If You Can [your skill here], Thank a Teacher

It’s the most flash-backy time of the year.  The sine qua non of August is this: adults and children dread and/or joyfully anticipate the return of the school schedule. Even those of us who no longer have school-determined lives still experience the frisson of the back-to-school thing. We remember the smells and the noise and the dread and the excitement. And though the smell of Expo markers has decades-since replaced the smell of chalk, and there are whole academic subject areas that don’t even exist anymore: you know, whatever. Some things you never forget. The more things change, etc.

crowded_crayon_colorsOh, yes: we remember.

My memories of school have far less to do with academics than the rest of it–The-Shit-Which-Must-Not-Be-Named–the things you kept to yourself. (You kept it to yourself if you were an introvert, anyway. Don’t know about the rest of you.) There were so many emotions and fears in school, punctuated (thankfully) by the occasional bright spot. I was lucky to have a good, rounded education, so I learned a lot along the way, of course. But who I AM was formed and shaped, willingly and unwillingly, in so many non-lesson-plan ways: by my friendships, and, of course, by my teachers.

So today, our class discussion is on the subject of The Teacher. Let us now praise these famous (and not-so-famous) men and women.

I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel. (Maya Angelou)

First, it must be admitted that some teachers are duds. Let’s get that out of the way. Don’t be sending me rebuttals because you aren’t over middle school. Neither is anybody else. I once had a science teacher who–when he caught me chewing gum–made me stick it on the end of my nose for the duration of the class period. Those teachers may or may not have been doing their best, and aren’t the ones we are discussing here.

I’ve tried teaching. My time in the classroom mostly left me feeling enraged. (It’s not my gift.) But I have been blessed to know many, many people who have the gift of Teacher, and it is a spiritual gift, given by God. Out of my experience with my own teachers, my children’s teachers, and my friends who are teachers, I offer the following, for your consideration:

1. Teachers have brought their whole selves to the work: their personalities, their passions, their feelings, their joys and fears. It is who they are. They are sharing their very selves. It’s not a job, it’s a vocation.

2. Teachers willingly bear many work-related burdens which do not belong to them. It is not their fault (or their job to fix) when a kid is depressed or struggling or defiant or wounded. But teachers fold these factors into themselves (see #1) and into what is needed in class.

3. Teachers are people. They are people, people. They may not be your friend, but if there comes an opportunity to give them a little gift of appreciation (and I hope you do), imagine what a friend would like to receive. Just say no to teacher-themed gifts. (No effing apple-related objets d’art, for starters.) Oh, and by the way: never, never send a teacher a shaming, flaming e-mail. Get over your own authority issues and ask nicely to meet in person.

4. Philosophers and religious folk have a wonderful word for this kind of remembering:  anamnesis.  I am remembering today some of my childhood teachers that left a formative and permanent mark of acceptance on me. They represent the spectrum of subject matter. I’m pretty sure they all had first names, but I remember them as: Mrs. Kranz, Mrs. Rucker, Mr. Freeman, Mrs. Elsie, Mr. Deffenderfer, Mrs. Moore, Mrs. Crisp, Mrs. Hembree, Ms. Davis, Mrs. Buffington… and on and on. Thank you.

PS: Shout-out to my beloved friends returning to the front of the classroom in the coming days. Go get ’em.

PPS: Did you notice how many GRE-worthy words and literary references I have used here, in order to make myself look smart? Teachers taught me those.



Well, we’re all in the mood for a melody

I hear music in my head, music that nobody else can hear. It’s like I’m listening with headphones, only without the headphones. I realize that this is pretty much the definition of schizophrenia, but whatever.

Here is how it happens: I’ll be lying in bed, about to drop off, and suddenly there it is: tune, harmony and lyric. This is especially common on those nights after I have discovered or re-discovered some bit of wonder and it’s gotten under my skin. When a song (new or old) hits that nerve of recognition within me—strikes a chord, if you will—I will listen to it over and over and over. And over. (By the way: I may be schizo, but I’m not OCD. Or paranoid, either, so stop thinking that. Also, just for the record: I only hear one song at a time.) (Also 2: Even though it sounds like I am, I’m not really talking about an earworm. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Earworm)

Bathroom tile, Austin Bergstrom Airport

A song that is true has a power that enters my veins like an infusion. And once it’s in there, it’s free to go where it will, flowing around in my blood and my subtle body and my psyche. Once it’s in there, it’s in there.

Who found out that nothing can capture a heart
Like a melody can?
Well, whoever it was, I’m a fan (ABBA)

Music is the truest companion I have ever known. I can always count on (certain) songs to keep me company, keep me sane, give me understanding, reassure me I am not alone.  I have actually received different gifts from the same song on different days.

Over a lifetime, listening carefully to songs (and their tunes and lyrics and instrumental bridges and rhythms and bass lines) has taught me many things. 1. Nobody else can make me happy. 2. Nobody else can make me unhappy. 3. What I am feeling, others have felt. 4. You can’t hurry love. 5. The thing you might be running from is so small, but it’s as big as the promise…the promise of a coming day. 6. And then some.

The songs you love and that love you back are always there for you. Unlike other human beings, who are fighting their own hard fight just like you are. Your songs–the songs that choose you– will never tell you to get a grip, or grow up, or to hide your light under a bushel. At the same time, they are a good enough friend that they might tell you to get over it, because sometimes you need to hear that, too.