Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Open the Path

As I previously mentioned, I read a lot.  I reread a number of  books and Astonished is a book I recently read twice.  This book, by Beverly Donofrio, is loaded with wisdom and came fortuitously into my hands this March. In the book, Beverly had something horrendous happen to her and she sought solace in monasteries. She recorded, in wonderful and honest prose, her experiences. She is funny, human, and so very wise.

She recounted how one friend of hers, a sage earth mother type advised, Pray every day. Pray, "Open the path and I will walk it."  It sounded like pretty good advice. So when I finished the book, the prayer began, "Open the path and I'll walk it."  I wrote it down on sticky notes, in my journal, and on bookmarks to help me remember to say it. I said it out loud on my morning walk to work and wrote it with lipstick on the bathroom mirror.

One path that has opened is the chance to teach literature to 8th graders. I am seeing this as an answer to this prayer. Besides working with students with special learning needs in grades 4-8, I will get to reenter the classroom and teach literature  again. It feels like a great opportunity and I am excited to venture in.  I believe good literature has the power to change our lives so I hope, even for a season, to share some stories, books, poems, and articles that kids will want to read closely and a few that will even help them make some sense of their world.

I hope to help them enrich their vocabulary and speak with precision and accuracy so that they know there is a difference between  appreciated, devoted, admired and yes, obsessed. I hope they write way more than I can grade, read much more than we can ever test, and know enough about punctuation rules to break them from time to time.

Another source of good advice came a few months ago when I went with my daughter to her obstetrician and was surprised to meet this motherly and frank lady who is taking wonderful care of my daughter and her unborn blessing. She was talking about the recent phenomenon of being able to read online reviews that patients (or anyone actually)  post . She said, " I don't read those reviews. I just ask God to send me the patients he wants me to have." Again, great advice. What students will I have and why? The ones I am supposed to.

"Open the path and I will walk it."


Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Something to hang my hope on: Transformation

I write in this journal because it helps me. I like the cover because, frankly, at age 50, my youthful optimism has gone to hell in a hemp handbag. I often find myself anxious and cynical about my aging self and my ability to keep up and therefore more in need of cheap therapy. This journal is one such therapy tool.

The sentence starter at the top of each page says: "What I am hanging my hope on today:" It's an appropriate redirection for my state of mind when I sit down to write. The other day, sitting in the far back pew at Friday's all school Mass and looking at 700 points of light in the pews before me, I realized what I hang my hope on: Transformation.

At the end of a school year, I looked over that crowd and realized the changes that have taken place. A brand new college graduate has become a teacher, a kindergartner has become a reader, a 3rd grader has become a master of multiplication, a silly 6th grader has become a less silly almost 7th grader, a new student has become a valued member of his community, a child with Autism has become an understood friend, a principal has become, once again, the mother of many children, and for a few days a new librarian has become a duck on a bike because she doesn't want kids to lose our library books. And, as I watch the priest during the consecration, I think of transformation and how the Eucharist and the love of a community has the power to change us in essential ways. This morning I am hanging my hope on the assurance that the Mass will make me less afraid and a little more loving.

When it comes to education, there is a lot to hang our hope on. But no...it isn't high test scores or new computers or even the common core standards that we should hang our hopes on.  It is the power of creative thought, the undeniable strength of the human spirit as seen in the youngest learner and the carefully crafted lesson plan of a teacher who will never get paid enough but she does it anyway. It is the child who makes connections, who asks "why?" until she understands and the child who doesn't get it because we didn't teach it right but he shows up in our class and gives us another chance. It is the kid who says, "thank you" even though you hounded him day and night until he finished a book.  We hang our hope on the parents who show up for conferences, on the dad who takes his son's phone away at night and the mom who dares to be a little unpopular with the friends of her daughter.

Finally, we hang our hope on the love of people dedicated every day to the transforming power of love. When we see ourselves as God sees us, shining, beautiful and full of potential, we know we can be transformed. And that is enough for today.

With hope,

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Teacher Appreciation: An Unlikely Metaphor

In the merry month of May, my thoughts drift toward my dad, now gone from the earth about 1 1/2 years. His birthday occurred in May, as did my parents' wedding anniversary. There is also a week in May designated "Teacher Appreciation Week"  that I probably only know about because I am a teacher. At any rate, during this week I tend to reflect on the great teachers I have known as well as the source of my inspiration to keep teaching. My dad taught me a lot about teaching through the passion he had for learning and encouraging others. So, this post features a bit of inspiration from my dear dad.

This free-verse poem, titled "Remembering" was one I chose to read at my dad's memorial service because it was like him, both funny and profound.  This week, it reminds me that our role as teachers is often just supportive, not noticed until we aren't there any longer, and hidden so that our students' can look good... much like the object in my dad's metaphor.


by H. Eugene Herr

Joe Montano is recalled with a football.
That was this thing, his tool.
Michael J and Isaiah T- a basketball, hoops.
C. S. Lewis- writing and The Inklings
A fellowship of pub and pen.
For me, I want to be remembered as a bra.
On a street in Pittsburg decades ago
Walking to the downtown Y for Employment Anonymous
Kerwin Flannery said to me, "Gene, you are just like a good bra.
You give me a lift."
I'd like to encourage the minds and hearts of family, friends, and foes
to give a lift to what is really there
to help the shape of what is inherent in personality and grace gifts
A bra is hidden, undercover of dress or blouse
and yet its quality is realized
unconsciously there but consciously important
And so I try to pray, to support.
An occasional note, a presence
I need to heal my own heart
To find my fresh spring in Jesus
I need the lift.
I'd rather be--yes, just a bra, in the attire of God's own.

Dad, thanks for the wisdom ... and for being just like a good bra. I aspire to the same.