On the tightrope of life, only one thing allows us to move forward, and that one thing is balance. Without balance we fall into chaos, we fall behind, we miss out on what true choices we have in life.
Allow me to introduce myself for the last time in this blog cycle. My name is Douglas Jackson. In the interest of making this page a little more visual, I have included a crude self-portrait. I live in Las Cruces, New Mexico and work with deaf elementary students in El Paso, Texas. When I was asked to write these May entries, the goal was to impart to beginning teachers the hard-earned knowledge that I as a grizzled veteran had allegedly gleaned from the school of hard knocks. I am attempting here to do exactly that, but until recently, you would have had to file the advice that follows under the heading “Do as I say, not as I do.”
And the advice that follows is: “Find balance in your life, especially between your work life and your private life.”
Next to love, balance is the most important thing. John Wooden
In many ways, teaching was the intersection between who I was, what I was interested in, and what I enjoyed doing. I liked writing, drawing, creating, imaging, storytelling, discussing, researching and presenting. I enjoyed teaching through plays, group PowerPoints, simulations, and community-based projects. I felt an adrenalin rush when the wheels of my mind were turning, and even more of a rush when the wheels of my students’ minds were turning. And I could be, I’ll admit, a bit on the driven and compulsive side while pursing these goals.
At the same time I was blessed with two wonderful children living under my roof. I delighted in the wide variety of interests and activities that attracted them—Cub Scouts, piano lessons, gymnastics, roller hockey, mock trial teams, French and German clubs, the guitar, marching band, all of it.
My entire life was basically my work and my family. And then WHAM! and WHAM! WHAM!
Man always travels along precipices. His truest obligation is to keep his balance.
—Pope John Paul II
WHAM! My son and daughter went off to college and their new, rewarding lives far, far away. I went from full house to empty nest.
WHAM! WHAM! At the same time, the whole educational field (especially Special Needs and my little Deaf Ed. corner of it) was undergoing a massive, monumental and mind-boggling overhaul. Instead of feeling (or at least having the illusion) that I was the master of my domain, I was no longer sure which way was up (and I wasn’t taking any bets on left, right or sideways, either).
That is not to say that this huge paradigm shift was not warranted, or that it has been without benefit to the students we are committed to serving. That would not be true. It is also not to say that I was unable to find any of the purpose and fulfillment I had always enjoyed in the classroom. That would also not be true. It is to say that I felt like I was working in a wind tunnel, perpetually besieged and bewildered, constantly contemplating the true meaning of that ancient Chinese curse, “May you live in interesting times.”
The key to keeping your balance is knowing when you've lost it.
I eventually realized that I could not blame all of this on the inevitable changes in my field. The truth was that part of the reason my head felt like it was always spinning was because there was no balance in my life. I had become reasonably proficient at knocking down barriers and building connections in my educational life. I was woefully deficient at doing the same thing in my personal life. In fact, I had practically cocooned myself. Something had to change.
That something came from out of the blue. Literally. I was walking my dogs in an arroyo near my home one Saturday morning when a group of hot air balloons passed over my head. Figuring that while this might not keep me out of trouble, it would at least get me out of the house, I resolved to attend the second day of the balloon rally. I was subsequently introduced to a pilot named Marta Rose, and began to crew for her balloon, the Ramblin’ Rose. It was in the basket of the Ramblin’ Rose that I first floated freely in the heavens, contemplated the whole of creation from a distance, and spat in the face of gravity. The comradery of the crew, the thrill of adventure, and the excitement of each departure and return to Mother Earth were an enormous pleasure, and I can’t deny that the lack of eighty-page IEPs, three hour meetings, and endless government mandates was also a selling point. My many flights with Marta, as well as subsequent ones with Jim Johnson, Dan Erhard, Sue Terebenetz and Barney Watson have helped me maintain my balance, both above ground and on terra firma.
“Be aware of wonder. Live a balanced life – learn some and think some and draw and paint and sing and dance and play and work every day some.”
I have also joined Storytellers of Las Cruces, a group that has been honoring the art and tradition of telling stories at special events and festivals, and in classrooms, bookstores, libraries and other public places, since the state of New Mexico was in its infancy. The other storytellers were both a joy to watch in action, and encouraging to me as a novice member. I volunteer with the Chihuahuan Desert Nature Park and the local soup ktchen. I take classes on stuff not directly related to the classroom. I hike several times a year. I am still a work in progress; it is not unusual for me to take work home. But I do have a life offstage. There is more balance in my life.
Problems arise in that one has to find a balance between what people need from you and what you need for yourself.
There has never been a time when teachers have felt so overwhelmed, particularly special ed. teachers. Sometimes we feel like a small jar of peanut butter that has to be spread on twenty loaves of bread. Those are simply the times in which we live. But we are not without the tools that can help us survive, and perhaps even thrive. Teachers everywhere are discovering that the teachers next door and across the hall make wonderful educational partners, partners who can both expand each other’s horizons and lighten each others loads. There are resources in your community and on the Internet. And there are opportunities for you as a person to find the balance in your life that will not only keep you sane and make you emotionally richer, but make you a more well-rounded and capable teacher.
We can be sure that the greatest hope for maintaining equilibrium in the face of any situation rests within ourselves.
—Francis J. Braceland
Thank you, Lynda Van Kuren and the CEC, for giving me the opportunity to ruminate in this space. Thank you to the people who have given me feedback, both here and elsewhere. Congratulations to all the new teachers and veterans who have made it through yet another year. Best wishes to the teachers who are retiring, or pressing the ‘pause’ button for now, including my colleagues Angie Nava and Melissa Ortiz. Have a great summer.