I’m Terrible…by the Numbers

I woke from a nightmare. I was taking standardized tests. I bombed. I’m glad it was a dream.

It’s standardized test season, a time that strikes more fear in the hearts of schools than a life-sized poster of the Bieber mug shot. Everyone’s defined by these numbers. The media has a frenzy like Discovery Channel’s Shark Week.

We say we want schools to succeed but it’s completely untrue. Let’s be honest. We want to see blood. It’s a proven fact that Americans produce, consume, and enjoy more bad news than ever. My friend designed a blog dedicated to good news in education. She doesn’t have as many readers as a news story about drama, destruction, and gore. It’s what America wants. 

So, just to prove pundits wrong, teachers spend our valuable time compiling numbers to show our students are learning. I’ve spent an entire year this year logging numbers in spreadsheets. My husband laughs at me and calls me a bean counter. I’m a historian. I’d rather tell you the history of beans than count them–I’m not very good at that.

Screen Shot 2014-01-29 at 6.08.26 AMAnyway, numbers can prove anything, depending on what we want them to show. 

I recently read this TechCrunch article where Facebook and Princeton duke it out using big words and math nobody can understand. Princeton intellects prove Facebook’s about to die and Facebook retaliates by showing on graphs and charts that in five years, Princeton will have no students. And it’s all “good” math.

What it shows is this–I should stop worrying about all these numbers that affect my life and start graphing. Do it in color to boot. In my first job, I prepared diagrams for arbitrations. This was before cool computer programs, so I’d sit down with rulers and colored pencils. Nobody else used colored pencils. I rarely, if ever, lost an arbitration. The key to life is colored pencils. When people see pretty things on paper, they are always predisposed to nod and say, “Yeah…” and agree. I have to make my numbers look pretty. And use colors in my graphs. 

Incidentally, this is why I spend so much time teaching my students to detect bias. 

I wish our educational system wasn’t based on testing and numbers. It’s hard to look at a student and say “Well… you look like an 85….Yes, you, indeed are a 92.” I’ve had smart students miss midterms and had to give them zeroes, as if that one grade made all the difference in their success. It does to the grade book, however. 

So, back to my nightmare. I have taken every standardized test alive. I sort of enjoy them because I didn’t grow up with video games. SATs were the nerd way of beating our friends. I enjoyed the idea that someone out there was trying to defeat me and I had to stop them. Nerd “video” games.

But I fell asleep on section three every time. The silence. The lack of communication. It was like meditation with multiple choice questions. Trivia questions. I fought sleep…then…out cold, drooling. But I always scored well. I wondered what I’d have scored if I stayed awake. 

The point is, test numbers aren’t a solid measure any more than Facebook or Princeton’s predictions. I don’t like basing graduation or teacher careers on them.

If the numbers don’t prove much to me, what does, you ask.

Vision. Creativity. The ability to work and stick with a problem until it’s solved–the recognition that learning has changed and that students have the power to blow things out of the water and follow their passions. All I do is connect it to success. I’m the guide, not Alex Trebec.  If students have those three things they are well on the road to amazing. 

In my dream, I failed the standardized test. In real life, if every adult out there took these standardized tests, I think the media would have fun. It’d show I’ve forgotten all the trivia that once made me great. Made me able to defeat tests even while half asleep. I bet we all have, but we’re still successful. I am. I do a lot, and I like the person I’ve become. 

But if you give me that test, the numbers will show you I suck. 

So today, I pause for a moment to tell students how awesome they are. “You are not defined by the numbers. You are defined by you. Do the work. Stop at nothing to keep learning things you are passionate about–for your whole entire life. Be great…No, don’t be great. Be amazing. Regardless of what the numbers told you you’d become.” 

 

 

[image: valdosta.edu]

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That Moment Where Kids Discover Life’s Not Magic

Declan’s six. Every time I say, “no,” which is quite often, he says, “Can I do that when I’m a teenager?”

“I’m going to watch every show when I’m a teen,” he says. No. No, you’re not.

I’ve banned cartoons with a strong correlation to acting out and one that revealed a girl’s chest hidden by blurry stars.  “HAHAHAHAHA, those were her boobs!” Inappropriate–error in supervision.

“I’m going to swear when I’m a teenager. I’ll say ‘crap and…'” I break this train of thought.

“Nope. Not gonna happen.”

“Dad swears,” he negotiates. “Brittany swears.”

“Well, you don’t.”

“I’m going to eat all the candy when I’m a teenager. Can I?” This answer’s more important than permission to say a thousand f-words. He leans in for the answer.

“I suppose. Once I ate a pound of M&M’s I bought with my babysitting money. If you earn your own money, you can buy candy.”

“I have to use my own money?” This concept is extremely disturbing. Money, you see, comes from the pockets of parents, from the magic machines we drive by, and from the card in every adult’s wallet that lets us get all the stuff we want.

“Sure. I don’t buy unhealthy food a lot. If you want it, you can work when you’re a teen. Spend your money.”

“Can I pick up my puzzles and get five dollars?”

“It doesn’t work that way. See, I’m paying for your food and house. You should give me money. But I’m in a good mood, so I’ll let you stay.”

“Will you let me stay if you’re in a bad mood, Mommy?” I shouldn’t have said that. He doesn’t yet realize nobody ever really moves out of their parent’s house. We’ll be celebrating Brittany’s 21st birthday tomorrow. Well, not really, because when you’re 21, you don’t celebrate at home.

“Yes. You can stay even if I’m in a bad mood.”

“Well, when I’m a teen, I’m going to do whatever I want!” He stomps away. Note to six-year olds–getting the last word doesn’t mean victory. Carry that pearl into your teens.

I get to school and recap this conversation with my teens. They come to a general accord that teens cannot do whatever they want. That being a teen sucks.

“All we do is clean and do homework.”

“I have to babysit all the time.”

“My parents are stupid.” Yes. Yes, we’re all stupid. Until you’re 30 or run out of money in college.

I decide to let them into The Parent Inner Circle. “I’m going to tell you the truth. From a parent point of view…” They listen. They’re about to learn the secret of life.

“The reason we have you is so you can find the remote control when it’s lost. And do the dishes. And get our drinks. And watch the other kids we continue to have so that when you leave there’s always someone available to take out the trash. You babysit those so we get a break. That’s the real reason we have you.”

They stare–I might just be telling the truth. I figure I’d better iron this out.

“Everyone spends life wishing to be someone else. Kids want to be teens, teens want to be adults, adults want to be kids again. Being an adult sort of sucks, to be honest…we’ve got to pay the bills, listen to you whine, make sure you get some kind of food and don’t grow up to be criminals…If something bad happens, it falls on us to fix it. That’s a lot of pressure.”

A couple nod. Teens ready to agree?

“You’re just getting a taste of that pressure. Believe me, the pressure increases…you ain’t seen nothing yet…” I continue, “There have been rough times for me. Ask your parents, maybe for them, too. Some of your parents work more than one job…they do a lot for you.”

I get a “That’s true.” I’m being heard.

“So, yes, if I want, I can leave here today, drink two six packs and hit the clubs. I can eat anything I want, say anything I want, and do anything I want. I’m way over 21. But do I?Nope. Because I’m an adult. The pressure’s on me. I work hard to be better just like I tell you to do. We’re all playing the same game. I’m just on a different level.” Smiles. Good sign.

“The truth is, most adults want to be teens again. Not me. I work hard at things I love and feel passionate about. I didn’t always–but it’s what makes the difference. Doing things that you love–especially work…it’s the secret to having a good life…being great. Does anyone master it? I don’t know…Life’s about being under pressure. The wrong kind of pressure crushes you. The right kind turns rocks into diamonds. Find positive people–good friends. Work hard. Do things you love. Be great–let pressure turn you into a diamond. Being a teen won’t be so bad…being an adult will be even better.”

They smile. I feel a little like Mel Gibson after the “Freedom” monologue, and I wonder how long they’ll remember…I go home and inform the six-year old that teenagers don’t want to be teens. He doesn’t believe me. He continues listing all the things he’ll do when he gets there.

Having won one intellectual battle, I sit down to do something purely adult. No swearing, partying, or candy. I make tea, and sit down to write. Heaven.

http://youtu.be/KWRPzdedeyY

Training The Boy to vacuum. I said, “If you’re a really good boy, you can vacuum.” It worked. 

Sit and Eat Chicharones (Or Find Your Passion)

Screen Shot 2013-11-26 at 6.06.52 AM

“What is it that gets you out of bed in the morning and exercising?” 

“How do you write every day?” 

“Why do you teach even though the climate is so bad for teachers?”

These are three questions that crossed my feed this week. On the surface, they’re all unrelated, but in truth, it’s the same question.

“How do you….(insert habit here…)” There’s a one-word answer for every one of these. Passion. Stop reading. Continue drinking coffee. That’s really the essence of the solution.

Never having been one for brevity or one-word answers, I’ll elaborate.

Exercise:

I exercise because I love the feeling it gives my mind. Most view it as a chore. If you view it as a chore, you should sit on your couch and eat chicharones (fried up pork rinds…dead pig crisps apparently taste better than vegetarian things like carrots and chips). I love to run five, six, seven miles because it clears my spirit and gives me ideas.  I’m grateful when I can exercise–I remember being on crutches for months after a bad game of basketball wishing I could get off the couch and run. I try to see each opportunity to work out as a privilege. The feeling of freedom I get when I run, lift, do yoga, go kickboxing, or pick up a game of basketball makes my body and soul smile. Once, when my doctor grounded me, my friend said “Man you’re lucky. I’d love to have a doctor tell me I can’t exercise.”

If that’s the case, you’re viewing exercise incorrectly. See it as a privilege. Only then will passion develop. You will exercise. You will eat well. You will respect the limits of your body. And your body may decide to treat you well, too. Life’s too short. I try not to do much I don’t feel passionate about these days.

Write Every Day: 

Use the Nike method, “Just do it.” I write at the same time each day. 4AM. This means I don’t have to shove my family in a closet or ignore them to concentrate, and I can enjoy the most beautiful time of day, the sunrise. I sit with my cup of coffee and the glow of the wood stove. Because I carry a little notebook, I usually don’t run out of ideas. I scrawl them when they gift themselves to me, and I develop them when I have time–4AM. So many people want to write, but view it as a burden. It’s not. It’s a privilege. Think, “I want to do this every day…I’m grateful I can. I’m grateful to have something to say, and furthermore that someone out there might enjoy it or find it helpful.” I look forward to 4AM because I’m deeply honored by my readers–the friend’s I’ve made through my writing journey. I owe them my best. Life’s too short, I may have said, to do things about which I don’t feel passion. 

Teach: 

Sure, the climate’s bad. Awful. There are days I feel the press hates me, and times I’m convinced I should’ve majored in accounting or stat, because the pendulum has swung in that direction and–the kids say–away from all the things that made them love school. This breaks my heart. But to get in there, roll up my sleeves, and give them something to love anyway, even if I have to fall on the sword once or twice, gives me passion. To watch their eyes when I connect them with a noted scientist or author, or see them generate ideas about their future?  It’s worth chopping through all the vines in the jungle, I think, to give them that same passion. Remember, life’s too short to do things without passion.

Who knows, maybe the passion for these things will leave me. That’s okay. Then I’ll find something else to do every day. More art, more calligraphy, animal husbandry…rekindle old passions, and discover new…let a few present ones ebb away to make room for more. Nothing’s permanent, and there’s a ton out there to discover. To feel passionate about.

Exercise, writing, teaching–or anything else, really–it’s all the same. It all boils down to passion. Do the things you love. Because passion is what makes life so beautiful.

 

[image: famousquotes.com]

Why I Can’t Teach Elementary School

I can’t discuss the day I had yesterday…not because I don’t want to…because of confidentiality. I never discuss things that can be pegged to individual students unless they are positive shout outs. It was a Class-A challenging day, filled with the crises I get from time to time teaching high school. It used to rattle me, but now each emergency of scale winds its way to my doorstep. I return each serve, and take the day in stride. In between, I manage to teach, knowing I’ve helped a kid or two in the process. I try to remember to smile.

Teaching high school is easy. I get to be a real person, flaws and all. Kids pick off flaws if I try to hide them, anyway. I wish I were an elementary teacher. Elementary teachers are magical. They don’t have flaws. They never lose their cool. They always smile. They dress really nice, and they have panache. I don’t have panache.

homeworkI leave my school and go home to Elementary Boy Declan. He likes bad words and fart jokes. I imagine his elementary teacher smiling as she tells him this is “inappropriate.” I try to raise him right. I don’t teach him bad words and jokes…but things get away from me. I help him do his homework. He procrastinates.

“Mommy, rub my shoulders.” I do.

“Oh, that feels really good. Way better than when I say ‘crap’ a thousand times in a row.” He tries to hide his bad words. He goes to his room saying, “I need privacy. I want to have a conversation with myself.” I listen in. “Shut up, shut up, shut up, crap, shit.” Should stop this or let him work through this developmental moment privately? What would an elementary teacher say?

“You know, saying bad words isn’t nice. You’ll grow up and have no friends.” That’s what I say. I know it’s untrue. An elementary teacher would never say this. I continue, “You’ll get bad karma.” He bumps his knee on the chair. He cries. “See?” I say, “Bad karma.” He growls. He tells me he’ll turn into a dinosaur and eat me.

“It’s NOT bad KARMA!” I tell him it is. You never know when karma is coming…

For now, I accept his compliment in the interest of finishing homework. Mommy, you make me happier than saying the word “crap.” That’s a big endorsement. I tell him not to say “crap.”

In my high school classroom, “crap” is passé. Even the “f” word gets a quick check for the first offense, “Um, language alert.” For repeat offenders, “I’m sure I can find you a hundred or so nice ‘f’ words to write about…” Hint: I’m about to make your day inconvenient. Knock it off.

My son wants to be “inappropriate.” He thinks it’s fun.  He’s received some positive reinforcement in this department. What I call “fresh,” and “obnoxious,” was relabeled “entrepreneurial,” “visionary,” “renegade.”

“That kid’s going places,” I’m told. Yeah, straight to bed. Or time out. Or the gypsies…

deskI went to open house last night. I sat in his teeny, tiny chair. There, on the desk, was a star chart. One of two star charts in the class. In teaching land, that’s not good. Where I’d give a student “the death stare,” Miss, knock that off. You can’t do the ‘death stare.’ You don’t have it in you. I just laugh…[“Well, I got you to stop, didn’t I?”], elementary teachers give encouragement. A star chart.

This means that Declan needs to behave. Last night, I received appropriate elementary strategies meant to encourage. I can’t smile that much while I encourage, though. Elementary teachers never seem to rattle. They impress me. The charts, graphs, stars, and incentives are amazing. I sat in the tiny desk thinking of what I could steal and repurpose in my classroom to “encourage.”  I’d have to white out all the smileys, frogs, and apples, though, or it would encourage students to laugh me off the planet. My charts can’t smile. Maybe I can design charts with avatars wearing sagging jeans or something. If the jeans on the chart sag, that’s not good. Students get to pull up the jeans on their avatar as they achieve more and more.

I try to encourage. Probably not so well. My elementary educator friends tell students to “make good choices,” in the face of inappropriateness.  Teaching high school, I encourage my students to do listen, or they can encourage themselves to some grave penalty.

“You like to throw paper? Awesome! You can throw paper for three hours after school. I’ll let you aim at the basket. I’ll send your stats to the NBA.”  Nobody usually chooses my offer, probably because I tell them I am a nerd, have no life and can stay till six to help their paper-throwing jump shot if need be. They pause. They decide it might just be true. They cease and desist.

Elementary teachers never lie like that. My friend Amy tells me I can’t design punishments I can’t carry out. “You can’t take away computer or TV from your son forever…” 

Maybe she’s right. I’m not sure…she is far better than me in this department.

I tell my son it’s time to go to bed, no more negotiation, he’s not buying a company or anything. Finally, I get him to bed. He only turns into a dinosaur once to try to eat me before he is fast asleep…without saying one bad word.

High School Failure? Here’s Your Speech

Screen Shot 2013-06-19 at 2.04.39 PMYesterday was graduation. It’s a big day. For some, it was the first graduation in their family. Even for those who have seen a few, it’s a big, big deal. Parties, high-fives, discussion of the future…nothing beats graduation week. If teachers were in business, this’d be our product release, complete with the festivities, press-releases, and a feeling of relief.

But there’s another side to this story. This is the week that I sit with the people who didn’t make it. Sometimes it’s expected, and sometimes it’s a shock. There are a number of reasons. Family problems, children born, perhaps a good old-fashioned lack of effort. One or two will repeat senior year. One or two will leave us and drop out, never having finished. Gone into the haze to find their path. Or not. It remains to be seen…

There’s no speech for them. No accolades. No encouragement beyond the conversation we have. Just a folded up cap and gown retrieved from guidance that won’t make it out of the bag. This speech is for them:

To the Almost Class of 2013: 

You didn’t make it. I’m heartbroken. I truly am. I was one of the first to see you come into this school. We talked about your dreams. This week, I watched and listened you wiped your tears, and watched as your friends crossed the stage.  Some of you saw this coming, and others were shocked. You imagined this day for years. You had families fly in from out of town. In the end, you walked away from the school with that cap and gown you wouldn’t need, and I, too, wanted to cry.

Know this:

You are not a failure.  

LIfe throws punches. Sometimes pretty hard. When we can, we deflect, when we’re taken off guard, we take one square in the face. At times, it’s our fault, but sometimes the world really does conspire against us and we can’t keep our head above the chin-up bar. And we get hit.

We fail.

That’s when we find out what’s truly inside.

What’s your next move? When the world sets low expectations for you, do you believe or achieve? If you fall seven times, do you get up eight, or do you stay in the spot where you fell?

People will judge you. They’ll put you in a box.  “Failure is a detour, not a dead-end street.” said author and motivator Zig Ziglar. He wasn’t a failure. He was a pretty big success.

“My great concern is not whether you have failed, but whether you are content with your failure.” President Abraham Lincoln served during what might be said was one of the most difficult presidencies ever, crafting strategies that saved the union.

“Nothing in this world can take the place of persistence. Talent will not; nothing is more common than successful people with talent. Genius will not; unrewarded genius is almost a proverb. Education will not; the world is full of educated failures. Persistence and determination alone are omnipotent.” President Calvin Coolidge didn’t speak much–they called him “Silent Cal.” But what he said here mattered.

“I’ve come to believe that all my past failure and frustration were actually laying the foundation for the understandings that have created the new level of living I now enjoy.” Success and Life Coach Anthony Robbins grew up in an abusive home, overcame amazing challenges, and became one of the leading motivators in the world. He literally gets people to walk across fire.

“It is best to have failure happen early in life. It wakes up the Phoenix bird in you so you rise from the ashes,” American Actor Anne Baxter reminded us, and educator Rodger Babson stated, “It is wise to keep in mind that neither success nor failure is ever final.”

You are not a failure, even if you have failed. You are not a failure if you stop, analyze the situation, and make your plan to get it done. Break it down and do a little something every day that contributes to “great.” Then do more.

You may walk through these doors again–may you return better than when you left. Go, and be great. When you come back, do so with stories, companies, great jobs, adventures and families, having accomplished things no one ever thought you’d do. You are not a failure. You’re a success starting today.

And never forget this: success is the best payback of all.

[image: nje3.org]

How to Walk Your Demons

Screen Shot 2013-06-10 at 6.15.20 AMEvery creative person has demons. Not just one, mind you. Usually a personal assistant or two with horns and a trident poking him in the keister. It took me a while to notice, but it’s true. I had to travel way outside the ordinary into the depths of the extraordinary, where the visionaries stand and I observe. Only then could I see, that among the greatest of the greats, demons come standard issue. That behind every beautiful book, every zen blog, every brilliant entrepreneur, is a person with a demon he’s working on training–getting that demon to heel, sit, and listen. To obey rather than control. He wishes he could send them away. He can’t. They are necessary.

They’re the ones jumping up and down with the ideas. “The world says you shouldn’t write this–do it!” they’ll say. “Push the button! Push the button! Push the button!” “So what if everyone thinks you’re insane, you just cured cancer…”You can’t solve that problem by doing that! You can’t! You can’t! You can’t!! Try this. It’s so much more controversial…”  They snicker. They goad. They pull at the deepest corners of the mind. They know just what buttons to push.

When they do, they provide the struggle that results in monumental solutions. The best writing. Creativity. Vision. Struggle that produces action no one else would take. Conflict generating great things.

I watch these creative greats at work. I study the results…their podcasts, books and blogs, their platforms, products and companies, when they create windmills that power villages in Africa, or generate amazing solutions, I am speechless. The results speak for themselves. Everything seems perfect, designed by superhumans. Unreachable for the normal person. How can I do any of that?

I turn around. My demon jumps up and down. I have one, too. I tell him to heel. “How can I live up to that?” I say. “How can my book be like that? How can I learn to do that in my business? How can I get my vision to change the world?” Bringing vision, individualization, and creativity to public education instead of fear, testing, and standardization–so that my students love coming to school each day again–it’s no easy task. It’s what I want to do. Those are the voices speaking to me.

Standing beside the greats, looking at the peak of my mountain way…over…there…It seems impossible.

My demon shakes his head. He gets me in trouble when he wanders off the beaten path. I have to find him. I go off the path. People give me the look, “Just do what you’re supposed to do and get the job done. Stop thinking so far outside the box. You’re insane…” In teaching, “Casey, you’re 10th step with a masters. Stop ‘solving’ problems. If they want you to balance on a circus ball, that’s what you do!” He jumps up and down. Bites at my pants leg. Chases a vision and brings it back to me. Drops it at my feet. I pat him on the head. “I’ll try.” I say. “I’ll do my best. I’ll be great.” We continue our walk on the obscure path. There are many paths to the top of the mountain.

My biggest epiphany:  Everyone has demons. Every “successful” person. The most successful stop hiding them. They walk with them. And they act. In hiding demons, I don’t  act. I watch and wait, accomplishing little, too busy worrying, telling demons to heel, missing the big idea.  Acknowledge the demons. Let them off their leash. Just a little bit. Act. That’s when you see results.

Anyone can do it. In any field. Even me.

As I walk on the path, I converse with the others out walking their demons. My demon sniffs out another a mile away. He tugs on the leash and goes over, excited.  The demons circle nose to behind, then they play.  I don’t walk mine often. No matter how much I train him, he always does something embarrassing in public. No one wants to be embarrassed in public.

Some walk theirs daily. They show them off. It seems almost vogue to walk demons these days on a big studded leash. People walk demons who made them sick, who pushed them down, who lost fortunes, who broke their hearts. They walk together. They write books about them, they heel them at their side, and when the demon tugs a bit, they smile and say, “Bad demon. Heel.” and finish the conversation with me.  Mine needs more obedience school.

I’m blessed. I meet a lot of people. Creative people. Visionaries. Entrepreneurs. One by one, I noticed their demons were writing the chapters of their books. Their blogs. Their business plans. Coming up with the ideas. I turn to mine. “Can you write?” He nods, wags, and points. There is a file on my desktop. All written. I never pushed the button.

I’ll keep up the training, and walk them more often so they heel more and poke me in the keister less. They drive my husband nuts. But then again, he has his own as a visionary, too. “Can’t you just think normally?” No. “Why can’t you do that logically?” I am. My logic is…different. “Don’t you have any common sense?” Not today. I just had a vision.

I ask myself. “Would you send them away for the chance to be normal? To think like everyone else?” The answer for me–and for the rest of the people I ask–is always, always a resounding no.

[images: maaretta.wordpress.com]

Stupid Human Tricks

Screen Shot 2013-06-02 at 7.07.35 AMIt must’ve mattered somehow. I don’t remember the exact reason I needed to leap the old, rickety desk to make my point clear, but leap I did. As I bounded over the crumbling seat, which had seen better days in the 70s, the arm flipped. So did I. I landed in what may have been the most beautiful breakfall since Jackie Chan.

This was entirely unexpected. Not the fall–predictable in Vegas–a highly uncoordinated person leaping not-so-stationary objects? A large armchair quarterback could have called that. The perfect landing–the odds of that in my world, 1000:1.

Historically, I’ve never been able to clear tall buildings and other objects–I tried in high school track. “Casey,” said Coach after I nearly doubled the school’s liability insurance attempting human flight via hurdles and high jump, “YOU WILL stay on the ground!” And stay on the ground I did, physically and metaphorically–for a long, long time.

Screen Shot 2013-06-02 at 7.14.48 AMNo, falling wasn’t the shock that day. Executing a perfect breakfall–that was the surprise ending. No broken bones or concussion. Practice and preparation kicked in when I needed it. Beautiful. Slapping out, a bit stunned, I got up. “Nothing to see. Move along.”

I earned a solid place in the folklore of that entire crop of students.  Somewhere, there is a Facebook fan page, “Mrs. Casey is a Ninja.” It’s there. Forever.

Often I do stupid things without thinking. Sometimes they pan out marvelously, leading me in new directions, and other times I wake up thinking, “What have I done? How do I undo this?”  When things work out, I see a path, an idea, or inspiration to do more with my life–to avoid fear and stretch my vision, putting vision into action. When they don’t go so well, I reflect, “Hmmm…how did that happen? What did I learn?” There’s a lesson in everything. Good and bad. I try to find it. Often, I try to teach it as well.

I have two weeks left with my seniors. This time of year I’m in the center of the maelstrom cramming in last-minute thoughts about life they’re not really equipped to understand until they gone balls to the wall living. They haven’t lost jobs, been in debt, failed at something, or wondered what the hell happened to the last decade??

In the past, I was desperate to give just one more piece of advice.  Now, I relax–they can find me on social media. I see how they’re doing from time to time. They pop in post-graduation. That’s where the learning begins, because the desire to put the lessons into practice is…real. It matters.

“Wait for it, wait for it….” I can count down to when I get those pings. Questions. “What do I do now?” “What should I…?”  It’s all long after the pomp and circumstance fades.

I take a moment to freeze time. I look around, imagining. I snap a picture of each student in my mind–after graduation, their ghosts walk the hall–I hear their voices. I see them for years to come. I remember where they stood, their spot in the lunch room, the corner where they looked like they were going to bust out some a capella, the daily makeup at the bathroom mirrors, their jokes. Their energy is always there. I look around before they leave, and I see them doing great things. Every one.

Screen Shot 2013-06-02 at 7.10.34 AMExcept this isn’t reality. Some will be dead. Some in jail, some will never get their sea legs solid in the ocean of life. That part, I try to push aside–the curse of a long teaching career. The ones I didn’t get to–the ones I didn’t save. Countless. The girl who wanted to be a vet, the boy holding the single yellow balloon in the snapshot. We were decorating for an event. Smiling. He wouldn’t have many years left to smile.

My stupid human trick, jumping the desk, made me a superhero. His “desk,” put him in the ground. I miss him. I miss them all.

I let the seniors go. Most’ll be back. They’ll tell me what was important, “Miss, I remember when you said…” Not one of them ever says, “Miss, I remember I got an 80 on that test.” They talk about the moments of connection. Things that made it real. That I refused to accept less than–not their best performance, but their absolute best VISION. There’s a difference. That I had a sign on the board that said “What’s YOUR big idea?” and demanded an answer. Some action. A business plan. Movement. Something real. Today–I have a pile of business cards to show for it. Some took their big ideas and converted them. That’s success. Those business cards are gold.

Years later, it matters. They know what I’ve been saying. They’ve done the stupid human tricks. They’ve made and learned from mistakes. And that’s where life begins.

[Quick plug–I’m excited that James Altucher’s book on this subject, “Choose Yourself” is set to release tomorrow, June 3rd…James has been influential to me in helping me convert Stupid Human Tricks not just to vision–vision I have. But to action. And more action. That’s the critical part of the equation. Without action, you might as well stand still. James, I’ll use this in class, probably violating several copyrights in the process when I copy more than a chapter. Don’t worry–I’ll bitcoin you the royalties].

[image: officeprosonline.com and jeaninallhonesty.blogspot.com]