My [redacted] Journey

A teacher's search for inner peace.


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Playing Hardball


April 25, 2014

Dear Readers,

My rookie season coaching girls’ fast pitch is in the books.  Final tally?  Two wins, nine losses.  Coaching middle school girls ages 11 to 14 was a lesson in futility and humility.  However, I did end the season with a win.  Although, not quite a win I can quantify through my stats.  And when the dust finally settled on our maiden season, I reached a foregone conclusion:  while their softball skills were questionable at best, these girls could sure play hardball.

As the season began, I made several futile attempts to “go back to the basics”.  Asking the girls to demonstrate proper technique for catching and throwing is one thing.  Expecting them to do so is another.

“Kunzmann, do we gotta use two hands every time we catch?”

“Yes, you do.”

A collective eye-roll moved through the group of girls, it was almost palpable; I shuddered.  It was going to be a long season.

The girls never questioned me about anything I asked them to do again.  They just didn’t do what I asked them to do.  For them, it was that simple.  For me, I never stopped trying.

“Put your glove all the way on the ground to stop a groundball,” I would instruct one player.

“You don’t hafta do that,” her teammate would tell her.  And she wouldn’t.

“When you catch a fly ball, put your free hand over the ball to keep it from popping out of your glove,” I would instruct another.

“You don’t hafta do that,” her teammate would tell he.  And she wouldn’t.

It got so bad by the middle of the season that I even had to forfeit one of our games.  We were at an away game and my varsity catcher had forgotten her glove.  I told the JV catcher to suit up.  She said no.  In fact, she flat out refused.  And no amount of begging, cajoling,  and/or wheedling could get her to suit up and take the field.  So, I flat out forfeited.

And that’s how the rest of the season went:  poorly.  We were not a team, and we were certainly not a good team.  The other teams in our division were so much better.  The girls on those teams listened to their coaches.  My girls listened to each other.  My girls didn’t see the correlation, until it was too late.

It was the last game of the season and my girls had taken the field.  I was in the dugout with my JV second baseman sitting next to me.  We were watching our pitcher warm up.  On the last pitch, our catcher yells, “Balls in, coming down!”  The catcher is getting ready to throw the ball to second base, simulating what would happen during the inning if someone was attempting to steal second base.

Most ball players know that if a runner is trying to steal second, the shortstop takes the catcher’s throw and second baseman backs her up.  Not on our team.  And the JV player sitting next to me finally notices.

“Kunzmann, how come on the other teams the shortstop takes the throw when the catcher throws it down?”

“Because that’s the way you’re supposed to do it,”

“Well, how come when I’m playing second base, I take the catcher’s throw?”

I turned to look at her and said, “I don’t know, why do you take the throw?”

She looked a little puzzled and confused.  “Well, that’s what they told me to do.”

“And who are they?”

“The girls on our team.”

“And what did I tell you to do?”

“I don’t know,” she admitted ashamedly.

“I taught you the right way to play second base,” I assured her.

“Oh, then I guess I should listen to you.”

Word.

I’m hopeful that next year she will remember this little ‘a-ha moment’ and give me another shot at coaching her.  For now, I’m just happy that one of the girls came to the realization that she should listen to me.  Now, maybe the word will spread.

Peace, ~v.

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Adaptability


September 28, 2014

Dear Readers,

It was the best of traits, it was the worst of traits, it was the mark of wisdom, it was the mark of foolishness, it was the attribute of belief, it was the attribute of incredulity, it was the quality of Light, it was the quality of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.  It was adaptability.

With apologies to Charles Dickens,  I am writing about my best and my worst personality trait.  I am making a concerted effort to become a better person.  Through my soul searching of the past month, I have determined that my best personality trait is adaptability.  However, it is also my worst.

My ability to adapt allows me to feel comfortable in any given situation.  And it’s a good thing, too, because I’ve had to adjust to some pretty tough situations.  I’ve managed several times to make the best of a bad situation; I’m proud of that.  I am also ashamed at how base a life I was willing to lead because of my adaptability.  You’d be surprised at what we are willing to adapt to.  Or maybe not.  Now, having survived my first half century none the worse for wear, I plan on living the life I was intended to live.

Oftentimes over the years, I have instructed my students and my own children that they were destined to do great things.  I instilled in them a belief that they had the power to change the world, and they do.  So do I.

Accepting that I can, and I will, affect change began some time ago.  Last night, I fully embraced it.  Allow me to share with you, dear Readers, the beginnings of my new Journey:  My Journey of Peace.


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H.W.G.A. or Here We Go Again


August 7, 2014

Dear Readers,

Here we go again.  When we were growing up, my siblings and I used to say, “HWGA,” whenever our parents would argue with one another.  We would roll our eyes at one another and simply mutter, “HWGA,” and we all knew what that meant, “Here we go again!”  We would all scatter to various rooms in the house, or sneak outside so as to not have to listen and/or to give our parents their privacy.  Don’t know if we ever told Mom and Dad what HWGA meant, or if they even knew we had a little code.  Well, Mom knows now if she’s reading this (sorry MmR, GaZjr, AeZ, FaZ, MdZ, VlD and DrZ for giving away the secret).

Today’s post will be my last post for…well, I don’t know how long.  I will leave this post, and the rest of my blog up for three days, and then I am sorry to say, I will be shutting it down.  I am sure some of my dear Readers would like to know why.  Here is the condensed version:  a student.  That’s all I will say on the matter.  However, I will be back.  I don’t know where or when, but I will be back.

I do this to protect not me, but my loved ones.  It is my decision to write, so I am willing to suffer the repercussions.  however, I do not wish to harm anyone with what I do and who I am.  I know you dear Readers will understand.

Now, on to loose ends.  In my last post, The Ones You Never Forget, I wrote about a former student (CM) that seemed to be troubled.  I had several people tell me that they wouldn’t be surprised if I hear from the student again and that he would remember me.  Well dear Readers, God does have a way of making believers out of us cynics.  Yesterday, two days after my post, CM did indeed get in touch with me!  He has since graduated from high school (no small feat) and is gainfully employed and looking forward to being a father and getting married (in that order).  He said he sought counseling on and off through his high school years and although he is not quite over some trauma he suffered in his teen years, he is much better than when I saw him last.

Now this is why I teach, because of kids like CM.  When I met him, he did not believe he had a chance at a life, he couldn’t see past his pain.  I did not think he would ever remember that I taught him how to write a complete paragraph, nor did I think he would remember that I taught him how to write a proficient essay.  What I was hoping for, however, was that he would remember the seed of hope I was so desperately trying to plant within him.  He thanked me for always believing in him, for never giving up on him, and most importantly, never letting him give up on himself.  Wow!  You could have knocked me over with a feather  Now that is why I teach.

Two other posts that I have to close out are Out of Focus and Out of Focus, Again.  Although this school year has started off better than perhaps the past five or so years, I had one class that I was not really connecting to, yet.  I thought I had solved the problem, but after a second lesson went flat, I decided I needed to try a new tactic.  I thought, I prayed, I meditated, I slept, I asked fellow teachers, I thought I had tried everything.  Then, God sent me an angel in the form of a Badass Teacher, DS.

DS wrote to me and suggested that I try a team building exercise.  Some may know it by a different name, but the premise is the same.  When you are with a group, be it work, school or church, and you must function as a group, you must have trust and a sense of camaraderie.  Without those two things, your group will not function properly.

“But, of course!” I thought when I read DS’s message.  “I need to build a little trust and camaraderie among my students.”  Not only does it help the students gel as a class and as small groups within the class, it is a diagnostic tool for me.  Here is how my team building exercise went:

I had my students do an exercise called “The Human Knot,” (again, some may know it by a different name).  Eight students stand in a circle, for my classes it worked out well, since my classes are in groups of four.  The eight students put their right hands in the middle of the circle and grab the hand of someone within the circle that is not standing next to them.  Next, they put their left hands in the middle of the circle and they grab the hand of someone else not standing next to them.  In order for the exercise to work, each student must be holding hands with two different people, and they must not be holding hands with someone directly to their left, or directly to their right.

Next, the students must try and untangle themselves to form a circle without dropping each others’ hands.  It can be done.  It has been done.  And in my classes, it was done.

At first, the students were reluctant to hold each others’ hands.  Then, all it took was for one student to make a move, and they all dug in, teamwork at its finest.  It worked beautifully.  One group within each of the three classes that tried this,   were able to form a circle.  It was the neatest thing to watch.  And that is all I did, watch.  Here were the results:

Most of the students were able to successfully work together.  However, there were a few that started out extremely annoyed with me for even suggesting this exercise, but they quickly joined in and tried to help.  Even so, there were two or three who simply refused to help, they just stood there, not helping, but not hurting the team.  The students thought it was fun, but didn’t really know what it could possible tell me.

I was able to see who the leaders and the reluctant leaders of the groups were, who the loyal followers were, who the reluctant followers were, and who took on the role of comic relief.  After each class had finished the exercise, I gave each student my observation of how they functioned in a group.  For the most part, the way students behave in team building exercises is the way they will behave when working in small groups.  Both the students and I were surprised at the leadership qualities in some of their peers.  However, I explained to them, now I know who has the leadership qualities, and I fully expect them to live up to their roles.

I tried this, and similar team building exercises with many of my classes over the years.  And each student that has participated, has risen to the high expectations I have set for them…without exception.  It was, and has been an exceptional diagnostic tool.  Now that I can see the beginnings of my students strengths and weaknesses with a small group, I can begin to work with them to get their best efforts.  By the end of the first quarter (around the end of August) I should see students working up to the high expectations I maintain for all of my students.  Teaching…It’s a Beautiful Thing.

Well, dear Readers we have come to the end of  very fine friendship, at least I think so.  I will be back someday; someday soon, I hope.  I will continue to write, because writing soothes my soul.  As for publishing, well, I’m working on it.  I thank each and everyone of you, dear Readers around the world.  I have enjoyed every smile, every frown, every frustration, every thing that this blog has brought me.  I leave you with the hope that you will all go out and change the world for the better, even just a little, I know I will.

Please always remember, and don’t ever forget…Peace, ~v.

 


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My Selves


July 10, 2014 Dear Readers, On July 1, 2014 I celebrated my one year anniversary blogging My [redacted] Journey on WordPress.  When I began blogging, my main purpose was to keep in touch with my friends and family in the United States, as I was teaching in the Middle East.  Since then, my blog has evolved into something more meaningful to me than mere correspondence.  As such, I have decided to take a look at the direction in which my writing is taking me, and you as well, dear Readers. I will spend the better part of the next few months re-inventing both my selves and my blog.  Well, not so much re-inventing, as gaining a tighter focus on what I want to convey to the world.  Although the title of my blog will remain the same, my tagline (that short sentence found under the title up there at the top) has changed.  In addition, I will be recreating my ‘About” page so that my readers, past, present, and future, may get to know me a little more in-depth. In yesterday’s blog post, “Peace Within”, I expressed my desire to live my life outside of teaching with the peace and sense of purpose I have when I teach.  I have focused on the questions, “What do I want  my blog to be about?”  and “How can I reach even more readers?”  The answer to the first question lends itself to my spiritual side.  Whereas the second question is  more egotistical. In short, my blog is about a teacher’s search for inner peace.  I hope that you, dear readers, will want to follow my journey as I live out my dream of being a teacher, and take an honest look into my search for inner peace.  Although I am further along in my journey than some, I am certainly not as far along as most. At the end of the day, I hope to accomplish two things.  First, I would like for my everyday self to become closer, in fact even merge, with my teacher self so that I may experience inner peace on an everyday basis.  Secondly, I hope that some of what I am learning about myself will ring true with some of my readers around the world.  After all, as a teacher, I wish to share my knowledge with anyone willing to learn.  I am willing to put myself out there, willing to show you my slips and falls and subsequent mistakes, so that you, dear Readers can do so privately. If there is one lesson that I learned teaching in the Middle East, it’s that we, all of us, around the globe are more similar than we are different.  I have readers in the United States, Australia, and Singapore.  Also, Brazil, Spain, Ireland, Jamaica and India.  People read me in Mexico, Sweden, Kuwait, South Africa, and the United Arab Emirates.  My blog is seen in Croatia, Nigeria, Greece, Tunisia, Egypt, Romania and Switzerland.  And those are just the countries this week.  I would like to believe that most, if not all, of you, dear Readers, will be entertained, energized, and maybe even enlightened in this teacher’s search for inner peace.

Let there be peace on earth, and let it begin with me. –   Sy Miller and Jill Jackson

Peace on earth, dear Readers, it has never been just a dream.  I’m absolutely sure of it.  Peace, ~v.    


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Peace Within


The utmost form of respect is to give sincerely your presence. –Mollie Marti

July 9, 2014

Dear Readers,

A couple of weeks ago, I was watching a video clip that I had recorded last year of my 8th grade students.  On the clip, you can hear my voice, talking to my students.  When I first began to play the video, it surprised me how weird I sounded.  Then I thought, “People always think they sound weird when they listen to a recording of their own voice,” and I continued to watch and listen.  And then my sister spoke up, “Who is that talking?”

When I tell you that I am a different person when I am teaching, I mean I am a different personWhen I teach, I am wholly without ego, it is a completely selfless act.  My mannerisms are different, my tone is different, my posture and my body language are different, I am different.  And now I know that even my voice is different, so different that even my sister didn’t recognize it.

What could be the cause of this difference?  Why do I change, so much so as to be unrecognizable, even to myself?  I went in search of the answers.  What I discovered was surprising and, yes, enlightening.

I started with the premise that I love the way teaching makes me ‘feel’.  I am calm, my breathing is relaxed and steady, and my hands do not shake (a manifestation of my anxiety).  I smile frequently using my entire face, especially my eyes.  I can tell my smiles are genuine, because my eyes close into barely seen slits.  I have boundless energy and rarely do I sit down throughout my day.  And in the center of myself, in the essence that is me, I am peace.  I am peace.  I am not at peace, nor do I feel peace.  Rather, I am peace.

Once I could describe what I felt while teaching, I began to look for the why.  Why do I experience such joy while teaching and more importantly, how can I replicate it?  The first question was easy enough to figure out.  Although, the second one is giving me a bit more trouble.

Your purpose in life is to find your purpose and give your whole heart and soul to it. –Gautama Buddha

I know why I am different when I teach.  I am giving my whole heart and soul to it.  I am divinely inspired.  I am love, I am peace, I am joy.  I have had indescribable, spiritual encounters at times, while teaching.  I have experienced an enlightenment that can only be equated to an out-of-body experience.  My soul has found where it belongs in the universe.  I have but one question to answer, how do I replicate this ‘feeling’ when I am not teaching?

Once I am out of my teacher persona, I am no longer calm, energetic, peaceful and close to God.  But I so desperately want to be.  I want to translate who I am while teaching into who I am in my everyday life.  I am happy, yes, but I know there is more.  And I will attain it.  I have seen shades of my teacher-self in my everyday life.  They are few and far between, but they are there.  Here is an example:

A few years back, I was recovering from surgery and my mom was kind enough to take me to my follow-up doctor’s appointment.  The waiting room was huge and it was packed with mostly women and children.  I tried to calmly tune out the noise.  However, there were two little kids, one boy and one girl, causing such a disturbance.  These two were jumping on the furniture, running around their caretaker, playing with the magazines, and generally misbehaving.  The receptionist had already unsuccessfully asked the caretaker to settle the children down.  Having done all she could muster, the receptionist closed the glass partition so that the office staff and the patients with the doctors in the back, could not hear the ruckus in the waiting room.

The caretaker tried to get control of the children, to no avail.  Turns out, she was the children’s aunt and her sister, their mother, was with the doctor in the back.  She was awfully embarrassed and more or less, collapsed within herself, and waited.  Meanwhile, the other patients in the waiting room began to raise their voices just above a whisper, so as to scold not the children, but their caretaker.  As the minutes passed and the children became more aggressive and obnoxious, the grumblings became louder.  Patients were conversing in angry tones and shaking their heads in disgust at the caretaker and the children by then.  Nothing would settle the children down.

I was just about to join in the humiliation circle, when a sort of calm came over me.  I knew what I had to do, I became my teacher-self.  I grabbed a magazine and walked over to the children with a purpose.  Later, as I recalled the scene in my mind’s eye, I was experiencing the event not as myself, but as someone outside of myself, if you can understand that.  I introduced myself to the boy and girl, and we took it from there.  I began teaching the children a lesson using the magazine I had picked up.  The children were entranced as I held sway over their impressionable, little minds.  And a hush descended upon the waiting room, everyone began to relax.  I remember feeling a sort of electric energy passing between me and the boy and the girl.  However, I knew if I concentrated on that energy I would lose its touch and in turn, lose the children’s interest.  I was calm, serene, and joyful whereas one minute before, I had been agitated, irritated, and definitely unhappy.

I managed to keep the children engaged and mostly quiet (after all, children do get excited as they learn) until their mother appeared from behind the office door.  It was then that I ‘came’ back to myself.  It was weird and I know I’m not explaining it right, but it is what I felt.  I have examined this experience, and I know I was acting, no existing, from a place that is the real me.  So, I know I can do this, be this in my everyday life; it just takes practice.

Well dear Readers, school begins again in less than two weeks and I am pretty sure I will be getting in a lot of practice.  I want to continue my journey of enlightenment so that I may be closer to God in all aspects of my life.  I want to continue so that I may sow the seeds of joy and peace.  And almost most importantly, I want to continue my journey so that I may be closer to my true, ego-less self.  Peace, ~v.


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My Fifteen Minutes


Interview done!

Interview done!

January 14, 2014

Dear Readers,

Today is a good day for me.  Go here!  I’m story number 3.  It may not be much to some, but it means the world to me.  For those of you who are meeting me for the first time, there is something you should know about me.   I am opinionated.  I know, shock, right?  I would conclude that most bloggers are, but I won’t, because that would be stereotyping and we wouldn’t want to do that.

Back to my opinions.  If you have read any of my blog posts, you know that education is very important to me.  I have a lot to say about a lot in education.  Today, my voice was heard.  It may only be a ripple, but watch out!  Ripples flow out in all directions and they keep going and going and going.  Today was my ripple.

I know I can affect change.  I know I can create something sustainable in this disposable world.  I know…ah, hell, just listen to the interview, please?  Thanks 🙂  Peace, ~v.

http://www.npr.org/programs/tell-me-more/


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Let Me Teach


View from my desk.

View from my desk.

January 13, 2014

Dear Readers,

Today I was interviewed by National Public Radio host, Michel Martin.  Ms. Martin is host of the show “Tell Me More”. The show, “Tell Me More” is alive and well in the digital age and has been “featured in live Twitter chats about education that brought together tens of thousands of participants across the country.”  Now that is the kind of program I can appreciate.  Read more about the show here.

As for my interview, Ms. Martin recently interviewed writer Amanda Machado regarding an article Ms. Machado wrote entitled “Why Teachers of Color Quit”.  Having read Machado’s article, I wrote a rebuttal, “Why Teachers of Color Don’t Quit”.  It only seemed to follow that Ms. Martin interview me as well, since I did have an opposing viewpoint.

The interview went well, I was able to speak my piece, and it will be broadcast nationally.  How cool is that?  Ok, back to serious writer.  The interview will air tomorrow.  Here is where you can listen on-line.

I will write more of a follow-up on tomorrow’s post, dear Readers.  For today, I had other thoughts.  I posted the following comment on a site that is dear to my heart but I’d like to share.

I have experienced discrimination on several levels: a woman, a Latina, a poor person. It sucked (sorry, but no other words say the same with the same vehemence).  However, it wasn’t until I taught overseas that I realized, in my case, that my American privilege far outweighed the prejudice I have suffered at home. I figured I had a choice, stay  overseas and enjoy privilege as both an American AND a teacher, or come home and face the inequity. Well, I’m home and I am having a difficult time grasping onto anything concrete to counter what is happening in education, today.

I have been fighting the good fight, tilting at windmills, if you will, most of my life. I am ready for things to change!   I don’t expect society to change anytime soon with regard to my gender or my race, but as an educator, I deserve respect! I am a professional. I guarantee that I and most educators know better than any rich businessman what is best for our students. And we are smart enough to realize what works in Tampa may not work in Tempe.

Let me teach!  Barring that, I’m afraid I am going to have to reassess how I can best serve my community. I want to teach!  Barring that, I am going to have to reassess how I can best get our message out to the masses.

In this day of educational uncertainty, I am willing to stand up and fight for what I value and believe in. I am proud of what we, collectively, are doing and I hope we can all continue evolving to meet the needs of ourselves, our students, and our communities.  Peace, ~v.