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Gratitude for Teaching: A Mirror to the Soul

My friend Evi Wusk asked me to write a guest post for her blog, Gratitude Gal, about what I am grateful for as a teacher. The reflection that resulted has been a game-changer for me. It’s been a busy and challenging school year, but digging deeper about why I continue to choose to be an educator has uplifted my attitude and helped me deal with the daily challenges of teaching.

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Here is what I wrote:

“Gratitude at its deepest level embraces all of life with thanksgiving: the good and the bad, the joyful and the painful, the holy and the not so holy… I am gradually learning that the call to gratitude asks us to say, ‘Everything is grace. “–Henri Nouwen

I am grateful to have had two grown-up careers—five years in advertising sales and the past 23 years as a Business educator. It is teaching that has taught me about the importance of practicing gratitude.

I am grateful to see teaching as a vocation, not just a paycheck. When I made my career change, it was certainly not for the money. I have never looked at teaching as just a job; it is a spiritual calling. Parker Palmer in The Courage to Teach writes, “I believe that knowing, teaching, and learning are grounded in sacred soil and that renewing my vocation as a teacher requires cultivating a sense of the sacred.”

I am grateful that I have stayed in education even when it can be soooo hard. Several years ago, I tried to capture the essence of the evolving nature of teaching through SoulCollage®. When I started my first teaching job, I was incredibly naïve and idealistic about what it would be like, represented by the black and white, “country school” image —students with smiles on their faces, eagerly waiting to learn, happy, compliant, respectful, and totally mesmerized by every word I said. The reality is that teaching is a much more “colorful” role than I had expected or could have imagined.

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I am grateful that teaching has shown me how diverse my community is and has given me the opportunity to grow in understanding and compassion. My students are more economically and racially diverse than earlier in my career. Students have more challenges than they did when I first started teaching—m­ore personal and family traumas, mental illness, learning disabilities, poverty and more. Teaching has become much more than delivering curriculum, it is about connecting to the personal experiences of each student. Committed to learning about the impact of poverty, racism, and traumatic experiences in my students lives has been both eye-opening and heartbreaking. Recognizing blind spots and facing my own privilege has challenged me to the growing edge. I want my students to succeed, to become their best self, to reach their fullest potential. I grieve when I see that a student who comes from an environment that does not encourage or support that.

I am grateful for the creativity and spontaneity that I can bring to my lessons.  Perhaps the most exciting part of teaching is surrendering to the sweet surprises that can occur during a school day. My lesson plans give the day structure and order, but being flexible and willing to let go of plans to respond to unique situations, questions or spontaneous discussions, is sometimes messier, but much more “colorful” and always well worth it.

I am grateful for students who love learning and for those “light bulb” moments that can happen in the learning process. I am grateful for teaching a subject that I have never lost my passion for. The joy that comes when a student learns something new about business or about themselves is the best reward for teaching classes that can be relevant to students now and in their future.

I am grateful for the opportunity to begin again. I am grateful that I can keep learning. I am grateful for the educators I work with who also have a commitment to growth and learning. Two of my favorite things about teaching are discovering new ways to share the love of learning with students and the chance to start the next semester with a clean slate. Fresh ideas, new teaching strategies, another opportunity to grow, learn and improve—and hoping a little of that rubs off on my students—are the greatest gifts of being a teacher.

I am grateful that I can accept my own imperfections (most of the time…I’m still practicing). I think I’m still learning that I will never get it just right. I will never be perfect. But I love that I can be creative each day, trying new things, forgiving myself for what doesn’t work and starting over again the next day, week or semester.

I am grateful I have had the courage to stay put and grow in my profession. It is the Benedictine promise of stability that has given me the courage to stay in teaching, to learn the valuable lessons that can only be learned slowly and over time. My commitment to teaching is a little like my marriage. It takes work. I give. I get. It is hard. I want to quit. I recommit. There are days, weeks, months, sometimes years, that don’t seem very rewarding. But there are moments that are so affirming; it is then that the reward is revealed. It is only over time that the fruits of the labor can be truly appreciated. 

I am grateful for the memories of deep connections with students. I was with students the day the World Trade Center towers came down and when I went to the 9/11 memorial. I’ve journeyed with students when they’ve made big mistakes and major accomplishments. I am grateful for the students who have stayed in touch through the years, celebrating their careers, marriages, and new babies.

I am grateful for my business teacher colleagues who care about students and believe in what we teach. I love the solitude and community we have—we respect each other’s individuality but also work well as a department and professional learning community.

I am grateful that teaching reveals more about who I am, giving me plenty of material for reflection and growth. “Teaching holds a mirror to the soul. If I am willing to look in that mirror and not run from what I see, I have a chance to gain self-knowledge—and knowing myself is as crucial to good teaching as knowing my students and my subject.” –Parker Palmer

I am grateful for the good and the bad days. Not every day, nor for every student, do I feel grateful. But gratefulness is a feeling; gratitude is a practice. It is a grace to embrace it all.

“Teaching tugs at the heart, opens the heart, even breaks the hearts—and the more one loves teaching, the more heartbreaking it can be… If a work is mine to do, it will make me glad over the long haul, despite the difficult days.”—Parker Palmer

More posts about teaching at BeingBenedictine, HERE.

More posts about teaching at SoulFullyYou, my other blog HERE.

Learning from the Seasons of Life

“Are you doing okay?” a friend asked me.

“Yes and no, ha,” an honest reply.

 “Why yes?”

Hmmm, I think.  “Good question…yes, because of faith and hope. Many blessings.”

This might not be the typical are-you-okay-what’s-wrong? line of questioning one might expect, but good friends know what’s behind your “yes and no” already.  Sometimes the no just needs to lie right where it is; it’s the yes that needs more attention.

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Likely, the question was meant for me to consider what is good? what is hopeful? what is well with my soul? 

I have a SoulCollage® card that I created named “The Seasons of Life: I’ve Seen A Lot of Shit.”  Eloquent, I know, but it’s the first thing that came to mind when I looked at my finished card.

“Winter, spring, summer, and fall are mulch for each other. The seasons of our lives are like that also. We learn from the layers of life. Our joys, sorrows, regrets, hopes, miseries, and enthusiasms are mulch for each other.” The Flowing Grace of Now, Macrina Wiederkehr

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I had no idea what I was creating when I started, with no goal in mind. I was drawn to the older women sharing stories and enjoying each other’s company.  They look experienced (not old, please), rested, peaceful, connected, comfortable and wise. I imagined what they might be discussing. Perhaps, despite the storms of life and the many obstacles that make them feel all shot-up, they are grateful to be still standing, still sitting, still connecting, still enjoying.

Both women hold a little of each season, every year, and the many experiences they have lived within them. I imagine that these soul companions are teachers for each other. There are teachers all around us—our circle of friends, spiritual companions, authors, thought-leaders, poets and musicians.

One of my spiritual teachers is author Sister Macrina Wiederkehr. The first Benedictine book I was introduced to (back in the ’90s) was “A Tree Full of Angels:  Seeing the Holy in the Ordinary” written by Macrina. Several years later, at St. Benedict Center, I was honored to meet Macrina attending one of her retreats. Through the years, I’ve gotten to know her better, to attend more of her retreats and enjoy more of her writing.

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Me and Macrina at St. Benedict Center.

Her newest book, The Flowing Grace of Now,” has fifty-two meditative readings that weave their way through the seasons of the year, pointing to a different teacher for each week. The reading and reflective questions include wisdom lessons from Macrina, as well as poetry and prose from teacher-writers like Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Joyce Rupp, John O’Donahue, Henri Nouwen and Joan Chittister, mystics like Julian of Norwich, and from the stories of the Old and New Testament. By taking an entire week to devote to the reading, the seed has time to burrow. By meditating upon a line or two of scripture, poetry, lyrics or prose, it sinks to a deeper place of resting in one’s heart, taking root, becoming the “mulch” from which to grow from understanding to blooming and becoming.  The words take root in your life, impacting your thoughts, attitudes, and actions. 

“Autumn holds fragments of the other seasons in transformative arms…the mood of autumn is the ebb and flow of life. Autumn stands as an epiphany to the truth that all things are passing and even in the passing there is beauty. It holds out platters of death and life.” -The Circle of Life, Joyce Rupp & Macrina Wiederkehr

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So many teachers, so many seasons in a long life—we are called to keep learning. Each of us is called to take the seasons of life into “transformative arms”, to become more of who we are. So this autumn weekend, I consider the seasons of life—all of it, especially the blessings. I think about the “yes” of life that threads itself through my days—the yes to faith, hope, learning new lessons and gratitude for many blessings. The daily yeses keep me focused on the bigger yes—the yes to God.

My yes is the desire to become more of who God created me to be, to keep learning from the “mulch” of the seasons and experiences of life. This I have hope for and believe in. This I am grateful for and what I say yes to.

Yes, it is well with my soul.

 “People often speak of becoming more grateful after having lost some of their health. Suddenly they see all they have taken for granted. Gratitude for all that has been enables them to say yes to all that is to come.” -The Circle of Life, Joyce Rupp & Macrina Wiederkehr

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Thanksgiving: A Ritual of Gratitude

Preparing for the Thanksgiving holiday can be a sacred ritual. Weeks in advance several family members begin planning the menu for our Thanksgiving dinner. Of course, there is little variation from year to year—turkey, dressing, dumplings, sweet potatoes, green bean casserole, pies, dinner rolls, and so on—but an afternoon of list-making, guest-counting, and recipe-searching ensues. Some years, even a second planning session is required—to count plates and chairs, to create a map of the food line, or to scour advertisements for butter sales. The planning sessions have become part of the practice of Thanksgiving.

The Thanksgiving planning sessions and meals that immediately followed the passing of each of Joe’s parents was bittersweet. We missed their presence. But the ritual itself, while grounding us in the present, was a reminder to be grateful even in our sadness and grief. Continue reading “Thanksgiving: A Ritual of Gratitude”

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