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Reflections on Beginnings and Endings

At the end of every year (and school year!), there is often a lot of discourse about the difficulties and challenges of the past year. We talk about how awful the year was and our hopes for a better year. Social media posts blast the hard times almost as if these experiences were a personal attack on the poster. It’s almost as if anyone who recalls the past year as a positive one in their life is arrogant or should just keep quiet to avoid resentment directed their way.

I have experienced very hard times, as everyone has. And, to be honest, I am often a “glass-half-empty” type of person if I don’t check myself. Since this is a safe space, I’ll also admit that I work through anxiety, especially when things concern my children. However, in the most difficult of years–even through major struggles–I can see that there were lessons I’ve learned or blessings I have experienced. Professionally, I have had years that made me question my calling in education and I have felt like I lost my passion–and other years when I feel energized and hopeful that I am making a difference in the lives of my students and colleagues. My mother passed away the same year my son was born, and the paradox of the beginning and end of life was really difficult for me to reconcile. My father passed in 2020 alongside the challenges we all experienced, but I can also objectively look back at that year at things that shaped me positively as a person.

I also have had this type of reflection every June as the school year ends. By this time, most educators are spent and stressed. We have our eye on moving on from the school year that is ending and our focus is on a well-anticipated break. It is easy to focus on the challenges of the past year (especially in recent years) and count the days until we are “free.” We hope that the summer will renew and refresh our commitment to education and our students.

As a lifelong educator, I have always felt that my “New Year’s Day” was Labor Day. It’s a fresh start for me and a time of anticipation of new beginnings. I often find myself out at sunrise reflecting on what is to come. New class, new students, a breath of fresh air. The “buffer” of summer may have made things that stressed us in May and June a distant memory. At least that is what has happened in the past.

In recent years, I have seen many educators that I know begin the school year without that refreshed feeling or excitement of new starts. The pressure of starting again is sometimes overwhelming. I have been thinking about what we can do to support ourselves as we have these feelings. We have to start in June, though.

Much like reflections in December, we must remember our purpose in education every May and June. This is when we recall the positive things we have accomplished and experienced during the school year. Creating a portfolio of positive memories, interactions with students, notes about professional learning, and small successes can renew our passion for our work. These empowering times can be easy to forget when other feelings are so strong.

I will share some advice that has helped me in the past:

  • I remember that life is full of ups and downs. Sometimes the lower parts of our lives seem to “outweigh” the high points, but we have to remember this is the nature of life. We learn from the difficult times, whether it benefits ourselves or our families or we share those experiences to help others. We celebrate the exciting and happy times and hopefully, they will boost us through the rest.

  • I started to keep a journal at the beginning of the pandemic. In this book, I write down events as objectively as I can–and I find that my perspective of events changes with time.

  • Some people keep a jar of positive thoughts throughout the (school) year. We sometimes forget the impacts we make, the laughs we have, and the small joys of teaching. Unpacking this jar in October of the following year may help you as the “bloom is off the rose” of the new school year. I may even suggest opening the jar once a week to keep you centered and focused on the small successes that you may otherwise have forgotten. Feel free to pin on a bulletin board to keep visual reminders of good times and that you are building your jar for the current year.

  • Share with others. When you think something positive about a colleague, student, parent, or admin, you should write them a short note. It can take two minutes of your time, yet make someone else’s day. We know how important it is to communicate our appreciation and admiration–but often do not take the steps to do it. As you make this a habit, you will find yourself looking for ways to connect positively with people and that can help improve your overall interactions with others and feelings within yourself.

  • Give yourself a break! Be kind to yourself and consider all the good you do. You make far more of a difference than you realize.

So, I take this time to wish you the best of beginnings and endings! Although we can’t always focus on the good, making a conscious effort to set ourselves up with the support we need to consider our mental health is important for all of us.

Happy New Year, teachers–whenever you choose to celebrate and reflect!

About the Author

Dr. Denise Furlong

Twitter: @denise_furlong

Instagram: @denisefurlong

Dr. Denise Furlong currently is working her dream job as a teacher educator for Georgian Court University in New Jersey. She has over 20 years experience teaching diverse learners and coaching their teachers in grades K-12. She lives at the Jersey Shore with her husband Tim, her kids (Ryan, Joey & Sarah), and their two dogs. You can connect with her on Twitter at @denise_furlong and Instagram at denisefurlong.

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