The Curve Ball

Screen Shot 2013-10-04 at 3.48.44 PMI’ve made it clear to the universe and my family and friends that this will be my last year teaching in a traditional classroom in a traditional high school. Something else awaits and, while I know not yet what it is, I know that something exists. Something that does not deplete this introvert’s energy so completely, something that does not weigh on this soft heart so heavily, something that, after 19 years of teaching high school, will offer me a new and exciting professional challenge and will allow me to use my gifts in a way that serves me as much as it serves others. It’s out there and I trust it’s bought a ticket to get to me and it will be here sooner rather than later.

And yet.

I walked to the computer lab from my classroom today, all the way down one hall, through and down the breezeway, and all the way down another hall.  The whole way there I was greeted with smiles and hugs and high-fives and kindness. Doors were held open, papers I dropped were picked up, offers were made to carry my bag. This relentless warmth from students past and present, sent my way for particular reason other than they saw me walking down the hall, filled my chest with breath and made my eyes wet with tears.

I met my third period at the computer lab where the big topic of conversation was the SAT’s most will be taking tomorrow morning. So many worried about such a high-stakes test, more so than the average set of seniors because these kids are almost all first-generation college students who see higher education as the way out of the struggle most of them live as a daily way of life. Their grades are great, their extra-curriculars are strong, their habits—considering they are still teenagers—are mostly solid. The only thing standing in the way between them and their dream school is this one test and they are scared to death.

So I did the only thing I knew how to do in a situation such as this. We set the study of leading economic indicators aside and we had a Life Skill Moment.

“Here’s what I know,” I said. “You are all wonderful, smart, capable young adults who will go on to make this world one I want to grow old in. My SAT scores were low and I didn’t get into the big impressive schools I wanted to get into as a result. You know what? I ended up exactly where I was meant to go. Exactly. I got an outstanding education at a beautiful school, made life-long friends, met the man who became my husband, and have gone on to live the American dream many of you so desperately want.

“Letting one stupid-ass test get between you and that dream is one stupid-ass choice. It’s one test on one day in your whole entire life. If it goes well, great; if it doesn’t, it doesn’t matter. Any school that is going to turn you away because of how you scored on one test is no school you want to attend anyway.”

They looked at me, eyes wide.

“Did she just say ‘stupid-ass’?” one student whispered.

“I think she did,” replied another.

Eyes wider. Mouths opened. And then the clapping. And then the cheering. It reverberated down the hall so loudly that another teacher came into see if we were ok.

Yeah, we’re ok, I mouthed and nodded. We’re actually great.

Who leaves this? Who walks away from kids who are so anxious to show you their love and appreciation? What kind of “something” could possibly give me more reward than this thing?

And yet.

Next to parenting, this is the hardest work that exists in the world. To be a teacher, a great teacher, it takes the deepest and most honorable kind of intention and thoughtfulness—on levels both academic and human—not to speak of the hours both at home and at school.

I’ve been doing this work all of my adult life. Teaching is just what I do. It’s as natural and close to my heart as mothering. I don’t know how there can possibly be another job that is better suited to who I am and what I do.

I also don’t know that there is another job that is least suited to who I am and how I do it.

It seems there is no easy answer. It seems that just when I think I have it figured out, God throws me the curve ball called “Are You Sure?”

I am sure.

And yet…

Possibility

18010_10200914911824886_228413022_nCertainty is a part of my DNA, the perfect mix of a childhood nurturing and God-given nature, both relishing the known, the concrete, the for certain. I love it so much that I seek it out whenever possible, always choosing what has specifics I can get my head around, good or bad, versus what is unknown, unpredictable, the uncertain.

Snug as a proverbial bug in a rug, I nestled into certainty as a child and there I’ve stayed. It’s cozy. And there’s very little I value more than cozy.

I happen to have also been called to a profession that, at least in the state of California, comes with a huge amount of certainty. Get through the insanity that is the first few years of teaching with better than average results and you’ve got yourself a job for life. I would have to do something pretty terrible to lose this job. That’s not a dig on teachers or on the unions that protect them, that’s just fact.

Ironically, in the last five years–despite given my intense propensity toward certainty–I’ve become a person who jumps impulsively into projects I do not understand but trust implicitly. Because I am certain of my family and my finances, that security gives me the courage to remain undaunted by enormous feats that call to me. Assess the certainty of the safety net, jump, then get details later.

For example, I was frustrated about how schools weren’t teaching our kids practical research skills, so I wrote a book about it. I couldn’t sell it to a publishing house, so I published it myself. I don’t have an agent and I don’t have a book contract, but I’ve outlined three more books that I’m sure are awesome. I don’t have connections in the movie industry and yet I know there is a fantastic movie in the yet-to-be published memoir I’ve written. I write two newsletters and I have a website along with two Facebook pages. It’s almost like I’m all official or something.

Similarly, I have come to know that, for whatever reason I have yet to understand, I must parlay the last 18 years of working with teenagers into now working with their teachers, so I’ve created workshops to start that process. No paying clients yet, just me, doing an incredible amount of work for no real reason other than I feel I should, all in a time when my state is cash-strapped and school-coffers are like echo chambers. I don’t know, someday some one will be ready to take teacher professional development seriously again and when they’re ready, I’ll be too.

Who does that?

I do. The same person who craves certainty also craves creativity. Desperately. And somehow, again the perfect mix of childhood nurturing and God-given nature, I have the confidence –the audacity—to assume that my gifts are needed in the world and I’ll be damned if I’m going to keep them cooped up in my heart. If the world isn’t ready for me, no matter because I know my time will come and when it does, I’ll be ready.

That’s for certain.

And yet…

When I consider the prospect of walking away from the certainty of my job, I find myself plunged into an almost depressive state of the paralyzing blues, especially unusual considering my propensity toward anxiety. What do these blues mean? Did I really do all of this work preparing myself for what’s next only to say, nope, never mind, too uncertain?

I went to lunch with a friend today and she called the place I am currently residing (that state, the one I call Blue) a “gateway moment.” The choice I make is a gateway toward something new and exciting, only I know that when I walk through it the gate will slam shut on what I’ve known all of my adult life. As it clangs and bounces back and forth until it finally settles, I will have to make another choice: stay on course and move forward, or retreat. Before the clang-clang-clanging stops I can reach back with a hand to catch the gate, just in time to return to certainty.

In years past which path to choose would have never been a question. But something in me has shifted as of late and it has me thinking crazy things. Just yesterday I was guest lecturing in a teacher education class (more work for no known reason) and the conversation landed on how important it was for students to follow the rules. In fact, this new teacher said, there is no greater thing we can teach kids than how to follow directions.

“Wait,” I interrupted impulsively, “We’re all social studies teachers here, right?”

Nods around the room.

“This country was not created by people who follow the rules! We cannot stifle creativity and progress and innovation by teaching kids that, above all else, they must follow directions!”

Another young teacher, a laid-back looking guy in jeans and a t-shirt who sat in the back row when he came in, I’m guessing, to spend more time online than listening to me said, “That’s what I’m saying!” He, however, was the lone maverick. The rest of them, who sat in the front like the school-loving eager students they are, looked shell-shocked. Who was this woman saying kids needed to do more than follow directions?

No one, I’m sure, was more surprised about what I said than me.

I am a consummate rule-follower. I am mortified to disappoint people. Even a hint of disappointment in the eyes of someone I’m speaking to can set me on edge for hours. In my most insecure moments I might even call myself a name associated with someone who would sell herself for the approval of others. I do everything everyone tells me if for no other reason than they told me, and I just publicly questioned a perfectly well-intentioned new teacher about why he was so adamant that kids follow directions?

Something is loose in my skull. The certainty nut, the one that’s held me together all these years, it’s come loose and I’m doing and saying things I wouldn’t have done or said before. In all of this preparation for what’s next I unknowingly bought into something I never thought possible.

Possibility. 

Possibility is what’s possible, not what is. Possibility is what could be, not what will be. From my seat in certainty, snug as a proverbial bug in a rug, I built this train of possibility, piece by little piece, for no other reason than I felt called to do so. Now I’m on that train without even realizing I bought a ticket.

That God, He is a sneaky, sneaky little character.

So I’m Not Alone?

I recently came across this hilarious and oh-so-true take on the 5 Stages of Death and Dying, only in this case, it’s the 5 Stages of Grading. I don’t know one teacher who adores the drudgery of grading; in fact when I ask teachers what they like least, “Grading” is often the answer (along with a heavy sigh and often a handful of excuses.)

Excuse no more, my friends, because today I’ve discovered, we’re not alone. The hilarity of this post makes it feel almost — almost — ok that I have five sets of my own grading to do during this deceptively termed thing we like to call “vacation.”

the five stages of grading

Be Sure to Ask the Right People

Across the country, education reform is the big buzz these days. Adults gather together to figure out just what is happening to our nation’s schools and work diligently to create changes that will infuse our school system with opportunities for achievement.

The problem is, very few of these adults actually work in schools. Further, none of these adults sit on the other side of those desks and are subject to all this new and different (mostly repurposed) reform.

Shouldn’t we be asking students what they need instead of deciding for ourselves?

Check out this article at the Huffington Post; turns out, at least in one area, California may be getting it right.

It’s Possible

 

At a particularly low point a few years back my husband gave me a book called The Power of the Possible.  I hadn’t said that I wanted it; in fact I hadn’t said I wanted anything. In the knowingness of two people who share a home and a family, however, he knew. He didn’t know what I needed, but he knew I needed something.

“Here,” he said, “I thought you’d like this.”

I looked at him confused. Then irritated. Then grateful. As he took our boys outside to play I sat in my own muck and read this book for about an hour before I found myself wondering, What if, through the lessons of the impossible, I found the possible?

The book was a good read and it gave me some important perspective, but it wasn’t the book, itself, that changed things for me; it was his gesture. It never is the thing that gives us the perspective we need, the permission we crave, the revelation we long for…what gives us those gifts is the feeling we get from experiencing what we really do want: to be seen and understood, valued and taken care of. In short, to be loved.

Even better than the feeling of being loved is the feeling we get from looking into the eyes of another and giving that gift to them. The boomerang effect of giving love and receiving love, giving love and receiving love…Those moments, those intimate moments however brief they may be, change everything.

If that’s the case, I wonder what would happen if we started worrying less about what we don’t have and start giving more of what we do. What if we all did one extra something that served that greater good just one more time every day? What if we smiled at someone passing us on the street, if we picked up the can from the gutter, if we paused at feet of a dog waiting dutifully for its owner for no other reason than to pat his head and say hello? If each of us did one more thing each and every day, what could it do?

It could heal the world.

The laws of nature and humanity are screaming at us to pay attention, only we’re so overwhelmed that instead of facing their lessons with courage, we’re turning away in fear. In no time are people (and the environment) more honest than when they are in desperate pain and right now the glare of truth feels like just too much to face.

However, ask any alcoholic how running away from her pain is working out. Ask any downtrodden spouse in a miserable marriage how avoiding the important conversations is working out. Ask any worker stifled by a job he hates but still living in fear of losing that job how things are working out. When a mirror is put in front of any of those people—indeed when a mirror is put in front of any of us—we can plainly see that escape and avoidance and hiding in fear does nothing but exacerbate that pain that is already haunting us.

So why not throw off deception in favor of truth? Why don’t we face the realities of our individual and collective lives and figure out how to create solutions to what ails us?

Because we’re afraid it’s impossible, that’s why.

Guess what? We’re wrong. Perhaps it’s my trade as a teacher; perhaps it’s my nature as a sensitive and spiritual woman; perhaps it’s just the streak of stubbornness that comes with my culture. Whatever it is, I know the truth. We need to turn to our fears with courage, grace, and integrity, and say two words.

It’s possible.

And from there, all things really are.