Light a Candle in the Window

Teacher-friend, here is my New Year’s offering to you. I’ve got no long lists of self-care or resolutions or easy technology tricks. I just have one thing.
It’s a candle for your window.

By Adrin Fisher

Let me be honest: I’m getting a little tired of living through history. Pandemic teaching. Insurrection. Racism. COVID variants. A magical quick-change school map. The supreme elevation of opinion over truth. Fear and violence and doubling down on hate. 2021 is shaping up to be a lot.

To add insult to injury, just as back in the before-time, there are the losses that come with living on this circling planet. Just before Christmas, my high school art teacher, Russ Neptune, passed away. Mr. Neptune taught for close to forty years in a huge room with fifteen-foot windows, radiators on the brick walls, and big zinc sinks stained with years of paint splatter. My favorite memory of his class is how he would build an incredible hodgepodge structure out of found objects: old bicycles, rocking chairs, chandeliers, terra cotta pots and bricks, American flags and antique mirrors. He put it up on tables in the middle of the room, and we would sit all around it, scouting out sections for our still-life projects—line drawing, colored pencils, water colors.

But that’s not all we did. He taught us things I’d never heard of, like batik, linoleum printing, and etching zinc plates with acid. I paid tribute to artist Andrew Wyeth. I water-colored the doors of our local mansion, built by a coal baron when the Titanic was new. I mashed up my parents’ 1960s album covers. I drew my Converse sneakers. I took Mr. Neptune’s class for three years, and many years later, when I returned home, I became his colleague.

When he passed in the plague time, his family asked that former students post pictures of their artwork with the tag #UncleRuss. It took me almost fifteen minutes to find my work. Fifteen minutes to locate a garbage bag full of art I made almost 30 years ago—after four moves across two states. Fifteen minutes.

Why have I carried my bag of art all these years? It’s because, like any great teacher, Mr. Neptune taught his art students more than techniques or terms. He taught us to trust our eye, to think outside the box, to experiment. He gave us freedom and autonomy and a chance at self-expression.

He made me feel like an ARTIST.

In past times, people would put a candle in their windows. Maybe it was a sign of good news. Maybe it was a beacon to a family member journeying home. Maybe it was a sign of a friendly welcome for a traveler. In all cases, it was a sign of hope. It reminds me of a song by Creedence Clearwater Revival (from one of my parents’ old albums): “But I won’t, won’t / Be losing my way, no, no / Long as I can see the light.”

So, teacher-friend, here is my New Year’s offering to you. I’ve got no lists of self-care ideas or teacher resolutions or easy technology tricks. I just have one thing.

It’s a candle for your window. Make it your goal to make your students feel like a—

Well, whatever it is you’re teaching this year.

I want my students to feel like WRITERS.

I want them to feel like READERS.

Maybe you want your students to feel like ATHELETES or MATHLETES or LINGUISTS or SINGERS.

I want them to feel welcomed and competent and confident. I want to point the direction and then set them free. I want them to find their voices and their motivation. I want to remind them to hope.

This is a hard time for an educator. It’s tough for students and parents, too.

Basically, it’s a challenging time to be a human.

But, in the words of Mikey in the 1985 film The Goonies, “This is our time.”

So, instead of giving up or hunkering down or shutting off, I challenge you to light the candles in your windows. Cultivate the good and open your heart to hope. Remember that your passion and your effort (especially in the plague year) are not lost. Remember that some day, even if it’s thirty years down the road, some former student will remember you fondly—for how you made them feel—for what you taught them they could be.

Take it seriously, because it’s a serious charge.

As my parting gift this month, I invite you to share in the hope offered by British indie-rocker Frank Turner in “The Next Storm.”

“So open the shutters, raise up the mast.
Rejoice, rebuild, the storm has passed!
Cast off the crutches, cut off the cast,
Rejoice, rebuild, the storm has passed,
Rejoice, rebuild, the storm has passed…

“I’m gonna step out, and face the next storm.”

Now, go light some candles in your windows. Courage, dear-heart!

Adrin Fisher is a contributing blogger for WVCTE. She wishes you light and hope on your journey. She’s a National Board Certified Teacher, an Arch Coal Teacher Achievement Award Winner, and a finalist for WV State Teacher of the Year. She teaches College English, AP Lit & Comp, and English 12 at Fairmont Senior High School. You can follow her on Twitter @fisheradrin

The Top Five Reasons Why Back-to-School is the Most Wonderful Time of the Year

Teaching is a profession to be proud of, and you do work worthy of song.

By Adrin Fisher

Well, it’s that time again.  The summer has slipped by like seawater through a sieve, and teachers are back at school shaking off the dust covers and jockeying for position in the Xerox room—or sitting in mind-numbing professional development meetings under florescent lights—or maybe even standing in front of a class of bleary-eyed high school kids with a bright smile plastered on.

Wherever you are in the back-to-school process, teacher-friend, I want to take a few minutes to remind you of the reasons for the season.

Number Five

Mornings. 

Getting up early is a gift.  You hear those birds singing what my dad calls the “morning chorus,” or the early-morning commuters and the rumble of heavy trucks—or both, depending on your neighborhood, which reminds you that, even though you may feel like it, you’re not the first one up.  Your positive mindset allows you to see an early morning as a reward.  The sun starts rising through the fog and clarity comes.  A hot beverage, a couple of yoga stretches, a few minutes with your novel or in quiet meditation, and you are invincible.

Number Four

Routine. 

“Normal” workers around the world probably get sick of routine, but teachers are a special breed.  It’s great to have a few weeks of summer with a different set of expectations because we can appreciate the return of normalcy.  I enjoy getting my clothes ready on Sunday evenings, hanging them up by outfit, ironed and ready to be grabbed on a weekday morning.  We pack lunches before bed. We return to kids’ bedtimes and homework at the dining room table.  This fall we have some big changes in our schedule as our older son is moving to high school, but we’ve started practicing earlier wake-up times and we have a morning schedule in place…sort of.  Wish us luck!

Number Three

Newness. 

There is nothing like a new pen fresh from the package, or a smooth, new academic calendar, or a new box of crayons.  But even more exciting, teachers get the privilege of looking at a room full of fresh faces.  We all start off in the “honeymoon” stage, where we’re just getting to know our students, and whether we have 17 or 140, the classroom is full of possibility.  It’s our chance to meet these humans in our charge and make them feel seen and heard. What an honor!

Number Two

Challenge.

I’ll be the first to admit that starting a new school year is hard.  The mornings, the routine, and the newness all contribute to the challenge, but the challenge is also the work.  The back-to-school nightmares—dreams of classrooms out of control, missing photocopies, inexplicable requests from the office—started for me in July this year.  You? 

There are the personal challenges that arise from regular life, family life, being a child and being a parent.  There is the personal challenge of simply dealing with many, many vivid personalities all day.  Making 1,000,000 decisions during a work day is exhausting, and often leaves me too tired to have an opinion about anything in the evenings.

And beyond that, there are the professional challenges: maintaining a positive outlook in the face of ever-increasing demands to your daily job; working well with difficult colleagues; taking classes or doing professional reading to maintain your certification or stay current in your field; and then, for an English teacher at least, the incessant demands of planning, photocopying, organizing, communicating and correcting-correcting-correcting that writing.

This is not a job for the faint-of-heart, or the lazy.  Meet it head-on, teacher-friend.  Find your balance. You can do it!

Number One

Pride. 

When someone asks you what you do, you say—without hesitation—“I am a teacher.”  You use the verb form “to be,” because teaching is more than what you do—it is who you are. Teaching is a calling. 

Teaching is an art and a science.  It’s a labor of love, a passion. 

Teaching is activism. Teachers spark change. It’s in the job description.

Teaching is a response to a real, sincere, measurable need. Students need you.  Colleagues need you, especially the newer ones. Teaching is a daily opportunity to serve others with a generous spirit. 

It is—as in the days of the warrior-poets of Beowulf—a path to immortality.

Teaching is a profession to be proud of, and you do work worthy of song.

I want to leave you with the words of teacher-poet Taylor Mali, who performed “What Teachers Make” on HBO’s Def Poetry.  But rather than quoting him, I’ll let you hear him say it.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8I_JK6tTGKo

Have a wonder-filled, awe-inspiring school year, teacher-friend.  Go out there and make a difference, wherever you are and whatever your reason!

WVCTE wants you to contribute to the conversation.  What is your reason for the season?  Leave us a question or comment, Tweet us your thoughts @WVCTE, or connect with us on Facebook!

Adrin Fisher is a contributing blogger for WVCTE. When she’s not surrounded with her prep calendars and a pile of books, encouraging and supporting her colleagues, or conferencing with budding writers, you can find her reading with her kids, tree bathing in the park, or taking notes on life in her current composition book. You can follow her on Twitter @fisheradrin