"Fire is motion / Work is repetition / This is my document / We are all all we've done / We are all all we've done / We are all all we've done / We are all all defenses."

- Cap'N Jazz, "Oh Messy Life," Analphabetapolothology

Sunday, February 22, 2009

admitting failure

i came to a significant realization this morning:

it takes courage to admit you are not suited to help someone. because we all desire to be wanted and needed in some way, it takes love and courage to realize you are unfit and inadequate to be what someone else wants you to be, and walk away. to do this, one must deal with being accused of selfishness, immaturity, callousness, and self-importance. but i think the act of coming to understand you are not the person someone else needs is actually an act of considerable humility and self-knowing.

i think i've spent most of my life looking for ways to help ppl, or to change the world and make it a better place, without realizing that i had been selfish about it. i was thrill-seeking, but replace "thrill" with "good vibes." i was an endorphins fiend. i like feeling good about myself, and i like doing things that make me feel good. activism, i suppose, was my drug of choice.

another way to understand today's realization is the distinction between theory and practice. in theory, i believe every child is entitled to a quality education, but in practice, i am not the one best suited to provide that education. in theory, inner-city students with disabilities should be just as capable to meet educational standards as their peers in the suburbs. but in practice, they can only do so if they have a teacher committed to the tedious and wearing task of getting them there (and i don't have the patience or endurance to be that teacher they need). in theory, i am a capable and experimental teacher with ambitious ideas for transformative democratic education and student empowerment. in practice, i am a struggling, deeply unhappy special education teacher, disempowered and disillusioned because of my failure to effectively practice what i believe in theory, and my growing lack of passion for education.

i accept full responsibility for my own misery, knowing that if i had only known myself better and been more humble, i would not have taken on the task of teaching special ed in south central LA, thinking i could handle whatever challenges were thrown at me. some things are beyond yr range of ability. it's not even that i had delusions of grandeur, thinking i could change the whole system of education by teaching 60+ special ed students. i was just hoping to make a difference in the lives of a few. but now i am facing the reality that i might emerge from the experience 2 years later and regret the attempt at all, thinking both my students and i would have been better off if i'd never stepped foot into a special ed classroom. moreover, i feel i may be driven away from education forever. that makes me feel deeply sad and lost, since i thought teaching was the way i would make an impact on the world.

it occurs to me this morning that sometimes it is the more honest and necessary thing to step away from a situation, knowing you are beyond your means, that there is nothing for you to contribute. it is knowing that you want to be able to help others, but that you are not the one best able to do it, and stepping out of the way to let those who can do what you cannot.


Rae Jin Devine said...

Steph, I don't think anyone could be doing your job better than you right now.

Those kids need good people around them.

Even if you are falling short of whatever goals you think you need to make, you are a good person.

I would've loved having a teacher like you.

I bet they do too, even if they haven't realized it yet.

Hang in there, you're doing a great thing.


dennetmint said...

Hey, Steph--

It's a really hard thing to let go of something you've wanted for so long. Don't doubt that you have made contributions. Don't look at this as a failure.
What I've realized now from being in a couple of corps about commitments in general is if you're at your wit's end and the task is making you cynical rather than realistic, then that's when it's time to step away.