Thursday, December 31, 2009

Again, With Passion!

Today I spoke with a woman who works in retail.  She shared with me that her manager is not much of a motivator.  Recently, the store fell just shy of their monthly sales goal.  "Why," this woman asked, "didn't our manager tell us we were only a few hundred dollars short?  Why didn't she call all of her friends and family to come in for an end-of-the-year spree?  Why didn't she tell each of us employees that if we bought one item, the store would make its goal? Why didn't she do SOMETHING to help us succeed?"

The type of passion and enthusiasm it would require for a manager to do such things is woefully lacking in many a workplace.  And when it is lacking in leadership, you can be sure it is lacking in the flock. Selling clothes may not be saving starving children or finding the cure for a debilitating disease, but that does not mean it cannot be something that is done with ambition and enthusiasm.  Making the goal is not only about the money; it is also about a sense of accomplishment and pride that the entire team enjoys after reaching a particularly high standard that has been set for them.  Such accomplishment is what helps us put our feet on the ground each morning instead of pulling the covers over our heads!

As we end one year and begin another, we are tempted to throw off our old selves and morph into new beings.  Ones who eat well, exercise regularly and live in a peaceful, highly organized homes.  We want to lose weight, throw out the clutter, stop biting our nails.

This year, I am encouraging each of us to add something into our lives rather than remove what is already there. How incredibly different would your 2010 be if you discovered your passion? And what if you took steps to act on that passion each day of your life?  What if you then made it your career?  Or what if you took your current career or role you have in your life and approached it with a renewed fire?  The change it would make in our lives, and then the lives of others, would be awesome in the truest sense of the word.

Being a teacher in these times can be discouraging -- greater accountability, increased pressure, more restrictions and all with less support.  Sometimes it can be tempting and even stress-relieving to complain about how impossible the standards set before us are.  But imagine what would happen if, instead of stopping at the reasons why we cannot achieve, we went on to imagine and passionately pursue every avenue to make success attainable?  What if we decided that each and every day we would approach our profession with passion and eagerness.  In the end, if we reach our goal, it becomes a realization that the number isn't what matters; it's the unity and strength we get as a team of people, staff and students, who work toward it together. And if we don't reach the goal, we still have our individual dignity and a collective sense of pride.

Every year, I welcome over 200 ninth graders into our GATE Program.  And among all of the information and advice I give to these college-bound, sometimes grade-obsessed students in our first meeting, I always include an exhortation for students to decide what kind of people they want to become, what passions they must pursue in their lives to be fulfilled as human beings, and then, if they make their educational decisions based on those ideals, they will not be disappointed when they leave high school.

This attitude, though, cannot stop when we are 18.  Today, at 36, as the ball drops and people kiss their way into 2010, as my children fall asleep and slip obliviously into a new decade, I need to ask myself those same questions: What kind of person do I want to be?  What passions must I pursue to be fulfilled?

And I am pretty sure that if I add all that passion, enthusiasm and fulfillment into my life, surely a bad habit or a few extra pounds will be pushed out.  We can always hope!

Happy 2010!

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Bawling at a Baby Shower?

Last week, I went to a baby shower.  I love baby showers with all that I am.  I love them so much, I planned two of my own!

My friend, K., is having twin girls -- her first babies!  When I received the shower invitation, I was thrilled.  I hadn't seen K. in about seven years.  In fact, the last time was when I was well into my own first pregnancy, so I could not wait -- not only to celebrate these girls-on-the-way, but  I also relished the thought of a few face-to-face minutes with my dear friend.

I walked into the shower, saw K. and before I knew it, I could hardly speak.  Tears welled, throat closed and I wanted to drop to the floor and sob.  Not the reaction most women have arriving to a celebration of new life?  I'm not so sure.  I think we keep our emotions in check quite often and that if we wanted to be very very honest, there is a part of every mother that wants to let the water works turn on full blast each time she confronts the memory of her own pregnancy and childbirth experiences.

And that's what a shower is for, right?  Not only to provide the new parents with the necessities -- diapers and burp cloths -- and lovely luxuries (K. got these gorgeous little crocheted hats for the girls that were so sweet I knew everyone in the room had an urge to taste them!).  A shower is also a chance for women to gather and share their own stories, stories we never get tired of telling, but that everyone near us has heard more than they care to recall.  Our pregnancies are the times in our lives when, as K. said, everyone is our best friend. Everyone wants to care for us, cater to us, ask us too-personal questions and offer unsolicited, but always well-meaning, advice.  Any intimate detail now becomes a perfectly acceptable questions to ask -- boy or girl? epidural or natural? bottle or breast? what does your belly button look like?  In K.'s case, she and her husband are keeping one little detail secret -- the girls' names.  They've been chosen, but for now are only for the parents-to-be to enjoy.  While personally I think this is a delicious treat they have given themselves, others at the shower were not as pleased and tried all kinds of clever tricks to get K. to reveal the monikers.  She kept mum.  Of course, like the silly games everyone resists, but would sell out their own mother to win, at the shower all of this is done with the grace and a smile.  It is a baby shower, after all. And after months of being interrogated by medical personnel and hazed by her own body, the shower is the woman's formal initiation into the society of motherhood, Maternity.

I know my response was a bit odd and I did try to keep the tears back for most of the party, but I had really missed my spunky, incredibly wonderful friend. Now she is becoming a mother; and though I don't know the names of the baby girls she is about to bring into the world, I do know the joy, the heartache and the hope that lies ahead. I couldn't help but be overcome.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

They Know the Ending

My sons and I are reading Old Yeller.  The boys are 7, 5 and 2 and they are totally into this book.  Well, the two year old is more into swinging from the bed posts, but the other two -- completely engaged. A couple of times a week, as they wind down for bedtime, I read a chapter or two aloud to them.  And no matter how long I read, they groan when I say it is time for us to stop for the night.

How I wish this was the same reaction I got from the students in my classes!  And lately I have been wondering why it is not.  As a teacher of 13 years, this certainly is not the first time I have pondered this idea.  But this time, I am looking at from a fresh perspective.  Instead of thinking about what is going wrong in the classroom and how that keeps students from being engaged in our reading, I need to think about what is right in the reading situation I have with my boys.

First, I chose a book for the boys that I believed they would be interested in due to the subject matter.  They have been drawn in to the life of this young boy in rural Texas who has responsibilities they can hardly imagine.  He hangs from tree limbs to mark and castrate pigs and I do not even let them use a butter knife!

Second, I made reading more about experiencing the moment than finding out "what happens."  Often, that is all my students want to know, which is why SparkNotes is so tempting. Many of them believe that novels (or plays or even poems) are written to tell the chronological events of a story and to hold the reader in suspense until all is revealed in the end. But for my sons and I, the journey is the part we love.  And because I am reading along with them, it is a shared journey.  This sharing of the road is what drives us, not the destination. In fact, the boys know what happens at the end of the book (we are only three pages away from the tragic scene!), but that hasn't assuaged their interest in hearing the story.  They are more interested in the how and why than they are in the what.

Finally, the story does not stop when we close the book. All of the novels we have read together, from Charlotte's Web to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, have become a part of our family experience.  We bring up characters and conflicts we have encountered in these worlds in our daily discussions. We compare their experiences and responses to our own.  My oldest son wants a dog and we have told him that when we move into a larger home, he can have one.  In the meantime, we read about Travis and Yeller and talk about what is wonderful about loving a pet so much and what is also really hard about it.  I have no doubt that sharing this story together will impact his own dog stories later in life.  

Upon reflection, what makes the reading such a powerful experience for the boys and for me is that we all learn from it, about the characters, the time period, the conflicts and even more, about ourselves.  So, even when the boys know the ending, they know the story never really ends. 

Sunday, December 27, 2009

What to Say

Recently, I have started reading a few blogs.  It is just like me not to read other people's blogs before diving into one of my own. I tend to hear about something and want to try it out before I see how others are doing it.  But the problem is that I start, I stop, I start, I stop.  And the stopping goes on for months and months while the starting is over in a snap.

Next semester, I want to get my AP Lit seniors blogging.  I did this last year, another "dive in" experience without much research or guidance, and while I was pleased, I knew it could be more.  However, in order for this to be the type of exercise I hope it will be -- authentic, meaningful, insightful and inspiring -- I believe I have to be blogging, too.

So, I decided to go against my nature and explore what others are doing to see if that might help get me out from under my comfy blanket of excuses.  And it has!  While it is a bit like shedding those covers in the morning  in December (exposing warm skin to the bitterness of dark winter air), it is also invigorating.  And what I realized is that I don't have to have something to say before I begin to write. I kept waiting for this avalanche of inspiration to engulf me and the only way to shovel my way out would be through words.

What I see now is that writing here is more like walking out into fresh snowfall -- I make meaning as I go. 

Apparently the holidays have influenced my choice of metaphor -- being a Southern Californian who's never even been skiing, it certainly isn't personal experience.  But isn't that how things work -- even that which we don't know, we do.  And so I am not a 17 year old baker, or a well-respected marketing genius -- when I read the blogs of those writers this week, I found out not just what they thought, but what I think, or at least what I want to think about.

Tonight, that is what I have to say.

Saturday, December 26, 2009

Seth Godin's eBook: What Matters Now

What Matters Now:  Something to read, something to think about in a moment of quiet or a moment desperate for inspiration.