Dear Ishmael,

You don’t know me, yet I feel like I know you.  I recently had the opportunity not only to read A Long Way Gone, but I had a chance to experience its pages in a way many people do not.  My co-teacher in the SITES program chose your book in his study of global issues.  Having never read the book, I chose to read it with our students, so that I could engage in conversation in class.

As a child of literature yourself, you may know that sometimes, a book can speak to us in a way we do not expect.

For me, maybe it was that I had just finished teaching Paul Rusesabagina’s Ordinary Man and I found the parallel between the two stories haunting.   Maybe it was the moment in our first discussion when one of our students pointed to a passage that I myself could not shake, “We must always strive to be like the moon,” and a ten minute discussion followed analyzing the truth and wisdom of these words.  Maybe it was the fact that you wrote so poignantly that I was able to transcend the delicate refinements of my life to see what I think you want everyone who reads your book to see: even though mankind can terrorize one another and bring pain and hardship, what matters is what we do after the experience.  This book, your book, stays with me because by the end, I felt strengthened by a feeling that already existed in my heart: if I only allow myself to experience man when he is at his worst, I may never know man for the potential he has: for his beauty, for his amiability, and for his love.

Last night, I had the opportunity to hear you speak.  As someone who is constantly analyzing my own place in the world, I felt like a child in a classroom.  Your story and strength of the first book were inspirational, but the limitlessness of your spirit is profound.  You are correct in your theory that happiness should not be measured by stretches of time.  It is not to be measured, but it is to be experienced.  Ultimately,  you were the victim of childhood captivity; without an alternative, you were forced to be a soldier. Yet, despite the reality of your past,  you have allowed yourself to heal, you have allowed yourself to eclipse a world speckled with hatred so that you can live again.

Standing in line with my students eagerly waiting to get your new novel Radiance of Tomorrow signed, I felt renewed.  I felt that within the hour of listening to you speak, my understanding of mankind deepened.  Ishmael, for me you rejuvenated truth:  Many people will enter our lives and they will see the flicker of our eternal flame.  Some of those people will want to extinguish it, and if given the opportunity, they will.  However, others will see us for what we are, for what we can be.  These people will take one of two actions: They will either do everything in their power to relight the flame, or seeing that it still flickers, they will protect it, nurture it, and wait for it be what it was meant to be.  Each of us has a light inside, and with the proper guidance and nurturing, it will blaze and we will live to our full potential: hopeful creatures, dedicated individuals, and spiritual heroes.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart for not only signing my book but for touching my life.

A Zen Little Unplanned Existential Experiment

This morning, I did not expect NOT to go to work.  I mean, it was a figuratively balmy 8 degrees at 6:00 when I awoke, and the temperature was only going to climb as the day progressed.  In no way would calling school be justified again.  The Polar Vortex was done ravaging us with wind chills in the -40s; it was time to get back to normality.

However, at 6:13, a friend texted me, “No school again ?!?”

I thought he was joking.  I had not received the call, and this friend of mine, he can be somewhat of a jokester.  However, I walked out of the bathroom, and wouldn’t you know it, the phone rang one-minute later.  Today, school was cancelled because the majority of the busses wouldn’t start, and they could not, of course, allow the little dumplings stand in the frigid air while the few busses that did work tried to manage all of the routes.

Day Three.

The first thing that went through my mind was a song I used to love in the 90’s.   My mind could hear the riff of the guitar as the words played in my mind:

For three strange days
I had no obligations
My mind was a blur
I did not know what to do.
And then I lost myself

I, for the life of me could not remember anymore of the song.  I could not even remember who sang it.  Thank God for Google and the world-wide web.  I vaguely remembered the band School of Fish and when I looked up the lyrics, I found that they were actually really depressing.

For me, these have been three strange days, but unlike the lead singer, I have not lost my motivation.  On the contrary, I have relished in the gift of freedom that snow days bestow.

A gift, you scoff!  What about all the other days off?

Don’t you think, dear reader, I know you are dubious of the complexities of my job.  You see it as a cake walk: three days at Thanksgiving, two weeks at Christmas, Spring Break, and then nine weeks in the summer!  But, what you do not understand is the paradox of teaching: we work our asses off for 187 days a year because we need for the students to excel and be better at whatever subjects we teach, and in order to do that, we need days off to regroup, reevaluate lessons, and recharge our batteries.

Everyone feels burnout, you say.  Well, I do not disagree, but please, try to be a teacher for even a year, and you might think a little less critically of our chosen calling.

Now, I do not mean to put you on the defensive or make you angry.  I love my job and I am grateful for the time off that school districts give students and teachers to restore their enthusiasm and yearning to learn.  Likewise, I was grateful for our winter break.  I crossed many items off of my list.  I shopped, cooked, entertained, visited, cleaned, worked out, graded some papers (not as many as I should have, I will admit), and relaxed with my family.  It was the perfect break.

Oh, but then the Polar Vortex hit, and three magical free days were conjured in the universe.  Free Days.  I did not plan on these days.  I did not have a schedule of chores that needed to be accomplished.  I did not have any set list of items that needed attention because these days were not planned, and thus, they were a gift.

For three strange days I had no obligations….

With no obligation comes the ability to just exist.  I kind of zenned out in my own little existential experiment.  I realized that nothing had to be done, so I decided what should be done was anything that I wanted to get done.  Do you understand the enormity of this gift for a 44 year-old, full-time working mother of three?

So what did I do?

  • I read The Fault in Our Stars cover-to-cover.  I would recommend it because it is incredibly well written, but blubbering for forty or more pages makes it a hard book to recommend.  Okay, screw it.   I cried but I also laughed. You should read it!  It’s that good!
  • I worked out twice!  I never find time to workout during the week, or is it that I find a million other things to do besides working out during the week?  Well, whichever way, the endorphins made me feel strong.
  • I played countless games of Life with the girls.  I won more than once.  I always pick the college track, and I think they are starting to realize that long-term earnings increase exponentially with a college education.
  • I slept.  One can NEVER sleep enough, in my opinion.
  • I cooked delicious meals.
  • I blogged.

It was a glorious, unencumbered three days, and it was almost better than any planned vacation.

If only I could give the gift to each of you readers so you can understand how having three strange days can seem like the perfect motivation to get done some of the things you never seem to find time to do.

 

Lawmakers, Are You Listening?

I would like to begin by saying I love my job.  I really do.  With that being said, I would not recommend becoming a teacher to anyone.  When I began teaching sixteen years ago, I received accolades.  “You are going into the noblest of professions,” people said to me.   I believed it.  I woke each morning excited for the day, excited for the “ah-ha moment” that was surely to come to some of my students,, excited to be a part of someone’s history.

Today, it’s not that simple.  Politicians who have never stepped foot into a classroom as teachers are making decisions on how I should do my job.   Because they once were students, they have declared themselves experts, judges of what makes a good teacher, and their new laws are a reflection of this extensive knowledge. (Insert eye roll here).

Well, Lawmakers, you can pummel me with paperwork.  You can force me to capitulate to asinine rules and regulations.  You can push schools to adopt “a business model.”  You can call the students clients and you can tell me that the customer is always right.  You can bombard me with an evaluation system that defines me not by what I actually do, but by the scores of my students, and if anyone of these young people is having an off-day and does not show growth, you can threaten to fire me.  Yes, you can try to break me.  You can tell me that teaching should be the gateway to “a real job,” and that no one should teach for more than five years.  You can create a climate so adversarial that 50% of my colleagues will leave the profession within their first five years.

But until you actually fire me, you cannot break me.  Do you want to know why?  Because I know something that you are unwilling to recognize: I do something that you will never be able to do.  I make a difference every day in the lives of students!

I make kids work hard each day to think for themselves.  I push them by constantly asking “Why?  Why?  Why?”  I get kids to make connections between ideas they never knew connected.

I make kids see that being part of a community is important.   I make kids want to extend themselves to better more than just themselves.

I make kids write, and I make them write a lot.  When they are lazy and slovenly, I make them do it again.  I make them realize that I expect something of them, and you know what, they begin to expect it of themselves.

I make kids say “May I” instead of “Can I.”  I make kids learn the difference between anxious and eager.

I make kids read.  Every book is my favorite book while I am teaching it, and I get so excited about it, I pique their interest.  Every year, I have students say, “This is the first time in high school I actually read the books and didn’t just use Sparknotes.”

I make kids dream about what their lives can and will be after their comprehension and writing improves.

I make kids rise to the challenge.  I do not believe that C work deserves an A.  Only A work deserves an A, and if the students want an A, they have to work for it.

I make kids responsible.

I make kids laugh.

I make kids know I care.

I make a difference, and no amount of brow-beating can ever change that!