Opinion
Teaching Profession Opinion

Snowshoes and Songbirds

March 15, 2019 2 min read

Last week much of Montana was slammed by a February blizzard. One morning, when my school had a delayed start, I took the extra hour to survey the snowfall outdoors. Clomping around town--as one does in snowshoes--suddenly I heard a startling and welcome sound: songbirds. Red-winged blackbirds, to be exact.

It took me by such surprise that I stopped to make a video. The contrast between the birdsong and my crunchy shoes struck me, abruptly and in a moment of English teacher nerdiness, as the perfect metaphor for school these days.

School these days drags a person down. It’s early March. In my neck of the woods, that’s the wind-down of basketball season, the onset of true senioritis, the initiation of countdowns to summer. But it’s still stunningly cold and here, we are buried in snow.

On the bigger map of “how do I feel right now,” in my 20th year I’ve been yearning for new paths, whether that’s a different curriculum in my English classes or a new role in my district. It might be easier to stamp your snowshoes through existing trails, but it’s not very inspiring.

Yet, those blackbirds. Unforeseen, thrilling even. For just a moment in my stocking cap, I felt a smidge of warm air. A thrill of hope bubbled up from inside where I’ve kept that spark going for several months. The promise of spring spilled over into my thinking about the workday ahead: how I could forge a new trajectory for my students learning about Loving vs. Virginia, for example, and what new ideas I could bring to our next freshman class meeting.

Buoyed by those unexpected songbirds, I crunched home feeling optimistic--not only about school but about the spring thaw ahead. And that’s what keeps us going, through the dark cold of winter when we shiver on the way to class and when we feel downtrodden as our students push against the strictures of school: A flicker of life prompts the upswing of hope. We gather our pencils and paper and regroup for the next lesson. We find renewed comfort in the old tracks or perhaps forge new paths--in any case, free from our wintry burdens like a bird in flight.

Anna E. Baldwin is the 2014 Montana State Teacher of the Year and a member of the National Network of State Teachers of the Year (NNSTOY). She teaches English at Arlee High School in Arlee, Mont. During the last school year, she served as a Teaching Ambassador Fellow at the U.S. Department of Education.

Photo Credit: Anna E. Baldwin

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