I reread (2005, 2017) this book with advance knowledge of the cringe worthy, sideways glance at every teacher’s first years. I read it knowing that one of my favorite, but most embarrassing, quote at the end of the book hit too close to home for me. And I reread this anyway.

One of my favorite authors, Pat Conroy, chronicles his adventure teaching on a primitive barrier island between South Carolina and Georgia. And he is painfully honest about his methods, his misses, and the pure joy of teaching.

The Water is Wide


Allow me to share with you my favorite quotes of this reread:

the pep-rally method of education
I’ve taught with the teacher who does this right and the teacher who does this wrong. Either way, it is exhausting to me. But I see you.
Three teachers together, by definition, means that the talk centers around events in the classroom and at school.
Happy Hour evolve into team planning much?
No man or woman has the right to humiliate children, even in the sacrosanct name of education.
Yes, children are that important.
I saw a direct connection between the education of my parents and the education of their children, the dreams of my parents and the dreams of their children…
I missed this one the first time through. I can explain to you how my grandparents raised my parents to go to college, and my parents raised me to seek a career which valued education, and how I want to open all education to my children. But I’m guessing that you can too?
Since I no longer trusted any of these people, and no longer believed in them as educators or as human beings, it delighted me to see the intensity involved in their efforts to glamorize the two-room schoolhouse on the island.
Spite is a reason. Even in Education. Even among teachers.
And in that instant was born the terrible awareness that life eventually broke every man, but in different ways and at different times.
Piedmont thought the chain of command was the next best thing to organized religion. I thought it was the most inefficient thing since the stone wheel.
 Ah, public education – everywhere I’ve ever taught.
…worried that I did things more by instinct than by logic.
 Painfully familiar.
I had seen the lines so often that they had disappeared from sight and were no longer part of my consciousness. To Jasper, who was accustomed to unpaved roads, they represented something strange, unexplained, and beyond his framework of experience. I regretted that I could not be making this trip with the freshness of insight and beautiful innocence of Jasper and the others. I regretted that I was old, that I could no longer appreciate the education afforded by an American highway, and that I could not grasp the mystery of a single line painted down a road going north.
This is something the more seasoned educator might read and feel the truth in. I also wonder now if I don’t see the things that new teachers are seeing. Do I limit what I could be sharing with younger teachers because I can no longer see something?
In the hierarchy of schools, teachers are the most expendable of creatures, the fauna of classrooms who can be replaced as easily as light bulbs.
This is sadly true. It is true everywhere I have taught. But the good news is that we are teachers together and we can take care of each other. If we choose to, which we should.
Teaching is a record of failures. But the glory of teaching is in the attempt.
It is true that I remember the children I retained, the things I said to some of my favorite students which may have been too harsh. I can tell you the children I failed quicker than those I helped on the way to their success.
I dislike poor teachers. They are criminals to me.
Some people cannot get fired quick enough for me. They should be shown the door quicker than they are.
I saw the necessity of living and accepting bullcrap in my midst. It was everywhere. In teachers’ manuals, in the platitudes muttered by educators, in school boards, in the community, and most significantly, in myself.
I could be so self-righteous, so inflexible when I thought that I was right or that the children had been wronged. I lacked diplomacy and would not compromise.
To survive in the future I would have to learn the complex art of ass-kissing, that honorable American custom that makes the world go ’round.Survival is the most important thing. As a bona fide ass-kisser, I might lose a measure of self-respect, but I could be teaching and helping kids.

This has stuck with me over the years. Because it is true, because it is a part of me that drives me and has sometimes pushed me too far. I have to forgive myself for when I pushed something over the line and try to align what I want with the actions to actually achieve it, not just throw a fit. This is my deepest, darkest place to grow professionally.


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