Friday, January 29, 2016

The Space Between: Dave Matthews and Public Education

I am a word girl. I appreciate stories and poems and lyrics and speeches. I love reading clever books, I enjoy snarky stand-up, and I love having fast-paced conversations with people who are smart and sharp and funny. I treasure the familiar refrains of stories I have read to children for years and years; the two that I have raised, and the countless others that I have loved, fought for, even grieved over, one academic year at a time. I even asked a new teacher this week if I could share a Valentine read-aloud with her class because the thought of not reading Roses are Pink, Your Feet Really Stink by Diane deGroat to a class for the first time in 18 years almost made me weepy.

Every once in awhile, however, familiar pedagogy collides with satellite radio, and a song I have heard over and over finds me in a new way. Perhaps a result of nostalgia or frustration or grief, maybe a byproduct of love or hopefulness or joy, a song will sometimes reach out and pull at the parts of me that I often hide- from my acquaintances, my friends, and maybe even myself. Not to sound dramatic (ha), but songs get to me. I will laugh out loud at a lyric and I will silently sob to a song that hits me in a weird way, whether it be from my past, my present, or what I think may be my future.

Today, I heard, "The Space Between," by Dave Matthews. A song originally released just two years into my teaching career hit me in a new way as it played in my car leaving the school parking lot. As an instructional coach, I have so many opportunities to experience the things that are hard about education. Too many expectations, too little time, too many meetings, not enough funding for resources or training or support. Teachers are often exhausted and struggle with EVER PRESENT guilt: they feel guilty that they are not doing more for their students, or they feel guilty that doing it means they are not devoting fair amounts of time to their own lives: their own families and friends and interests.

Teachers have to battle with the expectations of a Pinterest world: perfect lessons and papers with darling fonts, activities that are inquiry-based and hands-on and differentiated and scaffolded. Classrooms must be stocked with materials that are pleasing to the eye and functional, but not cluttered. Oh, and buy all the materials yourself, because the bookshelf that comes with the classroom is nice, but the alphabet that hangs on the wall must be purchased by the teacher. The school day must include enough movement opportunities to meet the needs of your kinesthetic learners, but three others prefer calm, quiet environments, so kindly do your part to meet the needs of each child's unique learning style. Please also make kids care about non-renewable resources, dividing decimals, and that M really does come before N in the alphabet. And do it with a smile, with an even, composed spirit, and answer all of the e-mails you get about transportation changes and reading level changes and home-life changes in a timely manner. And do not mix anything up.

What does this have to do with Dave Matthews? Nothing really, except that the teachers I know keep showing up for more. Some move locations and some move on, but very few of the people I do education with can stay away from school. WHY? Why do so many teachers stay, when it's such an overwhelming career?

"The Space Between."
It really makes such good, good sense. 

"You cannot quit me so quickly...The space between the tears we cry, is the laughter that keeps us coming back for more."

I love school. I love talking to kids and the adults that care for them each day. Today I got to hear about stock shows and fractions and how to find the main idea and what sound the sh-digraph makes. I got to give no less than 76 hugs to kids that think I am a custodian because I help with lunch duty. I got to help a gravel-dusted boy get an ice pack, hold a baby brother, and calm a mom who was having a hard time with her kindergartner having a hard time.

And I laughed. I laughed with teachers and parents and to myself as I overheard kid conversations at lunch and while fifth graders filmed a PSA about renewable energy sources. I was photobombed by a former student. A first grader snuck up behind me to scare me. Awhile back, I wrote a post that explored the identity crisis I was facing as I prepared to leave the classroom. It has been hard and weird. It has also been rewarding and exciting and so fascinating. I have learned SO STINKING MUCH. What has surprised me the most is that there is a much broader picture now that my world is over 600 children instead of just 22. I have learned that it takes parents and teachers and administrators and support staff to provide an environment that is good for kids. I was recently reminded by an education mentor that, "You're not a fixer. You're a leader. Lead people to love this profession again."

Beautiful, right? It's the space between. 

"The space between the bullets in our firefight is where I'll be hiding, waiting for you." 

I have chosen to believe that means that with all that is wrong in education, there is so very much that is right. The right people. The right passion. Finding the joy in a job that matters. Because our kids matter. They deserve grown-ups that will fight. Maybe not with fire, but with a burning desire to try. To the teachers and the others that I serve in this position that I am still struggling to figure out, what I can promise is the last line of the first stanza of a song that hit me today...

"But I got all the time for you, Love,"