(The title of this post is borrowed from my current favorite poem, introduced to me by my current favorite TV show. More on that later.)
I love stories. I’m a life-long avid reader, TV watcher, and movie goer. My list of favorite, formative books is too long to mention, so I’ll stick to TV and movies. As a kid, I rented the same Strawberry Shortcake, Popples, and Care Bears videos so often that I had most of them memorized. In middle school, Walker, Texas Ranger was my show. (I do not need your judgement. It was a simpler time.) The movie Dangerous Minds made me want to teach English; then high school brought JAG and during college came Law & Order: SVU. I also have a well-documented love of NCIS, Hamilton, and most recently, Madam Secretary. Different shows for different stages of my life.
My childhood faves notwithstanding, all the others share two things: careers in public service and strong female leads. I think most people who know me will agree that I clearly watch/read/obsess over
too many A LOT of stories. (I haven’t had cable in 3+ years, but Netflix and libraries are enablers. What can I say?) Thankfully, my family and both of my church homes also made sure I knew the Bible — lots of individual stories pointing to the greater story of Jesus and God’s love and redemptive work through him. When I look at my life today, I can’t help but see a tangle of all these stories.
I knew I wanted to be a teacher when I was in first grade, but I didn’t know I wanted to teach high school until Dangerous Minds. Then, during our junior year, my friend Amy and I served as pages in the Mississippi Senate. It was so fascinating to me that I almost went to MSU as a political science major. (I didn’t get their specific scholarship, so I went in undeclared. Praise God, every credit transferred when I switched to secondary education sophomore year.) I didn’t join the military or the police force or become a lawyer like my favorite leading ladies. I did become a public servant, however, and my years as a teacher irreversibly shaped who I am.
Teaching is a difficult profession for many reasons, and sometimes teachers just need to commiserate with colleagues in the lounge between classes. But in their classrooms with their students, good teachers push everything else aside and respond to what matters: the kids. Occasionally that means they teach a state-sanctioned subject, but more often it also means being a parent, a nurse, a counselor, a confidant, a coach, a judge, a cheerleader, etc. until the most pressing needs are met. (Students do not care about a state English test if they have not eaten since yesterday, just broke up with their boyfriend or girlfriend, and/or have no idea where they will sleep tonight.) In addition to concerns about their own families and themselves, teachers bear the burdens of many of their students. It is an awesome responsibility, and it can wear on you after a while.
In a season 3 episode of Madam Secretary, a policy advisor reads an excerpt from Maggie Smith’s poem “Good Bones” after a particularly tragic day at the office. The last part of it resonated with me during a difficult part of last semester, and I kept the poem open in a browser tab for pretty much the remainder of the school year. The speaker talks about how the world is dark and dangerous, but she keeps that from her children because she’s trying to “sell them the world.” She compares herself to a realtor walking a buyer through a terrible house but trying to point out its good bones: “This place could be beautiful, right? You could make this place beautiful.” Each time I walked into my classroom, I had the opportunity to make it more or less beautiful based on my attitude and actions. It didn’t matter what was going on outside those walls; I was only in control of me. So I did what I could in that classroom until I couldn’t anymore.
Public education has a long way to go, but I believe it’s worth fighting for. So here I am, beginning work on a policy degree. Doing my best to make public education — and my corner of the world — more beautiful, not less.
You are where you are, with your specific gifts, loving the people and things you love for a reason.
This place could be beautiful, right? You could make this place beautiful.