In this month, traditionally devoted to reflecting upon what has been given to us through no merit of our own; I have given some deep thought about times that I perceived as disadvantages that in reality were “open windows of opportunities as doors were closing”.
I only recently gave thought to open windows and closing doors concerning my career as the window opened at District 65 – Evanston, IL just as the door was closing at District 99 – Cicero, IL, seven years ago. I’ll never forget the day when Ms. Boyle, my principal at Unity, (our nations largest junior high divided into two separate campus – East and West. I worked on the west side), came to my classroom personally, and with an apologetic tone, in her voice, almost tearfully; told me that I was selected for RIF, (Reduction-in-force: A cost saving measure in corporations a.k.a. Last hired – first fired). I had just one more year before tenure, but the district was in trouble financially. They had taken on two additional assistant superintendents and needed to cut corners. They rescheduled the fine arts program and discovered they could make due with less teachers, so a tenure teacher was moving into my slot. Was that a slamming DOOR?
I couldn’t believe it. I didn’t believe it.
The cold hard facts hit home when I stood before an unemployment clerk who exclaimed, “Oh, I can tell by the way you completed our application; you’re a good teacher”. I tried to maintain my composure, but something clicked in my head with the hearing of the words, “…you’re a good teacher”. I told the clerk through hot angry tears that being a “good teacher” was not enough. I turned on my heels and walked away.
I thought I had been a “good a teacher”. I had decorated my room with something different every rotation. I challenged my students to do things they had never done before – step outside the box of their little community and see the big wide wonderful world outside. Much to the chagrin of my colleagues. The entire floor had to come along as I organized field trips, (for nearly 200 students at a time), to galleries in Oak Park and got a restaurant to reduce their prices to provide a sit down meal with cloth napkins. It was one of those things everyone hated doing at the beginning, but thought it was the BEST by the end… I love taking the blinders off of students and staff who have been in the dark.
But this being pushed out of doors started even before Unity, when I was told by my then principal, Mr. Dziallo, of Wilson Elementary School, District 99 that I was being transferred from Wilson to Unity, after just one year. God! Hadn’t I done more than what was asked of me? Didn’t I bring art outside of the classroom. Didn’t I get great art on every floor. I arrived before my key card let me into the building… I decorated the first floor with art on the windows with cellophane dragons that breathed fiery flames. I made even more dragons that wrapped completely around the art room… I did art shows with the students… I had the students create art from nothing, because I was met with no supplies, because somehow they all disappeared… It was indeed a magical time… But I stood before my principal crying, asking what had I done wrong… Pleading to be told what else I could have done to be more of what they wanted? I won’t forget the response. You don’t forget that look of, “Get a grip woman!” “You are being promoted… Your talents can be better used by the students and staff at Unity – this is a good move! Nina! This is not a punishment.” EXIT DOOR to the left…
Still, going through unknown windows is scary – especially, when doors that are familiar and seem to offer some solace from the storms; slam shut in your face. Nothing seems safe when your world is shaken. Then opportunity flickers like a small flame beckoning you to the window that is open…
When I taught English at the Illinois Youth Correctional Facility, St. Charles Boys Home – “You’re crazy! You want to dress up like a mime and have the students write… Can’t you just do the basics?!”… Another SLAMMING DOOR!
I remember my student teacher professor, (that was back in the dark ages). “You want to teach art to who? …The mentally retarded… Nina, you can’t do that…” DOOR CLOSED!
With each door there was an open window saying, “Opportunity this way…” At I.Y.C. St. Charles there was Ms. Miller who in all places, oddly encouraged creativity, (I remember that she had fiery red hair that was often teased to it’s heights, (this was the early 80’s)). There was Sue Cohen who gave into to my request and let me “teach” art at a Chicago Association for Retarded Citizens facility on the south side. They had a kiln that I learned to operate and I taught art between the small contract jobs.
To each of these closed doors I owe a debt of gratitude, because I learned skills, acquired a thicker hide, developed a tenacity about life, learned things about myself that I otherwise would have never learned, and more… Indeed, it was difficult going through the doors. I don’t naturally embrace change well. Particularly when the change comes when I feel as if I'm doing what is most expected of me; when I believe my superiors are most pleased with my work. In this regard, I did not slack on my duties, or cause others distress. The door just came out of nowhere.
Still, after, (key word here), time, I am very thankful. Were it not for the circumstances of being pushed through the doors of life, I would undoubtedly be on the inside of some comfortable window seat, looking out on life, as it passed me by.
Indeed; in all things, give thanks…
…I am okay
Nina Benson :-)