Despite retirement, I still get to work with teachers. And yes, I said ‘get to.’ Because teachers are — unconditionally, uncategorically — the nicest work group I know. FAR nicer than ministers, doctors, lawyers, dentists, salesmen, engineers or even scientists. Really.
The teachers this weekend are from two rural districts in Oklahoma, woefully neglected in a state that is (consistently) in the bottom five states for $$ spent on rural students. They’re used to being ignored. And lately, given the public outcry on education? They keep a low profile.
They also make incredibly difficult decisions daily, often with no time at all. Does John need a reprimand for not doing his homework or a hug for the fights at home? Should I buy Sarah lunch, or go along with her pretending she forgot? How long do I wait for Adam’s parent to pick him up? And note that these decisions can have long-term impact on students, who are only kids, after all.
When I work with teachers, I always feel awed. Some of my teaching colleagues — especially in larger urban schools — have more than 200 kids each semester. While rural teachers usually have smaller classes, they often wear even more ‘hats.’ And they may have, easily, 5 preps: five different classes they have to prepare lessons for, daily. Including objectives, lesson plans, and LOTS of paperwork that has to be filed, under most school policies. It’s a HUGE MOUNTAIN of paperwork!
Teachers know that the paperwork is what the system pays you for. It’s drudge work. The decisions…? Those are the hard part. And trying to interest today’s post-modern, fractionated kids in math, science, grammar, writing. Maps and history and cause & effect. They know that all the education in the world — their own, that of their students — won’t sub for a listening ear. An open heart. Friendship & respect. What they offer our children daily.
If I ever win the lottery, I want to throw a party for all the teachers I know. I want it catered — great food, wine, craft beer, chocolate, LOTS of desserts. I want to put a small bouquet of flowers at the seat of every teacher invited. Because so very seldom do we thank teachers.
I sincerely doubt if I win the lottery. So what I do, each time I get to work with teachers — get to listen to their incredible stories, get to share even a fragment of their busy lives — is try to let them know I’ve learned. What they have taught me. So I’m listening. And behind that listening is enormous awe. And love. Because while it’s not enough, it’s a start. So teachers I know (and don’t), here it is. I’m giving it back, as I can. An ear. A heart. And a thank-you.
I’m still learning this whole ‘retirement’ thing. Don’t get me wrong — it’s GREAT! But when September rolls around, I feel like I should be going back to teaching. But at 9:00 a.m. today — and every weekday — ‘my’ bus leaves w/out me. When I think about that, I feel… well, not exactly abandoned, but certainly out of the loop.
For the past several years, I rode to work almost every day on BOB, the Big Orange Bus. I learned to know the regulars, made friends w/ many of them, became close to various drivers. Watched students start school and finish, even entering graduate classes. It’s a family unlike any other, the bus family, and the people on the bus are what make it that way.
I’ve often thought of the bus as the ultimate metaphor: you don’t choose the other passengers; you only choose how you meet them. Some become inexpressibly dear — Bus Carol, about whom I’ve written, comes immediately to mind. Others deepen your life ~ Jerry the driver, who greets each of us a long-lost friend. The beekeeper principal who’s now faculty. The almost-minister who decided on research, instead. Others test your patience: the guy who snored so loudly we worried he was going to keel over. The homeless guy who turned out not to be homeless, only very dirty and very drunk and very clueless. The three girls in the front who talked SO LOUDLY.
I miss the bus people. Even the loud girls in front. It’s the way with things we take for granted, our every day lives. Buddhists know: nothing lasts. Only change is always just around the corner. So pay attention. Even the everyday is fleeting ~
So I just learned that there is a whole category of these weird things that don’t fit: problematica. Really. Thingies (that’s what we call them at my house) that defy categorisation. This is my life, folks.
Ask me what I think on anything more complex than breakfast, and the old heart/head kick into boxing. Or is that kick-boxing…? At any rate, take the current situation with Syria. I don’t want the US to be the world’s cops. The engaged Buddhist in me, however, notes (as a friend has) that we shouldn’t stand by idly & shrug when someone offs more than 100,000 human beings.
And then my head kicks in again, and I wonder why we only seem to care about the Middle East…? Could it be that pesky fuel stuff? When Rwanda was imploding, we stood by. It took a major political upheaval to get help for the Bosnians, who were massacred by the Serbs. Sudan, Congo…There’s a long list of folks we didn’t rescue.
In other words? Syria isn’t easily categorised as help/ don’t help. It’s messy. Problematica, you might call it. And I think just knowing that even scientists — dealing with objects long dead — can’t figure out which box is for what, is a huge relief. If you study this stuff all your life, and still go off on whether it’s a plant or an animal (and yes, I know it’s not as easy as it sounds), then I can relax about so many of the moral questions that vex an engaged Buddhist.
There is nothing special, really, about these flowers. I grew them in the side garden — roses & sage. Easy, really. They come up every year, like clockwork. Perennials do that.
But I never take them for granted. Each spring, when they reappear, it’s a small miracle to me. And each time they rebloom, through the summer and into the fall, it’s another. The everyday magic so much a part of our days that we often take it for granted.
I saw a skunk on the road at twilight half a block from my son’s new home. Crisp black & white, it looked far more beautiful than dangerous. And last night, a cicada was so drunk on summer that he flew right into me. A bit startling, but still funny.
This poem by Billy Collins — whom I confess to adoring, not a popular stance among academics, I assure you — reminds me that we need to pay attention. And that I’m hopelessly attached to my life. To tea with my nephew and his girlfriend yesterday — gluten-free ginger scones, and Devon cream and the house tea and cucumber & salmon on crackers. To roses and the fledgling finch at the feeder. To the wide circles of the neighbourhood hawks. To the way my grandson ignites in smiles after his nap.
Your life is, I promise you, equally rich. If you just take the time to fall in love again. Here’s Billy Collins to remind you how ~
~ Billy Collins
This morning as I walked along the lakeshore,
I fell in love with a wren
and later in the day with a mouse
the cat had dropped under the dining room table.
In the shadows of an autumn evening,
I fell for a seamstress
still at her machine in the tailor’s window,
and later for a bowl of broth,
steam rising like smoke from a naval battle.
This is the best kind of love, I thought,
without recompense, without gifts,
or unkind words, without suspicion,
or silence on the telephone.
The love of the chestnut,
the jazz cap and one hand on the wheel.
No lust, no slam of the door—
the love of the miniature orange tree,
the clean white shirt, the hot evening shower,
the highway that cuts across Florida.
No waiting, no huffiness, or rancor—
just a twinge every now and then
for the wren who had built her nest
on a low branch overhanging the water
and for the dead mouse,
still dressed in its light brown suit.
But my heart is always propped up
in a field on its tripod,
ready for the next arrow.
After I carried the mouse by the tail
to a pile of leaves in the woods,
I found myself standing at the bathroom sink
gazing down affectionately at the soap,
so patient and soluble,
so at home in its pale green soap dish.
I could feel myself falling again
as I felt its turning in my wet hands
and caught the scent of lavender and stone.