Am I the hippo or the fish?

Every time my wife and I take my son to the zoo, I suggest that we go see the hippos. Getting to the hippos at our zoo requires a lot of walking, generally in extremely hot temperatures, so ease is not the reason that I get excited. I’m excited because when you go to see the hippos, you will inevitably also get to see animals of another species working together with the hippos to create a mutually beneficial existence.

I love the beauty of the symbiotic relationship. The idea that animals can benefit from each other is a happy thought in a world that can often seem cutthroat and cruel. You go to see the hippo, and you will see the fish that get their food source from the algae on the hippo’s mouth. Or you might get to see the birds that rest on the hippo’s back and eat all of the parasites. Three species, totally different from one another, all working in harmony to live a happy life; it’s a beautiful notion.

As we near the end of the school year, I am coming to the end of a symbiotic relationship that I have with a group of seniors. The last day of school for seniors is always a tremendously emotional day for the students, but I have the honor of getting the seniors for the last hour of their last day. My newspaper class is always at the end of the day, so we have a send off every year, and then we start to get to work planning what the staff will look like next year. It’s very “circle of life;” the seniors going on their way, the rest of us starting the cycle all over again, and the group of juniors inching closer to their day in the sun.

It is a special thing to lead an extra-curricular group at a school. Generally teachers get to interact with students for a semester, or a year at most, but with this group, I’ve gotten to be their teacher for a long time, for some since their freshman year. Of the 7 seniors who graduated from our newspaper staff, they have been enrolled in one of my classes for 44 semesters. I have built a trust with them, experienced the crazy journalism convention with them, and the state of our newspaper is transferring to next year’s staff in high standing because of them.

Reaching the end of every year is bittersweet. I’m excited to see the group move forward in their lives, but I know I’m going to have to build that symbiotic relationship with another group of student leaders next year as we weave in returning and new staff members with the common goal of producing a great newspaper and website.

As part of their senior final, I have each of my graduating staff members create a mini-me version of themselves. The goal is to have them show off their plans for after high school and celebrate their time on staff. I also ask them to think about how their mini-me would have potentially looked different had they not joined the newspaper staff. Some of them claim that nothing would look any different, and others acknowledge that they can’t even imagine the differences that would exist.

I think about things like that all the time (maybe more than I should admit). How would life be different if I hadn’t met some of the people that I had. Would my path be better, worse, maybe even stay the same. In my opinion, finding these relationships in our lives is vital. In terms of work, finding them there can turn a bad job into a good one, and a good job into a great one.

Luckily for me, in addition to having the newspaper staff, the other teachers in my department serve that role as well. Teaching can be a solitary profession (in terms of interacting with other adults) if you want it to be. There are always staff meetings and professional development days, but theoretically, I could probably spend 90% of my time not interacting with other teachers and do my job perfectly well. In fact, on most days, my personality leads me to do just that.

However, what makes my job great is that I work with a group of people who genuinely seem to like each other and have each other’s best interests in mind. There have been days where I let my emotions show more than I intended, and without fail, multiple people would step in and try to help, even people with whom I don’t have the strongest relationship. They know I would do the same for them, and that feeling lets me know that no matter how stressful a day might be at work, I will be able to get through it, even if I’m not mentally strong enough to do it by myself.

Life is stressful; even more so if you work in a high stress job. No matter how much we think we can do it on our own, it is essential to find our symbiotic partners in our personal and professional lives. There is no harm in acknowledging that you will need help from time to time, and honestly, if you’ve found the right type of people to associate with, you won’t ever feel the need to ask. So find your hippo, or your fish, or your bird; or your mini-me? I don’t know, I end up mixing a lot of metaphors; I hope you are still with me. Whatever you do, find that symbiotic relationship and make your life function smoothly without even realizing how it happens.

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