Trying not to trip on a grain of sand on the first day of a new year

Bird Droppings January 1, 2023

Trying not to trip on a grain of sand on the first day of a new year

With a new year ahead, and so many things to see and do, I was so remarkably close to starting this day with the title of Bentley; however, as I thought further, some might elude that nomenclature to a rather expensive car. It was an old post on Facebook several years ago from a former student about moving, and she needed help cleaning her apartment. That got me on Bentley. I had a swimmer on the high school swim team many years back. This was nearly twenty years ago, and before I became the founder of the INWTCSTA society (I never want to coach the swim team again), I met a young lady. She had two sisters, and that is another story at that time. However, she mentioned that her youngest sister was in ninth grade and was a handful, always getting into trouble. The next day as my coincidences go, I met her in the hall, standing with an assistant principal being written up for a dress code violation and talking back. She and her sister had numerous dress code issues as the years went on. They had the blonde and black hairstyles before anyone else knew about it and were always a little too short of skirt or had one too many piercings.

The two older sisters graduated as the years went on, and I was left with that ninth-grader with a temper. It seems she was constantly in ISS, in-school suspension. It wasn’t long till nearly every day, she ended up in my sanctuary, my old classroom studying or using the computers; often, she would be asked to leave by her teachers. Finally, as her senior year was coming up, she was frustrated and went the route of homeschooling through a local program and graduated ahead of schedule. I recall running into her at a local mall, and she was due to have a baby. She told me she was naming her little boy to be Bentley. I remember thinking and wondering how youngsters having children will impact them. So now, years later, I am not concerned about it; she is an awesome mom with a great son. She is still taking everything in stride and not losing sight of her goals ahead, working as a costume designer for the movie industry in Georgia.

“It isn’t the mountain ahead that wears you out – it’s the grain of sand in your shoe.” Robert Service

Over the years, I have seen similar quotes several from Zen writings. Robert Service, best known as the Yukon poet, was quite a character, having lived the length and breadth of Canada. As we do so often in life, we flounder on the small things. So often, how we see things affects what we do and how we do it. For many years I have been persuaded that life presents itself moment by moment; the puzzle slowly falls into place, each piece one at a time. So often, many people get locked in on a piece, not the whole final picture, and they become limited in where, when, and why.

I recalled a puzzle several years ago. An artist designed the ultimate puzzle. It was white on both sides, with no actual edges as it was an odd shape, with very similar pieces, yet each piece only had one place it would work. Solving the puzzle was even quite impossible, and an award of $1,000,000.00 to the first person to solve this puzzle was offered. The problem was that you would get so involved in each similar piece and could not see a whole; without a context to work with, the content went nowhere. I have said something similar about education so many times.

“If you don’t know where you are going, you might wind up someplace else.” Yogi Berra

Sometimes I wonder if we forget Yogi’s words in education, we get so caught up in the grain of sand we forget where we are going or do not know to begin with but still try and go. We end up someplace else totally and often alien.

“Our goals can only be reached through a vehicle of a plan, in which we must fervently believe and upon which we must vigorously act. There is no other route to success.” Stephen A. Brennan

Several happenings yesterday offered me ideas for today; one was listening to a former student comment on staying in school to get a high school diploma, so he wouldn’t have to work at a fast-food restaurant all his life. Another was another former student who had quit school in ninth grade, was homeschooled and was coming back, and she missed socialization and found every job application had a check box for high school graduates.

“The person with a fixed goal, a clear picture of his desire, or an ideal always before him, causes it, through repetition, to be buried deeply in his subconscious mind and is thus enabled, thanks to its generative and sustaining power, to realize his goal in a minimum of time and with a minimum of physical effort. Just pursue the thought unceasingly. Step by step, you will achieve realization, for all your faculties and powers become directed to that end.” Claude M. Bristol

As I worked in Special Education, we wrote IEPs for students, Individual education plans. In those plans were goals. Often they can be meaningless; seven out of ten times, seventy percent of the student will not talk back to the teacher. Fortunately, most students do not read their goals. I could envision an intelligent kid sitting with paper and pencil, keeping data just as EBD teachers do. Thinking to themselves, ok, I talked back twice today out of six times. I spoke with my teacher. I will save up for later and be nice for a while. So just before the bell, this student hammers the teacher, and the teacher starts to write a referral, and this wise student pulls out their goal sheet and says I am only meeting my goals; seven out of ten times, I did not talk back, so you cannot write me up. I am mastering my goals.

“I learned that, before you reach an objective, you must be ready with a new one, and you must start to communicate it to the organization. But it is not the goal itself that is important.” Jan Carlzon

“One day, Alice came to a fork in the road and saw a Cheshire cat in a tree. Which road do I take? She asked. Where do you want to go? Was his response. I don’t know, Alice answered. Then, said the cat, it doesn’t matter.” Lewis Carroll

Perhaps where I see the issue is the student is one hundred percent in compliance with a mastery of only seventy percent. If I graded daily on mastery, that student gets an A for the day, barely passing; you learn quickly seventy percent is all you need to achieve most goals, and once you know, that isn’t easy to get rid of. Why not have a goal that states that a student will not talk back to the teacher and be evaluated daily by a self-check rubric? Now seventy percent means seventy percent, and the student is responsible for actions.

“The goal you set must be challenging. At the same time, it should be realistic and attainable, not impossible to reach. It should be challenging enough to make you stretch but not so far that you break.” Rick Hansen

So often in education, we run around with buckets of sand and keep filling our shoes, and never get even to see the mountain we are forever cleaning the grains of sand out one at a time. As Robert Service stated, “It isn’t the mountain ahead that wears you out; it’s the grain of sand in your shoe.” However, if we carefully remove that grain and build a sandcastle, every mountain starts as a grain of sand. Please keep all in harm’s way on your mind and your hearts and always give thanks namaste.

My family and friends, I do not say this lightly,

Mitakuye Oyasin 

(We are all related)


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