Moving and Grooving
I often take my mini dachshund, Roxi, for a walk along the natural trails that are just outside of my apartment building. She delicately places her tiny paws on the precarious stones that mark the path away from civilization and into the unknown. She follows in my footsteps well, watching and mimicking my stride as I also gingerly find my footing on the unstable and winding trail. Hidden in the nook of a small creek is a miniature waterfall. A mini me of Niagra Falls, if you will. The water dips and bends just mere inches rather than meaty miles, but it serves the same purpose: movement. Constant and steady, the water dribbles and trickles, spurts and flirts with the air and rocks around it. The sound sprinkles through the stoic air and fills my mind with tranquility. Ironically, there is something comforting about constant movement.
I remember a time in my life, just a few years ago, when I felt stagnated. I awakened every morning in a panic, as if a vise was closing in on my heart, squeezing to death the very lifeline that kept me moving and grooving. There is something drastically wrong with standing still for far too long. And my spirit knew it.
I am officially embarking on a change now, and what has been a lingering limbo for the past several months has now turned the tide and become moving waters that will brush aside the rocks and debris in my life and allow for a new journey. It is, of course, no surprise that one of my favorite poems is Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken.” Whether we examine my career path, my competitive path, or my personal path, I have always “stood and looked down one [path] as far as I could [t]o where it bent in the undergrowth; [t]hen took the other, as just as fair,” before choosing “the one less traveled by.” There has always been argument over whether Frost’s last line in the poem, “And that has made all the difference,” is tinged with a sarcastic or serious tone. I have constantly leaned towards reading into it with a serious tone because I truly believe that our choices do make all the difference in our worlds. I tried my best to teach my ninth-grade students this when we would read about Romeo and Juliet’s faulty, childish, and silly decision-making skills or about Odysseus’ inability to hold in his hubris and his need to learn life lessons or about Montag in Fahrenheit 451 and his ultimate decision to question the status-quo world around him and thus cause books, knowledge, and a new life to come tumbling down onto him. (In fact there is a fascinating chapter in a Garth Stein novel I am currently reading, The Art of Racing in the Rain, told from a dog’s point of view, that I will have to share in another blog entry. It is closely related to this very idea.)
Many of you may or may not know that I have worked in education reform for the past four and a half years. I have worked personally with a slew of new teachers and have guided a staff of veteran educators in helping these new teachers to become effective in the classroom for the end goal of closing the achievement gap that gapes before us like a fish flopping and gasping for air when out of water. To say my job was arduous would be an understatement. I didn’t talk of this often, but I was hanging by a thread on many days when I had to balance contest meal prep, two-a-days of cardio, intense weight training sessions with 60- and 70-hour workdays that were high stress and high stakes. My mental focus had to be on point regularly. My job was not one that could press an auto-pilot switch and cruise through the work day. And “work day” was an interesting concept. My hours could be defined simply as “crazy,” unable to be captured like a firefly in a jar of 9 to 5. Some nights left a lot to be desired when it came to REM. I subsided on just four and five hours most of the time, and my days were spent with wet hair, little make up, the quickest and easiest dress and wedge heels I could shimmy into, and coffee always in hand and often spilled on my attire. Wired and tired. That was me on a constant basis. Throw in for part of that time a drastically dreadful personal relationship—now over and done—that tore at my heartstrings, pulled on my conscience, and tugged at my soul, and these last several years weren’t just a path in my life…they were a hike in the rugged, sweltering woods.
The alternative teaching certification and teacher training site that I was an instructional leader of was deemed one of the most successful in the entire country. It floods me with pride to say that but also floors me with sadness, disappointment, and yes…a touch of anger. We are now closed. Amidst an out-of-our-hands decision to yank private funding, we could no longer continue with the rigorous and upstanding service we had provided to new teachers and neighboring, high-needs school districts and charter schools in order to ensure the best quality teachers entered the classroom to teach students how to be critical and creative thinkers. And I had decisions to make. Apply for other jobs in the organization? But where? Was I willing to move? Not just to another city, but to a whole different state? All by myself…with just a nine-pound (adorable) puppy to keep me company? Was I willing to take on even more hours? Yes, higher pay would be involved, but at what point should money take a backseat to precious time?
My answer was, “at this point in time.” In November, I will be 40. Call it mid-life crisis. Call it a latent desire for freedom that is clutching at the taut chains of my typical sense of practicality and rationality. Call it what you will. I’m tired. There. I’ve said it. Burned to a crisp like the books in Fahrenheit 451. I had to do my own critical thinking, which my parents and former teachers had helped me to forge, and figure out what I truly wanted in life. I no longer had a vise gripping my head and heart, but I also didn’t have an excitement that thumped and pumped my heartbeat. And so I came to the following decision.
I will continue to work part time within education reform, coaching new teachers and helping them to progress at a rapid rate in their classrooms during their first year of teaching. They—and I—owe it to their students’ futures and the future of this country. I will also assist with revision of curricular items that tie in to their teacher training materials. I know this work will be very rewarding to the teacher that is always in me, swimming through my bloodstream. But I also officially created my own business, called Phlare Physiques LLC, which is focused on lifestyle coaching, competition prep (all aspects), and personal training services. I am a one-stop shop, if you will. And finally, here’s the biggie: I will complete a 20-page writing sample that I began a couple of years ago and submit it as a part of an application to five different low-residency graduate programs that are ranked in the top ten in the country and work towards a Masters in Creative Writing so that I can (one day) write and publish a novel (my absolute biggest dream in the whole wide world) and eventually teach at the collegiate level. Again, I’m a teacher at heart. I have knowledge, and I believe that knowledge should be shared.
I recently read on someone’s Twitter a quote by Roger H. Lincoln: “There are two rules for success. 1) Never tell everything you know.” I highly highly highly disagree. The best way to learn is to teach. It’s why teachers carry such vast intellect and knowledge. We teach every day and thus we learn every day. In fact, I tell new teachers that the moment they stop learning is the moment they should stop teaching.
So as I chip away at this new path in my life, I hope I can teach you a few things so that I learn more so that I can teach more and so on and so forth. It is the ultimate legacy that I could possibly build for when the day comes that I leave this earth.
Thank you for being a part of my website. And stay tuned for details about my upcoming radio show that the guys at www.figuresupport.com are hosting for me. You don’t want to miss the broadcasts!
Jodi Leigh Miller, October 2012