Wednesday, July 21, 2010

Thoughts on Making the World a Better Place

Oh, I am getting teary-eyed (no, it's not because I'm pregnant and a gazillion hormones are coursing through my body). It's because the first crop of third graders I taught in Franklin, Louisiana (a small, rural town two hours away from New Orleans and one hour away from Lafayette) just graduated from high school.

I got this message from one of my former students:

hey ms cotner,

I'm just trying to keep you informed with how I'm doing. I am officially a grown up now. i graduated number nine in my class and that's something that I'm very proud of. I'm currently in summer school at Louisiana State University. I'm trying to get a head start. I plan on majoring in architecture and maybe minoring in interior design. I'm going to try and keep in touch over the years!

ps, you are still the best teacher I ever had

She's going to college! And she has ambitious goals for herself! I could not be more proud. Since her hometown only has 557 college graduates, her accomplishment is even more notable. Franklin is a wonderful town full of strong community, life, commitment, and connection. I feel so fortunate to have had the opportunity to teach there for three years. But it is also full of poverty, racism, and low expectations.

Sometimes I think I want to retreat to my own homestead in the country to grow fruits and vegetables, raise chickens and goats, sew, and hang out with my family. But moments like these remind me that there is real work to be done to make the world more just for all. The trick, I think, is finding balance between those two.

I've worked in non-profit organizations where the culture and pace were so demanding that we all made our own lives worse while we worked to make the rest of the world better. On the other hand, if we all focus solely on making our own lives good, then there aren't enough people to do the work that it takes to create the kind of world where all people can lead happy lives.

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Anonymous said...

Nice post. My guy is a teacher and when he gets notes like this it makes my heart (and his) smile. Congrats on being one of the good ones who cares about the kids.

maya938 said...

I often face the same dilemma of temptation to move to a simple country space of bliss for myself and my family vs. continuing to work my tail off in a less palletable environment to affect real change for others. This weekend I attended a training that emphasized the importance of taking care of yourself first and being mindful of what you can give away while staying fully present in the giving. Your statement about working in nonprofit environments that make the givers lives worse reinforces this for me. I have worked myself into burnout before (quite recently actually) and this is when life to myself in the country is the most tantalizing. What I learned in this training calls to me loudly so I have embarked on the planning phases to bring it to Houston. I keep coming back to the same word as I consider my plans: sustainability. It's critical that from the start I intend to build programs that are sustainable. Healthy spirits, solid community, all critical elements.

I love your blog! I recently encountered it somewhere in the internets (well, right here, haha!). I realized that I've met you months ago when you spoke about the Time Bank at Transition Houston. You are super inspiring and I'm thrilled that you and Matt have conceived - Congratulations!!!

Sara E. Cotner said...

Hi, maya938: Yes, that's exactly it: sustainability!

And it's awesome that we met at a Transition Houston meeting! I wish you the best with your idea! Definitely keep in touch...

Olivia said...

This post really hit home. As a teacher who dreams of her very own homestead (even if it's an urban one with a rooftop garden), I often think about this balance. What a wonderful email to get. That must have made your day.

And congrats on the little one on the way!

Jessica said...

I am only just now reading that you're pregnant! I am so happy for you. I was also shocked that it only took one month of conscious conception for my husband and I to conceive but our bodies were ready so there was no stopping it. Congratulations on both the baby and finding out about your student graduating. Very exciting news on both fronts :)

Carrie said...

Sara: I went to Beau Chene's graduation this past May. 7 of our kids graduated, and one of my kids started nursing school the following Monday. :)

C├ęcy said...

I'm still in touch with some of my former teachers (elementary) because yes they made a difference. If you ever get to see the movie Etre et Avoir (not sure if it can be found in the US with subtitles), it's the kind of school I was raised in and it was awesome.

On the making a difference, I'm struggling with this right now. I am not happy with my job (front desk agent- I graduated in hospitality) because I don't get to make a difference. I've tried to look for jobs that would but they are hard to find in my field.
I've been thinking a lot about becoming a teacher lately. A language teacher to teach French, but also English as a second language, because I feel that I could make a difference there. Now I "just" need to work on a plan to get there.
Some people can live their entire life and not worry about whether they make a difference in this world or not. I can't. I'm not happy assisting rich grumpy people.

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