Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Reach Out (I'll Be There)- The Four Tops

     Now if you feel that you can't go on
Because all your hope is gone
And your life is filled with confusion
And happiness is just an illusion
And your world around is tumblin' down
Darling, reach out
Reach out, for me.

  Einstein said that you always get your best ideas in the bed, the bath, or on the bus. 
      He was absolutely right; it is when you stop thinking about a problem that some subtle idea manifests itself in your brain.  I usually get my best ideas in the shower in the morning, which I am guessing is because it takes so much effort for me to wake up that focusing on something else helps you to process ideas about the day.   It also helps that I usually have a cup of coffee in me by then.  However, today the idea hit me as I was drifting in and out of sleep, as I have for these last few days in Princeton while at my final conference with all of my 2012 STOYs here at ETS.  It is bittersweet, because we have bonded so deeply these past nine months as we shared our ideas, joys, and pains and became a support system for each other, but the reality is that this is the last time many of us will ever see each other.  While difficult, the truth of the matter is that we needed this conference to begin to process the enormity of what has happened to us, as we begin to formulate our plans for the future. And yes, for many of us it feels like this year has happened to us rather than with us. 
With TOY besties Katie (NY) and Katy (MN) in the chapel at Princeton Univ.

     Michelle Obama said during the Democratic National Convention that, " A title doesn't change who you are, it reveals who you are."   Never truer words were spoken.  Many of us TOYs have found that as you began to peel away our teacher layers, (much of them covered in whiteboard marker, chalk dust, and hand sanitizer) we had grown and evolved to the point where we didn't quite fit into our old habitat.  In my case, the Jeanne had been let out of the bottle, so how do you put her back in? Did I really want to?

   Who was that person last September who got that life changing phone call from the Commissioner?  I was a person who was a reluctant leader, didn't like public speaking, and was content to stay in my classroom with my door closed and do my thing, which I did very well by the way.  It was a way of maintaining the status quo in order to keep the peace among my colleagues and administrators back at school, but it meant that my growth had become stagnant.

     I was reminded of my journey when honored by Richard Stockton College, my alma mater, with a Professional Service Award this Saturday.  Strangely enough, it was not my education degree that they were celebrating, but my political science degree, earned in 1993.  I had a few free hours in the conference schedule and kidnapped STOY besties Katy and Katie to serve as my family and witnesses for this event.  As besties do, the Kat(y)ies scoped out the room looking for a potential mate for me, their socially awkward friend.  In the meantime, I asked the lady in charge if I needed to make any remarks.  I had been so concerned about the conference in Princeton, I hadn't even thought about whether or not I had to give a speech, and besides, there were several honorees so surely just a smile and a wave would do, right?  Wrong.

      I scratched out some ideas on a napkin and then found a piece of paper.  Of course with any speech you need to thank your hosts, open with a hook, tell a story and then close with a lesson or moral, often with something that everyone can do to make the world a better place, then close the deal. I had to talk about my time at Stockton and my political science degree, which I hadn't thought about for years, but considering the conference at ETS and the hard reflection I had been doing, I was able to come up with a few ideas. 

       After thanking my most gracious hosts for the honor, I began by saying that it was nice to be able to come home.  When I started my political science degree, I began to investigate how governments were designed, what their purpose was,  the role of democracy and security, and how civil rights and the real meaning of freedom changed the course of history.  The more I learned, the more I wanted to act on that knowledge.  I felt a calling to promote social justice, inform people of their civic responsibility and engage in something meaningful.  I wanted people to know they could make a difference and that they had choices, but my degree left me with a void.
      It wasn't until a few years later, after going down a few of the wrong paths, that I discovered the joys and exhaustion of teaching.   As a history teacher, I was able to deliver on the core values that had been driving me.  I loved it and I was very good at what I did, being named NJ Teacher of the Year, but my growth had stopped and it was beginning to burn me out.  I was running out of oxygen and one of two things would happen.  Either my flame would extinguish itself, or I would burn so bright I would consume myself in trying to light the way for others.  Neither was looking very appealing. 
This past year has found me in a strange place, as I became an expert overnight on a vast series of topics.  I spoke to student teachers at many of the universities around the state, and I liked it, but I also found myself working with policy makers.  I was able to teach policy makers about the realities of what was going on in classrooms all over NJ, and I was good at it.  I have ideas, and this past year I have found a sense of confidence I never had before and I am not afraid to advocate for educators and students.  I stand straighter, act with more certainty, and I am no longer afraid of public speaking.  I have met an echelon of people who learn, evolve, have a deep sense of social justice and a desire to make the world a better place for students through education. 

      When you do the same thing for 16 years, it is hard getting used to a new routine.  Growth is difficult and I have been in a dark place these last few months.  At times I thought the deafening silence that entered my life would drive me insane, and I was somewhere between sadness and anger as I mourned the loss of my students from my life.  I even yelled at my cat for no logical reason (darned hair balls).  After working for years and constantly evolving, I didn't feel worthy to be standing among the people I had worked so hard to be in the presence of, and truthfully I was scared.  I was scared that I would fall flat on my face and really suck at anything outside of the classroom.  I had grown up as an average student that people didn't expect very much of, and I suppose that we always hold on to those insecurities.  Emotionally, I had curled up in the fetal position and couldn't get out of it because I was afraid that people would look at me and realize I wasn't as smart or confident as they thought I was.  In short, I felt like I was a fraud.  This fear and doubt took over my life as I have been trying to adjust to a new normal.  It was not going well, but I still had those big ideas, and I still had that desire for social justice and civic responsibility.
        My brother called me and as only a family member can, helped me climb out of the deep end of the pity pool, pull my head out of my ass and see reality.  Yes, my new path is scary, but there is such incredible potential that I know if I continued to remain an emotional blob, the opportunity to really help students and teachers would pass me by.  Inactivity is a decision too.  Those questions that had guided my year once again resurfaced and bit me in the ass.  If not me, who?  If not now, when?  Thanks to my brother, and the people who have loved me and see in me the potential for great things, I emerged from my pity party and my true self was revealed.  I am going to kick ass, take names, and I am not going to stop until teachers have a say in what happens them and students are shown that they have choices in life and are held to high standards so that they can do great things. Anything less is unworthy and betrays the ideals that form the core of my being.   
      I realized by the time I arrived at the conference that I had come full circle and have been able to put both of my degrees to use as I continue to strive for social justice and engage people in helping to understand their civic responsibility and the value of good education.   It was truly a revelation, thanks to a little help from my friends. 


I'll be there to love and confort you...(tell me baby)
I'll be there with the love I'll see you through
Now when you're lost and about to give up
'cause your best just ain't good enough
And you feel the world has grown cold
And you're driftin' on your own
When you need a hand to hold
Darling, reach out
Reach out, for me.
I'll be there to love and confort you
I'll be there with the love I'll see you through
I'll be there to love and confort you
I'll be there to with the love I'll see you through
I can tell you the way I hang your head
Now with out of love , now you're afraid
And through your tears you look around
But there's no peace of mind to be found
I know what you're thinking
Witout love, now you're alone
Baby, reach out
Reach out for me
I'll be there to love and confort you
I'll be there with the Love I'll see you through
I'll be there to love and confort you ...(tell me baby)
I'll be there to always see you through...(i'll be there)
I'll be there to love and confort you
I'll be there with the love I'll see you through.

1 comment:

  1. So this morning finds me crying and singing along with the Four Tops! I am so proud to know you and to have traveled this journey with you. I have learned so much from you which is exactly what happens when you hang out with a great teacher! Much love from your bestie with a Y! Katy