My [redacted] Journey

A teacher's search for inner peace.


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There but for the Grace of God, Go I


December 24, 2016

Dear Readers,

The following has been reprinted with permission:

Attitude of Gratitude

by Sonny, 6th grade

“Even if I am only 12 years old, I know what it means to be grateful. I know that no matter how bad I have it, I can always be grateful for something. Here’s my story.

I lost my dad when I was about 3 years old. I guess I miss him,   I don’t really remember him. But I lost my mom last year to breast cancer, and I do remember her. I miss her so much, but not as much as I used to. I guess I’ve learned to be grateful.

When my mom died, I tried to be strong, but I couldn’t stop crying forever, it seemed. My mom died during the summer, so at least I didn’t have to go to school. It seemed that all I ever did was cry and feel sorry for myself. I lived with my nana and tata, my mom’s parents, so I knew I had people who loved me. But my mom and dad were both gone and all I could think about was, “Why me?” Then school started and I got even worse. I didn’t know that I was angry. I just knew that life was pretty unfair.

I was never really good at school. So, when I started getting ‘Ds’ and ‘Fs’, it didn’t bother me…much. To be honest, I hated my grades. But, I didn’t think I could do any better.   I was wrong.

I had a teacher last year that taught me about gratitude. I was sad I had no shoes, until I saw a man who had no feet. My mom used to tell me that. I never understood what it meant.

One day at school I was crying because, well, life sucked for me! It had been less than a year since my mom died and Thanksgiving was coming up. All I heard at school that week was, “What are you thankful for?”

“Nothing! I’m thankful for nothing!” I yelled back at my teacher one day when I just couldn’t take it anymore.

I ran into the hall and waited for my teacher to run after me and tell me everything would be okay. I then would tell her how sad I am and she would say she was sorry and then I would tell her that life was unfair, and I would get to go to the bathroom and wash my face and I would be okay until the next time. At least that was how it had gone for the past four months. Not this time.

My teacher, I’ll call her Miss X, dismissed the class to reading and lunch and called me in from the hallway.

“Well,” I thought to myself, “if Miss X won’t feel sad for me, maybe Ms. J would.” Ms. J was our class aide and she was still in the classroom as me and Miss X sat down.

I don’t remember what I thought Miss X was going to say, but I know I wasn’t expecting what came next. Miss X let loose on me. Not in a yelling way, but in a disappointed way.

“Look, I can’t help you get over your sadness, Sonny. I’m not so good in that department. But, I can help you get over being selfish and ungrateful. Now, I’m real good in that department.”

I thought my face showed shocked and hurt, until Miss X smirked. Now, at the time I didn’t know the difference between the smirk and the smile. I saw a smile,. Smiles from adults when kids are sad and crying are a good thing, a warm thing. So, I relaxed and prepared to gets some hugs, maybe  a funsize bag of M&Ms that Miss X keeps in her desk drawer. But no, Miss X lets loose on me again! Only not in the disappointed way she started with, and not quite the yell, yet.

“Sonny, I am sorry that you’ve lost your mom.” Which, of course, I didn’t believe at first, because she was, well, not yelling, yelling. But, she was loud.

“And I’m sorry that life sucks for you right now.” This, this I believed because I pretended not to see that she was about to cry. Aaaand, she fooled me again., because, you see, those were not, sad tears. No, they were angry, frustrated tears; like she was hurt. But, I was listening.

“And I’m sorry that you found out at such a young age that life really, really sucks sometimes. But life can be really, really glorious, too. You don’t know this, yet, and you probably won’t believe me for a while, but yes, life has wonderful moments waiting for you. And even now you are missing them because you’re too wrapped up in poor me, poor Sonny.”

By this time, I figured she was on to something, so I just let her let loose on me. That, and I totally misread the smirk and the tears and I didn’t want to be surprised, again.

“What about poor Nana and Tata? Huh, what about them? I know they love you and would do anything for you, but have you ever stopped to think how hard this is on them? I mean, life must really suck for them right now! I mean, seriously. I know you think you are just so charming and fun to be around, but your nana and tata cannot exactly be thrilled to have a middle school kid running their lives.”

“That’s not fair! I don’t run their lives!” At least I didn’t think I did. Although, I was happy to hear that it was at least a possibility.

“Did I say you were ‘running their lives?’” Miss X said. “I thought I said ‘ruining their lives!’ Ha, ha, ha I’m kidding, of course Sonny.”

Yeah, she was kidding. She used her fake, ha-ha-ha laugh that she uses when she tells a ‘cor-ky’ joke, you know, a corny, dorky joke is a cor-ky…nevermind. I knew she was kidding.

“I know you don’t see it, Sonny, but you are so wrapped up in what you don’t have to be thankful for, that you can’t see the things you should be grateful for.”

And that’s when she said it, “I was sad I had no shoes, until I met a man who had no feet.”

I really, really, really didn’t want to cry right then. I didn’t want Miss X to think I was feeling sorry for myself, because I wasn’t. It was just that when Miss X said the same thing my mom used to say to me and I didn’t know if I was happy because I finally understood what it meant, or I was sad because I couldn’t tell my mom I finally understood what it meant. So I cried.

Today, I am grateful for things I never thought I would be grateful for. Like, clean drinking water, because there are kids in our country who have only poisonous water coming out of their water faucets. And I’m grateful that I have a nana and a tata who love me and take care of me, because a kid from my old school just lost his mom, too and he had no other family to take care of him so he had to go into foster care. And I’m grateful for…well, you get the picture.

There’s always something to be grateful for. At least that’s what my mom, and now Miss X say. And I’m going to hang on to that. Seriously, if my mom could find something to be grateful for when she knew she was dying, and Miss X can find something to be grateful for even though she has to put up with middle school kids all day, then heck, I’m sure I can always find something to be grateful for. And guess what? The more aware I became, the more grateful I became. And, the more grateful I became, the less sucky life became.

It’s amazing what having an attitude of gratitude can do for a person. Take it easy. Until next time.”

Yeah, what he said. Peace, ~v.


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For He’s a Jolly Good Fellow


student-love

I’m all about the love.

November 16, 2016

*Names in the following post have been changed.

Dear Readers,

Respect is overrated. In fact, at times, it is quite inconsequential. I can think of several nouns I would rather have from someone than the ‘R’ word; peace and love naturally come to mind. Unfortunately, our world is sorely lacking in all three.

When I was younger (much, much younger), I was fond of saying that I would rather my colleagues respect me than like me. And I have always been confident enough in my skills to ensure that my coworkers would do just that: respect me. Boy was I wrong!

For the past year, I have noticed a definite shift in the attitude of my students, collectively as well as individually. There is certainly more bullying and less kindness on display in my classroom. Indeed, I have oftentimes pointed this out to my most unruly classes. The school year is nearly half over and I have finally gotten my students to take me seriously. I’ve had to prove myself over and over again to not only earn their trust, but, yes, their respect as well. But as any teacher of middle school students knows, it’s one step forward, two steps back. And sometimes it’s not my students that are tripping me backwards; it’s my fellow educators.

There are certain male teachers at school who seem to command respect by their mere presence. Something about a deep, throaty voice and a six foot frame that registers with middle school kids. I was always able to put the fear of God in my own children with my “look”, but it never quite worked with this bunch of students. I’ve even ventured to ask my students why they behave for Mr. Down-the-Hall but not for me. I’m not going to tell you their answers, but I’ve come up with a few of my own.

We live in a male dominated society. Like it or not, men are valued more than women. I try to not let that bother me, but it does. It especially bothers me when Mr. Down-the-Hall undermines my authority in front of my students. Instead of accusing me of dismissing my students before the bell rings, why can’t Mr. Down-the-Hall wait until there are no students around, mine or his, and ask me what happened that my students left early? Why? Because if Mr. Down-the-Hall had waited to ask me what happened, instead of accusing me of letting my students out early, I would have told him that as soon as I turned my back, my students (all but two) rushed the door and were halfway to the bus before I even knew they were gone.

These same students would never deign to pull such a stunt with Mr. Down-the-Hall, they’re too afraid of him. Alas, I am envious of the fear he commands. “If I could just have a teeny bit of whatever he has…” I muse, and sometimes cry. And today was one of those days.

Today was one of those, “I am sick to death of putting up with the lack of respect from pipsqueak, prepubescent would-be reprobates!” And Mr. Down-the-Hall just added to my frustration. I willed myself to stay angry to stave off the tears. “I will not cry on my way home. I will not cry on my way home. I will not cry on my way home.” Then I began to think.

I began to question where I had gone wrong. When had I begun to be ineffective? When had I lost the respect of my charges, if in fact, I ever had it? All I ever really wanted was respect. Respect, respect, respect. My respect mantra was still looping through my mind when I stopped at Panda Express to pick up tonight’s dinner. My anger began to subside (the anticipation of food often does that to me) and I began to soothe my soul.

Instead of telling myself what I didn’t have from my students, I began to tell myself what I did.  I have my students’ trust; they trust me to lead them in the right direction. I have my students’ laughter; they not only laugh at me, they laugh with me. I have my students’ love; they love me even when I don’t think they do. And as if on cue, I see one of my students, standing in line behind me, with her family. I was pretty sure she hadn’t seen me, and I didn’t want to embarrass her, so I was going to pay for my food and quietly slip out the door. It was enough for me to know that I was making a difference in my students’ lives. And, hey, at my age, I can STILL improve my character, I can stop the tears AND the anger, and I CAN be good to myself. Yea me! What had started out as a miserable evening was turning into a pretty good night. And it was just about to get even better.

Lost in thought and heading for the Panda Express exit, I almost missed my student stepping out of line and heading right toward me. She was walking with arms outstretched, smile on her lips, twinkle in her eye; my heart melted. I stopped and we enveloped each other in well-needed hug. We said, “Hi,” and “Bye,” and I was out the door. It was then that I finally let the tears flow freely down my cheeks. To hell with respect, my students LOVE me. And that, dear Readers, is what makes the world go ’round.

peace, ~v.  

 

 

 

 

 


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Yes…Happy at Last


July 8, 2014

Dear Readers,

I am happy with myself. This, in turn, leads to my being happy with my job, my relationships, my life.  I have not always felt this way. I can look back through the years and see the times when I was unhappy with my job, miserable even.  And the times that I have been unhappy with my relationships are too numerous to mention.  Now, however, I can see a recurring theme during the unhappy portions of my life.  There was always one thing present when I was miserable.  In fact, at times, this one thing was the only thing that stuck with me.  It was the only thing I could not shake.  During the periods in my life when I was not happy with my situation, I was not happy with myself.

Being happy with myself is the happiness from which all other happiness flows.  I’ve spent a lifetime intertwining my life with unhappy people, places, and things.  I use to think things like, “If only this person would act differently, then I could be happy.”  Or I would think, “Why can’t I have a job that doesn’t make me miserable?”  There was always a contributing factor that made me unhappy with myself.  The equation went something like this:  Unhappy with co-workers + Unhappy with job = Unhappy with myself.  I could not have been more wrong.  After all, it’s my life, any happy or unhappy should begin with me.  It wasn’t until I realized this that my happiness started to fall into place.  These are the four measures I took.

I did not come to these beliefs all by myself, dear Readers.  However, I suspect some may not take me seriously if they knew beforehand where I learned these four lessons.  Given that, I will give credit where credit is due, at the end of this post.

1.  If somebody wants to walk out of your life, let them go.  This is a most difficult thing to learn, much less accept.  Because I would often chase after friends, lovers, etc., who no longer wanted to be in my life, I was unhappy with my life.  No, no, no.  Because I was unhappy with my life, I would often chase after friends, lovers, etc. who no longer wanted to be in my life.  You see, if I was happy with my life, I certainly wouldn’t want people around me who did not want to be around me.  Let go of the people who want to be let go.

2.  Some people come into your life for a lifetime and some come for a season and you’ve got to know which is which.  This one is certainly a hard pill to swallow, especially if you are in love with someone who is only meant to stick around for a season.  I have had plenty of migrant lovers, you know, here one season and gone the next.  Some of those I believed were meant to last a lifetime.  Decidedly, it has taken me years to figure out which is which.

3.  Get up and go on with your life.  Unhappy with your job?  Unhappy with your relationships, your life?  Then more than likely, you are unhappy with yourself.  Well, get up and go on with your life.  Getting up and getting on with the business of my life has always ever been my only choice.  However, I kept doing the same things and I was still unhappy.  What gives?  It wasn’t until I learned step #4 that I began to become aware of what was standing in the way of a happy me.

4.  You’ve got to learn to be by yourself.  Go work on you.  This is something I know too many people have never tried.  If I am miserable, the misery begins with me.  Looking back through my life, my being unhappy with myself was the catalyst for so many other things for me to be unhappy about.  Not the other way around.  I had to work on me, by myself, for myself.  I changed the things I was unhappy with, and kept the things I appreciated about myself.  Consequently, I ended up happy with myself.

Now dear Readers, I am happy with myself. This, in turn, leads to my being happy with my job, my relationships, my life.  I am much more grounded and centered than I have ever been.  For those of you who know me, that has been a long time coming.  And I owe it all to Madea.  You know, Tyler Perry’s fictional character, Madea.  The four steps I incorporated into my everyday life come from Madea.  But it ain’t easy.  Madea’s answer to that?  “Ain’t nobody said it was gonna be easy, but it’ll get easier when you learn how to love yourself.”  No truer words have ever been spoken.  Peace, ~v.

Follow this link and read Madea’s advice in its entirety.