My Measure of Success

To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived. This is to have succeeded.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

I am a 2nd grade teacher.  I have been an educator for close to 15 years.  Except for my intern training year, all of those years have been in high-density, low income Latino neighborhoods.

 In that time, an estimated 375 children have passed through the doors of my classrooms.

Each year, there are one or two children who have impacted me probably as much as I have impacted them.

I cannot say that I reach them all.  Many leave my room in June still writing,

“She whent to the parck.”

I don’t blame myself for that.  I don’t even blame them or their parents.  I will save the blame laying for another time. There are more important messages to share today.

This year I was given the gift of teaching a young boy named Christian.  He came from a troubled home…at the age of 7 had to endure seeing an older sibling taken to jail, return home with a gunshot wound in his leg, and figure out a way, in his 7 year old psyche, to handle this all when his father moved out of the house to another state for work.

 Needless to say, he was screaming for someone to notice him and his classroom and school behavior challenged us both this year.

After many months of following the protocols of my profession to teach him to manage his behavior, I asked him to write down or draw what was troubling him that day, since he began to create havoc even before the 8am bell rang.

This is what I read:

“I told my mom I wanted Froot Loops in my lunch and she gave me a chocolate chip cookie. I really wanted the Froot Loops because she hardly buys them and I wanted my chance to have them before my brother ate them all.  I am angry at my mom.”

Some may say that this kid is being a spoiled brat.  He had a chocolate chip cookie for crying out loud!

When I had a chance, I pulled him aside to talk with him privately.  (Mind you, I already knew about his older brother and the gunshot wound.)

“Christian, why are you angry at mom?”

“Because she didn’t give me Froot Loops.”

“Froot Loops are good, huh?  Why didn’t she give you Froot Loops?”

“There weren’t any left.  My brother ate them all.”

I took the time to help him understand that a cookie is a pretty good substitute…since she could have not given him a sweet treat at all.  (It is important to teach an attitude of gratitude at this age.)  Then I asked him if his mom did anything wrong besides not give him Froot Loops, to which he answered, “No.”

“So Christian, why didn’t you get any Froot Loops today?”

“Because there were none left because my brother ate them all.”

“Christian, so to whom should you be directing your anger?  Your mother or your brother?”

And then he told me that he thinks his brother ate all of them because in jail there are no Froot Loops.

We talked for a bit longer about how nice it was to have his brother back home.  And about how he could ask his mother to buy more Froot Loops and to ask his brother to save some for him.

He went on with the rest of the morning without much incident.  By lunch time though, he was back to his antics.  I expected that.

I went ahead and requested the counseling forms and a conference to begin the process of helping Christian and his family to learn to see him in the mess of this life he was in.

Later in the year, the issues with him got worse.  I began asking my administrator for help.  As happens in a bureaucracy as huge as the one I work for, I was offered band aids with poor adhesive.

I returned weekly to advocate for this child, his family, and for the other children in my class affected by his poor choices.

At which point, I was criticized for not being able to do my job in a professional way, because my asking for help impacted administration.

Was I failing as an educator?

I was flooded with anger and confusion.

Meetings with administration, unions, official letters being placed in my file because I asked for help…out of the deepest depths of my soul, for a child at risk.  Isn’t that what I am supposed to do?

At the end of the year, Christian wrote me a letter…

in his best penmanship…

without any errors…

“Thank you for teaching me how to be in the world and to do the right thing.  Thank you for teaching me about math.  Love, Christian.”

The nature of the bureaucracy that I work for does not allow for me to teach the way I can reach students.

 It does not allow for me to do my job with the level of integrity I require and desire.

And now I am ready to explore other professional and creative avenues for the remainder of my adult life.

 I have touched one life.


 I have succeeded.

My Own Rules

Making my own rules

In finding my path, I need to consider these questions:
1. What path do I want to take in this time in my life?
2. What rules have I been following that are keeping me from staying on that path now?
3. Where did I learn these rules?
4. In order to be authentically me, are there rules I need to consider changing or releasing?

“The Dress-Up Doll”

clothesline paper clothesThere’s this toy I’ve had for decades

one of those

cardboard dress-up dolls.

The kind for which
you choose
an outfit
from a wardrobe
and she comes to

Obediently and happily
being moved through the scenes
of the life
I give her.

My doll has told stories
of a princess
in gowns of gold and lace
awaiting her prince.

My doll has told stories
of a mother
in an apron smudged with batter
baking cookies for her brood.

My doll has told stories
of a teacher
in a schoolhouse, fingers dusted with chalk…
reading folktales to eager (and not so eager) pupils.

Like a child
as I have played out these stories
over and over
providing the words
for my doll to speak
I have grown
of the tales.

The little paper flaps
worn out
the outfits

My paper doll
lies naked
in her box

for the next story
to to tell.

The box

~Jen Gold