We seem rarely to see ourselves as we really are when we look in the mirror. This can be a good thing (as when we aspire to be better) or a very, very bad thing (as when we fail to see a fixable flaw that is obvious to everyone else). This election season I’ve found myself shouting at my TV screen at certain advocates — “Really?! OMG, look in the mirror!” These people spew hateful, bigoted comments while declaring themselves proponents of family values, defenders of the poor, and good Christians.
Why the disconnect?
I think that, when such folks look themselves in the mirror, they see what they want to see, as in the Mirror of Erised at Hogwarts in the Harry Potter novels. Why is it so easy to overlook what is objectively before our eyes? Part of the answer for me comes from the new Netflix series Westworld in which guests visit a fantasy western world populated by extremely lifelike robots. I’ll focus on just one aspect of the series: the creators debrief the “hosts” periodically, but calling them into a minimalist lab and asking them questions. The hosts (and hence the actors) sit naked on a chair and, if they go into cold storage, stand naked in lines. I can only imagine how vulnerable a person (or actor) must feel being so exposed. As a TV viewer, I find myself feeling uncomfortable on their behalf. Therefore, it seems to me that people easily tune out what they don’t want to see, either physically or metaphorically, when looking in the mirror.
We all need to be better, to acknowledge the reality of our judgmental natures. Only then can we begin to address them.
A few days ago my DH and I celebrated my birthday on a weeknight. We dropped in at Skyloft in Laguna Beach and enjoyed the rooftop view and generous happy hour appetizer portions. Then we got gelato to nibble on as we strolled the boardwalk. A lovely tourist from Spain offered to take our picture and she caught us in a wonderful light. I’m lucky to have enjoyed many wonderful birthday celebrations, but this simple and low-key early evening with my best friend was one of the most special. Sometimes less truly is more.
As the sun set, we drove home and I spent the rest of the night entering progress grades that were due the next morning. *sigh* Life is… ironic. But mostly in a really good way. 🙂
As part of our unit on The Value of Life, my elective class called Contemporary Studies watched Randy Pausch’s lecture called “Achieving Your Childhood Dreams.” Knowing he was dying of liver cancer, Pausch delivered a funny, moving, and inspirational talk on how to live a good life in which he described some highlights of his journey as a family man, a student and a professor. The best-selling book he published called The Last Lecture expands on the stories and lessons of his 75-minute speech.
Pausch’s lecture contains so many meaningful lessons, but the one message that most resonated with me on this viewing was HELP PEOPLE. That’s a given in an educator’s job description, but it also describes an attitude for anyone in any profession or any role, including student. We can learn so much from connecting with others without expectation of personal gain. The beautiful irony is that, with that mindset, we often get back more than we give. Pausch calls that a “head fake” or indirect learning, where in the doing of a fun task we learn something difficult. My own beloved father Angelo Ozoa preached that lesson and lived it, as a doctor and community leader whose legacy includes an annual medical mission to needy areas in the Philippines. So go do what Randy and Angelo said — help people!
“You have power over your mind – not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.” ― Marcus Aurelius, Meditations
Lately I’ve encountered problems where the ancient advice of stoic philosopher Marcus Aurelius served me well. It’s easy for teachers to fall into the trap of taking events personally or feeling responsible for fixing difficult situations or reacting defensively. But sometimes our professional best can only take us so far. When we hit a wall in frustration, all we can control is our own reactions, not anyone else’s behaviors.
Sorry for the vague post. I never feel comfortable even hinting at details about problems involving students. Suffice it to say that putting myself in their complicated, emotional shoes helps me to react with compassion, not anger, with empathy, not enmity, with solutions, not punishments.
In other news, one of my favorite 20% Time Projects in the past two years was an AP Language student who read four biographies, including one of Marcus Aurelius, and ran the stock investment club at our high school. He wrote a 7,000 word guide to stoicism and value investing called The Stoic Investor, and self-published it on the Amazon Kindle store.
My parents came to the United States as medical interns from the University of the Philippines to the Little Company of Mary Hospital in Evergreen Park, a suburb of Chicago. After having four children and establishing themselves at the University of Chicago as a PhD in pathology and a pediatrician La Rabida, a tertiary care facility, they became citizens. We moved to Northern California, and we children all pursued advanced degrees, becoming a lawyer/teacher, nurse/manager, engineer and human resources training consultant.
Filipino American History Month celebrates the work ethic and strong family values that have produced similar success stories in the Filipino-American community for over 4oo years. I’m very proud that my family, my “calabash” aunties and uncles and cousins, my community (geographic and online) have contributed so much to the immense mixed salad that is our diverse and democratic country. May it continue to strenghthen and grow!
I’ve been disappointed in myself that I haven’t been as active on Twitter or in my favorite Twitter chats or Google+ communities since school began. Then I realized that I’ve had to develop different priorities. To everything there is a season. At least I’m still listening to education podcasts. And I’m confident that I’ll resume active participation in my online PLN (professional learning network) as I create a comfortable and efficient school routine. It takes time.
Teachers constantly shake their heads at non-teachers’ envy of our “summers off.” Ironically, my summers are even more packed with professional development activities than the rest of the year. This summer I presented at two conferences, attended two, put in 3 days of site and district learning, plus spent countless hours of thinking and planning and dreaming about the coming school year. Granted, I also attended San Diego Comic-Con and visited Washington DC. But I collected there ideas to share with my students.
My commitment to and enjoyment of growing in my profession remains steady even though my activities wax and wane. Twitter can wait.
Several recent events led me to choose this topic and title and to write about it. One was Facebook reminding me what I did on each day several years before. I USED to blog every day, even if only about silly, apparently trivial observations. But those old posts reminded me of certain moments of learning in my life that I did (or didn’t! absorb into my common practice today.
Another was hearing an interview on NPR’s The Frame of Casey Affleck at Telluride this year. John Horn asked Casey if he enjoyed watching himself in his movies over his 20-year career and Casey replied “not really” and that he wasn’t sure why. Rather, he recounted a story of doing construction work summers in his youth in Boston, and of one job where they had to build a short flight of stairs. No one, not even the foreman, knew what they were doing, but they figured it out together. It’s still there, and Casey points it out to friends when they go by. Casey analogized that to making movies. It’s not the product he finds inspiring, but the conversations and creativity that are part of the process.
I’ve blogged on process over product before. I, too, am not a fan of reliving past successes or dwelling on past failures. EXCEPT insofar as they inform what I DO NOW. For example, I’m quite proud of a short music video I made at a summer CUE Rock Star Teacher Camp with parody lyrics and a green screen, not because it’s great (it’s not!), but because it’s a useful teaching tool. I don’t recount many legal war stories from when I was in private practice or a legal editor in the Bay Area, except for those that illustrate a point about good writing. (“Know your audience” and “Always read the statute first.”)
A third event was a fleeting reference to the concept of “flow” which quantifies why people are happiest when fully engaged in a challenging activity. I see it in my students (pictured above) when they solve puzzles with our BreakoutEDU kits. I feel it in myself when I’m researching and designing and executing new lesson plans with new students and tech tools and educational priorities each year.
The final event was flipping my calendar page to October. Even though this school year began in late-August, it still feels like we just started a few weeks ago. Time flies! And so does the opportunity to document my learning each day.
So that’s why I’m blogging again. I want to remember my learning each day. I teach to learn.