When Reading Gets You Through Tough Times

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We may get lost but with the help of a good book we will find our way home…

This past year I got lost. I got lost on many levels. I got lost professionally and personally. My internal compass broke. It happened the night of November 8th, the night the delicacy of our democracy became clear. I spent the entire year working endlessly to do my part to help our country find our way back home. Then something happened that threw me so far that I’ve had trouble getting back up. I had an end of year data meeting where I realized that not enough of my kids made the test scores they needed to make. It was humiliating, embarrassing, and eventually led to an incredibly deep anger. Trusts were broken but hopefully not lost. But after a summer of deep honest self-reflection I realize that I really was lost. Which brings me again to our end of the year read aloud and this guiding quote:

“You will get lost.

You will be afraid.

You will fail.

You will fight.

You will remember.

You will rise.

And without doubt:

You will find your way home.”

Badger, The Fearless Traveler’s Guide to Wicked Places

I got lost. I lost track of what my important job really is, teaching. I have always been a teacher even from a young age. I can remember at age eight teaching my little brother how to make his GI Joe doll hang evenly from a banister so he could shoot him down. When I was twelve I taught my sister how to walk again (she lost function of her leg after running through a glass door and cutting her leg deeply). When I was a teenager I taught myself and my sister and father how to plant an organic garden. So teaching has always been with me. Recently I wrote a blog post about being a protector of the children. I feel that calling deep within my soul. In that same blog post I discussed how our new president is a direct threat to our children and so that protector in me came out. But my focus was on the wrong protecting. It should have stayed where it was needed most, on my classroom. I misunderstood what protector of the children means for me.

I was afraid. I was very afraid and I know nothing good comes from fear. While I was lost I learned news about each of my family children and my husband that triggered such deep fear that at times I felt completely lost, confused. That fear reached deep into my core and ripped my heart and soul out. Only once in my life have I felt such immobilizing fear. I’ve always been rather fearless actually. Fear has never stopped me from doing anything until now. I realize that combining feelings of fear and  feelings of being lost are not helpful, especially when you’re a teacher.

I failed. My end of the year scores told me clearly and explicitly that I failed. Failure is not something that any of us feel good about acknowledging, never mind sharing. But sharing mistakes and failures and insecurities is something that allows us to acknowledge that we are human. It allows others to realize they are not alone when they fail too. While owning such failure has not been easy, I will say that while initial feelings of this failure led to intense anger and the flight mode being activated. While this itself did not lead to understanding, it did, after my initial ownership of this failure, lead to the beginning of honest reflection and ownership of my role in this failure.

I fought. I fought with myself and I fought (only in my head, heart, and soul) with those who presented the data to me. After thirty plus years of teaching and having never experienced a meeting like I did that day in that office I did the only thing most humans do in such a situation, they fight. I’ve never been a very good fighter so this ungraceful dance with myself was as awkward as it could be because I fought with myself, berating myself as a teacher and person.

I remember. I remembered when I didn’t follow through on a lesson when kids demonstrated a lack of understanding or the need for deeper learning. I remembered the lessons I didn’t get to. I remembered the exhaustion and sadness and fear I felt. I remembered it was not the most organized, motivated, successful year I’ve had teaching. Now I remember.

You will rise. I nearly resigned my position. I had the letter written. I had the anger and feelings of betrayal all there ready to move me forward. I got in my truck several times with letter in hand ready to deliver. I never turned the key. I never delivered the letter. And I’m glad I didn’t. I have loved my job here; that may be part of such feelings of betrayal. But because I trust Badger (read the book and you will trust Badger too!) when he says I will rise I have begun planning my room layout, my lessons for the first week of school, how to build relationships with my new students, and I am realizing that I am rising. I believe that as I rise from the depths of insecurity and despair I will get back on track.

And without a doubt, I will find my way home. While we still have our president and cabinet that are hell bent on destroying our democracy and that still scares me to pieces, I also hold onto the belief and hope that our democracy will survive because we as a country have awoken. While the work is still urgent for us who consider ourselves protectors of the children, I realize that we are not alone. There are millions of us working for the children and because of this I realize that for me home means teaching. While home certainly means my husband and two biological children, I also know that home means to teach and so home for this year means to teach the children who will walk through their new classroom door in three weeks. There I will find home. I realize that the powers, the art, the knowledge, the intuition, the love that are necessary to do this job successfully are all there within me. I just needed to reawaken them. So I, without a doubt, am finding my way back home. I know so because Badger told me so. That is the power of a book, the power of an amazingly written character who shows strength, grace, and the ability to overcome darkness. Such books and characters have the power to give you hope when you lose it. The power to show you the way back home when you get lost.

May you find bravery and your way home if and when you are lost. May you work hard to be a protector of the children because they need you now more than ever. May you have a great year where you feel powerful. May you be kind.




3 thoughts on “When Reading Gets You Through Tough Times

  1. Pingback: So What? | itsallaboutkidsandliteracy

  2. We all lose our way from time to time and you have shown us a beautiful way home! Your students and your school are so very lucky to have you, even though they may not realize it yet! We too often focus more on our shortcomings and our failures than our successes and our joys. Focus on your successes and joys, Mary, for they are many! Take each day as it dawns and put one foot in front of the other each day. You can’t do it all so choose which pieces are the more important and do them well. Above all, keep enjoying what you do because you do it so very well! So very blessed to have you as a dear friend!

    • Thanks Liz, I was wondering how this post would be received. Being honest and then sharing honest feelings is so darn intimidating but if we don’t, how will we (singularly and collectively) move forward? I know our time is not unique in the upheaval we are experiencing, but it feels so messed up lately. I’ve questioned my part in it all and I’m feeling honest reflection is necessary to move forward on so many levels. In the past when I’ve struggled and then wondered with how to handle it, I found myself comparing it to being on the edge of a mucky wetland and needing to get to the other side. The longer I try to sidestep it, walk around it,stay dry and avoid that wetland the worse it gets, the longer it takes, and the worse I feel. So I’ve learned to just roll up my pant legs and plow my way through that muck. It may be deep, it may be dark, I will definitely get wet but I will get to the other side more complete. So with that lovely analogy, I chose honesty and I choose to share that honesty openly in hopes that I will feel better and inspire someone else who too may be struggling to reflect honestly, deeply, and then share. And just for the record, I love my school and all the dedicated folks who work so hard there. I think this is a direct result from so much pressure that test results are putting on schools and the stress that comes with it. I know I’m appreciated that’s why that’s another reason meeting was so surprising. So thank you Liz. You are always there shining a guiding light helping me move forward with honesty and grace. Not that I’m always successful but I know you’re there. Thank you.

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