Two weeks ago, though it seems like a century or more, I was helping a good friend through a terrible crisis. The Perfect Job, the one that Powers That Be had all-but-promised her, had disappeared just as her husband’s job was also in a period of transition. What would they do, where would they go, and how would they put bread on the table? Would there even be a table, she wondered, or would their lives fall apart in a cascade of hopelessness and despair?
Two weeks later, they’re finishing packing up to move to a much better set of opportunities. They’re excited, relieved, a bit frantic of course, but so much happier, more hopeful, more joyful than they could have imagined a few short days ago. They’ve left the crossroads behind and are eagerly advancing down a new, uncharted, exciting path.
I’m happy for them … but I’m also jealous. I feel like I’m still stuck at my own crossroads, and every possible path seems blocked.
In one direction lies the Safe and Familiar. I’ll actually be at a “train the trainers training” this afternoon, something I agreed to do last spring to help colleagues with new curriculum and new tools. There’s another, different meeting on Thursday, and another for something else next week. I could cling to the safe and familiar, go to those meetings, head back to factory-world, put my head down, “close the door” … and what? Teaching, for me, is a calling; it requires an undivided soul. If I embraced the Safe and Familiar, my soul would be hopelessly divided. The way I understand it, sacrifice is when you give up something good and valuable for something better … but factory-thinking is worse. To embrace it, to strangle your joy and get nothing in return, is a false sacrifice at best.
In another direction lies a complex middle way, a way I’ve tried to follow for the past few years. Can I be “in but not of” the factory system the way I was, say, five or ten years ago? Can I shield my students from some yelling and labeling, try to break the pain-punishment cycle for a few of them, build a frail, temporary joyful learning community in a half-forgotten factory corner? Could I, perhaps, create an after-school program where a few “bad lazy ones” built amazing things together, learning the important (and tested) things Ms. X strives to impart with her PowerPoints and worksheet packets? I know how to do that, have done it well. But thinking of it leaves me tired, joyless, hopeless. Maybe I’ll feel more positive after the “train the trainers training” … or if not, maybe I’ll know what directions I can’t or won’t go in.
In another direction yet lies the path I want to take. It’s full of exciting possibilities, both virtual and face-to-face, for joyful learning communities of teachers, learners, and families. I see online communities of Latin learners loving the Tres Columnae Project and eagerly, joyfully, subscribing so they can create and share with each other. I see at least an after-school program, with eager participants and families building amazing things – including the program itself and a documentary film about what they’re doing – together, building hope and joy in a place where those have long been in short supply.
When I think of taking that path, my soul leaps and the sadness, the exhaustion, the low-grade depression all seem to lift. But where would the money come from? Where, exactly, would I need to be? Who are the other members of the team, and where’s the right place for it to happen? Can it really be almost time to build the dream? And in the short term, in the next couple of months, where will the money come from if (when?) I take that road? Where will the table be, and how will I put bread on it? Like my friends, I too sometimes contemplate a cascade of hopelessness, homelessness, and despair.
Is there yet another direction, a road I can’t even see yet? Is there a non-factory school looking to hire somebody like me? Or a totally different path, one that takes me away from teaching for a while to put bread on the table and rest my soul?
I ask, and there’s no clear answer. Like my friends a couple of weeks ago, I feel trapped at the crossroads. I can’t stay there forever, but I can’t seem to move, either.
OK, so I obviously know what I want to do. But I don’t know how to get from here to there. Fear and uncertainty cloud my vision, and every time I try to take a step in that direction, there’s one obstacle after another after another. “Do you know anybody,” I ask friends, “who might be interested in a program like this?” No, they say … and does that mean there’s no demand, or am I just not talking to the right people? “Would you want something like this for your child?” I ask … but no, they’re not that dissatisfied with their child’s school, or they’re homeschooling, or they’ve found a solution. Do I need to talk to different people, look in a different place? Or do I need to abandon the dream altogether, wake up and “face reality,” head back to the familiar, soul-killing factory or the familiar, soul-splitting middle way?
This was a painful post to write, and I’m sure it was painful to read. I apologize for that, faithful readers, and I hope your path to building and sustaining joyful community is easier, clearer, less roundabout than mine. What path do you think I should take, or what criteria for choosing a path should I use?