5 things I learned teaching.

It is not yet time to give you an update on what is happening, because I frankly do not know.  I’m still in the process of trying to make a very significant life change (again, because that’s how I roll), and it has proven very difficult thus far.  So in thinking about what’s to come, I have lots of unknowns and empty spaces and that is profoundly anxiety-producing and not something I could even begin to write about, except on a meta-scale, and of course, that’s why I have a journal.

For purposes of What If and Why Not, however, I thought a reflection on the past couple of years, as I (hopefully) make my slightly awkward exit from the wonderful world of teaching was in order.  Without further ado, ladies and gents, a few tidbits I may have already known, but teaching made that much clearer.

1. High school kids don’t realize teachers are people.  Neither do lots of college students. I should have learned this lesson as a student, because it was seriously the case for me, and most of the people I grew up with.  Until a certain age, depending, of course, on the person and their relationship to certain aspects of society (authority, family, friendship, etc.), certain grown-ups are…let’s say not as human as one’s peers.  There is a profound Continue reading

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59 children have been brutally murdered in one go…and this isn’t breaking news.

I am outraged.

I am sick to my stomach.

This morning, scrolling through the news on the Guardian, waaaaay down at the bottom, nestled between a story about an NHS scandal and an IRA bombing suspect, was the story of 59 adolescent Nigerian students who were shot and burned to death by members of the extremist group Boko Haram on Tuesday.

At first they thought there were only 29 dead.  Apparently many of them ran for their lives, only to die along the way from their gunshot wounds.

Some of them were “burned to ashes,” according to the police commissioner.

This is horrible…terrible…I am no journalist, so I have no shame in admitting that it leaves me absolutely speechless.

But it is news.  It is very, very important news.

Appalled by the very unimportant placement of the article on the Guardian’s front page, I began formulating a letter of complaint to the editor.  Out of curiosity, and perhaps for some moral amunition, I headed over to Al Jazeera, hoping to say, “Hey, Guardian!  Look how this newspaper valued the lives of these children enough to place it at the top of the page!”  Alas, there isn’t even a mention of the event on their home page.

New York Times:  Nothing on their home page.

Los Angeles Times:  Nothing on their home page.

The Washington Post:  Nothing on their home page.

Le Monde: One of 16 lead stories at the bottom of their homepage

The Telegraph:  Nothing on their home page.

I’m going to ask you to do something terrible.

I’m going to ask you to imagine your own child, 16 years old, having just seen his or her classmates shot and burned alive, running through the bush, bleeding from gunshot wounds, until he or she finally cannot go any further, and collapses, to bleed to death, alone.

I don’t think I have a single reader out there who would contest that Africa is where it all began.  Where humans took their first steps; where farmers planted their first seeds; where civilisations were first built.  More recently, so-called “developed” countries have spent the past several hundred years endeavouring by any means necessary to systematically under-develop this massive, culture-, history-, and (perhaps most importantly to those “developed” nations) resource-rich continent to what often feels like the point of no return.

Humanity’s treatment of Africa and Africans is a microcosm – albeit a very large one – of  humanity’s treatment to the Earth and nature itself:  as somehow seperate.  Not part of us.

Listen:  Africa is us.  Those are our children. 

Consider Columbine.  Sandy Hook.  The Norway Massacre.

Why do the deaths of these children headline for days – weeks, even?  Why are their lives worthy of breaking news reports that start at the moment they happen and don’t end until we almost can’t stand to hear about it any more?

Why are the children of Buni Yadi College in Yobe, Nigeria, not headlining the news?

Please:  remember Biafra.

I should have been writing to thank the editors of the GuardianAt least they covered the story.

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Step three: Don’t just forgive your shortcomings – plan on them.

One of the greatest thinkers I’ve come to know in this life is a writer for the Guardian, Oliver Burkeman.  He’s got a regular gig there:  “This column will change your life,” and in it he explores all sorts of wonderful thoughts and ideas that maybe didn’t occur to the reader in quite that way before, but after pondering the concept à la Burkeman, they come out the other end thinking, “Exactly,” and also, “I’ve always thought that,” even if it’s the first time that reader ever bothered considering said idea.  Incidentally, that reader is me…I have no idea how he affects others.

Another lovely mind out there is the creater of brain pickings, Maria Popova, who has three extraordinary talents:  archiving some of the most interesting and worth-reading information out there, ergo consuming – if I will allow her – copious amounts of my life with all her interestingness; taking the ideas of multiple very talented thinkers and synthesizing them so that they are no longer overwhelming and instead fall right into place, one alongside the next; making herself seem somehow like this background informant, rather than the brilliant light she really is to the world of thought and thinking…humble people intimidate me.  Anyway, I digress.  Ms. Popova recently covered Mr. Burkeman’s new book, which has something to do with why setting goals is counterproductive, and she goes into very interesting detail in her post, and I intend to buy and devour this book, and I can also confirm that having read it, I will undoubtedly be in agreement with ol’ Ollie, because that is how he rolls…right into my brain, convincing me not only of his points, but also that I always thought them anyway, so no harm done.

But before I reach that point, a word on setting goals.

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Step Two: Not just any list

Gosh – it wasn’t so very long ago I was feeling really rather proud of myself…I’d made all this space!  And I really had – just a few days of extra work got me well ahead of the game so that instead of feeling like I was doggy-paddling out of breath in icy cold water, I felt a bit more like somewhere in the middle of a long, challenging jog.

And then.

At the high school all the teachers have their own personal cubbyhole.  More often than not I can get updates about what the union’s got going on, which are of more or less no interest to a sub, so I use them to practice my articulation…progressives are wordy as hell.  A few weeks back, though, I happened upon a letter from the Rectorat (school district) informing me that I had training in January.

“Oh, bah!”  I moaned to a colleague. “Are we ever allowed to get out of these?  It’s on a Friday!  I teach 6 classes on Fridays!”

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Step One: Creating Space.

I am aware that if I look back on the various posts I’ve written on this blog, I would find the personal pronouns referring to yours truly too numerous to bother counting.  I’ve ventured out of my box a little here, a tad bit there, but for the most part I’ve focused my opining and whining squarely on the space that surrounds me, the things that happen to me, because of me, and by my hand.  It’s a bit boring, isn’t it?  I’m very interested in finding a place in life in which what I’m thinking about — what concerns me — is more interesting than, well, me.

For the moment, however, I’m still figuring out which foot goes where in order to move forward.  One of the biggest obstacles to that in the last year or so has been a lack of space.

I don’t mean physical space.  I’ve got enough of that.  I don’t mean time.  Time has been there – in snippets, which is a big part of the problem.  Imagining life differently than it is takes an extraordinary amount of space. That space is emotional, mental, and creative, and if it is diminished by fatigue, it is destroyed by fear.  Of course fear – my fear, at any rate – comes from self-doubt.  I’m not sure what it is that I’m doubting, because I haven’t even figured out what it is that I’m asking myself.  But I do know that I haven’t had the space to even begin to formulate that question.  So the possibilities, rather than seeming endless as they might, seemed painfully finite.  Suffocating.  Doom and gloom.

And then that changed.

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Here it comes…

2 months.

In the past two months I have written approximately 76 blog posts in my head…or at least started them.  They never came to fruition.

In the past two months I have considered writing a farewell post (not to the world, folks…hehe…just to the world of blogging) at least 47 times.  I never found the courage.

In the past two months I have prepared, taught, graded, prepared, taught, graded, screamed, prepared, cried, taught, moped, and graded.

A few weeks ago I began a list of the things I have begun learning since I started teaching.  I got to three:

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