Sunday, April 25, 2010

Legacy

For several years two colleagues and I included a project in our Senior English classes called "The Legacy Project." This was a wonderful project which required senior students to work together in groups of their choice to conceive, create, and execute a legacy of some kind - that is, they were to leave something of significance behind for the school or greater community. It was a complex procedure that utilized a variety of skills useful in the workplace and culminated in things such as a stained glass window, memorials of a tree and a marker for a fellow classmate who had died, a new club at school such as SADD, etc. This idea of leaving a legacy was important to them and to us.

Also in the Senior curriculum we would read "Death of a Salesman" by Arthur Miller. In it, Willy Loman hopes to live a prosperous life as a salesman and then die the death of a salesman. That is to say, he hopes that his life has touched so many people and clients, that when he dies the church will be overflowing with mourners who speak fondly of him and how "well-liked" he was. (Those of you who know the play, also know the ending - I won't spoil it for the rest of you!)

Now, as I find myself one month away from leaving my school community of 17 years, I've begun wondering what my legacy to the community and the school is. While I don't have such grandiose hopes as Willy Loman I will say this: without going into detail, I have begun to realize that my mere presence actually DOES make a difference to all of the teachers and students there. I have learned this because by leaving it, I see the changes that are happening (some are fine and some are very disappointing). So, in a very odd way, I'm finding that I must have left a legacy.

What would I LIKE my legacy to be? I'd like to think that my passion, love, sweat and tears (I know it is cliche, but it is also true), that somehow these things have impacted the 2000+ students who I have encountered there over the years. To be sure, academic lessons have been a focus, but I hope that life lessons and work-related skills will be my legacy, as well. To my colleagues, I hope I have touched their lives with my optimism and energy, my passion for teaching and the IB. To those teachers I have mentored over the years, I hope their own teaching and perspectives have been influenced positively by me somehow. To the curriculum, I hope to leave behind a value for authentic learning (like portfolio assessment, goal setting, and reflection). I'd like my legacy to be that the school culture and community has changed for the better because I have walked the halls there.

Even more importantly than these things is the legacy left to me by those at my school. How have I been touched? I've come to value my faith as it interacts with my vocation. I've come to see how important searching for TRUTH is. I've come to see how important it is to give away some of the control to my students so they can grab it, run with it, take risks, be creative, and GROW. I've grown in my teaching practice, my leadership, my joy, my ability to appreciate all kinds of people, my understanding of different cultures and times and places. Mostly, I value the people and the place that has been my school family for the past 17 years. More than ever, I realize life is not about stuff but relationship. This is what I shall take with me to Korea.

I'm young yet, and hopefully have many more years to live. But when all is said and done, I hope my legacy reaches beyond the classroom and the walls of any PLACE. Perhaps my hopes are like that of Willy Loman, to have been "well-liked" AND to have made a difference.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Living in the Moment

I'm getting asked more and more if I'm excited about our upcoming adventure and move to Korea. I'm also asked if I'm "checking out" at work. The short answer is "no." A somewhat better answer is "not really." An even better answer calls for a longer explanation, so here it goes.

A few years ago I tuned in to a podcast with Oprah and Eckhart Toley on his book A New Earth. I've not read the book, but the discussions on the podcast covered all of the chapters in great detail. The essence of the book seemed to be about changing our focus from being "inside our heads" to living in the moment. As a person who had often lived in my head or contemplated the future, I was quite interested in this concept. And so I began to work to live in the moment. It took several months, but I believe I made quite a bit of progress.

Now I find myself thinking JUST ONCE what I have to do today rather than dwelling on the mental list. Yes, sometimes this causes me to forget something, but not often. In the meantime I have LIVED.

This doesn't mean that I've given up keeping a calendar or lists of things to do, but I spend little time on them.

It DOES mean that when I walk my dog I now am aware of the air on my skin, the temperature, the birds singing, squirrels running, the new growth on the trees and bushes, the way the light hits the treetops, the look on my dog's face as he runs back to me, the smell of the undergrowth or car exhaust. In the past these things would have been bypassed for thoughts in my head. They all would have been still occurring, but I wouldn't have felt, seen, heard, or smelled them.

And this takes me to my point about our upcoming adventure. I'm excited that a change is coming, but I rarely dwell on it. (Today I spent a minute anticipating that I will maybe be in a faculty that primarily embraces change; what a difference! But after that moment I returned to simply doing what I was doing, which happened to be dodging cars in the parkinglot on my way to the front door.) And that's how the minutes and hours primarily pass. It means that I tend to experience the here and now more fully than I ever did before(be it a precious moment with my kids or a stressful moment at work). It means that I haven't checked out at work because the here and now demands my attention. It also means that Korea isn't very real to me yet - simply because I'm not living it yet!

I'm enjoying life this way quite a bit! I invite my readers to do the same. Need a quick way to put yourself back in the moment? Think about your breathing. It works!

Sunday, April 4, 2010

I came to you on a whim and divine providence

I came to you on a whim and divine providence.

Maz had said, I think Notre Dame is hiring. Why not see?
Forty-eight hours later I smiled nervously as "TBA" at new teacher in-service.
In an innocent instant one life had passed and another began.

Seventeen years later I marvel at how time flies.
The familiar rhythms of a school
Familiar faces in colleagues and students
Familiar lessons all make it seem easy now.
Can it be I began with only two sentences to guide my lessons?
Can it be I've seen a dozen administrators come and go
And likely 5 times that of colleagues?
Can it be I've taught and been taught by 2000 adolescents?
Phase I and II of renovation, new tennis courts, teachers' parkinglot, new football field all mark physical changes in the grounds,
Though the institution remains unchanged.
How could I have known a simple job inquiry would turn vocation,
sustaining me for so long?
How could I have known a simple job inquiry would see me through
two adoptions and the death of my father-in-law?
How could I have forseen the support of fellow POETS
And the coming and going of so many dear friends?

We live in the moment - like infants who
think you only exist when you are present;
We are most present to the time and place of Now.
So while the places we've been go on without us, we often don't think of them.
Sure, every now and then we dream of that perfect beach
we reclined upon once long ago
or that friend we haven't seen in years, but
Mostly we live each day as it comes.
Life demands it be so-
And that is how it should be.

I came to you on a whim and divine providence.
I leave the same way-
Off to some new adventure
The next leg of my life's journey.
I'll continue to BE and you shall, too.
We shall exist simultaneously but separately.
Every now and then we shall dream of one another and check
FACEBOOK for a message or a word,
for some way to keep connected while worlds apart.
No doubt your prayers for me and my memories of you
shall keep me anchored through the awkward
Beginnings in my new land.
No doubt I will tell them-

I came to you on a whim and divine providence.