Tag Archives: fear

#284: The American English Teacher Tries Not to Be Afraid While Doing His Job


Two nights ago I woke up at 3 a.m.
and could not go back to sleep.
It was not a nightmare that woke me.
Just some disturbance in the force
that momentarily stirred me from slumber.
Immediately upon opening my eyes, though,

a waking nightmare:

I was thinking about those kids in Florida,
and I was thinking about those kids in Newtown,
and I was thinking about those kids at Columbine,
and my heart raced, thinking of my own students
in my classroom in a similar situation, or my son
in his teacher’s classroom, in a similar situation,
and I could not sleep.

Even my morning’s meditation, while I worried
that my lack of sleep would find me
dozing off on my cushion, resulted in this
kind of thought-struggle: the focus on the breath,
in and out, in and out, fighting against the thoughts
of making sure both doors into my room were locked
and lights were out, of huddling with students
inside a darkened classroom, of listening
for the signs of safety or of imminent danger,
wondering if I could take the risk to open my door
to let other students in, wondering what I
would do, what I could do, if a shooter
somehow entered my classroom.
These kinds of thoughts would have been
inconceivable to me in my first years
as a teacher in a public school.
Now they are ever-present, hiding in
the shadows of every waking moment.

I walked into my schoolhouse yesterday, a place
that I love, a place I consider another home,
a place that houses over a thousand
human beings that I love, young people
and adults that I consider another family,
as I have done every day since Columbine,
and I try not to be afraid while doing my job.

When I’m there, in that building, doing the work,
it’s easy. I’m immersed. I’m present. These young
people bring me the gifts of their minds and their
personhood, their presences, and I do not feel alone
and I do not feel afraid. It’s when I’m not there
that the fear kicks in: in the middle of the night,
in meditation, at meals, on a walk, and in particular,
reading the internet news, which seems invented
for the sole purpose of cultivating fear.
My only complaint yesterday morning was that
I was exhausted from sleep deprivation,
but I was having fun with my students talking
about Hamlet, and then it began to snow. The district
decided, as a safety precaution, to close down the schoolhouse
two hours early. And as much as I wanted to see
my fourth period 10th graders after an extended absence,
I was happy that I could go home a little early to rest,
and heartened too by the news from Florida:
these kids have had enough of our shit and are fighting
the good fight for the future of our nation and for the
safety of our young people: one and the same fight.
I have more faith in them than I have ever had
in the Republican Party, in any Party, to send us on
the right path, away from harm, away from fear,
toward something like real freedom, a thing that
nobody else seems to recognize any more on either
side of the aisle. Our children are reminding us
about what this word means. They have to be
our heroes now.

They are rising to the occasion.

Leave a comment

Filed under Education, Poetry, Teaching

I Resolve to Resolve for 2015


To resolve or not to resolve: that is the question. In December of the year 2012, I made the following remarks in a blog entry entitled, “Of Resolutions.”  It was one of an entire series of entries all taking a cue in their titles from the French essayist Michel de Montaigne, who titled nearly all of his essays “Of” something or another.  At any rate, at the time, “of” or with resolutions, I was having a rough go:

I’m having some difficulty this year thinking of a suitable resolution. Maybe I will resolve this year to make no resolutions. Isn’t it true that people, on the whole, do things they really want to do, achieve the things they really want to achieve, and those things they don’t want to do or achieve, even if they’re really good for them, don’t get done–whether a resolution is made or not? Maybe deep down I don’t want to drink less, eat less, lose weight, or be nice. And most of the things I might resolve to do in 2013 (write more, finish the draft of the new novel, read more, record more, stress less, meditate)–these things just might happen anyway. But perhaps, even when a resolution is not kept, in part or in full, there is still some value in resolving to do something in the new year. Just saying the words–especially in earshot of someone who might notice or care–might be worth doing.

It turns out that this last thing is true, that there is indeed some value in making a resolution, especially for the New Year. I’m pretty sure I learned this from the following illustrated talk by Dr. Mike Evans. Check it out.  It’s worth it:

Steve Errey, a “confidence coach” writing for Lifehack.org, says, forget about it. He says that New Years resolutions fail for a few simple reasons. 1. They’re often about what you think you should be doing rather than about what you want to do.  And everybody knows doing what you think you should is no good while doing what you want is infinitely better. 2. Resolutions are like goals, and goals are dumb because they take you out of the present and make you feel guilty or ashamed; you need or want something that you don’t currently have and that inspires self loathing. 3. There’s no motivation or commitment toward achieving the goal. Most of the resolutions we make are meaningless to us and that’s why they fail.  And 4. New Years is just a bad time to make a resolution. Apparently, Errey thinks there are better times in the year to make resolutions. He concludes, thusly:

So forget about making New Years Resolutions. Living a full life isn’t about making some woolly, half-hearted decisions that don’t really mean anything. That’s not what truly confident people do.

Instead, make confident choices based on what really matters to you, and jump in with both feet.

This guy is a confidence coach. I don’t think I want this Errey fellow coaching my confidence. Even though it sounds like on the eve of 2013 I was saying essentially the same thing, that people end up achieving the things they really want to achieve because they, essentially, just “jump in with both feet.”  But I think I was wrong about that, and that he’s wrong about that; and he’s wrong, I guess, not because it’s bad advice, but because it’s unreasonable, unrealistic advice.  Sure, jump in with both feet.  Sure, make confident choices.  Sure. Sure. Sure. Easier said than done, pal, because people are afraid, they lack sufficient courage, and they have enjoyable bad habits that are difficult to break. I know there are things about which I am afraid, things I’d like to do for which I lack sufficient courage, and a whole slew of bad habits that I enjoy a great deal. It’s terribly difficult to overcome these obstacles, and a resolution, while not a silver bullet, might help out just a tad.

In the twilight hours of 2012, my thinking ran mostly along the same lines as this Steve Errey confidence coach guy, but I think at the dusk of 2014, I’m back to Dr. Mike Evans, who I think is a more effective confidence coach: choose small goals and small wins over big lofty ones; go for facilitation over sheer motivation; and practice self monitoring (reflectiveness) over self control. Be the plumber or the carpenter and come prepared with some tools. Set up some low hanging fruit each day. All right. I can get behind low hanging fruit. So this year, I conclude that I resolve to resolve. I will make a resolution about something. I will choose something important but attainable. I will create some system whereby I will facilitate improvement over time.  I will be reflective about my progress for good or ill rather than going for self control over my impulses or habits. I will hang some fruit. Low. And before New Years Eve, I will make public my resolution. Cheers, all. Hope you had a happy holiday and best wishes for an awesome New Year full of resolve.

Leave a comment

Filed under Self Reflection