Nostalgia, Not Regression

There is a subtle yet distinct difference between appreciating the past and regressing back into who we were then.

The colleagues I worked with for the past several years are back at school, preparing their respective classrooms for that timeless yet momentous occasion (that somehow always goes by in a dizzying blur): the first day of school.

For years, I loved working with students but also felt a yearning to work with students in a different capacity. When the opportunity presented itself, I grabbed my personal career brass ring and started working for a non-profit literacy agency. To say that my experience is both enjoyable and rewarding is an understatement. Each morning, I feel like I’m waking up to some career fairytale, singing like one of the 7 Dwarfs “Hi, ho, hi, ho, it’s off to work we go…”

And yet, I miss my colleagues and friends at school. I miss seeing their smiling faces as we share the unspoken adrenaline of preparing for another school year. I miss the smell of books, the various personalities that make their way through our classroom doors, the camaraderie of teachers.

So how can I miss something that I yearned to leave?

According to life coach and author, Martha Beck (THE WAY OF INTEGRITY), sensing or experiencing an “impending transformation brings on a spasm of nostalgia for the life…known so far.”

There’s a reason we call it growing pains! The prefix TRANS (transition) literally means across or beyond. To go beyond something can shake us up, ejecting us from our comfort zones. It’s why the smoker who finds the willpower to give up cigarettes, while proud of their success, can also experience sadness, knowing they can’t share a smoke with their friends anymore. It’s why the victim of abuse who leaves their abuser is finally free but craves the familiar cycle of violence.

It’s why I can revel in pursuing my career but still wax nostalgic and sad about missing the first day of school.

“If you start honoring your true nature and find yourself missing your old culture, don’t panic. Be kind to yourself. Allow yourself time and space…” (Martha Beck)

I haven’t outgrown the classroom, but I did outgrow my role as public school teacher. I can appreciate the nostalgia that comes with time away from the classroom, but I don’t want to return there just because it’s familiar.

When we embrace our transitions, honoring how we feel along the way, a world of possibility arrives. And that’s where the real magic happens.

An Alternate Reality

There’s a greater reality that technology will never surpass or achieve...

Our perception is everything. How we interpret the world around us and our engagement with it greatly determines our lives in both quality and creation. Check out an Amazon review for almost any product and you’ll discover five star and one-star reviews—for the very same item! Listen to couples—happily married, on the brink of divorce and every state in between—and you’ll hear two different tales regarding the same relationship.

Technology is in the midst of creating an ever-evolving AR (Augmented Reality), where you can simulate life in an alternate world (i.e., bungee jumping in Costa Rica, skiing in Aspen, playing tennis at Wimbledon).  The pandemic has caused us to gravitate to this screen-laden world where attendance is taken virtually or noted in the clever acronym, IRL (In Real Life). Our life lessons are growing more comprised of chats, texts, emojis and screenshares, where an icon is considered sufficient (albeit online) presence.

I’m not knocking the myriad of gifts that arrive as a by-product of our tech-savvy world. I’ll be the first to admit that I love knowing my lessons can be found easily on a universal learning platform that our school uses, lessons that I create and decide when to share with a convenient click of a button. Children with underlying health issues are no longer prevented from engaging in learning now that we offer a streamlined learning program; students can learn at their own pace, replaying a lesson for greater understanding, translating into their first language where necessary.

But there’s a greater reality that technology will never surpass or achieve: the ability of humans to alter their perceptions and by extension, create their own reality. As the late Dr. Wayne Dyer said (author of The Shift

“When you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.”

The other day, one of my 6th graders sounded palpably upset when I announced an assignment to read a few chapters independently that week. His icon glowed as he spoke:

“I feel so much pressure. My head hurts. This book is hard for me to enjoy.”

The boy is a voracious reader and extremely bright. His voice was tight with unshed tears. The stress he was feeling was his reality, his perceived reality.

I reminded him of how much he loved to read. I asked him what was different this time.

“I like to read at night, under a blanket with my favorite stuffed animal beside me.”

“Then that’s what you’ll do,” I said.

Oh, how he let out an audible sigh. Gone was the shaky, holding-back-tears in his voice. Gone was his perception that the world was closing in on him.

We are no different from my sweet 6th grader. We all possess the power to perceive the best and worst at every moment. My student had perceived me as “safe” to articulate his anxiety, which in turn, created an alternate reality for him. 

Consider your own life and how you perceive it. If there’s an area you aren’t happy with, how might you alter your understanding of it? Each moment is a gift for you to interpret and manifest a different reality.

Supermarket Sweep Life

There’s an unspoken “Supermarket Sweep” mentality pervading our lives.

            There’s a popular American game show, now in its 10th season, called Supermarket Sweep. The premise involves contestants racing against a timer to acquire “high-dollar goods within their allotted time. The team with the most…[number] of valuable items in their cart wins the $100,000 prize.” (source The Today Show). The appeal of the show is understandable: the rush of adrenaline to get as many items—hopefully more highly-valued than others—into one’s cart in a finite and small window of time (typically 1 minute and 30 seconds).

            The fast-paced game show hosted by the talented and humorous Leslie Jones is, no doubt, entertaining. We may watch, experiencing a hit of dopamine as the contestants race against the clock; we may experience pleasure, living vicariously through the frenzied contestants as they practically leave skid marks, stomping haphazardly through the many grocery aisles.

            Yet somehow, our lives tend to feel like we are no different than those Supermarket Sweep contestants. As a secondary English teacher, I see it with my students: the race to get an assignment in, the rush to read through an essay prompt without taking the time to consider the prompt itself. As a mother, I’ve witnessed the Supermarket Sweep mind spinning—no different than the contestants’ carts speeding down aisle after aisle. The mental guessing game of What If thinking, is its own conveyer belt of recycled worry.

            Adults are far from immune to the Supermarket Sweep mindset. Whether it’s the rush to get food on the table or the desperation to install a pool (and everything in between), when we put ourselves on this self-imposed time limit to get things accomplished, we run the risk of a few things:

  1. A lack of self-awareness
  2. Greater physical stress on the body
  3. An affinity for anxiety and/or depression

Without knowing it, I spent a good deal of my young adulthood with the Supermarket Sweep mentality as a steady companion. My cart was regularly filled with items that I didn’t necessarily want but falsely believed I needed to make me feel like a “winner”: the right college, a boyfriend, friends—the key was to have these “things” so that I could feel good. Say yes now was my unexamined mentality. It didn’t matter how I felt about what went into my spiritual cart; all that mattered was that I had put something in there.

I encourage you to consider the items you may be placing in your spiritual cart. Choose them carefully and consider the possibility of removing items that no longer serve you. Your life matters and while we each have an expiration date on this planet, we are not in a race or competition with Time. Care about what goes into your spiritual cart; the only appraiser of value for your cart’s items is you.

Tween Hunger

Our teens and tweens are starving for understanding and to be understood. They are scared; they are overwhelmed; they are victims of a system that is no longer working. 

I’m working virtually as a middle grade teacher these days. Teachers and students alike are expected to perform their respective roles as per pre-COVID protocol: showing up for class on time, paying attention, staying engaged, testing…testing…testing.

There is no doubt that we are all craving a return to normal, but when it comes to our educational system, do we really want to maintain the academic world we left in March of 2020? The bell ringing-standardized-test-taking-one-size-fits-all-remnant of the Industrial Revolution American educational system is past its expiration date and in need of a reboot.

Today’s educational system was literally designed to teach future factory workers to be “punctual, docile, and sober.” (Source: Quartz qz.com, Reporter: Allison Schrager). Before that, an education was considered only something reserved for the elite. And while two-hundred years ago, the factory-model of education may have served its purpose, in our 21st century, the same system that helped future factory workers learn punctuality and obedience in order to do what their managers told them, no longer works for our post-industrial era.

The pandemic highlights the cracks and fissures in our educational system. American education is a sinking ship and we are sending our children on a veritable Titanic, stopping up the ever-growing gaping holes with standardized tests. If we were sinking before COVID, our educational system is already on its way to full submersion. 

As an English teacher, I have the fortune of connecting to the tweens I work with through creative writing and open discussions regarding their respective connection to texts we read. This past week alone, the following comments, whether in writing or articulated verbally, were shared with me:

“I’m so stressed.”

“I’m having a mini heart attack.” (regarding testing/assignments)

“I am so insecure. I struggle with that.”

“My uncle died of COVID this summer. It’s been really hard.”

Here’s the crux of the problem, as I see it, with education: We are steaming ahead with a system that has not changed yet society has DRASTICALLY changed. We wouldn’t treat a diabetic with asthma medication, but that is exactly what we are doing to our children.

Our students are hungry for engagement, compassion, and challenges that help them grow academically, emotionally, spiritually and physically. But such growth is hard to come by when it is based in a world that relies on a battery of tests, when the educators which comprise this nucleus are bombarded with a barrage of to-do’s that are all about politics; veritable academic dog-and-pony shows that leave little time to actually engage in authentic student assessment and lesson planning. 

If you are a parent, give your child a much-needed hug; pay attention to what they are saying, how they are behaving. Based on these first six weeks of school with them and almost a decade of time in the classroom, I see that our teens and tweens are starving for understanding and to be understood. They are scared; they are overwhelmed; they are victims of a system that is no longer working. 

What is the solution? Elon Musk created the Astra Nova (New Star, in Latin) School that focuses on learning “simulations, case studies, fabrication and design projects, labs, and corporate collaboration….We redesign each year based on our students. We apply the lessons learned from every project, lab, and discussion to inform our next move.” (Interesting Engineering Source: Oleksandr Pupko)

Redesign…that’s the key word that is missing from our current system. We need to rethink, reflect, and redesign the antiquated world of education like Elon Musk has and does. 

In the meantime, I will continue to carve out lessons that inspire our students, reminding them that they matter, feeding their hunger to make a difference. To educators everywhere, I thank you. 

The Gift of an Appetizer

Appetizer Accomplishment Thinking Increases Our Motivation to Get-Stuff-Done!

I’m a single Mom, a full-time teacher, an author, an actor—on camera and on radio. Whew, even just writing that sounds fatiguing! And why is that? Because we all know that each role comes with a generous serving of responsibilities and there are just so many hours in the day!

My family and friends have asked me, “How do you do it?” Did I mention I am a yoga and ballet barre enthusiast as well?

We all have those 24 hours in a day; we all need to sleep; some of us have less commitments than others, but have you ever noticed you get more accomplished with less time?

I refer to the taking-Time-by-the-hands mindset as “appetizer accomplishments.” You know, those mini-quiches or hotdogs in a blanket? They aren’t exactly a meal and they aren’t dessert either. They are these micro dishes of food meant to give one a sample, a little taste. If you’ve ever found yourself ravenous at a wedding or other formal event, you know the power those appetizers have to stave off your hunger pangs and normalize your blood sugar again. 

Appetizer Accomplishments work in a similar way: they offer a sense of getting-stuff-done without feeling overwhelmed or lazy. Much like their edible counterpart, the Appetizer Accomplishment helps keep us going.

Here is one of today’s Appetizer Accomplishments: I washed the shower faucet—no scrubbed the shower faucet today. Didn’t do the entire shower stall or the bathroom itself at all. Nope—I just had time for one area of domestic cleaning today (It looks fantastic, BTW). And now when I walk by it, admiring its shiny surface, I’m already motivated to scrub the shower door tomorrow.

Another Appetizer Accomplishment: I secured a team meeting with the core group of teachers I work with. This took less than five minutes.

Another Appetizer Accomplishment: I wrote back a dating site that is interested in having me write another blog piece for them. Again—this took less than five minutes.

There is a power in momentum. Each action builds upon itself, creating a cumulative effect in both our outer and inner reality. Appetizer Accomplishment thinking keeps us in a delicious zone: fostering our sense of purpose while simultaneously preventing burn out.

I challenge you (and would love to hear from you, to choose one Appetizer Accomplishment you could experience right now.