Stop, thieves! Bring back my van…and my profession: Part II

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Part 2 of 2 (Read Part 1 here)

8:00 a.m.

Dilapidated vehicles line the Dart Street impound like crumbling headstones in a graveyard. I don’t see my stolen van.  In fact, I don’t see a human soul on the entire block.  I knock on a garage door only to hear a metallic echo.

8:15 a.m.

The sun beats down on me. “They’re supposed to be open,” I tell my grandfather as he waits in his car.  “The receipt says 8:00.”

He sighs a wet, resigned rattle.  “We’ll wait.”

Closer to 8:30, I hear a deadbolt click.  A cashier hollers, “Next.”  After I show him a $90 receipt for the privilege of recovering my own vehicle, the man leads me deep into the garage, past rows of automobiles not as decrepit as those rusting in the sun.

In very last row, I see my Odyssey.  Mud cakes the lower chassis.  A small slice flaps a tire.  Paint bubbles rise from a damaged rear fender.  The front looks like the driver hit a tree.  A side panel is smashed in.  Long key scratches line the driver-side door.

Inside, it’s worse.  The seats are leaned back to the same 45-degree angle, and I imagine a gang cruising in my van, headed to some dastardly rendezvous. Red splotches stain the upholstery, reeking of stale alcohol.  Trash litters the interior—McDonald’s bags, cigar wrappers, broken CDs, a plastic Jamaican rosary.

My DVD player is gone, as is a case full of CDs and DVDs.  Now when will Disney bring The Little Mermaid out of the vault?  The contents of the glove compartment are all over the floor.  Oddly enough, the stroller and car seats are piled in the back.  As I drive the van out of the lot, I wonder if the stench and stains will ever disappear.

I start to feel better when my grandmother offers to replace our DVD player.  Next, my colleagues at the Center for Teaching Quality send a touching note and a gift card to help rebuild our movie collection for the long ride back to Florida.  This is a reality check.  My wife and I seize teachable moments for our children about the dangers of expectation and materialism.  We emphasize how kind people can be, pointing to the gifts.  I note the smiles when each child picks out new movies, ones we haven’t yet memorized word for word.

Their happiness gets me thinking.  I have just finished reading Carol Dweck’s Mindset as a teacherpreneurial exercise, so I hunt for growth potential.  Can I develop as a teacher leader and a person now that I see both good and bad in this event?

As my previous post alluded, the answer is yes.

Teachers get comfortable, like I was in the family minivan. We may detest change, and we struggle to respond. Might this be why I noticed how the thief moved my seats? Or why I feel frustrated at having to move to a smaller classroom this year?

But if my stolen van is analogous to our education system—a vehicle for kids, roughed up, fought over, and not nearly as important as its passengers—I learned teachers don’t have to lose hope because of others’ mistakes.

Once my calls became calm, strategic, and solutions-focused, I elicited empathy and action from my insurance company.  The same approach, unnatural as it feels to me, has started to fill my schedule with stakeholder meetings formerly devoid of teachers. It’s a recipe for dialogue that works.

Yet just as my tone needs refinement the next time I call for help, we teachers can practice finding appropriate spheres of influence.  Think about your roles and your words.  Are you on an angry mission to complain by the water cooler, or do you want stakeholders to invite your opinion because you’re a great teacher and a great communicator?

We don’t have to thump tubs on Capitol Hill to lead a damaged profession.

Perhaps focus on what we can control: demonstrating great teaching for wider audiences, mentoring colleagues, and building personal learning networks.  Then we don’t worry as much about dodging a swinging pendulum.

As a new school year starts in this Age of Accountability, I challenge you who are reluctant leaders to ask yourself:

How can I use my voice among decision makers who might finally be ready to hear it – in a faculty meeting? An article? A virtual community?

Can I keep a positive perspective on education knowing that a new crop of students waits to be dazzled and inspired?

Give it a try.  It can’t be worse than a car thief discovering you own a Backstreet Boys CD.

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