Friday, November 30, 2012

Ahoy, Mateys!!

She won’t stop staring at me. She is fixed on my face and smiling like a new parent at the nursery window. Then in HE walks. With a pirate’s hat and a sexy swagger. Who ARE these people, and what are they doing in my bookstore? I came to study, to focus on motivation and learning theory and instructional design, but all I can hear are whispers of chakras and angels and religion and spirituality. How long have you known? When did you get the message? Tell me. How can I possibly cite sources and support my thoughts when a good eavesdropping is to be had?!

There are two tables pulled together, a witch’s hat in the middle. The group is a mix of older women, older men, some middle-agers, a young couple with a baby. They seem to be a happy bunch and will not, for the life of them, stop staring and smiling. Do I have something on my face? How does my hair look? There appears to be some mentoring going on. Everyone is comparing notes, counseling the one who greeted me with the cheesy grin. One woman takes the hands of another. Do they know each other? Is this a compassionate reaching out, an effort to reassure? No. This is a reading. Over coffee. In the middle of the cafĂ©. Maslow can wait. I have an essay busting out all around me.

Given the nature of the meeting, I wonder now what it is that these friendly souls are “seeing” when they look at me. It must be something good. I am tempted to pull up a chair. I am tempted to “accidentally” brush skin to skin with one of them. Regardless, I am glad for the opportunity to make them smile. I am glad for the opportunity to bring a light to their days.

It makes me think of the man in the wheelchair. A different man on a different day. I am making my way down the sidewalk headed into class. He approaches in a wheelchair, no teeth, tattered clothes, five o’clock shadow gone bad. He has obvious mental challenges. I am walking at my normal brisk clip, focused on some nonexistent point in the distance, but for a second I catch his eye. He makes intense contact, smiles a huge toothless smile and shoots me the cheeriest, “YER priddy.” My day is sunshine immediately. I cannot stop smiling, at first a contained little smirk, after a full out grin.

Do I do this for others? Do I throw out sunshine? Do I radiate warmth? Am I the guy in the wheelchair, the woman in the bookstore? Or am I the student refusing the project, throwing out mean words in her paper, suggesting what an incompetent instructor I am, and how I have no idea how to teach this class? Am I that student sitting in her seat all term glaring, surrounded in negative energy, calling me the “B” word in her head? Nothing has made me ever question my teaching more. Nothing has made me more eager to quit a profession that I love. Maybe I don’t know what I’m doing. Maybe I’m not the one to stand up front. Maybe I’m not servicing students as I hope I am. Every term ends. Students don’t repeat classes with instructors they don’t like. I never see her after this. I don’t need to. She is always with me. Maybe I am not the instructor I aim to be.

Do I make others smile? Do I cause them joy or cause them pain? How do they feel after having crossed my path? Can I make a day with just a look or an offhand remark? Can I make them feel better about who they are, what they do, about simply being alive? Can I bring a grin, a positive thought, a happy heart? I don’t know. I don't know, but I’m sure as heck going to try.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

A Boot in Your Ass, Sir

I cannot tell you who he is. I cannot tell you in what context he said this. What I can share with you is that he is a teacher, and he was speaking of his students. I can share with you the fact that he alluded to levels of impoverishment, that he suggested children from families he called “truly” impoverished, those who are victims of natural disasters, war, and famine are often the most thankful for the education provided them, take fullest advantage of resources, and, in many cases, go on to seek higher education. I can share with you the fact that the conversation after that got a bit ugly. I can share that he suggested that some “think” themselves poor and are not, that due to government help, they are not at all impoverished and that the children of these families often do not much more than just show up, that the parents are uninvolved, that much pressure is placed on teachers to work with these students when, really, it is the responsibility of the parent, that these families are often disinterested in the education provided them and are in most circumstances simply, well, let’s just say that he stopped short of "lazy." Needless to say, I felt moved to speak.

My response:

I would agree that there are levels of impoverishment, and that safety nets such as subsidized housing, food stamps, and medical benefits aid in helping to meet the physiological needs discussed. This, however, is where we part ways.

Not every impoverished child's family accepts such aid. Sometimes a child's family is too proud to take advantage of government resources, believes that those resources exist to serve families in true need. Such a child often shows up to school hungry, improperly dressed for the weather, and tired from inadequate sleep due to lack of heat in the home. She does so with perfect attendance because of her strong love of learning. She gets excellent grades, is asked, in fact, to skip a grade, and mentors peers who are struggling. That child's mother is room mother, Brownie leader, and positive adult role model to children who come from troubled homes. The child and her mother contribute heavily to the schools and the learning process despite multiple, unplanned moves due to landlords deciding to sell their rental properties. With each move the pattern of perfect attendance, peer mentoring, and the mother's volunteer efforts resumes and continues. You suggest guest speakers and field trips to get these children interested and involved, but this child sits home from field trips due to lack of money for the fee. She misses that learning opportunity which she so badly wants. She does it not because her parents are lazy or uninvolved, but because if there is no dinner, there is no field trip.

This little girl, despite being ridiculed by peers, looked down on by teachers, and knocked down repeatedly by forces beyond her control, namely poverty, hunger, and the stress that comes from constant moving and living in a stream of sketchy homes, will graduate high school just outside the top ten in her class. She will do so because of a mother who stressed to her what was right, what was positive, what was working, who built within her a sense of grit and determination. She will do so because of teachers who believed in her and showed her what was possible, who showed her what she COULD do, rather than what she could not. She will continue on to college despite not being able to apply for loans or grants, and despite the lack of funds for tuition. She will do so because of the generous gift of a community member who pays for her entire first year of study, enough to get her started while she earns the funds to pay for the rest of her education by herself. She will continue on through college and will eventually teach at the community college level, encouraging and inspiring those who find themselves in similar circumstance to which she, herself, grew up and endured. She will pride herself on her accomplishments and will believe the hard work behind her. She will begin to feel the fruits of her efforts despite the difficult hill she has climbed. She will do this until one day she finds herself in a doctoral program once again target of the ridicule she endured as a child.

Just a caution. Do NOT generalize, do not judge, and, even if a child's parents seem disinterested, do not assume the child is. Yes, this is my story. I am that little girl. My family never took aid despite the fact that I was often sick, hungry, cold, and nearly homeless. I loved school. I loved learning. Everything about my childhood worked against that love. Regardless, I am here, and only because of parents and teachers who believed in me, who encouraged me to focus on the positive, and who built in me a sense of strength, resiliency, and possibility.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Hopscotch and Penny Candy

I have never been a fan of the term “best friend.” I think it puts an unfair burden on a person to handle all the crap that I am too much a wuss to handle on my own. But I do like what the words represent, the intensely close sharing with someone who gets me, time spent together with my guard down, with no pretense or trying, vulnerable and not caring, talks that go on forever, that are as comfortable as discussions I hold with myself, and encouragement from one who knows how to move me when nobody else can, who doesn’t put up with my whining, my excuses, my self pity. At times, someone has stepped into my life unannounced and assumed this role without even realizing. At others, the role has assumed us.

First grade, and I am sitting at my desk writing down every swear word I know. Every one. Which is a lot. But I am not allowed to swear, and I am afraid of getting into trouble, so I am crying, but writing nonetheless. My best friend, bully that she is, is making me do this. She is making me do this until Whitley Crow tells the teacher and gets her in trouble. Bully or not, we are great friends, she and I. We take turns every weekend spending the night at each other’s house. She has a toy piano, and I learn to play Swing Low, Sweet Chariot using the book with the colors for notes. When she comes to my house, we walk to the corner for a big bag of penny candy. We get Tootsie Rolls and jawbreakers, licorice and Double Bubble. We like beauty shops, hopscotch, and Whitley Crow. Then I move, and I have to get a new best friend.

Third grade, and I have two best friends. I never go to their homes, but we play in school all the time. We play clapping games like Miss Mary Mack and Have You Ever, Ever, Ever, in Your Long-Legged Life. We like recess, Pig Latin, Donald Keys, and passing notes. We get in trouble for talking all the time. When the teacher is out of the room, we go up front and sing songs and entertain the class. The teacher doesn’t mind. She lets us do it sometimes even when she is in the room. I like being up front. It’s fun. It makes the other kids smile and laugh. I like having my best friends up front with me. Even if they are better singers.

Fifth grade, and I have a best friend and a boyfriend now. I wonder why boys have to be boyfriends and can’t just be best friends. I don’t like that rule. I think anybody should be allowed to be a best friend without being a boyfriend. What if you don’t want him to be a boyfriend, and you just want him to be a really best friend? I spend the night at my best friend’s house, the best friend who is not the boyfriend, all the time. This is fun because she is from a different country, so I learn new words and new ways of doing things. Her house smells different. I can never wear shoes when I go inside. I line them up with the others in the long row beside the door. Her dad is nice. He is quiet, and he is small. I don’t know where her mom is. I tell her to vote for me for Good Citizen because I want to win the class award. The teacher talks to the class, then, about how it is not polite to tell people to vote for you, that that is not the point of the award. Still. I want it, and I don’t feel bad about asking my friend.

My boyfriend sits right across from me. He is funny and nice. He has blond hair. We get in trouble for talking. We get in trouble a lot. I get marks on my report card that say Tammie is a good student, but she talks too much in class. My mom doesn’t care. She says if you can talk and still get A’s, I don’t see the problem. The teacher moves us. We don’t sit together anymore. I am sad about this because a boyfriend is not like a best friend. You can’t spend the night at each other’s house. You can’t even go to each other’s house. He is funny and nice, and now I can’t talk to him because he is on the other side of the room. My teacher is mean.

I am glad for those in my life who have filled this role of utmost burden, those who have listened without judging, who have made me laugh when I didn’t think I could, who have been bold enough to tell me when I am out of line, and to tell me also when I am not, but should be. I am thankful for the friends in my life who have felt comfortable enough sharing with me what they would never with another, who have confided vulnerabilities and confessed that which I can tell has been painful to confess. I am thankful for time spent in the company of one who knows me and gets me in the way that others never will, not having to explain myself, not having to care. I am thankful for those who have loved me when maybe I have not even loved myself. Know that if you have ever been that person, you have a special place inside of my heart. You may leave my world, but you will never leave my life.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Take a Left, and Then a Right

Is it possible to communicate with my soul? I am so feeling the need to do this right now, but it sounds a bit too tarot cards and crystal ball even for me. I read books that suggest I follow my heart, follow my passion, follow my purpose. Some suggest I listen to my higher self or listen to my guides, and I will know what exactly it is that I am here to do. Do guides even exist? Or do they live with Santa, Cupid, the Easter Bunny? Really, I just want to live a kind and gentle life, to share the gifts that I have been given, and to help others move to a more positive place in their own lives. Still, I must admit it would be nice to have a cosmic go ahead on this, a spiritual road map that I could follow.

I am moved by words.

I have four notes to myself on my computer screen right now. I cannot for the life of me take them down, cannot bring myself to freshen the messages. This is odd for me because I like to change things up. I rarely keep the same words in the same place for any length of time, but I feel a connection to these that I cannot explain.

Note number one: A quote by Martha Beck that goes, “It’s a journey to the thing that so fulfills you that, if someone told you, ‘It’s right outside—but watch out—it could kill you!’ you’d run straight toward it, through the screen door without even opening it.” I want more of this in my life. I think too often we take up space. We exist. We forget that we are here to live.

Note number two is a mission statement I wrote for myself, what I see as my passion and purpose: “To positively impact the lives of huge numbers of people through speaking, writing, and teaching.” I have the goal. I need only, now, the means by which to reach it. I feel unsettled lately, as if I am not operating at full speed, not living out my potential. Some of you have cheered me on, saying that I am fulfilling my passion and my purpose already through my teaching, through my writing. I think I am doing good work for others where I am, yes, but I feel that I am not exactly where I should be. I would so love a comment here from my higher self, from my guides, from the Universe. If they are so wise, why do they stay so quiet? I have had this feeling before, this feeling that there is something bigger, somewhere else that I am to be. It is the feeling that led me to teaching and to writing. It is the feeling that led me to the classroom, to this blog.

Notes number three and four are personal. I have assumed they have nothing to do with the other two. Maybe they do, and I am just not aware. Note three, I clipped from an article on a website. The words are not academic in nature. They are not by anyone famous. They are not even terribly well constructed, but they struck me, hit a spot inside of me, made it burn and freeze all at the same time. You may not like them, but they moved the hell out of me: “We are like spinning magnets at times, repelling each other, pulling in together, shooting the other one away from our close vicinity, until finally the magnet poles align and we get snapped together permanently. This is not an option. This is not a fucking option.” Note four contains words by Emily Bronte: “He's more myself than I am. Whatever our souls are made of, his and mine are the same.” I have always loved this quote. I am not much a fan of fiction, but I am a sucker for a great romance. These words, to me, are the ultimate in what makes a love story a love story.

I think if it were possible to communicate with my guides, if that were something that I could do, I think they would be telling me to somehow bring these disparate messages together, to meld them into one. These words, I know, represent the map for which I have been searching. But, Lord, I do so suck at reading maps.