It’s Back to School Night tonight at Notre Dame, and even though we’re doing it remote, I’m thinking about my overgrown hair, dull teeth, the smudges on my glasses, an appropriate background, my speech, and the fact that I can do this barefoot and no one will know.
I escaped to the lake house this morning so I could utilize the quiet, have the internet all to myself, and practice my gig before confronting sixty four inquisitive parents per call.
My plan is to disable their ability to unmute, chat, or interrupt me in any way, shape, or form.
I know, I’m a chicken, with a antiquated facade. Keeping it real.
Standing in the middle of the living room, I practice my script out loud, referring to a dozen or so talking points scrawled on bright orange note cards. It’s alarming to notice how slowly time passes when I’m the only one speaking? I keep shaking the kitchen timer to see if it’s broken?
The timer is working fine, it’s my perception of time that is totally conflated, and it appears to stand still when I most want it to move? Einstein said time is an illusion, but Kurt Vonnegut observes, “we are trapped in the amber of the moment, there is no why.”
Shaggy is confused, every time I start up my spiel, he thinks we’re going for a walk, and starts barking. That will not please the 240 parents I’m attempting to dazzle in less than an hour.
I watch the clock slowly ticking away, moving at a glacial pace towards my allotted time slot, a queasiness is building in my stomach, similar to the feeling I get when I’m running around naked in a dream, and can not for the life of me find my clothes.
Feeling vulnerable much? Judged? Out of control? That’s Back to School Night in a nutshell.
The parents have become my virtual audience, watching me as if a defendant on trial, smugly observing how I conduct myself under oath. I keep reminding myself I’m a creation of God, wonderfully made, and innocent until proven guilty.
The moment finally arrives, I profusely welcome my jurors, attempting a little humor I say, “hey, wasn’t that great not dealing with traffic, or searching for a parking space?” Clearly comedy is not my gift, as 64 blank faces stare back at me, I think one person is yawning? Rude.
Jim Henson says, “People don’t remember what you try to teach them. They remember what you are,” in my case a ridiculous and boring suspect, not at all what I was going for.
“So often in life, things that you regard as an impediment turn out to be great, good fortune.” Ruth Bader Ginsburg (may she R.I.P.)
I start yacking about scripture, exegesis, and a challenging curriculum. I throw in something about being plentiful and over procreating, resulting in four kids, a cranky husband, and undisciplined dog. I still have three whole minutes left on that broken, defective, yellow-belly timer.
I dive into classroom contracts, collaborative disciplines, and brave spaces. How ironic. Ugg, another minute to go.
I’m tempted to unmute this solemn group, just to kill some time, instead I drop my email address on the screen, “best practices for getting a hold of me is email, drop me a note anytime, love to hear from you all.” Big mistake, do not encourage the parentals, they lack boundaries.
“Oh my, our time is up, thank you for (judging) joining me,” I gush.
End call for all participants.
Five minutes later I do it all again only this time I talked way too fast, becoming overly familiar with my talk points, and had to scramble for an entire minute. Torture. I may have over-shared?
I didn’t faint, or cry, or resort to swearing so there’s that.
I believe I acted above my pay grade. Just sayin.
Slipping into my pajamas, I enjoy a hearty pour of red wine that has been breathing on the counter for over an hour, and head out to the deck for a breath of fresh air.
Shaggy and I blop down, feet up (paws in his case), deep breath. The night air is as soft as a caress, I lean back, close my eyes, and let the glass find my lips of its own accord.
I made the mistake of glancing through my work email on my iPhone, I notice there are several notes from parents saying they are excited about the class, see what I said about boundaries, it’s too soon people. We just met, now I’ll have to come up with clever answers, and humorous anecdotes. Lord have mercy.
This is when I notice an email from my boss, she liked my enthusiasm when explaining exegesis and wanted to thank me? She was on my call? What the hell? I was barefoot, uninformed, and scrambling. Seems a little voyeuristic?
It says in 1 Corinthians, “if I were doing this on my own initiative, I would deserve payment, but I have no choice because this has been given to me, a sacred trust.” Teachers often feel this way about their work, maybe we all do, our pay barely covers supplies, coffee, and a pair of comfortable flats, but here I stand year after year fulfilling some sacred trust, wondering what holds me here, and doesn’t let go?
Our motto at ND is teach them what they need to know for life. I think teaching is like a stewardship, a looking after, a responsibility, a preparation for the real world. The first known use of the word stewardship was in the 15th century, it had to do with management, as in households, I’ve repurposed it for the classroom, you can thank me later. Can we all just agree students require a lot of management? Here, here.
I crawled into bed after inhaling a plate of cold chicken and macaroni salad.
My dog is sprawled out on the floor beside the bed, I reach down, gently running my hand along his back. I appreciate his presence when I’m up at the lake alone. It’s dark, the sounds coming from the docks are rather eerie in the middle of the night, and you know me I dream about water when I’m overwhelmed, perfect scenario for closet insomniacs.
It’s good for Cheryl to reach down and know he’s always there, always there…
I wake early after a restless night, my eyes feel tired as if I held them open with toothpicks, at least Back to School Night is behind me, the sun is still tucked behind the horizon, and my feet remain bare.
Grabbing an old sweatshirt out of the closet, I head to the kitchen to feed the loyal dog, make some coffee, curl up in the double wide facing my beloved Mt. Konocti.
I’m observing a bank of fog as it hovers over the tip of the mountain, it’s slow and steady movements are memorizing, but it never abandons the mountain. A whirlpool of thought, celestial, alive, almost playful. That is how I want to teach.
What if we all had to stand before each other, give a little spiel about what we have to offer, our potential, our fears, open, honest, naked, and barefoot. But then we must deliver, or Back to School Night is merely an exercise instead of a covenant, a sacred calling, a stewardship that we honor year after year. Ruth Bader Ginsburg says, “I would like to be remembered as someone who used whatever talent she had to do her work to the very best of her ability.” Amen, amen.
We stand together, he and I, so old, so near our endings, and watch, with wonder, and with wanting, the pure and sure beginnings of three goslings being taught to swim in a straight line. Peggy Freydberg
I’m Living in the Gap, barefoot, alone, join me in the comments.
- “Rewards and punishment is the lowest form of education.” Chuang Tzu
- “I’m more interested in arousing enthusiasm in kids than in teaching the facts. The facts may change, but that enthusiasm for exploring the world will remain with them the rest of their lives.” Seymour Simon
- “Don’t waste your time with explanations: people only hear what they want to hear.” Paulo Coelho
- “Sometimes I think that wisdoms slip from my mind like drool from the lips of an idiot… Where’s all this stuff coming from? Is it any good? Any good in, you know, the wisdom sense? Who am I to spout this stuff anyway? Well, here’s the thing. You too can find yourself shedding wisdom like cat hair if you only allow yourself the liberty of introspection. Think about what you alone know that no one else does. That one neat wonderful profound insight. It is fully yours. No one else on this planet of about six billion people understands it like you do. Now, see if you can share it with someone. Bestow it, a gift of yourself. Wisdom is like gossip. Except it’s the good kind.” Vera Nazarian