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  • Writer's pictureTimothy R. Miller

Gratitude in a Tear: A Personal Reflection

A journey is punctuated by periods of advancement and regression, which can bring about significant shifts and perhaps transformation when accompanied by a reflective lens. Regardless of the nature or scope of one’s progress, the most critical aspect of a path is the willingness to embrace each moment as an opportunity to learn. It has been this assertion that has informed the interpretive lens applied to my experiences within the system of public education. Without creating an idealized impression of life and the complexities associated with daily decisions, I have found the challenges brought about by selecting a career in the public sector to have inspired an inherent desire to persevere. Such an attribute naturally emerges when one possesses confidence in that which can be attained and the hopeful ardor to see it through. Accordingly, this frame of reference guided me as I pulled into my parking stall for the final time at the school that has been my professional home for twenty-six years. 

As I exited my vehicle on the bright summer morning of June 26th, 2024, I stood for a moment to gaze at a building that I have had a connection with for thirty-three years. Beyond the hallways and walls of this structure, the passion embedded in the learning environment of my fourth-grade teacher planted a seed in a young, impressionable learner that my future would be in the field of education. Proceeding to the entrance of the building, I reflected on the path that led me to student teaching with that inspirational figure. More importantly, I was reminded of my happiness at the opportunity to engage this individual from the perspective of a learner/mentor in the building that framed my formative development many years earlier. Crossing the threshold of the same classroom I had so eagerly entered twenty-six years earlier, a sense of pride emerged as I thought of the manner in which I conducted this professional sojourn. To that end, I was prepared to ensure that this final day of my tenure would be marked by hopefulness in the next phase of my journey, not sadness. 

Buildings simply provide a community space from which to ply a craft. The people,  decisions, and experiences foster the culture that gives life to the atmosphere within the enclosure of brick-and-mortar. For those who retire, it is not a connection to a building but the relationships cultivated over a career that define the bond to a space. In such instances, there tends to be a bittersweet nature behind the process of moving on. However, retirement is not quite at the door for me yet the sentiments remain the same. Leaving this space to engage in a new learning ecosystem brings forth a sentimentality to the craft and the community in which I was privileged to be of service. From my vantage point, I have represented the building well and believe that there will always be a part of me in the walls of that structure. As a professional, I used my voice to express the need for change so that the essence of this edifice, crucial to my growth as a learner, would advance the progressive, adaptable, and flexible nature critical to developing individual purpose. I would equate any sadness of leaving this building to a professional athlete who becomes emotional after winning a championship. In short, the waves of emotion they experience are ascribed to leaving everything on the field. The years of toil exerted to reach the pinnacle of optimal conditions come to a head in a moment of significant achievement. Knowing that my last day might be emotional, I spent months preparing to conclude the day with a stoic disposition—committed to making it through the moment with nothing but a smile. 

In May, I had the pleasure of attending a doctoral dissertation on the importance of joy in the education system. As I listened to the conclusions drawn from the study, I could not help but reflect on the enthusiasm that defined the start of my career. My desire to make a difference by offering an alternative view of schooling was the impetus for generating, cultivating, and evolving the ecosystems of thought I built with learners. Although equally important in that reflection was the realization of how the system erodes this indispensable attribute. Unfortunately, no stakeholder remains unscathed by the political, economic, and hierarchical motivation that pervades the system. When we examine the complacency within public education, these factors are undoubtedly contributory. The question we must ask ourselves is how do we maintain the semblance of joy amid the rigidness of such conditions?

While the answer to such an inquiry can only be addressed individually, perhaps the key to uncovering joy can be found in the words of an eight-year-old I had the honor of learning alongside this academic year. Under the defined labels of schooling, this learner is considered below level in all areas. While this unfortunate reality does more to dissuade than promote engagement, this little wonder always reflected the optimism critical to her perseverance. This was illustrated through the singular pearl of wisdom she would proffer twice daily. Whether heading for lunch or being dismissed for the day, this beacon of hope would either tell me to enjoy lunch or have a good day with the following caveat: Always think positive one hundred percent of the time.”

On my last day at the building that became my second home, two learners shared a goodbye that would see them off to an unknown future. In exchanging well-wishes, this young, impressionable student hoped our paths would cross again and advised me to “always think positive one hundred percent of the time.” As I told her I would, my plan at stoicism was lost instantly. Tears welled up as the reality of an end was upon me. Yet with each embarrassing tear was the pride of a career and gratitude toward a building that embodies a personal history of memories etched into its walls. As I engaged the community I would be leaving, the kind words and tears were all accompanied by a smile toward what was and that which will be. In a taxing year, I have learned that joy is in the positive disposition we maintain in the hope of tomorrow. 

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E Ohlsen
E Ohlsen
Jul 01

I really connect with the quote, "The question we must ask ourselves is how do we maintain the semblance of joy amid the rigidness of such conditions?". It is indeed a struggle to find joy in the everchanging field, which we have chosen to play.

S.A.G.E. Vision
S.A.G.E. Vision
Jul 02
Replying to

In not knowing the answer to that central question, I’ll need to turn to toward an eight year old’s optimism and advice. If we all thought positive one hundred percent of the time, I would like to believe that transformation is possible. Thank you for sharing a story that speaks to so many of us at this point in our journey.

My best to you both,

Michelle Halloran 😊

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