100 Days

education, People, Street

Saturday, May 18, 2019 was exactly 100 days till the 2019-2020 school year begins. As a joke I posted that fact to my facebook page and raised the ire of a number of teacher friends. Though at times I may be rightfully accused of being a contrarian I wanted to make light of one of my biggest struggles, future planning and time management. Being a high school teacher means that for the majority of my life, I have had summers off. Like kids, teachers also begin the summer in a state of suspended bliss knowing that for seventy plus long days they can craft their own destiny and do what they please. Teachers have the added beauty of knowing that long delayed plans, projects and dreams can be tackled during these halcyon days.

And yet, like students the summer days slip away, like trying to cup water in your hands the time pours out till the next school year is here. How many times I have felt a churning of regret in the middle of August about the opportunity lost from another summer. And when you look back at what emergency must have stolen your summer hopes away, rarely can you find one. Instead you are left thinking of the mundane things you did to whittle away the summer.

This summer is going to be different.

Last month, while visiting DC, I was shocked by the number of people I saw navigating life in the city on their phones. It’s not that I don’t see people in Montana, on their phones all the time, I do. What was different in DC was the number of people in transit on their phones.

Union Station, Washington DC

I too spend far too much on my phone, on my computer. One thing I know for certain, I’m not going to regret spending more time on my phone at the end of this summer. “I wish I had checked the weather more, I wish I had seen if anyone emailed or texted” are all things I will not being saying. “I wish I had one more ride, one more run, one more adventure” is what I will be wishing for.

Washington, DC

Turning my phone off is not going to win this summer. It’s often been said that the power of procrastination is the idea that “I have to” and that simply thinking “I get to” can transform the procrastinator into a force of action. Despite hearing this hundreds of times I have always struggled to implement this important cognitive change. Then I heard Sam Harris talk about gratitude and it clicked. Harris’ own words will show you,

I’d like to talk for a few minutes about gratitude. 

There’s now a lot of research that suggests that gratitude is good for us. (No surprise there.)

And, as an emotion
 it is very easy to invoke. Unless you are living the worst possible life, it should be easy to find something for which you’re grateful.

And it can be very skillful and wise to do this.

Now one reflection I find myself doing when I’m in some ordinary contracted state of mind—let’s say I’m stressed-out by something not going well, I’m reacting to some hassle. I could be caught in traffic and late for an appointment—I sometimes think of bad things that haven’t happened to me.

I might think that I haven’t been diagnosed with a fatal illness. I’m not caught in a war zone. And I think of all the people on earth in
 that moment who are suffering those sorts of dislocations in their lives. 

And then I reflect that if I were in their shoes, I would be desperate to get back to precisely the situation I’m now in: just stuck in traffic and late for an appointment, but without any care in the world. 

I noticed this at dinner the other night with my family. Everyone seemed to be in a fairly mediocre frame of mind…We were all in some way disgruntled or stressed-out. I had a million things I was thinking about. 

And I suddenly noticed how little joy we were all taking in one-another’s
company. 

And then I thought: “If I had died yesterday and could have the opportunity to be back with my family…” I thought of how much I would savor this moment with my family right now. 

And it totally transformed my mood. It gave me instantaneous access to my best self. And a feeling of pure gratitude for the people in my life. 

Just think of what it would be like to lose everything and then be restored to the moment you’re now in—however ordinary. 

You can reboot your mind in this way, and it need not take any time. 

The truth is, you know exactly what it’s like to feel overwhelming gratitude for your life. And if you have the freedom and the free
 attention to listen to this lesson right now…You are in an unusual situation.

There are at least a billion people on earth at this moment who would consider their prayers answered if they could trade places with you. There are at least a billion people who are suffering debilitating pain, or political oppression, or the acute stages of bereavement.

To have your health—even just sort-of.

To have friends—even only a few.

To have hobbies or interests, and the freedom to pursue them.

To have spent this day free from some terrifying encounter with chaos isto be lucky.

Just look around you, and take a moment to feel how lucky you are.

You get another day to live on this earth. Enjoy it.”

Sam Harris

And so to really enjoy this summer, not only am I going to bury my phone, unplug, but I’m going to remember that I truly “get” go for a run, tackle those annoying projects, prep for another school year, spend an hour playing soccer with my kids, hike another ridge and be alive.

What are you going to do to make this a life worth living?

Maybe

candid, education, Montana, People

I’ve been teaching high school since the fall of 2002. I suppose teaching is the only career I’m going to have. I’m a mediocre teacher. Strictly junior varsity. On good days, I think I can explain things in a way most seventeen and eighteen-year-olds understand. I lecture too much, grade too little, don’t plan enough, tell too many stories.

I used to be so certain about teaching. I thought I was changing the world. But the world goes on without me and my students.  Forces much larger are at play. I get depressed when I read the utter stupidity displayed in my local paper’s letters to the editor. I dread the day I realize some former student is the author of some ignorant screed.

Some former students have been wildly successful or moved into lives that are admirable, and impressive.  Students have graduated from challenging schools, moved a world away, started families, taken over ranches, and made me proud that I know them.  I’m not naive enough to think I have anything to do with their success. Certainly, teachers can help, but we are such a small process in the equation that includes parents and inner drive.  

Last year a student attacked me and my teaching in an anonymous letter I found left on my desk. It devastated me. It’s been hard to forget when every time a student sighs, rolls their eyes or snickers under their breath, I remember that letter.  It’s made me question everything I do, and don’t do. I thought this year would be the year that I dedicated myself to the passionate energy and brilliance I had when I began. I had an image of all the best practices I would adopt, all the lives I would inspire.  The truth is on a good day I’m lucky to walk out of school feeling like I’ve made any difference.

Down the hall is the classroom of a junior AP literature teacher.  He coaches policy debate and he often tells me what their debate topic is and I spit out some ideas supporting and attacking the prompt.  Sometimes it is on a topic I know a lot about. Periodically he asks me to visit with his debaters and give them my take on a topic. I enjoy it, it’s usually an interesting topic that can be turned over lots of different ways.  It’s fun to watch the kids wrestle with these hard issues.

Two days ago he told me that I was being awarded a “Friend of Forensics” award for my work with his team.  Tonight they gave me the award. I struggle with praise, but it was nice to hear his kind words. It’s been hard to look other teachers in the eye this year, maybe this will make it easier.  

As I sat listening to the debate team award ceremony I looked around and so many of the students I teach.  Many of these students are students who compete with for my Model UN team, many are involved in my We The People Constitutional Debate team.  Both of these groups performed extremely well for me this year. Maybe I am doing better, maybe I am changing lives. Maybe these kids are naturally talented.  Maybe they are lucky. Maybe I’m lucky.

It’s hard to say.  As the Stoics teach we know not when it’s all over.  We should live our lives knowing that we might not get another shot.  Maybe it’s all going to come together.

And it is as if a hand has come out and taken yours

B&W, Landscape, Montana, Nature

A difficult two days of teaching. Doubts swirl, rumination abounds and memories linger. I always read the play or watch the movie, “The History Boys” to attempt to regain some grounding. Lots of themes in the movie but central is the conflict between Hector, the aged master teacher, and Irwin, the young imposter, fresh out of university and flush with the latest pop history. A long drive up the North Fork road brought some solace. I brought my camera and attempted to frame what I was feeling.

I am your teacher. Whatever I do in this room is a token of my trust. I am in your hands. It is a pact. Bread eaten in secret. ‘I have put before your life and death, blessing and cursing; therefore choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live’

Hector-The History Boys
The North Fork of the Flathead River, Montana

The best moments in reading are when you come across something – a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things – which you had thought special and particular to you. Now here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out and taken yours.”

Hector–The History Boys
Livingston Range, Glacier National Park, Montana

“Shall I tell you what is wrong with Hector as a teacher? It isn’t that he doesn’t produce results. He does. But they are unpredictable and unquantifiable and in the current educational climate that is no use.”

the Headmaster, The History Boys
The North Fork of the Flathead, Montana
Fog, The North Fork