“Ugh,” I said to my mom last Thursday. “Half the day I didn’t know if I did anybody any good.”
“What do you mean?” She asked.
“Part of the day I felt like this exactly how it’s supposed to be, but the part of the day, I kept thinking, “I have no idea what I’m doing,”” I laughed.
For most of my student teaching, I’ve adopted the philosophy that, when working with kids with challenging backstories, you look for the little victories and then try to build on them. It’s a simple philosophy that, as I realized the other day, is going to need some branching out.
I was covering the classes for another teacher that day. The first class went well, but the second period, I knew I’d been snowed by the kids at one point. The third class was a triumph and the fourth was a draw. By the time my seventh period came to a close, I had decided to call the day a tie, which is why, when I got to my car, I did what any responsible adult would do. I called my mom.
My mom isn’t “just” a great mom. She’s also a veteran high school English teacher and history professor, and I knew she’d have a few words of wisdom to put the day in perspective.
She listened to me babble about a few of my triumphs and blunders, sensitively keeping her laughs to a quiet chuckle before she was able to get a word in.
“That sounds like what I remember in the beginning,” she said. “Welcome to teaching.”
We both laughed as I started the car, looking forward to the next day of looking for little victories but also feeling like I’d joined a pretty good club.
Whether you think it’s allegory or history, you’ve heard the one about Adam and Eve eating that apple from the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.
For years, I’ve felt like the bulk of the knowledge I gained has been that of the evil humanity commits against itself and against its only known livable habitat. We turn a blind eye to bad behavior by trusted people. We cluck our tongues at the latest mass shooting and then wrap ourselves in our cocoons until the next horror appears in our social media feeds.
And I’ve been guilty.
I’m guilty because I let fear of that evil, for me spawned in the aftermath of a crime, keep me mummified. I work at home because I’ve been afraid of the world. I’ve tried to keep my kids safe on a mountain, hidden from the world and life.
That fear has been shrinking over the last few years. As I’ve rediscovered my art, I’ve rediscovered the better things about humanity. I’ve seen my son stand up for someone who couldn’t stand up for themselves. I’ve seen people expend enormous energy raising money to help people they barely know.
And last summer I had a chance to pay it forward a little.
I was raising money to buy art supplies for children who were refugees or in foster care. Then a friend who had helped spread the word to raise money for kits for almost 100 children asked if I would lead a drawing workshop for the children. I said yes immediately, even though the only thing I’d ever taught anyone to do is wash their hands after using the potty.
The afternoon started with 15 boys assuring me they couldn’t draw. I know everyone can draw so I started them on a free drawing exercise I had learned.
It took less than 30 minutes for the boys to kill their inner critics and start experimenting.
As they began drawing from their hearts, we saw abstract trees, scenes of and an occasional portrait emerge. We saw art doing exactly what it was supposed to do – open the door to healing.
That workshop was a gift.
I got home and started investigating paths to becoming a teacher, something I’d just been considering for the last year or so.
I neglected the blog through the months of researching certification options and reconfiguring my schedule. The drawing just about stopped.
The education, however, was just beginning.
My own history with mental illness, as well as the experiences of friends who were sometimes at the margins of school society, made special education seem like a good place to make a difference. I got a second experience-building job at an elementary school, and, as I felt like I was starting to be a small part of a small solution, my knowledge of good started to grow.
I’m breathing a little life support into my blog this afternoon, but the reality is that as I watch kids learning to accept others who are not like them and have the chance to give support to kids who might be having a hard time with the business of growing up, my creativity is thriving.
All creativity isn’t an expression of hope, and that’s okay. It’s an expression of how someone feels. But I knew that, for me, constantly feeling afraid of the world was stagnating.
Acquainting myself with a bit more of the Knowledge of Good has prompted ideas for future children’s books. It makes life more colorful. It forces me to engage with the world. And when I stop for a moment to breathe, it makes me aware of how blessedly creative – and hopeful – engagement can be.