It’s Teacher Appreciation Week in the United States, which frankly seems like a scheme to make the appreciation come in the form of useless cards and treats rather than cost of living raises and the securing of pensions. Apparently, it began in 1980 sanctioned by Congress originally as one day in March, but then in 1985 the AFT rallied to move it to a full week–the first full week of May. Today, May 8 is Teacher Appreciation Day.
A couple things have got me feeling particularly sympathetic to K-12 teachers this year. For one, I spent a lot of time in the last several weeks expending some effort on behalf of a student that finally came to a good result and I’m very happy about it. But this work took a considerable amount of my time at a very busy part of the semester, and up until the very end when the happy result was achieved it felt like it was going nowhere. Good teachers at underfinanced schools do this kind of thing all the time. The extent to which it was emotionally exhausting to me gave me renewed appreciation and empathy for public school teachers.
Yesterday I was going through some old papers, looking for my autograph from Ollie North on the occasion of his ascendancy to the presidency of the National Rifle Association. And I found a note that my ninth grade English teacher wrote to me when I graduated from high school (see photo above). Mr. Bender had a sign over the chalkboard in his classroom that read “Homer Nods.” Homer nods, Mr. Bender would explain to every new class of girls at the Philadelphia High School for Girls, means that even great geniuses, literary and otherwise, make mistakes. My senior year I was selected as one of the graduates to speak at graduation on the basis of my submitted speech I called “Homer nods.” I can’t even remember what it was about now. Probably something about humility amidst our capacity for greatness.
Mr. Bender would argue with me in the hallway even after I was no longer his student about the finer points of grammar. He thought I was wrong to pronounce “harassment” with the emphasis on the middle syllable. He joked about HARassing me to pronounce it correctly. I was happy to show him that the dictionary included both pronunciations. Even Homer nods.
Neither he nor I had any way of knowing that I would become a specialist in ancient Greek thinking, that whether Homer really nodded would become a live question for me, that I would become a student of those for whom Homer had been the teacher. I didn’t know then the poetry of the teacher telling the student that even the great educator of the Greeks fell short. I didn’t know how provocative the notion that the Greeks might have been educated by a nodding teacher could be, or perhaps the notion that all teachers nod.
I found this note in which Mr. Bender inverts the meaning of nod from making a mistake to signaling approval and I thought, how very Greek this poetic recasting would be. The teacher nods and nods. And this I appreciate.
I made two New Year’s Resolutions. I’m not going to tell you what they were. Mostly because I don’t want you to judge me. I will say that one was about not doing something and one was about starting a new practice. Today is January 14. I have kept up the new practice. I was able not to do the other thing for six days. I haven’t given up on it. But I also didn’t keep it. I’m trying not to judge myself, but I think it’s pretty clear that the sheen of the resolution has worn off–it loses its ability to inspire once it has been broken.
We all know that resolutions don’t work. They don’t really change our behavior. I don’t usually make them — maybe one out of every three years I make some resolutions. And yet, there’s something so attractive about the idea that a new year can bring a new you. Just resolving that things will be different can make them so. Much of the critique of New Year’s resolutions amount to a critique of willpower as an effective way to change our lives. We need to engage in practices and projects because willing ourselves to be different does not work. Read more
Any day now I’m going to cry in yoga. I’ve been having this thing happen to me where I’m holding a position and I’m sure I just cannot do it anymore and I have that emotional release that happens when you cry only I don’t cry. I stay in the pose, and it is amazing. Today I had that same feeling but only because I kept falling out of poses that I know I can do and it was so frustrating.
Last week, I had a class that was really frustrating. I didn’t seem to have my balance. Poses that I had felt strong and successful doing in the class before were a struggle. I was annoyed with myself. I already mastered this! Why do I have to deal with this again? Lying there on my mat in shavasana in between poses it occurred to me that this is life–having the same struggle over again even though you mastered it before. Read more
I started school when I was four. At the time, my mom had four kids and I was a particularly active little kid so my mom wanted to get me out of the house. I sound bitter but I’m not upset. This meant that I was a year younger than everyone I went to school with. There were good times. I was married off to other students at recess all through first grade. But as we got older, the difference between being our ages and the meanness of kids just came out. It was a private Christian school, but the kids weren’t nice. By fifth grade I felt left out. Kids refused to speak to me. They made fun of me. I didn’t know what it meant or how to handle any of it. I didn’t know that these were things you talked to a teacher about. It was hard. Still the highlight was the ride back and forth from Olney to West Philly during which the principal who drove us taught us the Hebrew alphabet, which I can still recite.
In the middle of the year, my mother began talking about moving us to public school. I liked the idea of doing something new. My mother talked to my first grade teacher who suggested that she hold me back a year if we switched schools so that I could catch up socially. So she did. I transferred to my local public school. I was in a class that was split 5th and 6th grades. Once I had my mother write a note saying I felt like the 5th graders were being ignored. I was like that. I made friends. Sort of. I was nervous. I didn’t know if people who didn’t go to church with me could be trusted. But mostly the students were kind. Read more
Monday night I went to a high intensity interval training pilates class. During my third minute of elbow planks, I thought I was going to cry. I cried once when I was running a half marathon, when in the last half mile I realized I was going to PR. There’s something about that moment when you think you are reaching your threshold and you just cannot do anymore and then you keep doing it. That moment is where you realize the struggle is mental.
I’m reading Haruki Murakami’s What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. It also brings me close to tears. Murakami makes me feel guilty for the times I have stopped because of the pain. He makes me feel bad for being a mid-distance runner and not a long-distance runner. In the pilates class, which is grueling and unlike any pilates I have ever heard of, the teacher berates us for giving up. I understand that. Motivate, push yourself. That’s all good. But I had to learn to pay attention to pain in running and to take it easy–to do what looks like giving up, to stop feeling the exercise as demand.
At one point Murakami talks about the one time he ran an ultramarathon. After mile 34 his breathing felt good but his legs wouldn’t work, so he had to propel himself my moving his arms and hands. Then at mile 47, he broke through a wall. It stopped hurting. He kept going. He ran the next fifteen miles unencumbered. I think I know that feeling. It happens for me three minutes into an elbow plank. It’s when you realize that you can persist through the pain if you tell yourself to just keep on. Read more
Sometimes you need some good gifs. All these gifs include a hand. And there’s one for every occasion. Read more
I joined a yoga studio in the first week of January. It wasn’t even a New Year’s resolution. I tried to make plans with a friend, actually a former student from Bryn Mawr, and she said she was going to the yoga studio she just joined, so I said, ok, I’ll do that. It’s a hot yoga studio, as I mentioned in my post about how hot yoga made me think about cold running again. It’s really hot, like 105º in 40% humidity. The first yoga classes I ever went to were in a Baptiste studio on Walnut right down from the Penn Book Store in University City in Philadelphia. The classes were packed. But it felt like a serious workout. I’d run the mile and a half from my apartment to the studio to get warmed up. I don’t recall ever having had a conversation with a teacher there, except this one time when I was hungover and smelling of cigarette smoke when I must have looked like I was going to fall over and pass out and a teacher looked at me with a kind of smirk and asked me if I was ok. I might have still been drunk. Read more