Wednesday, June 19, 2013

The Right Words

"Sometimes someone says something really small, and it just fits right into this empty place in your heart. 
-- From the TV show "My So-Called Life"

I was driving along...burdened by crossing schedules and conflicting places to be. 
Inside the car I had Mary Kate lamenting how she needed a lunch, her bike fixed, and her schedule for work changed.  
I could not meet her needs.
It wasn't going to happen...
that's always ugly.

She got upset.
I got upset.
I dropped her off at work under a dome of silence.
Mumblings of dissatisfaction uttered from her lips as she was leaving, hovered around my ears like a buzzing bee.

After she left, I sighed;
took a deep breath and started on the next leg of my journey.

I was driving.
The car was silent...blessedly silent.

And then, out of no where came the tiniest voice.
A voice that is usually booming with excitement and energy --
tiny and small but clear.

"I love you."

I let it hang there like a fragrance.
I let it shush away the buzzing bee of anxiety;
I let it woosh away the frustration;
I let it embrace me, comfort me and weedle its way straight into my heart.

Three little words of encouragement and acceptance --
  the desire to make it all better the only way he knew how.

Finally after more silence and a few more miles, I turned around and looked over my shoulder at him.
He was quiet and conflicted.
He smiled.

**Let me state right here and now, that no matter your perception of people with Down Syndrome, Patrick is not wandering around dropping love bombs and telling me how great I am all day long.  In fact, I'd say that his number of "I love you's" is in direct proportion to his teen-age, adolescent boy-ness. -- it hardly ever happens.**

I told him that I had heard his words but that I needed a minute to let them sink in.
I thanked him  -- eye to eye and heart to heart.
He smiled again, bigger this time...proud that his gamble had worked.

We had lunch.  
We moved through our day of conflicts and schedules.
We made it.

Those small words, uttered at just the right moment, were grace out loud.

Thank you always seem to get to the heart of the matter in the cleanest, clearest way.
Thanks for parting the clouds and beaming in your sunshine.
Thanks for making it better with your stout heart, ready love and tender words at the exact moment my heart needed them.

Time to pass them on.
I love you.

Any words turn out to be just what you needed to hear recently?
If so, pass them on.  Share.
We could all use some tenderness.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

On Loan

"If I could sit across the porch from God, I'd thank Him for lending me you." -- Flavia

Six of my eight student teachers...ready to fly!

Yesterday was graduation day for the UC Davis School of Education.  76 or so students received their teaching credential from our university.  Eight of them were my students...another 11, I have the joy of getting to teach in a seminar about student teaching with my friend and partner-in-crime, Shelley.

My official job title is Supervisor/Lecturer...really it should be "guide for one of the craziest years of your life".  Like regular classroom teachers, I don't control who will be my student teachers.  It's a big pot and eight are scooped up onto my plate.  

I meet them in August, a few days before school starts.  We sit in a small circle and tell a bit of our story --  where are we from, where they went for undergrad, what they are most interested in educationally, why they want to be a teacher.  Most importantly, they give me their cell phone number -- my link for the late night questions, early morning mishaps and questions they can't ask out loud.  

For the next 10 months, I will be observing them and offering them suggestions for how to get better.  I will see them at their most vulnerable professionally...literally, floundering before my very eyes.  I will have to watch them get through a difficult lesson and help them pick up the pieces afterward.  Many times I will get to see a miracle moment: a student who has been misbehaving will become engaged and excited about what he's learning; the entire class will be in a state of flow -- learning from each other and working together like never before.  Those are the nuggets that shine and hold us captive.  Once you have one of those moments as a teacher, you work hard to recreate it.

In our conversations I watch the beginning teachers struggle with the clash of their dream and the reality.  Most of them have been exceptionally high performing students and it is a shock for them to see how students struggle and the many obstacles so many children face each day just getting to school.   The students who are difficult make their mark on my teachers' hearts.  The eager, excited, funny students do too.  Sometimes my teachers feel defeated and discouraged.  Other days they are on fire and can't stop smiling.

I know they are on loan to me.

I know it is a brief window where I get to have the joy of seeing them each week and I have the front row seat into their lives.  I can't help but think of their parents or families that have lifted them up and allowed them the opportunity of a higher education.  I can't help but admire their perseverance and determination.  This year two of my students were from families that were refugees from Vietnam.  They were from the same big town in California but didn't know each other. I had a student teacher who left college early to help her mother as she was dying of cancer.  I had two from rural California and another from Virginia -- quite a ways from home -- out for a personal adventure to California.  I had one who was an immigrant from Jordan.  Wearing the traditional hijab of her Muslim faith, she entered her elementary school a bit nervous for how the students and teachers might react.  Kids had questions -- like they always do.  But once those were answered and especially once they got to know each other, the walls melted away.  She was their teacher -- the receiver of early morning hugs and pictures of admiration.  It was beautiful to see.

So yesterday was the culmination of a school year like no other -- a metamorphosis for these students teachers into legit teachers. It was a chance to pause and acknowledge how hard they had worked, all that they had accomplished and the amazing profession they have chosen.  They will work from now on to hone their craft and develop their skills.  They will never forget their students from this year -- the messy moments and the fragile ones, the tear-stained cheeks,  and the high fives.  They will always hold close this beginning teacher that they were and they will remember that very first classroom, 
a laboratory of learning.

I had the joy of meeting their families yesterday.  I had the thrill of being in on the celebration -- hugging grandmas and aunties and boyfriends and parents and letting them know what a gift it has been to have this front row seat -- if only for a minute.  

And like dandelion fluff, a deep breath, and in one moment those seeds are scattered.

Those amazing people are on their way -- out into our schools -- working for educational equity, advocating for all students, figuring out why Joey continues to struggle and how to engage Suzy.  They will be giving opportunities and second chances.  They will wonder how to keep going and have moments of deep self doubt.  But they will also watch miraculous changes and witness personal growth and academic gains in their students.  

They have picked no ordinary job.  They have chosen to put themselves out there.  Day after day, they will work tirelessly for students and then have to let them go.  Like parenting, you never really know if you're doing it right.  You hope.  You send up silent prayers.  You let them go.
You savor the loan.  

Today I am grateful for the eight who crossed my path for these past ten months.
I wish them all the best as they begin the hard work and know the joy of teaching.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

When You Want To Squeeze Tighter, Push Harder, Force the Way: Yield

"Abundance is the process of letting go; that which is empty can receive." 
-- Bryant McGill

A week ago, my bag got lost after my airplane flight. It never circled around.  The baggage claim was empty and bag missing.
At first, it was no big deal.
Bags get lost.  They show up.  That's how it works.  The ladies who worked baggage claim looked weary:
so many missing bags + so many complaining people = dreadful job.
I really wasn't too worried.  I'd made it home and the odds were good that my bag would meander there too.

But the next day, there was nothing.  They hadn't located it and they went through their ready-made speech: 97% of our bags are located within five days.
The seed of doubt was planted...could my bag be in the 3%?
I asked the question out loud.
The lady on the other end of the phone was straight talking and real. Yes, some bags are never found.  If that happens, you'll get a travel voucher.
That wasn't

That was when I started counting.  I mentally picked through my bag: all of my toiletries, my new glasses, my super comfy fleece lined hoodie, my favorite jammies, Caroline's teddy bear...and my grateful journal.  Suddenly, without meaning to, I couldn't let go of these items.  I needed them, desperately, right this minute.  Like hitting refresh on the computer, over and over in my mind I kept remembering things that were in my lost bag.  Things I needed.  Things that I very likely might not ever see again.

There were tears of loss, sad to say.  There was an exasperated husband who tried to get it.  And there was me counting my missing items, obsessing, perseverating, needlessly agonizing.

What's the point?  It's just stuff.
I know this but I couldn't let it go.
 All I could see were the missing items.

Years ago I had just landed in Hawaii with our family.  The sky was stunning.  The airport so tropical it could be partially outside.  Literally, a rainbow greeted us.  Yet, there was a guy yelling and raging over his lost luggage.  I remember hearing the man who was the unlucky recipient of this guy's misplaced anger: "Have you turned around?  Look outside.  You're in Hawaii.  You only need a pair of shorts."

I remember scoffing in my mind at the weary, angry traveller.
"Yeah, guy, get over it. You're in Hawaii."
How irony loves to play with us.

Flash to my Sunday.  I wasted the morning, precious hours never to be seen again, focusing on that crap in my suitcase.  It was my daughter's 18th birthday.  I wanted to wallow, I really did...but I knew I wasn't getting today back and it was a pretty special day.  Remembering Mary Kate's birth, the joy of the pink blanket and her 2 1/2 year old brother marveling at her beauty and her amazing name (in his mind), Mary Cake, could only make me smile. I pictured her in tap shoes, in a soccer uniform scoring that thrilling first goal, holding the lacrosse stick, in her goggles covering up her baby blues for a science experiment and suddenly I could let that suitcase go.

It no longer mattered.

As soon as I stopped counting what was missing, I could see what wasn't.

I could see my sweet daughter, my day off to celebrate, my family, my health, my opportunity for a great day...and as soon as that happened...
I got a phone call.  They had found my bag.  It was on its way home.
Of course it was.

A long, long time ago I took a yoga class and the teacher taught me something very counter-intuitive and life changing.  I was trying to work my way into a position and the teacher advised, "When your instinct is to push harder, to force the way, don't.  Instead, yield."
Yielding has been the wise choice on so many occasions -- once I helped a guy trying to fix something in my garage with that advice. He was trying and trying to force something.  I told him about the yoga worked like magic and he looked at me like I had just punked him.

It took me awhile to get to the yoga yield on this one but there it was.

Stop counting what's missing.
Stop looking for what isn't there.
Stop noticing the way it isn't working.
When you spend that time on all of the things that should be but aren't, you miss out on all of things that are,
magically, perfectly, are.
All of the abundant blessings that are always there but are just never noticed.

This type of thinking has a name: it's called the deficit model.
It happens in education all the time.
We list all of the crap in the suitcase that's missing.
Your kid can only read at x level, his comprehension is at y level, this is blank % below grade level.
We perseverate on it.
We endlessly agonize.
We set a goal to move that number by 15% and call it a day.

We never see what is in front of our eyes.
We don't list the artistic talent, the creative writing abundance, the natural empathy, the ability to make friends, the skill that connects the dots across different parts of the curriculum.
We focus on the can'ts.

We miss the rainbows.

Last Sunday I relearned something I've known for a long time.
If I keep counting what's missing, I'll never see what isn't.
Happy Rebirthday to me.
Happy 18th to my favorite cake of all,
Mary Cake.