The following is adapted from a letter I was inspired to write to my director at the school I work at. It has helped me clarify my own thoughts on consciously developing joy in my work, while thinking more seriously about striving to be in a position where I am able to use my talents to my full potential.
What a beautiful summer this is. The rain is paying off!
After nearly a couple years of working here, I feel called to dig deeper and contribute much more of my abilities. It feels really good to come to this realization.
Recently, [my life partner] and I had been considering moving much further out to Duvall, where I lived a few years ago. That would’ve given me a very long commute and altered my hopes with [the school]; however we have made our final decision to stay here in Shoreline for at least several more years, maybe the long term. It is great to be this close to the school. I was also considering doing part-or-full time college again, but have put a pause on that while I discern what kind of graduate education, if any, I can use, and the expense of it as well.
So, with the decisions turning out this way, and the energy I have feeling more abundant, I’d like to see about possibilities of doing more here.
My current position [after-school activity care provider] has already taught me so much. I see the great value of this program, the freedom of restorative rest and unbridled creativity it brings to the kids. I feel deeply honored when the children (and parents!) communicate to me, in their numerous ways, how much my role here means to them. What a gift I didn’t expect. Kids have so much wisdom of their own that all of us adults can learn a lot from!
With that being said, I have been feeling as though my talents are not able to be utilized fully in this position. This feels like a healthy sort of restlessness, a greater clarity about what does and doesn’t return to me a sense of fulfillment in my work.
A few weeks ago, when I was working those two full days substituting with [my colleague] in preschool, I had such a sense of fulfillment in that I was able to use my talents to design and co-lead the two whole days for the children. [My colleague] and I worked amiably as two equals in our gifts to make those days rewarding for the children and for us as a team. She knew the outline of the class day and so kindly filled me in on the basic expectations. She lead the snack and nap times and so much of the supportive logistics that I did not have knowledge of. For my part, I felt the freedom to take initiative in leading the children on a nature exploration in the wetlands, reading to them with my animated voice (so fun for me and the kids), talking about plants, maps, birds, social and physical awareness of other humans and animals, implanting curiosity and questions to carry, art and physical movement, and being my “tomboy mentor” self that I do well with kids of all ages.
I think of mentoring as an ancient way of imparting wisdom and understanding, modeling joyful wonder. It is a way of teaching through play, curiosity and love for the beautiful world. The centrality of the living world is of great importance here. This is what has drawn me to play-based work with younger kids, and a growing interest in engaging the intellects of older children. I believe that the spirit of teaching and learning, with mentoring at its root, is the act of remembering what we already know within us as a species. Small humans are not born as empty vessels, but with a vivified interior life of virtuous instincts that yearn to be honored and encouraged. This way of learning is deeply anthropological to our species, the forerunner to didactic teaching as inherited from the Renaissance and now commonly practiced in industrial and developing societies. Gladly, though, we are now experiencing a renewed interest in this timeless way of cultivating young humans into their whole selves.
I mention those two days substituting in preschool as a positive example of days well spent, in contrast to some of the frustrations I have been experiencing in my current position for a while. This is partly the come-and-go nature of the after-school drop-in setting (naturally) where I do not necessarily have the time, structure or situational confidence to practice uninterrupted mentoring with a given group of kids. When I start to really engage authentically in mentoring, even a simple project with one or several kids, no sooner is one of them called off to do something else, distracted by another interest, or gone home.
And this is okay– they need this freedom of unstructured time. In a traditional village setting, mentoring works well with the informality of relationships, as parents and mentors would share relaxed friendships and even living space. But we are in a very formal school setting of the modern world, with appropriate separations between here-and-there. I am at peace with that. Adaptability is prime. So I feel called to give my talents where I have more space to do real leadership, more of a conscious desire on the part of parents for their children to benefit from my own work with them; more jurisdiction….
…I am wondering what other opportunities may be open for me. Are there any Teacher’s Assistant positions open where I could practice co-leading, or fulfilling assistant leadership? Would it be very disruptive if I were offered something else than [the after-school program] and needed to do only a new position instead?… As much as I want to help [the after-school program], I really don’t want to miss a good career opportunity, either. What kind of further work experience and education would I need to someday advance to the role of lead teacher? Would creating an additional whole new program in mentoring Natural Awareness be an option? Might I teach this as an after-school class in addition to [the after-school program], as [other staff members] have done?
Thank you, truly, for the times that you have expressed appreciation and encouraging warmth to myself and others. It has boosted my confidence in working here and improving myself. I hope I can keep contributing!
“Work is love made visible. And if you cannot work with love but only with distaste, it is better that you should leave your work and sit at the gate of the temple and take alms of those who work with joy.
For if you bake bread with indifference, you bake a bitter bread that feeds but half man’s hunger.
And if you grudge the crushing of the grapes, your grudge distills a poison in the wine.
And if you sing though as angels, and love not the singing, you muffle man’s ears to the voices of the day and the voices of the night.”
–Kahlil Gibran, ‘The Prophet’