Six years ago today, I was told that I should think about preparing my family for the worst case scenario. Although I was still in a post-surgical haze, I remember being wheeled off for a series of body scans… "checking for lesions," the doctors had said. I grabbed a picture of my family and held it close to my heart. I prayed to God that I still had more time. I bargained, as I suppose we all do, and I beat the odds.
I have experienced many losses since that day that feels like a lifetime ago, and yet like last week. Most of them were unexpected, and several were young adults. My former students, my IS alum. I think of them daily, sometimes with questions, sometimes with immense sadness, and oftentimes, I just really miss them. We (the seasoned teachers at IS) all miss them. This thievery has changed each of us in different ways, triggering our thoughts to morph into action, forcing us to be less complacent, and catalyzing us to pursue our passions.
Translating these critical values into our lessons as high school teachers is tricky business. Focusing upon the emotional well being of our teens while simultaneously presenting a well balanced curriculum leads to the age old question: What is our most important role as educators? In addition, does anyone ever ask the students what they want/need from their educational experience, either during high school and/or beyond? I often wonder who we are serving in this institution we call high school. Obviously I have bought into the system if I have chosen to teach for twenty six years, but I do it because I am passionate about teaching kids, not about the infrastructure with which we have to work around.
Not a day passes by that I don't wonder, what about the students? How do they feel about this decision or that? Has anyone asked them to design a course sequence or a college application? How many people are truly aware of the schedules that they keep? How do we change the perception that not getting into a competitive college equates with "feeling like I'm not good enough?" The unfortunate reality is that these guidelines are what our adolescents use as indicators of who they are as human beings. GPAs, SATs, college acceptances, they are their metersticks of self-worth. And the students work so hard to match a certain point of this nebulous guideline which, in reality, has no top end in sight. In other words, they have set the bar so high for themselves, that the goal becomes close to infinity, an unobtainable standard. The reality is, even for the student who successfully makes it across the threshold into an elite college, he/she will eventually have to face the job market and face rejections. He/she will suddenly equate inadequate cover letters and resumes with not being good enough. And the story continues.
I wish I could explain to my students how I felt six years ago today. Although I didn't have a near death experience as we have all read about, I did see my life flash before my eyes. Then I forced my mindset to shift as I visualized my future before my eyes. I needed to force myself to believe only positive things were ahead for me, and I flushed out all the negativity. I have continued this philosophical approach to this day as it is my mode of survival. I cannot waste my energy thinking about the things that I cannot do due my health limitations; I can only think about the snippets of life that are amazing and I meditate upon the experiences that I will create in the future. I don't have a meterstick by which I measure myself anymore, or mode of comparing myself to my peers. I wake up every day knowing that I will do the best job that I can do. That is the most that I can ask of myself.
I live my life assuming the best case scenario until I am told otherwise. In that arena, nothing has changed. Six years ago today, I ignored the doctor's advice and never told my family what he had said. I stuck out the forty eight hours until my test results came back and found out it was a misdiagnosis. I wish I could wrap up this blogpost with a happy ending for my three former students who are no longer with us. It is in their honor, however, that many of their former teachers have grown stronger and will work even harder to broaden the scope of defining student success. Because, in the end, the human spirit cannot be measured in centimeters and we are insulting the human condition to think otherwise.