Being Myself at Work

Lately I’ve been considering a near-future change in careers from teaching in public schools to … well, just about anything.  Secretary?  Book store clerk?  Private music teacher?  Yoga instructor?  IT person?  Computer programmer?

This has been to varying degrees of seriousness, but it has made me think hard about what is it exactly that I want to change.  I’m clearly not content with the way things are.  When I think of myself as a teacher, I don’t think of myself.  There is so much of me that I feel like I hide, or that I feel are discouraged in the setting in which I teach.  When I think business-professional superteacher in a tough urban setting (which is what my school desires), I don’t see me.  I don’t see the person who is pagan, who is in awe of the stars and trees, who is in love with making music with voice or guitar or both, who is moved by the writings of Thoreau and Goethe and Whitman and more, who prays to gods that most non-pagans haven’t heard of or know of only as fairy tales or myths.  My school demands tough standards and expectations, but how does that fit in with developing relationships with students and opening up the world to them?  While opportunities can open up with skills mastery, where is the room for the inspiration that comes from discovery and creating something beautiful?

I know I must sound a little hippie, but I am a firm advocate that there is (or should be) something more in one’s education than competence in basic skills and facts.  It is a belief as deep as any facet of my spirituality, of my core being.

The world of my work feels so cold and distant to everything else about me, yet there is hope.  I know of teachers who value similar things and are making it — so perhaps I just haven’t figured it out yet?  Perhaps my people-pleasing tendencies from childhood went into overdrive in this job, and while I was doing “fine” according to my supervisors, I was killing myself to do it.

This is the challenge for the coming weeks and this upcoming school year: I need to find myself in my role as teacher.  I need to open myself up with my students, listen to them, and provide more opportunities for educational exploration and creative outlets.  And outside of my role as a teacher, I need to involve myself in activities and meet with people who remind me who I am.

I am a teacher, I can’t only be a teacher.

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Room for Growth

My seedlings spent too long in their yogurt cups of potting soil.  They grew double the height of their container or more.  I was busy, and they were neglected.  I wanted to plant seeds and see the ripened tomatoes, the lush basil, but there were important phases between the two.  There is a growing phase, an in-between “in progress” state that is necessary for maturity.

I often like to “shed” things in my life, have a fresh start, and rarely look back.  When I do, I find myself looking back at my personal gaffes, mostly made in ignorance, and not reflecting the self I feel I am today.  I don’t intrinsically like looking back at the “growing” stages once I feel I’ve grown past it, yet I know that honoring these stages are vital.

As a teacher, I see the “growing” state all the time.  Teenagers are constantly saying and doing things on a trial basis.  They are testing the waters, seeing what fits them, what benefits them.  This stage must be honored for the growth that it provides.  Being a teenager — not a child, not an adult — means having room to grow and develop into the adult that someday will be.

Yet I find myself frustrated with my students, more than is deserved.  As a language learner and teacher, I know that mistakes are necessary for learning, and I need to extend that idea outwards into every other part of my life.  I think the older teachers, the veteran teachers, have a better view on it.  They have seen this point in others’ lives — and their own — so often that they can look at a teenager and almost see beyond to the potential adult human being.  It is more difficult for me.  I am less than 10 years my students’ senior, and when I see their social gaffes, I think of my own.  I want to be past that, to be somehow more enlightened and wiser — yet I see their struggling masked with bravado and I think of my own states of growing.  I said things like that.  I had such opinions.  When I look back at myself in previous stages, in growing stages, I do not see the potential me of today, but rather someone who I no longer wish to me.

A repeating leitmotif in my life and spiritual development is this: you cannot love others before first loving yourself.  Here, this means not only myself as I am today, but myself as I am at any point of my life.  The self does not exist in an isolated time.  If I want to love my students for everything they are now, and not be frustrated at their “in progress” status, I must look back at myself and appreciate myself for all the gaffes, mistakes, and misguided notions I have had.  They were not be being less enlightened, but rather me working towards wisdom, the same process I strive to continue today.   The same, I suppose, is true for the rest of life.