The Photographer [CC BY-SA 4.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)]
Recently, I found myself staring from the platform of a steel, wood, and wire bridge at the top of Les Chutes Montmorency in Quebec. As the water spilled down the worn rock face into the St. Lawrence River, I could feel the structure moving, ever-so-slightly. Dozens of tourists were there too. I wondered if they felt it while they crossed, stopped, and admired the power and natural beauty.
To me, the vibrations were reminders that things are in constant motion and that the gentle movement of the bridge was making my senses aware of my surroundings much more than usual. What struck me in between the movements were thoughts of the incredible collaboration that went into designing and building this structure for everyone to safely enjoy the view. So much commitment, preparation, and care had to be put in long in advance of the first steps ever being taken across this spectacular wonder.
This made me think about how teachers are so very much like bridge-builders in their schools. We start laying out possible plans in late August and September. Once the first bell rings, we usually have to head back to the drawing board in order to re-coordinate, re-calculate, and reconsider it all once the classroom is filled because it is not until then that we really know the exact terrain or the distance we will need to span. Experience says that there is always a danger when we start construction too soon. Ocasionally, a demolition is required to re-start the build on a stronger and more secure footing.
Come October and November, construction of our bridges is in full swing. Shifts are organized, jobs are evolving with new work being delegated daily, and of course, focii reframed. Foundations are set and you can see signs of progress. As with any project, unknowns are constantly popping up that could not have been predicted on paper while planning. Usually these are best mitigated through preparation, experience, and flexibilty. Construction must go on.
December and January has our crews working productively in all areas. A well deserved break to rest, recharge, and regroup sees everyone returning to routines. Unlike September, the plans are not in flux. There is clear evidence of the mission, along with a sense of quasi-accomplishment, and it is encouraging to be at the half-way point. By now, some significant challenges have been overcome. Trials and tests are natural parts of overcoming impassable terrain. There is much to learn on a construction site.
It seems like we roar through February and March at school. Our bridge is really occupying the skyline now. We are able to see things from new perspectives. There are so many clubs, teams, and lessons to reckon with and distractions are not uncommon. It is important to remind everyone about the goal and the importance of the bridge they are building.
For me, these are some of the most frantic yet peaceful months of the school year. Frantic because of completing first term reports and peaceful because the rhythms of learning are clearly clicking. March Break doesn’t hurt either. Through it all brick by brick, board by board, and wire by wire it is all coming together. Through all of this time, attention is focused on safety and stability. Each day, measurements are taken to make sure everything is going as planned. In the classroom this might be a conversation, or an observation. Some times the ears and eyes of a teacher notice more and gain far more insight than is ever conveyed on a paper through a pencil.
April and May seem to happen at an accelerated pace. The end is in sight, yet somehow it can seem like the finish line is being moved further down the track. Students have become increasingly more interested in outdoor activities after being cooped up all Winter, and then kept off the grass for nearly the first 6 weeks of Spring. Movement is crucial here. Construction on our bridge is nearly complete.
Come June, our 10 month bridge building project concludes. What was once a rough and uncrossable expanse is now connected from one side to the other. As if, for the very first time, we collectively look up from our work, take a few steps back, and marvel at the work that has taken place. Our work.
By June’s end, the memories of lessons, tests, and reports are already fading, but not the positive relationships made, the acts of kindness shared, or the struggles overcome. Know that these memories will last like a well built bridge that can be crossed over years after being completed.
Thank you for being the bridge builders teachers. I look forward to building new ones with you all in September.