Two years ago, actually 104 weeks ago to be precise, I sat down and started writing Making the Days Count. It started as a dot com but, it has morphed into a dot org, however you can get there either way. You can even get there with dot info and dot net too, but it doesn’t matter how you got here, it is that you are here and reading, following along, thank you. It started because the previous school year had been crappy, from the beginning until the very bitter end in 2010. New curriculum, new schedule, crappy teaching (yes, I was crappy, very crappy), and some students who fought me every inch of the way made it even crappier. There were some excellent students that year, but they got lost in a year when I always behind, always unprepared, and contemplating whether I was cut out to be a teacher, or not.
Until that school year, I had been a social studies teacher and, I thought, pretty good one. I taught geography, teaching kids to get more from their text and reading and make more sense of their world to feel connected. It was a good class and I felt – more than competent – in instruction and content – I knew my stuff. Before the end of the school year in 2009, the school district announced a schedule change, a new Language Arts curriculum, and shift from a ten period middle school schedule to a nine period middle school schedule and reassigning social studies teachers to be language arts teachers. I could do it, I was certified, but I wasn’t excited about it or comfortable teaching language arts. But, I did it, mainly because I had to, but also because I see teaching, especially at the middle school, as more about skills than content. And, I still felt I could be passionate about teaching and helping a kid ‘get it.’ As the 2008-09 school year came to an end there was one day left, a Monday, and Friday night before that Monday, I got a call from Julie, my stepmother in Mississippi, she told me that dad had fallen and was in the hospital and things did not look good. Dad and I didn’t have a good relationship; we had fallen out a few years before and neither of us had the courage to apologize of forgive. I had been wrong, there is a lot more to the story, it is buried in my writing from that first summer of writing in ‘10, but I hemmed and hawed and finally made the decision to fly to Mississippi the next morning and back Sunday night so I could be at school for the final day in ‘09. I am not sure what I was expecting, but it wasn’t what I experienced. When I got there, it was bad, dad was in bad shape, and in and out of consciousness he had had a significant brain hemorrhage and the doctor did not express high hopes for his recovery. Julie was a mess and hopeful, but deep down I think she knew. I later learned he had been in decline long before the incident and his isolation in Mississippi and his isolation from me and two brothers had kept it from us. I had been wrong and should have swallowed my pride and reached out, but I hadn’t. I felt guilty. Dad passed away that summer and his passing would weigh heavily on me throughout the 09-10 school year – from the beginning until the very bitter end. As I sat and wrote my first entry, the entire year of failure weighed heavily on me and I looked forward to a new start in 2010-11 and closure with dad.
So, I sat down two years ago and wrote about the final weeks and days of the 2009-10 school year when Making the Days Count began to take shape and come to life. I had always counted the days but several years before, I had uncovered Muhammad Ali’s quote:
“Don’t count the days, make the days count.” Muhammad Ali
I explained to my students as we neared the end of the school year, that it is always better to make the days count than to count the days: what matters is what we do with our time, rather than how much time we have. Keep learning, keep trying, don’t stop.
I used it relentlessly with the kids those final weeks and days. It has since become my personal crusade and teachers in my building know I keep a day count and often tease me and ask after a tough stretch, ‘How many days?’ and I can tell ‘em, but, I always remind them it is more important to make the days count, to make them matter, to make them worthwhile. What began a long time ago has morphed into 220 posts and, I am still writing, or trying to write.
As you would expect, I am about the same place I was two years ago, but not nearly as discouraged or disheartened, but still looking forward to summer break and all that it brings. There are four days remaining in this school year, still many chances to make a lasting impression or cement ones already made, still lots of opportunity to look back to learn and to make things better for the coming year and beyond.
It is Saturday morning, the Indy 500 is tomorrow and I have two tickets, courtesy of my brother-in-law, Tim, and my father-in-law, I have a big day in front of me, a bigger Sunday, and Memorial Day on Monday, then four days. Summer this year is eighty days. They’ll be gone in a flash and a new year will be upon me, new opportunities, new challenges, new students, and new ways to share my passion and why learning matters with my students. I am still Making the Days Count, one day at a time, because it is more important what you do with the time, than how much time you have.
What will you do with your time today? Tomorrow? Memorial Day weekend?