The 6 Most Important Things I Learned This Year

Saturday, December 31, 2016

Before we get started, I just want to make it clear that I have no idea what's going on with the above image I created myself. Is it outer space? Bokeh? Up-close Christmas tree? Who knows. One thing you will not see on the following list is "how to choose images for blog posts."

But here are six important things I did learn.

1. I learned to rethink charity. I watch a lot of TED talks (typically after I binge watch some trash TV as a way to absolve myself), and this was definitely the one that stuck in my brain most this year. It changed the way I think about charity, giving, creativity, and even many aspects of my own job. If nothing else, you will never think of overhead costs in charities the same way again.

2. I learned about loan forgiveness for teachers. If you’re a public school teacher and have graduate or undergraduate loans and don’t know about the Teacher Loan Forgiveness Program, educate yourself! Depending on what and where you teach, you can get quite a bit of money forgiven. I got around $9,000 shaved off my grad school loans, and I think that’s one of the smaller amounts. Also, I had heard that you can’t get both the Teacher Forgiveness Loan and the Public Service Forgiveness loan, but it turns out you can, just not at the same time. It’s all very confusing and the applications are an eye-roller, but it's all definitely worth the time and effort.

3.  I learned that Carrie Fisher said this. 

4. I learned that I have so much more room to be kind. I think if I’m honest with myself in the past few years I have begun to feel a little arrogant about my ability to be kind. As a teacher, I have a soft spot for the kids whom others would find unlikeable or challenging, and can, for the most part, handle defiance and personal insults from teenagers with what is for me an all-time high level of patience and gentleness. This has even carried over to the way I deal with certain adults who annoy or insult me personally. (P.S. If you want to get some practice having patience for adults who hate you, just start a blog or online platform where you share opinions.)

But what I’ve discovered in 2016 is that I don’t have nearly the same kindness and patience for a very specific sliver of humanity: adult bullies. This year, both online and in person, when I’ve heard or read about adults who proudly silence the voices of those who already struggle to have their voices heard, I lose my actual mind. All patience and gentleness disappear like a cloud of Febreze, and my immediate reaction is to want to say whatever I can to make the bullies feel small and stupid, which, news alert, is also bullying. I know what righteous anger is, and I respect the people who can channel their righteous anger into action, but I can assure you my anger towards adult bullies is not righteous and is very much a “I would simply like to crush you now” kind of anger. Perhaps the closest to kindness I get with them is not responding at all.

So although I haven’t learned how to practice real kindness with adult bullies, what I’ve at least done is recognize that I have a huge deficit in that area. I need to remember that I’m not a truly kind person if I’m only kind to the people I think deserve it.

5. I learned to make the best holiday sangria. For years I’ve been making sangria for my family for Christmas. Using a combination of online recipes, I've tweaked my sangria based on what sounded good or what didn't work the last time, and this year, I did it. I perfected the recipe. It’s not too sweet, not too red-winey, and with just enough cinnamon and winter fruits. You’re welcome.

1 bottle red wine
2 c. cranberry juice
1 c. apple brandy
2 c. ginger beer (ginger ale is fine but I find ginger beer to be more gingery)
1 orange, sliced
1 pear, sliced
Arils from 1 pomegranate
1 c. fresh cranberries
3-4 whole cinnamon sticks

Directions: Combine all ingredients except ginger beer in a large pitcher the night before you plan to serve it. Add ginger beer just before serving so as not to lose bubbles. Drink. Spit whole cranberries from your glass at your older brothers when they least expect it and laugh maniacally.

6. I learned that “fake it ‘til you make it” is extremely real. After I wrote my last post, which detailed how negative I’d become this fall, I was determined to change my attitude at school. I can’t remember if it was the very next school day or several days later, but at some point I saw a student full-out sprinting in the hall, so fast that his hair flew madly behind his ears.  It wasn’t even a passing period between classes—this kid was just unapologetically booking it down the hallway. My immediate reaction, as it had been lately, was to be grumpy—to stop the student angrily and say something shame-y about rules and his age and how he should obviously know better. But instead I challenged myself. I dare you to deal with this running fool with as much positivity as humanly possible.
“Hey!” I shouted. He kept running. “HEY!”
 He turned and rolled his eyes, knowing he’d been caught. I thought briefly about what to say to him, and decided on a plan of action. I began walking toward him frantically.
“How much time do we have?” I asked.
“I said, how much time do we have? Before they get here?”
He scrunched up his face, utterly confused.
“What are you talking about?”
“Well you’re obviously running from a zombie attack,” I said. “There’d be no other reason to run that fast in a middle school hallway, right?”
“Oh,” he grinned sheepishly. Then, seeing that I was waiting, he continued. “Yeah. They’re, uh, like ten minutes away?”
“Thanks,” I said, winking. “I’ll get my crossbow from my car.”*

Showing grace to the child who was way too old to be sprinting down the hallway did a weird thing to me. It made me furiously happy, as Jenny Lawson would say. I was practically giddy walking back to my classroom, as if I’d discovered something awesome like a bag of peanut butter M&Ms in my coat pocket or that it was Thursday instead of Wednesday. It made me want to do more gracious things, to challenge myself not just to be positive but to be as kind as possible in other situations that would have normally driven me bonkers.

So I did.
Don't get me wrong, I still had my grumpy moments between Thanksgiving and Christmas break, but for the most part, those two weeks were drastically different from before. Making a conscious choice to be kind and positive was a game-changer, along with the other things I decided to do from my list.

(By the way, I’m aware that “fake it ‘til you make it” won’t work in all circumstances in teaching or in life, especially when your professional situation is burning you out. I’ve been there. It’s brutal.)

That’s the end of my list. If numbers 4 and 6 make you think that I’m anywhere close to a model citizen, just email me and I’ll give you a list of some of the things I’ve thought, said, and done this semester and you’ll take it back immediately.

Let’s all be kinder to each other and ourselves in 2017, even if we catch each other sprinting in the hallways (which still makes zero sense to me).



*I do not keep a crossbow in my car.**

**I do not have a crossbow.