Sunday, March 29, 2015

Mulligan Stewing...

About four years ago, I received a text from a number not stored in my phone.  It read something along the lines of "Thanks for all you did to make our gifted program so great."
I scratched my head, and shot a "You're welcome?  Who is this?" back and was surprised by the identity of the grateful texter.  

He had graduated the previous June, and gone off to college.  Quite frankly, I always wondered whether the time in my classroom was at all productive or challenging for this kid, as I couldn't really read the actual sincerity level of his involvement.  And then there was this text of gratitude.  How cool is that?

He later explained that the text came after a conversation with a bunch of kids in the Honors College dorm, talking about their gifted programs.  Apparently ours was unique, and the comparison discussion prompted the text.

Over the last four years, he's checked in frequently, coming to the annual Thanksgiving Breakfast, tagging me in Facebook posts, and sending an occasional message.  He graduated last spring with a degree in Secondary Social Studies education.   It's been amazing to watch the transformation of this kid into someone with a passion for teaching; and if you'd asked me five or six years ago, I'd never have imagined that this would be the path he'd choose to take.

 I'd like a Mulligan.

Despite never having been raised in a household of guilt, I carry quite a bit of it when it comes to fulfilling the self-imposed expectations.  Case in point, I have Instagram and Pintrest accounts that I barely use.  In fact, I use them so infrequently that I actually don't really remember I have them until I get an email telling me that someone I know is now following me.  Annnndddd, the guilt sets in.  I truly feel like I should send them a message and warn them that I am not a person to be followed on these two platforms, as I have no clue what I'm doing, and no business being there, but I'm there because a) some event that I attended required that pictures be posted to a common hashtag on Instagram or b) I am drawn to any bulletin board/organizational system that seems to offer structure and guidance for my cluttered literal and virtual desktops.

That same self-deprecation extends to former students.  I am who I am in the present day, and they remember me as I was when they were in my room.  In my opinion, what I am doing today with gifted education is much more relevant than what I did even three years ago.  There's a term in golf called a Mulligan, where one is offered the opportunity for a "Do Over."  As I think back on the changes in my teaching abilities, styles, focus, etc, over the last sixteen years, there are kids that I still see that I want to pull aside and say, "Hey, you were an incredible student, and I was just learning how to teach, and well, I'm so sorry that I was so clueless back then."

For teachers, every year is a Mulligan Year.  We're constantly reinventing ourselves, our curriculum, and our teaching styles.  The teacher in charge is most likely different this year than last, even if the name outside the door of the classroom remains the same.  It's that ebb and flow that allows for growth, and for preservation of sanity.  The changes can come from enlightening student interactions, voices from the past, professional learning networks, or magical unicorn thinking.  (Who am I to judge?)  Universally, though, all teachers feel a little bit sad that they let their previous students down while they were learning to ride the educational system bike without training wheels.

Oh, and what about the amazing texter?  This afternoon, Austin invited me to lunch on Friday, to chat about education, and offer advice on his most recent rounds of applications searching for his first classroom.  I'm not sure what's on the menu for lunch, but I know the meal will end with me trying to explain that the teacher I am today is NOT the teacher he had in school, and trying to apologize for that.  

And then I'll give him a hug, and tell him that I pray he won't be the same teacher in five years either.  And hand him a recipe for Mulligan Stew.