We had the treat of attending an incredible night of music and speakers at the third annual Notes & Words event last night. Each year this event brings together authors and musicians to benefit the amazing Children’s Hospital of Oakland, —this year’s show included CAKE, Michael Chabon, John Hodgman, Anne Lamott, Kelly Corrigan. Kelly Corrigan is one of my favorites and if you haven’t seen this video yet, grab your Kleenex and hop to it. So many wonderful pieces read and songs sung. It was truly a perfect combination.
Michael Chabon introduced Anne Lamott and shared four quotes from the MANY one could have offered. The one at the top, about expectations, hit me the hardest and got me thinking. As Michael said, it’s one of those quotes that you have to let sit for a minute to really process and take in.
Expectations. Yes…expectations and so so tricky. Without expectations, I find that my students and my own children won’t perform up to the level I know they are capable of. If we don’t push and encourage and prod and create visions, those we work with might settle for “less than” or mediocrity. Sometimes “the middle place” is a good thing. I pushed myself way too hard in high school, ending up with an ulcer, attempting to perfect my resume and transcript. My parents, high school teachers themselves, often pushed me to lower my expectations.
Anne’s quote, though, “Expectations are resentments under construction”, rings true. When we hold onto a hope for something, anything “out there” in the future, it can often lead us to despair, depression and yes, resentment when things don’t pan out as planned. Entering into marriage eight years ago and into motherhood almost five years ago has given WAY too many opportunities to list of times when unmet expectations led to resentment. It’s par for the course, I guess.
Expectations, like anything, have to be born in balance with reality. This week, I decided to spring a little plan on my students. We have the ***DREADED*** standardized STAR test coming up in a week. I thought it would be fun for them to get a little encouragement as they enter into the process. A reminder that their worth in wrapped up in so much more than a grade on the exam or their performance. Yet balancing that truth with knowledge that they can do well. They can push themselves. And that they can push to do better than they dream possible.
So the STAR Buddy Project was born. The kids set about writing their letters to their “yet unknown to them” buddies. I enclosed a picture I took of them back in December, and we sent them off on Friday. They sat and wrote and wrote and wrote on Friday. Most wrote 1-2 pages. This accomplishment felt miraculous. I told them I was teary eyed over their focus and hard work. One quipped, “MRS. GOUGH, are you going to CRY!?!?” No doubt, yes, as any former student or summer staffer can attest to. I’m a sappy crier.
Again, I attempted to set the expectations high for them. And they truly rose to the occasion. Now, the STAR buddies out there (many of which, are YOU guys!!) are receiving their letters and writing back. I already have two in hand. One of my friend’s freshman class of college and career readiness students is writing to my class. Another friend who teaches kids locally has a surprise up her sleeve that’s coming as encouragement. I can’t wait to start unleashing things, Oprah style.
I don’t want to set myself or my students up for resentment. We are, on paper, an underperforming school. We are in program improvement. There is a lot of pressure to work hard and help the kids show what they can do. We saw our kids’ multiplication automaticity scores go from 13% to 89% this year. That took hard work. Constant practice. But they did it.
So I keep sitting on the fence on this issue. Keeping the expectations realistic. And not sinking into resentment. These two of our own give a perfect training ground to test and try these theories of expectations. The more and more I observe and watch them, though, I realize that my expectations are usually blown out of the water…..on both ends of the expectation scale. They often severely disappoint and many times, surprise and amaze.
I often feel like we are called to be set designers. To set the scene. Create the backdrop. Perfect the setting so that the actors in our midst can be free to shine and grow and take the stage. And be waiting in the wings to offer grace when the performance doesn’t go as planned.