On Inspirational Corgis and the Love of Trying
An open letter to educators everywhere preparing for the start of the school year.
August 19, 2021
I hope this finds you and your loved ones well.
If you're like me, then you find yourself gearing up for a(nother) school year. This year marks my 7th year in public K-12 education and it has become challenging to talk about teaching and education in a non-cliché way. Whatever insights I may have seem tenuous at best, for, as many of you know, we're all one bad teaching day away from questioning every pedagogical practice we hold dear.
In fact, I think everything I know for sure about teaching I learned from a dog on a San Diego beach. This is the only real insight I have, so, if you'll humor me, I'll tell you the story.
There are a handful of dedicated dog beaches in the San Diego area, and there's one in Solana Beach at which I enjoyed decompressing after a long day in the classroom. At the shore, two foot waves crashed at the feet of the sleekest, toughest, sveltest pitbull I've seen, and as his owner launched the tennis ball twenty yards into the surf, this dog crashed through all obstacles in great percussive slaps to retrieve it in record time. Fresh from the water, he'd drop the ball and look up, undaunted and unflappable, ready to go again.
Just then, far stage left in the parking lot, a corgi arrives in a Civic with its two elderly guardians. It hops out and is immersed to its armpits in the soft sand, but then it sees what's happening at the shore: that glorious tennis ball being launched into the middle distance. And you've never seen such a motivated, purposeful dog in your life; oh, how it wanted that ball! So it bounds to the shore line, well ahead of its owners, and it wastes no time plunging into the sea, only to be immediately and devastatingly smacked in the face and rolled over by a wave.
“Teaching is primarily emotional work, and the reality is that, so often, what's needed is grit and determination—for students and for ourselves. But what about joy in resilience or, if you will, gleeful grit?”
It takes the pitbull 30 seconds to recover the ball and it takes the corgi just as long to reorient, but as man brandishes the ball aloft, both dogs stand at the ready. And every time, just as the ball is launched, the corgi barrels straight into a wave and into oblivion, never arriving anywhere near the ball. And yet, for as long as I sat there watching, the corgi pulled itself from the sea and ran back to the mark, tongue wagging and as excited as ever. All, it seems, for the love of trying.
I began this work seven years ago hoping to be the pitbull; today, I admire the corgi more. Teaching is primarily emotional work and the reality is that, so often, what's needed is grit and determination—for students and for ourselves. But what about joy in resilience or, if you will, gleeful grit? This year, I'll be striving for something like that.
Regardless, my hope for each of you educators out there—whether this is your first year in the corps or your 10th year in education—is that you channel your own Inspirational Corgi and get after it!
Best of luck.
Ted Barton (CPT '15), a member of the 2015 corps based in the Piedmont Triad, teaches English and Social Studies at the Early College of Forsyth. He lives with his lovely wife in Winston-Salem, and, when outside the classroom, is engulfed in many pursuits, including woodworking, ceramics and printmaking.