Last December I found myself sitting at the table with an interview team, sharing my thoughts about Literacy and reading with 2nd graders. I was applying for a position which would change many things in our family’s life and also put me out of my comfort zone a bit. Like so many times previously, I was feeling nervous. If I got the job, how would I balance parenting and working? Making lunches and grocery shopping with lesson planning and grading? Having enough space in my heart and energy to meet the needs of my own children in addition to the 29 kids in the class?
During our interview, a display of bar graphs were referenced—a visual representation of how the students were doing in the area of reading and literacy. We talked about what methods and plans I would draw upon for meeting their individual needs and helping to move the students towards progress and growth.
This type of discussion is nothing new in the field of education, but I do get nostalgic for the days gone by… when teaching felt more like an art and less like science. Instead of being calm and calculated, some days I just seize up in fear. I see bars of green, blue, yellow and red. Everything blurs and I think to myself, “Why even try? Why would YOU know what to do?! The world of education is spinning at a speed too fast for you….no point trying to keep up…”
The lists of standards and expectations feel impossible to reach and I find myself comparing myself with others, feeling inadequate to even step up to the plate, let alone swing the bat or make a dash for home plate.
As a parent, I find these same types of questions tumble around in my brain. Judgments. Fears. The desire to be perfect. I look at the green, blue, yellow and red bar graphs for my own self. For my kids. For my marriage. For our finances. For my parenting. The red bars are flashing “URGENT INTERVENTION” and it seems impossible to “move to the next column.” As we argue about cleaning up toys, I feel fear rising, “What does this mean for the teenage years?!?! He can’t even pick up his puzzles and LEGOS?!?! He’ll never get a job.” Or as the voices raise and arguments swell, fear pushes up to the surface, “How will we ever survive age 16 someday?? I know he’ll just slam the door in my face and shut down, not communicating with his ‘annoying’ parents.”
URGENT. URGENT. URGENT intervention. Red.
ON WATCH. Blue.
Fears turn to bright and bold bars on a graph.
And yet… despite the benchmarks, even in the midst of the expectations we all place on ourselves, fears aside, there is the gentle reminder that something more lies out there as we parent.
It bubbled up on Tuesday after Memorial Day for me. As we prepared to move into our last literacy unit, focusing on Caldecott winners, my mind was spinning on the gifts of the artists of our world. I found a little wisdom from Mr. Ansel Adams, renowned photographer. He wisely reflected, “Life is your art.”
“LIFE is your ART.”
Art is meant to be appreciated. Fearless. Creative. Evocative. Unique. Expressive. Reflective.
And as the moments of fear fight for our loyalty and attention, as pressures to perform perfectly hold fast, we are called to something bigger. To live our lives as art. Our parenting as art. Our conversations lived as art. Our work and professional life unfolding as art. Our friendships, a vehicle for our art. Each and every aspect is an opportunity to live our lives as art, not as a revelation of fear.
Little did I truly comprehend last December, though, that these three women who were interviewing me that day weren’t asking the questions in an attempt to make me feel inadequate or filled with fear. Their deeper goal was to find a person to fill the position who would have these areas at the forefront of their teaching and planning, while seeking to provide an environment of love, challenge and support for students. And going it alone?!? No way, no how. The last five months have been filled with more support for myself as an educator than I could have ever predicted. Colleagues that provide inspiration as they let their art unfold, becoming friends and confidants in the process.
God promises us the same. God says, “I will make a pool of water…springs of water….fountains, rivers….” God hems us in, already waiting on the canvas before we start to paint. God is hovering over the artwork, after the piece has been signed and the last brushstroke completed. God gives us companions, not critics, to help us along the way. God reminds us that we can turn to one another and encourage. To say to our own students, children, spouses, “It is good.” To exhort, “Take courage!”
Rather than live in fear, to be limited, may we be freed to see our life as art. An offering in the small mundane, everyday moments to change the wilderness and dry land to new life and refreshment.
I, the Lord, am first,
and will be with the last.
5 The coastlands have seen and are afraid,
the ends of the earth tremble;
they have drawn near and come.
6 Each one helps the other,
saying to one another, ‘Take courage!’
7 The artisan encourages the goldsmith,
and the one who smoothes with the hammer encourages the one who strikes the anvil,
saying of the soldering, ‘It is good’;
and they fasten it with nails so that it cannot be moved.
13 I, the Lord your God,
hold your right hand;
it is I who says to you, ‘Do not fear,
I will help you.’
When the poor and needy seek water,
and there is none,
and their tongue is parched with thirst,
I the Lord will answer them,
I the God of Israel will not forsake them.
18 I will open rivers on the bare heights,
and fountains in the midst of the valleys;
I will make the wilderness a pool of water,
and the dry land springs of water.
~Isaiah 41: 4-7,13,17-18