I feel like, lately, my inspiration for my blog has come directly from church and from our priest, Reverend Debra at Church of the Apostles in Oro Valley, Arizona. Hmmmm....I guess that isn't such a bad thing, is it? Dave and I always talk about the sermon throughout the week, which proves that it has become a big piece of our lives. The Gospel reading today was Matthew 16:26, which says, “For what profits a man if he gains the whole world but loses his own soul?”
What does that mean to you? For us, it means three pretty important things, not to mention how it reminded me of one of my favorite songs by TobyMac and Mandisa "Lose My Soul".
The best part to me, about that song (have you listened to it, yet? I don't want to give you any spoilers) is when Kirk Franklin sings "While we teach prosperity, the first thing to prosper should be inside of me". That really speaks to me, because I can get caught up so easily in the worldly things until I remember that those are fleeting. They aren't going to sustain me through eternity. So what am I doing about that? Honestly, sometimes, nothing....absolutely nothing. I let the world suck me in, and I listen to negative talk or think I want something I don't need. But what am I called to do? I think it's about these following three things, even though all three of them are hard:
1. I need to continue to talk to people, ask questions, listen (TRULY listen, not just hear the words), and sometimes agree to disagree. I hear people (including me, because I can be just as guilty of it) say they are going to listen, but they can't even wait until someone finishes saying their piece before they shake their head, saying, "No, no, no....that's not right. I just saw on the news.........". We can put our heads in the sand and not listen to anything or we can begin to have conversations with people to try to understand their points of view. If, at the end of the conversation, we are truly not changed, then we can always say to ourselves, "I will simply take what I like and leave the rest". I've had to do that many times. Or, as Dave and I try to practice with each other, when we disagree on politics or other contentious topics, we simply say, "You know, you might be right about that." Because, after all.....how do I really know that my views are the correct ones? Who made me omniscient? Nobody, I assure you. In my mind, there's only one guy that is omnipotent and omniscience and He was nailed to a cross. I make mistakes all the time. I was just talking with a group of educators the other day about how admitting vulnerability can be quite empowering, not to mention how it can build a great deal of trust in those with whom we work.
2. Sometimes, the hard way may just end of being the most rewarding: What does that mean for you? I don't know, but for me, it means that the thing I'm going through in the moment can end up teaching me so many great lessons, even if I don't feel it at the time. In other words, sometimes the toughest times can end up leaving some beautiful moments behind. I grieved so much when my mother died in July of 2005, but she left me so many beautiful gifts, not the least of which was being able to be right there as she passed away. All of our dear pups that have died (sometimes way too soon) have left us with lessons we needed to learn (as I talk specifically and sometimes comically in my book Letting Go of K.C. ).
Even being diagnosed with breast cancer five years ago and going through a double mastectomy, oophorectomy, and reconstruction, while quite painful for me (and Dave, as caretaker), taught us how much to enjoy what we have while we have it. Nobody has a "get out of death free" card, right? We went through that time with a lot of humor and a whole lot of prayer.
I was just talking to one of my graduate students in one of my Educational Leadership courses yesterday. She said she might want to get her doctorate after getting her master's degree. I told her that she should since she wants to continue to learn, but I cautioned that she should be prepared to work harder and have her life be more disturbed than ever before. I always say that getting a doctorate is a family affair. While I may have been the only one taking the courses and writing the dissertation, Dave and the dogs had to put up with me not being "present" for a number of months. But the rewards were so worth it in all those instances, yes, even death. I now have beautiful memories of my mother, our pups, how much I was cared for through my surgeries, and how much I learned through my doctoral program with a great bunch of people in our cohort (yes, I miss you all so very much). So, yes, sometimes the best things in life might be the hardest.
3. Possessions are only temporary As TobyMac, Kirk Franklin, and Mandisa sing about in the song above, what do I have if all I gather with me are worldly possessions? While buying a new outfit or going out to dinner at a great restaurant are fun at the time, I have found the most rewarding times are when I feel most spiritually connected to God and to other people who are seeking the same type of rewards---non-worldly ones. Connections with people (my best friends, for example) have been the cornerstone of my life in addition to the connection to Jesus Christ. I think, as educators, we are "called" not to stay in our own classrooms (or our own silos, as I often quip) but rather to share what we learn and feel about our own teaching. Good ideas shared are free, but they have such long-lasting effects.
Just for today, maybe take a listen to the song above and consider where you are putting your energy, time, and even money. Are you spending time arguing with negative Nellies? Are you spending time gathering all the worldly possessions you can? Or, are you, perhaps, making connections with people and a Higher Power that will last forever?
I have had some of my graduate students who, while they may say they loved the class and having me as a professor, say that I'm a bit of a perfectionist when it comes to grammar and writing mechanics. In fact, I saw an "End of Course Survey" comment the other day that said, "Dr. Arneson is the most engaged professor I have ever had, but she acts like she is 'married' to the assignment rubrics." Wait what?? Guilty as charged! We, as educators, have rubric standards for a reason. They help our students see exactly what they can/need to do in order to get a high grade on an assignment. If I seem "married" to it, my response it, "On what else should I base your grade?" I can sleep well every night knowing that my integrity is intact for grading by giving very specific, very clear, and very prompt feedback to all my students. Is there a bit of perfectionism in there? Maybe. And do I have a bit of a bias towards students who hold themselves to these standards as well? Maybe. Sometimes, I see little mini-me students, and they make me smile.
But, I'm not a perfectionist about everything, for sure. Anyone who has ever visited the Arneson house (with the possible exception being literally minutes after our housekeeper has come) knows that our house is always filled with dog hair. If you sit on our couches with black pants, you will get up with a new style of pant-color. What special treat is that!! And please, for all things Holy, do not open drawers around the kitchen or bathroom as there may be things that pop out like something from a jack-in-the-box. Why? It's because the drawers are my "go-to" when I need to hide things off of the counters (when people come to visit, etc.). In other words (and I promise I am trying to work on this), things may look perfect on the outside but inside, I still want approval and perfectionism from myself. What is in your drawers (figuratively, not literally)? For me, it's my desire to be loved (or at least liked) and to be known for being passionate about what I do. I love my friends unconditionally and I have a bit of an expectation that they feel the same way. When it's a problem is when it hinders my ability to simply BE. I cannot be somebody or something that I am not, and I may not be everyone's cup of tea. But my spiritual advisor reminds me it's none of my business what other people think of me. I pray every single morning (kneel down on a kneeler beside the bed and hold hands/paws with L.C. and pray; yes, it is precious, and yes, I will get Dave to take a picture) for God to direct my thinking for that day (among other things, of course). Why do I need to do that? Left to my own devices, my thinking would get me into a heap of trouble. Even Jesus needed strength and prayed. Richard Rohr ("Yes, And...", 1997) said Jesus had to pray during his temptation in the desert, before he was able to choose his apostles, while he debated with his adversaries, in the garden of Gethsemane, and even on the cross. If Jesus, as a human being, needed prayer to help Him through these "crosses to bear", then my little grain-sized body must really need prayer, for sure.
We will never be perfect. Why? Our priest said, today, it's because "we are divinely human". What should we do, then? Remember that it is progress and willingness that should be our creed, not perfection. Why set myself up for failure? If I am expecting perfection, and I know I'm never going to achieve it, then what is the point? I pray every day because I have a calling to teach and to work with other educators and educational leaders. I am called to fulfill my calling, quite honestly.
Just for today, perhaps examine what your calling is, and then determine what you do to help achieve it, knowing that it might not ever be perfect but recognizing that it never has to be. It's the waking up and growing up that matters. Thanks, Reverend Debra, for pushing me to think every week during your sermons. I love the challenge, and I love you (unconditionally, by the way).
I would love to hear some comments from you all about your own journeys. Hearing others' stories helps us grow in our own journey, I think.
One of my dear graduate students who is getting her Master's degree in Educational Leadership wrote such a beautiful post, I told her I had to "steal" it. Well, technically, it's not stealing because she gave me her permission to use it. Thank you, Maria Tijerina, for your words and your passion and your permission.
When I started teaching I was often asked "Why are you a teacher"? Before I could answer they would say, "If you are in it for the money, you are in the wrong profession". I have always responded by saying, "I teach because I am passionate about the profession and know I am doing what I was meant to do." It makes me happy. In fact, everyone ought to be happy in their career, regardless of what it is. Don’t lose sight of why you are in the teaching profession, and it would help to reflect on your reasons every once in a while.
When you are enjoying the teaching profession, you will probably experience the following rewards:
3. I AM SURROUNDED WITH LOVE--As a teacher, it is so rewarding to go to work and be surrounded by love all around me! Sometimes, during a busy time or stressful day, a simple “I love you, Miss”, or a doodle from a student on their free time, can instantly put a smile on my face. It is such an honor to be able to teach students and love them while they are in my care.
4. I GET TO CELEBRATE MILESTONES--You get to celebrate big and small accomplishments throughout the day and school year with your students. You get to watch your students (current and previous) grow and be proud that you were part of the process to get them to where they are today.
5. I GET TO LAUGH ALL DAY LONG-- Most great teachers would probably agree that kids are hilarious without even trying to be! One at a time or all at once, your students probably make you laugh. I don’t know about you, but to me, laughter is the perfect cure for so many things in life. When you are a teacher, you need to have a sense of humor and joke around with your students.
6. I GET TO CREATE MY WORK ENVIRONMENT--In most professions, people don’t get to “create” their own environment. They go to work in the environment that has been created for them and maybe they are able to contribute to it somewhat. However, teachers get to create their own environment within limitations, of course. We can only hope that teachers create a positive environment that will enrich the learning that goes on in the classroom. Teachers have the freedom to make the best out of it! If you spend most of your weekdays in your classroom, why not make the environment as positive, comfortable, and happy as possible? Do it for yourself and the children who share the space with you.
7. I GET TO INSPIRE OTHERS--Whether you do it intentionally or not, you inspire others just for being you. You inspire kids to do their best when you do your best. You inspire your colleagues to work hard when you work hard. You inspire everybody around you to be happy, positive, creative, and energetic when you are. We really are models, aren't we?
8. I GET TO FEED MY INNER CREATIVITY--Since becoming a teacher, I have learned so much about my creative potential that I didn’t know existed. Now, it comes very naturally for me to set up my classroom, create bulletin displays, create engaging lessons and appealing resources, etc. Thanks to teaching, I have a new appreciation for art, as well. Now, I can confidently organize events, create resources to help make the learning environment more engaging. Use your teaching experiences to spark your inner creativity because it is there even if you haven’t discovered it yet.
9. I GET TO CREATE LASTING MEMORIES TO CHERISH FOREVER--Every year, I look forward to September because I get to meet my new students for the year. I get to learn personalities of 20+ students and how I can help them all reach their potential while the care of these students is in my hands. When the school year ends, I always get emotional because I know I will miss the kids as we all move on. No matter how many years I do this, it never gets old. The feeling of excitement when September approaches will always be there. And as much as it can get emotional at year-end, I am always grateful for the memories that we’ve given each other and what we’ve learned from one another. Some people ask me what my favorite grade or class is but the truth is, I simply cannot name one. As cliché as it sounds, they are all my favorites.
10. I GET TO TEACH--No matter what you do, don’t take it for granted. I know many teachers who struggle to land a full-time teaching position due to a surplus of teachers in certain locations around the world. If you are given the opportunity to teach, enjoy it, take advantage of that opportunity, and give it your all. When you are a teacher, you teach beyond the textbooks. You teach children how to deal with their emotions and how to problem solve. You teach children how to be independent and organized in life. You teach children what matters to them and what their interests are. You teach children how to have good manners and how to be responsible for their own actions. You teach children how to apologize to others and learn from their mistakes/actions. The greatest part is, you teach all of this and so much more without even realizing it. You teach all of this by simply being an amazing teacher who cares about what you do.
To all in this profession I say "Thank you for all you do to mold and change lives. God bless you all."
And God bless you, dear Maria, for saying what so many of us feel.
Teachers, please add your comments about your favorite part of teaching.
Happy Communicating to all,
When I was about nine years old, my parents got a divorce. My sister went to live with my dad, and I lived with my mom. My mom had basically been a "housewife" all her life until the divorce, when she was all of a sudden introduced (baptism by fire) to being a single-mother, fighting for child support and working as a ward clerk at a downtown San Antonio hospital. Oh, and did I mention she didn't learn how to drive until she was about 36 years old? Driving to and around downtown San Antonio was as terrifying for her as going to the dentist to have a root canal would be for me (okay, I'll be honest---I have to have nitrous just to get my teeth cleaned, as I have a bit of PTSD from biting down on a drill when I was young---so maybe that isn't a great analogy).
Suffice it to say, summers in our apartment complex(es) --- we lived in quite a few as we would have to move as soon as the rent would go up--- were pretty fun for me. I would spend most of my time out by the pool, getting brown and reading voraciously. But about an hour before I knew Mother would be coming home, I would go inside the apartment, clean it as best as an 11 year old could, and begin making dinner so Mother would not have to worry about it. I got good at cooking hamburger patties with mushroom gravy on them, a noodle dish, and a salad. That was my go-to, anyway. I'm certain I had more of a repertoire, but Dave doesn't believe I ever cooked, as I avoid it like the plague now, so I won't go on and on about my culinary skills as a pre-teen. Why did I do it? I absolutely adored the feeling I got when Mother would walk in the door, exhausted from a day on her feet at the hospital, and she would see the clean apartment, maybe a silly little poem I had written her to cheer her up, and then the look on her face when she saw that dinner was all ready. She lavished praise on my good works, and I ate it up. I can only believe that trying to make her happy had become one of my missions in life.
Fast forward to the work I do now: consulting, training, presenting, conducting keynotes, and coaching. When I work with groups in person, relationship-building is so much easier. I get to know their names, and they see how much I care about them. Doing all this work online has presented its challenges, but the toughest challenge I have faced is not always being able to see the looks on the faces of the people to whom I am presenting, especially in a keynote for 325 people. I always feel I could have done something differently that may have made the presentation or workshop even better, but, for the most part, I'm fairly confident in the skills I have learned over the years.
And then...the evaluations come in. Dave always jokes with me, saying, "You could have 100 people in your workshop; 95 could say it was the best they've ever attended; 4 could say something neutral, and one could say they didn't care for it. You would focus on the one." It is so true. I call it my 95 or 99% rule. I want to please every single person with whom I come in contact. After all, I was the court jester who made my mother laugh throughout my life with her. I'm supposed to be entertaining and useful. That's what my ego tells me. And yet, when someone says something like, "This was supposed to be a keynote, but it felt more like instruction, in which we were asked to do work", I get my feelings hurt. Instead, I should likely be saying to myself, "Of course you are going to be asked to do something. I teach educators! Why would you expect me not to model what good teaching is by realizing students of any age cannot be talked TO for longer than about 10 minutes with doing something---cognitive or writing or talking? I believe this is the premise on which TED talks were built---the notion that people can stay engaged for about 10 minutes of being talked TO, before they start to fidget. But then why can't I let that one evaluation go, despite my rationalizing why I teach the way I teach? Ten other people can say, "I love how you infuse humor into your teaching" or "I love how you practice what you preach", but I don't lose sleep about those. I lose sleep over the one...but I'm working on it.
What about you? What do you think of me? No, no, no...that's not my question. My question is "What about you? What is your kryptonite?" While mine is people-pleasing, what is yours? I stand by the belief that naming it and even saying it outloud to other people not only lessens its impact but it makes me realize how truly silly it is. Don't get me wrong---I want to produce high-quality instruction at all times. But if the bulk of the feedback is positive, why lose sleep over that which I cannot control? (I once got feedback saying, "My biggest complaint is the coffee---they should have served Starbucks." Seriously? That's all you have to give me? I'm not even in charge of the coffee! I'm in charge of the instruction!!).
Just for today, perhaps it would be wise for all of us to examine what makes up who we are, think about where it might stem from, and whether it is necessary now, despite serving us well in our past. I think I'll do just that...after I finish flogging myself for messing up the words to one of the verses of one of the songs I was leading for our virtual worship in church this morning.