Over the last nine years I have spent the bulk of my time thinking about how I could influence education and help shape needed change. With role models like Gary Stager and Ian Jukes who I saw as a younger teacher, I was hooked deep in the gill with this desire to share ideas and move education in positive, new directions. Seeing these gurus, thought leaders and people with powerful things to say reminds me of the original mission I started when I left my classroom.
While I left one classroom I found another quickly. Talking to educators and school leaders is much the same but the classroom is much, much bigger but not more important. The responsibility isn't smaller as I know that convincing people to try new approaches and ideas. Without deep thought about the consequences of these changes I could lead schools in bad directions. It is important to help schools vision their own unique solutions and stand beside them as they begin their journey.
I love this work and it's an honor to do it daily but it doesn't come without a price. Traveling nearly every day on planes, cars, vans and the occasional rickshaw takes a toll on my body. I get beat up by the constant motion as well as the need to carry gear to the four corners of the Earth. Joints hyperextend, muscles cramp and pull and energy, both physical and cognitive rises and ebbs. The pace and flow of spending your life one location, group and mission at a time can be overwhelming.
I used to feel this spending of my life force in my classroom. I knew I was spending my life, the only one I had on this job and these kids. I loved my kids and their needs and dreams were my mission. Knowing where I would be each day and with whom as well as the relative complexity of the days's challenges was nice. That's not to say that in a classroom you're never faced with a new challenge that you've never faced before but being with a different group in a different city nearly every day has it's own unique challenges.
Watch Gary Stager present today from the second row was amazing. Here I was watching a master, a learner/teacher who has continued to raise his game and seek new opportunities to learn how learning should be done. He spills his energy and ideas with ease on the audience and challenges us to go with him to places we're not all ready to see. The confidence that he has is enviable and I know was purchased with his own life energy and determination.
What makes me happy is knowing that we can season, age and continue to learn. I know I can be valuable to people for many years, hopefully all of them. As for life on the road... I don't see any way around spending my life in irregular increments ranging from hard work to terrifyingly hard work. For now and for the foreseeable future I will board planes and taxis because there are some conversations that are still best heard mouth to ear. The room where we share oxygen is a crucible where shifts in thinking can occur. If conditions are favorable any number of huge mind shifts can happen.
Serving on a school board helps me stay current about the needs of at least one school and the teachers and kids there but working in classrooms, whether that of my wife with her K-4 kids or with HS kids in Atlanta TX are the moments I truly treasure. These moments of "real" in a sometime chaotic life ground me and challenge my thinking. With real kids in real schools things either work or they don't. Sophistry goes out the window and you are challenged to meet the needs of kids and teachers who are looking you right in the eye.
I am repeatedly drawn to tough circumstances and at-risk kids and maybe it's because I myself was formed in such a crucible. The foundry of challenge and need and hunger made steel of me that would have had a cutting edge that would have eventually caused my life to hemorrhage had it not been for teachers, mentors and a loving wife. The blunting of the sharp edges and concurrent sharpening of positive talents was the combination that led me out of some pretty dark places.
While all of this makes me sound primed to become a cock eyed evangelist, ready to become co-dependent with kids in need the truth is that I an he'll bent to be real with kids. I want them to be testing, to push themselves in their own crucibles and to emerge successful. I know life is a work in progress and that students are humans who can and will change according to their own needs and circumstances. I want to change the circumstances by helping schools offer new learning and growing opportunities for kids.
No fool's paradise in my vision, that would be the worst kind of educational malpractice. I'm not saying educators like me don't make mistakes, I know I make some huge ones. What I don't want to do is lie to kids. I know they can be amazing but becoming doesn't happen by magic. Being a child of poverty I often thought of money as something God with bless us with if we were worthy. He would reach down through the clouds and let us win the lottery when he was good and ready.
After much time and counseling I have come to know that we make our own opportunities and we are the authors of our own failures. Smart people do autopsies on the cadavers of their failure and breath life into new plans based and hard earned knowledge. I want no less for the kids I influence. To pretend that being excited will somehow lead to amazing neat things for them is a guitar strumming campfire I want nothing to do with. Hard work is still the key to success but there are so many powerful tools that can give kids advantages. These tools, used properly (and perhaps differently for each kid) could help propel them to new places. Self reflection and the continuing ability to be self reflective is essential. Being honest with yourself about the life you want and the work it will take to get it and sustain in is step one.
I love my life. I love my family and I love the chance to attempt to make a positive impact on education.