You Can’t Just Show Up: Reflections on the First 9 Weeks

When I was 7, I was in Sunday School when someone came to get the kids who had been working in Vacation Bible School on a singing and dancing act to perform. Now I had not been going to VBS because I was not registered, but when I saw that the person who came to get them had candy, I knew I would follow to get the piece of candy. I did not care or worry about the fact I had no idea what the songs were and what the dance moves were. I simply thought that because I wanted the candy, if I showed up, I would be given it and that would be the end of it. We got on stage and everyone started performing, but I had no idea what to do. I stood there frozen. I looked out at the crowd of people and over at my classmates, enjoying the moment, so happily engaged in their moment of expressing what they had learned. But I had nothing to share, nothing to do, no thoughts or motions to add. I had thought that I would find joy in getting the piece of candy, but I realized that there was so much more I was missing from having shown up without ever actually doing anything.

You can’t just show up. You can’t just be a bystander of the world of knowledge surrounding you and expect by some magic of osmosis you will suddenly gain greater understanding. I want my students to believe in their ability to be agents of change; active participants in the world around them. That means that for now, I have to teach hard lessons that strip away the idea that mediocrity gets awarded, and that showing up means you are entitled to awards and benefits. “But, miss, I came to class. But, miss, I wrote some things down.” Not going to make the cut. Not those 9 weeks, and certainly not any 9 weeks or any 9 days or weeks or months or years of this life. Because in THIS life, they must learn that they have to walk straight into a snowstorm without bowing their head, but getting through one struggled step at a time. If they stand still, they’ll be blown over, or worse yet, covered.

So I hand out a D. I hand out the F. And I’m oftentimes on the other end of some student’s happy list, but that’s okay. I can handle that because I remind myself of my vision and that I often have to see what my students are sometimes not able to currently see and keep in mind. Because for them, they honestly believe that I will relinquish this battle and award them for just showing up, just existing, just sitting there letting days pass by.

But the message is clear: the bar has been set, and this is how high you must aim to reach it because it’s not going anywhere else except perhaps a little higher.

Little by little the tide turns. I had students come up to me at the end of last week who told me that they did not do their best or give it their all and they were sorry that they had sold themselves short and disappointed me. They promised to do better. I’m looking forward to seeing that.

And just today I had a girl come back to class from a stint outside for behavior issues and lack of a work ethic. She answered or attempted to answer every question I posed to the class and raised her hand and asked questions and was genuinely excited to be in class and learning. She turned toward the end of class to me and said that class was so much different when she participated and thought about what we were doing.

I said welcome to being a potential game changer.

Here’s to the second nine weeks.

Where Children Play: Finding the Paths to Happiness

I recently attended an alumni summit for the Coca Cola Scholars foundation. I was in a world of inspiration and love, surrounded by so many people I had not seen in so long and all those who practice the art of “humbition” (the crossroads of being humble in your learning and ambitious in your goals). It was a welcomed getaway from the pressures and constant necessary actions of the life of an educator in Miami. I thought of how nice it would be to live in such a bubble for longer.

I’ve said it before, but it’s worth noting again that it is so easy for someone who is drawn toward this type of work from compassion and concern to become enveloped and consumed by the very scope of this work and the needs of their students. Some students have so much going on and are so far behind that it can literally stop your breathing on some days or make your mind spin in infinite circles. And what you give, you forget to tell yourself that if it’s your best, then you’ve done enough. You forget to tell yourself that and you lose so much of yourself.

But in one of the sessions at the summit, an alum asked one of the speakers–Michael Tubbs, a city councilman from California–how he keeps going and moving forward in a thankless job that requires so much work and has mountains of obstacles. And Tubbs answered by recounting a story of when he was in South Africa all this work he was doing and the daily dichotomy of ritzy areas and the areas they worked in and how depressed he got when he was getting ready to leave because there was so…much…work….left to be done. And then he saw the children. He saw children playing and he asked himself what right did he have to feel depressed, when he was leaving and going back to a life of less hardships, when these children who call this place home have no easy escape, and yet they still played.¬†They still were joyful and spirited and HAPPY. And I’m not saying that I cannot take the time to address my own feelings during times like these. That is absolutely necessary. What I am saying is that where children play is the place that I need to find–the place that in the midst of loss and turmoil and questioning, I still find happiness.

My second year in Miami has brought a range and mix of emotions much unlike my first year to my surprise. There are times I feel like I can’t do enough or can’t please enough people. The constant feeling of being at a crossroads in life brings me back to senior year of college, figuring out the roads of life once more. I haven’t found a single answer yet that works, and each day is another day of just trying to figure out what is that magic ingredient to life wisdom and happiness. But I realized at a 7pm service at church last night that I was going about it all wrong. That I’d be chasing that ingredient for a very long time, never to find it. So where does that leave me?

I find that when I’m tethered to these things that I can lose, I am always at a loss. Life is full of losses, and if you haven’t lost something or someone yet, then stick around because it is inevitable. When my happiness hinges on everything falling into place day in and day out, it’s a balancing act that I am constantly falling face forward on. I need to rest my joy in the things that I cannot lose–the things that when I walk out into the small and large fires of life, I can stop and be grateful for. Because I can never lose love and grace and the presence of God, and that I can latch on to.