Friday, May 25, 2012

Starfish

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There is a story you’ve probably been privy to sometime in your life. In fact, I can remember writing a post about it a few years ago. The basic idea is that of a man walking along the beach; he notices a boy picking up starfish. These creatures are slowly withering in the sun, so the boy tosses them back into the ocean where they can survive. When the man gives the boy the news that even his best efforts will be in vain—that there are simply far too many starfish to even begin to think that he could make a difference—the boy tells the man about how change comes to each as an individual.

As a teacher, each year I feel that I am that boy. I walk along the beach throughout the days, and I throw starfish into the vast ocean of knowledge. I relish in the thought that—while in my classroom—they are becoming so much more than what they once were. That they are being instilled with basic things that will help them to become who it is that they will one day be.

I’ve noticed that there seems to be a group of starfish that I have to keep throwing back into the ocean. Then, despite my best efforts to keep them in a place where they can survive, these same creatures crawl out of the life-sustaining waters and lie on the scorching sand where they again begin to wither away.

I pick them up over and over, throwing them into the blue waters; then, before I know it, they are again crawling out. My strength is redoubled as I center my attention these half-dozen starfish that seem to have a secret death wish.

It’s exhausting.

I also discovered that I usually don’t give near enough attention to those starfish that are floating about in the shallows, and nearly nothing to those who are out in the depths. After all, I know that those starfish will be okay. These are the urchins that will make it. These are they who will survive.

The school year ended today. My two and one-half dozen students left the classroom. They had walked in this morning as fifth graders, and left as sixthers. An entire year had flown by as fleetingly as the tide.

As they filed past me, I handed them their classroom placements for next year, and I looked at each one of them as an individual starfish. I thought of the progress each of them had made—or hadn’t made—during the year. I looked at those I had worked the hardest with—but who still left the classroom pretty much the same way as they came in. Despite my best efforts, these were they who were content to laze in the blistering sands.

It was hard to watch them leave, knowing that in nine months I had so little effect them; that they were so obstinate that they were happy staying the exact same as they were.

As a teacher, I want all of my students to be successful. I want them all to achieve. I want them all to thirst for knowledge. I want them all to want to give nothing but their personal best.

Sadly, this is not to be.

Over the years I’ve learned that each must decide on their own what it is that they will do and who they will become. When I talked with a friend earlier tonight, she spoke about measuring successes in life not solely on the outcome, but on the efforts put into the endeavor—our partial successes and achievements. We should never feel that our energies are wasted when trying to help another.

As a teacher, I want my students to achieve. I would love for each of them to always do their personal best, and I will continue to help them as best as I can.

I am a thrower of starfish.

Even to those who don’t like the ocean.

8 comments:

Mindy said...

I had many of the same thoughts today as I watched my students walk through the door toward their summer vacation. Some will make good use of their summer break, others will continue to languish. I guess all that we can do is continue guiding, nurturing and "throwing" even when it doesn't seem as though we make a difference. You never know when that starfish just might dig in and stay.

Thanks for the reminder.

joan said...

You have no idea what this powerful metaphor means to me. I"ve been so disappointed in myself these last two years because too many of my Starfish have chosen the beach. *sigh* Since I moved up a grade this year, I have had the same kids for two years. It's been an extremely challenging class, where too few have stayed in the water. Thank you...

Patti said...

I, too, am a starfish thrower......I posted last night about my seniors who I basically throw back in over & over again & the joy I have when they do actually graduate on time and haven't dropped out!
Job well done!

http://www.mamagdog.blogspot.com/2012/05/this-is-why.html

Stephani Cochran said...

Wonderful. You don't know how much this helped me. I'm a star thrower at the university level and my husband has been an elementary school teacher and principal. Don't forget that even if it seems they are content to blister in the sun, one day when they least expect it, the words of their fourth grade teacher will return to them and some of them will choose to live. It may be weeks from now or years from now, but you are forever with them. I can't tell you how many of my husbands former students have showed up on our frot porch after he was their teacher. And every time it has been one we thought would blister in the sun. - In a recent struggle I have been working through I recalled the words of one of my college professors (from 25 years earlier). Her words really didn't make a lot of difference in my life then, but they must have taken root and been lying dormant because those words from twenty years ago have helped me turn around a difficult situation and quite literally have assisted me in changing directions. We do not always see the fruit of our labor. Sometimes we are just seed planters, someone else waters and nurtures, and yet others reap the harvest, but the seed must be planted.

Rachel said...

As a parent of one of your star fish, I can tell you that your efforts were not in vain. The growth that took place in Henny Penny's life over this past school year has been outstanding. Both The SM and I noticed and watched her blossom and grow.

Thank you for taking the time to take pick up our little star fish and for throwing her out into the ocean of your vast time, talent, knowledge, encouragement, and enthusiasm for learning.

mCat said...

I love the analogy of the starfish thrower and a teacher. Yes. Perfect.

Richard & Natalie said...

You really are one of the best 'star fish throwers' I know. As hard as it is to watch those that continue to struggle and sometimes fail, despite your best efforts, you must concentrate on and celebrate the successes of those who have taken your gift and now swim brilliantly because of your best efforts. Because I am pretty darn sure the successes outweigh the failures by a huge margin. Keep throwing, TF. There are many a starfish counting on you!

Jamie said...

So well written. I'm very grateful we have teachers out there that care as much as you do. It gives me hope.

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