by Andraé McConnell English Coordinator, K20 Center
“It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasms, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who neither know victory nor defeat.” -Theodore Roosevelt, Citizenship In A Republic, 1910
I’ve never gotten around to reading this whole speech, but I read this excerpt often—usually when I’m feeling attacked by this circumstance or that. That’s one of the beautiful things about words, isn’t it? You can rob them of their context and set them to task serving your will. Well, I guess that’s kind of terrifying, too. Anyway, after I’ve selfishly used this excerpt to remind myself that “they hate me cause they ain’t me,” I cannot help but think about how, from beginning to end, it speaks to the experience of educators.
I’ve worked in education for eight years, first as a classroom teacher, and now as a researcher working with teachers across the state. I’ve examined the walls of their classrooms, listened to their stories of victory and defeat, swapped ideas with them, and sat with them in silence trying to figure out why a meticulously designed lesson plan replete with all the bells and whistles inexplicably fell flat. And almost always, I feel guilty to admit, it’s an unfair barter because I take away more than I bring.
My teachers, I call them mine partly because I’ve developed a paternalistic instinct to take care of them and partly because I do indeed learn from them, like all teachers, are doers. I mean good grief they are in the thickest of it, front and center, bending, sometimes breaking, but still taking on all comers. Can you even comprehend the moxie, the audacious grit required to walk into a room of people, any people, any age, presuming that you’re going to teach them something?
And not only are you going to impart knowledge, provide instruction, and help construct new meanings, you’re going to do it with the eyes of simple everymen looking up at you from the sidelines, analyzing, questioning, criticizing, and “evaluating” your efforts! What manner of courage is that? Otherworldly, that’s what.
So to my teachers, and all teachers, I remind you to protect your energy. Protect it fiercely and deliberately; it’s amazing how quickly it seeps away when you really pay attention to it. Do not allow it to be leached by the critic that cannot even speak the language of teaching and learning, the snapshot evaluation posing as comprehensive, or the various missteps and setbacks that necessarily accompany all colossal strivings.
I have no interest in romance here. Will your mind and body be streaked with the sweat and dirt of long days and even longer evenings? Certainly. Will you sometimes be plowed under by insurmountable odds? Likely. At times, will your efforts be met with misunderstanding at best and indifference at worst? Probably. In the end, will you be counted among the throngs of timid souls that never stepped from the safety of the masses, never tested themselves against the heat and expectation of the arena, never knew the euphoria of a hard-fought victory, the candor of defeat, or the odd uncertainty that lies between the two? No. Hell no.