September 24, 2019
This is the first in a series of guest blogs by the 2019-20 Michigan Regional Teachers of the Year. Rachal Gustafson, a special education/resource room teacher at Rapid River Public Schools, is the Region 1 winner.
“Decide what to be and go be it.” Sounds too easy, right? This line from a song by the Avett Brothers resonated with me several years ago. And in both my teaching life and family life, it continues to be my mantra.
It was a Sunday afternoon, and I was sitting in front of my computer entering grades in my quiet classroom. As I entered grades, I had streaming music on. The rest of the building was empty. My family was home, enjoying Sunday football games and snacks, while I was busy working at getting ready for my week. I was feeling sorry for myself for having to do all this extra work when everyone else was having fun. Then this song popped up. I stopped typing and thought about what the line means. I realized it could mean a whole lot of things that would change the way I would forever see the world.
Think about it: We all have a CHOICE in everything that happens to us in our lives. No, I don’t choose to have a parent upset with me about an occurrence in my classroom, but I can DECIDE and CHOOSE how I will react to it! I can decide to handle stressful situations with grace and dignity and level-headedness, or I can decide to lose my cool and say regretful things. When I accidently leave the top off the blender in the morning and my smoothie hits the ceiling, only I have the power to let my anger boil over. I can choose to react that way. Or I can choose to laugh it off as just one rocky start in a whole lifetime of starts. You are right, Avett Bros! I can DECIDE what to be. Every. Single. Day.
We tell students to reach for their dreams because they can be anything, right? They can decide to become a teacher, a doctor, a construction worker, a welder, a football player, a violinist, a Youtuber ... we are constantly telling students to make goals and follow them.
Yet, I’ve heard teachers and counselors over the years caution against encouraging unrealistic dreams for students; we are setting them up for failure. Forget that idea! Lift kids up! Push them to pursue their passions! Life is fraught with ups and downs; we shouldn’t be discouraging students to reach for lofty goals. We should be giving them the strategies to not be discouraged by setbacks, and educate them on how to turn them into new opportunities. Kids, too, can decide what to be! Every. Single. Day.
As I start my 23rd year of teaching, I hope to spread this message to my students and teacher friends. We have a choice in our reactions to every incident in every day. Teaching, like anything in life, has its ups and downs. We can choose to be strong advocates for each other. We can choose to handle difficult situations or the choices made for us without our input with dignity and pride in the important job we have committed to. I encourage all teachers, from the new to the seasoned, to “decide what to be and good be it!”