Happy New Year!

I’m excited for the New Year; I love the idea of a brand new chance to do things better, maybe even get things right. Invariably, I’m disappointed that I don’t actually “get things right” completely, but usually they are more right than the last time I tried; that’s something.
Also, tomorrow, I will open a gift to myself. It’s some kind of physical manifestation of the way I have done things well during the previous year, evidence that I’m making a difference in the lives of others. Glass Vase
On my desk at home sits a large glass vase, and in it are a dozen or more notes I received during the year. Many are from students, but some are from friends or colleagues, and some from people I love. Each time I receive some special written message, I read it, savoring the message and the knowledge that I will read it again on January 1st and experience the same sense of joy as the first time I read it. It’s surprising, really, how I forget throughout the year which messages are there—I do not allow myself to look or reread the messages until January 1st—and each message carries an incredible, emotional charge, greater even than the first time I read it.
This January 1st gift to myself reawakens my sense of optimism and gratitude; it reminds me that resolutions can be kept and effective. Through this little activity, I relive moments during the year that I had forgotten, important moments that often spring from unimportant, everyday events, like a student writing an email to express his gratitude for my class rigor (shocking, I know!), or someone I hardly know telling me that I’ve made a difference in his or her life. Sometimes, it might be painful events, like last spring when a favorite student died. I won’t know for sure until tomorrow, but I am prepared to be overwhelmed with wonder.
I have some goals for next year: I will continue (reengage) my weight loss and fitness efforts, including a half marathon in March; I will limit my consumption of wine, more fully savoring each precious sip; I will spend more time in my beloved kayak and more of that on moving water; I will more seriously seek publication venues—oh, and make more effort to write something worth publishing; I will continue to grow and improve as an educator; I will be kinder and more loving, especially to my family; and finally, on January 1, 2016, I will gift myself again with the loving messages of 2015, inspiring me to continue to seek excellence on this journey we call life.

Last Blog Post for the Semester

Personal philosophy: how does one go about putting that into a short blog post? Certainly, a person’s philosophy of life is a complicated, ever-evolving concept, one not easily stated in a clear and concise thesis statement. Right?
Yes, probably. However, there are usually a few things that stand out as critically important, maybe even “deal-breakers,” for most people, those values by which we live our lives. What is mine?

Here it is: Go into the world and do well. But more importantly, go into the world and do good.

Here’s what that means to me: students in my classes know that we will end the semester significantly fewer than we began it in August. While that saddens me—for many reasons, not least of all “No Child Left Behind for College” AKA “performance-based funding”—I understand that it happens for myriad reasons, including the fact that not every person should go to college. The more important idea is that whatever a person decides to do as a profession or career, he or she should do it to the best of his or her ability. There is no shame in being a garbage collector, especially if one is the best garbage collector in town. There is no more glory in being the city administrator, especially if one does the job poorly. Whatever job a person decides to do, to provide for his or her family, has merit, and the merit grows in the pride the individual takes in the quality of his or her work. Truly, some of the people who have impressed me the most are those who so proudly, and humbly, perform their jobs with pride, no matter the status the job does, or does not, provide.
Secondly, I believe that doing one’s best at one’s occupation is second only to being a good person. A person should take pride in a job well done, but our work does not determine our worth as humans. Our charity, our honesty, our kindness, and our willingness to help others is what makes us good people. Only our humanity and our love for others determines our goodness; to do well is one thing, but to be good is quite another.
Finally, as I have told students repeatedly, language is a gatekeeper, one that keeps out those deemed not quite as “good” as others, as those who know the difference. That is why, for me, it’s important that you understand the difference between doing well and being good. If you understand you can do something well, but you should do something good, then I have completed my mission, and I have done both.