All photos in this post were taken in Joshua Tree National Park, a place you should visit...
Keys View Overlook
For the past seven years, at this time of year, I have been busily teaching a unit on properties of matter: chemistry, for the most part. At this time of year, students are usually going a little bit crazy as the weather turns cooler, and are looking forward to Halloween, as am I. At this time of year, the temperatures fall and the light changes and the leaves begin to rustle on the branches as they turn from green to brown, drying out as the trees go into winter dormancy. The sunsets become beautiful and vibrant and come early. The nights are cool, and then cold, and long. For the past seven years, I have watched this process out of a classroom window, over the tops of houseplants and bunnies in cages, and boxes of student lab journals, and whatever else junks up the counter tops that were always mysteriously full of amazing objects in my classroom.
This year, I am not teaching, and while I miss aspects of being in the classroom, I am so happy that I made the choice to go out into the world on buses, trains and planes, to get to where I am two days before going home.
Jumping Cactus — watch out!
Teaching changed my life: took me places I would never have gone without it. Teaching kept me young and silly. Teaching kept me creative and it made me laugh all the time. Teaching kept me responsible for my life because I was responsible for my students’ school day lives. Teaching taught me that I work best without a direct supervisor, that I am quick on my feet, that I am adaptable, that I care about people, and that I really can do anything I set my mind to. Teaching has been, possibly, the greatest gift of my adult life. It is hard to say whether I would be where I am today without the nearly 1000 students that have been in my care.
My first group of students are now twenty years old, my youngest are mere 7th graders in inner-city Philadephia. Some have children of their own now, some are in college, some are at work, some I have no idea. When I think of all those gangly little kids that came walking, or sometimes flying, through my doors over the last seven years, most of them make me smile, even the ones that made me feel my head was going to explode.
One of the things that I have learned from teaching children is that we are all strange, we are all different, and that the differences are what make us stronger. If we can look at other people and say, “I’ll give you a chance”, then the battle of life is already won. You have already allowed yourself to be open to new experiences and new people, without the prejudice of fear of the unknown. I used to work with a school police officer who always said, “teachers are like babies…they just love everyone.” And in a lot of ways, that is true. Teaching taught me just to love everyone, to see the possibilities in all people and not say that there is a limit to what people can do. That belief is a fundamental part of my personality, even though some of my friends see it as that I see too much good in all people.
I am very lucky to have been a professional person for such a long time. Without the exact path that I have taken, I would not have the confidence or resources to do what I am doing now. I spent seven years career-hungry, dedicated to increasing academic achievement of under-served students, building upon a skill set that can be built upon for a lifetime. As I did that, I was lucky enough to stay in the same career for almost ten years. When I made the decision last year to take this year off and re-evaluate, I knew that if it didn’t work out for some reason, that I would be able to get another job. I know myself and my abilities: I trust myself, my ability to survive and do good work.
I have an old friend who gave me advice years ago, when I was a girl of eighteen who thought she knew, well, at least a little bit. He said to work really hard when you are in college and in your twenties, so that when you are in your thirties you can relax a little bit. Back then, thirty seemed so far away, but now I realize that he was right.
My cousin and I were talking a few weeks ago about life, and about how you spend years growing up and out, pushing the limits of life to try to see where it will take you, and how, at a certain point, there comes a time to set down roots. No place is perfect, no home is the ultimate one. Home is where the heart is, if you can say it simply. Home is within the body and soul, and the place can change over time.
At this moment, I have been spending the morning researching knitting patterns and sewing patterns, thinking about building terrariums and lighting my house with oil lamps, of taking photos of empty winter streets, and taking long walks in cold weather. I have another daydream lately of taking a thermos of coffee and walking onto Sargent Drive to watch the icicles grow as they creep down over the granite on their way back to the ocean.