As someone who has experienced my fair share of medical "worries" in the past three years, I still don't always have my priorities correct. Let's be honest...compared to dealing with breast cancer the last three years, everything else in life should be "gravy", right? But instead, I get hung up on the little things, still, and have to constantly remind myself of the Serenity Prayer. I cannot control all things and I really shouldn't even try. Trying to control something that is out of my realm of ability is a futile and silly act. And yet...
Dave got to come with me this week for my work in Michigan. What a true pleasure it was to have my own personal driver drop me off (and then promptly leave for a golf course, of course) and pick me up every day of my trainings. He even carried my bags for me. We got to spend the day, yesterday, on Mackinac Island. If you haven't been there, and you are ever up in Michigan, you really need to go. It is a beautiful little island on which no motorized vehicles are allowed. So, how do you get around? Either by walking, biking, or by horse (with or without carriage). We took a lovely horse and carriage ride around the island, and our "driver" was great. She said, "There are hundreds of trails available for hiking and biking..." as she is driving her three-horse team on a road that is clearly designated for carriages only, and yet there are people biking towards us. She then said, "....and some people still choose to use these." It made me laugh, but several people looked at the cyclists with glaring looks, as if to say, "Did you hear our driver? You're not supposed to be using this road." Who cares? I thought. I just got so tickled at their reactions to the "offenders".
And yet...when it was time to be seated for lunch, I found myself wanting to tell the people who strode right in the restaurant and went ahead of us, "Excuse me...it is not your turn. We are first." Dave and I constantly remind each other to use Stephen Covey's habit: Seek first to understand then to be understood. I have no idea if those people had already talked to the gal at the hostess desk and were simply coming back in to get seated. As my spiritual advisor reminds me, so eloquently, "There are two kinds of business: my business and none of my business". Truth!
And, after years of lots of air travel, I have come to expect that not every trip is going to go along swimmingly (might not be the best word choice for air travel, but you get it, right?). There might be delays. There might be weather that causes flight cancellations. I might not get upgraded to a nicer seat or a better room every time. And yet...even with all that knowledge, I was so frustrated for Dave this morning. He is traveling back home to Tucson and I am traveling to Canada for work this week in Saskatchewan. He found out, when he got to the airport, that not only had his flight been cancelled, but the next one they put him on was going to be three hours delayed, completing ensuring he would miss his connection to Tucson.
I wanted so badly to control it. "They should put you on another airline." "They should let you go to their airline's club for the day, at least". "They shouldn't have made you pay for your bag." These are all things I said to him when I found out. Turns out I am going to get to my destination in Canada long before he reaches Tucson tonight. Bummer. But therein lies the reason for the Serenity Prayer. I simply have to accept the things I cannot change. That doesn't mean I have to like it, but it does mean I need to accept it.
But what if I try harder and I can change it?????
Clearly, I have more work to do. What about you?
For today, I am going to work on my peace and serenity and pray you do, too.
So very many of my friends are returning to school for their second year or 42nd year of teaching. In fact, many have already returned. I have been working with school districts in California, Texas, Arizona and several other places where the theme seems to be the same: we are excited about the start of the school year, but there is never enough time to get ready! For those of you not in the education world, let me tell you a little secret: teachers spend countless hours and countless amounts of money getting their rooms ready for Open House and that first day of school, when all the new kiddos come in with their new binders, pens and pencils, and Kleenex (yes, we often ask families to send in Kleenex, as there isn't always money in the budget for kids to blow their noses). :)
My work is so very different than it was when I was teaching in a classroom day in and day out. I was in San Antonio last week and had the chance to go to Trinity University (from where I graduated with my degree in Elementary and Special Education) to talk to one of the professors about possible future opportunities to give back to Trinity in the way of teaching there. I got teary-eyed as I parked near the Education Department, a place I spent four years of my life for hours on end, not just taking classes but also working off a bit of financial assistance. This felt like home. I was suddenly time-traveling back 34 years ago when I began taking classes there that would prepare me to take on my first job as a teacher in inner city San Antonio Independent School District in a class filled with students who had been labeled Severely Emotionally Disturbed. What in the world was I doing here at this inner city school, I remember thinking, that first day? Even though I had done my student teaching at this same school, I couldn't imagine what it was going to be like to have my own classroom, my own students, and my own curriculum (there was no set curriculum for my students who were in 3rd, 4th, and 5th grades).
I will tell you the truth, and I said this to Pat, the professor with whom I was blessed to converse at Trinity the other day: I cried the first two weeks of teaching. Not during the day, of course. I wouldn't dare let my students see my achilles heel (yet), but I went home every single night and cried about something that had gone wrong. My best plan had been thwarted by an unruly student. My dream of reading them a book they would enjoy fell flat when one of them hit another student. Every day was something else. I would literally go home each night, figure out how to fix that one new problem, go in with my oh-so-confident (but I'm crying on the inside) face on, and we'd move forward, only to play the whack-a-mole game. Some new problem would surface that would have me in tears at day's end and there I would be at night, trying to figure out how to fix it, once again going in the next day believing this one solution would put an end to a gator's head popping back up...to no avail.
You know what finally saved me from needing that tissue that none of my students could afford (and I would have never known to ask them) to bring in?
Lynne Reid Banks' "Indian in the Cupboard".
What?? Some of you are sitting there thinking that no book could save a teacher from a group of 14 Severely Emotionally Disturbed students. But it did!! I went to a bookstore (they used to have those way back when I first started teaching) and bought 15 copies of the book and I made a cupboard. In it, I would place five laminated pictures of items that were a part of the next chapter we would be reading. Every day, a student who had earned the most "points" (we were on a points and level system during that time in the world of Special Education) the day before got the distinct honor (and trust me, nothing was a greater honor, God only knows why) of opening the cupboard to find out what was in there that day before we read the chapter.
Once all five items were taped to the board, all 14 students wrote in their notebooks their predictions for what was going to happen in that day's chapter, based on the clues. Never in the history of humanity had a teacher been so grateful to find a temporary moratorium on the hitting, kicking and cussing that these students had previously exhibited. They actually cared about what was going to happen, so they wrote and guessed (and told others their guesses were stupid, so we obviously had some more work to do, but hey! it was a start!). The next piece was to tell them I wasn't going to read the book to them. I would read a paragraph here and there, but they were simply going to have to work on their reading skills in order to find out what happened in the story. And work, they did! All of a sudden, dictionaries were flying off the shelves (and blessedly, not because they were being thrown at each others' heads) to find out how to pronounce a word or to see its meaning.
We had done it---we had found something that inspired them: mystery and intrigue.
I won't lie to you and tell you that every day was perfect after that.
In fact, over the next two years of teaching at Hawthorne Elementary School, one of my students got put in a juvenile detention center for hitting me (I begged them to let Eric stay; he only hit me because he hated his mom and all women, really) and one got arrested for stealing a car (a little guy, Jesse, who was a 5th grader who couldn't see over the steering wheel). But I also got a chance to take each one of my students on trips to the bookstore and out for lunch on the weekends when they had earned a certain number of points, and we formed relationships. Joy and Reminda (my only girls) took to counseling me on my appearance ("Ooooooh, Miss Armstrong, those are some fancy shoes!" they would say one day then the next day, one would say, "Your face doesn't look right today! Did you put on lipstick??"). And we survived and thrived!
As the school year approaches for many, try to remember what took you into the education field in the first place. I'm guessing it wasn't for the pay, and I am also guessing that, for most of us, it wasn't for the "summers off". No, indeed, for most of us, going into teaching was something we simply HAD to do---we had no choice. It was and is in our blood, in our human make-up and DNA ("Must Teach!" we knew).
I pray blessings for each and every one of you who are getting your new crop of kiddos (young or old---them, not you), and remember that just because you are getting a new crop doesn't mean you need to teach in a silo. You don't have to complete that farm analogy. Share ideas with your teammates. Take a new idea from a professional learning opportunity. Teach a professional learning opportunity, for pete's sake! And remember to keep the passion and mystery alive for your students, no matter their age or the subject.
I'm not sure I've ever said it before to my workshop participants or even to anyone else until last Friday, but I was in the middle of teaching, and the participants were all working in groups. When we processed the process, one teacher said, "When _____ said that, it made me think _______." I thought about metacognition and all the times we talk about that concept in intellectual ways, but I simply said, unbidden, "I just realized that thinking begets thinking."
Now, some of you might think this is so simplistic as to be silly, but I really believe I "get that" now. The more I think, the more I think. If my priest (whom I highly respect by the way) says something, I find myself nodding my head like one of those bobbing dogs that hang from some people's rear-view mirrors. Today, in church, I was listening to a reading, and I saw a word I had never heard or seen before: "raiment". I thought to myself, "Hmmm.....I am going to have to look that one up." But when I read the sentence, "O God, who on the holy mount revealed to chosen witnesses your well-beloved Son, wonderfully transfigured, in raiment white and glistening....", I could use my context clues to figure out it must have something to do with clothing. And that, it does. However, it is quite an archaic word, one that, if I use it in a training or in a casual conversation, I might be accused of sounding a bit pretentious. Can you imagine? I would greet the teachers I'm teaching in Texas on Tuesday by saying, "Your raiments are so lovely." "My WHAT? Get this cuckoo out of here!" they might shout.
But there is another word in that passage above that struck me, when I began thinking about my thinking: transfigured. And then, she did it. Our dear priest, Debra, began preaching about transfiguration and talking about how it is really about when something happens in the real world, and we choose to turn towards it. She said that, if we take the time to pause and to really see it, we are availed of God reaching His hand toward us. Wowee!!! That is some deep stuff to think about!!!
So, here is my "little bit down to earth" example of that. We all see birds, right? They are everywhere. Not in a creepy, Alfred Hitchcock way. They are just everywhere. But, after my mom died in 2005, and we scattered her ashes along the Cardinal Trail in Audobon State Park in St. Francisville, LA (shhhh.....I know you're not supposed to scatter ashes in a state or national park, but what are you going to do about it now?? I'm certain there is a statute of limitations on ash scattering), I began seeing bright red cardinals so much more often than I think I ever had before. Maybe some would call it coincidence, maybe someone would say it's because now that I've associated them with Mother, I notice them more often (just like when you are shopping for a new car and you test drive a Subaru---all of a sudden, it seems the only cars on the road are Subarus, right?), but I choose to believe it is something altogether different.
Mother's death and the scattering of her ashes transfigured me in some way that I begin to turn towards things and pause long enough to be changed by those things, and I believe that is God reaching out His hand toward me.
Today, we allowed our eldest Lab, L.N. to cross over the rainbow bridge. Not an easy choice, ever, but we know she is without pain, pain meds, and she is transfigured and able to roam like she did as a puppy, sniffing every single thing in her path.
I have mentioned before that teaching is my life, right? I mentor several doctoral students at Walden University and I teach multiple master's courses in Educational Leadership at Grand Canyon University. I may have also mentioned that I am pretty tough on my students, particularly those getting their degrees in order to become school leaders. Why? I believe that we are what we write, and if I make multiple grammatical errors (even though, as I've been told by a student, "Grammerly didnt catch it so it cant be wrong write?" Wait, WHAT????), my reputation as a school leader will likely be sullied. Well, not every student thanks me for grading them with a fine tooth comb (or keystroke, whatever). Shocking, right?
But every once in a while, I get one of those emails or individual discussion posts that say something like, "You are the first professor who has ever given me specific feedback that could help me become a better writer and educational leader." And then it happens! I am totally transformed and remember why I continue to be tough on them. They may not all thank me right now, and many may never thank me. But when I read someone's post, "Dr. Arneson is the toughest but most engaged professor I have ever had", I know I am doing the right thing.
I pray for that feeling of transfiguration to come over you and, as our priest said, "God wants us to become the very best version of yourself."