“This is really bothering you,” he said to me. A gifted freshman said this without hesitation the day I confronted him about his unethical behavior which took place while I was gone and the students had a substitute. I remember vividly how clear and simple his statement was and how stymied I found myself.
Seven years later, as a new administrator, at a new high school, I found his words echoing in my ears as I attempted to mentor a different student in my office. This new student didn’t say these words, and his reasoning for being there were not nearly as monumental, but the look on his face resonated the same reaction.
“This is really bothering you.” When I think back on that moment, I am struck with how much truth hung there between me and that child…a child who now serves our country on the front lines…but at that time, a child none the less…truth lived there in complete honesty because he saw me for who I was.
To feel things deeply can be a blessing and a curse. In education it needs to be rooted in our will to teach, but at many times it can cost us greatly. Those who find strength beyond the wearing nature of it, perserver and sometimes, Hollywood makes a movie about you. Most times, you simply find strength in the small things and endure with grace and pride. Others fail to live up to the enormous, necessary expectations and wither into oblivion. Yet, every one of us has to face the fact that “this” can really bother us.
The system, the family struggles, the lack of fair game from the child all can take its toll. A child arrives in this world with a slate of complete acceptance, rich with possibilities and innocent of complacency. When we think about what a child faces before they complete their schooling, what they might endure while in school and how they might evaluate its importance at the end…it is little wonder they might challenge us along the way and remain baffled by those of us who seem to be “bothered” by anything at all.
Today broke me. Today I felt this “effort” of twenty three years was in vain…the cultivating, the encouraging, and the willingness to believe in the value of personal efforts fell short and it “really bothered” me. And if it wasn’t for this blog deadline, it would have been processed in silence.
But I have this shared, fundamental belief in the power of art making and how it is generated by and responsible for a number of throughlines found in life. In order for me to continue with this organization I needed to dig deep, and be fast to find not frustration, but purpose in why any of this matters.
I ask my teachers all the time, “what is your truth?” A friend’s phrase, not mine, but very useful nonetheless. With little to go on, truthfully, feeling like a failure, I found myself pondering this through the lens of ASK MAKE REFLECT. ASK: Why does any of what we do in education matter? MAKE: Well that was the hard part, wasn’t it? I haven’t been able to “Make” anything for months…I had become a hypocrite. But then I realized… I had been in a dance class last week. I watched two 90 minute classes over two days. The teacher encouraged the students to discuss what inspired them and through a series of quote improvisations, these girls choreographed vignettes which I knew, based on their reaction, was the freshest, most honest work of their artist lives. Right there…a teacher, hopeful, but not secure, witnessed the power of artistic expression which was rooted in process over product and lead to a deeper understanding of the language on their paper and in their bodies. Their euphoria was palpable.
But I forgot that. I had found myself feeling unnecessary and worst still, a disappointment. “This really bothers you,” I thought. But at the end of the day, no one can really pull you forward into the light but yourself. And this is what I REFLECT on. The raging insecurities in your head can always be silenced by the truth of art and as long as it can maintain a constant hold on our education system, what “bothers” me will still be justified, but will never rule my heart.