On encouragement and teaching

Today in my third hour class, one of my students asked me if I was upset or angry. She said my eyes just looked a little red or something. I said I was totally fine, and I was. In fact, I was in a better-than-average mood today, and I’m usually in a decent mood anyway. What can I say? I like Thursdays. The truth is, however, that a student, with whom I am not particularly close but I could tell has been upset this week, confided a family problem to me.

Her problem is a big deal; it should not be treated lightly, but it is certainly not a tragic situation. It’s sad. It sounds as if a cold shoulder has been given where warmth and tenderness should abide, and change is around the corner for her. I don’t know why her revelation affected me so much. Perhaps it is because this girl likes to put forward a tough exterior, and she let me see a tender, vulnerable side and my heart responded. Perhaps because when I imagine myself in her position, my sadness would be just as profound as I’ve observed in her. Perhaps it is because I had my own family issues when I was her age. Whatever the reason, it effected me and my eyes, ever so slightly I guess, began to tear. I was barely aware of it, and I had already collected my thoughts and was ready to move on and begin class when the other student noticed something about my eyes

Man, do those students notice everything about their teachers! I think teachers need to be reminded sometimes that their students are watching them so very closely, and though I know some of them would be loathe to admit it, I think a healthy majority of them genuinely care about their teachers. I don’t think it is any coincidence that the same student who asked me about my eyes asked me a few moments later why I became a teacher. It’s not unlike being asked by your spouse or significant other, Why do you love me? I may be way off base here, but sometimes I think that is precisely what they are asking. There is something that they see in some of their teachers that makes them want to know a little more about who we are and why we’ve chosen to be there with them every day. And when you’re standing in front of a class of 16 and 17 year-olds, who want nothing much more than to have a purpose in life, and a good time in the process, you better have a good answer. At any rate, my answer is complex and difficult to articulate.

I like being with my students.  I like the subject I teach. But mostly, I like them as people. I like their energy, I like their creativity, I like their sense of humor, and their ideas. I draw energy from them. I care about them and their lives, and their futures, and what they think. And seeing as how my family’s finances are such that I have to work, this is the only job that I can imagine being “worthy” of spending my days there rather than staying with my own children. One student asked, “But don’t you get sick of seeing the same kids every day?” After a moment’s thought, I replied, “No, that’s kind of what I like about my job. That even after a bad day, I can wake up the next morning and see it as a new and completely different day… even if I am going back to the same people.” Of course, it helps that I come into contact with a 130 different students a day, rather than being in a single room with the same 25-30 all day.

But if I had had more time to think about it, I would have also told them that in addition to liking them as people, I want them to have hope in this world. I want them to feel empowered and enabled. I want them to live their lives according to their choices and their desires, and not simply by the inertia and trajectory if their current situations (whether good or bad). They are who I choose to spend my time with because on a different level, I love them… mostly collectively, but some individually, have made it into my heart and hold a special place there. Oddly enough, these are often the ‘tough ones.”

I think that the answer surprised some of the students sitting in that class. I don’t know if it was because I was honest and sincere, or if it was because they weren’t expecting an adult to say they liked being with teenagers all day. I don’t think they hear this enough from people outside their own peer groups. Paying a sincere compliment to a teenager is like putting money in the bank. Actually, it’s even better because it doesn’t cost a single cent, but there is absolutely no limit to what that little bit of positivity/belief/ inspiration/support can grow into. You may never see the dividends, but who cares? Knowing that it will be there, eventually, in small ways and great ways, is all that really matters.

I don’t know where I would be today if I did not have a host of adults who gave their love to me so freely and generously when I was a teen. And I had good parents, so it wasn’t like I was neglected or alone… but still, I needed that affirmation in my life. If it was not for one brief compliment, possibly made off-hand without any forethought, by my 7th grade social studies teacher, I may never had realized one of my greatest strengths.

In short, a good word is never, ever wasted.

If you have a teenager in your life, even if it’s just the neighbor-kid across the street who always has his earphones plugged into his head, let me encourage you to give him a bit of encouragement. Even if he doesn’t seem like the type who needs it. Even if you think he might look at you like you’re crazy, or worse yet, scowl at you for not minding your own business… Trust me when I say that they can ALL use it. It will be one of the best investments you ever make.


Drawing inspiration

This weekend I did something “crazy.”  I just got back an hour ago. I’m tired, it’s time to tuck the kids in bed, and I need to be near my husband, so I’ll have to fill you in on the details later. However, I will say this:

If it’s crazy to follow my heart’s desire, to meet an inspiration who quickly becomes a friend, to widen my circle, to dare to feel worthy, to bring more light and positivity into my world, to reach out, to connect, to revel in womanhood, and motherhood, and pasts and presents and futures, to give and receive encouragement (words of encouragement that I will not just remember, but treasure), to share love—If that’s crazy, well then, baby, I don’t want to be sane!

I believe it was Mark Twain who wrote, “I can live for a month on a good compliment.” After Saturday, I think I’m good for a decade. Thank you, Karen, not just for the opportunity to be photographed, but for the gift of your time and for your encouragement. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.

I declare!

Karen at Chookooloonks is doing something awesome. Again. And I am going to follow her lead. Again. I’ve been trying to identify my superpower. As I said a few days ago, I was trying to think of a superpower that I might possess besides the gift of gab, but after Michelle’s kind remark, I decided not to “disown” this part of me that is clearly a defining part of who I am. So I’ve been really thinking about it, and here’s what I came up with:

My superpower is my ability to use my words to soothe spirits, to bring divergent ideas together, to promote reconciliation, and to pay a kind and sincere compliment. I love conversation because I love to use my words to show people that they have been truly heard. It is such a precious gift of trust when someone opens their heart to another, and I always try honor that in my relationships with others.

The truth is, I love listening as much as I love talking. I love the exchange of words between friends, between lovers, between spouses, between parents and children, between siblings, between coworkers, between treammates, between the bartender and the patron, and yes, even between advesaries.

It is my sincerest hope that my friends would agree that this is, indeed, one of my superpowers. And if they don’t, then too bad because I know that I am right. 🙂 All kidding aside, that would only proove that I need to use this superpower with more purpose. (That was not a resolution, by the way. But it was close! whew.)


I am the Scrooge of resolutions. I hate ’em. I hate the false sense of obligation and subsequent guilt I feel when I do not make any progress on my resolutions. So, I’m not going to make any. I do, however, have a few things that I would like to accomplish in coming months:

I’d like to actually get some closure on the master’s degree that I stopped writing/talking about here a long time ago. That means I’d like to either finish it or be okay with not finishing it. Whichever way it is resolved, it needs to end that way because that’s what I wanted, not out of some sense of should or ought to. I know this sounds rather lazy, flippant even–to which I exclaim, “Yes! It is!”

But saying this is one thing. When I feel emotionally okay with telling the whole Internets that I might just let this “opportunity” go uncompleted without worrying whether or not you think of me as lazy, or worse yet, a failure… that will be the real accomplishment for me. I have lived a huge chunk of my 34 years trying to make sure that I am doing the “right thing.” To ensure that my friends and family could never look at my life and say, Wow, she really never lived up to her potential. To be perceived as a failure or an underachiever was unbearable to me. I live in fear of that. So I have decided to do what I can to stop being afraid. That begins with not doing this out of a sense of obligation to anybody but myself. Then maybe I’ll be able to actually move forward. Maybe then I can carve out the time from my schedule without feeling like it costs me and my husband and children too dearly. When I feel darn good and ready to, and not a minute before. I am making a conscious effort to stop doing things just because someone somewhere thinks I should.

On a much more lighthearted note, I’d like for the living room, my bedroom, and the hallway to be repainted sometime in the next year. Notice how I did not write that that I’d like to be the one to do it? That was on purpose.

I’d like to redecorate my office to into a room in which someone would actually want to work and study rather from the ground-zero of the chaos of my life that it currently is.

Last, but most importantly, I’d like to find my superpower. Karen at Chookooloonks has asked her readers before to describe their superpowers, and this year she has challenged us to find ways to use our superpowers to make our worlds just a little bit, or a lot bit, better. I LOVE THIS IDEA. One problem: I don’t know what my superpower is. People who know me in real life would scoff and say, Oh yes you do too know what your superpower is, because everyone knows that I can talk a streak 10 miles long. This is undoubtedly ONE of my superpowers; it has been well documented, and I have received a great deal of good-natured, and sometimes not-so-good-natured teasing over this. The whole point of a superpower is to use it for good, and since nobody ever puts a positive spin on my chattiness (it’s more like something all of my friends have endured over the years), I can’t imagine how I can use this to improve my little world. I’m actually pretty self-conscious about my apparent inability to recognize when I’ve talked too long or too much. So much so that after every family gathering or party, I fret, “Did I talk too much? Did I drive people nuts? Did I come across and self-absorbed and annoying?” Honestly, being a motor-mouth is not something that I am proud of. If I could recognize it and stop ahead of time, trust me, I would. So, yes, one thing that I’d like to do this year is discover my superpower besides that. I’ll be thinking about that a lot in the weeks to come.

Again, these are not resolutions. Okay??? These are… goals to work toward in little and big ways… as time and effort and inclination allow… over the next few months. I need for these things to happen, but I also need the freedom not to feel like I’m obligated to them. I gotta be able to choose to be good to myself, if that makes any sense at all.

I hope your two-oh-one-oh is just what you need it to be.