The other day I announced to my ninth graders that we were about to begin our very last book of the school year, The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini. Some students were, no doubt, excited about the arrival of summer. Others expressed surprise at how quickly the year had gone by.
The end of the school year always brings mixed feelings for me. There’s relief, to be sure, in knowing that the proverbial light at the end of tunnel is near. There’s also some sadness in saying goodbye to students I’ll miss the following year. But there’s always some regret, too, in thinking about all the things that either went wrong or didn’t get done. “I wish I’d done more of X,” I say to myself, or “I wish I spent more time on Y” or “Why didn’t I do Z? I should have done Z!!!”
A chance to tweak where needed, find a better way, and sometimes, when something more daring is called for, start over again and try something new.
In the short term, regret can weigh on us, and weigh heavily. But in the long term, regret also has the power to lift us up. In Medusa and the Snail, scientist and essayist Lewis Thomas reminds us that “what is needed, for progress to be made, is the move based on the error.” I know I make my share of mistakes in any given school year. But the wonderful thing about teaching is that every “end of the school” year ushers in the beginning of the next. They say you don’t get many second chances in life, but in teaching, each school year is a second chance. A chance to tweak where needed, find a better way, and sometimes, when something more daring is called for, start over again and try something new.
The key, I’ve realized, is to find time to reflect, even amidst the chaos and busyness of the 4th marking period and final exams. But reflection is what fuels us for the following year. Reflection is what fortifies us for our second chance. Below are just a few ways that I’ve been able to not just take time to reflect, but to also act on that reflection: