Tuesday, April 5, 2016

What do I have to be Grateful for? (Turns out Plenty)

So, I'm taking a class on mindfulness and meditation right now.  Last week the topics were compassion, forgiveness and gratitude.  One of the assignments was to list all the things I am grateful for and do this for 5 minutes straight.

Now, I have heard about gratitude journals and this practice many times before.  Never done it.  I think about things I am grateful for all the time, but I never write them down.  I didn't see how it could be so helpful.  Even though Oprah herself recommended it, I always resisted it.

But, because this was an assignment and I'm nothing if not an obedient student, I did it.

What was my experience?  The minutes flew.  I started slowly, but soon the ideas were flying out and when the chime rang at the end, I was surprised and I still had so many more things I could have put down.

Then I read the list back, and then I felt GREAT.  Contented, peaceful, calm, filled with positive energy.

My gratitude list included some things about being a teacher and my students.  And, it gave me a lift when I re-read those things and it enabled me to have a more positive outlook that day when I went into the classroom.   I noticed more of the good stuff that day.  And, I was a lot less bothered by the annoying stuff.

"The present moment is filled with joy and happiness.  If you are attentive, you will see it."
Thich Nhat Hanh- Vietnamese Buddhist monk, teacher, author, poet, and peace activist.

So, I decided to do a gratitude list focused on my work as a teacher for 5 minutes.  I wrote down 21 things, but I'm going to tell you about my 5 favorite.  So, in no particular order, here are 5 things about being a teacher that I have gratitude for.

1.  We live in a country where all children get to attend school for free.  It doesn't matter what your social class is, whether you're a boy or a girl, what your religion is, what your first language is. You get to come.  You have to come.  

Do we have still have enormous problems with achievement gaps, gender equity, and cultural understanding in U.S. schools?  Yes, Yes, Yes.  And, I'm not satisfied.  We have a lot of work to do; we can always get better.  

But, we do have certain protections and laws in place and I am glad to be a teacher in the United States, and in particular, this state I live and work in.

You can find lots of horrifying statistics about education in other parts of the world.  You can read about Malala, who was shot in the head by the Taliban in Pakistan for demanding that girls have the right to an education.  You can read about how some girls are being  forced into marriage at tender ages, when they should be giggling with their friends as they skip into school every day.

Recently I sat across from a parent at a conference asking questions and trying to find answers about his daughter's struggle to learn and her slow progress.  And, the puzzle pieces of her life started to fit together  as I realized that she had missed out on years of education.  There was only money to send some of the kids in the family to school, and so the boys went.

I felt a deep pang in my heart for this precious girl, a renewed commitment to help her in any way I could, and a deep gratitude to see her bounce into my classroom every day.  She was here now, in my classroom, and that's what matters.

2.  I have the privilege of working with kids, families, and colleagues who come from different countries, cultures, social classes, religions, languages.   They expand my world view.  They teach ME and I am a better person for having known them.  

In this particular time, April of 2016, a lot of careless things are being said about refugees, immigrants, Muslims, people from certain countries. These are the humans I interact with on a daily basis. and, these are the people who inspire me with  their courage, their heart, and their resilience. 

They generously teach me about their countries, their languages, their cultures, their religions. I try to be open, ask smart questions, and be a good listener. They have taught me more than I will ever get from a book on these subjects. And, I realize, for all our differences, we have so very much in common. We all want to be happy, to be safe, to follow our passions, and to achieve our goals.

Mother Teresa says, "We have forgotten that we belong to each other." I am not fearful of these people, because I know them. I work with them and teach them. They are not an abstraction to me. They are not "the other" to me. We are here in a world together.

Father Greg Boyle, a Jesuit priest who has done amazing work with gangs in Los Angeles, has a lot of profound things to say on this topic:

"For the measure of our compassion lies not in our service of those on the margins, but in our willingness to see ourselves in kinship with them, in mutuality. "

"There is an idea that has taken root in the world, and the idea is at the root of all that is wrong- that there are lives out there  that matter less than other lives. And, how do we stand against that?"

"My answer is we get to know people. We listen to their stories. We ask them about their life, their journey, their pain, their joy. Humans can't demonize people they know."

3. I have the pleasure and joy of seeing things through my students' eyes. 

I take so much for granted in my daily life. My students will bring me back beautifully to the joy of simple things. I get to experience a freshness, an awe, a wonder with them. I see eyes light up and I am reminded of how lovely life can be.

Recently I chaperoned some of our students to a chess tournament out of town and we spent a night in a hotel. There were 2 girls that I was watching over in particular. One had never stayed at a hotel and the other had, but she asked if this was a hotel for rich people (it wasn't :)) , so apparently she had never stayed at one this nice.

I saw their eyes grow wide with amazement when they saw the swimming pool, the hot tub, the big beds, all the pillows, the giant TV,and even the little coffee maker in the room. I watched them hurtle themselves into the pool with abandon and savor every last bit of that "rich people's" hotel.

In the morning, I went to knock on their door and wake them up. The door zinged open, "Miss! We make coffee!"

"I see that. " They made me realize how much I have.   A reminder to breathe in all of the good stuff, no matter how small, more often.

4. I have problem solvers and helpers at my work. Change is possible. There are lots of people who I can turn to for help. I don't need to figure everything out on my own. I'm not alone.

We have a great new principal this year. A few months ago, he said that he would like to meet monthly with our EL team to make sure the issues and needs of our students were on the front burner. WHAAAAAAAAAT?????!!!!! That was a first for me.

We met with him and our instructional coach last week to try to solve a problem that we had. I'm normally pretty optimistic, but this particular issue seemed too thorny to resolve. I had very low expectations going in to the meeting.

They came up with a solution.

It didn't even take very long.

Yes. Wow. My colleague and I were amazed. Giddy even.

When you're stuck, ask someone for help. Chances are they'll have some ideas.  And, then you can thank them. 

5. My deepest desire is to make a difference for my students, and in a bigger sense, to make my life count. Sometimes I get lovely reminders that reinforce that what I'm doing matters, and for that, I am immensely grateful.

Beautiful notes from my students thanking me for teaching them.

Immense gratitude from so many of the parents and families. 

Constant support, care, and appreciation from my co-teacher.

Breakthroughs in my students' learning and English that only I can see really clearly, since I spend 6 hours a day with them.

Seeing the light of understanding and pride in their eyes when they master a new skill.

Witnessing kids from vastly different cultures find ways to connect and form friendships.

Big, joyful hugs.


I would encourage you to do a gratitude journal.  Especially on a day when you are hating life.  But, any day, really,will do.  

If you are a teacher, I would encourage you to do a gratitude journal related to your job. Especially after a tough day in the classroom. 

You might just fall in love with teaching all over again. 

For a beautiful and stunning video on gratitude:

For Father Gregory Boyle's TED talk: 

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