The Beauty of a Blank Canvas

Background with blank canvas on wooden tableAugust ignites a range of emotions in teachers. We’re sad that our delicious, correcting-free days of summer are over. We’re disappointed that those ambitious To-Do Lists didn’t get completed. We’re dismayed at how quickly the school supplies, school clothes, and school lunches add up. And we’re eager to step down from our role as referee between our littles at home we’re eager to start a new school year.

After all, in what other profession would we inherit a fresh start every September? We have a chance to implement new ideas and to take a mulligan for any of last year’s that didn’t work. It’s an absolute blank canvas. And it is beautiful. Author Piper Payne agrees:

There is something beautiful about a blank canvas, the nothingness of the beginning that is so simple and breathtakingly pure. It’s the paint that changes its meaning and the hand that creates the story. Every piece begins the same, but in the end they are all uniquely different.

Whether we feel refreshed this year or not, we each return to school to encounter, make connections with, and shape fresh minds. For reasons we sometimes question, we’ve been entrusted with learners and our own classroom (media center, building, district). And if we’re honest, sometimes we fear that the jig will soon be up, that others will penetrate the smoke and mirrors and realize we’re just learning as we go. (Truth be told, teachers are always learning.) This year’s students will be different from last year’s, and hopefully, the educator that stands before them will be, too.

For all of us, September is a fresh, blank canvas.

And most years, that’s all it takes to get excited about the new year.

Other years, summer comes and goes, selfishly withholding its rejuvenation. Exhausted, we trudge back to face a daunting new curriculum or another year of master’s coursework or a year without a beloved colleague or a new leader or the aftermath of a layoff year or the stress of juggling parenthood and career. Whatever the scenario, there are years when we stumble back to school a lot more battered than shiny.

This is one of those years.

That doesn’t mean I’m not excited to connect with my students or that I no longer love my job. It just means that I don’t feel as rejuvenated as I normally do. Regardless, my blank canvas awaits, and there is indeed something beautiful about it. So, this year, I commit to doing what I’ve always done after summers like this:

1. Be Inspired by Others. While my summer may not have been energizing, it was for many of my colleagues.  And I commit to living vicariously through–and being inspired by–them. I know that their enthusiasm, their ideas, their sparks will help rekindle my own fire. And once it starts, I know that “it [will be] a pleasure to burn” (Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451, 1).

2. Reserve Judgment. As a new teacher, I remember offering to prep a veteran teacher about her incoming students. (In hindsight, I think I was desperate to contribute something–anything–to someone who didn’t need me and communicated that daily.) Her reaction caught me off guard: She hid her list, saying she’d rather head into the year without any preconceived notions about her students. She’d formulate her own judgments. The Year-Two Me licked her wounds all the way back to her classroom; however, the Year-Twenty Me gets it: Blank canvas.

3. Avoid the Toxic. The teacher’s lounge can be a wonderful, safe place to vent our frustrations, share our successes (albeit gingerly–No one likes that guy!), and solicit encouragement. However, it can quickly become toxic. So, if you feel worse after spending time in yours, RUN! If you’re already vulnerable, spending time in a place where the negative outweighs the positive is only going to chip away at what little armor you have left.

And please–please!–protect those new and prospective teachers, too. A newbie won’t last she spends Year 1 focusing on the negative. In April of my first year, I still wasn’t sure I wanted to be a teacher. It was one of the hardest jobs I’d ever had–for which no amount of classes could prepare me, and it wreaked havoc on my young marriage. I felt incredibly alone. So, protect your newbies: Teaching is hard enough. Don’t let the negativity of others be a factor in their decision to stay.

4. Model the Notion of Lifelong Learning. Since we’re trying to instill the idea of lifelong learning in our students, we need to model that for them. We, too, are blank canvases in September, and there is beauty in what our students will contribute to it. Each year, the changing variables (e.g., our students, us, the content, their age, ours)   changes the dynamic of the classroom. And every year, these variables splendidly shape our teaching narrative.

Whether we’re exhausted or renewed, what awaits us this year will be simple, breathtakingly pure, and filled with meaning that contributes to our story. Like a canvas, “Every [year] begins the same, but in the end they are all uniquely different.”

And we wouldn’t have it any other way.

Happy Back-to-School!

 

 

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