"There is a girl in New York City / Who calls herself the human trampoline / And sometimes when I'm falling, flying / Or tumbling in turmoil I say/ 'Whoa, so this is what she means' / She means we're bouncing into Graceland"--"Graceland" by Paul Simon
So I started teaching high school a couple weeks ago. Right now, in addition to trying to hit the ground running with some semblance of a curriculum, I'm working on a plan for my classroom.
I have not seen every classroom in the school. In fact, I've only seen a handful, and those were all humanities classrooms, but let me assure you that I am way outclassed by the rest of the English department.
These women have curtains--like actual window curtains--and floor lamps and throw pillows and mini-fridges and fabric covering their bulletin boards. I was a sorority girl, and my college dorm room wasn't that well-decorated.
You know what I have in my classroom? A collection of 24 push pins (almost all of which were borrowed from my friend Robin), an electric kettle, and a Ravenclaw coffee mug.
That much took me two weeks to drag in.
And I was real proud of the coffee mug. I think it gives me personality. Not like a dotted-swiss bulletin board would give me, but at least it's something.
I imagine I'm going to decorate mostly with words. This is something I'm prone to even at home. I like to print and frame poetry and song lyrics. I have lots of wooden signs and photo frames with sayings on them.
I'm a story person, so it's not strange I would like to decorate with them.
I have always thought, for instance, that someone should make a series of classroom posters with the stories of famous people on them--not the usual famous people, but wildly successful people who failed miserably before they succeeded.
J.K. Rowling was on "the dole" when she wrote the Harry Potter books. (That's the British version of welfare.) Even when a publisher did agree to take a chance on the boy wizard, the editor in question told Rowling very frankly that he was only doing so because his little girl had read the manuscript and begged him to give it a chance. He also told her bluntly that she had better get a day job because "there's no money in children's literature."
Oprah Winfrey was fired from the anchor desk at a Baltimore network affiliate. The producer reportedly told her she was "unfit for television news." To avoid paying unemployment, they demoted her to a failing local morning talk show on the same affiliate, and the rest is history.
Walt Disney was fired from his job as a cartoonist at "The Kansas City Star" because, according to his editor, he "lacked imagination and had no good ideas."
The list goes on and on. Steve Jobs, of course, was famously fired from his own company, only to have them bring him back a decade later. He used the break to create Pixar Animation Studios, and it was in his second tenure with Apple that he created the iPod, the iPhone, and the iPad.
It's cliché to talk about "falling seven times and getting up eight" (not to mention factually inaccurate--if you've only fallen seven times, what exactly are you getting up FROM the eighth time?) Over and over, however, the key quality of successful people isn't talent, drive, work ethic, or determination.
Resilience is a word we get from the engineering sphere. A resilient substance absorbs blows and resumes its shape quickly and easily. It knows what it is and returns to that form with speed and accuracy. A resilient substance remembers its shape.
And resilient people do the same thing.
I still think some textbook company should come up with those classroom signs someday. I would hang them, and I think other teachers would too.
In the meantime, I think I'll do the next best thing. I have a wooden sign hanging in my study that I wish every single one of my students had hanging in their bedrooms or over their bathroom mirrors or somewhere else where they saw it every day until its message sunk in. They will have to settle for seeing it only one hour a day, but maybe, if we're all lucky, that will be enough.
It says, "Promise me you'll always remember: you're braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think."
Maybe you need to be reminded of that too. Maybe we all do.
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