Yesterday morning, which feels like several hundred years ago, I sat down to write a blog post. It went like this:
For the last couple of years, things have been difficult. To be fair, some things are always difficult, and for some people life itself seems like an unremitting sequence of difficult, even impossible obstacles to surmount. It hasn’t been that bad! And I don’t want to put on the “terminally special” mantle, to borrow a term an old friend uses, describing those unfortunate souls who think the whole world revolves – or should revolve – around their every whim, that forces should assemble to rescue them from the smallest setback.
Things have just been difficult. Not impossible, maybe not even more difficult than usual. Just difficult.
And in that difficulty, I think, there have been some messages and even some lessons. Some of those are related to the conversation I had with my very successful former student on my journey back from the ACL Institute. “Difficulties,” we agreed, “are important.” If something is too easy, you don’t value it enough, and you may not do the hard work necessary to keep it, maintain it, improve it once you have it. “It’s harder,” he said, “to let go of the old thing when you have a lot of security from it.” For him, at 20, with a rather low-paying job in the field he passionately loved, taking the risk to start something amazing was an easy decision; once you have children, possessions, employee benefits, and All That, it’s harder to let go of the comfortable known and step boldly into the joyful, but potentially uncomfortable unknown.
Maybe that comfortable known has to get more and more uncomfortable, until its real discomfort outweighs the merely potential discomfort of that joyful unknown. Maybe that’s why things have been difficult for the past few years – because those different inner voices haven’t all been calling me in the same direction.
And just when I was struggling with where the different (metaphorical) voices were calling – and how to use the voice metaphor without sounding like one of those, um, interesting people who hear voices and wear tinfoil hats – there came a series of phone calls and text messages, emails and conversations, that kept me busy, even overwhelmed, for the rest of the day. There was news of an amazing program that might just help us take the Tres Columnae Project to the next level, and it “just happens” that there’s a Future of Education conversation about it tonight. There were emails from subscribers and potential subscribers, conversations in all kinds of venues about factory-schooling and its alternatives. A link to this program greeted me this morning, and I’m still not quite sure what that means!
Along the way, though, came an amazing, challenging heart-to-heart conversation with one of those “Proverbs 27:17” friends, the kind who “sharpen” you “as iron sharpens iron.” What do you want, my friend asked me? And why don’t you just pursue what you want? Lots of (metaphorical) voices had their say, voices about “being considerate” and “thinking of others,” about “it’s not that simple” and “oh, if only!” Self-justifying voices, in the end, that wanted to look good in the eyes of others, that want to pretend to sacrifice for all the wrong reasons. Relentlessly, my friend cut through all of them, accepting the tears and the anger as those voices had their say.
And then they were gone, and things started to be clear. And when I woke up this morning, they were clearer yet.
When I was younger, the Chronicles of Narnia books were among my favorites (they still are!), and my favorite scene of all was the one in The Voyage of the Dawn Treader where Eustace Scrubb, transformed into a dragon by his dragon-like greed and selfishness, is restored to his proper form as Aslan peels the dragon-layers off. That’s what yesterday felt like. It wasn’t pleasant – not at all. In fact, it hurt – a lot. But at the end, I felt not only restored but actually improved.
Right before it all started, Debbie made this comment on Google+:
I am reminded of a workshop I attended once for Early Childhood Educators. Because of the work and the low pay there is often a high turnover as staff get tired.The presenter talked about finding a new focus, a new “light”, to fire up the spark again, so staff can once again get excited about coming to work. The spark may be a new curriculum idea, a new goal re: observations etc, or maybe it is to move on to being a supervisor.
“How do you know when it’s time to walk out and walk on?” … what feels right? what spark can be ignited, bringing the joy back into the job? what are/were your intentions for the job originally and are you fulfilling that or is there a change needed to make it happen? Or .. have the intentions changed and moving on is the next step?
I think I can start to answer Debbie’s questions now.
The past two years have been about trying to reignite the spark, to recover the joy. Personal “stuff” was involved, too, but my primary struggle was about professional identity and the effectiveness of what my students and I do together. Can you build a joyful learning community, I kept asking, in the midst of a very complacent teaching factory that, in factory-measurement terms, is successful at what it does? There were moments of success, times of joyful community, many of which I chronicled here, and there were times – also recorded here – when everything seemed hopeless and impossible again. Yes, I still love working with learners, and I love helping them build meaningful things together. I also love working with teachers, helping them create environments where their students can build meaningful things and experience joyful community.
But do I love teaching, as factory-schools define it? Is 20th-century style delivery of instruction a thing I still want to do?
No. It’s not. I won’t do that anymore. It’s not what learners need or deserve.
So where does that leave me, and what’s the next right step?