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May Forward: Making the Most of a Hard Month for Teachers

By Dave Stuart Jr.

Post Image- May Forward

May is usually a hard month for me as a teacher.

I’m exhausted. Of the year’s mountain-tops and canyon-bottoms, in May it’s the low, dark places that seem realest. I’ve succeeded beyond what I’ll ever know with some kids, yet with some I know I’ve failed. I haven’t reached them; I haven’t been The One Teacher whose work flips their soul’s switch from apathy to ownership. In May my failures loom insurmountable, my successes waft mirage-like. Every lower-cased first person pronoun, every snarky complaint about “having to do work,” every missing assignment — they are rocks tossed into the bucket of felt responsibility tied to my back as a teacher.

May is a month that instigates the internal work that all flourishing teachers must do habitually: separating what is true from what is not, what lies within my power from what doesn’t, what I could have improved and what I need to acknowledge as beyond the boundaries of human ability.

And it’s also a month to look at what’s ahead — that’s what I want to write about today.

What big things have you been putting off?

For teachers the best time to reflect on the past year and get ambitious about the year to come is May, not December. This mixture of forward-backward seeing serves a few purposes:

  • It helps us to keep from dwelling on the past year’s shortcomings;
  • It prepares us to use our summer as best we can — for rest, for advancement, for learning, for the things that nourish us;
  • It keeps us spunky. Or, at least, spunkier.

The longer I’m a teacher, the more thankful I am for the academic calendar. Don’t get me wrong — sometimes I wish I could take my summer vacation and spread it out a bit more through the school year. But I do enjoy the clear beginning, middle, and end we get to experience, year after year.

I also enjoy the power that our extended breaks give us for doing some of the things we need to do but tend to neglect and some of the things we dream to do but tend to put off.

Four Mays ago: the dreaded master’s degree decision

I was not excited to get my M.Ed.

Honestly, I begrudged it; I resented the fact that I was being forced to spend hard-earned money (our district, like many across the nation, cannot afford to reimburse M.Ed tuition) that my young family needed. Sure, I’d get a raise — but for local M.Ed options, that raise would take nearly five years to compensate for the cost of tuition. Five years! And in the interim, I’d be driving to the local university a night or two a week, managing my coursework, and, oh yeah, being a husband, a dad, and, for at least nine months out of the year, a teacher.

But four Mays ago — May 2011 — I realized that I couldn’t put the decision off any longer. I needed to start on my M.Ed before my certificate expired. It was time to make a decision.

Thankfully, there were more options than the traditional brick-and-mortar master’s degree, and I used that month to research them, ultimately deciding on a degree that was both finance- and family-friendly.

If you’ve been putting off your own M.Ed decision, let me help you out. I created a free, 5-day email course that walks you through indecision. It includes the M.Ed I decided upon and the consequences (all good) of that decision.

Three Mays ago: the “I’m done putting off this dream” decision

I’ve always wanted to be a writer. I can still picture the conversation I had with my dad. We were sitting in my grandparents’ hot tub, and I was sharing with him what I wanted to do with my future. I was a Junior or Senior in high school.

“Dad, I want to be a writer,” I said.

I’m not going to lie — I don’t remember exactly how he responded. But I know it was skeptical; I know it was something along the lines of, “How much do writers get paid?”; and I know that I don’t blame him a bit. His lack of enthusiasm was hard to take at the time, but let’s face it: a lot of people say they want to write a book someday, or that they’d like to be paid to write. Yet how many actually do?

The journey from the hot tub to the teacher-blogger typing these words was a circuitous one. So it goes. I was pre-med for awhile; pre-ed for much longer; a teacher, a busboy, a barista, a teacher again.

But three Mays ago, with five years of teaching under my belt, I decided that it was time. My growing family needed extra income, and summer was coming. I decided, “I’m going to write a book!” So I picked up a used copy of Michael Larsen’s How to Write a Book Proposal, and within a few pages, Larsen was telling me that publishers aren’t too interested in folks who have a great book idea — even a solid, well-considered proposal — unless they have an established audience to go with it.

Hmm… audience. Yeah. No. I had some friends on Facebook — my mom chief among them — but that probably wasn’t what Larsen was talking about. He recommended that aspiring authors develop their audiences and their book ideas simultaneously through blogging.

And here was the critical juncture: I could say,

  • “You know, that’s cool, Larsen. I agree. It’s just that this summer we’re having our second child, and we just bought our first fixer-upper. How about some other time?”

Or, I could say,

  • “Let’s get this goat rodeo started. I’m not sure what I’m doing here, but I’ll learn as I go.”

I went with the second one. The blog you’re reading is the result of that decision. So is this book and this one. I’m not proud of everything I’ve written — many of my older posts actually make me shudder. But every single word has been work I needed to do to get here. Want to stop dreaming of being a writer and start being one? I’d love to help:

How will you May forward?

Share in the comments below. Happy almost-done-with-another-year 🙂

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12 Responses to May Forward: Making the Most of a Hard Month for Teachers

  1. Regina Silvia May 19, 2015 at 5:32 pm #

    Dave, will your “blogging course” be strictly limited to writing a teacher blog or will the ideas you share also apply to other types of blogs (literary, for example, for a specific group of readers interested in one author)?

    • davestuartjr May 19, 2015 at 6:08 pm #

      Hi Regina,

      At least one of the lessons is geared toward choosing a topic by picking a problem to solve — I do this because a common reason starter blogs don’t attract audiences is because audiences don’t have a compelling reason to stick around.

      That’s the main lesson that sticks out as not lending itself to every type of blog — the rest are pretty broad. A key message of the course is that there’s no magical silver bullet for building a successful blog — the only magical silver bullet is doing a lot of work as a writer.

      I hope that helps!

  2. Beth May 19, 2015 at 7:37 pm #

    Dave, anyone who has had the year you have shouldn’t be one to think about failure (although that’s how the best learn – from mistakes and learning from them?) You have countlessly touched many, either in the classroom or through your emails or becoming teacher of the year – yeah, read about that in the MEA news, or in the ER when your wife was ill. You are enlightening and I look forward to your inspirations as they come. Enjoy your well deserved time off!

    • davestuartjr May 19, 2015 at 9:02 pm #

      Beth, thank you so much! It was an honor being a runner up for that award. I am so thankful for this past year — especially for my wife’s health, as you mentioned. Thank you so much, Beth, for your encouragement. It still amazes me that people are paying attention to this blog 🙂

  3. EM May 19, 2015 at 8:56 pm #

    Dave,
    Your emails & blog inspire me always. The May funk has been very real in my life. I am a 2nd year teacher, first year full-time. 7th Grade special ed, mostly behavior and boys. They help me earn my pay and education daily. However, tomorrow, I graduate with M.Ed-TWSD and wrote a 61 page thesis. Oh happy day!

    • davestuartjr May 19, 2015 at 9:03 pm #

      EM, that’s an incredible accomplishment! Yes, you are not alone in your May funk — I think many teachers feel it. Right about now, though, is when the rays start shining through — the rays of summer, of June, and of perspective. And of M.Ed graduation 🙂 Congrats again!

  4. Teresa Gibbons May 20, 2015 at 11:02 am #

    Your blog is inspirational. Thank you for sharing. I’m trying to break the habit of waiting to do things until I find that perfect time. There never is a perfect time! I’ve thought of starting a blog. . . now it’s time to do it!

  5. Kristi May 22, 2015 at 2:11 pm #

    I also feel that May is a great time for reflection. I want to share that your blog has been a great inspiration for me this year. I started the year including your Article of the Week adaptation and have seen such improvement in the annotating my classes did this year. Over the last two months I introduced Pop-up Debates (sometimes in conjunction with an Article of the Week) and that morphed into a Pop-up Discussion as an anticipation activity for our last novel of the year. The students absolutely love the Pop-up Debates/Discussions. It has been their favorite activity all year. I have clearly been able to see their thoughts while reading with their annotations and their understanding of argumentation with the Pop-up. As I reflect on the school year I am so thankful for the ideas you have on your blog. They have added so much to my teaching this year. Thank you!

    • davestuartjr May 22, 2015 at 7:31 pm #

      Kristi, this makes me feel like a million bucks. I can’t tell you how rewarding it is to know that a little idea like the pop-up method has sparked fires of learning in classrooms like yours. You sincerely bless me with this comment. Thank you, so much.

  6. Cynthia Day May 25, 2015 at 9:38 am #

    Dave,
    I, too, have been inspired by your work. I still haven’t finished reading never finished, but, hey…..
    Thank you for doing what you do.
    I will keep following.
    Oh, and I plan to do article of the week and pop up debates next year.
    Should I get current publications or will you have updated ones by then?
    Cynthia

  7. davestuartjr May 25, 2015 at 11:27 am #

    Thank you, Cynthia! I am excited for those two new strategies in your setting. Do you mean current AoWs? Those will be updated as we go through next year. All the best to you, Cynthia!

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