Thursday, March 19, 2009

A Woman in her Thirties Measures Success with Donuts

When I worked in the corporate world, I bore the weight of unhappiness in two ways. Physically, I bore the weight of five days a week worth of wet burritos. Not pretty. Emotionally, I bore the weight in my chest like a boulder that grew heavier and heavier with each passing day. The day I quit I lost fifteen pounds in my soul and, in the months later, fifteen pounds in my ass.

The one thing I miss about working in a world of spreadsheets and 'planning to plan' meetings was the small amount of satisfaction I got when I knew I had succeeded in my job. Boring, mundane, and trivial as it was, if my customers in Malaysia got their ethernet controllers when they were supposed to, I could shut down my computer and call it a day.

Not so in teaching. Success is a relative term, and often depends on the amount of sleep and/or food the students have had before seeing you every day. Couple that with relationship problems, gang violence, part-time jobs, and parents who just don't understand, and I can have forty kids in my sophomore class on any given day who will take away forty different things (or nothing at all) from my lesson on poetry. Most days I wonder if anything I said made sense to my kids, and if they really hate me as much as the looks on their faces say they do.

Today, day one of my Romeo and Juliet performances, I stopped by Stan's for some treats for my freshmen. They've been working hard but I really had no idea what to expect. Did they understand what they were supposed to do? Did they really get something from memorizing the lines and performing them?

I was not disappointed. I knew when Friar Lawrence came out on a skateboard as R2D2 that the donuts were well deserved.

'That was fun,' C said to a friend when she was leaving my classroom today, and I felt a sudden surge in my chest, one I hadn't felt in a long time. It was the fulfillment that comes from knowing that I'd succeeded at my job. It's not something I can quote on a resume (or can I?), but in the teaching world, this is about as good as it gets.

And so, after five years in education and thirty years on the planet, I finally understand that success can't be measured with charts and graphs. Success, rather, is heard in the voices of people who don't know we're listening. And smells a lot like a glazed apple fritter.

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