Tag Archives: compassion

Buy-Nothing Day

23 Nov

As a person, and now as a teacher, I am constantly trying to “define” myself. Who am I, really? What is important to me?

Today, “Black Friday,” is a big part of who I am. Because, instead of waiting in line at 4 am (or even overnight) in order to get the “best deal” on things I really “need,” I celebrate Buy Nothing Day. The main concept is to pay attention to what is really important. As I mentioned on Wednesday, I think the more you concentrate on what you don’t have, the more you lose sight of what you do have. What I have is amazing friends and family. A roof over my head. Enough to eat, clothes to keep me warm and dry, and a great university program in which I am learning to become the best teacher I can be.

Last year, I worked retail on Black Friday. I got up at 5:45, and worked for 8 hours, selling things to people who had waited in line for hours. I didn’t even have it that bad. Some stores open even earlier, and this year many large stores were open on Thanksgiving night, so people could “get their deals” even earlier. Let’s keep in mind that retail employees usually arrive at work 1-3 hours before a store opens. Which means, if you really need to buy your discounted TV at 8pm on Thanksgiving night, the employee who sold it to you probably missed dinner with his or her family.

Ok, but what does this have to do with education? A lot. As a teacher, I hope to give my students a sense of pride in what they have, what they can do, and who they are. A big-screen TV doesn’t define you, a good deal on the hottest video game doesn’t define you – your actions define you. A grade doesn’t define you, the work you put in to earn that grade does.

I am also well aware that it is likely I will be teaching the children of parents who are expected to give up their Thanksgiving to ensure a good retail turnout. As a teacher, it will be partially in my hands to remind these students that they are important in this world. As William Ayers says in the final chapter of To Teach:

The fundamental message of the teacher is this: You must change your life. Whoever you are, wherever you’ve been, whatever you’ve done, the teacher invites you to a second chance, another round, perhaps a different conclusion. The teacher posits possibility, openness, and alternative; the teacher points to what could be, but is not yet. The teacher beckons you to change your path. (p 161)

Whoever my students are, I want to be a teacher who helps them to know that they can change their life. And that they can change the world, simply by changing their own path.

I am thankful today for all the people who do have work. The people who gave up their holiday (or the day after) to sell or cook or serve things. The people who don’t have a choice, but who work hard to make sure their families are taken care of.

I am also thankful for the people who choose not to participate in the craziness of the day. It’s a small act, choosing to sit out of this retail madness, but I think it can help define who we are as a culture – are we people who care about others, or do we only care about ourselves? Can money really buy happiness?

“Happiness is not something ready made. It comes from your own actions.” – His Holiness The 14th Dali Lama

Giving thanks, November 11

11 Nov

It’s Veteran’s Day.

My father is a Veteran of the Vietnam war. He avoided most combat by becoming an officer, and living in Japan flying supplies to aircraft carriers. But for a long time he wouldn’t talk to me about it, until he was sure I was old enough to understand.

War changes people. And so today, I am thankful that my dad is alive, that he wasn’t changed too much by being part of a war, and that he is the man he is today.

That’s something I’m thankful for today, but I also want to share a story with you:

I work an occasional job as a manager of Performing Arts Centers at some local schools. I manage events ranging from orchestra concerts to week-long conferences. I meet a lot of interesting people. (I’m often yelled at by these interesting people, but I try not to take it personally.)

Today I worked an event hosted by The Church of Christ, Scientist. It’s not a religion I know much about, and the event was an hour long lecture titled “The Power of Prayer.” I listened to a little of it, and learned some of the history of the Church of Christ Scientist.

While working at these schools, I work in close contact with the custodians. Today I worked with an older gentleman, originally from Vietnam, who struck up a conversation about religion with me (being that we were working at a church event.) He told me about Buddhism, the way his people celebrate holidays and come together at temple. He told me about how close families are in his culture, and how he is sad to see children “running away from home when they are 18” in America. He asked me if my family lived close by, and was happy to hear that I see my parents regularly.

While people were coming into the school before the lecture, a man came in with his dog. The custodian stopped him, and tried to tell him that dogs were not allowed in the school. This man, seeing the Vietnamese custodian talking to him, began speaking in Japanese. The custodian shook is head, and again said that dogs were not allowed.

“Oh, you aren’t Japanese?”

“Sir, you cannot bring a dog in here.”

“Ah. Arigatou Gozaimasu.” And then he left, with his dog.

The custodian, as I mentioned, is originally from Vietnam. And yet this man insisted on speaking Japanese to him, even when he was not answered in kind. What kind of awareness (cultural or otherwise) did this man have? Not much. Was he open to understanding a new experience? Not really, he wanted to make it into something familiar to him – and when it wouldn’t fit that mold, he tried to force it anyway. You know the story of the square peg and the round hole?

I learned things about two groups of people today that I previously had no knowledge of. I am a little more informed, and have a slightly better understanding of two new cultures. Cultural understanding is more than a classroom presentation. Cultural understanding is listening to people tell their stories, gaining understanding of people’s experiences, and using that new knowledge and understanding to see the world through a different lens.

How can we apply that kind of learning to a classroom? How can we teach our students not to force their ideas onto situations where they don’t fit – to find the round peg, instead of forcing the square one where it doesn’t fit?

Becoming a compassionate teacher.

2 May

Read this article about discipline in a Walla Walla, WA high school. It’s amazing.

Lincoln High School in Walla Walla, WA tries new approach to school discipline

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