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Passing on Old Blue

Of all the changes going on in my life, you wouldn’t think anything involving a purse would be among the most significant. But, it is. It was two years ago that I began my two-year commitment at my Teach For America placement school and very impulsively bought the stupidest purse imaginable. It was this silly, fifty-dollar, muted turquoise studded cross-body bag. Like my bright violet-red hair of the time, it was an outward expression of my turbulent state of mind during my first year teaching. Don’t get me wrong–I took care of all of my professional responsibilities at work with more dedication and perseverance than anyone, but finding balance in my personal life was probably one of the biggest struggles that first year.

Over the last couple of years as I gained stability in my job, personal life, and mental state, the purse went through some changes too. It lost some studs, the closing flap began falling off, and the blue-ness began rubbing off around the edges of its faux leather. The internal pocket even got a hole in it so sometimes I really had to put in a lot of effort to retrieve lost goods from the deep dark bottom. Needless to say, it became a pretty embarrassing thing to carry.

Even so, I loved it. As much as I had been searching for something more new and sophisticated, each time I went purse shopping this year I couldn’t find anything as unique or personal as the blue one. Nothing felt right. Nothing met my criteria: cross-body, under $200, genuine leather, with some real unique touches, and big enough to hold a book so I could read on the CTA. Until yesterday.

I finally gave in and took the plunge. I bought a black Big Buddha bag that I had seen at Macy’s over winter break. It fits every criteria except the real leather one. As I contemplated stuffing my old friend (the purse, not the roommate) in one of the fancy trash-compacting garbage bins, my trusty roommate suggested that I leave Old Blue out on the State Street sidewalk so that someone else could enjoy it. While I found it pretty difficult to believe that anyone would be interested in such a worn old thing, it’s nice to think that it might live on in someone else’s journey.purse

This symbolic gesture is largely reflective of everything that’s going on in my life right now. Lots of changes are happening for the better. With much relief to me, I’ll be transitioning to a new school in the fall where foreign language is highly valued and invested in. In only 23 days I’ll be moving into an apartment in a new neighborhood. Though will be really sad to leave my amazingly beautiful and bohemian apartment, and all those who occupy the building, Logan Square has many more people around my age, along with grass and trees and flowers and little bunnies hopping around. Growing up with the most elaborate gardens in my neighborhood as a child, it’s more comforting to be surrounded by green space. Also, I luckily won’t have to leave my Warriors Running Group, as there is Tribe on the north side only a 15 minute bike ride away from my new abode.

As I finish writing my last lesson plans that I will EVER turn in to Galapagos Elementary Charter School (woohoo!) I am incredibly excited to turn some new leaves and see what the second half of 2014 has to offer.  With new black Big Buddha purse in tow, I will walk confidently into my TFA alumni-hood, my first self-selected job, my first post-TFA apartment; each change taking me towards my best self.  Isn’t it funny how the little things can be so reflective of our life stage?

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Chaos over balance?

Should we stop seeking balance in our lives? This weird thought occurred to me as I came to the realization that part of what has made my life so beautiful is the chaos, not necessarily the calm or tranquility. Maybe what we need to do is embrace our moments of chaos. When I think of some of the most rewarding times in my life, they have been times when balance was lacking. Let’s think…

  • Joining Teach For America. This was a time in which any form of certainty about my future was totally obliterated as I was about to take on the past two years without knowing a thing about teaching. I placed great confidence in those who would train me and I believed that, “If others can do it, I can too.” It turns out that I was right. 
  • Senior week in college. Although perhaps a more frivolous time in my life, there was NOTHING balanced about this blissful week spent in community with some of the friends I grew to love over my four years of college. 
  • Choosing to teach a third year after “graduating” TFA. This decision means that balance, specifically work-life balance, will not be a thing in my life in the near future. But guess what, that makes me happy. I know that I am going to be continually challenged to do the good, tough work that matters to me. What could be better than that?
  • Studying abroad in Chile. Everything from the controlled chaos of the micro buses mysteriously avoiding collisions at every corner, to the strange gatherings with nationally renowned poets in the house of Pablo Neruda; this was an amazing time of growth. Would I have grown so much there if I had sought balance over chaos and adventure? Not likely. I did go through some extreme challenges there, but would I erase those more painful memories in favor of more calm, quiet, and collected ones? Nope. 
  • Moving to Chicago to pursue urban education. This has been the most rough and painful endeavor…. ever. I will not understate the amount of anxiety and frustration experienced here in the last two years. However, I will say that it has been amazing. It has been an extreme blessing being let into my children’s lives, experiencing their pain, and feeling the joy of their achievements. 

Maybe someday I’ll be at a point in my life where I value balance and stability, but right now I am thriving off of the endless challenges of mid-twenties life; namely my job, finding my place in the city, and running as far and as fast as I can. Perhaps for me, balance doesn’t equate with calm and stable. Perhaps my place of equilibrium requires a bit of chaos. I want to move forward recognizing the value of the pain and frustration along with that of the joy and excitement, and embrace all of it. 

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Takeaways from Travels, Graduations, and Random Encounters

The last couple of weeks have been nothing short of go! go! go! all of the time. I traveled to both Washington DC and St. Louis for my two paternal cousins’ graduations from prestigious universities while still managing to teach the full week in between and get in my long runs and Teach For America meetings. On one hand, this frenzy of activity has been a bit draining. On the other, though, it has provided some great sources for inspiration. All in all, I have run into with a few important takeaways:

  1. No matter how hard anyone tries to give an original commencement speech, it’s kind of impossible. Perhaps that points to the importance of the traditional messages: Never forget to make choices based on meaning and not just money. The people matter. Nobody’s perfect, so expect mistakes rather than beating yourself up for them. Set goals for the journey, not just the destination–so that they set you up for a life well lived and enjoyed, not a life of complete sacrifice and martyrdom.
  2. I’M SO THANKFUL FOR THE PEOPLE IN MY LIFE!! Sometimes my family seems too small and disjointed, but in times of celebration and travel I find that I am completely and truly blessed to have family members with such sound moral compasses, solid work ethics, and creative minds! Sometimes you need to spend time doing extraordinary things together to refresh your perspective of those closest to you.
  3. Running is my meditation and is TOTALLY necessary. Every human needs something like it where you can reflect or just plain de-activate your overcrowded brain for a while, realizing as we come out of our “flow” state that we’re human, and that it’s all ok. (Well, it’s really not all ok, but all we can give is what we have. And that’s enough.)
  4. Education should inspire questions, not answers. My cousins who just graduated, and their parents for that matter, are all really smart. They’re all working to be leaders in their fields, much like many of my fellow Teach For America corps members and alumni. Whether studying neuroscience, computer science, nephrology, or education, when you are really doing education right, you think up original questions and apply your findings to the world to make it better.
  5. It seems like educational inequity will persist as long as our neighborhoods are so racially and socioeconomically homogeneous. Or at least, it will not be solved JUST by putting devoted Teach For America teachers in the classroom. There needs to be a greater societal awareness of the dual existence that is in each city of our nation: On one hand you have predominately homogeneously white schools that are well funded and set kids up for success in college and beyond. On the other, you see underfunded schools where the minority is the majority, totally isolated from the upper-class mainstream with crumbling and underfunded schools. Nothing will change unless the people born onto the the life-success highway are aware and care about what’s happening to those less affluent folks a neighborhood over. AWARENESS IS KEY!

That’s all for now. I shall continue my manic frenzy of activity. How long will it last? Probably forever. I hope.

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Interconnection

I know I said I’d blog every week. Here’s what’s been happening: I internalize all of the problems in the world to the point that I can’t discreetly write about any one of them! But, I’ve been hearing a common thread of, “You may not be able to do everything but you MUST do SOMETHING!,” “The sea is but many drops of rain,” and “The flap of a butterfly’s wings in South America changes everything in China.” so here I go.

I often wonder if the entire world needs to change before I can do something good. Let me rephrase that: Is me working in a flawed education system in a flawed society justifiable? Do I need to create a totally new role outside of this system that stimulates rather than stifles before I am doing good work? Then, time and time again, I come back to the conclusion that I must do what I can with what I have. That’s not easy to sit with.

Last night I read something that helped me sleep a little easier. I revisited a text that I had pulled off of my bookshelf to be a sort of door stopper between my noisy hanging/sliding doors to my room and the wall they sit inside… and I flipped open Viktor Frankl’s A Man’s Search For Meaning to find the following quote underlined: one has the “freedom to choose one’s own attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.” OK, Frankl, I can dig that. If a man who suffered through the monstrosities of the Holocaust can say that in reflecting on his experiences, I can certainly buck up, get positive, and do something. Just because I experience great challenges teaching with few resources in a system that is built to breed compliance rather than free thinking, does not mean that I cannot do something.

Here’s what I think. We all live in this world. We all need to take care of this world. When we are making decisions about how to go about our days, we need to get to the point where we are making decisions–even the tiniest of decisions–based not on what is good for just our individual selves. No, we need to frame every decision in what is going to make the most hearts sing and what will least destruct the beautiful environment we’re so lucky to be a part of. We can all succumb to that feeling that the world’s problems are just too great for our tiny actions to have any meaning, but then we’d be letting our inner demons win.

I dunno guys. Here’s my little imperfect thing for now. More musings to come on teaching, living an ethical life, and what it means to be a good person in a really f’ed up world. What do you think? What can you do?

Inspiration for this blog post: The documentary I Am Tom Shadyac

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Sundays

It looks like one of those nights that, even though I’ve already put five or so hours into lesson plans, I’ll still be working on creating materials and homework until just before bed. The occurrence of these long-houred Sundays is one thing that has not changed since my first year teaching. Of course now I’m much less stressed (though not stress free by any means.. Something I’m working on) and much more intentional about my work.
I’m not going to lie… I don’t exactly enjoy these Sundays. Unfortunately I’m not that TFA corps member who finds inherent joy in writing the minute details like learning targets and what-scholars-should-be-doing-at-all-times into my lessons. I’m more energized by the results: 3rd grade Joshaun ditching his too-cool-to-be-happy-in-school attitude and getting amped on presenting his badass Spanish book to the class, uber genius Niya tearing through her independent work and writing a completely comprehensible story in Spanish just for fun, or Jada composing a HILARIOUS story that I never imagined myself. These times when my kids get into a state of flow with their Spanish work don’t exactly happen often perse… But when they do they add fuel to my Sunday planning sessions.
Ever since I was little my Dad has repeated the mantra, “Every job sucks, that’s why they pay you to do it.” Being a huge believer in vocation, I find his philosophy a bit problematic. Which is it? My brain asks, do we just need to find a job that’s good enough and make ourselves like it? Or should we dig deep to find out what we’re “meant” to do and strive to give our gifts where they’re needed?
Maybe it’s a combination of the two. I don’t think we should ever abandon our natural inclinations. To a certain extent, perhaps we can bring whatever type of person we are to any job title. What I’m realizing more and more is that nothing is as official as it seems. Yes, I’m a Spanish teacher but I can teach Spanish in a way that is completely unique to the teacher at the school a neighborhood over. I will undoubtably bring my weird creativity and simultaneous need for systems and structure to any job I do. This is not to say that just anyone can step into a highly specialized role. No, perhaps the important thing is that we are all authentic in the work we do. I certainly struggle with this at times, questioning whether my way is the right way, but researching best practices often just validates my instinctual methods.
Anyway, I want this blog to be a place that inspires a bit of thought and conversation. So, if you feel inclined, reach out, pose a question or answer that challenges my really crowded brain!