Two Monks, One Person

This Zen parable keeps talking to me:

Two traveling monks reach a town where a young woman waits to step out of her sedan chair. The rains have made deep puddles she can’t step across without spoiling her silken robes. She is very cross and impatient, scolding her attendants who had nowhere to place the packages they hold for her, so they can’t help her across the puddle.

The younger monk notices the woman, says nothing, and walks by. The older monk puts her on his back, transports her across the water, and sets her down on the other side. She doesn’t thank him; just shoves him out of the way and departs.

As they continue on their way, the young monk broods. After several hours, unable to hold his silence, he speaks. “That woman was very selfish and rude, but you carried her on your back! She didn’t even thank you!”

“I set the woman down hours ago,” replies the older monk. “Why are you still carrying her?”

I sent in my resignation letter to my old school and am officially out as of 11:59 PM on August 28.

Yet I'm still carrying it.

I checked the school's vacancies list. Most people running the programs and many teachers have been resigned by upper management and no one received tenure. A friend in the program where I toiled shouldn't return in August — the place does him real harm — but that's his call. None of it is my call anymore. I should set it all down.

I struggle still with not being thanked. My efforts were unnoticed and disregarded, so too will my resignation. I was a body filling a space and a new body will fill the space come August. The machine goes on.

The young monk, brooding, shouts, "they didn't even thank me!"

The old monk writes, "You left June 24 and resigned July 16. Keep walking. The trees and sky overhead, the path at your feet, the length of the day stretching before you, and the people you meet, these are all the thanks you need and there are more ahead. Keep walking."

Still I turn to look back. The old monk walking in my tracks smiles at my foolishness which he calls by a gentle name. He waits until I turn and move forward again.

To-Do List

All morning I have felt jacked up and slightly anxious. Not worried, but excited like the molecules in a solution set to boil. Before six this morning I was already thinking there was too much to do. Rather than calm down about it — why be reasonable? — I spun up into an internal frenzy. Three hours later, I'm still jacked up.

It might help to write a to-do list:

  1. Call someone about replacing our leaking roof. Call three someones and compare.
  2. Get a cash-out mortgage refinance to pay for the roof, new windows, maybe a new driveway. It's great that all of this falls apart as I'm switching jobs and our daughter goes to college. Sigh.
  3. Finish school and quit. Twelve days of school remain. Thinking of the last day is good excitement but having a dozen days left is deeeeeeeeeeeepressing.
  4. Help get my wife a new job. Got any suggestions?
  5. Learn everything about my new job. This may require about five years. Sigh.
  6. Do laundry. There's something I can handle!
  7. Lose twenty pounds. Please pass the dougnuts.
  8. Finish the three books I'm not really reading. Or quit reading at least two of them and get into something good.
  9. Have I quit my job yet? How about now? Now?
  10. Talk with Mom's financial planner, meet with lawyers, learn the basics of investing, retirement planning, long-term care, wills, trusts, and whatever else. How does next Tuesday sound to get that all done?
  11. Write a blog post. (Hey, this might be one of those.)
  12. Write a poem. It has been ages. Of course, before that I need to...
  13. Read poetry. I haven't made time for that in ages either.
  14. Go to my daughter's choir concert. Yay!
  15. Quit job. Okay, maybe finish the twelve days first. Damn it.
  16. Figure out our retirement, insurance, savings, paying for college, and how many records I can buy before bankruptcy. Brother, can you spare a dime?
  17. Remember Dad. He might not know what to do, but he sure seemed like he did.
  18. Breathe. Maybe meditate. Get some sleep. Run. Enjoy real solitude (time alone with my thoughts, free from anyone else's).
  19. Make to-do lists.
  20. Crumple and toss the lists away. Do just one thing right now. Or do nothing.

I still feel jacked up. Let me print this and do #20. It might feel better.

Letter From The Schools (Never Sent)

Dear Administrator,

It just doesn't work.

Eighteen troubled students are enrolled in my Tuesday-Thursday 10 AM class. They range from seventh to twelfth grade and need individual attention I can't deliver because they aren't just any kids. They've been asked to leave their home schools due to problem behavior and other difficulties. They have been sent to a program advertised as six-to-one on its website. Such a program might help these kids but doesn't exist at our school. The program that does exist just doesn't work.

Two years ago, a new program was created and placed at our small school. It occupies two of the four sections available for the program I've described above. Kids once spread across four classes are now stuffed into two. What would have been two classes of nine students each — which is still too many given the kids with whom we work — is now one class of eighteen kids and a free-for-all. We don't stand a fighting chance, the staff or the kids, unless the program overhauled. I'm not holding my breath.

Truth to tell, none of this matters much to me. I've got fewer than ten days of classes, then I'm done, so I finally feel almost safe offering this critique without fear of reprisal. I haven't felt safe despite tenure and that culture of fear does the organization no favors. It hides the truth and stymies positive growth. Last school year I offered some criticism and was told that I wasn't being a team player, that my opinions weren't welcome, and that disciplinary action would result if I persisted. I shut up but the problems metastasized and have continued to get worse. I am sure that next year will be more difficult for teachers and less effective for students. That's a lot of why I'm leaving just four years shy of retirement.

I could be wrong. Class size may be reduced. Teachers may receive more support. Additional staff may be put in place. Supervisors may no longer be shared across too many programs. Upper management may welcome opinions, ideas, and criticism. Staff may no longer be forced out after one or two years. The dark cloud of dread, anxiety, and cynicism may lift.

I hope so, but again, I'm not holding my breath. No, I'm getting out.

Not Quite Sublime In The Schools

I don't want to always harp on the bad stuff in schools. It's just that there's a lot of that at the school from which I'll soon resign. Still, some of it's not so bad. There is the ridiculous and, well, not the sublime, but stuff not quite so ridiculous.

Nine class days remain in the school year. Two districts are sending new kids tomorrow. I'll have each kid four or five times (classes meet every other day). Imagine how much I'll help each one learn. The school just wants these kids gone somewhere, anywhere. I understand, but it's a lousy thing to dump kids that way.

A kid in my class was so passed out I couldn't rouse him for the next class. I asked another student to shake him vigorously. Last week I asked why he comes to school just to pass out. He said, "so I can pass." Oh, well in that case.

He let out a snore at one point and another kid caught my eye. He shook his head. I shrugged and smiled. We know the sleeper is stoned and hungover. We sympathize. Beyond that, I know the sleeper is sure he's a failure. He's trying to escape from that. He's not a bad kid, just in a coma most of the time.

A fellow teacher went on an adventure doing what he most enjoys and came back to school abuzz. His adventure had nothing to do with teaching. I asked, "did you tell everyone there that you hate your job?" He had. "Did you say you're looking for new work?" He shook his head. He hates his job but is afraid to leave. I felt the same for years. He'll figure it out when he figures it out. I hope it's soon.

A friend warned me about my new job: "You won't have summers off." That was my biggest stumbling block, but I stumbled no more than a few seconds. I'll endure the loss. I'm not longing for summer vacation anyway. Instead, I'm eager to dig in. I've needed summers off because I'm so burned out by teaching. Work I want to do may be better than having time off. Ain't that a kick in the pants?

A young teacher asked me about a kid's reading ability. This happens often. Most folks want to know my thoughts so they can tailor instruction for the kid, but she seemed eager to gawk at how dumb the kid is and commiserate over how tough that makes her job. The kid reads at second grade level but has high school exams soon. She wants to feel bad for herself and have me agree with her. I feel for her, but only because she shouldn't be a teacher. It's no use playing at teaching when you don't like kids or yourself. I'm getting out of teaching in part because it's harder to enjoy working with the kids due to the structure and management of the school. Any teacher who doesn't like kids ought to leave. She thinks she just doesn't like these kids, but it's deeper than that. I'm not sure when she'll figure that out.

A teacher down the hall mentioned that no one emptied her garbage Friday. It rotted and ripened over the weekend. She pulled the can out into the hall and mentioned it. Mentioned. She didn't complain or blame anyone. She sprayed room freshener while I hauled the garbage to the dumpster. No fuss, no muss, no problem. I love that in a colleague. I love that in anyone.

I wish I could point to something at school more sublime than that, but I don't believe much of that happens there anymore. It's not all bad, though. There were good kids in every class and we some interesting stuff. There are only nine days of classes left and I'm so excited about my new job, I don't need summer vacation. That right there just might be sublime. It's close enough for me.