The Ripple Effect

Posted on

Way back in the early 1990s (when choker necklaces and miniature backpacks were all the rage), I was working as a technical writer for a software startup in downtown San Francisco, whose software was based on the productivity methodology of bestselling author and sought-after guru, David Allen.

One of tenets I remember from Allen’s approach is that we want our minds to be like water, rather we want our minds to react to stimuli in the same way that water would: a pebble causes small, undulating ripples, then slowly fades away. A three-hundred-pound boulder might create a large splash, but it, too, fades over time. But what happens to your body when you treat every pebble-sized demand on your time and attention like a three-hundred-pound boulder?

The past four years I’ve been under a tremendous amount of stress: PTA leadership role, nonprofit board participation, mothering three active kids, entering and then completing graduate school, then teaching full time in an urban, underfunded school. The cumulative effect of the stress that these roles demanded of me led to some challenging health issues: weight gain, heart palpitations, pitting edema. At the end of last year’s school year, I was so concerned about how the stress of my life was affecting my health, I underwent a series of medical tests to try to find a root cause. The result of all of those tests: a vitamin D deficiency.

While I’m not a medical professional, being deficient in vitamin D alone seemed an unlikely culprit behind the myriad symptoms I’d been experiencing. So I sought out additional council from an acupuncturist. After a lengthy consultation, she recommended I quit my teaching job. Well, I explained that wasn’t going to happen. That I was no quitter. And that what I needed was a way to continue doing my job without it killing me. She advised me to cut out wheat, dairy, corn, soy, alcohol, and caffeine from my diet and put me on a formula of Chinese herbs. Since up to that point I’d been surviving on a combination of all of these things (primarily caffeine, chocolate, and red wine, if I’m being honest), I was doubtful I’d be able to stick to such a strict regimen.

At first, if was very difficult.  Cooking one meal for my family and a separate one for myself was a logistical challenge.  I struggled with finding replacements that were satisfying and easy to prepare. It took a while for me to find the combination of meals that I could put into rotation that were quick, tasty, and devoid of the suspect ingredients.

Now, three months later, I find the changes fairly easy to contend with on a daily basis, and easier still to stick with for one simple reason: eliminating those things from my diet worked. I can’t explain why–and Western medicine offered zero explanation–but kicking these things to the curb had a profound effect on my health. The swelling subsided. I lost weight (averaging 5 pounds a month – I’m down 15 20 pounds so far). I sleep more deeply. I have greater mental clarity. Cravings have subsided. I basically eat my meals but never snack between meals any more.

True, it’s been a lot of work. I have to be proactive about cooking meals to take to work. If we’re going to a restaurant, I need to find out what menu options may work ahead of time. But all of that has been worth it to feel so much better. Not only have my symptoms subsided, but I feel a greater sense of calm about daily disturbances than I used to. I just don’t have that “ball of stress” feeling that I used to have before the dietary changes. I have no idea why, all I know is it’s true.  I may not always respond to a “boulder” with a peaceful David Allen-like ripple, but at least now tiny pebbles won’t cause a tsunami of stress.

If you’re struggling with any of the unexplained health issues I mentioned and typical medical tests offered little explanation, consider seeing an acupuncturist or Chinese Medicine practitioner for another perspective.


The View From Here

Posted on

No one, including me, thought I’d be where I am right now, which is sitting in my own classroom surrounded by boxes on the last day of the school year.

Maybe it was that kid “lighting up” in my first class, the first day of school that had me screaming internally “Damn…Maybe I’m not cut out for this.”

Or maybe it was reading the explicit notes—addressed to me—that were posted to the pages of my photography books during a lesson. Or having my room broken into, twice. Or having my things stolen…or having a bottle thrown at me. Or sitting in the corner of my empty classroom alone, sobbing, as I texted my family during a campus lockdown while area police searched for an armed assailant at the edge of our campus.

Whatever the cause, the answer to the question of how long this gray-haired, middle-aged white woman from the ‘burbs would last as a first-year teacher in this deep East Oakland high school, was most assuredly “not long” in the minds of everyone, including me.

And yet, here I sit.

Here I sit typing at an empty table, cleared away of the shiny computers many of my students used for the first time ever. Here I sit staring at student work on the walls,  the product of a year’s worth of struggle, creativity, and growth, both my students’ and my own.

I’m not gonna lie…this year nearly killed me. For a person who always does more than is required, working in a school can be a hazardous place. There is always a deeper need than can be filled. Always one more policy to read, one more project to grade, one more lesson to plan, one more student to help. The true challenge for me next year will be finding a balance that enables me to continue to grow in my teaching practice, support my students well, while also making sure I have something left to give my family and myself at the end of the day. Because, let me tell you, that struggle is REAL.

A high school friend, also a teacher, recently posted to Facebook on her last day of school that it was “the only day of the year when everyone wishes they were a teacher.” Everyone envies the long summer break but no one tells you that it will be filled with professional development you will feel obliged to do in order to move over a column on that low pay scale. No one tells you that you will show up at 7am and leave at 5pm and then settle in at 8pm for a three-hour grading session once the kids go to bed. Regularly.

Even though there were many things in those first difficult weeks to cause any rational person to “peace-out” and head for the hills, there also were many more moments that fed my soul and gave me a reason to stay. Authentic conversations with kids. Proof some learning was taking place by the amazing work students were creating. My classroom becoming a hangout during lunch…a place where students felt accepted and comfortable being themselves.

I’m reminded of that old Peace Corps commercial with the tagline, “the hardest job you’ll ever love,” because it perfectly sums up teaching. It is a hard job. Made harder still by the myriad obstacles you must climb over every day to get to the pinnacle of the profession: low pay, long hours, limited resources, unreasonable expectations, self-doubt…It’s an exhausting climb. For an old newcomer like me, every step was excruciating. But when I look back down into the valley behind me and see how far I’ve come, I have to admit, the destination was worth the journey. The view from up here really is pretty spectacular.

Happy Summer!


Powered By Google Analytics

Getting Schooled

Posted on

Neatoday.orgOne month from now I’ll be teaching high school in Oakland, CA. I’ll be teaching awesome subjects like digital photography, animation, and game design. I have experience with each of these subjects in my professional and academic career, but next to zero experience teaching them with actual students. Therefore, the reality that I’ll be “on duty” fairly soon has left me feeling a little panicked and underprepared. That specific fear, the one of being unprepared (for whatever potential outcome you want to imagine) is kind of like my kryptonite: I do not ever want to encounter it. For this reason, I’ve put preparations for how to become the World’s Best First-Year Teacher Ever into overdrive.

This morning as I marinated in my cauldron of stress-induced cortisol stew, I started to wonder whether there was a limit to the human brain’s capacity to take in information. Not a limit on intelligence, or of one’s own capabilities per se, but like what happens to a glass pitcher if you kept pouring once the water’s reached the rim. Or what happens when a levee breaks. Or when a blood vessel bursts. I ask with a little anxiety about the answer…So…is there a hard ceiling on how much focused learning a person’s brain can handle? Like, at some point will it just explodeContinue reading »

Best Laid Plans

Posted on

While I’ve found it difficult lately to sit down and write my 500 words about “anything” I can certainly start off a pretty impressive list (probably at least 500) of the reasons why this daily exercise has fallen off the side of my desk. But in the interests of time and space and not wanting to dissolve into a heaping pile of tears, I’ll stick to the top five.

Continue reading »