Pawsitivity

I got my second email this morning from The Washington Post about how to cope with the mental challenges brought by our time in history. There is a lot of stuff there, but one thing I know from my own life is right on:

“…lots of small practices can help you move forward and recover a sense of time … Alvord (clinical psychologist) said, you accept what’s out of your control and look for what’s in your control, even if it’s as small as taking a walk.”

I think I learned as a little kid that if I just take a walk (bike ride, run) things will improve, whatever things are. There was another good thing in this morning’s email regarding mental habits that deepen peoples’ depression and feelings of hopelessness:

  • The “I can’t” habit. You automatically decide you can’t meet a new challenge. You give up before even trying.
  • The catastrophizing habit. You see disaster everywhere, and fall into what ifs. You spend a lot of energy panicking.
  • The all-or-nothing habit. If something doesn’t go just one way, it’s wrong. You’re irritated with yourself and others.

    These are countered with challenge questions:
  • The “I can’t” habit: “What is the evidence that I can’t do it?”
  • The catastrophizing habit: “What are five other things more likely to happen?”
  • The all-or-nothing habit: “What are some possibilities that fall between the extremes?”

Today’s newsletter thing was great — I guess I’m a fan of behavioral psychology which this whole thing illustrates. When I was having counseling myself, that was my therapist’s approach. She was perfect for me because I’m one of those, “That’s all very interesting, but what do I DO???” kind of people. Deep down I believe that we are what we do, the culmination of our choices and actions. I just wanted to make choices that worked. I wasn’t trying to expunge any deeply buried demons or get to the bottom of anything. I knew that dark icky stuff wasn’t going away. I wanted to learn how to live with it.

Still…I dunno. I think “sinking spells” are a normal part of life in any moment, “normal” or whatever this is. Maybe it’s all how we feel about our sinking spells, how well we’re able to ride them out and move forward. Some time ago — when I was still teaching Business Communication — I had an epiphany about the word “positive.” The text book talked about “good news” and “bad news” messages. Simply good news is what the audience wants to read/hear and bad news what the audience doesn’t want to read/hear.

It was challenging for my students to get that simple point, that good or bad depended on the audience’ desires, not theirs. A good news message started out with good news, ‘Yay! You get a refund!” a bad news message started with goodwill, an acknowledgement of the humanity of the audience, “We appreciate your business” or “Thank you for your inquiry” — something like that. Students had this idea of “justice” (“They want something they can’t have! They read the signs! Off with their heads!”) so it was challenging to teach this. Shouldn’t have been, but it was there I learned that we can’t take empathy for granted. Some people need to be taught.

The closing of both types of messages was supposed to be positive, and positive meant something that pointed to a future relationship. Positive didn’t mean up-beat or cheery, but something that pointed to a future that was better than the present, essentially the “light at the end of the tunnel.” In a business message like those my students were learning it might be, “Here’s a coupon for 10% off a future purchase” or “We hope to do business with you in the future.” Basically saying, “This, too, shall pass.”

Featured photo: For various reasons, I had a bad day yesterday. At one point, I started to cry. Teddy and Bear were very worried and Bear stayed worried (as is her nature) until I went to bed. The photo is Bear taking care of me in the evening. She can’t make me soup when I’m sick, drive me to the doc if I’m hurt, or offer any other concrete help, but when it comes to moral support, faith and affection, it’s pretty hard to beat a livestock guardian dog.

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2020/10/20/rdp-tuesday-swamp/

News Flash from the San Luis Valley: More of the Same and that’s OK

Yesterday I sought refuge with Bear and there was a whiff of fall in the air, the fragrance of damp fallen leaves by the pond. Fall was more apparent in the colors of the landscape which here, in the high valley, are universally golden except for the wild currant bush that turns bright red.

None of these out at the refuge.

I saw “my” cows, but Beautiful Bessie was no where in sight. Not that these are ugly cows.

The girls outstanding in their field

The big fire in northwestern Colorado is keeping the mountains out of sight.

The cranes have arrived in their autumn numbers, different from spring when tens of thousands converge on the refuge more or less at once. In fall they kind of straggle in and head off at some point for New Mexico where they’ll stay until March. That’s the story, anyway, but my life here has shown me that they are around all year in limited numbers.

Today is a “school” day, and Hallowe’en is on the horizon. We’ll be making these little guys:

This is Megan, a prototype that we will take apart so the kids know how to put her together again. I will put her together again so at the end of the film I can add in the credits, “No paper and pipe-cleaner spiders were permanently damaged in the making of this film.”

And once more, I tip my hat to elementary school teachers. I don’t know how you do it. I just have two who like me and want to learn and it’s WAY more than I can deal with (in truth). And how do you do it now that recess doesn’t exist any more? I remember elementary school, and by the time recess came around I was so wound up it wasn’t funny and I was one of the calm ones…

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2020/10/09/rdp-friday-whiff/

Art School?

I’ve now “taught” art to the kids for a whole month. Yesterday was our worst class so far, but I think that’s due to two things. First, they had a BIG change in their lives over the weekend. They went to Denver (and back). They liked it. Second, their parents are very involved in a project right now — they repair cars in their garage at home — and they have a classic (1978, sigh) Oldsmobile to work on. They are nearing their deadline. I don’t think kids thrive on variety and change. I think it messes them up.

They were desperate for undivided attention from an adult. They were less interested in doing an art project than telling me their stuff. I probably should have given up and just listened to them, but a little voice inside says to me, “You’re here for this purpose and it’s a good idea to pursue that. It’s teaching, too.” I’m serious about teaching. Never in my whole career did I doubt its importance, and I don’t now. At one point I said, “C’mon you guys. We hang out all the time. This is art time, OK?”

“OK.”

Our little task yesterday had a couple of lessons. One was symmetry. The other was that water doesn’t move wax. I got the lesson plan from a website about teaching art to 3rd graders. It seemed like a good idea because it fit with my goal which is helping the little girl get a little more small muscle control in her hands.

In anticipation for the class, I cut up a sheet of water color paper into fourths, and drew the outlines of butterflies on two of them. I outlined butterflies on the paper in yellow so the color would disappear when the kids worked on their projects.

First, I taught them about symmetry by showing them how it exists on their own bodies. They loved that. Then I showed them how butter floats on water. That blew them away. They really expected it to dissolve. I had them feel their crayons and they did get that they felt kind of greasy. “So what’s going to happen when we put water on them?”

I suddenly felt the terrible overwhelming burden of knowledge and how fucking much of it is there is and how intricate and complicated it is. I felt a rush of gratitude to my own parents and my childhood. My mom might not have liked me, but she was a good teacher. And I followed my dad everywhere just because he taught me things. The little boy would follow me everywhere for the same reason.

So they outlined their butterflies in black and then they were supposed to draw the same pattern on each wing so the butterflies were symmetrical. I drew with them. In my mind, of course, were the thousands of butterflies I’ve seen in my life and all I know about them. That was NOT in the kids’ minds. I don’t think they’ve ever looked closely at a butterfly. I’d predicated this whole exercise on their love of butterflies and an erroneous assumption that they’d actually ever SEEN one. The little boy looked at the pictures I’d brought and attempted to make symmetrical wings, and the little girl started out good, but ultimately lost track. That’s all fine. Learning is not the same as mastery and, between us, learning is more interesting.

Then we painted over the crayon. I had brought my paints and though they have their own paints, they used mine which made me happy, actually. Since I started this, I’ve begun to believe that, except for drawing, kids should have the best materials there are to learn with. Good paint is much less frustrating than cheap paint.

I headed back down the alley afterward thinking that it’s just like university. If ONE thing penetrates it’s a good day.

I then thought about the purpose of school. One purpose — I’ve come to realize — is to give kids a place to go away from their home as a demarcation of “this is our learning place” and “this is our family place.” As it was for me, school is also a place where kids can get away from their parents’ preoccupations. I think kids should go to school. Maybe not this year, but in normal times. Yeah, there are a lot of problems with our current educational system, but I believe that anyone who wants to learn will.

Ahead are the holidays which means crafts. I don’t enjoy that at all, but a good teacher meets his/her students where they are and next week we’ll make spiders with pipe cleaners and construction paper. What I LOVE is the kids’ parents are so in love with what we’re doing. It’s amazing.

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2020/10/03/rdp-saturday-variety/

Quotidian Update 305.a.iii

Well, here I am almost 2 hours earlier than normal because there was a draconian thunderstorm at 5:30 am. Thunderstorms are hard on Bear because she is afraid of thunder AND she feels she has to protect me. For Bear, that’s Gordian knot. I was fine until the power went off. If you’ve lived through a California wildfire, you might also be traumatized when the power goes off. To me it means, “Things are majorly fucked and you’d better get out.” Then there’s added terror of “what if I can’t make coffee?” When the power comes on, it’s “Thank you Whomever,” and the added gratitude for first world problems like scared dogs and no coffee.

Yesterday Teddy and I took off for the river, a shady trail I like in summer, but can only walk from July 15 to March 1. Last time I was there it was February. It’s in a wildlife area and, this year, Colorado is requiring a hunting or fishing license for people who use these areas just for walking. I bought my fishing license a while back. The Rio Grande is very low. I saw a gold finch catching bugs above the river and a hawk took flight in front of me. Otherwise, it was a path between immense cottonwoods and the tired undergrowth of the end of summer. I told Teddy I like the Refuge better. I like being able to SEE. That might be part of why I like winter when the trees are bare.

In other news, a few months ago I bought a book for the kids, a book of “general knowledge.” It’s really cool with beautiful pictures and little flaps you lift to learn more. Around 5 o’clock I took it to their house because school starts tomorrow, and I wanted to make a big deal out of it.


They loved it. C helped me walk Bear to the end of the fence and Bear and I finished our walk. On the way back, the kids were waiting. We all went into the alley so M could keep working on her “courage” merit badge. There’s not really a badge, but one of the statements in the book Bear and Teddy — wrote for her is, “Smart people are brave. They get to pet and hug us.” She was a little scared as always, but Bear sat calmly and before long, all was well.

Their world is really small right now so even the alley behind their house is a kind of adventure. C has all kinds of questions about the house behind theirs — the blue house I came to Monte Vista to see so long ago. Then he noticed something unusual in the alley. “What is that?”

“Pottery, I think,” I said.

He got a stick and pried it out “like a jack,” he said using the stick as a lever. He got the two pieces of pottery loose. They were glazed dark brown and had two circles and some lines on them. I believe they are ancient (meaning maybe 60 years old) sewer pipes but I didn’t say that. I showed him how they fit together and he was amazed. He wanted to know how it was made, so I explained it.

“Maybe there used to be a pottery place here.”

“Could be. This is a pretty old place.”

“I’m going to take some of that clay you gave us and press it on this and maybe I can find out what the letters are.” He’s 7.

“Perfect,” I said. “Let me know what you find out.

“If mom would let us, we could walk Bear all the way to your house,” he said. “I don’t know why she won’t let us.”

“She loves you,” I said. I thought of the absurdity. They could walk with me to my house but I’d have to walk them back home. It would be an infinite loop.

“Yeah,” he said. “Maybe she thinks someone would steal us like they tried to steal our trailer and they stole your wood. Do you think it’s the same people?”

“Could be.” In fact NOT having that faded cedar fencing is kind of a hardship to the furthering of my garden sign business.

I headed home on cloud 8 or maybe higher, thinking of that adage, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.” But ME?

Then I thought of my first student ever. Ramon Hurtado who wanted to learn to read so he could read to his daughter. He came to the then-new Adult Education Tutorial Program. I’d never taught anyone. It was the summer before I started grad school. We started with the alphabet! He wanted what I had; literacy. Just like Ramon, these kids want what I have and it means a lot in our Covid circumscribed lives. They want the world.

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2020/09/01/rdp-tuesday-draconian/

Waves…

I’m the head honcho of Martha, Bear and Teddy, but what that actually means in the grand scheme is less than negligible. I was talking to a friend on the phone last night trying to explain that since I retired, I know a LOT less than I did when I was “holding up the sky” and teaching everyone in the world how to write and communicate in a businesslike fashion. Both Socrates and Lao Tzu said (in their later years?) that knowing that you don’t know is 1) wisdom 2) the Tao. Or something… I was trying to explain to my friend that when we’re working our world depends on our expertise, and we have to KNOW what we’re spending 8+ hours a day doing, thinking, talking about.

The competence imperative is removed from our lives when we’re not holding up the sky any more. It’s really difficult to change gears or even KNOW we need to change gears; a lot of people don’t. I did, but godnose how I managed that.

I remember in my 30s getting together with another teacher (in her 30s) and marching to the boss’ (in her late 40s) office with a solution to the problem of students being unhappy in the level in which they had been placed at our language school. The students believed they’d been put in a low (in their opinion) level so that the school could make more money by making the students take more time to be ready to take the TOEFL (Test of English as a Foreign Language). My colleague said the students should be placed in groups that they wouldn’t recognize as levels, “Blue birds, robins, what not,” she said, “instead of numbers like 102, 103, 104.” Students especially hated 104 — intermediate. It WAS hard to progress past that.

The boss agreed that a lot of students came to her wanting to be placed in a higher level, but that our testing was accurate and placement was almost always correct. If it wasn’t, students were given a chance to change levels. My contention was that there were students who would learn if they were slightly misplaced and had to reach. It got to be a pretty loud argument and you are probably reading this thinking, “Who CARES????”

As I got older I became a lot less polemical. The last episode like this I remember was between me (50 something) and some young teachers (30 something) over my syllabus. My syllabus evolved into this horrible thing, four pages long and covering every possible nightmare I’d confronted in my years teaching. I’d learned that a syllabus is a legal document and also a teaching tool. The more I spelled out about how a student could succeed (or fail) in my class, the more useful it would be for me and them. Students got it and liked it. It usually went in the front of their notebooks and they used it to gain direction in the classes I taught. But my 30 something colleagues complained that it didn’t “reflect the temper of the times” and was “snarky” and not “supportive.”

I didn’t even know what “snarky” meant, but I knew where I was in this business of holding up the sky. I explained WHY my syllabus was like it was and asked them to send me a sample ideal syllabus. Their response was how, after I had taught so long, didn’t I KNOW what a syllabus “should” be?

They were picking a fight, and I wasn’t having it. Aside from certain information a syllabus MUST contain, I didn’t think my syllabus was their business, but they were at the “We KNOW things” stage of their career, and I was at the “I’ve seen things you people wouldn’t believe. Attack ships on fire off the shoulder of Orion. I watched C-beams glitter in the dark near the Tannhäuser Gate,” stage of my career.

When my mom died, an older friend described life as a “wave.” “Now you’re on the crest of the wave,” she said. I’ve thought about that often, even to the point of imagining waves and how strange it must be for the wave, who’s spent all its life out there in the ocean, to find itself suddenly on the alien world of the shore, all shallow and stuff, where water is no longer the WHOLE WORLD but, rather, sand, rocks, and — ewww — dryness. “Wow,” thinks the wave, “I don’t know ANYTHING about this.”

It has to be like this. In our middle years, the “productive years,” we’re doing the hard work of raising kids, earning a living and all that entails. A certain amount of aggressive certainty is absolutely necessary and part of human progress. BUT life’s REAL luxury, the earned reward of survival, might be not having to know everything any more. ❤

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2020/08/02/rdp-sunday-honcho/

“I hope all your students are deep and funny.”

If you’re read my blog for a while you know there are twenty-something large books in my “studio” — journal/scrapbook things that I don’t want to keep but can’t throw out. They take up a LOT of space, and I don’t “use” them at all. (How would anyone “use” them?) A few of them are spread out on my work table now. If you open one and start reading, well, for the most part, they’re just awful.

I went at 1988-89 (Volume I of that year, seriously) yesterday with scissors and an x-acto knife. I cut out sheafs of pages, laughing, thinking that even if I don’t do anything more with it, and never manage to throw the books out, at least I’ll leave behind the “expurgated” version of “The Examined Life.”

For many years I wrote my personal thoughts and struggles in these books. I suppose it’s a pretty common human thingamajig to struggle over and over with the same aspects of personality or the walls that spring up in life, the stuff you can’t get over, around or through. For me, apparently, it was “luv’,” specifically a marriage that wasn’t working and my desire to have a romantic companion. I don’t know why that didn’t seem to me at the time a good reason to sit down and talk with my ex about our “non” relationship. Maybe I did and it just didn’t make it into “The Examined Life.”

There are greeting cards, photographs, funny things students said (like the title of this post) circular meditations on the meaning of life (didn’t find the answer, so circular). On the other hand, some of it is accurately self-revelatory. I did not purge the book of those bits of elaborate cursive.

Those are not trivial problems but, good god, are they boring to read about.

Mixed in with all that verbiage (rhymes with “garbage”) are some good insights, descriptions of moments which I could not have known at the time were major life moments, like seeing my first rattlesnake, watching the swirling gyre of seagulls rising from the ocean, being looked in the eye by a red tail hawk, the beginning of my hiking life in the chaparral, the beginning of my life with dogs and my first dog, Truffle who was then a puppy, getting my second dog, Molly. I could not know in the midst of 1988-89 how important these things were and how unimportant the other stuff was.

I think, though, this whole thing could be compiled into ONE that I really CAN use, another volume called, “How it All Turned Out here in Heaven” or something. Maybe just denouement. “Getting found almost always means being lost for a while.” Annie Lamont

But it struck me this morning how weird it all is. Here we are, more-or-less consigned to our domiciles, as if this were a second winter without the glorious compensation of snow, relegated to tasks our usual “busyness” would have made it easy for us to avoid.

~~~

In other news: if your blender breaks and you want a smoothie, the best tool? The lowly dinner fork.


https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2020/05/11/rdp-monday-thingamajig/

I Get my Gold Watch

I don’t have much contact with former students and don’t much want it. Most of my students were OK, some of them were fun, some were astonishingly great, some of them were unspeakable monsters. But teaching is a kind of transactional relationship. It’s a calling for many people. For me it was a calling, but in reality it’s a bunch of people (remember I taught college and university writing and business communication) who pay some money to learn some stuff they hope will help them earn a living when they’re finished. They pay. The teacher is paid in turn to teach them something useful to their future lives.

What that might be, however? That’s a big question especially when you aren’t teaching hard skills but soft ones.

You sign up for “a world of pain” when you sign up for this. Last night, for some reason, I thought of all the really horrific experiences I had as a teacher that included being pushed up against a wall with a student’s hand on my throat. I wondered why I was remembering this of all things in a world that’s scary enough as it is. Then I realized that it’s because a student emailed me a couple of days ago.

She is from Iraq. Her family refugeed to the US during the GWB war. She was young, 19. She was in my critical thinking class at a community college. She was aggressive and arrogant (defenses?). One day, as we were starting Fahrenheit 451 she said, “Why do we have to read this? It’s boring.”

Her whole strategy for going to school and approaching life, her whole feeling toward existence, all of that was encapsulated in that question. She was going to endure life by rejecting it out of hand. That would teach it.

I looked at her, kept my composure, and said, “Because it changed the world. You need to know what it says or you’re going to live in a future just like that. How far are you?”

“Two pages.”

I laughed. “Keep reading. Every book is boring two pages in.”

She kept reading and her attitude changed. Her attitude toward EVERYTHING changed. She never stopped challenging things, but she didn’t challenge me in that way again. She needed someone to stand up to her. She loved all three novels we read and saw herself as Milo in The Phantom Tollbooth, driving her car out of The Doldrums to conduct the orchestra of Chroma the Great.

We’ve corresponded off and on since I moved here. She finished her degree and has done a lot of traveling. I think for her, now, life is a journey. She wrote about her most recent trip which was to Iran;

“What I enjoyed the most, was the fact that I was walking on land where the Persian Empire started. Every step I took was a step in history every building I entered some famous scholar once sat their to conduct their studies. That to me was so powerful. It is as if you are walking in the past but right now. I don’t know how to really explain it. If you have ever stepped in a historical place you might know what I mean.”

And that, folks, is why I put up with everything for so long.

And, as I post this, this song plays on Mohammed’s Radio:

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2020/05/06/rdp-wednesday-composure/

Whim

19th century writers used a lot of words. It would be another hundred years before a different style of writing would catch on. Emerson is wordy. There’s no way around it. It’s an incontrovertible truth. When I taught “Self-Reliance” I did it by making a worksheet that had one question per paragraph. The idea was if the student could answer the question, he/she had the jist of the paragraph.

My students hated it, or, anyway, I thought they hated it. When I wrote my thesis advisor, who had edited the Emerson’s Essays we were using, and told him I was teaching it, he said, “Find out who likes it. Get their names and I’ll send them autographed copies.”

The next time I went to class I asked, “Do any of you like ‘Self-Reliance’?” 3/4 of the class raised their hands. I said, “It doesn’t affect your grade. I just haven’t tried this before.” No one put their hands down. Dr. Robert D. Richardson had to send 25 autographed copies of the book.

The message of “Self-Reliance” is that through self-knowledge, a person can learn to act and live in harmony with his/her true nature. The essay is full of beautiful passages buried in the labyrinth of Emerson’s prose. One of the loveliest, densest and (to me) truthful passages of “Self-Reliance” is very dense, but the message contained within it strikes home for me. It concerns “Whim.”

I shun father and mother and wife and brother when my genius calls me. I would write on the lintels of the door-post, Whim. I hope it is somewhat better than whim at last, but we cannot spend the day in explanation… Self-Reliance” Ralph Waldo Emerson

“Whim” in this case is essentially following your heart. You don’t know where it’s going to lead, but the thread to which it attaches might be the heart’s goal. It might not, but, as Emerson says, “…we cannot spend the day in explanation.”

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2020/04/18/rdp-saturday-whimsical/

“The Truth is Out There”

One of the chapters in Beyond Feelings, the Critical Thinking book I used for years and years, was titled “What is TRUTH?” It was a very hard chapter to teach because it went against most of what my students had learned in their lives about Truth. It was fun, though, provocative and engaging.

The author of Beyond Feelings — Vincent Ryan Ruggiero — made the case that:

  • Truth is not a matter of opinion
  • Just because we don’t know what it is, doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist
  • Truth is not personal
  • Belief doesn’t make something true

The search for truth is the essence of curiosity. Its best friend is humility.

Ruggiero’s objective was to stimulate students to question, and they did, sometimes loudly and fervently. “No! That’s my truth and you can’t change it!” My job at that point was to help them understand that what they were defending wasn’t truth at all. It was their belief about something. It’s a threatening idea that can leave a person — especially a student who’s worried about his/her GPA — feeling like they’re standing on the sand by the ocean while the water pulls the sand out from under his/her feet. Students who had been penalized for saying, “I don’t know,” had a hard time with the fact that “I don’t know” is a valid answer when they, uh, don’t know. In my class it was never a wrong answer.

Those who understood (and most did after a while) felt a sense of liberation. They didn’t have to waste any more time defending anything.

Personal taste and personal belief, however, are always true. A person can speak for him/herself in that dimension and always speak the truth. An example:

“Does God exist?”
“I believe so.”
“But do you KNOW he does? Can you prove it?”
“No, but I can’t prove that God DOESN’T exist, either.”

The pure essence of belief. One endless (and easily escalated) argument bites the dust. Belief is a choice and requires no defense. Truth, however, is an objective reality and needs defense through demonstrable evidence.

I had a colleague at one of the colleges in which I taught who HATED the idea of objective truth. He said it was fascist because it insisted everyone believe the same thing. He absolutely didn’t understand it. First, objective truth is not an idea. Second, it has nothing to do with personal belief. This guy also hated it when I subbed for one of his classes and presented a PowerPoint (1998!) on Kafka’s life. “What does PowerPoint have to do with Kafka?” This teacher never saw the show, never saw the streets of Prague in Kafka’s time or photos of Kafka “writ large” and projected to the class so they could SEE a world that, in space and time, was completely alien to them. (Because, really, what did Kafka’s world have to do with Kafka? Or the fact that he was a real person not a concept?)

No point arguing personal belief. I shrugged and avoided him from then on, not so much because of his opinion about truth, but because he dismissed a technological tool just because he didn’t want to learn it, even if it was relevant to the world in which his students would live.

Here is an interesting analysis of the “truth vs. belief” phenomenon.

Why Smart People Believe Coronavirus Myths

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2020/04/12/rdp-sunday-truth/

Thoughts on NOT Having to Go to School Tomorrow…

Martin Luther King day still makes me a little stressed. I woke up this morning thinking of all the things I needed to get done (basically NOTHING) then realized I’d had another teaching dream. You see, spring semester begins tomorrow. You can’t walk away from 35+ years of habit.

Spring semester was always my least favorite. The best part of it was the advent of daylight savings time which meant I no longer drove home in the dark. Spring semester was endless where fall semester was always a neatly packaged 12 week travail that slowed down gracefully after Thanksgiving. One Spring semester was 16 weeks long broken in the middle by Spring Break from which no one recovered. One year I had such denial about spring semester that I forgot to go to my first class on Tuesday. My schedule had been flipped and flopped a couple of times by THE POWERS and I forgot I had a 1 pm class, not a 2 pm class as per usual. Anything to throw those part-time teachers off balance… I showed up late, but I showed up.

In the wee hours of this morning I dreamed about setting up my Blackboard online materials without knowing my new login. This is not cool as it’s now been 6 spring semesters since the last one. I doubt I will ever recover 100% from teaching. The flame on the torch I carried so long wavered, sputtered and went out, but the memories…

I’ve learned a lot about myself as a teacher since I retired and have had the chance to look back on those years from a little distance with more knowledge of myself. When we have to earn a living, and we only have ONE marketable skill (or believe we do), we might tell ourselves we’re passionate about what we’re doing, but what we’re passionate about is having a roof over our heads and food in our mouths. Still, I loved the classroom. I enjoyed reading essays. Business Communication, when it arrived in my life and I got a handle on it, gave me the chance to learn so many skills I wouldn’t have. I learned a lot about my personality from those relentless extraverts.

The biggest thing I taught my students I was not doing myself, and that was knowing my audience. At the end of my career — for the final four or five years — I just knew I didn’t like it any more, but I didn’t know why. I did not know how tuition had gone up, the pressures on my students financially and the pressure from their families. I didn’t understand why parents were suddenly so involved. I didn’t know what was going on in lower levels, elementary and secondary school, how that was changing from something that nurtured independent thought and problem solving to test-based curricula and no recess.

I think I was also tired from teaching so much for so long. I wanted a life of my own, but I had no time or resources. Back then, in the spring of 2014, I wrote;

I don’t know how other people feel when they reach this point of life. Maybe the way I feel is universal. Maybe all teachers teach to the point at which they are no longer effective; for some, I’m sure, this would be two semesters. For me it’s been more than 35 years. I wonder if all retiring (or quitting) teachers feel like a failure, because I definitely do. I can see that — as with my writing — I’ve missed the “zeitgeist” completely and that all around me is taught, and valued, what I regard as complete bullshit. I’ve even reached the point, the moment, that I can say, “I’ve been wrong all along.”

Teaching is really about maintaining society. Writing is really about Introduction, body paragraphs and conclusion. It’s not about the expression of ideas; it’s not about learning the skill that will best serve that task uniquely every single time. It’s not about patience and discipline and the joy of discovering a thought. Helpful criticism given to students garners furious emails; students furious at themselves, students furious at me, bosses upset that I was not more “supportive” (what is not supportive about “let me know if you want to talk this over. I’ll let you revise it”?). 

I was aware how my attitude had changed, and I wrote about that, too. By the time I retired, writing textbooks were formulaic and teachers’ editions had directions as piss-ass and nit-picky as, “Now tell your students to pick up their pens…”

I now not only cringe when my students say, “But what about my body paragraphs?” I get actively infuriated. “What IF it’s not body paragraphs? What IF it’s something important you have to say?” It is not about that for them. It is about body paragraphs. They are so bonded to the five paragraph essay that they will write them even if the entire essay is 10 pages long… Five long ass meaningless meandering paragraphs. Who taught them this? Who taught them this way? I no longer understand the people I work with and I am pretty sure I don’t share their values. 

The scariest and most prescient thing I find in this old blog entry is this:

“I think the world today — in my life time — has undergone or is undergoing a revolution as cataclysmic as any in human history. We might not look at it (I don’t look at it) but people and/or their souls are dying all over the world all the time for the progress of this vague dark thing that is the future.”

https://ragtagcommunity.wordpress.com/2020/01/20/rdp-monday-torch/