When I joined the Peace Corps a friend of mine told me, “Oh, watch out. It’s awesome, but you need to know that you will have your highest highs and your lowest lows of your life in the time you’re away.” I had no idea what she meant. I thought I was pretty savvy. I hoped I had already had my lowest lows of my life with the death of my three friends in college, and I hoped I was in for just my highest highs.
But my friend was right. I did have my lowest lows in the time I spent in Nepal. I had days where I questioned how I could exist in a country with so much, while my counterparts struggled for everything they got. I questioned how I could make an impact with so much work to do. I questioned myself, my god, my culture, my very being. It took everything I had to figure out how to help myself be a happy member of my community, one I did not fully understand.
With that said, I also had my highest highs during this time period. The night I understood everything my host family said at dinner time was a time that highlighted my growing linguistic skills. I hate to admit it, but when I got lice in my village, the women started inviting me to nit pick in the evenings. We sat on the steps of one of the houses, each person behind the last picking through each other’s hair, searching for nits, all while we gossiped and talks about the happenings in the village. These friendships carved on this staircase are powerful reminders of how something so traumatic can open us up to the beauty of life.
Everything that has happened to me since my experience in the Peace Corps has been measured against the statement my friend made. I have had some amazing highs and some desolate lows. I am sorry to say that some of my lows have been lower than they were in my life in Nepal, and I have had comparable highs to my time there.
There are days with extreme highs and lows like today. But I have to remember that everything in the middle is just that, a disappointment not a catastrophe. And on the same token, the highs I feel do not mean that I am some kind of rockstar. I must stay the course in the middle. It is in the middle where the sweet spot is, that place where awesome happens and can be sustained.
In the spirit of Vicki Davis’s piece, “Why You Should Set Soft Goals for Your Classroom This Year,” I would like to take some time to explore this for my own classroom.
- I want my students to be mindful in the ways they approach their reading and their coursework. One of my favorite yoga teachers, Amy Baker, says “Nothing is casual.” Everything is felt, received, and investigated. In my classroom, this would mean that nothing is casual. Everything I put in front of my student holds meaning to feel, receive, and investigate.
- I want my students to engage in their world. I want them to see how their actions create ripple effects, both good and bad. I want them to see that they ARE the change they want to see in the world. I want them to investigate how other people’s work has created change in the world, but also examine how their work changes it as well.
- I want my students to be able to step outside of their own points of view. I want them to examine the big picture of the world, to look at the major philosophies, so they can see different perspectives.To understand why major movements happen means they might be more open to movements taking place in their lifetimes.
These soft goals Vicki Davis talks about are every bit as important as the objectives, the assessments, and the assignments we have in our classrooms. These goals create the undercurrent through which we create everything else.
I hope to touch base with these goals before or during every major break this year – I’ll let you know how it goes.
Today my new bedroom set was delivered, and I must say it looks absolutely beautiful. During the delivery I began talking to the moving advisor who works in my building (I live in a high rise condo). This man is a ski instructor on the mountain just over a pass from where I grew up. It turns out he knows my first two bosses, Serge and Patrick (to be said with a highly seductive French accent).
These two men ran the ski school at Loveland Ski Area in the 1980s when I got my first job teaching skiing there. They not only hired my two other friends and me, but they also helped to train us into the skiers we became. They were the best type of boss: they pushed us to be our best in our vocation, but they pushed us to be even better in our occasion, the passion that brought us all to teach skiing in the first place, our love of skiing. These two men made sure the three of us never lost sight of our passion, and they gave us “free” ski days where they came out with us and actually pushed us hard to become better than any of us thought we could become.
This notion of finding what you love and becoming better at it has stuck with me. These two men were the first to teach me the growth mindset. They helped me understand that you can be good at what you do, but lose passion for your occasion for doing it in the first place. They always said that nothing else matters when the mountain is in front of you. All of the little things should fall away. Even if I was stuck teaching three year olds all day long, it didn’t matter because a day on the mountain, no matter what I was doing, is ALWAYS better than no day on the mountain…and that was exactly the attitude they took.
Any day I get to show kids the craft of writing, that I get to play with words, is always better than a day sitting in meetings. Figuring out ways to get better at my vocation, both teaching and writing, is better than a day without. For I have chosen my passion, teaching students to write well is the most important skill we can give them, to fuel my vocation.
That, my friends, is a sweet sweet lesson from my first job.