Lesson Planning Became a Lesson Planned for Me

We live and we continue to learn moment by moment, day by day, and choice by choice. These lessons we learn are not lost, not futile, if we truly learn from them by gaining experience, recognizing who we are, who we are not, and who we can be and grow. At the end of the lesson, especially if it was difficult or unexpected, we must give pause to self-reflection, acceptance, and an understanding of the importance of keeping the lesson within us always as a reminder. It has been a while since I’ve made choices that put me in a situation to learn something about myself, who I thought I was, and where I thought I was going. It’s funny how it all works, how we ready ourselves for the path we knew lay before us only to discover we’d forced ourselves, and sometimes those we love, down a path never meant for us. How did we get there? For me, I was lost and failed to recognize it.

I spent nine weeks learning a valuable lesson about myself and what I thought was best for me and what I thought was my destination. My drive to give up a lucrative career with WSU and follow a long ago dream turned out to be just the latter: a long ago dream. The dream to teach was the dream of a different mermaid, a younger, less experienced, somewhat selfish and naïve mermaid. I am not the same woman who dreamed this dream while pursuing her degrees in English. I have changed in many ways, and yet I failed to adjust the dream to the woman I am at this moment in time. Pursuing the path of a classroom educator was in actuality dreaming the dream of someone else.

Sure, my circumstances were not ideal, from my choice of school to the lack of support and preparation, plus there were additional questions I should have asked and situations I should have better recognized. For seven weeks I continued to push forward, refusing to fail while stumbling on a path not mine, squinting through the glasses of an idealist, and forcing myself to live a dream I knew in my heart no longer belonged to me. As I prayed for guidance and searched my frustrated heart, I faced myself in battle, brandishing weapons of self-doubt and torturing myself for my foolishness. Finally one morning I heard whispered in my ear, “Patience you need to find. Selfishness you need to lose. Look upon your life and see.” Clear as the church bells during weekday Mass with my sixth grade class, this whisper helped me to recognize and accept my lesson of humility.

The lesson was difficult, but needed. In my headstrong pursuit of a career change, I was blinded to many aspects, such as how this change would affect my most significant relationships, specifically my parents and husband, and the life I loved to live. Most importantly, I was blind in recognizing how the dream no longer fit the woman. The dream had become that garment we keep in our closet, the one that hangs there year after year in hopes it will one day adorn our bodies, all the while knowing we are only clinging to a memory. The dated garment will never truly fit us because we have changed and not just physically. It was time to place the garment in a donation bag to be discovered and worn by someone else.

It was then, through the brambles of my decision, I discovered a quiet trail which led me to a path I’d seen and even set a timid foot upon only to deny its journey. A path revealed to me exactly one year ago, but I was not prepared as there was still this lesson to be learned; the path patiently waited for me.

I’m at peace with the lesson because I needed to acknowledge how I’d begun to take people and circumstances for granted and how the gifts I’d been given had grown in ways I’d not even understood. I am not a classroom educator, but I am a one-on-one mentor and advocate for students. I love to write and read and allow words to fill my days, but I am not a teacher of grammar and reading comprehension, at best I use my words to help and encourage others. I am a daughter whose everyday life is filled with the friendship of her parents and not a daughter who is good with only seeing them once a week, if that, due to inflexible work schedules. I need them as much as they need me. I am a wife and best friend to a man who supports my ups and downs, but relies on my infinite ability to look for the good to keep him at balance with hope, just as I rely on his ability to not always look on the bright side to keep me in check with reality. And I love my community and draw strength from its relationships, its ever-changing inner borders, its willingness and struggle to grow in diversity, and I need desperately to be a part of it, completely. I can give much more to my community in return for what it gives to me.

The lessons we learn are vital to our inner and outer survival. I discovered the following quote in my social media feed the same day I heard those whispers in my ear:

A mistake which makes you humble is much better than an achievement that makes you arrogant  – unknown author

 Which then led me to recall this quote by C.S. Lewis: Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.

 Inner and outer survival is bound in humility. Once again, lesson learned.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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A Change

It is August and I am no longer an employee of Wichita State University. Eleven years ago, I thought I would remain on that campus until the day of retirement, complete with the obligatory reception and WSU Today announcement. But, the time came for me to change paths and follow a dream. And, what a path it has been. I made it through eight weeks of graduate school, taking three classes for a total of eight credit hours while working full-time through July 14. Not to mention, my final two months at WSU were my busiest as I helped transition the outgoing and incoming residents, coordinated the dental career day for high school students, prepared for my departure, and trained two individuals in some of the aspects of my job. Whew.

In what seems like eons ago, I was recently married, helping to raise two boys and working full-time when I earned my bachelor’s degree. When I earned my master’s degree I was learning a new full time job on campus, still happily married, but with a teenager at home. I guess I figured eight weeks of classes with it just being me, my husband, a boxador and cat would be a breeze. Either I had repressed a lot of memories from those earlier pursuits or I just was not prepared mentally or physically for multiple late nights, a rendezvous at midnight with a 19-page human development theory paper, and lost weekends with poster board presentations and classroom management studies. I’ve yet to return to a normal sleep pattern.

But, I made it through the eight weeks and have spent the last three days preparing my classroom. Let me type this one more time…my classroom. On Monday, after I unlocked the door and snapped on the lights, I set down my tote bags and box on the dusty desk and just looked around at the empty canvas around me. The aged, eggshell painted brick walls stared back at me, not quite welcoming, more like they were too tired to care. As always, I have to settle in and get organized. I always need to create my space when I begin a new job, only instead of just my space I had an entire room to inhabit. I always begin by cleaning. There’s something therapeutic in wiping away the dust of previous tenants and scrubbing away the residue of the past, plus it helps me get to know every desk drawer, every bookshelf, and every cupboard. All becomes familiar and hopeful under the careful swipe of my sponge or dust rag. The previous tenant did not share my penchant for alphabetized order and concise configuration, so I have spent two full days lining up, counting and taking inventory of books, creating space for curriculum guides and study materials, and straightening and tying up bundles of computer and Ethernet cables. Other than the lives of thirteen spiders I had to end, it’s been a satisfying getting-to-know-you week. Oh, and don’t worry about the spiders. I razed their condominium of stacked papers, old notebooks, even older Christmas gift bags, a few desk-sized American flags, broken keyboards, a deflated volleyball, and about a million photocopied study guides from 1996 that had become their tri-level home in what is now an empty cabinet.

I soon will embark on reorganizing the first shelves and cupboards at the entrance of the door, then focus on classroom set up and adding some life to the walls. Rest assured, my “Steps to a Great Essay,” “Examples of Figurative Language,” “Punctuation Saves Lives,” and “Reading Strategies” posters are en route. And, if I can organize the desks and tables strategically, I may have room for a throw rug and a few bean bag chairs for a reading area. I have plenty of windows and wonderful natural lighting, so I may have to try my hand at a few plants, although I’m leaning more toward artificial since I’ve not inherited so much as a green thumbnail. Oh, and let’s not forget my ode to WSU corner along with my Wichita flag, and sunflower artwork which has already found its place in the sunny corner behind my desk.

Once the space is finished I can set my brain to task creating lesson plans and classroom guidelines or as I like to call them Classroom Habits. Get it? Habits? Catholic School? I must be tired. Anyway, I’m getting ahead of myself. The reason I’ve made it this far is because I’ve remained focused on the task at hand, whether it be a quiz regarding behavioral psychology, my Farewell Tour of WSU, or reawakening an empty classroom. I’ve forced myself to be present in the current moment, the current day, the current mission. If I had for one minute thought ahead to actually handing over my keys, carrying my boxes out to the car and driving away from WSU or standing in front of my students on the very first day of school…well, let’s not go there. Change is rejuvenating, but change is hard. Scary hard. I’ll take it one step, one breath, one shelf, one desk, one motivational poster, one class period, and one day at a time.

 

 

 

Leaving the City of Comfort

At the end of a commencement speech given at Connecticut College in 1980, Alan Alda said, “At times you have to leave the city of your comfort and go into the wilderness of your intuition. You can’t get there by bus, only by hard work and risk and by not quite knowing what you’re doing, but what you’ll discover will be wonderful. What you’ll discover is yourself.”

I like the city of comfort. It’s familiar, somewhat structured, fairly reasonable, and yet, at times, frustrating. Possibly, the frustration lies within the walls of the city, built by the hands of convenience and formed by the expectation of others. Perhaps, we find ourselves one day standing at those walls and looking over into the endless fields of possibilities, the forests of should haves, and the oceans of mysteries. Fear keeps us behind those walls. Self-doubt convinces us to stop peering over those walls. But, what if one day our intuition draws us to the top of the wall, to sit and contemplate, to urge us to dream, to dare us to leave those confines of comfort.

My intuition tells me there is change on my horizon. I don’t know what it is, just that it is coming. It could be great or it could be small, but my inner Natalie is telling me to prepare. While I do not sense danger or tragedy, I am still a little fearful because change is always daunting. And, while I feel change is approaching, I also know I will have to meet change halfway by leaving these walls I so readily constructed. And, while I’ve never been one to refrain from hard work, I confess risk has not been in my vocabulary these past few years. Just when we believe we have our lives all figured out, something whispers in our ear to ready ourselves, to be prepared to scale the walls and run head long into the forests of our dreams.

Like waiting for a Kansas storm to arrive, anticipating either a deluge of long-awaited rain or the violent crack and tremor of a thunderstorm. How appropriate.

 

 

Moving forward

On Monday, appropriately Halloween, I begin a new position. For six years I have worked for the WSU Foundation, five of those years working with families and memorials at WSU. My job was humbling and incredible, but difficult. I cried with strangers over the phone and at their kitchen tables. Through those tears we became friends as I worked hard to follow through on my promise to honor their loved one and to ensure they would not be forgotten, whether through a named scholarship or a paver in the Plaza of Heroines, or simply within the recesses of my already broken heart.

I never professed to know their personal pain, only understand as each of us grieves separately and differently. I still feel I was placed in that position for a reason, having taken the job and just five months later losing my niece, Andrea. You cannot know what it is to grieve for a mother, father, sister, brother, child until you have experienced such loss. And as I helped these families through their grieving process, they helped me.

Which is why the hardest part about leaving my position is I feel I’m losing Andi all over again. I’m afraid I won’t share her story as much, now that I will not have others who will understand the story. I’m afraid most of all of forgetting. I know I will never forget her or the pain my family carries, but I can’t help but fear that others will.

It took me a few days to recognize this emotion, this strange nagging in my soul. I’m extremely excited about my new job,  a little nervous, but so looking forward to its challenges and my new co-workers. But, part of me has been hesitant, and while I knew it was not about leaving the Foundation, I knew it had something to do with leaving those families who had relied on me during one of the darkest moments of their lives.

A week or so ago, Dr. Jim Rhatigan, former dean of students and my personal cheerleader, loaned me a cassette tape of a sermon by Dr. Robert Meyer of the University Congregational Church. He told me to listen and truly understand what it is that I carry, what it is that I know. I waited until the day following my last official day with the Foundation and this is what I learned.

Dr. Meyer explained what changes in a person who mourns and how they are blessed by this change. “Some new depth in yourself, some richer knowledge of how priceless love and life are, so that from that day forward your life will bless others lives in ways it could not have done before.”

I’m not leaving Andi behind. I will continue to take her with me wherever I go and she and I will continue to cry with others, hold hands through tears, and be the needed strength of those who feel they cannot go on, as well as laugh with those who never thought they’d laugh again, and smile because we know such sorrow because we once knew such joy.

Blessed are they who  mourn, for they shall be comforted.