Tuesday, October 25, 2011

To Ms. O'Donnell, With Love

When I first saw her at the reunion, I made the rather silly assumption that she might have been somebody's mother. How sweet, I thought, bringing one's mom as a date. I then turned back to the business of trying to guess people's names without looking at their name tags, which sported their yearbook photos from 1981.

Later on, I got a better look at the gray-haired woman I'd glanced at before, and I realized with a jolt that she was Mary O'Donnell, someone I've mentioned in a previous post as being a major influence on me in my life as a writer, a teacher and as a person.

I gave her a big hug and we chatted for a while. She seemed amused to learn I was a high school assistant principal, and that I had taught high school English. On her end, I was pleased -- and not at all surprised -- to learn that she keeps busy working with new and struggling teachers.

In addition, I found out that she still drives her signature Corvette convertible, which is in mint condition. She's having it appraised and is hoping to get enough for it to purchase a home on Nantucket. I showed her photos of my boys, of course.

Before we were done, I made it a point to inform her of the difference her influence made. Had it not been for Mary O'Donnell's brief appearance in my life, I never would have become a teacher myself. In turn, just as she had touched my young life, I was honored to be able to do the same for the many students I've worked with over the years.

The impromptu, unexpected meeting with one of my favorite teachers served as the perfect reminder for me of why I'm doing the work I'm doing, and why I always gravitate back to being in a school. As much as I'd like to claim Ms. O'Donnell as my teacher alone, I know she had the same effect on many of us who were fortunate enough to have her as a teacher.

So, from this modest platform, I'd like to publicly honor not just Mary O'Donnell but all teachers who bring their best to the classroom each day. Thank you, not only for making me feel loved, but also for always insisting on my very best.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Importance of Routines, Revisited

I'm not sure why I skipped yesterday's Morning Pages. I've been getting a bit lazy about doing such things. I suppose I've got a good excuse for not riding my bike -- though I miss it -- in that I've had a cold recently, but I've got to be careful about making excuses. Besides, that one doesn't hold much water, once you begin to consider I've been battling sinus infections and allergies for almost a year now, and it hasn't stopped me yet.

I've written about it before, but it bears repeating, now that I'm not doing those things that make me happy in that they belong exclusively to me. Riding my bike and writing each day are not things I do for a paycheck, or my principal, or for other people's children, or for the Greater Good. I do these things because they make me feel stronger, both physically and mentally.

When I stop doing either or both of "my" daily routines, I feel diminished, not to mention guilty. Now, on a beautiful, sunny, 70-degree morning, I feel much as the grass must have felt last week when rain finally came pouring down, after months of drought. I absorb this general sense of nourishment because, like Central Texas rain, I have no idea when they might go away, and how long it will be until it will be back around these here parts again.

One might argue I'm in a better way due to having the day off today (I'm traveling later), but I have to say that despite (or maybe because of) the stress of the job as Assistant Principal at Cedar Ridge High School in Round Rock, I am really enjoying my new position. It's nonstop work all day long, and I never know what the next knock on my door or ring of my phone will bring my way. And (a bit to my surprise, I'll admit) I absolutely love it.

Now that I'm gradually becoming more familiar with my school's (enormous) physical space and (many, many) faculty and staff members, the general anxiety I carried around with me all last week has fallen off like skin off a growing snake. I'm able to engage more fully with students and their parents, and to hold my post with confidence.

In a nutshell, my new professional routine (to tie back to my earlier theme) is all coming back to me. Like riding a bike, as the missus recently said. As I engage more freely with the teachers and students and families of Cedar Ridge, I'm reminded that I have been a school person for just short of 20 years. I know how to do this stuff. I'm good at it.

I don't mean to sound self-celebratory. If anything, I'm giving myself a pep-talk, not completely unlike what I did as a new teacher in February of 1992. You see, I've always been aware of this nagging little tug of a voice inside my head -- and I wonder how many of you who are reading this have heard this, too -- who snickers at my every move. Even now he's standing there, leaning against a wall, arms crossed, legs crossed at the ankles, shaking his head.

"You call yourself a writer?" he asks.

"Yes, I do," I answer with confidence. "And I call myself an educator, too."

Monday, October 10, 2011

Sinister Stillness

The dog is curled up on her bed before the fireplace, in this perfectly silent home, at just before six in the morning. It’s still dark outside, and the windows become black mirrors as a result. The only sounds are the ticking clock in the kitchen and the measured breathing of my sleeping son, Diego.

It’s extraordinarily peaceful this morning; however there’s something about the month of October that lends a sinister flavor to everything, so that peace and quiet become “eerie stillness.” This morning I’m teetering between the two, as if I might look up at the back door glass panel and see the figure of a man, his facial features obscured , peering in at me from the darkness.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

My Recurring Anxiety Dream

The other night I had an interesting dream -- a kind of a twist, or a variation, on a recurring nightmare I've had periodically since my earliest childhood days of being aware of my dreams.

The dream has always been about anxiety and it involves having to drive a car in an unusual fashion. Normally I'm in the backseat, trying to manage the steering wheel, brakes and gas pedal from back there. It takes an enormous amount of concentration on my part, and the anxiety is the result of being put in a situation where I'm being asked to control an unfamiliar situation. The fact that I'm in a two-ton vehicle adds to the tension; lives are at stake, after all.

It would be fascinating to go back and look for a pattern, and to see whether the events in my life at the times in which this dream has resurfaced have anything in common. I can say with confidence that the events happening now -- finding myself, all of a sudden, in this position of leadership in an enormous comprehensive high school -- does create a very real anxiety, which I'm forced to sublimate in order to perform my job. The analogy -- of maneuvering a car (in this case on a tow line, in crowded city traffic) -- is an accurate one.

Maybe I had the car dream/nightmare my first week of Kindergarten. Or moving upstairs at Virginia Road Elementary, to Fourth. Maybe my first day of teaching, or before I performed in front of a thousand middle-schoolers in Madrid -- my first real public performance as an actor.

I wonder: could this dream be my unconscious mind's way of saying, "Chill, dude. It could be a lot worse than what you're going through now....."

Sunday, October 2, 2011

A Sense of Community

On Friday night I took the boys over to the Manor ISD Athletic Complex to watch the Mustangs take on the Hippos from Hutto.  Our whole town turns out for the games, in true "Friday Night Lights" fashion, and I enjoy seeing my kids' teachers and their families at the games.  It feels like an authentic community experience.

We ate nachos and hot dogs until Diego decided he wanted to go.  We got to watch a little bit of football in the process, with our Mustangs leading big at the time we got there, in the second quarter, by a score of 35 - 13.  The Hippos came back (I read in the paper the next day) to win it 45 - 43. 

Like the football game, Manor Fest was a nice bit of community the next day.  The downtown area was blocked off to traffic, and transformed into a street fair, complete with a car show, a barbecue truck courtyard, live music and lots of activities for children.  Diego impressed the crowd on the bungee trampoline, doing some impressive flips while being whipped into mid-air.  We ate Elgin sausages, sitting in the shade of the bouncy castle. 

It feels good living in a small town, especially after so many years in one of the world's largest cities.  I like our little home and our little hometown, even if it is a bit "suburban" for my taste.  It's a comfortable place to hang my hat at the end of a long day.  And starting Monday, my days are going to get a LOT longer. 

One Chapter Ends, Another Begins

I spent most of the day on Friday packing, sorting through the professional detritus of my career -- books and articles, keepsakes and photographs that have some connection to my working or family/personal life.  Occasionally a colleague stopped by to chat and wish me well.

There was the usual bittersweetness of a Last Day -- the "bitter" manifesting itself as an emotional tug in the gut and throat, suggesting that under the right conditions I could shed a tear for Education Service Center Region 13 and the people there I'll be leaving behind.

And it has been a good run, I must say.  As I stated in the now perfunctory "all-staff" farewell email, my co-workers have been nothing but kind and helpful during my 21 months there.  The place has a great reputation for customer service, due to the people they hire.  I'm proud to have been one of them and grateful for all that I learned.  Now it's time to put the learning to good use in a school.  And who knows?  Maybe I'll work at Region 13 again one day . . .