Sunday, May 11, 2014

Be Bossy. Be Confident. Be Passionate.

I've often been asked at teaching conferences or professional development workshops to think of the educator who most influenced me in my work.  Other participants can share vivid memories of classroom experiences that shaped their goals and personalities, but I have never been able to describe a teacher like this with any conviction. I have come to the realization that I have had good teachers, but no one affected me as a teacher, and as a person, as much as my parents.  Being that it's Mother's Day today, I've decided it's time to let my mom know, in my own words instead of via greeting card, the profound impact she has had on who I am, inside and outside of my teaching profession.  (Dad, you'll get your dues next month, don't worry.)

Lesson #1: Be Bossy.
I grew up in a Catholic family, so every Sunday we would go to church together and share a pew.  The church services always had lots of singing, and crowd participation was expected.  No one took this more seriously than my mom.  Now, my mom has a beautiful voice, and as a child I would sing my heart out next to her.  But as I transitioned to my teen years, I imagined that having the loudest-singing parent in a 5-pew radius was attracting everyone's attention.  I share this not to navel-gaze about my teen years, but to reveal a trait I admire in my mom.  She's not afraid to use her voice.  As a young girl growing up in a household in which opinions and dialogue were valued, shared, and debated, I never imagined that there might be families in which a woman's thoughts and input were secondary to those of men.  However, as an adult I find myself in situations with women who were raised to bite their tongues or only speak up to agree or passively complain.  Both my mom and I have been jokingly referred to as "bossy," as if this were a negative label.  Granted, there are "bossy bullies," but have you ever noticed that the word is most commonly applied to girls and women, not boys and men? I believe this is because, at its core, being "bossy" is when a woman stands up and says, "I matter. My opinions matter. I want you to listen, and then tell me what you think." Thank you, mom, for teaching me it's okay to be bossy.

Lesson #2: Be Confident.
My mom has taken a lot of risks in her life.  She wanted to be a landscape architect in high school, but the school counselor told her that wasn't a job for girls.  So she started nursing school, but soon decided she was not destined to be a nurse.  She spent about a decade in the newspaper business, but knew she wasn't satisfied to be there her entire life.  At the age of 28, without a college degree, she started a successful business.  After 17 years of devoting hours of sweat and tears to that business, she decided to sell it and fulfill a dream of earning a college degree.  She is now 55 years old and one semester away from earning a Bachelor's degree in Nutrition.  Leaving nursing school was risky.  I was going to be born in a few months my parents were newly married.  Starting a business was risky.  Mom now had two kids and limited experience in owning a business.  Giving up a successful business to start college was risky.  It had been decades since Mom had been a student.  How did she persevere through all of these challenges?  It may or may not have been because of her confidence, but as her daughter observing these transitions, this is how I saw it.  Not the kind of confidence that breeds arrogance and results in fool-hardy decisions.  My mom taught me to have the confidence that anything I dream can be possible.   It is because of Mom that I approach most things in teaching and life with the attitude, "There's got to be a way to make that happen!" instead of, "There's no way that could ever happen."  Thank you, mom, for teaching what it means to live life confidently.

Lesson #3: Be Passionate.
One of the often-told "legends" in my family recounts when my mom threw a pan at my dad.  (Sorry if you didn't want me sharing this with the world, Mom!)  I really don't know the details or even why it happened, but my brothers and I love to bring it up because we like to tease her about her temper.  As my mom has gotten older, her temper has mellowed, but her passion has not.  Whether it's throwing pans, gardening, cooking, or learning, my mom tackles each of her interests with an "all in" attitude.  She loves to garden, but she is not your every-day green thumb.  She has not only landscaped her own yard, but also became a Master Gardener to help others with their own gardening goals.  She attends national gardening conventions, and drives hundreds of miles to get to her favorite nurseries.  She also organizes plant sales every spring.  Her interest in cooking and nutrition has blossomed into a future career (as well as many nutrition-based discussions around the dinner table).  My dad jokes that it wasn't enough for her to go back to school at the age of 50 and get her degree, she's also determined to get that summa cum laude on her diploma.  Sometimes when I'm eating dinner with my family and babbling away about my students, or the most recent education article I've read, my husband gives me a knowing smile because my gestures are getting larger and my face more animated.  I am a passionate teacher because of my mom.  Thank you, mom, for teaching me what it's like to live an "all in" life.

My mom is not perfect and did not intentionally set out to teach me these lessons.  But regardless of her intentions, I was always watching, absorbing and growing as a woman in her image.  She was my teacher.  I didn't learn how to write a geometric proof or a thesis statement from her, but the lessons I learned were certainly pivotal in my education, my vocation, and my personal life.  Thank you, mom, for being you, and welcoming me along for the ride.