Thursday, April 24, 2008

Empty Bowls, Overflowing

There are some days when goodness just abounds. And today was really, really good.

Starting with the potentially contentious conference between parents and coaches I sat in on, which ended with a leap in respect gained by both sides, both for the Job of Parents of Struggling Kid and for the Job of Coaches of 80 Alternately Struggling Kids. Sometimes people can start suspicious of one another and end mutually respectful, even admiring. It's pretty cool to watch that go down.

Then I attended a meeting about a student in our special education program who suffers from serious disabilities as well as Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis. We celebrated this teenager's occupational therapy evaluation results, awed by how well she copied shapes and stayed in the lines when asked to perform tasks with a pencil. We listened while her mother described the family's hour-and-a-half-long morning routine, meant to stretch her daughter's muscles and prepare her for less-painful days.

"What time do you wake up in the morning?" I asked, humbled by this parent's dedication.

"4:45," she answered, "Everyday. This is our family's schedule," she added. "We're used to it," she smiled. "And it makes a difference."

I had an opportunity later in the day to counsel two girls I had disciplined earlier for going AWOL from class for half an hour. One set of parents was now sure that the other young lady was a bad influence. They wanted advice, as well as confirmation that I hadn't told their parents they were Satan's Spawn. Though in our last encounter I played Stern Vice Principal and lectured them on Trust and Accountability (as well as assigned them Saturday School), this afternoon we sat on the quad at a picnic table and talked about how to gain and keep the trust of parents. How to apologize, atone, and embark on honest relationships with people who are constantly worried you're Going to Hell in a Handbasket, fast. Especially on days when the school calls with Bad News.

The day culminated with our school's second annual Empty Bowls Dinner and Student Art Exhibit. Our ceramics teacher conceives this event, which involves our students hand-throwing hundreds of ceramic bowls, local restaurants (and citizens AND students) contributing gallons of soup, and artists donating treasured works for a silent auction, all benefiting the homeless and hungry. Teachers, students, parents, community members, and families were all over our quad, listening to live music, eating, communing, greeting one another, holding one another's children, dancing, cartwheeling...and oohing and ahhing over amazing student artwork.

Maybe the best part was our music teacher on guitar, singing 80s cover tunes with current students accompanying on the mandolin and violin.

Maybe the best part was students pointing to bowls strangers had chosen and offering, humbly, shyly: "Ohhh...I made that bowl..." and the Chooser saying, "Really? Oh my goodness! It's the Most Amazing Bowl!"

Maybe the best part was the reunion of student musicians, some graduates, who've made a name for themselves and cut a CD, playing their famous version of "Video Killed the Radio Star."

Maybe the best part was that I happened to choose a bowl, blindly, among 700-odd bowls, made by my artist friend, the ceramics teacher, to give to a friend who asked me to pick one for her.

Or that my husband and I divided and conquered with our two girls, to allow them to choose their own favorite bowls. And they both chose pieces from the same whimsical student artist.

Or that my husband and my mother both chose bowls by another talented student.

Or that my mom managed to snag a bowl that featured my own poem reproduced inside.

Or that my dear friend and her three children came to the event, and a sweet student agreed to stand in the soup line with her to help her juggle five soup bowls and three kiddoes.

Or that I caught up with the mother of a student whose father (her beloved husband) is dying, who came to see her son, and to eat soup and to just be for the moment...

Or that my Daughter #2 showed up in mittens and shorts.

Or that my Daughter #1 demonstrated how important some of the adults (NOT related to her!) are in her life, especially my artist friend and a math teacher colleague/mentor/friend. Making ME feel like my mother side and my work side and my friend side converge. And that it all makes sense, really it does.

Or that teachers at our school are teaching our students more than subject matter. That each discipline has its global connection. That ceramics comes with GIVING and a potential for awareness beyond ourselves, and that we need to give, give, give...and open our eyes.

That's what my teacher friend did by hosting this event AGAIN, and by inspiring his students to create more than 700 bowls to give to others. And that's what the parents demonstrated, the parents who made this one of the most well-organized events we host. And that's what the pride in craftsmanship--of the music, of the pottery, of the ideas conceived, of the hard work--really means to the people behind this event.

To quote one of my colleagues, reflecting on tonight in an email to staff: "I usually feel my bowl runneth over..."

1 comment:

Struggle For Justice said...

You mentioned one dream-teaching in Africa. That's the first step. You have your vision. The next step is affirmation or allowing yourself to realize your dream instead of treating it like just a passing fancy. The next step after that is actualization or realization where your dream becomes a reality.