Volunteering, even when you don’t have time

Since I am a glutton for punishment, I volunteered for extra work at the busiest time of the year. As I was dealing with the end of the school year, state testing, publishing our final issue of the newspaper, planning our end of year banquet and myriad other events, I thought to myself, why not read some additional essays and news stories!

Every year the emails come out, and like salmon coming back to spawn, I excitedly volunteer my time as a judge for two contests. The first is to read senior scholarship essays from students at my school, and the second is to judge news stories from students in another state. Every year, I agree in March or April and think, “I have all the time in the world to get these done, this will be no problem.” Then May comes around, and I’m scrambling to get things done well and get them done on deadline.

Why keep putting myself through the ringer? There are a few different reasons. Teaching can wear you down over the course of a school year. While there are many positive things that happen on a daily basis, often times you go home and think about all the missteps that may have occurred over the course of the day. Those misfires could be a lesson plan that didn’t land well, a conversation that left you worrying about one of your students, or even just the feeling of exhaustion at the end of the day over the thousands of small decisions that had to happen over the course of 7 hours. However, judging these two competitions lets me truly soak in the positivity for a while and appreciate all the positives that my profession allows.

I’m probably a little selfish in volunteering to read the senior scholarship essays. Yes, I’m helping out the school and being a part of the process is great, but I really just enjoy reading about all of our students and their goals for the future. If you’ve read this blog from the beginning, I made mention that I never truly had teaching in my career path until a series of events led me to it. It is really heartening to read about all of these high school seniors who are planning to go to college and truly figure out what they want to do with their life. It is the start of something exciting and new for them, and I often get a bit jealous while reading these essays.

I miss college. I always joke that if I could be a career college student, it would be my profession of choice. I have three degrees already, and I do some window-shopping all the time for what my next one should be. I know I’m a weirdo, but I love learning, and I’m jealous that this new crop of students is going to start their collegiate journey and continue learning and growing as people. I get that college is not for everyone, and that there are students who do not need to go that route to be successful in life, but for me, and many of our students today, college is absolutely the correct path. I have complete faith that all of the students who wrote essays are going to continue their path and lead lives of service and success, helping the future of our society in every way that they can.

The other contest I judge is the journalism competition, and for the past two years I have asked for sports stories and photographs. One of my potential career paths before teaching was as a sports reporter. That is the field I started in right out of grad school, covering mainly high school sports. I had worked as a manager for two Division I basketball teams and trained as a reporter, so my first inclination was that I could eventually become a beat reporter for a college or professional basketball team. When life took me into another direction and I ended up teaching journalism, I was excited about growing our sports section and giving them all of my insight. Only, it never really took. I have had some kids interested in sports over the years here, but none of them who were truly passionate about it. Every now and then we produce a fantastic news story when I have an interested writer, but it is nothing that I dreamed it could be.

You might be thinking, “wouldn’t judging these articles just make you more upset?” I had actually never even considered that until I was writing this piece. I devour good sports journalism. It is what made me interested in writing as a kid. My love of language stems from sports reporters and announcers, and seeing the next generation of enthusiastic writers not only gives me a sense of where the profession is headed, but also a sense of what I could do to help any writers. I see that we actually are producing as high-quality sports writing as other high schools across the country, but maybe just not as much of it as some other schools.

I remember as a kid that my mom said (probably sarcastically) that she needed to sit on her hands during meetings so that she stopped volunteering for things. There are times where I definitely need to adopt this policy because I feel like I have to do it all, but there are definitely times when raising your hand and volunteering is absolutely the right choice, even if you don’t really feel like you have the time or energy.

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