NOTE: This a “note” page. Some anecdotes and quotes that will be used to flesh out —and close out— the piece, Eleventh Hour Shine: How Stewardship Built a Vision.
IDEAS: Make connections to altruism/magnanimity.
Little Life of Mine
In June, 2013, I was walking on a bike path, listening to mixes of Eleventh Hour Shine on my headphones.
“Mr. Lawrence!” a voice yelled out, cutting through the music.
I recognized him right away. It was a former student of mine, who I’ll call “John.” Upon seeing me, John, now a high school senior, threw his bike down and stood to face me. I was taken aback at first, having just been ripped out of the imaginary world of “Pragnus Gray”, so very far away from the world of teaching and adult responsibility.
“John!” I heard myself say reflexively. I remembered him well. He had been a student of mine some years earlier when he was in the 8th grade. Under the warm sun, we exchanged the usual small talk I always engage in when running into former students. I offered the standard “stay in school” meme that I had become so accustomed to, and John updated me on his schooling life. But, then he said something that I’ll never forget.
“I miss you.” I was taken aback at the utter lack of embarrassment -the complete absence of calculated pride- in such a statement.
But almost immediately he looked up and to the side, as if searching for a clarifying followup statement. And then he came up with this:
“I miss who I was.”
Ah-ha! That was it! It wasn’t me that John missed, after all.
He missed himself.
What followed was a brief conversation about the depressing conditions in his current school, the lack of empowerment he was experiencing in his classes and the relegation of his mind and heart to the permanent station of being a Special Ed student and all that comes with that. His current teachers apparently could not see past his deferential demeanor, simple speech patterns, and guilelessness. They could not see his depth of emotional intelligence or his fierce determination to grow beyond the category that had come to define and limit him.
After a few minutes, we parted ways, returning to our respective lives. John was on his way back to the small world of hopelessness and confining boundaries he had always known. I was traveling back to the much larger world of agency, creativity and the process of finding the invigorating unknown.
Walking to the recording studio, I looked back at the time John was in my class. I remembered promoting him to the role of Newsroom Manager in a Journalism class I taught, where students and I produced a newspaper. I remember well my choice to lend him a blazer to help him grow into the leadership role, to build a sense of personal strength, pride and dignity that he could not yet see, but which were obvious qualities I knew he possessed.
I have to admit, there was not a little resentment brewing in me at the time. I felt a tinge of anger at the fact that once again a student born with the short end of the stick was stuck with these cynical, deadened adults with no vision for the possible, no belief in who he could become, and no insight into who he was. I had known a few educators like this, and it didn’t sit well with me.
But, I’ve also known educators who were just the opposite. Educators who tirelessly, ceaselessly, and gladly magnetized students towards their highest potentials, love of self, and the discovery of that Great Apparatus that transcends, race, gender, religion, creed and all other categories.
Working in public education for about 16 years in a variety of roles introduced me to the perils and inefficiencies of institutional life. I have worked in dozens of schools as a substitute teacher, paraprofessional (assistant teacher in layman’s terms), English teacher, Journalism teacher, and as a grad student working on my practicum. Throughout my career, I had learned a great deal about public institutions, organizational culture, union politics, and the impact of leadership on staff and student morale.
I have only one word to describe the entire enterprise. Cynicism.
This one pervasive element ran through every school I had stepped into, and, there was no going further without succumbing to inner deadness common in the teaching profession and embracing the survival strategy of doing the bare-minimum and keeping a low profile, holding out long enough to accumulate pension money.