them started again. As luck would have it, two minutes later Eric again yelled out, “Mr. S., it’s starting to rain!” The kids hurried inside into the hallway, soaked and crying! What an awesome beginning!
Fast forward, four hours later to my waiting outside Mr. Kozieja’s office. As I worried about what might transpire, Eric saw me pacing. He said, “Mr. S., are you okay?” I replied, “Well, Eric, it wasn’t exactly what I had planned for our first day. A trash truck and rain don’t make for a great class!” He said, “Don’t worry, Mr. S. I think you did great. Tomorrow will be a better day!”
Eric’s words have resonated with me for almost 30 years. This student’s wisdom is part of “why” I became a teacher almost three decades ago. In our meeting, Mr. Kozieja said, “Craig, I can see you love exercise and kids. That will carry you through many a problem. But, hopefully, why you’re here is to make a difference in the lives of every student. A trash truck and rain won’t be the last problem that occurs. Trust me on that!”
Each of us probably have some different reasons for our “why!” I encourage you to reflect on what your why might be. Whether you’re a 30 year veteran like me, or somebody in college whose decided to enter the greatest profession in the world. Knowing your own why will help you to see the bright side when things get tough, (and they most definitely will), but even more importantly, when your students are brimming with enthusiasm, smiling with joy, and eager to learn.
I hope you enjoyed “My Why!” I look forward to hearing and reading about your “why!”