What's Worth Counting?
WHEN I LIVED IN DENVER, I missed rainstorms. I’d think about the patter of rain on the roof, how precipitation was better than street sweepers for cleaning the roads and how much time I’d save if I didn’t have to water my lawn.
During a visit with my mother in upstate, New York, I was enchanted by a small summer storm that blew through while I sat on her front porch and watched every nuance of a short-tempered Mother Nature. It was as if rain were a living thing that I could see, hear, smell and feel; rain had a mind of its own.
The greenery around her house made my breath slow in awe. She didn’t have to water her lawn. She didn’t have to water her trees. she didn’t have to watch her land turn to dust the way we did in Colorado or worry about forest fires.
I left Denver and returned to the Kingston area of Upstate, New York about seven years ago and still love the deep shade of green that dominates my yard and the occasional rainstorms that make me cancel my plans for an afternoon nap.
Returning to this area where I grew up has reminded me that precipitation can also be inconvenient and even deadly. We had several snowstorms last winter that made my snowplow driver grunt: two feet in one storm? That’s work to clear, even with a truck.
And in February we had this crazy storm that left a thick layer of ice over every pine needle, tree limb and mailbox. The ice storm closed schools, panicked us with widespread power outages—no heat, electricity or refrigeration for days, and made it nearly impossible to get to the grocery store due to closed and impassable roads.
My friend Tom who is a civil engineer once told me that water is the most damaging thing on our planet when it comes to maintaining to our roads, our houses and our lands.
Last month as the rain drummed against every part of the Hudson Valley and flooded the far side of my lawn, I worried that Tom’s wise words would play out. Would the constant beating rain flood my basement, wreck my solar panels and overflow my creek?
School was cancelled due to flooding.
I fed my worries. And watched the rain. And listened to the rain. And checked social media about the rain. And texted others about the rain. And ate frozen chocolate chips while considering the rain.
A storm of this magnitude is like having a party and all the wrong people show up and drink your best champagne. The annoyance won’t last, but neither will your good mood. The only actionable thing you can do is shake your fist at the sky and say over and over again, “Really?”
As I tired of counting the inches of precipitation accumulating at the base of my lawn—three total inches in 24 hours, I considered other things.
What else could I count? Ex-boyfriends. Ex-boyfriends who broke my heart. Ex-boyfriends who I cheerfully ran away from. Ex-boyfriends I pawned off on other women to help get rid of them both. Ex-boyfriends I am still in touch with. Friends who are boys whom I never dated. Friends who are boys whom I dated for a short time, then one or the other or both of us decided we belonged in the “Friend Zone” where we remain.
What else might I count? Cars I owned. Places I lived. States I traveled to. Countries I visited. Countries I’ve been to more than two times. Girlfriends (Good friends who are girls). Girlfriends I no longer talk to. Girlfriends who can cook. Girlfriends I would date if I sang in that choir. Girlfriends who do sing in that choir.
And though many relationships have decorated my life, when it comes to counting, my ongoing career in education held my interest.
How many students have I taught throughout my teaching career? How many learned? How many have kept in touch? How many have graduated high school? College? How many are happy? How many do I think about? How many do I still worry about?
I've taught students of all ages; I’ve worked in pre-k classrooms, elementary schools, middle schools, high schools and college adjunct classes. I roughly counted every student from every public school I taught in.
It’s okay for me to estimate class sizes; it's my game and I get to write the rules.
My volunteering with children around the world wasn’t counted in my total student number. Working in a third-grade class at Maria Montessori’s first school in Amsterdam, Holland for a year was not included in the final student count, nor was the time I worked at the British School of Amsterdam.
Singing with orphan children in Haiti? Not counted. Writing classes for children in the Bahamas? Not included here. Vocabulary lessons for children in the Red Zao tribe—mostly girls--in the remote mountains near Sapa, Vietnam? Not counted.
In estimating how many students attended my classes, I rounded way down--12 per class in the special education high school classes, 18 in my middle school special education literacy classes, 30 per class in my home economics classes, etc.
Come to think of it, I forgot to count the 15 or so years I taught Sunday school in Colorado. Oh, and what about those classes I ran for the Migrant Center in New York when I was getting my master's degree? I forgot to count those, too.
It appears that I am not good at counting former students.
I might have included the students from the year I taught at an environmental education center in Dothan, Alabama where I taught classes to every student in the local school district in grades 1, 3, 5, and 7—but it didn’t occur to me till now.
I made long lists of total numbers for various aspects of my career, then organized parts into a micro-resume. This 6-line-resume, as my friend Anne dubbed it, falls short of including my publishing company and my skincare company, both worthy of counting as I use these platforms to educate in a different way.
I might have counted all of the students and all of the hours I have volunteered as a teacher, but I didn’t. For seven years, I taught a weekly writing group for children. I also ran a bi-monthly parenting class for homeless people who had young children. A quick estimation puts my volunteer hours at, I don't know, at least 5000. Not sure how many students I worked with during that time: many.
The storm ended and the creek that runs through my backyard rose higher than ever, leaving a layer of mud and tree branches on the dock. My house and property suffered no damage, which will be added to my ongoing list of lucky breaks right along with that terrible ice storm that froze us out for four days and destroyed my shed, but spared my house.
Oh, lucky, lucky me.
After consoling friends who turned their front yards into a series of ditches while trying to divert all of that stormwater, I considered my number resume and saw with new clarity that teaching is more than a job for me.
It's a job. And a hobby. And a business. And the way I live my life.
A man I dated long ago complained that my “Teacher Voice” bled into our relationship.
I lowered my voice, slowed my speech and channeled the voice I used in the classroom when I taught older students. “Are you very sure that your homework is on the kitchen table back home? I’m going to drive to your house during my lunch break to get it for you. If it’s not on the kitchen table, as you claim, I’m going to be annoyed and hungry this afternoon, which could be a problem for you. This is your chance to tell the truth: is your finished homework on the kitchen table?”
My ex laughed and said that he’d never heard that voice before.
I told him that I had more voices, but the one I used after he said that I needed to restack the dishes in the dishwasher? Well that was not my teacher-voice, it was my impatient-and-bitchy girlfriend voice and that he should restack the dishes himself and then go for a very long bike ride to let the air clear.
He apologized with a smile, backed away and grabbed his bike helmet on his way out the door. He yelled back to me that he’d take care of the dishwasher later.
There is one thing this weary teacher has learned through all of this counting. Helping others learn is a part of my makeup. Previously I thought of my occupation, “Teacher” as a verb—it’s something that I do, but after considering my numbers, I see that for me, “Teacher” is a noun.
Am I defined by a noun that is a person, place or thing?
All of the above.
(Want to see the video of the children in Vietnam singing a song from one of our lessons? Click HERE.)
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