The Solstice and Seasons of Teaching

It’s the Solstice! Happy Summer! (If you’re in the Northern Hemisphere.) Happy Winter! (For those in the Southern Hemisphere.) Either way, it’s the start of something as well as the end of something else.

There’s nothing like a solstice to get one thinking about beginnings and endings. Where I live, in the state of Colorado, the weather is doing it’s usual thing. Yesterday was sunny and 85 degrees fahrenheit. Today, it’s overcast and 65 degrees. Winter is the same way. I’ve know it to be freezing temperatures and snow while the next day is 70 degrees fahrenheit and clear skies.

We have a saying here in Colorado, “Don’t like the weather? Stick around 10 minutes, it’ll change.”

In the same way, seasons of life, and the seasons of our teaching, bring with them both sunshine and rain. And the seasons of our teaching change.

The solstice marks the beginning of one season, but it also marks the beginning of that season’s end. It’s the apex, the peak, the critical point in the pendulum where everything starts going the other direction. Nothing can last forever and seasons are the same way. At the top of the mountain, one must naturally and inevitably begin the decline.

During the Winter Solstice, I usually find comfort in the fact that the first day of winter also means that winter has started to end. It’s the shortest day of the year, but it marks the beginning of the days growing longer. Even if the darkest days of winter are still ahead, there is hope because after the solstice I know that spring is on it’s way.

When things are bad in our lives, when we come to the end of something difficult, we rejoice in starting over. New beginnings. A new house, divorce finalization, a move to a brand new city, a new job. If there is positive change coming, we can rejoice even in the darkest days because we know that the solstice on our hardships has passed and we will be in the light once again.

But what about the other way? What about rejoicing for the cold and dark to come while it’s the longest day of the year? Do we think, in the same way, that the beginning of summer is also the beginning of summer’s end? Not typically. We celebrate the long days and sunny weather. We don’t think about the inevitable winter that is on it’s way. We don’t think about the fact that, while this may be the longest day of the year, the days grow increasingly shorter.

So, when things are good we don’t think to ourselves that this will come to an end. We’re not looking forward through the sunshine to when bad times will come.

My point is this. Change happens. It’s hard and good and beautiful and ugly. Bad times don’t last forever, but neither do good times. Does this give us cause for despair? No. I say it gives us hope. Hope and freedom to just live today.

Live today in whatever weather life is giving you.

Today, the first day of summer, the Colorado weather is not acting like summer. I had grand plans to spend the day with my kids at the pool and the park, have a picnic, go feed the ducks, and take a walk. That’s not in the cards. The unseasonal rain has forced us indoors. I can’t whine or complain, but I can grieve. I am allowed to be bummed. That’s OK. That’s part of acceptance.

True acceptance is not only accepting the situation for what it is, but also accepting your feelings about the situation.

But after acceptance, in order to thrive in this life, comes adaptation. We can stay inside and build forts today. We can go to the library. Or I can do the ‘bad parent’ thing and let my kids stay in their pajamas and watch movies on the couch all day while I read a novel. There will be other sunny summer days for parks, and pools, and picnics.

When life’s seasons gives you a change you want and need, rejoice and embrace it. Live in the hope of sunnier days and happier times. But when life gives you a change you didn’t want, rejoice and embrace that as well. There is hope, joy, and happiness within those unwanted changes.

The beginning of one thing is the end of another. It’s unavoidable. But the end of one thing is also the beginning of another.

We just finished a school year. By now, most of us have already turned our thoughts to the beginning of next school year. You may be at the end of a winter school year, in which joy in teaching is gone and everything around you looks lifeless and hopeless. Or you may be at the end of a summer school year, fresh and excited for the wonderful career of education.

If your 2018-2019 school year was a winter one, it won’t last forever. Also, if your 2018-2019 school year was a summer one, it won’t last forever. A teaching career, as many have said before, is a marathon not a sprint.

Teaching is a long journey – sometimes arduous, always beautiful.

There will be winters and summers in your teaching career, days when you wonder why you do this and days when you bask in those success moments.

I just finished a ‘winter’ year in my career. The joy in teaching was gone. I felt like those blossoms of student success were dead. I found myself wondering what I was doing with my life, and what it all meant. I struggled to find motivation to do the hard stuff. But I didn’t think about quitting. I took a deep breath every day and reminded myself that the joy would return. Even if it felt like the dead of winter in my teacher’s heart, I told myself the joy of a summer period would come back.

I don’t know if next school year is going to be a ‘summer’ year for me or not. I do know that it looks like my metaphorical days are lengthening. I do know that I had to bring about the end of some things that were very, very difficult to see come to an end. I had to say no to those aspects of my career that were killing my soul, and yes to what would fill me. It’s been one of the most difficult endings and beginnings of my life.

If you are struggling through a winter of your teaching, if you wonder what good you’re doing, if you’ve lost that joy, take heart. The days are growing longer and joy will return. Start looking at those signs that there is still sunshine in your life. Evaluate what you are saying ‘yes’ to and what you are saying ‘no’ to, and reprioritize your ‘yeses’ to things that fill your soul.

If you are on the high of a summer in your teaching, enjoy it! Keep the memories of these sunny days and joyful moments for when the winter comes. And I’m sorry to say, if you stay in teaching long enough, winter will come. That is not cause for despair or quitting. Just log away those ‘ah-ha’ moments with the student you just taught to read, or the positive notes you received from parents telling you what a difference you made. Keep them in a box close to your heart to open when you feel like hope is gone.

Our “Rainy-Summer-Solstice” fort.

It’s still rainy here at my house for the first day of summer. The skies are overcast and my kids are disappointed that they can’t go to the park. But it’s OK. We can make the most of the weather today, and look forward to sunny days in the future.

I just finished one of the most difficult school years of my career. The joy disappeared. But it’s OK. The pendulum will swing the other way. At the apex, things begin to reverse their direction.

Until my teaching season changes, I’ll keep doing what I’m doing. And I hope you’ll do the same.

“Life is a series of natural and spontaneous changes. Don’t resist them; that only creates sorrow. Let reality be reality. Let things flow naturally forward in whatever way they like.”

Lao Tzu, Tao Te Ching, 604BC – 531BC

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