Drugs Are Illegal. Reform’s Scary. Coffee Fixes the World.

Screen Shot 2014-02-18 at 4.45.17 PMI want to have coffee with a friend. We struggle to squeeze it in.

“How about two Fridays from now?” Why can’t we get our calendars to stop fighting so we can drink coffee? Eventually, one calendar wins. Coffee arrives.

What starts as coffee with a good friend ends as vision. Always does. Soon, note pads, pens, Macs, iPhones and iPads clutter the table, pushing our freakishly healthy foods aside.

Usually when two or more teachers are in the room, venting begins. Bitching even. Everyone opens the valve a little. My husband doesn’t understand this. He wonders why teachers bitch. He hates it. He won’t go to “teacher things.”

“It’s not bitching,” I explain, “It’s ‘looking for solutions.'” Sure, there are People Who Bitch. They’re the ones speaking negatively about others–students, colleagues, and leadership. When good teachers gather, it’s not bitching. It’s seeking answers for real problems. When the fixes are out of reach, there’s frustration. Especially when frustration takes good people down.

“I’ll never go back into the classroom,” I hear it more and more. “I can’t do all this testing and stuff.” People go into leadership, guidance, or whatever because, they say, they’re “done with the classroom.” Others–good people–jump into those roles to save the world, finding windmills to fight on that side of the fence, too.

“This isn’t for me. I’m no good. Didn’t realize it would be this way–I wanted to change lives, not tabulate test scores.” That was roughly the quote I got from someone leaving the profession–literally, box in hand. Midyear.

Good teachers fear tests and evals. Sure, accountability’s in every profession. Can we do it better though? I heard Steve Blank talk at last year’s Business Innovation Factory conference. “Fire the idea, not the person,” he said.

Steve Blank is a pretty smart guy. As one of Forbes Magazine’s “30 Most Influential People in Tech,” he’s not only written textbooks on how startups should be created and grown, he even changed the way the National Science Foundation spends money to align with the systems of successful entrepreneurs–systems he invented.

Anyone who changes the way government spends money has the ear of this lowly teacher.

His thoughts were simple. Sometimes you need to fire the idea, not the person, he said. Run the numbers without blame. Then fix the problems.

Getting rid of judgment helps people be objective and take risks. Risks produce results. Taking risks in education can get a person low scores, though, so there’s fear.

Fear about things real or imagined shuts good people down.

Fear does not produce vision.

Fear is conquered by vision.

Vision, luckily, is found in a cup of coffee with a friend. It pours out our hearts into the vortices swirling throughout the mugs into reality. All the little things mixing and colliding in the swirls…that’s the vision. Every sip, gulp, cup waiting for a sip–vision. Leaving the cup on the counter to go cold is missing the possibilities–so easy to do when rushing around. Steam goes uncaptured into the universe. Vision lost.

But sitting with my friend, vision pushes aside inconsequential girl talk. It says things like, “Sounds like you might consider,” and “That happens to me. I’ve tried…” or “I notice you write a lot about this, but I’d really like to read it if you wrote this…” or “I’d buy that idea…”

Every single time I meet Vision Friend, I leave with a dozen working plans. On a good day, I have pages of notes. On a crazy day, we’ve got blogs, businesses, books, and concepts racing around the room trying to get to the finish line first so we might convert them to reality.

Vision conquers fear. And accountability defeats complacency. Inaction. Inertia. This is why vision needs company. It needs someone to say, “Hey, you told me you were going to….how’s that going?”

Otherwise, we’re tempted to “forget” we promised to do something, and vision dies. Vision often requires courage, support, and the swirly things in a cup of coffee to produce results. Follow-through. Reality.

I know vision’s in the room when my heart leaps just a bit and the notepad comes out. The more I surround myself with friends who make my heart leap just a bit and pages fill on notepad, the better I become. I want to be better. And I want to make other people feel that they are better for having known me.

It’s a simple goal. One I hope I can meet. I think I can, if I have just one more cup of coffee…with my good friend.


My “vision” friend, Alicia, blogs here: WriteSolutions under the tag “Student Learning Is No Accident.”


Bad Mom Ruins Elementary Christmas

I’m an urban secondary educator who’s moved out to the sticks. Although I grew up in a small town, Christmas changes from location to location. Things definitely aren’t the same in the city.

I got Christmas all wrong.

Screen Shot 2013-12-20 at 7.42.05 PM

What I wanted to give as gifts…What they deserved…

I knew I must get something for Declan’s teacher, the saint who calligraphies two-paged notes prolifically, ending each with, “But I know tomorrow will be a better day.” I negligently missed the collection the parents organized, but no mere collection could equal the amount of hell Declan’s put that teacher through, so we made something with love and loaded as much caffeine as possible onto a nice coffee card. Everyone in Rhode Island has stock in a Dunkin Donuts, so I figured that’d raise the local economy.  This teacher really deserved a fifth of vodka, but I don’t know if you can get elementary teachers such things–high school teachers perhaps, and college professors, yes, but first grade’s a little early to start drinking. Even for a teacher.

I swung by the local Dunk again because it occurred to me that the bus monitors deserved something, too. From Day One, they had been “working with” Declan on bus manners–Day One being the day they advised him not to be inappropriate, through weeks later when he finally earned his way into Bus Jail, aka “the front seat,” with the monitor.  Since I didn’t think a monogrammed flask would be appropriate for a lady who drives and her partner who’s required to hold up traffic looking for children doing chin-ups on axles while my son Supermans on the top step threatening to fly–they got as much caffeine as is ethical too.

My colleague, who lives in the same town, said, “Did you get something for the reading specialist and the aids?”

No! Nobody told me that. I don’t know these things. We don’t do gifts at the high school. A friend suggested this morning, “We’re lucky not to get the middle finger on the way out!”

Most of my kids are happy customers. If everyone is, they say, I’m doing something wrong. We had a good day, surprise guest in my class, pizza in the cafeteria, and I found a bunch of thank you cards from students in my box on the way out. Made me smile–exactly what I would’ve asked for.

I rushed home to give the monitors their “I-wish-it-were-a-flask” gifts. Declan got off the bus, held up traffic one last time before vacation, and waddled to the door, backpack stuffed with…stuff.

Screen Shot 2013-12-20 at 7.44.40 PMWhat my colleague didn’t tell me about Christmas in the Sticks is that EVERYONE does something for EVERYONE. Declan had gifts, cards, candy, and notes. And I had to go and mess this system up–I didn’t give a crumb too small for a mouse to even a single classmate.

There were a million candy canes each with a bite out of them then he struck gold. “Oh, look, Mom! A RING POP! How did she KNOW I love RING POPS?”

Um, because they’re sticky and make a mess? That equals awesome!

“That was very nice of her.” I wished I’d thought of Ring Pops. Next time.

For now, I’m letting him eat all the candy since I was a bad mom and didn’t send gifts. This way, he’ll only have to brush his teeth once. Later, I’ll plan my strategy so I can absolutely rock Valentine’s Day and really make the bus team earn that caffeine.


[images: homewetbar.com and loveitsomuch.com]

The Cheapest Girl in the World Stops Using Coupons

Screen Shot 2013-07-20 at 8.57.45 AMI might be the cheapest person on earth. I hate debt, though thanks to college, business, houses, and cars, I can deal. I love the “Three R’s: reuse, repurpose, recycle…” the essence of thrift. I own three pairs of jeans, and I’m contemplating skipping back to school clothes shopping altogether. Fashion and shopping, yuck. If I do buy something, it must be justified. The new grill, “happiness budget.”  Rusty loves it and the food tastes great. Yoga, “mental health budget.”  Yoga keeps me from imploding.   “Hot tub” couldn’t sell itself, so I skipped that purchase. “Athletic recovery?” I’m not a good enough athlete. “Personal hygiene?” I have a shower… No hot tub until I can mask the purchase like the US government budget office.

Is this the right approach? Why can’t I just buy stuff?

When I lived in the city, I was a coupon master. The stores were twenty feet from my house. I matched coupons to sales, getting many products for free. Sometimes they’d pay me to buy things. Who can turn that down? I had bags of free products. I’d keep some for the family–toothpaste, shampoo, soap–and bring the rest to the shelter around the corner. I’d send out care packages with free stuff and when people visited, I’d make them take free stuff home. It’s fun giving stuff away. It’s especially fun at holiday time, when I could make baskets and gift boxes out of the free treat/fun stuff and bring that to the shelter. I always included a free toothbrush in the baskets.

At back to school time–right about now–I was coupon crazy. I’d match up every drug, department, and office supply store to coupons and sales. I’d note the limit, and I’d make the rounds twice–morning shift and afternoon shift. It got to be such that if I skipped a trip, Screen Shot 2013-07-20 at 8.59.33 AMI’d think about those 100 omitted pencils wondering whether they’d affect my job performance or my students’ future opportunities. I’d go to the teen that looked disinterested, “Listen, let’s cut to the chase. I see that there’s ‘limit 5,’ but I’ll come back eight times today. Can I buy 20 now?” They always obliged. They cared about the future of education. I still have 1 cent paper in a box from this hoarding period in my life. I’ve been sharing this with English teachers for years, and still have one case left.

It’s funny how scarcity makes you react.  At home, the fear left by the Great Recession made me garden and clip coupons. In school, it made me fill cabinets with supplies students should be bringing them themselves. This is no good. Neither gardening nor clipping coupons saves money when you run the real math, and supplying a classroom will break the bank fast.

Gardening is expensive when you consider the setting up of the garden, time, nets, and supplies that you need. Ends up being one expensive bell pepper. Couponing is worse when you calculate the cost of the papers, and time spent cutting, organizing, reading fliers, and shopping at a million stores. If I bill this at my current consulting rate, it’s quite a pricy tube of toothpaste.  This begs the question of “Do I need all this free shit anyway?” I do not. At one time, I had enough free health and beauty items to save us–worldwide–from teens with BO.

Doing things out of fear or scarcity is unhealthy and not productive. Simplicity is a much better approach. I stopped crazy couponing a couple years ago, finding I didn’t need most of that stuff anyway. My little bottle of Aveda shampoo and tube of Tom’s of Maine toothpaste–which is never on sale anyway–lasts me a full year. The last half-gallon of free Pantene in the shower now–three years later. Letting go of things, habits, and excesses reminds me of how little I really need to be happy. It’s a peaceful feeling.

This year again, I’ve tuned out of the back to school sales hype. I am letting go. For a couple of reasons. Classrooms should be supplied with the things they need to operate. End of story. In Corporate America, I walked over to the cabinet and got a pen. At my own business, whatever the team needs, the business supplies. I’ll still bring my students zen pencilstreats–it’s fun–but I’m not compelling myself to buy the basics anymore. When teachers systematically do this, they send the message that schools do not need to supply the basics. That’s wrong. I’ll do with less.

At home, I’m happier with less. Simplicity. Zen. I’m improving.

In school, I strive for the same mindset. What do I really need to teach? A room full of students and the creativity in my own mind. This year is all about doing more with less at home and school…still producing amazing results, and getting one step toward inner peace.

So, this year, you won’t see me at the Back to School Sale. I won’t be restocking paper… I’m trying to go digital and near paperless…

You will see me in the garden, however. That, to me, doesn’t fall under clutter. It falls under Zen. And yes, I have too much. Food, not Zen. I entreat you to come get a little of both if you’re passing on by.

[images: http://alongdaysjourneyinto.blogspot.com/2011/07/back-to-basics-my-frugality.html and desertcomfortmechanical.com and zenpencils.com]

My Season of Obnoxious

Screen Shot 2013-06-29 at 8.44.06 AMToday’s Saturday. Dates and times are irrelevant to me for the next seven weeks until school starts. This is the time of year when you hate me. The time of year when I call you randomly, email you at all times, and disturb you at work. You get annoyed. “I’m working! Don’t you have something to do?”

Nope. Don’t you know teachers never have something to do after 2PM, or during vacations and summer?

This is the glorious time of the year when I don’t yet have my schedule so I can’t possibly think about what I’d like to do next year. I can’t make goals, I can’t write curriculum, and I can’t obsess about the lessons I’d like to plan to reach my students better. I am forced to have fun.

That gives me plenty of time to bother you. You know you love it. Really. It makes you feel important. Deep in your mind, you’re convinced teachers don’t do anything most of the year and work a seven hour day.  It’s why you secretly want to go into teaching–there will be plenty of spots soon, trust me–we’ll take you. Especially if you are good at math and those multiple choice tests.

This summer, I am doing the following, which should give you a break from me: 

Gardening: I want to get off the grid and eat out of my own garden. But the cabbage worms are beating me to the produce, and they’re gross, so I don’t think I’ll be eating as much cauliflower as I want. I still have about eight weeks of Swiss Chard to cook and a ton of weeds to pull. That should keep me busy, but if I have time, I’ll call you during your important business meeting.

Learnist: Next year, I will get rid of my textbooks, whatever they are destined to be, almost entirely. When I know what I’m teaching, I’ll create and locate a ton more boards on Learnist to accomplish this, but one thing I’ll be doing differently is collaborating more. You’ll probably start to see me writing articles about using Learnist to crowdsource; about not “recreating the wheel.” I often think I work too hard when I could be sharing the load better. This sounds deep and prophetic, but truthfully, it’s pretty selfish. I really want to save myself some time, so I can bother you during the school year as well. Perhaps you have a presentation due or a deal to negotiate–that’s when I’ll Skype in or send a really long email. It’s the least I can do.

Developing a better plan for tech in my classroom: I did well this year with Learnist, my class braincountry.com blog, and Twitter, but in the next year two, I plan to do even better. I didn’t tweet enough on the @braincountry handle with the students, although we did tweet the debates and election. They wanted to tweet more. I can do better with my class blog. I want the students to do more writing, and the parents to see and comment on what students are doing. I will figure out a way to do this from Day One to make lessons more relevant and engaged, and save me time to–you guessed it–bother you.

Fitness: I’ve enjoy yoga and running, and am ditching The Boy to get back to my fun at iLoveKickboxing.com.  Fitness is never a burden for me, it’s fun and often meditative. I can Screen Shot 2013-06-29 at 8.48.35 AMuse this addiction to give you a break when the other time-saving innovations give me an excess of time to insert annoyances into yours. I’ll try to recognize your righteous indignation and kickbox or run for an hour or so. That should give you enough time to pack up and move to a nation I can’t spell.

Don’t worry…it won’t be too long before I’ll know what I’m teaching and start focusing on that instead of calling you while you’re trying to be productive so you can avoid being outsourced.  My writing and other projects will fill up my time to give you a breather, and the last week of August–when I return to teach–is coming before you know it.

By then, you should hear the crickets chirp in your email. But until that time, it’s really nice bothering you again.


[images: cbsnews.com and 2dayblog.com]

Jobs Where You Can Succeed Even If You’re Awful

Screen Shot 2013-05-20 at 5.55.40 AMI do a lot of career counseling, even though I’m technically a social studies teacher. Students ask what they should do with their lives. They seek validation and a good plan. Many come to me far too late. I’ve been trying to have this personalized conversation for anywhere from four to six years.

“What’re you doing next year?” I ask.

“I’m going to RISD.” Rhode Island School of Design–the Yale of Art Schools.  I ask more questions.

“Did you apply?”

“I’m going to apply.”  Well, it’s May. If the app isn’t in yet, you’re not going. I follow up with, “Can I see your portfolio?”

“What?” Never a good sign. It indicates the student doesn’t know what a portfolio is. Game over. No RISD. It makes me sad. Someone needs to prepare students for short and long-term planning--to navigate the system.

Sometimes it’s not their fault. There’s a lot of red tape, expense, and logistics involved in getting into school. This is one of the reasons to hit this message hard freshman year. “What do you want to do?” becomes a four-year goal check in. For students who are ready to listen, this is critical. For the ones that think they’ll deal with this in June, the results are often heartbreaking.

Even those of us who understood “the system” make these mistakes. Heck, I back-doored my way onto one of the nation’s best music schools, and I can barely read a note. It was a disaster. I’m empathetic. Today, I offer options. Careers where anyone can succeed, whether you’re the top 20% or the bottom 80%. Better yet–careers where, even if you’re terrible, you have a great chance at success.

Writing The best writers are famous. You’ve read them. But there’s a job for the worst writers, too. At Hallmark.

Photography Good photographers get hired by National Geographic and Discovery. Bad ones by the DMV. Or you can do “abstract” work in a New York gallery, say your blur is “a representation of the contrast between dark and light–a lesson in how we should see the universe.” Sell it for six figures. If working at the DMV, your only responsibility will be to take the worst possible photo of your subjects so they can be grateful those holiday pictures on Facebook look pretty good after all.

Acting Good actors win Oscars. They get rich, develop drug habits, go to rehab, and get free publicity. Bad actors get hired for reenactments on cable TV shows and for medical commercials. “Hey, that’s the Viagra guy!” Instant fame either way.

Weather forecaster It’s harder to fake this and succeed due to accurate computer models, but don’t be discouraged. You can always throw out a “30% chance” “el nino,” “Polar ice caps” “Al Gore came out of hibernation early,” “cataclysmic jet stream” or some other global disaster. If you’re not sure, simply tell people to go shopping for emergency supplies. It helps the economy.

Teaching If you’re a bad teacher you’ve got it made as long as you can make lots of charts and graphs and administer super long tests using acronyms people don’t understand. Because tests are going digital, you can actually use UStream to proctor while you go out for coffee. Don’t dismay–there are still jobs out there for good teachers–waitressing and bartending. It’s just like the classroom, you get to serve a lot of kool-aide, and there is still math involved when you add up the bill. But you need fewer graphs and don’t take ten hours of work home.

Economists–These guys never, ever have to be right–a beautiful thing. Imagine your day–wake up, drink coffee, turn on CNN, roll dice, and make up stock predictions. Maybe you prefer dart boards instead.  Either way, say something no one understands, insert charts and graphs stolen from the teacher who served your last beer, say “billion” three times in the conversation, and you’re golden. Ruin a sector or two of the economy, and you might even get an award.

Politicians This is a career where being good gets you put out of a job. Just go to Washington, check out your new office, and ask people for money for the rest of your term. That’s not too hard, especially if you have experience selling Girl Scout Cookies outside of stores.

Foodies We love celebrity chefs, but if you can’t cook or blog you can do Vitamix demos in Whole Foods or serve side-orders of fried potatoes next to quarter pounds burgers.

It may be a tough economy, but there are indeed jobs for everyone. I hope my students reach the stars, but even if they’re fabricating predictions about when the next one will crash to Earth, as long as someone eventually pays them, I’ll be proud.


[image: collegeessayorgainzer.com]

Coffee is Teacher Crack


English: Cute coffee.

English: Cute coffee. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Coffee is teacher crack. I’m about to make 30 cups and line them up on the back of my desk. I don’t only double-fist cups of coffee, I “quad” them. This is a technique I saw once in college, where the individual rehydrating himself carried four cups, two in the left hand, two in the right hand, drinking from the front two while the liquid from the back ones cascaded into the front. It works nicely for coffee.


Some days, I wish I could come into school with a flask, but even if I could, there’s no point. I don’t really drink. If I filled it with coffee, I’d just get mocked. It’s not really gangsta or effective.


I can’t be a drug addict. I know crack’s bad for you; I don’t even like the plumber crack I endure as a result of tall students busting a sag. So, since drugs and alcohol aren’t a possibility, coffee’s the only thing left.


Coffee’s a drug, I guess. When we were little, my sister discovered that in her health program. Caffeine is a drug. She loved to help educate others, “My mom’s a drug addict!” she’d scream in all public places. Mom loves coffee, too.


I get half my calories from coffee. That’s no joke. I used to drink it black when I worked in restaurants, but now, I enjoy a little cream and agave to provide that “Calgon, take me a way,” moment. The American Medical Association, the New England Journal of Medicine, or some publication with a ton of doctors, at any rate, recently said I could drink as much coffee as I could physically consume.  That’s good, because I drink way too much. I’ve got a fair-trade farmer at the ready with a beeper.  On a normal day, I drink a lot, but lately all this testing, grading, benchmarking, and evaluating is making me drink even more. When I’m actually teaching, I’m never at my desk–I’m moving around, so I don’t drink as much. When I’m dealing data and numbers and piles, I’ve started to vacuum it in. I feel like a kamakaze pilot on his last mission, “BONZAIIIIIII” Another cup of coffee hits the deck. I sure hope Mayor Bloomberg doesn’t walk in and take away the big mug. That’d be a disaster.


I’m not here to talk about testing, I’m here to reflect upon whether I have a problem–an addiction even–or whether, in fact, my coffee consumption might be beneficial to my students. Some days I drink so much coffee that I can actually teach two weeks of lessons in fifteen minutes,  giving the test before the activity is complete. That’s speed. Efficiency. The mark of a good educator. Other days I hear my inner voice, and know I should slow down a bit. Pause. Breathe. Drink more water or something. Then I rationalize that water is in coffee and I make…just…one….more…cup. Tomorrow I’ll have less. I promise.


That’s the mark of an addict.


“It’s good coffee though,” I think. An addict would have that three-dollar bag cut down with the cheap stuff. Reuse the grinds. I never do that. I spring for the best. An addict would steal, rob, and lie to get his coffee. I don’t do that either–I just walk over to the Keurig station I’ve set up in my room and push the button. Simple.


I think coffee might be good–it’s the only time we see each other as faculty. We see each other so seldom sometimes that I introduced myself to someone I actually worked with at a conference. If we didn’t have museum tags on our doors, “Mrs. So and So,” we probably wouldn’t even know some of the exhibits in the rooms.


Drink More CoffeeCoffee makes people talk. They pilgrimage to the Keurig and make coffee while I teach. I like when people do this–I like to be social and see my coworkers. Coffee helps me do that. I don’t mind keeping the place stocked up for that reason. I put coffee under my “friendship and happiness budget.” Sometimes I wish I could sit down and actually have coffee and talk, but I can’t because there are 25 kids behind me who say otherwise about me concentrating on one coherent thought at a time.

Today I’m on cup two. That’s not enough. I’ll make one for the drive, and restock the Keurig for the TGIF caffeine extravaganza. If you work with me, come in. There’s cream in the fridge, and agave and sugar on the table. Even some honey for you teetotalers. Because when you have “coffee” with someone, you don’t always have to drink coffee. But I always do–seems a waste to do otherwise. Smile and say hi on your way out. It’s probably the only time we’ll get to converse. I want to remember your name.


[image: squidoo.com/cafetieres]




I will never be as cool as my siblings because I am “just a teacher”

I would like to take a moment to thank everyone who stops by.   When I started this blog, I figured, “What’s the worst that can possibly happen? I’ll write something, and nobody will read it.”  I’ll probably have five loyal readers–four of them will be related to me.

It didn’t turn out that way–no matter what I do, I my brother won’t read my blog. He keeps meaning to, but I suspect the fact that he’s busy counting all his children to make sure they don’t escape might have something to do with it, so even though he was technically an English major and should be here trying to find dangling participles and vague antecedents, he’s nowhere to be found.  Which is why it’s safe enough to make fun of him in the lead paragraphs.

My sister reads this blog sometimes but she’s more important than me, so if she can’t get to it every day, that’s okay. She writes an awesome national brief–it’s not really funny, but I’ll overlook that point, because it’s tough to laugh when you have to write about countries that are blowing each other up. Her entire life goal was to spark world peace, not to have to write another column each time someone throws Molotov cocktail across a border. I hope world peace comes soon–not only do I think it’s important, but I think then my sister could use the day off.

Funny–I remember the days that my brother and sister became cooler than me. My brother, let’s call him “Dan,” because that’s his name, played soccer and wrestled.  He tried very hard.  He played video games with his friend “Kevin” (any resemblance to actual individuals is entirely intended), and we–the older sisters–felt “Oh my god, these kids are doomed.”  Not that I was an expert in cool–I was the anthesis of the “in crowd.” But still, I was concerned.

Turns out Dan and Kevin did alright–Kevin has a family and a Ph.D in something I’m not qualified to understand.  Dan got his name put on “The List” traveling around Ireland meeting students and buying books about Bobby Sands. Apparently they write down your name if you read about such people. He’s a peace-loving person, in case anyone’s still watching.  A harmless Yankee fan who just loves Irish history.  Now, he gets to work with some of the best and brightest language-development minds in the world.  He is much cooler than me.

My sister–we’ll call her “Mary,” became cool much quicker. She did sound production and got to blow off rappers who were late for studio sessions, which would have been even more impressive if she knew who they were, and she got to do political spots during several election seasons. I love politics. Meeting those people would have been cool.

Then, she decided that cool wasn’t cool enough, and she went back to school to save the world–a degree in “Peace and Conflict Resolution.”  If I invented that degree, I’d have put a question mark after it, “Peace and Conflict Resolution?” because no one really wants to stop fighting as long as there’s money flowing on both sides, but Mary is doing her best to promote key solutions, and far more people read what she writes on a daily basis than will ever read my stuff.  She is definitely much cooler than me.

Alas, I am not cool–I just got put in my place again last night, “I don’t understand why you guys (referring to me and to a couple other college friends) went to the University of Rochester to become teachers. Seems like such a waste. If you wanted to become a teacher, why didn’t you just go to a cheap college instead of such a good one? Spending all that money to become a teacher is just stupid.” Sadly, it was an honest question, not an intentional insult. I get those types of questions and comments a lot.

This happens more and more frequently of late. When I switched careers thinking I’d save the world, my friends frowned just like they had when I considered law enforcement as a career.  “Really?  You’re overqualified.”  To improve lives? To save the world?  If I succeed in saving the world, that would make me, like, God, and am I truly overqualified to be the Almighty?  I think not…but apparently the world does not agree.

I figured people would high-five me as I went into teaching. Not so. College friends have put up with my decision, and in some cases openly mocked me, as if I were throwing my life away to join a monastery. “Casey, really?” Or when I tell new people what I do, “I teach,” they immediately say one of two things, “Oh,” and they walk away to find someone more interesting, or “Good luck with that, I’d never do it.” If I’m lucky, they’ll tell a bonus unsolicited story about how teachers are lazy, ruining the world, or how “nothing personal but” they all suck.

It’s getting tough to remain positive in a career that everyone despises–one that throws new regs on daily as if the art of saving kids weren’t enough. As if it can be micromanaged down to the last bits and bytes of data. Not only am uncool, but I spend more time chasing numbers lately than I do teaching my kids. I feel much more like an accountant than the saver of the universe I set out to be.

James Altucher came through with some inspiration  the other day, “Complaining is the opposite of improving,” and when James is busy writing about other things, I can always turn to Tom Petty, who “won’t back down.” Just in the nick of time someone recommended Margaret Wheatley’s new book to me, which I’m only partially through but makes perfect sense.  She urges us to avoid burnout by knowing that the world is flawed and flawed systems make it impossible to save the world.  Recognizing that helps us to avoid fighting the windmills and still realize that we are doing the good work.  Work that must be done. She must have seen the Picasso of Don Quixote I keep close by.

I’m grateful to everyone who has taken the time to read this blog–the blog I never expected to exist. I’m grateful that I have seen your blogs and discovered inspirational people, teachers, visionaries, writers, scientists, Zen thinkers–people who bring joy and inspiration to my life.  Although I may not be as cool as my siblings, because I’m “just a teacher,” you all give me hope that someday we might change that, and being a teacher will be something people aspire to be once more. In gratitude for your trust, I will do my best to make this career a better place to be while simultaneously inspiring and informing my own students to carry the torch further.

Even if I will never be quite as cool as Mary and Dan.