when i am with you/ there’s no place i’d rather be
…But it’s also about our faith in Jesus. And Jesus had a strategy: Sell everything. Give it to the poor. Follow. Now keep reading before you get that AMDG tattoo, start pasting up your garage sale signs, or closing your bank accounts. More than a simple rebellious act or a hasty adoption of a religious creed, this is a guiding principle, an orientation, a standard by which to live and to learn. What you have is not yours – at least it hasn’t always been yours. You were given everything and now you are asked to give it all away. That’s it. Accept the privilege you’ve been given. Give it away. And follow.
Look to the poor and vulnerable – make their needs and priorities your own; look to them as you make decisions about how to live. Be a teacher, a lawyer, a chemist, a filmmaker, whatever, but look to the poor to understand what you should do as a teacher, a lawyer, a chemist, a filmmaker, etc. Let the outcast tell you what works and doesn’t work about this world. Look for God in the marginal places. Discover Christ in poverty (yours, theirs, and his) and follow. Accept. Give. Follow.
This strategy of conversion involves a strange kind of excellence (i.e. vulnerability) and following is certainly a strange kind of leadership, but it’s the way of Christ and it’s the way of love. Any Jesuit education worthy of the title should afford you the kind of self-possession that prepares you for ultimate (and absolute) self-donation. We want you to know yourself well enough to realize that you’re life is a gift, unearned and freely given. If you understand this then you’ll realize that the only way to live your life fully is to give it away unconditionally to the under-served and the un-deserving. Truly accept the gift of your life and you will understand how the way to fulfillment is generosity. To know this is to follow the way of Christ. To live this is to have experienced the conversion we seek.
…Liberation came not in strength but in weakness. Freedom was found not in satisfaction but in a fundamental conversion – a kind of failure called surrender. Something happened to me and everything changed. It felt like falling in love – attractive, unsettling, and deeply consequential.
So this is the conversion strategy. Fall in love. Move to the lowly place, be with the lowly people, and discover humanity in those places – yours and theirs. In this place love is real. In this place you discover the only answer worth discovering. You discover your profound need of reconciliation. You discover your need of love. You discover the many ways love is abused or misused in this world. You awaken deep desires to make things more like the way they ought to be. You develop a distaste for the cynicism that insists that things continue the way they’ve always been.
More than this, you make a sacrifice. You burn your best things and in the smoke you smell an answer, a reminder of the dust. You remember that dead flesh spoils so why not live, better yet, why not burn it all and have a BBQ. You find yourself ignited. You finally come to understand the meaning of all those cathedral candles, funeral pyres, smoke-filled temples, and incensed altars. Your heart burns within you as you come to know that what is true of fire is also true of love–it changes things.
This is a strategy for conversion. This is a plan for redemption. This is a way to cash in on the gift of your life. This is a way to spend your time and energy. This is a call to prayer, to worship the only things worthy of worship – joy and justice, right-relationship and peace. This is real work. This is a call to love. This is, unapologetically, about coming to know God. This is about the gift of creation and the audacity of fidelity to that gift. Don’t let the gift expire. Don’t let the flesh rot. Burn it all. Spend it extravagantly. Be converted. Your life is a gift. Hurry up and get to the giving.
"See, what I didn’t want was to turn up boys who would claim in later life to have a deep love of lit-era-ture. Or who would talk in their middle age of the lure of language and their love of words. Words, said in a reverential way that is somehow… Welsh.
That’s what the Tosh was for. Gracie Fields, Brief Encounter. It’s an antidote.
Sheer, calculated silliness.”
- Hector, The History Boys
i spent a good majority of june/july (and my money lol) trying to create the perfect classroom. nearly everything in my room i made myself - instead of buying posters, i made them on photoshop and printed them on tarpaulin; i covered every letter of the alphabet in plastic before tacking them up on my walls; i picked out my collectibles from home and fashioned them in my room for pops of color; i arranged and labelled every test notebook and portfolio of every student; i designed and DIY-ed attendance, behavior and group trackers… basically, everything i wish i had last year, i strived to bring to life in my room this year. i was really proud (and really obsessed) with my room. i spent nearly every saturday since the start of the school year, in my classroom - adding something new to the walls or shelves.
and then glenda came, brought a tree down and took the roof and ceiling of my classroom with it.
when i first entered my room this morning - after tiptoeing through the baha in the corridor - i was so angry. i worked so hard on that room, (harder than most, i thought, getting even angrier) and out of all the rooms in the entire school it had to be mine (and mine alone) that was left uninhabitable. luckily, nothing i owned or created was destroyed. but as i looked around at the room - at the group tracker my students were currently obsessed with, the portfolios i had planned to finalize that week, and my neatly arranged classroom library that my students had just recently earned (they hit 1000 on the treehouse cup board!) - and mourned the fact that we would not be able to use them in the coming weeks.
it didn’t take long, though, before i did a double take on those ridiculously selfish thoughts. instead, i started to reflect on why my classroom mattered so much to me.
last year, i had a mess of a class. my students were out of control (for the better part of the year; they learned to behave around me by the latter half of the SY) and i was totally lost. and i guess coming into the year, i saw having a neat, functioning and inviting room as one of the best things i could offer as way of classroom management. and it’s true, it worked. i saw how my kids respected my neatly labelled room, its clear-cut sections and spaces, and me - so much more this year.
but was that really the room’s doing, or was it mine? or rather, how much of it was me, and how much of it was the room?
just last week, i was telling miggy that i’ve recently found myself becoming snappier and more short-tempered with my students. how i’d recently resorted to shouting more often than even last year. i’ve watched myself become meaner and meaner, less understanding and much less kind. and the prospect of teaching in the library/computer room/covered courts carries with it all the possibilities of chaos and all the chance in the world for me to crack under the stress and become even worse.
or, i could choose not to.
now that i have no room to worry about, i could instead choose to start working on myself as a teacher again. to start experimenting again, to start exploring again, to start learning how to trust my students and myself again. to start having fun again (boy have i missed having fun with students)!
i spent so much of this school year thus far trying to create a better classroom. now that my room is destroyed, i think it’s about time i started working on being a better teacher instead.
“Please find enclosed your end of KS2 test results. We are very proud of you as you demonstrated huge amounts of commitment and tried your very best during this tricky week.
However, we are concerned that these tests do not always assess all of what it is that make each of you special and unique. The people who create these tests and score them do not know each of you– the way your teachers do, the way I hope to, and certainly not the way your families do.
They do not know that many of you speak two languages. They do not know that you can play a musical instrument or that you can dance or paint a picture. They do not know that your friends count on you to be there for them or that your laughter can brighten the dreariest day.
They do not know that you write poetry or songs, play or participate in sports, wonder about the future, or that sometimes you take care of your little brother or sister after school. They do not know that you have travelled to a really neat place or that you know how to tell a great story or that you really love spending time with special family members and friends.
They do not know that you can be trustworthy, kind or thoughtful, and that you try, every day, to be your very best… the scores you get will tell you something, but they will not tell you everything.
So enjoy your results and be very proud of these but remember there are many ways of being smart.”
“Some of us aren’t meant to belong. Some of us have to turn the world upside down and shake the hell out of it until we make our own place in it.” - Elizabeth Lowell
i don’t think i will ever get used to how empty this house feels after someone has just left it.