Introduction

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Inspiration for Teachers

Introduction

My very first day of high school, I nervously walked into my first period class, made my way to the back of the classroom and sat down. As the other students began filling in the seats around me, I looked up and noticed a poster hanging on the wall. It was a photo of a surfer riding a huge wave in Hawaii (my ultimate dream at that point). The caption above the photo said, “Success consists of getting up just one more time than you fall.”

What I might today simply dismiss as a “cheesy inspirational poster” deeply stirred something inside my fourteen-year-old self. Then and there, I adopted that line as my mantra. As I stumbled my way through high school, then college — and even through my later travels around the world (where I got to live my dream of surfing some big waves in Hawaii) — each time things got hard or went badly, that darn poster would pop into my head.

But never did it make more sense than when I started teaching. There are days when things go badly. Very badly. And there are days when things go great. Really great. And somehow, it often seems like the best days I’ve had teaching have come right on the heels of the worst days. Success, it seems, actually does consist of getting up just one more time than you fall.

People often ask me why I teach. My answer is simple: I want to live forever. Machines fall apart, money runs out and beauty fades. Our ideas, our lessons and our stories are all that can truly be passed down from one generation to the next.

Chicken Soup for the Soul: Inspiration for Teachers is proof that when we teach, we live forever. This book is not a collection of stories where everything always works out perfectly in the end. Rather, it is a collection of real-life stories, each thoughtfully and beautifully told, about the moments that matter the most and that live on in our hearts.

They are stories that make us laugh out loud at the wonderful and funny things kids do and say, like Cindy Jolley’s experience with a second grader “giving her the finger.” They are heart-wrenching, tear-inducing stories like Julie Rine’s, about the impact on her school of the death of three former students — which remind us of the fragility of life and the importance of community. And they are the stories that make us stop and reflect on the sometimes simple, sometimes epic, actions that teachers like Carrie Malinowski take when they choose to see students not just as they are, but also as they can be.

This book is a testament to the fact that there is no one way to teach or one type of teacher. Sometimes, teachers pop up in the wildest places, when we least expect them. Ginny Huff Conahan shares what she learns from an enlightened former student, who teaches her the true meaning of being present in the moment. When Jeanne Kraus just can’t seem to reach a challenging student, she learns that a puppy can. And Mike McCrobie’s story is a fitting reminder that even as adults playing softball with friends, our teachers never stop showing up to encourage us to look past what is easy and instead do what is right.

There is no doubt that the past few years have not been easy for those of us who have chosen teaching as a profession. As someone who travels the country speaking to and motivating teachers at conferences and conducting professional development in everything from district offices to school cafeterias, I am well aware of the issues teachers face on a daily basis. Staff lounges everywhere are filled with passionate educators who often feel belittled by politicians, public perception, or their own paychecks. But we keep coming back. Why? Because of the stories you will read in this book.

Working on this book with Amy Newmark and the team at Chicken Soup for the Soul is more than an honor. It is an obligation. An obligation to make sure that these stories about teachers get told, are shared, and are used to inspire all teachers to keep doing the incredible work we do each day to ensure a better future for our students and for our world.

This book is also an opportunity. An opportunity to inspire a future generation of teachers to live a life of significance, one in which someone else’s life is better because of something you did or said. Or maybe you didn’t say or do anything—you just made a commitment to show up every day, be your authentic self, and believe that every one of your students could be more than they ever dreamed possible.

And this book is a celebration. Not just a celebration of the moments when we were victorious. It is a celebration of the moments when we felt the pain of our students or when they felt ours. A celebration of the moments when we thought we had it all figured out, only to realize that we weren’t even close. And a celebration of the moments when success consists of getting up just one more time than we fall.

Teaching is not just what we do, teaching is what we are. Through our work as teachers — and through these shared stories — we will live forever.

Happy Teaching,

Alex Kajitani

California Teacher of the Year

Top-4 Finalist, National Teacher of the Year

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