Tuesday, June 7, 2011

are you ready to forgive?- chapter 1

We all have our own story that describes how we arrived at Imagine Charter School as teachers.  It is this story that makes us the teachers we are today.  I have always been a reflective person, an introvert by nature, had a quirky sense of humor and I have had some powerful learning experiences I draw and reflect upon with each new student I encounter. 
When Mr. Levine posed the question “are you ready to forgive?” it struck me in a way that is hard to describe.  What exactly does he mean by this statement?  Are these the learning experiences I draw upon everyday to help the students I work with?  Can I forgive myself for some of these learning experiences and become a better teacher?
Although I have had many years of education and one might deduce I stayed in school for so long because it was easy and safe, the reality is my brain found the niche it needed to open up the language pathways that had previously gone unopened in school.  I did not stay in school because it was easy and safe rather my experience has been quite the opposite.
Snapshots of my K-12 years would show:
-a young girl getting into trouble for talking too much
-a severely anxious child
-a young girl terrified of public speaking
-someone who struggled with math and in fact failed algebra
-a young woman who found her voice in debates where her emotions were inflamed
-an athlete and musician
-a voracious reader

In college
-a young woman who struggled through algebra again
-a defeated student with red marks all over her writing assignments.  I eventually came to a point where I began to revise papers between 20 and 30 times before I would show anyone my papers.
-a student who dreaded multiple choice tests because no matter how hard I studied I was never able to remember what I needed to remember
-someone who frequently misunderstood assignments/test questions/direct questions

Although my story continues my reflective journey to understand does not require that I lament all of my experiences.  An overview has merely helped me to see that every step along my educational journey was a struggle.  However, I was able to continue and persist because I had a strong emotional tie to the information I was studying, a few teachers who encouraged me and I had a purpose. 
I just had an extremely emotional experience in the Cognitive Coaching class I am took that helped me to further connect my original purpose in school to my current purpose in life.  I am drawn to professions I have a clear purpose.  I have a strong desire to help in immediate and meaningful ways.  I have also come to understand I want to help individuals who have less power to have more power in and over their lives.
I thought I found a profession I could connect all of those pieces (a lawyer for Native American nations), but I now understand I was not ready for that profession.  I needed to grow and take another journey.  There is a pivotal point that sits at the apex of my educational experiences in this story.  It is this experience that changed the course of my life and sent me in a new direction.  When Mel Levine posed the question, “are you ready to forgive?” this is the one experience, of all of my learning experiences which speaks to the power of forgiveness and its potential to inform how I sculpt my interactions with students.
After 21 years of education I sat at a table for an interview with 2 tribal lawyers, members of the Klamath tribal nation and the tribal council.  While I would have worked for any tribe that made an offer, I heavily pursued the Klamath position because the Klamath nation had won what has become known as one of the most influential cases in water rights since the early 1900’s.  While I could go on and on about what this means, I won’t.  My point in telling you this story is the interview was going really well until they saw my transcripts.  I failed a course entitled “Civil Procedure” and had to retake the course.  The second they saw I failed a class my interview was over.
Nine years of higher education, my passion and my self-worth disappeared before my eyes.  Am I ready to forgive?  After eight years, yet another degree, a new profession and a deeper understanding of why I failed and struggled, yes, I am ready to forgive and move on.  What I once viewed as a detriment to my success has become my launching pad into a new career.  A career I have embraced to the fullest extent possible because I have lived it.  I have become the teacher I am today because of the experiences I have had, and it is because of those experiences I will never discount the potential within a child. 
So the question I ask you as we embark on this journey is, “are you ready to forgive?”


  1. Thank you Rebecca, for sharing your personal journey. You inspired me to think about my educational journey, and how I got to this desk in this school. I never really reflected on this. So, thank you.

    Smart, but not smart enough. My educational journey.

    I was always a smart girl. School came easy to me, sometimes too easy. I was one of those students who would finish early and then sit around until the rest of the class was ready to move on. When I was in about 4th grade, my teacher noticed I needed a challenge. It was recommended I be tested for GT. I took the test, and then I did not pass. So, I went back to my classroom where things were easy. I got good grades, and thought that was just how school was. 5th grade rolls around, and my teacher notices I need a challenge, again. I took the GT test and still did not pass. So, I went back to my class, stuck in limbo. Even though I was “too smart” for the regular class, I was not “smart enough” for the advanced classes.

    Middle School: Guess what happened? My teachers noticed that I did not have to put forth much effort in class to get good grades, so they had me tested… again. And guess what? … Again, I did not pass the test. So I stayed in my regular class, where things were easy.

    School was not a challenge for me, so I sought out a challenge in art and music. I took private lessons with teachers who pushed me to new heights. I would spend hours practicing, and challenging my mind to create new pieces of art and challenging my voice to mature and develop. I found satisfaction competing in these areas and pushing myself to be better.

    High School: Same pattern. I found it easy to get good grades. I completed my homework, was attentive in class, and my teachers accepted that.

    It was not until college that I really felt academically challenged. My teachers asked me questions that made me think. I couldn’t just sit in my desk, and complete my assignments. I had to synthesize information, compare and contrast, discover things on my own. Courses in Biology, Ethics, and Health were among my favorites, because they expanded my mind. (Of course I liked my education classes too.)

    I wonder what my educational career would have looked like if instead of waiting for an identifying label, my teachers took it upon themselves to challenge me because they saw that was what I needed.

    I think this speaks to why I come out of BEAT meetings so energized. I have to think. I can listen to other perspectives, which can expand my mind.

    Even though I may not have had the ideal educational journey, it is mine, and it made me who I am today.

    Here’s to this year, and giving kids what they need, just because they need it!!


  2. Kia,

    Thank you for your story. It is so helpful to have other personal stories for me to connect to, it helps me to better understand and appreciate our individual experiences as learners. Love your comment about giving kids what they need, just because they need it-justice!

    Each of our passion for education comes from some where. Where does your passion come from team members?


  3. My educational journey is a lot like yours, Kia. I was the first child to read in my kinder class and actually read to my whole class. This is not unusual now, but it was then. We didn't learn to read in kindergarten. I learned to read at home.

    1st grade: I could already read and never saw the connection between reading and phonics. Phonics was a silly little worksheet and the point was to try to decipher what the silly picture actually was so I could then attach the appropriate sound to it. School came easily. I dutifully completed my work and then sat and read.

    3rd grade: I didn't initially understand something about subtraction with regrouping. I had to sit and wait in a room by myself while my teacher had bus duty until she could come and help me. How embarrassing! Someone might see me and think I was stupid. Besides, my teacher had discovered my problem too late. I had already figured out what I hadn't understood and moved on. Why hadn't she seen that? I learned a valuable lesson about standardized tests that year; if you do not think too hard, you don't over think a question, and you do better. It worked.

    School continued to be easy. I knew the game. It wasn't a process of thinking or intellectual pursuit, it was how to please the teacher. School taught me to be a lazy thinker, but I got straight A's and isn't that what it's all about?

    In 8th grade, I had the highest average of the entire grade in every subject. But I wasn't popular. Who wants good grades when you can't date the football star? So in 9th grade I decided to not be smart. My attempt caused me to get low 90's instead of high 90's - well, at least I tried!

    Moving on through HS, I decided it was worth trying again since my low 90's hadn't netted me any cute guys. Even in HS I was just playing the game, not really learning to think or to study. I got A's so no one noticed.

    In University, I found out that it was actually okay to be smart and that there were other kids out there who valued good grades. But I didn't know how to study. I made it through the first semester of chemistry, physics, calculus, biology, and psychology, probably because I had taken all of those things in HS. But I lost 5 pounds the week of finals because I couldn't eat due to severe anxiety; I thought I was going to fail out of school. You probably will laugh to know that I made a B average that first stressful semester, but I'm pretty sure that was because of grading on the curve (remember, I learned how to be a good test taker in 3rd grade!)

    My stint in chemical engineering my second year of university was a dismal failure; the course work was intense and I still hadn't learned how to study. So although I made good grades in the harder engineering classes I got a D in two of the easier ones. I changed my major. Not because I got some bad grades, although that was the assumption of my parents. But because it just didn't feel like a good fit. So I went back to pre-med, this time with a major in psychology (Did I mention that my dad is a nuclear engineer and probably would not have paid for my education if I had studied liberal arts?!?)

    I graduated successfully with a strong GPA by learning my next important lesson - how to expend just enough energy to get an A, but not enough energy to get a high A (an A, is an A, is an A, and studying for a low A allowed me plenty of time to address my minors, Beer Drinking and Dancing til 3 AM.)

    So my educational career from K-undergrad on paper was stellar (that one semester in chem eng aside.) And yet, I learned not one lesson on the joys of intellectual pursuit and reflection.

    Cont. in comment below

  4. Comment cont.

    Move ahead, 2-3 years. I quite my job, sold all my worldly possessions and moved to Europe for a year. For 10 months, I lived in Amsterdam, riding my bike along the canals to my part-time job with Berlitz, but generally just hanging out and "finding myself" (I know, cliché.) I met the most amazing characters. A, the guy from South Africa who wore dresses and taught art lessons and L the guy who had had reportedly done some illegal stuff involving keys and locks for the African National Congress in South Africa. There was K, an ex-pat who lived by the bartering system, doing art projects in exchange for goods, like a new pair of shoes. And there was R, a Dutch college student, who could pose the most amazing philosophical questions that we could ponder all night. And I LEARNED TO THINK! I learned the power of analyzing and reflecting. And I felt totally inadequate (there was so much that I had not learned in school about so many different things) and empowered all at the same time.

    That is an incredibly long story to say that despite getting many A's, school essentially failed me. It was a random life experience that inspired me and sent me along an intellectual path. My passion as an educator comes from the sum total of all these experiences. I want to inspire children, to pose intriguing questions and allow for discussions that stretch the thinking of every child. I want to eliminate sloppy thinking, and "just getting by." I want to not miss any child in the process (particularly the naughty little boy who doesn't think he wants to learn. I love to find the best way to hook him in despite himself.)

    So yes, I am ready to forgive. Until this moment I hadn't realized that there was a need to forgive. I can forgive all the many educators who failed me, while not even realizing that they were failing me, because despite of them or because of them, I found the key to unlock my own thinking.

  5. Nancy,

    After reading your post I had to ponder it awhile. The part of your post that stated, "I didn't know there was anyone to forgive" caused me to reflect yet again on the question.

    When I read your reflection I thought, am I forgiving others? Then I realized, no, I am forgiving myself. All those years, I blamed myself. -R