Tuesday, October 21, 2014

More Than Enough

"There is no passion to be found in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living." - Nelson Mandela

I love my job.

And in all honesty, I probably don't say that enough. To have a career that gives me purpose every day is a blessing beyond relief. I know too many people who do not enjoy what they do, and as a result, it seems like an immense burden in their lives. I cannot imagine a life where I dread getting up every morning, where every task seems impossible and difficult. 

Every morning I wake up, I think, what learning is going to take place in my classroom today? It is more than enough. More than enough to motivate me to be at the school at 7:00 some mornings, eagerly planning the day's activities. It is more than enough to keep me awake some nights, thinking of new activities that will inspire my students to think differently, to think creatively, and to question the everyday occurrences in our world. 

Even though some days are difficult and the ups and downs seem unbearable, there is always a shining moment where something goes well. Always. My students are incredible young people. Year after year, I am forever shown that while I am the teacher, I always have more to learn from them. It is more than enough to know that even if it was just one lesson, something inspired them. Changed them. Encouraged them. And when I hear from parents that their child talked about my class at home with "such enthusiasm and excitement," I know my job has been done. It is more than enough, even when it seems like it doesn't matter. I know I'm not a perfect teacher. I make mistakes. I know I still have a lot to learn. But those are the moments I hold on to, the moments that encourage me to be better, to fight for my students and their hopes, wishes, and dreams.

To better illustrate my point, I present an anecdote:
A Case Study, or, Julius Caesar Re-imagined
I was just starting my career. I was worried about my students and the dismal amount of literature they had read as they prepared to go off to college much too soon. I felt like I needed to move mountains in a short period of time to adequately prepare them for the bulk of reading and literature they would encounter.
In a 21st century classroom, teaching the works of William Shakespeare to reluctant readers is hard. Incredibly hard. It is hard to take steps back into several centuries earlier, to imagine a life that is different from the ones we lead today. I woke up every morning (thinking about the learning that would occur in my classroom, of course!) and how to approach it. Day one of Shakespeare, I heard a chorus of:
"Ms. Edwardson, reallllyyyyy? Some days I think you don't like us!"
"What do we need to know about that grumpy old codger's dusty plays?!"
"This is going to SUCK. Big time."
My carefully structured approach crumbled. But I was stubborn. I do not give up easily, about anything, ever. So I restructured my lessons. I asked students about modern works they had seen - Disney's The Lion King, the romantic comedy She's the Man that many of my female students fangirled about in their latest Channing Tatum obsession, and so many others. I told them (to dropped jaws and unbelieving stares) that they were all based on Shakespearean plays.
That got their attention. 
I began to re-envision my plans for my Julius Caesar unit. We acted out scenes with costumes. We read parts using voices (much to the amusement of everyone). We researched modern counterparts. We held a debate of Caesar vs. Brutus for leader, complete with campaign posters and speakers. When they didn't understand why Caesar's wife was upset and didn't want him to go to the Capitol (where, spoiler alert, he died), they snickered and suggested I act out that scene as a one-person show.
I did.
To the point where I got down on my knees like Calpurnia, wailing and pretend-sobbing to an imaginary Caesar that I didn't want him to leave. I will never forget the looks of disbelief on my students' faces when I actually did what they asked. And when we got to essay writing about Calpurnia's relationship with Caesar, one student said: "OH YEAH! That's when Ms. E did a one-woman skit! That was hilarious, Ms. E! You showed how Calpurnia was upset about the dream she had and how totally paranoid she was!"
My point: I got excited. I let my passion for Shakespeare shine through, and it was evident to my students that I cared so much that I would act out an oddball request when they didn't think I would. People pick up on when you love something. And the one main idea I wanted my students to take away from this unit became much more clear to them: that in many ways, the themes and ideas that Shakespeare introduced are ones that we can still relate to today.
I have a reason for sharing this. This is not an education blog, which is why my teaching stories are kept to a minimum. It relates to a bigger picture. Nelson Mandela expressed it perfectly: "There is no passion to be found in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living." Live a life you are capable of really living, not one that is a reflection of the person you could be. I use my career as an example, but in all honesty, this should apply to all aspects of our lives. Live a life that is more than "just enough." The little things matter. They always do. They mattered to my students in a way that even I didn't initially comprehend.

I'm not saying life won't be hard. It will be. It will have its ups and downs. But if it is a good one, it will inspire you to be better. And isn't that all we can ask for in this world? To find something we love and put our whole heart and soul into it? 

Make your life to be more than enough.

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