The past few days I've done a lot of reflecting. Some of you may not have read this blog long, but I'll start with telling you where the web addy idea came from. I used to live in a ridiculously small town located NOWHERE. The closest cities were over an hour away, and it very much resembled Mayberry. I was married to a high school football coach, and during our marriage I followed him to all sorts of interesting places. We lived in Mayberry together for 5 years, and I remained there another year after our divorce before moving someplace much more civilized.
It was in Mayberry where I got my first HEAD coaching position. I had coached at my school before that, but only as an assistant. If any of you remember, when I began coaching at Mayberry, I was actually the first female (aside from cheerleader sponsor) the school had ever hired to coach. AND my male counterpart coach was deployed early in the season, leaving me responsible for a team of 40 athletes.
Mayberry changed me in a lot of ways, many ways I am still realizing. We have a little Brooks ID group on FB, and I had gotten a few ribs about being a southern redneck. I really do love a good joke, on others or myself; so I am definitely not offended or hurt in the least. And I look forward to the day I can post witty ribs myself, Haha. *Ok. I need to take a time out and get to the point of all this gibberish.* I found out Thursday that a young man I had coached at Mayberry had been killed in a car accident. He was 18. This obviously led me to a lot of reflections about my time in Mayberry. *Moving forward with the post now.*
I'm sure anyone involved in education has heard of Title I. Title I provides schools of poverty funding based on their poverty level. The poverty level in schools is based on the number of children that qualify for free/reduced lunch & breakfast. The free and reduced meals are based on the family's income (very relative to the poverty line.) To put Mayberry in relation to where I am now, my current school sits at 67% free/reduced, while Mayberry was 93% free/reduced. Those kids were poor.
I've wanted to be a teacher since kindergarten. And when I got to college, I decided I wanted to work in schools of need. It is my belief that we are called to do God's work, which is obviously different for everyone. In an unconceited way, I feel that i have a gift for working with children, and I can't imagine myself in any other career. The poverty I witnessed there was life changing, and I'm shocked/embarrassed at how easy it has been for me to become calloused and to forget it.
It really says something about a town when the children and parents at the school think the teachers are wealthy. And compared to them, we were. Those track kids- many ran in their school uniforms each day. Very few had running shoes. In the afternoon, the kids would pile into my car, and I would take them home. I remember one particular day during my first year, I drove this sweet little girl to her house in a trailer park. After dropping her off, I sat in the yard (there was no driveway) and cried. The conditions in which she lived were beyond heart-breaking. When we stopped for meals after meets, I would pay for over half the team. They just didn't have any money.
Oh, but those kids would WORK. Spring break, after school, on the weekend... I could ask them to do ANYTHING and they wouldn't blink an eye. The coach before me had completely let the jumping pits go. It was overgrown with weeds and rocks, and was in desperate need of some new sand. I had begged and begged for this new sand, but was told "no." One day out of the blue, three huge piles of sand appeared outside the gate of the football field. Me, feeling like a reckless rule breaker, decided to get that sand for our pit. Those kids worked TIRELESSLY shoveling the old rocks and sand out, pulling weeds, and then moving the new sand in, having to go around the fence each time. Wheelbarrow load by wheelbarrow load, and if you are a coach, you know that those jumping pits are DEEP! Many kids would leave practice and go work at their after school jobs, on top of everything else.
It was in Mayberry that I had an athlete sign a college scholarship. In fact, I drove him 3 hours north for the visit and brought back the paperwork to his parents. I sat with them late one night explaining everything and discussing the ins and outs of him leaving. He was the first to attend college in his family. The day he signed, his mother cried and cried with pride. She hugged me so tight and told me that I was the reason for all of this. See, to me, college was the natural progression after high school. For children of poverty, very few make it to college, and it has nothing to do with what they are capable of. The family often doesn't know how to help them pursue their options, and the school is so overwhelmed with other issues, it doesn't help. If parents don't go to college or pursue a true career after high school, they are less likely to assist their children in these goals. That young man? He is about to start graduate school to become an engineer. His parents live in a tiny house in Mayberry, and he will likely go on to support them. THAT is the purpose of a teacher/coach.
Times on the track, wins, and losses, yeah those are great and all, but at the end of the day, it's about the true work you're doing. Adrienne touches on it in a better way than I ever could here. I will just say that I've been doing a LOT of soul searching about how I want to proceed with my coaching and teaching career. When thinking about Mayberry's recent loss, I've realized how I've steered from my true career goals. I'm ashamed to say that I've become consumed with making the kids on my team fast. And while we are nowhere NEAR where I want to be, I'm slowly achieving that. My distance kids are hitting PRs nearly every week. My heart is not satisfied, though. The relationship I have with the male coach is strained, mostly because of his views on women in the coaching world, and his inability to keep those to himself. I've let my frustration trickle into how I deal with things on the track. I've lost focus. And I don't mean the will to win; I mean the will to make a difference.
My new school, while still country and redneck in many people's eyes, it is far more civilized than Mayberry. Unfortunately, people find you far less awesome when you aren't needed as much. Even more unfortunate than that is that when attempting to make a difference, sometimes you have to look really deep within yourself to figure out how to do that. It's easy to make a difference when people are struggling and desperate. I'm reminded of The Woodlands, the Texas township that I refer to as Disneyland, because it truly is that magical. I have been "involved" with them for nearly 3 years now, and I've learned so much. Per capita, I would bet that it ranks somewhere near the top in wealth, and in every way opposite from Mayberry. However, The Woodlands, specifically their running community, has taught me that "wealthy" doesn't have to mean selfish. Those people give and give and give, and it's not just financial. I've witnessed the way they support each other, help each other out, and are there for each other. True friendships, true generosity, genuine giving. They have the type of attitude that I want to have, constant "pay it forward."
What are we as teachers and coaches if we are not paying it forward? Isn't that EXACTLY what we are trying to teach? In a world full of selfishness and greed, isn't there room to influence someone else?
Run Happy, friends!