Butterfly Effects

When I was a kid, nothing in the animal kingdom really scared me. I wouldn’t freak out when I saw spiders or snakes. They were just things I wanted to know more about. That changed with a movie called Arachnophobia. Movies, with the music and the suspense, make fears come alive. So does experience.

Last night, most of the Twitter feed I’m now following was about movies. Movies mold us. They prime us. I think half the people who judge strangers go off of how Hollywood’s chosen to cast people like them. I also think we believe situations will unfold like in the movies or, even worse, we are disappointed when they don’t.

I asked you if you’ve ever wanted to speak up. They do in movies, right? If there’s a problem in the movies, someone gets off their ass and does something about it. We don’t watch movies about people who sit around doing nothing.

I was scared to become a teacher. I had seen movies like Gangster’s Paradise, The Principal, and The Substitute. I wasn’t about to be a victim of random violence committed by Michael Jackson’s dance crews. But, I needed money, so I took my grandmother’s advice and became a substitute teacher, then changed my degree plan and started on the path to having my own classes.

Did it pay off?

It’s hard to say. I’m not teaching now, so you could say it didn’t work out. You could say that it was wasted time. On the other hand, I hope some of the students I taught learned something beyond what the state standards required.

This made me cry

I was talking with a friend about how sometimes we can feel like the world is falling apart around us but we can still be an inspiration to others. It’s crazy how some of my students responded to my last semester of teaching and, I think, it’s probably because they knew it was my last semester that some of them left me such kind notes.

The last lecture

I don’t think these students know what an impact their messages had on me. When you thank someone for what they’ve done for you, you’re giving them permission to feel good about themselves and reminding them they can feel good about others, too.

Helped me find me

I don’t share these letters to boast. I share them because they tell me what kids are looking for and they speak to something this blog’s about. What does it mean to be a human in this world? I started my philosophy and communications courses both with what seemed like simple questions for the students. The first, which always seemed natural, was, “Who are you?” It’s funny how even the answer to that question can change over time. I think if it doesn’t, you’re doing it wrong.

These students who chose to write me, did so because I tried to relate to them, to add value to their lives, to let them figure out their worlds and the people in it.

I end each semester with a review of the tips Randy Pausch left his children in his famous last lecture. If you’ve never seen it, you must. The students took pictures of the slide with the bullet list of advice from the late teacher. I read his book in my grandmother’s living room. I read it in one day. I had never done that before. Up until I was in my mid-thirties, I hardly read at all. Last year I read nearly eighty books.

I read those books to improve myself as a teacher and find lessons worth relating. Whether it worked, only time will tell, but none of us knows how far our influence reaches, but that shouldn’t stop us from trying to be an influence and, hopefully, a good one.

I didn’t want to write anything today. I’m not sulking, but I have tested promotions, and added ads, and I’m trying to see if I can do this for a living. Maybe I’m just close enough that the angst is taking over. It would be really easy to abandon this. Then my cousin left me a comment and I began typing.

Stewey, one of my fur brothers

How did Stewey end up on this particular post? I end my philosophy classes with him projected on the board. The first time I fell in love with philosophy was when I studied Plato’s allegory of the cave with a quality teacher. I chose to address the world of illusions for my final paper. I skewered Stewey for chasing shadows on the wall. I didn’t want to be like Stewey. No, I wanted reality. I wanted freedom.

I noticed something about Stewey, though. Stewey wasn’t chasing shadows because he was confused about reality — and I know I’m projecting — and thought them real; Stewey chased shadows because he knew it made me happy. I don’t know if you buy it, but I do. There’s a reason they’re our best friends.

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