One fewer brick in the wall

Most of the time I like to keep my posts upbeat, but lately I’ve been dealing with a heavy heart and mind, so I decided to break the rules and lament a bit.

I am coming to the end of my teaching career. I feel it. I know it. In fact, I was very close to not going back to school this year. For five years or longer I’ve toyed with the idea of moving to my ideal little dream town and trying something new. I almost had my chance this summer. I went in for the interview and kept my fingers crossed, but it didn’t happen.

It’s no secret. My principal knows what I’ve been going through, and I told him he truth about how hard I knew this year was going to be. I don’t always speak, but quiet doesn’t always mean shy. Sometimes it just means keeping a distance.

My parents were like that. They were very stoic. I guess that’s why I have such a difficult time opening up to people. They certainly didn’t open up to me. Today was a rough day. For the first time since my father died, I drove out to the cemetery and visited the grave sites. Funny how life is. Only a few months ago, he and I sat a distant relative’s house picking out the tombstone. I didn’t want to be there. I didn’t realize that only days after it would be ready for my mother’s grave, his name would be inscribed on it as well.

But what really hit me was the little headstone next to theirs—infant son. I stood in front of my brother’s grave, a brother I never knew, nobody knew. For five years before I was born, my father and mother had a different family of three, a mother, a father, and a baby that never took his first breath.

But my parents never shared anything about him with me. They were too private. They kept it all inside. Until today I didn’t even know his birth date. I found it ironic how my mother died on the 25th, my brother on the 26th, and my father the 27th.

And now they’re united in Heaven.

But after all these years it just now dawned on me how my parents never showed any emotion. I went on with my happy little life, oblivious to what they must have felt ever time his birthday rolled around. They never gave him a name, but I think I recall my dad telling me what they had planned to call him—or maybe it was the name they had chosen to call me if I were a boy.

I do know they almost named me Cindy. I look in the mirror sometimes and try to picture myself as Cindy. No. I don’t feel like a Cindy. But I never liked the name Teresa. I never could say it right. I pronounce it Treesa. I even consider changing it to Terri in college, with my father’ s blessing. But all my high school friends called me Tee, so I stuck with that.

I was named after the singer Teresa Brewer. I’ll never know the impact she had on my parents’ life, but it was enough to name their only living child after her.

During the last year I’ve undergone tremendous change. And as I stated before, I didn’t want to go back to school. Teaching requires a lot of giving of oneself. To be honest, I felt as though I had nothing left to give. But to make matters worse, not only did I receive a new curriculum for my dual-enrollment classes, I also received a new class, giving me a total of four preparations.

I’m used to being super woman, but not his year. I just didn’t have it in me. When I walked in to face this new class of students, I didn’t want to teach, I saw a roomful of trouble. The students didn’t want to stay in their seats. They were chronically late. They didn’t work. They never had their materials.

But they grew on me, and I opened my heart to them. I think they really believe I love them. And you wouldn’t believe what a change has overcome them. They work hard now. I’m so proud. It pays to invest in someone else’s life, especially if you are a teacher.

My greatest fear with all this state testing is that we teachers will become very self-centered and competitive, thinking about ourselves and forgetting about our students. We may find a way to wrangle out of teaching the low students. But the lowest students need the greatest investment and often yield the greatest return.

Kids don’t participate because they’re afraid to open up. They’re afraid of ridicule. They’re afraid to be vulnerable. That’s why I model vulnerability in front of them.

I know how it feels to to be imperfect. But I want my students to know I care about them unconditionally.

I’ll be honest. The most difficult people I’ve ever had to work with are religious people. Many of them have led such blessed lives they don’t understand desperation. They don’t understand people will do just about anything when they can’t find the love they need.

Mother Teresa said, “Loneliness and the feeling of being unwanted is the most terrible poverty.” She also said, “If you judge people, you have no time to love them.”

My parents taught me to be tough, to keep up my guard. There are very few people who see the real me. Trust me, I can be rather annoying. I’m like a naïve child in an adult’s body. I’m so far from sophisticated and pretentious, that I’m playful. Not everyone likes playful. Students included, but I try to stay as far away from pretentious as I can. Most of my students who have been hurt appreciate the vulnerability.

I don’t think it’s possible to love without being vulnerable. And I do love these kids, especially this special rambunctious group of hooligans that I dreaded teaching at the beginning of the year. They changed my life.

Children, even almost adult children, have a way of doing that, changing lives. One of our fantastic English teachers asked her students to honor their favorite teachers this week. I was surprised to receive letters from a couple of my journalism students. Here are just a couple of excerpts (used with their permission).

“You, as our fearless leader, have taught us, not only about journalism, but also about life as a whole. One never stops learning. Cupcakes can be suicidal. Chocolate helps. When in doubt, Febreeze-Run it out. Crying isn’t a sign of weakness; it’s a sign you’ve been strong for a long time. There should be a Rock ‘n Roll setting in lazer tag. Never pass up the opportunity to change someone’s life for the better. Haters need to be shown more love. The best time for good music is all the time.  ~  E. W.

“The newbies don’t know it yet cause they haven’t been around long enough, but we are a family, and we love each other like a family. All I have to say is you’re the best Newspaper Family Mom anyone could have.”  ~  H. E.

I’m looking forward to my last days of teaching, but I’m ready to move on to my next career. Why? Because I think God has a plan for me to use what I’ve learned to help kids in a way I can’t help them in a school environment. Who has time to care when all we focus on are the tests? I’m not planning on retiring soon, but the day will come in God’s time.

Remember Dian Fossey, the woman who lived with the gorillas in the mountainous forests of Rwanda for years and years? Well, she and I are a lot alike. I’ve feel as though after the decades of teaching teenagers, I know them as well as anyone can.

I understand their vulnerability because I give them mine. Becoming vulnerable allows a person to be target for ridicule and revenge, but it’s hard to love behind a wall. So if I take down the wall and make myself vulnerable, you know I’m serious about love.

And that’s why I want to write for teens. I want to give them something real to hold onto–even if it’s a book. S. E. Hinton’s The Outsiders changed my life and made me feel what love was meant to be. Maybe I can do that for teenagers someday.

If I ever get the chance, I hope God allows me to publish my book and then travel around the region hilding workshops in writing to teach teens how to write. I want them to find their own success. I don’t want to give up teaching. I just want to try it in a new environment.

I’m not the best teacher. I’m not the smartest. I’ve won numerous awards and been recognized on television a couple of times for my success. I look great “on paper.” But all of that means nothing if I don’t get into the heart of a student.

Today I receive one of my honorable awards—a Christmas card from Kimberly, a student I had in class ten years ago. She still remembered me, and she told me I made a difference in her life.

I call that success. And opening up that part of me was worth the risk of vulnerability.

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25 thoughts on “One fewer brick in the wall

  1. To allow oneself to be vulnerable, is the greatest sign of strength. It is through vulnerability that we reap the greatest rewards. And I am not afraid to tread that path. I have felt the heartbreak and I know the payout can far outweigh the risk. Go explore that shaded path and see what adventures await you….I’m counting on you. With the silence and stealth of the ninja–go and find the treasure you seek.

    • Thanks, Robin. I don’t like this station in life, but I knew I’d have to stop here eventually. The thing is, I can’t just stay here. I have to board the next train, and I don’t know where it’s going. Thanks for reading my ramblings.

  2. Totally understand your post. I knew back in 2002 that God wanted me to walk away from teaching, and I didn’t. That last year was the hardest teaching year of my career. I learned so much though, and after eight years off, I’m back in the classroom with an entirely different perspective. But it was during those eight years off that he taught me to be a write and that I got to do thing I would not have been able to do had I still been teaching. There are seasons for everything. I totally get the new season. Mine is so opposite of yours, but I still needed the reminder. So glad you shared…

    • I have been struggling to write and teach for so long. When I wrote for magazines, I used to teach all day, come home and try to be a good mom to Josh, and then go into the spare bedroom to write. I tried to “set office hours” so I wouldn’t feel as though I was taking away from my family. Josh never understood why Mom would disappear. It’s funny though. He’s a writer now, and he has deadlines. I hope he “gets” it.

      I love my students so much, but with the new methods of teaching, I feel as though I’m on a production line. I’m sure I have the wrong perspective. My prayer is that God gives me the time and the opportunity to share what I know with teens so that they can gain confidence in Him. It’s almost impossible to do that right now.

      I am glad that you have a new perspective in the classroom. You’ll have to share your stories. And you’re so right…there is a season for everything. And a reason.

  3. It is strange to me that you were almost named Cindy. Maybe because my mom is named Cindy and you two are nothing alike. One a different note entirely, I liked your Pink Floyd reference in the title. If I ever become a teacher, I hope I can touch people like you. I bet at some point in my life I will teach. And when I do, I hope I can make a difference in people’s lives. I think that is what teaching is all about anyways.

    • It’s funny. The title came to me because I was thinking about walls. I wasn’t even thinking about what the song meant. But the title works beautifully. (Not bragging. You know that feeling that comes after spending forever searching for a headline for a story that fits and one just serenditiously shows up.) I don’t want to be another brick in the wall for students, or anybody else for that matter. Thanks for reading.

      Yes, back when I was in school the girls who had the name CIndy were the very pretty ones, who had it all together (like your mom). I was Ms. Spazmatic. I certainly didn’t have it together. I bet you will make a wonderful teacher, and I know you’ll make a huge difference.

  4. I’ve had friends for 30 years who are still sometimes surprised by my quirkiness — meaning that I fully understand the guarded safe-zone where access requires a lifetime of patience, and maybe a few brownies.

    I think perhaps this is my favorite of your blogs thus far. Partly because you do show yourself, and partly because you managed to capture in words what most people feel and yet never admit. Funny, I wrote a little poem this week “Hiding in the Dark”. It was just a few lines, but I think I was trying to say what you did here. My Good Twin is much more eloquent. 🙂

    You will be published. ‘Tis a fact. Keep your heart open, and love will always find it’s way in.

    P.S. I like my name. I’m MARY through and through. Love the snow!! ♥

    • I can’t imagine not living life quirky. How boring. Thank you for reading. You are a good writer, and you “get” people. I mean really “get” people. You can see through them to the core. And you always deny yourself and take care of others. I am indeed the Evil Twin. I’m stilll working on being good.

  5. Great story. I quit teaching after 6 years and 7 months as I was afraid I would be trapped there at the age I am today, although today they appear to be the happiest years of my life. Good luck

    • I won’t be able to quit just yet, but I want to quit while there is still most of “me” left. I love my students, but sometimes teachers are looked upon as robots with no other reason in life but to serve someone else’s purpose. I want to make a difference in people’s lives, but I don’t want to destroy “me” either. I’m more than a fixture. I don’t want to be trapped either. I totally understand.

  6. When I become a teacher, I hope to love and accept my students just like you did with me. You’ve changed my life, and now I know what it means to have a “life-long” friendship. I hope that you’re not going too far away because I love you dearly, but if that’s where you’re being pulled, then go. Listen to Go by The Civil Wars… Keep your head up, and know that everything I’ve said to you before still stands. Every day is a new, God-given day and He and I love you!

    • I won’t be leaving soon–that I know of, but I believe there will always be someone there to take my place. I’m certainly not irrreplaceable. I just appreciate what I’ve been given so far. You’ve blessed my life, and I’m thankful that God put me in a place where our paths could cross.

  7. Interesting to know you thought about going by Terri in college. : )

    May God bless you and transform teenagers’ lives as you transition to a new ministry.

    • My hope, dream, and prayer is that God will give me an opportunity to use the other gifts he’s given me to make a difference in people’s lives. I’m not the brightest crayon in the box, but it doesn’t take a lot of smarts to love people. I’m pretty good at that. Maybe for the next chapter in my life, He’ll let me add writing…or even music.

  8. I never thought I would touch people with my writing. I knew some would read what I wrote, but I wanted people to read it and feel for the people I wrote about. With our final papers this semester, I got to experience that warm feeling that I got it right.
    Without me, my college paper would fall apart. I have been the glue, the rock that has kept the paper from falling apart, toppling over the edge.
    And, I never would have had the guts without you. You guided me, gave me the skills and guts I needed to be a writer. You have changed who I am.
    I take on more than my share and make it happen. I took on a story that is way outside my comfort zone (which I will have to tell you about later), and I writing about subjects that are far beyond me. I see where I’ve come from, and now, I’m just going to go where God tells me to go. I’m still confused about my path, but I know through it all God will show me where I should be.
    And, absolutely none of this would have ever happened without you. You’ve taught me skills and knowledge I never would have experienced elsewhere, and you became a life coach to me. And, there is no amount of thank yous that would express the gratitude I have for you. I was so lucky that God led me to you. And, where ever you go next, those people will be lucky to meet you, too.
    And, when you do become the famous author, I will be at your book signings, jumping up and down saying you did it!, and at you writing conferences, hanging on to every word.
    Will I be sad not seeing you at the high school any more? Yes. But, you must go where you are called. Just don’t forget the little hooligans because we love you always. And, at least for me, nothing will ever, ever change that. 🙂

    • YOU deserve all the credit. You’ve been an inspiration to me since I met you. I have no doubt that you will be successful in whatever you attempt. You love God, and you let him guide you. Sometimes that’s not easy, speaking of stepping out of your comfort zone. But that’s how we grow. If we stay in our safe, sheltered spots, we never advance. Smooth waters do not make skilled sailors. I want to hear about your story! Maybe we’ll get a chance to meet up over Christmas. I sure do miss you. You are one of my favorite hooligans. 🙂

  9. Tee, it doesn’t matter your age, it’s difficult to be an orphan. Grief saps the strenght from your bones. Time makes the grief less intense. Surrendering to God’s waiting hands is the best medicine. I remember Jesus wept at his friend’s grave. Relax in God’s will, but be aware of circumstances as they unfold. I’m praying for you.

  10. When I was a little kid, being an orphan was my greatest fear. I was even reluctant to spend the night at my friends’ or family members’ houses. But nothing ever stays the same. Surrendering is the answer. I just wish I weren’t so stubborn. I still feel as if I have to block out the feelings. Thank you for your words. I feel so isolated from the rest of the writing group as if the world has stopped for me, and everybody else is still spinning along. Your words and your prayers are great comforts!

  11. All I can say to this is, every bit is true. You changed my life, and came into it in a time when I did not feel love support, or encouragement from anyone. You made me believe in myself, believed in me when I had no idea I would ever be able to wirte an essay, let alone run a newspaper staff with your help, and be a mother waay too young. You were always my champion. I only hope that one day I can influence livs just as you have influenced mine. When and if I ever writer my first book, you will be the first dedication on that page. Hopefully, that is the plan that god has in store for me. Only time will tell, but for now, I am content in my poetry. I love you Tee, and I love what you have given to my life, as well as countless others of students.

    • Rachel, I’m sure you are already changing lives. You may not see the success immediately, but the success will come. I am so glad that you believe I made a difference. It makes me realize my life has mattered in a small way.

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