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I am one of thousands of teachers who tried to reach for the brass ring of National Board certification this year. I had told myself repeatedly that if I didn’t pass my first time through, I was still in good company. I have heard between 50-70% of teacher do not pass their first time through. (That is quite a wide margin of rumor-mill error – I would like to confirm this, but to what end?)

On a sleepless Friday morning, a cold blue and white computer screen electronically handed me the news – I missed the mark by five points. One entry, number four, was scored the highest, but not weighted the same as the others. The one entry that really mired me was the one that to me, provides the most sour-grape bitter taste– teaching reading and writing. At first glance at the comments, the sting of not “knowing my students” or “not knowing how to teach writing/reading” are going to leave a mark, that’s for sure.

Well, I know I know my students. I know them inside and out. I know their hopes, dreams, worries, and abilities and potential. But articulating that? Perhaps not. If I can’t succintly surmise this big concept in the framework of the certification process, then perhaps I’m not the writer I thought I was, but more importantly, perhaps I’m not seeing my students as clearly as I thought.

St. Sebastian attended by St. Irene
St. Sebastian attended by St. Irene

This morning a student came in whose grandmother just passed away, asking for my help with an eulogic poem. She asked her grandmother’s children and friends to sum up her character in one word. The words shared by the family are powerful and just by reading those, I had a strong sense of who this woman was in life, and I wish I had met her. Perhaps it is not MY skill at being a teacher, but at being a listener, and a fellow human, and those who want my guidance will seek it, just as I seek knowing who they are. What is the essence of guidance? It can’t possibly be knowing a tired, worn path and trudging through it, like a trail horse who’s never going to gallop again, unless it’s just to get back to the barn. It can’t be reading the same script, doing a daily matinee and evening performance without nuance and change. I am not a robot.

Perhaps the essence of guidance is keeping the lamps lit, the shoes dry, and the gear in good repair. It’s having a roadmap, but also a compass, and GPS, too. But it’s also allowing students to explore on their own, find their own path, and mark new territories, because they will never come this way again. I will reflect once again on what it means to be a ‘master teacher,’ and play the guessing games on how others define it, too. This shouldn’t be a second-guessing process, but it is, and is for everyone I know. Not a single colleague has said they nailed it, they know it, and they get it. Those who passed are sitting on a big fluffy cushion of relief, but hopefully are still humble. Though I wish I was sitting at the big kids’ table too, I am not alone:

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Secret Identity


Blog posting content accumulates in my writer’s head until it forms into a concept mass: current line of thinking and consideration–secret identities. The disclaimer is I know you know all about this, and that this is nothing new, and has been analyzed and probed about a million megabytes previously. But I still need to write.

There is this other dimension we all live inĀ  where we are not ourselves but also ‘meta” selves. Consider a Facebook chat or thread: we post comments, try to encourage others to think or smile, or challenge notions and ideologies. We must censure ourselves, watch our tone and meaning, and weigh carefully the ramifications of being potentially misunderstood. No wonder that so many play on-lines games or belong to chats where the quick response is almost as quickly forgotten and dissipates in the running stream of dialogue? The impermanence is deceptive. Just because the one drop of water cannot be distinguished from the rest doesn’t mean the river has gone. But we are driven to demarcate ourselves nonetheless, so be heard if even marginally.

Stop for a moment and think: how many times have you posted a comment to a news story? A Facebook post? How many screen names do you have? How many relationships do you have where you have never seen the other person’s face? In other words, how many (secret) identities do you have?
Lois Lane and Mary Jane Watson do not have the luxury of hiding behind a mask; this makes them a target and vulnerable. I imagine Mary Jane trolling MySpace behind her screen name “SpiderSquasher224” or Lois playing a MMORPG under the nom de plume, Kryptonite Killer. LOL, Lois, LOL indeed.
But humanity–hate to break it to you, but you are unmasked. Through those streaming chats every identity is exposed loud and clear. There are the bullies, the bigots, the peacemakers and the politics. There are angry, whining, intelligent and confused voices.
To my relationships with whom I have never actually met in person: thank you for the opportunity to know you in some way. Some of my most insightful epiphanies come from friendships that are 100% virtual. For those of you who use this medium to troll, harass, intimidate, or even simply discourage (discouragement is soul poison), pat yourself on the back and check-off “I know how to be a jerk” off of your life list and use this power for good, not evil. Even though the screen name is a drop, a mere blip of light, there is a human on the other side. Don’t lose your humanity in the sea.