from a public HS teacher (Gov't, Religion, Soc. Issues), who is eclectic (Dem-leaning) politically and Quaker (& open) on everything else. Hope you enjoy what you find here.

Monday, May 23, 2005

And now .. reflections and questions 

Today I embark on my 60th year.   That means this is not one of those major occasions, ending in a 0 or a 5.  But it is significant enough that I know this much  -- I will spend much time in reflection over the next 365 days.  As others who may read this may already have passed this point in their life, they may choose to append their insights to this thread, should they happen to encounter it.  For others, I hold no illusion that the thoughts I offer will of necessity apply in your life, but these rambling thoughts may offer you a sense of what could be awaiting you in the (not-so-?)distant future.

And so I begin.

I define myself as a teacher.  But I did not embark on on education as a full-time vocation until I was 48:  in 1994 I quit my 20+ year career in data processing and enrolled in a Masters of Arts in Teaching Program.  In the  years since I have had opportunities to leave the classroom, but I know that my role requires me to spend most of my time with adolescents in my own class.  That is not something about which I need to reflect now, and will not so long as my energy and health remain strong.  Perhaps as I approach 70 I will have to reconsider, but for now I can be grateful that society has changed enough to allow me to continue teaching until I am significantly older than i am now (assuming I can still do the job).  

Teaching is not isolated from the rest of my life.  Thus how I spend time and energy outside the classroom also matters.  I have taken time to help with several political campaigns, most notably that of Howard Dean.  Now I must question how much of that I can do and still be true to my responsibilities as a teacher.  I want my students to be active in civic life, and I believe that I must model for them such behavior.  And yet how much can offer a campaign without it detracting from the time and energy I must have to serve my students?  I have committed to Don Beyer that if he runs for the Senate I will give up coaching soccer in 2006 to be able to have some time near the end of the campaign, and to help all I can in the summer of 2006.  I have also promised Nick Lampson to help as I can via computer, which will not be much  -- I can blog on his behalf, I can send on things I notice that might be useful, I can offer advice if he wants it.  That is not too great a commitment.    

But should I be getting involved in this year's governor's race in Virginia?  I probably will not.  When I get politically involved I tend to really dedicate myself, and I do not believe that I can take that on at the same time as I am trying to organize my new course(s) in AP Government this summer.  And I am still committed to coaching soccer this fall.

How much time can I afford to spend online?  This is a serious question, because I acknowledge being an information junkie, and also acknowledge that the interchanges I have electronically often challenge me in a way that matters to me not only as a citizen but also inform my teaching.  And it is exciting to participate as I have in a variety of sites.  I have made a commitment to help with Yearlykos at least for 2006, because I do believe I have something to offer ab out educational policy, even if I have abandoned my doctorate.  But as I do the things that flow from my electronic participation, and as I do what things I will assay politically, I need to be cautious  -- I am actually both fairly shy and also quite insecure.  Thus I must ask myself, how much of what I do is because it addresses the issue of my insecurity, my at times almost pathological need for external affirmation?  It is nice to believe that I have something of value to offer others, but can I truly be the judge of that?

Then there is the home life.  I used to love to cook.  I have not really done much of that in the past few years.  Nor do I avail myself of the baby grand piano which I brought up from Florida when we closed out my Dad's apartment.  I really need to carve out time to play, because it is so much a part of who I am.

And that actually brings me to the real focus of this questioning.  It is not who I am now, but who I propose to be.  I do not accept that I will stop growing, or questioning  -- were that to happen, I would quickly shrivel emotionally and spiritually.  And then I would not be an effective teacher, which would quickly mean that I would have little purpose as a human being.

I am far too selfish and self-centered  -- heck, this post demonstrates that.  And yet I have been incredibly blessed.  And I far too often take for granted those blessings.

First and foremost there is my soulmate.  Our relationship dates back to an encounter at a train station on Sept. 21, 1974.  We knew one another slightly already, but that encounter led to our first formal date on Sept. 27.  We did not marry until December 29, 1985, because she had 4 years of college and then 3 years at Oxford.  We are both difficult people, partially because of the families in which we were raised, partially because despite others telling us how bright and gifted we are, both of us are insecure.  For a variety of reasons we have not had children of our own, although she has been a dedicated aunt to the children of her sisters (I am not so good as an uncle, either to those children or to the son and daughter of my sister, both now in their 30's).  We have been through much together, and one question on which I must focus is how I can be more loving as we go on.  How can I be supportive of what she needs to do, and when will I stop measuring costs in time and energy and opportunities and just learn to love unconditionally?  Perhaps that is one reason why we are so generous to pets  -- it teaches us something about loving.  

My wife has told my students that they don't realize how much I really care for them.  She's right, and that's wrong.  How do I as a teacher allow myself to show my vulnerability while still maintaining the the challenging standards to which I wish my students to aspire?  

And how do I learn to accept my own failures and missteps?  As one who is very insecure, I know that until I can accept -nay, embrace - my imperfections, I cannot truly be available to others.

This probably seems very unfocused and self-indulgent.  I acknowledge that.  And yet this electronic community has been a place where at times people have made themselves vulnerable, and the community has embraced them.  It is one reason I have been willing to share the pieces of my life that I have -- my teaching, our "cathouse" environment.  But that is not difficult.  

What is much harder, at least for me, is to acknowledge that I fail to live up to the most basic of my beliefs.  I finally became a Quaker because the idea of "that of God" in each person s something that resonates with me.  The problem is, I don't believe it about myself.  I have acknowledged that I am insecure.  Let me put it another way  -- I don't really believe that I can love because i find it impossible to love myself.  I have fought depression, at times severe even to the point of hospitalization, for most of my life at least back to early adolescence.  I am an extravert, I really need to interact with people, but quite frankly, now at 59, I still really do not know how.  My wife will tell you what social graces I still have not developed.  

The one thing that gives me hope is that we are still together, that she is able to tell me without reservation that she loves me, even though I drive her up the walls, and that although she know that I love her I am not really good at showing it in everyday life.  Oh, I can do the really surprising big gesture, but I do not consider myself and my daily actions as being particularly loving.

So that is the real question with which i will wrestle in this, my 60th year:  how do I learn to surrender to love?  How do I accept it when it is offered by others, for it is, and yet I run away because I feel that they are wrong, they are mistaken, they cannot be offering that to me.

It's odd, isn't it, that I  teach because I have to live for others, and yet i fear that in the very act of teaching I may be destructive because I am unwilling to make myself vulnerable.

No, I am not psychotic.  I am probably imposing by posting this here as I have now done.  I hope in my having written this I have not offended others, and apologize if I have, but  I felt this was necessary.  For myself, my teaching cannot be about information, rather it must be about empowerment of others.  That seems to be the only way I have been able to show love consistently.  And if what I offer in place such as this is to have any value beyond the ephemeral, then I must acknowledge the weaknesses and fears that too often keep who I really am hidden from others.

I believe that if we wish to transform society we must first transform ourselves.  Gandhi taught that we must become the change we wish to see.  If I wish a society that is more just, more embracing of the uniqueness of each person, that requires humility, acceptance of our own fallibility, and a willingness to get our hearts broken.  It requires vulnerability, without which there can be no love.

I don't know if I believe in God, but I want to believe in `that of God" in people.  Thus I will occasionally use God talk.  If God is love, then all we could give back to God is love.  But love is a free act, and if man is created with freedom, that freedom must include the right not to love God.  That is, if there is any restriction on the power of God, it is that God cannot create a free creature who of necessity MUST love God.  Bear with me, this is relevant.

I am afraid.  I am afraid of loving.  To love is to make oneself vulnerable.  I feel weak and unworthy, and I fear that others will discover that and reject me.  How foolish.  Because love requires vulnerability, it does not care about imperfection.  I don't know if this makes any sense.  And yet I know it at least mentally  --  I don't love my wife because she is brilliant, and I don't not love her because she has real trouble being on time (which drives me nuts, I admit it).  I love her because I have found a connection, a path that goes beyond my woundedness and insecurity, and beyond hers, that somehow sustains us.  And I believe that some for of that connectedness is possible with each person I encounter.  And that leads me to the final statement of the real question -  how do I during this my 60th year learn how to seek out the connection in each person I encounter?  George Fox said our task was to walk gladly across the Earth answering that of God in each person we encountered.   For me the first part is actually the hardest -- how do i walk gladly?  How do I let go of my insecurity long enough to see how much there is that is sheer delight in my everyday existence?  How can I let go of myself sufficiently that I become vulnerable, and thus able to answer "that of God" in each person I teach?  Maybe then I can begin to become the human being I aspire to be.  And if that begins to happen, perhaps then I will become the kind of teacher I want to be.

Feel free to comment or not.  Also feel free to call me to account on anything herein that does not sound true to you.  And please -- feel free to chastise or prod me as necessary if in my future posts I begin to again retreat behind the shell of insecurity and lack of vulnerability.

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