Happy Birthday: A chance encounter with a lonely man
#human #isolation humanity
My wife and I ate at Benihana last night. Just an out night. We sat with a rotten family of nitpickers and a lonely man. We kept to ourselves, dodging approval seeking glances from the family sitting across from us. The man sat beside us. He was overweight, his hands crusted from hard-work, his eyes dead from isolation. The table was a motley crowd of awkward people. I enjoyed the time with my wife. At the end the waitress brought out an ice cream with a candle for the man’s birthday. He blew out the candle, and set it aside. He then ate his ice cream fastidiously with no affect. He did not smile. He did not divert his glance. He wiped his mouth and excused himself. My wife and I exchanged an embarrassed glance. We didn’t bother to engage him in conversation. He was just there. It was awkward. We all were awkward. He came back, signed his bill and left a five. I managed a “happy birthday” as he was leaving. He replied: “Thank you for letting me share your company.” He left. We left the nitpickers soon after. We watched our art film. I am a fool.
0007: Cynicism is a teacher’s greatest battle (what do these tools do?)
Everyday a teacher wakes up to an endless list of impossibilities. The work is arduous, with little thanks or respect, and the results are seldom immediate. Additionally, there’s the battle to maintain focus on a goal that was often forgotten the moment the teacher was set in front of a classroom full of children or young adults who had all somehow managed to slip through the cracks. The challenge to remain authentic or human often slips my mind. So often, and so quickly the I turn inward and forget that my job is to connect to people in a meaningful way so they can learn. (My apologies for the abrupt shift from third to first person; I’ve already forgotten that I’m doing this for my sanity first). The moment I disappear from the realm of true practice is the moment my effectiveness as a teacher ends. Reflection without action is simply masturbatory. Just as action without reflection is activism. There has to be a balance. When the two are not in sync it seems the cynicism increases. I’m cynical because I feel helpless sometimes. My cynicism stems from an understanding that I’m only a small part of this assembly line that we call public education. I add on bolt to this vast machine that is a child’s education. I place a tiny bolt that, to them, if I don’t find the time to let them discover the purpose of the bolt, they may never uncover it’s greater purpose. We supply children with so many tools that are never connected to their uses. Our children have hammers with no understanding that its primary function is to drive nails into wood. Or, they know that nails are to be driven into wood, but they don’t know that pieces of wood can be connected to build something greater. Teachers and students lack the understanding that the tools they are given are for creation. Why else would a tool be needed? They’re all to progress something along, to push the plot forward. Instead, we all have a toolbox with no belief in the potential for their use. The division of subject matter into very separate boxes keeps us from ever uncovering the value of any of it. There has to be multiple opportunities for teachers and students to engage in collaborative problem solving. Teachers should work with teachers; students should work with each other; and, then the lines should blur. There is too much division; thus, there is no team. Just as subject matter is divided and distant, so are faculties, staffs, and students. Teachers fight the battle daily all alone. When they finally get together they’re frustrated from the day, and blowing of steam in a teachers’ lounge, or they’re enduring a meeting that provides them with the appearance of professional development, but is really just another set of obtuse instructions for how to apply the next band-aid to the problem of academics of discipline (both also separate concepts). Perhaps teachers and principals need to engage in authentic conversations as faculties with the set goal to decrease the distance from one another. Teachers are often afraid or mistrusting of their administration, and this has been reinforced through years of sneaky dealings and unprofessional behavior. But, that is not every administrator’s intention. There has to be a moment where authenticity begins and the distance decreases. The process will be arduous and will require efforts from teachers and administrators. Teams need to be built quickly for schools to run effectively. And yes, everyone is too busy to drop everything to build relationships, but if that is the only way to fix a problem, then it must be done. Something has to be done if teachers, administrators, and students are to continue forward.