It’s Never Too Late

Follow-Your-Dreams

First I loved to read and then I loved to write. First my father inspired me and then my high school English teacher helped me to believe in myself. I headed to the University of Houston determined to major in English, hoping to become a writer but convincing myself that I would most likely earn a living by becoming a teacher.

I was enchanted by the written word. Reading for my classes was a source of joy and then authoring papers became my passion. If I had been totally honest I would have admitted that my ultimate dream was to become so proficient in the art of writing that it might have become my profession. Instead I believed the naysayers who shook their heads and assured me that becoming a published author with enough income to live was akin to a sandlot ball player getting a spot on a professional team.

I hedged my bets by minoring in mathematics and securing certifications for teaching. I not only never got an opportunity to teach English, but I also never had the pleasure of writing for a fee. I admittedly enjoyed being an educator and have no regrets after a long and happy career. Still, the idea of actually being paid for doing the one thing that most enchants me is alluring. I sometimes wonder if I would have made it as an author or a journalist if I had not been so afraid that I might fail. After all, I had a class with a young man who began his journey to professional sports playing at a Houston city park. Clyde Drexler certainly had skills but he had to be willing to take risks to show the world that he was a champion.

I sometimes chide myself for being so overly cautious and for making excuses for my unwillingness to follow the less certain path. I might easily have continued writing even after I had secured a job as a teacher. Stephen King initially supported himself and his wife by working as a high school teacher. He wrote in his free time and submitted manuscript after manuscript until Carrie finally caught a publisher’s eye. He did not find excuses to abandon his passion but I certainly did. For a very long time I stifled that little part of myself that brought me so much joy because I believed that even thinking that someone might want to read what I had to say was silly. I hid behind a wall of apologetics while my heart longed to be free.

It was not until my children were grown, my mother had died, and I had retired that I allowed myself the luxury of writing again. At first I was so fearful of what people might think of my ideas. I wrote and rewrote passages to tame my thoughts, make them more acceptable to a wider audience instead of letting my heart speak. I had so often told students that the best writing has a very personal voice but I broke my own rules. It was only after I enrolled in a one day class at Rice University that I understood that I must overcome all of the trepidation and negativity that resided inside my head. I had to be myself on paper just as I had so unselfconsciously done when I was writing for my professors in college. They had seen the possibilities and had encouraged me to continue to develop my craft. I had believed that they were only being kind. I convinced myself that they were flatterers and the real truth came from people who insisted that I be practical, realistic.

So here I am at the age of seventy one suddenly shedding the my protective facade and showing myself as the person that I am with blogs written five days each week. I have become almost fanatical in my devotion to writing every single day. It is as though all of the pent up emotions that I failed to put on paper in the past are flooding onto the blankness of each new page. I am fearless in my adherence to the truth. My voice chatters on and on and on.

I may never earn a dime from my words. I may never receive an invitation from Oprah or Ellen to speak of my musing or the books that I hope to write in front of millions of  people, but I have finally made writing a priority in my life for no other reason than it seems to be something that I need to do. It feels oh so good to finally grow up and be my own person. Ignoring the clang of negative voices that we all seem to encounter has been one of the most freeing experiences of my life. Writing has sustained my optimism during Covid-19.

I remain devoted to my thousands of students. I don’t believe that I would have been a particularly interesting or empathetic author without knowing them. They have been a source of inspiration for most of what I believe and do. I would urge them as they grapple with decisions about their own lives to listen to their hearts and follow the passions that speak to them. Take some risks and see where they may lead. There is nothing more wonderful than finding one’s true self. I found mine in being a teacher and now I have expanded my world through writing. Go find your dream. It is never too late.

(This blog is dedicated to a young man with the initials H.F. who is struggling to find himself while he watches his peers graduate with advanced degrees, work at extraordinary jobs, purchase homes and begin families. He is quite gifted and talented in his own right and I hope that he reads this and is inspired to take some risks to embrace his own passions.)

Finding Joy In Work

Apple.Teacher.Classroom.Evolve

When I was a little girl I kept my toys sorted in cardboard boxes that I found at the grocery store. One carton held board games, another had all of my dolls and their clothing and a third container was filled with items for playing school. I generally had a difficult time recruiting volunteers to pretend that they were in my classroom because nobody wanted to do extra work during time away from the real thing and I was notoriously strict as an erstwhile educator.

I used some of my father’s books for my lessons and meticulously created practice examples and comprehensive tests. I graded everything in red ink of course and gave each of my somewhat unwilling students report cards at the end of each session. Needless to say I always had to search for new victims each time that I decided to open my classroom but I had enough sway over my brothers that they grudgingly went along with my role playing. I suppose that it was almost a certainty that I would one day be a teacher, but in truth I fought against that idea until I was in my early thirties.

I am a woman from the pioneering era of equality for women. The trend for my peers was to eschew the customary female occupations for positions in traditionally male roles. I was encouraged to become a lawyer, a doctor, an engineer, an accountant, anything but a teacher. The word on the street was that those who were unable to do anything else became teachers and I was a bit too proud to channel my intellect into a job that was rapidly losing its luster. I changed my major so many times that I finally took a sabbatical so that I might clear my head and contemplate what I really wanted to do with my life, not what everyone was telling me to do.

No matter how much I meditated on my ultimate role in society I kept circling back to the idea of teaching. Ultimately I became determined to follow my heart and I returned to college to finish my degree. The second time around I encountered the most incredible professors who encouraged me to use my talents in what they deemed to be one of the noblest of professions. I channeled all of my enthusiasm into learning about the science of teaching. I soon realized that there was way more to the profession than just bending students to my will. I became an eager advocate for the profession that would become an integral part of my life.

My first job was literally a Godsend. There happened to be a glut of teachers in the Houston area due to an economic downturn in the oil business and my fellow graduates and I were having a difficult time finding open positions anywhere. I submitted applications all over town and finally got a call from a private Catholic school only minutes away from my home. Surprisingly I landed a job teaching mathematics to sixth, seventh and eighth graders, something that I had never intended to do. I had to create lesson plans for six completely different classes as well as sponsor the school newspaper and head a committee taxed with purchasing computers for the campus.

I don’t think that I have ever worked as hard as I did during that first year but I enjoyed every minute of the experience. My students were delightful and I found out that I was fairly good at my chosen occupation. I was surrounded by other teachers from whom I learned how to improve my craft and the atmosphere at the school was one of kindness and optimism. I was certain after my maiden voyage as a teacher that I had found the perfect fit for my interests and my talents.

My determination to be an educator was solidified by that initial foray, but I wanted to have experiences in different settings so that I might define both my strengths and my weaknesses. Before long I set my eye on working with economically disadvantaged students in elementary school. There I had to plan for lessons in every single subject including art. It was an incredible challenge because my students were often riddled with home problems which often showed themselves in bad behaviors at school. It was time consuming to prepare for each day of school and I was challenged by both classroom management issues and methods for conveying knowledge of every conceivable kind. Each day I was responsible for twenty seven little souls who ranged from brilliant to learning disabled, well behaved to difficult. With the help of an amazing principal I learned much and became more confident than ever that I had made the right choice in deciding to be a teacher.

The rest is history as they say. I returned to an upscale private school for a time and then agreed to work in a public school filled with gang members. By then I understood that kids are kids and they all struggle to get past the angst of adolescence and teen years. My specialty became understanding where they were and starting from that reality to encourage them to move forward. I found myself loving every single one of my pupils and every challenge that I encountered with them.

I ended my career as a Dean of Faculty. By then I was working with the teachers, understanding the problems that they faced and doing my best to encourage and help them the way others had done for me. I never regretted a single day that I spent in the teaching profession. I felt that I had found my true purpose in life and I still get great joy from helping young people to learn. Our society may not have much regard for the teaching professions, which is unfortunate, but I learned that only those who can, teach. It takes dedication, long hours of hard work, physical and mental stamina, and a true heart. I’m glad I followed mine and found so much joy as a teacher.

Keep On Keeping On

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When we are young we tend to be impatient. We see life as a sprint rather than a marathon. Every mistake we make feels like the end of possibilities. We fret over our futures and worry that our lives are over before we even get started. I recall thinking that I would never experience any of the things that I dreamed of doing. I was in a hurry, and life rarely works that way. Over the decades I’ve learned that there are some things that we can’t rush, but they happen all in good time.

When I graduated from high school I enrolled in college but I honestly felt totally confused about what I wanted to do with the rest of my life. I found love with the man who is now my husband, and nothing mattered more to me at the time. So many young men that I knew were being drafted into the army and shipping off to Vietnam where some of them died or were severely wounded. The nation was in a state of upheaval far worse than anything we are now experiencing. Somehow I lost my way and when the chance arose to marry the one person who made me feel good every minute that I was with him I leaped at the opportunity.

I was determined to continue my education even as an incredibly young married woman and for two semesters after my wedding I was as good as my word. Then my world came crashing down around me when my mother’s mental illness advanced to a stage that was more than she was able to bear. I became her lifelong caretaker even as I had little idea of what to do or how long this journey was going to take. I was playing each moment by ear and hoping for the best. On top of everything else I suddenly found that I was pregnant with my first child. Nonetheless I kept taking classes in spite of the reality that none of them felt right for me.

My mother’s battle with mental illness would recur again and again and I would need to focus my attention on her whenever she was especially sick. I decided to take a sabbatical from my university studies after my first child was born. I vowed to return to complete a degree of some kind but for the moment I had my hands full. Things became more complicated when a second daughter was born and my mom’s illness became a constant in our lives. My husband also developed a life threatening disease when we were in our mid twenties that required many months of hospitalization and chemotherapy. Any thoughts of college that I may have had were set aside as I buckled down to take care of my mom, my children and my husband. Somehow the years slipped by and any promise of graduating from college seemed remote so I found little jobs here and there teaching preschool or working as the Director of Religious Education at my church. I had turned thirty before I once again became determined to finish my studies.

I brought a great deal of wisdom and experience to my second foray into education. I found that I enjoyed my classes and gave extra effort to them out of joy for learning. I finally knew exactly what I wanted to do with my life and that certainty gave meaning and purpose to each of the courses that I took. Before long I had earned my degree in education and began teaching in earnest. I would spend the rest of my working days with children and teens. I found that I truly enjoyed my job and the real life experiences that I had encountered were as important in preparing me as my studies had been.

I earned a high level of satisfaction and success in my career. By the time I retired I had taught thousands of students in grades from preschool to middle school to high school to college. I had been an administrator and a mentor to teachers. I felt fulfilled and happy. Since my last full time job I have tutored students and taught children who are being homeschooled. I write every single day as well which was a secret dream that I had long held.

I like to tell my story to young people because I think that I am a living example of the adage that it is never too late to be the person one wants to be. I was thirty two when I earned by degree. I was in my forties when I received a masters degree. I have been learning and working hard for all of my life. I have been willing to think out of the box and try things that had never occurred to me to do. I have never given up on myself, and even when times were tough I believed that brighter days were most assuredly ahead.

Sometimes it takes a bit of sacrifice to get where we want to be in life. We may not get there in the normal ways. Our paths may be rugged and difficult to endure, but with determination we can and will overcome the obstacles that seem to stalk us. I was unable to control all of the situations that overtook my life but I could take one or two classes at a time each and every semester until I finally walked across the stage for my diploma.

I have genuinely had it all, and so can almost everyone. Where there is a will to accomplish something there is always a way. I never belonged to a sorority or lived on campus at a university, but I still made friends in my classes. I had to forgo vacations and all sorts of luxuries for years, but eventually I was doing well enough to treat myself. I had a grand purpose in caring for my family, and I’d like to think that I inspired my daughters to live their lives to the fullest. I’ve tried to help my students also understand that the problems that have daunted them are only temporary detours. If they just keep on keeping on they will emerge into the highway that leads them to their grandest dreams and a few surprises that are even better.

The Backbone of Society

pencils in stainless steel bucket
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It’s that time of year when the sun bears down hotter than ever and we feel as though we are in the true grip of summer, which means it must be nearing the end of July and the time to purchase those school supplies. I still work with a handful of kids so I usually head for the stores about now to replace my Expo markers, pencils, spiral notebooks and such. The prices are just too good to ignore, and come January not only will everything cost more but it will be difficult to find.

Lots of big box stores are offering discounts to teachers which is a grand idea because every educator that I ever knew spent a good portion of the first paycheck of the school year readying the classroom. I kept mountains of lined paper, sharpened pencils, and pens in my cupboard for those students who came in without supplies. I never minded helping out even those who carelessly came to class without the things they needed. I had no patience with lecturing them about being responsible during the short time allotted to me for teaching them mathematical concepts. It was far easier to just wordlessly point them to the table where I always had some necessary items waiting for anyone in need. The remarkable thing is that the students often rewarded my generosity by repaying me with even more than they had initially taken, so I rarely ran out of my little offerings for them.

I wanted to have an inviting classroom so I was one of those teachers who joined the crowd at the teacher supply store that used to be a big draw in southeast Houston. It was like Christmas in July as my fellow educators filled the parking lot and jammed the aisles with carts filled with all of the items that might make the classroom environment more exciting for the kids. I got tired of the crank pencil sharpener breaking down at an inopportune moment, so I invested in a heavy duty electric one that cost almost a hundred dollars. It was quite an extravagance but it lasted until the day I retired at which time I passed it on to my nephew along with the mathematical manipulatives, and algebraic thinking books that I used for problem solving sessions.

I’d be at the school readying my classrooms days before the official return date. I learned over the years that administrators provide very little time for the actual process of putting a classroom in working order in the frantic week before the students arrive. Somehow principals always seem to think that the lovely environments created by the staff just miraculously pop up like mushrooms over night. Luckily I learned the tricks of the trade over time from real pros who had stayed the course and demonstrated their dedication to the ideals of teaching.

The teachers in Texas will receive a raise of some kind this year depending on how each school district decides to dole out the funds provided by the state legislature. It isn’t a great deal of money, but every little bit counts. No doubt much of it will be poured right back into the classrooms by educators eager to make a difference to their students. Altruism runs deeply in the hearts of most of the teachers I have known. Those who are less concerned about the welfare of their students usually burn out in a few years and head for more lucrative and less stressful careers.

Society spends a great deal of time discussing the pros and cons of the worth of teachers. What they rarely discuss is how exceedingly devoted the vast majority of them are. Theirs is a difficult job beyond measure. The rewards rarely come in the form of pay or bonuses. Instead they receive intangible feelings of great purpose, a sense of doing something special for thousands of individuals, many of whom rarely stop to realize how much teachers are responsible for the successes that they ultimately achieve.

I was listening to a discussion of how various occupations are valued. Most of the time the highest paying professions are the ones that return most monetary compensation to a company. Invariably such analyses point out that teachers do not generate income therefore they are more of a drain on resources. Such thinking contributes to the lower salaries that educators have historically made. In truth each teacher ultimately provides vast amounts of capital to the economy. It does not happen directly, but over time the students that educators have prepared will enter the workforce and contribute mightily to the coffers. Teachers are the foundation of the economic system, helping to mold future doctors, lawyers, inventors, and entrepreneurs. Bill Gates certainly has a level of natural genius, but along the way there were teachers who helped him to become the person that he is today. Educators are the silent force that keeps our world moving forward, and they do it without a great deal of fanfare or recompense.

I applaud any efforts to recognize our nation’s teachers. In reality we should be celebrating them even more than we presently do. They are the backbone of any nation, in many ways the most important people in society. You may soon see them in a Target or Walmart near you. They will be the ones filling their carts with extra supplies to make life better for your children. The least you might do is to thank them. 

It’s Never Too Late

accounting administration books business
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Back in 1988, he headed off to college. At some point on his way to earning a degree things got complicated and he quietly dropped out of school. He moved to Chicago, enrolled in the Police Academy and became a cop. The years passed by and in the interim he raised a family and made a nice life for himself, but he knew that something was missing. Not long ago he retired from the police force with a pension that gave him enough income to follow a dream that had never really left his mind. He applied for admission to college and when the acceptance letter came he proudly announced that he was going back to school to pursue a major in engineering, undaunted by the fact that he is only a year or so away from turning fifty.

I did not know this man very well, but when I heard his story I wanted to jump for joy. I admire his willingness to keep learning and to make sacrifices to enrich his life. All too often I hear adults bemoaning the trajectory of their lives and blaming all sorts of people and situations for their plight. Whenever anyone suggests steps that they might take to improve their lot in life they are filled with excuses of why it is simply not possible to make changes. They note that educational programs cost too much or take up too much of their time, and yet they prefer being miserable for the long run rather than making sacrifices for the moment.

Again and again I see examples of people who take charge of their lives and push themselves just a bit harder to make changes and reach goals that may at first glance appear to be unattainable. I recall a woman who got married and began having children right out of high school. She and her husband barely got by as they worked at a series of low paying and dead end jobs. In their late twenties it seemed as though they would always struggle just to make ends meet. Neither of them had high school transcripts worthy of even the mid range universities and they wondered how it would be possible to pay the tuition and fees even if some institution accepted them. Nonetheless they agreed one evening that they had to redirect their destinies and they applied to every sort of program imaginable. Their journey began in a local junior college where they took courses one or two at a time while working all day and managing a family.

Before long they had both earned associate degrees with honors. This one step allowed them to get better jobs, but they were not yet done. Eventually the woman became a registered nurse and the man earned a law degree. By the time they were nearing their forties they were able to purchase a nice home and treat themselves to vacations and luxuries like nice furniture. They had so inspired their children that the kids were excelling in high school and headed for some of the best universities in the country. To all the world they appeared to be a power couple. Few realized how far they had come.

I could go on and on about people who reclaimed their lives with a willingness to work hard to bring about the changes that would help them to escape the debilitating grind of the mistakes of their youth. Instead of wallowing in self recriminations or envy they did something positive to make changes. They went back to school and worked in the wee hours of the night and on weekends to master skills and write papers. At times they were exhausted and worried that they might never recoup all of the money that they spent for courses. It was a slow and demanding process, but they never surrendered to the little voices that tempted them to throw in the towel. In every case that I heard of they were victorious, standing out as exceptional students and the kind of employees that any organization dreams of having.

I tell people that no one need ever feel stuck in a rut. I think of the bookkeeper who earned a degree in accounting, became a CPA, and opened her own firm. I remember the man who was miserable in his job who attended night school to become certified to be a teacher. I applaud the friend who graduated at the top of her law class when she was almost fifty years old. I have witnessed brave souls who demonstrated with their determination that where there is a will there is a way to control destiny rather than being ruled by it. All it takes is a willingness to divert the energy wasted complaining and parlay it into tangible efforts to learn and grow.

There are countless opportunities for anyone of any age. It is never too late for any of us to become the person that we have always wished to be. If we wait for privileges to suddenly appear or lottery tickets to pay dividends we will be sorely disappointed. For most of us it will take time and money and effort and no excuses. 

I hope that the man who is embarking on earning a degree for a second career will find the success that he seeks. His is an admirable goal, and even before his journey is done he has inspired those of us who have heard of his courage. He reminds us that it is never too late.