Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Don't Forget The Kids

It has been so reassuring. Out of the blue one or two past students find me on Facebook or runs into me on the train, and I am riveted with amazing memories. The other day a former student contacted me and it prompted me to reread the over 300 letters I have saved from former students. Put simply, teaching happens when you close the door to your classroom and develop nurturing relationships with your students. I am so grateful, right now especially for these memories, that I wanted to share this letter with you. The writer of the excerpt from this letter written in 2006, has now graduated from the University of Chicago.

Dear Mr. Flaherty,

I keep rereading the letter you have given us and I am more moved and touched each time I read it. I feel that I did not have adequate time to communicate to you before. Very seldom in my life have I been blessed to have met a teacher as humble and inspiring as you. Teachers have always been authority figures for me and there always stood a barrier between us in terms of communication. With you, that barrier was broken and I feel that, more than a teacher, I had a friend in you and a fellow seeker of knowledge. I am a very emotional person and as graduation approaches I am even more fragile; that is why it is difficult for me to express to you in person how appreciative I am of everything you have done for me.

Many teachers have touched my life, but I feel that only you will forever stay in my thoughts because your methods of thinking and your courage have become a part of me. You have lit me up and led me to extract my true identity from the bottom of my soul, where it was hidden for many years. It is because of your instruction that I have come to terms with myself and that I finally accept my place and purpose in the world. I feel that, as a result of the conversatons that took place in our classroom and your personal stories, I have come to participate in the world and to question and challenge the things I am a witness to on a daily basis. I feel that my life is more fulfilled as a result of your teaching. I am no longer afraid to stand up for my ideas and to speak up when I witness something that disturbs me. I have become not only a participant, but also an activist in the world as a result of your influence. It amazes me how you constantly evaluate yourself and your surroundings. I have come to do the same and, although it can be disappointing at times because our world is full of injustices, it is also healthy for my spirit. I cannot thank you enough for the wisdom you have given me and for opening my eyes to the world. You have truly enlightened me. I think that it is becuase of you that I am not afraid to step into the world. Most importantly, I am aware of the danger of silence and the importance of action.

I know that your class has touched more than one individual and I see the evidence every day. My classmates and I never discussed our learning beyond the classroom, yet this year you could hear us talking and participating in discussons that came directly from our Theory of Knowledge classroom. It was the only class that truly had meaning for us. I know we are thankful for the feedback. You made me feel important and have given importance to my work...

How lucky I am to have known this young woman and the many other students who came into my classroom and left more ready for the world.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

Letter From a Friend

Life is difficult, but therein lies the reward. As I have faced confusion and anger with all their clumbsy arms and legs as I deal with losing my job, joy has also made an appearance. Friendship. A dear friend helped me out today and reminded me of Emerson's words: For every friend whom he loses for truth, he gains a better.

The letter that follows arrived today:

In essence, Andy, there are five separate issues facing you concurrently (listed below). I think your sanity and salvation will be to effectively keep these overlapping issues separate both in solving them and in your emotional reaction to them. Please do not interpret this to mean that any one of the five is unimportant or not valid; rather, by lessening the burden of holding all five at once, there is a better chance that these heavy-duty concerns will not consume you.

Remember, my analogy is that this situation is similar to having been jabbed with a giant sliver. The wound is festering, infected, nasty. Your job is to honor the pain while figuring out how to extract that sliver. It is okay to say it hurts, it is okay to say that it is unfair that you have this sliver, and it is okay to ask why me.

The issues, as I see them, are:

1. The grief and loss associated with your journey from the classroom through the board of education to unemployment.
2. The feelings of isolation you are experiencing because so few step up to ask how you are or to help you.
3. The overarching social injustice angle, that it seems to be okay that the Board of Education and the Union treat educators as expendable pawns.
4. The aggravation and fear associated with trying to find a job in a career/system that may no longer be the right place in which to work.
5. The aggravation and fear associated with trying to find a job outside the education system when you have no clear path.

I truly believe, my friend, that if you hold all five of these things as one, you will go nuts. Your health depends on your ability to examine and address each of these issues separately; each isue will require non-overlapping and nuanced thinking, networking, and response. But it will take time.

You will get through this. I have faith in you, your talents, your humanity, your resilience.

What I realized as I read this is that to walk the path we talk about in our lives is hard. Life is a complex web of situations, emotions, and thoughts - but friendship holds up a mirror of recognition that gets us through. Again, this wonderful letter's clarity reminds me of Emerson:

Our life is an apprenticeship to the truth
that around every circle another can be drawn;
that there is no end in nature,
but every end is a beginning;
that there is always another dawn risen on mid-noon
and under every deep a lower deep opens.

It is so good to have good friends. The truth that Emerson speaks to is literally the acceptance that nothing is secure. We are perpetually in transition. What gratitude I have!