The three of us sit around a small table near the windows in the back corner of Peter’s French classroom. It’s the middle of the school year, so the afternoon light is dim. Peter, my “cooperating teacher”, and Bev, my Masters supervisor, and I have each filled in a questionnaire about my strengths and areas for growth after my first semester of student teaching. So far, we’ve all agreed on the ratings and the whole meeting has been lovely, but now we’ve discovered an area of where Peter and Bev agree and I am the outlier: reflection.

Peter and Bev have rated me as not especially reflective; I’ve given myself the top rating. No-nonsense Bev is almost incredulous. “I just don’t see it,” she shakes her head. Even Peter, always calm and quiet, looks perplexed. My own expression must mirror his. I struggle for words. I am always, always reflecting. How do I explain? Maybe always reflecting doesn’t count. Maybe I’m doing it wrong. 

We talk for a few minutes, compromise on a midway point for the question, and move on. 25 years later, I’m still reflecting on that moment.

What I’m not reflecting on is this school year. I’ve tried. Believe me, I’ve tried. 

Even as I write this I realize that I taught my last class one week ago today. Is that even possible? I have to check the calendar to be sure. Yes. One week ago. Surely that was a lifetime ago? Or at least a few weeks? I knew that time was spooling out unevenly during the school year, but I had honestly hoped that it might straighten out once the chaos of classes ended. Perhaps, I tell myself, this is merely summer time, delightfully different than school-time…but no. I know it’s not. My thoughts spin.

Reflect! I tell myself sternly. It’s important to reflect. I try the exercise Kate Messner suggested for Teachers Write this week: I go outside and breathe deeply. I close my eyes and try to remember a time when I felt peaceful and whole. Just when I am about to give up, the loud voices from my neighbours’ backyard fade and the oppressive heat lifts just a little.

I am on a cliff on the Aran Islands. I am alone. Though I am nervous about it, I have inched my way to the edge and now only the slate gray ocean exists beneath my dangling feet, only the limestone cliff walls fill my peripheral vision. I have never been so completely alone. I breathe with the sea. I breathe in the sea and the wind that slides up beside me. I am alone alone alone. I think of nothing for as long as I can and I watch the water.

Many thanks to without whom I might be tempted to skip writing altogether.

9 thoughts on “Reflection-ish

  1. It’s only been a week here too and I’ve put so much distance between myself and that school year. I loved that flash back to your past…how could she not have seen your reflective nature?!? It’s so funny what stays with us and when brings it to the surface again. Happy summer!


  2. Today is my last day. I’ve tried to reflect but I get caught in negative thinking. There was some good and some learning for me. Maybe in a few days I can focus on that. I love the image you paint of sitting alone on a cliff. I’ve got a Maine memory I can connect it to.


  3. Amanda, it is shocking that anyone would ever consider you to lack reflection. Your beautiful writing reflects the care and love you give to everything you do. Your sentence, “I knew that time was spooling out unevenly during the school year” is one of the most accurate descriptions I have read. I hope that summer breezes will bring restoring breath to you.


  4. Now is the time for rest, relaxation, and healing. There will be time for reflection later. And isn’t reflection all about allowing space and distance to work their magic so that we can reflect in an objective way. No one should be pressured to reflect. It’s not natural or useful,?


  5. Sometimes it’s better not to look back. Stay in the now and then move forward. Your last paragraph carries the peace all teachers could use after the school year.


  6. You are so reflective that I get envious sometimes and think that I need to be more reflective. I say give yourself this gift of time to just be. From that final paragraph, it seems to me you are still suffering from what I have now dubbed “end of the year mono” because I was so exhausted those last few weeks of school that my mother in law asked me if I had mono. We need to feel OK with resting this summer. It was a tough year for all of us.


  7. Well, I think the whole slice of life process is all about reflection, so there’s that. I think maybe reflective ness is hard to measure from the outside. Who knows what’s going on in someone else’s mind? As I reflect, I’m thinking maybe when I was student teaching my cooperating teacher would have missed my reflective ness because the thing she thought I might adjust were not the same things I was thinking about. That may have made me seem less reflective.
    That I’m retired, I’m in a constant state of reflective ness. It’s a bit overwhelming


  8. Dear Amanda… just want to say that I find you to be a most reflective person. Your insights in teaching, in life, are sharp, true, valuable; you are able to adapt and adjust on the spot… clearly this capacity was with you even as a beginning teacher and I suspect long before, naturally deepening and developing over time. We all become more reflective as we grow older, exponentially more so when we write. Last year… it wasn’t the year for anyone to gauge ANYTHING but survival! I’ve read several educators’ paradoxical reflections about not being able to reflect on last year: difficulty in decompressing since it’s over and done, the need to somehow put it all behind…your closing image of being ” alone alone alone” on the limestone cliffs, breathing in and with the sea and wind…haunting in its way except that there is healing in the sea, the salt, the breeze, the solidity, the solitude, the absorbing rather than the having to give. A form of meditation. Wordless reflection. Vital and vibrant. A place of calm away from the clamor. Beautifully rendered, Amanda – here’s to such ongoing revitalization – for us all.


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