From Student to Teacher

Last week and this week, I have had the privilege to teaching some classes at the camp I’ve been working with and have gone to for years. Yada yada. Read what I wrote on Monday for the whole explanation.

But today I wanted to have a quick reflection on this particular aspect I volunteered to help with. While the two camps end up being much more than education, the opportunity to take classes about a wide array of subjects is one key aspect behind what the program stands for in general. To support gifted students, we should be expanding their minds in any way we can and not hold them back. So if that means they’re interested in storm chasing, musical theatre, or improv comedy, then why not offer it?

Luckily I did not teach any of those subjects I mentioned. Instead, I’ve taught both high school and middle school students about how to build a blog and an overview of veganism. Not in the same hour, might I add, but I figured I might be of some use to people who are interested in either and don’t know where to start.

Let’s be honest, I started out a little rough. So for the first week, I didn’t actually find out I was teaching until the night prior. So I got two slideshows together in a couple of hours and hoped for the best.

The first day I only taught about blogging, but you could definitely tell it was Wednesday at a bright-and-early 8 AM. Since I didn’t necessarily have a huge amount of content prepared and since it’s fairly easy to set up a WordPress account, I felt like I was pulling at some straws to keep kids interested. You can definitely tell that some were giving it a solid go of writing out a first blog post and figuring out what designs look best as a website, but others were literally writing out about how tired they were from two full days of camp already completed.

Which, I completely understand. I’ve been in their shoes. But it still made me antsy, going through the thoughts of “Am I qualified to do this? Do these people actually respect me? How many times have I said ‘obviously’ in the past hour?” Have to love anxiety and the constant voice in the back of your head thinking the absolute worst case scenario.

The next day, however, I was in the zone. I gave out food for correctly answered trivia questions. I had lots of information to go through. I even put memes into the slideshow, so I’m already stepping up my game. But I felt more comfortable in general. I felt more put-together. People were actually asking some great questions. They randomly applauded at the end as if I just did a choreographed routine or something.

But overall, I really enjoyed that experience. In classroom settings, I’ve occasionally done activities where you “teach” the class, but never just…me. No pressure, right? I’ve already had a deep respect for education though. It was never something I’ve wanted to do as a career, but since my mom has always done something involving education, I see the hard work that goes into it. I see how often students neglect the blessing it is to even have a quality education available to them.

If it was possible, I would have everybody fill in a teacher’s role, even just for one class like I did. See how you hold up. It’s quite a responsibility to know you are leading a room full of young minds looking to you as a mentor, to learn something new. You can really have a major impact on them. Just as they can have a major impact on you.

It’s so easy for people living in a developed, modern society to see education as just another hoop to jump through. The expected path to partake in order to fill that all-American dream and eventually go up the corporate ladder. Why do that when you can step out of high school and enjoy some newly found freedom instead? Go against the grain?

Regardless of the grade or institution, we cannot devalue education as a core human right, a resource that truly affects all aspects of life. Especially for those who might not have the same luxuries as America, education can turn a struggling nation into one that addresses economic, health, and security concerns in an entirely new light. Education can save lives.

Maybe a little spiel about setting up a blog or watching a video about veganism won’t do much in the retrospect of things, but I know that for me, it has been a wonderful experience. It has reaffirmed my affirmation that knowledge is power. That fully appreciating the world and people around us requires an openness to seek new things out, to discover and always learn. We are always students. Yes, some of us end up being teachers, too, but the wisdom we might gain beyond a general lesson plan is an opportunity we cannot pass up.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie


Just the Right Time

Here’s a quick little story for this end-of-the-week post.

As my mom and I were going on a walk along my city’s bike trail (which, might I add, they should have clear lanes of traffic or something), and since we were on a busier section of the trail, we came across many different people. With the townspeople as nice as they are, they often will greet us with a smile or a “good morning” as we pass.

However, one person we came across was more than a passing exchange of few words. Along the river, I saw coming up an older woman pushing a covered mesh stroller. I was slightly giddy wondering if she was pushing a dog in there. While there wasn’t a dog, she was actually pushing her cat.

The cat had apparently undergone some less than favorable experiences recently. She only had three legs because a cancer had spread through the fourth one and had to be amputated. The woman cares so much for this cat and knowing she liked to walk outside, she traded a leash for a stroller.

The woman, who happened to have a European accent I couldn’t quite place, asked my mom and I directions for a certain strip mall nearby. The woman didn’t seem to have a phone or anything else with her, so it made sense she needed some help.

It turned out that was she new to the city. She was originally living in Florida, but she didn’t say her reasons for moving north. My mom and I were probably with this woman for about ten minutes as she opened up to us about her struggles of being in a completely new environment. Besides her cat’s ailing health, she has been trying to find a job that would suit her credentials and has come up empty. Even with an advanced degree in cosmetology, younger and less qualified applicants had been chosen over her.

She also became teary eyed as she admitted how lonely she felt. As a single woman living in an apartment, she had not reached out much to anybody nearby and, in general, felt very lost. She was stressed, concerned about her and her cat’s well-being, and trying to find the determination to keep moving forward.

But let me tell you, being around her was a comforting experience. She discussed how much she loved being in nature. In fact, whenever she walks, she picks up pieces of littered plastic along the way, sticking it in a little compartment on the cat stroller. She had even stopped driving to pick up a littered street, warning others who planned to go in that direction. One time when picking up litter, she stopped to see a yellow-chested bird sitting calmly on a bench, seeming to be singing a sweet song to her before flying away, a little sign of hope.

While we weren’t able to exchange any names or phone numbers, my mom and I empathized and comforted this woman as she opened up, even suggesting calling the suicide hotline for some support. She refused to think about trying medication that might mess with her body, a completely understandable opinion, but we suggested the options that were available.

What was meant to be a simple walk through some city parks turned into an experience that felt almost surreal. When you feel like you were truly meant to be somewhere at that exact moment, to cross paths with certain people. It’s a reminder of how incredible life is and the impact we can each have, even if that impact is subtle.

Because, let’s face it, we’ve all been in this woman’s shoes. Obviously not the exact same situation, but there comes a time when we are overwhelmed, that we feel like we’re drowning in an endless sea. We ask God or the universe, “What more am I supposed to bear? What else can go wrong?”

No matter what we are facing, there always is and will be hope. And when we lose sight of that, we must rely upon our resources to revive our spirits and remind us of this simple fact. Amidst all of the cacophony, we are distracted from that little bird singing its sweet song. We should not feel ashamed for admitting when we need that push, whether that is self-care, reaching out to loved ones, or utilizing therapy and medication.

I don’t think I’ll ever see that woman again. And if I do, I know that it will again be for a reason. From simple moments come life’s greatest lessons. We reach out to those who may need our words and actions and vice versa. I will never doubt that there are some people in this world who angels without wings, bearing our souls and testing us in ways we might not expect.

If I can communicate just a smidgen of my experience on the bike trail last week, I want everyone to know that vulnerability can be a lifeline that we must cherish. We should view each person we may come across, whether that’s a best friend or stranger passing by, as an opportunity to spread love and compassion. We must realize our shared burden of hardship in life, a universal trait of humanity, and know that support is always within reach.

So life may be full of hardship, but it’s full of these tidbits that make every hardship worth it.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie

A New Path

Well, this wasn’t  something I planned to be writing. Not at all.

Let me give you the low-down, at least to the best of my ability. So I was working on a short story for my employer, just another assignment for the intern. (I mean, hello, I was pumping out multiple stories a day). It was based off a tree planting for a recently deceased teacher, so obviously more of a feel-good little tidbit.

Did I make a mistake? Yes, and I fully admit to it. Journalists should be stringent on their sources and quoting, and I had a miscommunication in there, mixed with quick deadlines, multiple assignments, and just general anxiety. I don’t expect myself to be a robot who makes no mistakes and has some misunderstandings among all the people I talk to for that killer quote.

I make a mistake in the name of the person I’m quoting. I’m quickly moving onto new stories that I let it slip through the cracks. But not until the school district comes back saying I never called anybody (which I did, twice) and I had no permission to say anything without the family’s consent (which why would you post photos on Twitter of something you don’t want to publicly talk about?). On a morning where I was literally driving from one location to another to write multiple stories, along with stumbling a couple of new great ideas, I’m asked to come back to the office, where I’m essentially cornered and right there fired. No second chances. Apparently not for a young learning intern trying to get experience. Nope. I was the scapegoat in a collateral mess over a little tree story.

I ended up standing in the lobby of that building for probably half an hour. I immediately called my brother at a loss of what to do. I wandered the streets downtown with no destination in mind. In that moment, I placed every speck of blame upon myself. That I had only done wrong and I truly do deserve the punishment.

I straightened myself up to at least drive home, at that time which I went to see the elementary principal that was also stuck in the middle of this. I avoid conflict and confrontation like the plague, so I really had no idea what to expect after this whole ordeal. Boy, was I surprised by what happened.

After telling her I wanted to apologize to her in person for any harm I’ve done, she wants to get up and hug me, saying, “Bless your heart, you didn’t have to come all the way down here for that!” But I knew this was the right thing to do, especially when she goes on to tell me that she and the family involved loved my article. That it was beautifully written. That she saw this exactly as it was: a learning experience, a mistake to move past, not something worthy of punishment. She was outright appalled that I was fired for this. Because this article wasn’t something making front headlines. It was about 200 words honoring a teacher who passed away from brain cancer last month. Their argument that their “tight relationship” with the school district is tainted is obviously not true. I spoke to living proof of that.

And I was ready to do anything to make up for my mistake, by the way. Recant the article, write a public apology, do anything. Nothing could apparently solve this. Being fired is a “learning experience,” but how am I supposed to learn by getting kicked to the curb? If I’ve learned anything, it’s that I’m not cut out for hard-news journalism if it means navigating cut-throat political games and fast-paced perfection. That’s not me.

You may be wondering, where do I go from here? How do I live with myself knowing that I was fired by a news organization, having no genuine idea if I’ll still have references to fall back on? How will this affect my reputation, my future career? Trust me, I’ve been thinking there, too.

But especially after talking with the sweet elementary school principal, I’m okay. Actually, a little weight I placed on my shoulders has dissipated. I had my time to dwell, but that isn’t helping anybody. They can take my job away from me, but they will never take away my writing, my work ethic, or my passion. I don’t want to be an intern and not even have a slither of wiggle room for actual growth. I don’t want to support an entity of any kind that shows no mercy for a short-term intern just learning the ropes of journalism. As an industry promoting itself as a means of free speech, storytelling, and getting every side to a story, then how does it look when one person is targeted? If you want more people pursuing journalism, they just lost one person.

Yes, this can easily be a devastating loss. Instead, this is an opportunity. I have a summer to find something completely different in an interest area I truly enjoy. Why not sell books? Work at a pet store? Work in a health market or do grocery shopping for others? I’m blessed to be living in a growing city overflowing with possibilities. I can also devote time to volunteer for causes I really care about, like suicide prevention and mental health awareness. I’ve never been one to particularly strive for top positions up any corporate ladder. I just want to help people. However I can best do that.

I continue to believe that everything happens for a reason. This is no exception. Life is a cavernous landscape, constant falling and climbing. I wouldn’t want it any other way. The turn of events that come out of nowhere form the foundation to your next peak. It feels like a wake-up call, a snap back into the fragile reality that now exists and the promise of what can be, so close within reach.

I don’t know where the next path takes me. Maybe that in of itself is a blessing, an excitement for the unknown rather than an outright fear. I’ve fallen plenty of times before, and every time, I’ve gotten up stronger than ever. I have a good track record for screwing up and being okay.

Life goes on. I go on. To the next beautiful moment, the next consuming passion, the true opportunity for me to fully thrive.

Take care, and keep the faith. -Allie