“Hey Ashley, you wanna hear the funny thing that Island School has done to me?” Alec asked me with his slow sarcastic Midwestern monotone. “…I am excited for three continuous study hours on Friday.” Last week, Alec may have been one of the only sixteen year old boys in the entire western hemisphere looking forward to three continuous hours of study. Except of course, for the other 20 boys who live here in the dorms with him.
And this got me thinking about all of the funny things that Island School has done to me. I am excited when I have time to clean my toilet. Cleaning my toilet feels like a day at the spa: refreshing and so luxurious. I am a brand new woman with a fresh clean toilet. I appreciate the littlest of things like I would appreciate winning a brand new car on The Price is Right. A curtain opens and Ta Da: my bright shining toilet. What a gift! This is my Island School perspective.
I remember one day last fall, I woke up and looked around. I was dressed as a pirate, screaming “Yarr’s!” at students during Pirate Day morning exercise. I realized that I had spent the last 4 months screaming things at students between the hours of 6:30-7:30 a.m. I had screamed so many things at students: “Just one more minute, you’ve got it!” or “This isn’t WALK-track!” that I thought that maybe I was the single person who screamed more things at teenagers between the hours of 6:30-7:30 a.m., than anyone else on the planet. I never thought I had so much yell in me; I don’t even like the sound of my loud voice. But there I was yelling “Yarr!” as my boss was wallowing in the sand, eye-patched and parrot shoulders, “Yarr! We yelled, together. “Yarr!” And, I remember thinking to myself: “How did I get here?... isn’t this funny?” But the funny thing about Island School is more than the silly things we do.
Alec’s clever insight got me thinking about all of the funny things that Island School does to the people who live here, to every single person who steps foot on this campus, who comes to know and feel the incredible energy and force of this place. Mail day is like Christmas. Sunday is a week long holiday. A ripe banana shines yellow like gold. My advisee Elizabeth recently wrote “This place is INTENSE. But, I am honestly loving it right now!” This is a curious way to feel about a place. She has also described it to me as “the good kind of hard.” Funny, Maxey said that very same thing to me just a few weeks ago: “Hard is good.”
I made two students cry yesterday. That was really hard. That was not funny at all. But it was unexpected, and I think that is what Alec meant by funny.
The Island School changes your perspective in unexpected ways.
Yesterday we had mid-term student-teacher meetings. In ten minute blocks, over the span of five hours, each student met with each of his or her teachers. I met with twenty-four students. And mostly, I told them the same things. I spent hours asking students to speak their voices. The same feedback, over and over: put yourself into your words. Find your voice. Speak yourself. Be liberated. Share. Yourself. Your words. Speak. Speak!
Just one student I told to hush. The hush was crushing. Yesterday, I told a student that “the greatest thing that words can do is empower others.” Except that the hidden message of that message was: stop oppressing others with your dominant voice in class. This was a hard thing to tell a kid, even if it needed to be said, even if she needed to hush in order for her silence to give space to the timid.
As she sat in front of me in pain, I thought of another student who had sat across from me just an hour before: a more timid, soft spoken student. This girl had cried because she had so much voice that she could not speak.
I returned to the second student, crying because she spoke so much that that no one could hear her voice. I could not help but notice the irony. I sat watching, welling with empathy, as the funny things that Island School had done to them, rolled out of their eyes, like unspoken jokes. How funny.
The funny thing that Island School has done to me is make students cry. As far as I know I have never made students cry before. I believe that my students can never be told enough the gifts they possess for the world, the good they can do, the way that they inspire others, or the power they have inside them. I am not the kind of teacher that makes students cry. But there I was: one lion, one lamb, both crying in front of me. How unexpected.
My first semester at Island School sometimes felt like I was at Island School, like a student. Sometimes it feels like the only difference between the students and the faculty is that we stay. We face all the same struggles: the funny thing that Island School has done to me is that I am looking forward to three continuous hours for lesson prep tomorrow, that yesterday I cried over the power of words. I see myself reflected in my students.
The Island School has changed my perspective in unexpected ways.
I believe that hard is good. I believe that hard makes easy look like winning the lottery, like a shiny new porcelain trophy, like it is The Price is Right and “Come on down…You win!” I think that we need to appreciate the growth and humility that results from profound struggle. We should find joy and deep gratitude in little small bits of things. I think that three hours of continuous time to study can be something to look forward to. I think that there is a good kind of hard.
I believe that tears are as necessary as clean toilets. And, I think that is a pretty funny thing to think about the world.