Each morning, long before the sun begins to brighten the horizon, my day begins. There ahead of me awaits the sleeping giant, repose and silent as it slumbers. To stir the beast before one is ready to do battle is to invite defeat and untold injury upon the soul. So I begin each day well in advance of my first class, so that I may prepare as best I can with what little time is available.
A certain dread of uncertainty fills the void within me when I enter the doors of the school, like the lair of the sleeping leviathan. When there is no time to prepare, as is often the case for the Lateral Entry Teacher, one must breach the entrance with honest trepidation. Often, a lateral entry person enters the fray in the midst of an ongoing semester. It’s much akin to parachuting into a “hot zone” in military terms, in the fray of battle. There has been little time to formulate a lesson, let alone a syllabus from which a basis for all manner of conduct and instruction can be grounded. Ill-conceived lesson plans are like thin shields against the blast of the fiery breath of the beast. One must rely on the stealth and agility of having battled circumstances from the distant past when there is no time to garner a defense. The weaponry we wield are countless moments and events in our own history that shaped and formed us into the warriors and the potential educators we have become. The ability to think on our feet and pull from our mental resources become our best ally. Meanwhile, our intellect is our sword, something we must learn to sharpen each day; without it, we have little chance of surviving future struggles. Our culmination of a lifetime of education suddenly is called upon to serve us as we serve them whom we teach.
As the exterior door of the school silently closes behind me, the sound of ventilation system can be heard; the giant breathes in peaceful slumber. My footsteps echo in the halls. There is less fear of each new day, less angst for what lies ahead. My peers reassure me again and again, “It gets better.” Yet, there is that fear of the unknown that nags at your unconscious thoughts, like the drip of a faucet in the other room; it is there. Rather than allowing that trickle of negativity to consume you, one must turn it into a positive. For me, the anticipation of the unexpected now becomes the adventure. Those things which still create the uneasiness are focused into an energy that propels us harder into the task at hand.
I didn’t always think this way.
It was Summer Camp, only my second as a Boy Scout. We had heard the horror stories well in advance of the annual summer event of the dreaded Mile Swim, one of the requirements for the Swimming Merit Badge. For some, it had become a rite of passage. This particular summer I was scheduled to take the Swimming Merit Badge class, one that was required in order to earn the prestigious rank of Eagle. None of the other requirements bothered me as much as that long distance endurance test. The participants who took part in the marathon swim followed closely behind a rowboat where two adults watched the small pack of boys trail behind. At the first sign of struggles, the endangered youth would be hauled into the boat where they would safely ride until they could be taken to shore. The part that we feared most was swimming out into the depths of that black bottomed lake. The darkness of the water allowed our boyhood imaginations to create all manner of monsters whose abodes lay below in the seemingly endless pit; a verifiable abyss. When I told my fears to my father, he shared with me this thought that stayed with me for the rest of my life. He explained to me that he would be scared to swim out in that lake too, but sometimes when we feared something, we should learn to use that fear to drive us harder; make it our impetus to be better than we ever imagined. Later in life, I would tell my music students before taking the stage, “Take your butterflies and teach them to fly in formation.” So with all of my fear urging me onward, little Rick Anderson and I swam our first mile without stopping that summer, following closely behind his father and my Scoutmaster, the late Tom Anderson. Tom was one of the best Scoutmasters a group of youth could have ever had. His commitment to us boys was never faltering. He was to me a “John Wayne” of Scoutmasters. Rick and I never feared we never faltered that day, for we had all the assurance with us we thought we needed sitting right in front of us, his dad. He gave us the encouragement and courage to do more than we thought possible. Mark Twain once said, “Courage is resistance to fear, mastery of fear, not absence of fear,” and so it was that summer day so long ago.
Once more, the recollection of the past strengthens the present, and my fortitude is re-energized. Those pillars of our past lives become the supports for our character, the very thing that makes us the leaders of today. They may have gone on, but in essence, they are always with us. Their lessons of encouragement become the very tools from which we now can draw upon.
The keys rattle in my hand as I approach my door in the dimly lit hallway. As the lock turns and the click of the door opens, I can hear the beast within draw its breath.
Time to awaken this Math beast and let the day begin.
“Now to Him who is able to do exceedingly abundantly above all that we ask or think, according to the power that works in us,…” -Eph. 3:20
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