Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Reading the Educational River

Yesterday my husband Marco and I ventured out before the heat of the day to kayak a quiet stretch of the Lumber River.  It’s a beautiful, shady river that winds its way through rural North Carolina, and the current is swift enough to offer a challenge without being dangerous.

One thing I love about kayaking is that within moments of sliding my kayak into the water, my stress levels drop to zero and my creative energies begin to flow. There’s something about the quiet stillness of the morning and the water swirling around my paddle that frees my thoughts to wander. 

Yesterday I reflected on how each kayaking trip is a new adventure. After heavy rains, the water is high and flows over every sandbar, stump, or fallen log. Kayaking in high water takes energy, but it’s not difficult to make progress, even padding upstream.

However, when the water is low, navigating the river takes skill and finesse rather than muscle power. You have to work hard, but it’s a different kind of work. You’ve got to read the river and anticipate obstacles lurking beneath the surface. It’s trickier, but successfully navigating the river when it’s low is far more interesting and rewarding than when the water is high.  

As I paddled along yesterday, my thoughts began meandering like the lazy river. Always seeking connections, I reflected on how kayaking is like teaching. When the educational funding flows freely and our students are motivated, we have to work hard but it’s not difficult to make progress. If we put in the time and energy, we’ll see results.

Not so in a down economy or when we have difficult students. When the money isn't flowing or we lack support and resources, the challenges are much greater. Working harder won't necessarily yield results - we have to "read the river" to figure out what our students need and how to make sure their needs are met. Creative thinking trumps time and energy when times are tough. Making progress is more difficult, but it's also more rewarding.

As I pondered the mysteries of teaching and kayaking, my thoughts drifted to my own teaching career. Last September, after 29 years of teaching, I retired from the classroom with plans to return full time this August. I love working with kids and wasn't ready to retire for good, but I was overwhelmed in my roles as teacher, author, and webmaster of Teaching Resources.

Unfortunately, due to the current economic situation, it looks like I won't be returning to the classroom this fall as planned. I have mixed feelings about this turn of events because I really miss working directly with students. However, I've "read my own river" and the signs are pretty clear for the 2011 - 2012 school year. 

I believe that one day I'll be back in the classroom, but for now I'll focus on making a difference in other ways. I have to admit that I'll have more time to create new teaching resources, and I'll have time to collaborate with educators through webinars and workshops. I'll be able to finish my current book project and start a new one. I'm an avid reader, so I'll definitely devote more time to my neglected Kindle library. Best of all, Marco and I will have a little more time for kayaking! Life is good!


  1. Sorry the plan didn't work out, but I know from personal experience that sometimes God's plans are so much better than our own plans. I hope you will have another wonderful year as you continue to share your wealth of experience with teachers around the world.

  2. I love the way you relate teaching to all aspects of your life. Those not working in the education field possibly don't realize how difficult it is to 'switch off'. I know I can't. Even now, on holidays here in australia, I'm constantly thinking about my kids! And yes, on holidays, but am about to head in to school for a few hours to do some work. How many other professions actually go into work on holidays and weekends? We do it because we want the best for our students! I wish you well in each adventure that comes your way.

  3. Thanks to both of you for your comments! Even though I won't be going back into the classroom right away, the teacher is still in me and I do relate so many things to teaching! I'll probably be 95 years old and still thinking like a teacher!

  4. Laura, so sorry to hear that you won't be returning to your beloved classroom. I'm sure the students at your past school will continue to miss you. However, I am thankful that you will have more time to share your wealth of ideas:) I have learned SO MUCH from you over the past um...I think 3 years! 'Switch off' the teacher mind...I don't think that is possible! You are amazing! Enjoy reading, kayaking, writing and please more sharing of your knowledge:)

  5. Laura, I am also a teacher and kayaker. I love the analogies you make there. I feel the same way about kayaking and teaching that you do. I have just never thought about it that way. I too think about teaching and learning constantly and relate so many aspects of my life to the classroom or learning in general.
    Also, I just wanted to let you know even though you will not be returning to the classroom this fall, you will still be teaching. My collegues and I look to you to teach us and guide us. You name comes up almost daily in our conversations. Thanks for all you do for us!

  6. Thanks for your comments! I don't know too many teachers who are also kayakers! I agree that I will still be teaching, in fact I'm looking forward to teaching my summer workshops this week.

  7. I can certainly relate to your disappointment... After 10 years as an educational aide (with a B.A. in Child Development) I took a 2 year leave of absence so I could obtain my teaching license. I did ... but there are NO teaching jobs available in the surrounding 4 counties. So, it's back to the aide's position...

    Enjoy your time with your husband and PLEASE continue sharing your expertise with all of us "teacher wanna be's". Hope it's all right that I registered for your Reading Workshop webinar (even though I'm only an aide).

    Lori (wilcatfan@yahoo.com)

  8. Of course it's all right that you registered for my webinar! And you are not "jut an aide." You are a teacher without a teaching position, and an aide with a degree is worth her weight in gold!

  9. I am so amazed that you have taught for 29 years! You are so young. I love that you are creating resources for us to use with our kids. So even though you aren't directly in the classroom, you are touching so many children's lives through us using your wonderful resources. You are a tremendous help to us teachers in the trenches! Thank you.

  10. Thanks Sonja! I don't feel like I've taught for 29 years either! I will enjoy creating many new resources this year and thinking about how children everywhere are using them. It does give me joy to share my materials and learn from other teachers.

  11. Laura...follow the stream of life and know that with all the twists and turns, you will always have the satisfaction that you are making a tremendous difference in the lives of millions of students because you are changing the teaching of thousands of teachers. I agree you will miss the students on a daily basis, but your experience and advice is so needed...we appreciate your willingness to go where your kayak will take you.

  12. Janet, thanks for your inspiring words!

  13. Laura,
    I have recently discovered your teaching resources and blog. I felt compelled to shout out a great big THANK YOU! This is my 28th year of teaching and have always used activities like those you post, but have really never had nice printables to coincide with them(seeing that the computer and I have our differences). NOW, I do thanks to you. The work you have put in to them, have renewed my spirit. I can't wait to use them.

    Thanks for sharing your talents!

    1. Thanks Terri! I haven't written new content for this blog in a long time because I have a new blog at Corkboard Connections. It's at www.corkboardconnections.com. Hope to see you there!