Hold ‘em? Fold ‘em? Walk away? Or Run?

Kenny Rogers was certainly on to something when he penned the lyrics to his hit song, “The Gambler”. After serving as a classroom teacher for over twelve years, I have found myself between a proverbial rock and a hard place. In the words of the late and great B.B. King, “The thrill is gone,” and it has been for some time now. In the past twelve years I have spent more time griping and complaining than praising and celebrating. And for these and other reasons, I believe that it’s time for me to walk away. Better yet, I might need to run Forrest!

 

My contemplative state is in no way new or fresh. I considered leaving the profession after my first year (as do many novice teachers), but I mustered the strength and gumption to try a second year (at anything other than a charter school—too much to add for now). In year two I transitioned into a small “suburban” school district in central Ohio, which was certainly much kinder to me than the first year, but it definitely wasn’t easy.

By my fifth year (still in central Ohio) I was again ready to walk away, but chose instead to try a different environment: Florida. In 2008 I packed up my belongings and headed to the “Sunshine State” after procuring a job in Hillsborough County (the “8th largest school district in the country”—the district’s constant claim to fame). Once here in Florida the spark was reignited for a time. By my eighth year as an “educator” (where I had once enjoyed teaching at a Performing and Visual Arts Magnet School) I had once again found myself feeling complacent and jaded. And again, my immediate response was what I have coined the “Goldie Locks Effect”—trying out a different bed, or in my case, a different school (district, state, etc.).

However, unlike years before, the spark wasn’t reignited after I reached school number four (another magnet school—this one IB: International Baccalaureate). I thought that perhaps this school and its students might more closely align with my philosophical beliefs about education: it’s the most important thing to get. I was sorely disappointed and dissatisfied. If anything, my level of discontentment and resentment for what I had chosen as a “profession” had actually intensified to the nth degree. While at this school relations with students and parents (essential stakeholders in education) were in a constant tug-of-war. It was in this environment that I started to seriously question whether I was cut out for teaching. I constantly second-guessed myself, and my efforts, nearly every day. However, I pushed through four years at this school before I had the overwhelming itch to run far-far away (despite its over-glamourized allure in Shrek 2).

This time moving to another state wasn’t going to cut it. I had made up my mind that the landscape of education had changed, and perhaps I was no longer able to adapt to the surroundings. So that’s when I got very serious about teaching abroad. So serious did I become that I managed to get a job offer at a private International IB school in Dubai, UAE. I was on cloud nine. What? How could the teacher who was constantly contemplating walking away somehow be on cloud nine? Great question.

I was determined that teaching in a different country where education wasn’t an afterthought but a highly prized attainment, and educators were esteemed and not emasculated, might somehow bring me the satisfaction that I had lost somewhere along the way. But alas, my emotions superseded my judgment when I backed out of the opportunity. Shortly after I had accepted the offer, I chased after the possibility of “love” instead of the assurance of a new start in a totally different landscape. Turning down the opportunity overseas has undoubtedly been the hardest life-lesson that I failed. And at the end of the day I blame no one but myself. At any rate, choosing not to go a month and a half after being excited about the prospect and the new journey ended up being awkward at my current school. I had to ask myself, could I be happy and/or satisfied staying at the same school? The answer was a resounding: No! So that’s when an opportunity “knocked” in the form of an email from a former principal I had worked with. She had an opening at her school, an opening that came with a leadership position: Subject Area Leader (SAL). I jumped at the chance and was subsequently offered the position. My spirits raised because again, maybe this next school would prove to be “just right” and I could be like Goldie Locks and take a well-deserved nap.

But that wasn’t what occurred. Within weeks (less than four to be exact) I was (am) ready to pack up my belongings—actually, keep them for all I care—and walk away from teaching forever, forever-ever? FOREVER-EVER! And that brings us to my current situation: Hold ‘em? Fold ‘em? Walk away? Run?

Earlier today while reading Eckhart Tolle’s The Power of Now, I came across the following words that greatly impacted my level of consciousness:

Wherever you are, be there totally. If you find your here and now intolerable and it makes you unhappy, you have three options: remove yourself from the situation, change it, or accept it totally. If you want to take responsibility for your life, you must choose one of those three options, and you must choose now.

These words have been the best piece of advice that I could ask for. And since reading those words I have been contemplating what to do with my life. Do I remove myself form the situation (teaching)? By and large, this option seems like the most practical and viable. After finding so little satisfaction in a “profession” that drains me of my vitality and zeal, leaving public education sounds like the most logical response. Besides, I don’t see how I could change it—the student’s attitudes and postures towards learning as well as the education system. In the past five years I have watched the vast majority of the students who walk the halls of our school do so with an attitude of unconcern and reproach. It is as if they see little, if any, value in obtaining a public education. Aside from their attitudes, the system that educates them is severely flawed from the top down. Yes, the adoption of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) was a step in the right direction, but there is still much more work to be done to make the public education system in this country equitable. Lastly, when I consider the idea to accept it fully, chills run through my body. These aren’t the chills of a mind-blowing, deeply conscious awakening, but chills of horror. It would literally be the death of my soul to accept that the vast majority of public school students don’t give a crap about obtaining an education from a system that is highly dysfunctional. To accept it fully means that I have truly become nothing more than a baby-sitter for middle school students. And on that note I’m with Fred Sanford, “You hear that Elizabeth? I’m coming to join you honey!”

Here are the cold, hard facts:

  1. The 2014 graduation rate in Hillsborough County: 73.5%.
  2. The state of Florida’s graduation rate: 76.1%.
  3. The nation’s graduation rate: 80%.
  4. In 2014, only 60% of Hillsborough County’s African-American students graduated, while 68.1% of their Hispanic students graduated.
  5. Most students drop out in their 9th grade year in Hillsborough County.

With these numbers I have to ask myself: Is the deck stacked against me? Am I fighting a losing battle? Is it time to raise the white flag?

Hold ‘em? Fold ‘em? Walk away? Run?

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Got Faith?

“Yes, I’ve got to have faith . . .” are the words that end the popular 80’s song “Faith” by George Michael. These are telling words, prolific words in fact.  I too have got to have faith. But it seems that I’ve lost my way . . . lost my faith?  My faith has been, and may always be, a questionable matter (and that pains me). In the past decade or so my endurance in this race has been challenged in a number of ways, on a number of levels, and a number of times.

In the bible there is scripture that points out that, “Knowing this, the trying of your faith works patience,” (James 1:3).  If this is in fact true, I have gained a great deal of patience over the years.  I am also familiar with Hebrews 11:1 which reads, “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen.” There have been times in my life where I have been extremely hopeful.  There have likewise been moments when I couldn’t capture an ounce a hope to cup in my hands.  And finally, there is Hebrews 11:6, “But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that comes to God must believe that he is, and is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.”  Herein lies my true dilemma. As an individual who was raised to “fear God” (reverence God) I have struggled with this concept of faith for nearly all of my waking life.  Has my lack of faith or intermittent faithlessness displeased God?  On a conscious level I believe that God is real, but there are moments when I question His presence in my life.

Perhaps my problem is that I lack the diligence to seek God. If I think about my spiritual “walk”, I have to ask myself: have I been walking with God?  Do I commune with Him daily?  Do I seek His face with a heart and demeanor that desires nothing in return but the feeling of His love, forgiveness, and devotion?  Honestly?  I cannot in good conscience claim that I seek God’s face faithfully. There are, and certainly have been, moments when I have walked far from God.  And conversely, there have been moments when I have seemingly been in stride with God.  There are days when prayer is the last thing on my mind.  And then there are days when I am thrust upon my knees.  There are undoubtedly moments when I ponder God’s presence.

Why?  You ask.  I question if He is real because of all that I have ingested from the Bible, what I have heard from one pastor, preacher, evangelist, etc., and from what I have experienced in life. Take Psalm 37:4 as an example. It reads, “Delight thyself in the Lord: and he shall give thee the desires of thine heart.”  If I take the logical approach, it seems that all I would need to do in order to actualize the desires of my heart is to delight myself in the Lord God.  But what does that really mean?  Does it mean that I walk around 24-7 spouting that I’m delighted to know God?  Or is it something more?  I’ve cross-referenced the KJV with The Message translation and this is how The Message reads, “Get assurance with God and do a good deed, settle down and stick to your last.”  Honestly, I’m even more confused.  How does one get assurance with God?  Is it through prayer?  Through communing with God? Is it through reading and confessing His inspired word?  The translation says to “do a good deed”, but what qualifies as a good deed? And is there a quantity attached to the number of deeds required before my heart’s desires are actualized/realized? Now if “assurance with God” comes through faith—this substance of things I hope for and the evidence of what I don’t see, then my faith must grow in order for me to please God and then receive the desires of my heart—at least logically that is the conclusion I have drawn.

So let’s take this conundrum a step further.  Let’s look at Romans 10:17 which reads, “. . . faith comes by hearing, and hearing the word of God.” Okay, in order for my faith to grow perhaps I have not heard enough, heard enough of God’s word. I’m torn again. I grew up in church. I grew up hearing some man or woman [of God] share his or her interpretation of the Bible which is “God’s inspired word to man”.  I grew up hearing my grandmother’s and mother read from their Bibles.  And I have heard, heard God’s words for all these many years, yet why is my faith, my faith in God, called into question time and again? Why do I doubt that He will give me the desires of my heart?  Why do I wonder if he has heard my petitions?  Why God? Why?

Today, I posed a question to a group of students who had been reading a book, Left to Tell: Discovering God Amidst the Rwandan Holocaust, about a Rwandan woman’s survival of the 1994 genocides that rocked her country. Here is what I asked four 8th graders, “Does it take an experience like Immaculee’s (surviving genocide) in order to meet God face to face—grow your faith?” I too had been reading the book alongside my students. And while I had been reading the harrowing experience this woman went through, it seemed that my faith kept being called to the carpet.  One at a time they each shared their personal thoughts.  The consensus: perhaps it does take a life-altering experience for our faith to grow and develop.  I looked at one of the girls and said rather plaintively, “I would hope to never have to experience genocide in order for my faith to grow.” I went on to state that I wanted a spiritual experience like Immaculee Ilbagiza (the author of the book and genocide survivor).  “Here dream was so vivid,” I said as I recalled the dream Immaculee had regarding her murdered family after she had made peace with their deaths and forgiven their Hutu killers. Immaculee had great faith throughout her ordeal.  She prayed and sought God daily while hiding from Hutu tribesmen who sought to rid Rwanda of its Tutsi population.  And it seemed that her seeking God made all the difference for her survival amidst the genocide.

  • She sought God and He protected them from being detected in the Hutu pastor’s bathroom for three months
  • She sought God and avoided being attacked on the road by a throng of Hutu killers wielding machetes
  • She sought God and obtained a job working for the United Nations
  • She sought God and married the man she petitioned God for

 

I too want(ed) my faith to grow and expand to the point that it is more than positive thinking, but a deep-seated intrinsic “knowing”. As the group’s discussion transitioned, I found myself moved for two reasons. One, I was so very much impressed with the level of analysis the students had with regards to the text and the concept of genocide.  All too often we Americans take things (experiences) for granted.  But more importantly, these four young adults had made such poignant remarks about humanity that I was nearly moved to tears. And all the while I kept questioning my faith.  Where is my faith?  I’ve got to have faith!

So I am posing a question to anyone who doesn’t mind answering.

 

How do I grow my faith?

Home Training

Proverbs 22:6 (KJV) reads, “Train up a child in the way he should go: and when he is old, he will not depart from it.”

This weekend I spent thirty hours in the presence of girls ranging in age from 5-14.  While being around kids isn’t anything new to me, what was new was being around children who seemingly had no “home training.”  For the most part, many of the girls were well behaved.  However, there were instances where I wanted to literally haul off and give one of the teenagers a piece of my mind.

Yes, I said “home training”.  I am old school in certain respects (pun intended), and this is one of them.  I firmly believe that children need to stay in their place.  No, you shouldn’t blindly accept everything you hear, and no, you shouldn’t trust just anyone.  But when it comes to adults and people in positions of authority, I believe that children should show some respect.

Maybe it’s me.  But it seems that a portion of today’s youth have lost their sense of respect for their elders and for authority figures.  Take this scenario for instance.  If a rule is given that you shouldn’t bring your electronic device to camp and you not only have it out in the presence of an adult, but go so far as to use it in their presence, should you not expect to be reprimanded for breaking a rule?  Nope.  One child had the never to roll her eyes, suck her teeth and continue her phone conversation.  I was not only appalled; I was ready to give her a piece of my mind.  But I held my tongue because of two reasons.  One, I just met the child that day and had no rapport with her.  Two, I didn’t want to make a bad impression on my superiors given the fact that I am brand new to the organization.

Seriously.  What are parents teaching their children?  Are parents teaching their children?  Or are they expecting “teaching” to only take place at school?  I know I may get some negative feedback because I’m not a parent, but seriously though, is there any instruction being given at home with regards on how to speak to, and interact with adults, because some of the girls I was around this weekend seemed to think we were on the same level.  Granted, we may have been on the same height level, but don’t let my youthful look and petit frame fool you into believing you can disrespect me.

I’m curious.  What happened to the respect?  How and when did we get to a place in our lives where we stopped saying “please” and “thank you”?  When did it become acceptable to refer to your parents by their first names?  At what point did it become “normal” to openly violate rules and challenge authority in response to possible consequences?

I am in no way faultless; I was far from being a perfect child.  However, I knew to respect the elders in my family and community.  I wouldn’t dare respond to an adult’s request with “Who you think you talking to?”  But that is what I see and hear all too often these days.  If we think about the message in Proverbs 22:6, we (collectively—parents and adults who regularly interact with children) are training our children to act, behave, and react in specific ways in their adult lives based upon what we teach them (or the lack thereof) in their youth.

So here are my questions: How do we get it back?  Yes, how do we get back to the days and times when children showed respect and reverence to adults and authority figures?  What have we lost along the way?  And can we find it again and bring it back?

What say you?