Saturday, August 25, 2018

School and Home

Experts warn bloggers and speakers:  “Don’t give out too many links to external web pages or books.  It drives traffic away from you.”  True, certainly, but I can’t resist:  Frequently, I’m struck by something I read or hear and can’t help but snag the inspiration and explain its thing-ness when I write. 

Like this one:  Goodbye to All That:  Writers on Loving and Leaving New Yorkis a compilation of essays about… well, loving and leaving New York City.  It’s fabulous. Reading it, I dove into lives of other women who were startlingly like me with their dreams and stubborn stupid mistakes, and wrangling with questions of identity and dreams.  

They are not like me, though, because they love (or loved) New York City and felt, at some point along the way, that the city held the secret to success and happiness. 

I’ve only been to New York City two times.  Both trips are blurred and shadowy, for very different reasons, and so, in my mind, the city is unreachable in a formidable, sweet, untouchable way.  A whole universe I’ll never know.  A friendly taunt, too:  Maybe if you were a real writer.  Or,  C’Mon, girl.  You’d flounder and flop and fail, if you lived there.  And, Perhaps if one of those visits had turned out a little differently, you’d still be there, shopping in bodegas and waiting for the A Train.

But I’ve settled as a midwestern girl, an Ohioan, in the middlest part of the country in the middlest part of life.  “Your story’s not seldom told, sweetheart.”  So says Elisa Albert in my favorite essay in the book, titled, “Currency.” 

My story is certainly not seldom told.  

I harbor a little secret fantasy that I’ll have another chapter—one that involves a completely different way of being—a small farm, maybe, or a walk-up apartment in a trendy urban area, or a house with an ocean view.  

Many of us do, I think: We hold a door slightly open in case there’s another place who wants us to come there and fall in love with it.

But not now.  Instead, here I am, on one of the last weekends in August—on my patio, looking out at summery, sexy, sultry Ohio in August.  Everything is deeply green.  Sun and leafy shadows and blue skies.  One of those trademark storms quickly sneaks up and explodes everything for a while.  We scurry to put away the things that are strewn and scattered— flip-flops, my books, half-drunk lemonade, pool towels that have been drying in the sun. 

Albert says, “There’s something terrifically sad about growing up, which is why sometimes people refuse to do it.”   Growing up is what has me here.  At home. Some days—especially now, the school year has started and the days at home will become more precious—I don’t want to leave.  Not for anything.  For me, that is the most grown up I’ve ever been.  And there’s nothing sad about it.

Ten days ago, the doors opened up for another school year.  It has been a full, whirly-twirly time; I can’t even begin to process all the problems that needed solved and all the decisions that were made.  It happened, though, and happened well.  I’m always struck by how school becomes its own kind of home—for us, for the students, and for their parents.  Being a teacher or principal, and finding the place we most love when we go do the thing we do—that’s a special kind of lucky.  A special kind of home.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Picking Battles

As a kid, I ran out to the paper box every night to get The Daily Record.  It was as much local gossip as real news.  The last page contained my two favorite things—the comics and advice from Dear Abby.  I read every word of Abby’s column, a kid eavesdropping on adult questions and problems; what could be more delicious than that

Nowadays, I love the advice columnist Carolyn Hax.  She’s like Dear Abby, except modern and sassy and takes real-life difficult questions, and doesn’t feel like she has to be vague and symbolic all the time. She’s honest and clear, and doesn’t sugar-coat the mirror when she’s asking someone to hold it up and look into it.

In response to a recent question, Carolyn urged her reader to take some time to think about what was actually important.  She said, 

Figure out your own priorities.  You may know this by its street name:  “Picking your battles.”

That’s the heart of it all, isn’t it?  Because there are so many battles to fight—we can find them by simply walking down the street, scrolling through Twitter, waiting for a cup of coffee.  Why is this taking so long?  Why is that person being unkind?  Why can’t people park straight?  Why is the service so slow?  Is every.single.person a terrible driver?  Why is ordering a pound of sliced turkey at the deli worse than anything, ever, in the whole universe?  There are problems and issues everywhere, all the time.

One of my favorite phrases came from a friend, describing someone he knew who tried fighting every battle. “She’s a hammer—and everyone else is a nail,” he said.  He was laughing, but his point was well taken, especially for someone like me, who thinks she’s got to take on every woe or complaint of others. In my job, I like to be a problem solver.   I like to help make things better for everyone.  I feel my best when all battles are fought and won. 

But, then, isn’t there always a loser? 

The issue goes beyond picking battles—it is really about fighting them with the intent to win something.  Compromise and mutual understanding are certainly better goals than victory—whatever victory means, in any scenario where the word “battle” is thrown around—and this is especially true when working with people. 

There are some battles to pick--and some to let go.  Just another thing I'm working on.

Saturday, August 4, 2018

Our Collective Selves

Last week, I teamed up with a dear friend of mine to present at a small learning conference hosted by (and for) teachers in my district.  The event helps teachers and administrators launch the new school year with some great professional learning.

All the attendees are colleagues and friends.  They are people I’ve worked with, in some capacity, over the past twenty years—some much more closely than others. As each one walked in the room, I couldn’t help my whoops and grins and hugs. It was more than just the back-to-school-so-good-to-see-you thing:  It was a celebration of many years of being colleagues.  It was a here-we-are-doing-this-together-again thing. 

I’ve presented at conferences all over the place these past few years, and 100% of the time, it has been to people I don’t know. 

And let me tell you something: Presenting to a room of colleagues and friends is a whole lot different. 

Because I know them.  I have known them.  Indeed, sometimes only on a surface level, but still:  I know some portion of their stories, their families, their career path, professional ebbs and flows.  Over there, in the corner:  The teacher who has lost a child.  Over there, against the window:  An experienced teacher starting a new job as an instructional coach, practically twitching with enthusiasm and nervousness.  There:  A heartbreaking divorce and the seeds of a new life rising from the ashes.  There:  Nursing a parent through old age, feeling failure every day.  There:  Listened me through losing a grandparent to suicide.  There:  My “perspective person,” the gal who can make laughter and wisdom rise out of anxiety and pain.  There, there, there.
Yes:  I know them, and they know me. 

When I stand in front of a group of people I don’t know, I am a few degrees removed.  I can tell stories about myself and it doesn’t matter one whit what they think, because I’ll be wheels up in a few hours and never see any of them again.

This time, with these people, I told stories of myself from the beginning of my leadership path, and some of them were unflattering indeed.

It was an unnerving type of vulnerability, standing in front of a room sharing what I‘ve learned—to people who’ve seen me learn it.

The bad decisions, the career missteps, the times when “bad hair day” doesn’t even begin to describe it.  

But it was super-fun, because we were all there, in it, together.  We laughed at our collective selves; asked and answered some great questions; found inspiration from one another.  It was more fun than I usually have as a presenter, perhaps because they smiled a lot more and seemed to “get” my jokes more quickly, but also because of the empowerment that comes with being in a tribe, encircled by a common purpose, inspired by the gift of longevity and time.  It felt like a part of something intimate—us, our district, our kids, our experiences as educators—and something bigger, too—the common commitment to being teachers and learners.

In a couple weeks’ time, our school hallways will be full of students and we’ll be neck-deep in another school year. I can’t wait. 

Teaching, Time, and Water in a Sieve

"Time flies."  The nurse shook her head and locked eyes with the infant I held in my arms.  She was finalizing paperwork to discha...