Youtubers, Outliers, Fall Cleanup

Thank goodness for high school girls’ softball—today we get a day off school because our champs are headed to the final four—first time in school history. I pulled my boots over my sweatpants and dug up some dahlia roots in the garden and put them in the barn to dry, felled the okra “trees”, and tossed out tomatoes.
They say tomatoes really deplete soil nutrients, so I’m thinking of filling the beds with tulips for spring. I’ve probably got a hundred bulbs, I just need to get them discreetly in the ground before Minnie thinks she can help.

We really needed a break. Last week was the end of first quarter, with parent teacher conferences. A few of us teachers also caught a stomach bug rounded out with a head cold. I soldiered through because we all know what a mess it is to do sub plans. At our school the Title teachers end up subbing specials (art, music, P.E., library), which means the sub plans are hardly followed. To toss another wrench into the mix, all of my classes have been split into half hour periods instead of one-hour chunks, so I see double the kids each day. There are pros and cons—it makes for more efficient lesson delivery, but it also adds a lot of chaos and planning.

I’m trying to see all the benefits. This week I had some epic rap battles with my 5th and 6th graders. I only teach recorder to fourth graders for a blissful 30 minutes (they are mostly terrible listeners so even playing “The Annoying Siren Song”—look it up, a Mr. Henry fave—is torture when it should be fun) and my 2nd and 3rd graders will do anything to get to play with boomwhackers. First grade is working on a music video to go along with I Was Born (Hanson for the win) and kindergarten is practicing a song for the Veteran’s Day assembly. Whenever I get worn out from the incessant talking (both mine and theirs), I do read-aloud books.
I fly so so so under the radar and I need to be more thankful for it. No one is putting pressure on me to turn out outstanding musicians, no one is breathing down my neck or adding stuff to my schedule. My planning period is in the morning and the only grades I give out are quarterly pass/fail.

I read a Malcom Gladwell book this week, Outliers: The Story of Success, and he remarks,

[These] three things—autonomy, complexity, and a connection between effort and reward—are, most people agree, the three qualities that work has to have if it is to be satisfying. It is not how much money we make that ultimately makes us happy between nine and five. It’s whether our work fulfills us…
Work that fulfills those three criteria is meaningful. Being a teacher is meaningful.

Malcolm Gladwell, Outliers

When I think of working at school, I’ve got to admit all these requirements for meaningful work are met, especially the connection between reward and effort. The kids (mostly) love me and I (mostly) love them. They are all learning, they are all growing, and that makes my effort well worth it. But I also found my life pre-teaching to be meaningful. I love a Friday off where I can can cook good food and clean my house and pull up my garden in the sunshine. And I always have a hundred things on my to-do list that don’t involve teaching. Would it be more meaningful? Maybe, but maybe not. It might require more of the on-the-radar presence—the kind the hermit part of me really doesn’t like.

But speaking of being on the radar, last Friday I was changing my mandolin strings with Jubal and we accidentally did something dumb which made the bridge fly off. So we YouTubed the situation and a channel with a guy named Jerry popped up. He had a ton of videos that skirted around the issue of fixing the bridge, but he obviously was an expert. Jubal looked the guy up and it turned out he didn’t live too far away, so we called his shop and asked if we could come down.

Next thing we knew, we were visiting with Mr. Jerry and learning all about intonation and bridge placement and strings. Then he asked if Jubal could play it for him for his Youtube channel. Ha!

When I told my kids at school the next day, they couldn’t believe it, because getting to meet a “real Youtuber” is like meeting Michael Jordan. And getting to be featured on a “real Youtuber’s” channel is like getting drafted in the NFL.

In Outliers, Gladwell concludes that success isn’t like winning the lottery, but more about finding yourself in the right place at the right time and seizing the opportunities offered then and there. I chuckle sometimes when I think about the opportunities we have totally missed out on and all our poor timing. In hindsight, a lot that has happened in our family’s life seems to be bad luck. Like how we left the southwest right when our kids were getting old enough to handle adventures. Or how Jubal’s cello teacher for two years in Denver was a mandolin player (what in the world). How we paid off our debt and then bought an old money-sucker of a farmhouse. How we have some super bright kiddos and we pulled them out of GT magnet schools to end up in the sticks where there aren’t enrichment programs. How Joe has a career now where he has lots of freedom and traveling and we could go with him except now I’m teaching at a public school. How I have property to cultivate and yet I’ve committed myself to a job where I’m never at home.

But missed opportunities and poor timing are muddled together with a wonderful life. Every time I’ve left something behind, a new something pops up.

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