In the Middle

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.

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Soft Goals

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┬áto 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.

Selfish Mom Moment

Yesterday was my daughter’s continuation from eighth grade to high school. She looked forward to it and wanted me to go an buy her a dress for the occasion. It is a big deal at her school which is a k-8 magnet school in our district. The problem is that she asked me to take her shopping the Sunday night before the last two days of my school year. I just couldn’t swing it and I knew if I tried I would make myself crazy in the process.

She found an outfit and she looked great, but I know it wasn’t the same had she actually had a new dress to show off and feel really good in. Like the kid she is, she made the best of it and moved on and had a lovely day.

After the ceremony, where I must admit I shed a few tears, my husband and I were standing at the reception, awkwardly as always, when she came bounding up to us. She gave us a hug and said that we had not signed the permission slip to go to the celebration at the beach volleyball place near her school. I could feel myself tense up. I had to get back to school to finish a report that was not good enough the first go around , and to finish checking out for the school year. In short, I was feeling selfish and wanted to close out my school year as quickly as I could. I wanted to be done.

While we stood arguing over her permission slip and where to find one, Maya’s fifth grade friend walked up, tears streaming down her face. No words. Just a big heartfelt strong bear hug. After about a minute, and many tears from my whole family of three, Abbie pulls Maya away and said, “I just can’t imagine school without you. I’m going to miss you so much.”

In that moment, that precise moment I took a deep breath realizing the weight of this day for Maya. While it seemed like a big deal, but maybe not a huge deal to me, that moment made me realize how much this day meant for Maya. This day meant goodbye to people she cares very deeply about, people who are all dispersing to different schools around the city and the country. These are people she bonded with over the last four years. Let me be clear if I haven’t yet; my daughter’s school creates middle school experiences atypical of most middle schools.

The students there really care deeply about one another.

This short scene has made me think about the times in class when I have been in that same selfish place with my students; wanting to move on because we have so much to cover, wanting to jet off to my next class or my next meeting when a student has a question, giving harsh feedback without sitting with the learner to coach them, getting frustrated in the light of learning…so many things, so many times.

To be mindful is to be present in the situation, to neither think of the past or what is to come in the future. To be present with kids is to be with them in their experiences, to neither minimize nor blow their experiences beyond what they are. To be with them in whatever moment they are in.

I hope the next time my daughter (or my students) present me with an opportunity to share their experience, I am more mindful and open to sharing it.