Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Waiting #SOL17

Our view of the #Eclipse17
At times I am a character in Samuel Beckett's existential tragicomedy Waiting for Godot. The play opens with Estragon telling Vladimir there is 

Nothing to be done.

Vladimir replies: 

I'm beginning to come round to that opinion. All my life I've tried to put it from me, saying, Vladimir, be reasonable, you haven't tried everything. And I resumed the struggle...

I haven't read Waiting for Godot in many years, yet its existential theme of life's meaninglessness speaks to me as I enter year 37 of my career. I've spent 28 years in my current school. 

The play revolves around Estragon and Vladimir sitting under a tree awaiting the arrival of Godot. Essentially, these two await something that never happens. They await someone who never arrives. Through their waiting, they realize the futility of their own existence, the wastefulness of waiting. 

The play includes levity and sadness. 

The tears of the world are a constant quantity. For each one who begins to weep somewhere else another stops. The same is true of the laugh.

My experiences these past 28 years speak to the tragicomic, with the emphasis often on the tragic. I endured teaching under two really awful principals during much of my tenure. I've treasured a phone call I received the night in 1991 when I learned about who would take the place of a beloved principal whose brother died unexpectedly. This death prompted my principal, Bob Gould, to retire, and his retirement altered my life in ways I've never recovered from. I went from being the teacher who "saved our debate program" to a target of my new boss. In short, I suffered. Yet the voice on the phone reminded me that others who had suffered under this man were "dancing in the street" upon receiving the news of his departure. That an administrator, the parent of one of my students, shared this information with me became a life-raft for more than a decade. Knowing his reputation help me survive. 

I grapple with knowing how to write about these struggles without sounding bitter. These difficult times have motivated me to create a professional life outside my building. 

The story of teaching in repressive conditions is something I've not discussed publicly. I've focused on my students during my teaching storms and anchored my hope in them. Indeed, the departure of the second tyrant changed my circumstances significantly. For that I'm grateful, but I am still waiting. In the words of the poet Lawrence Ferlinghetti,

I am waiting for my case to come up
and I am waiting... 
for the Age of Anxiety 
to drop dead...
and I am perpetually awaiting
a rebirth of wonder
and I am waiting for my number to be called
and I am waiting 
for the storms of life 
to be over
and I am waiting 
to set sail for happiness
I am waiting for the day 
that maketh all things clear...
and I am waiting 
for Alice in Wonderland 
to retransmit to me 
her total dream of innocence...
and I am waiting
for the green mornings to come again 
youth's dumb green fields come back again
and I am awaiting
perpetually and forever 
a renaissance of wonder.

Yet I can't shake the idea that time is waning and that I'll always be waiting. Beckett characterizes this waiting as awful. It is. There is something unsettling, something awful, about nearing the end of a long teaching journey awakening to the cruelty that these years of waiting will be for naught, to realize I'll never have that carpe diem moment for which I long. It's as though something important has died yet continues to live. 

Vladimir and Estragon wonder: 

What are we doing here, that is the question. 

Yet they assure themselves they know:

And we are blessed in this, that we happen to know the answer. Yes, in the immense confusion one thing is clear. We are waiting for Godot to come--

Through my career of waiting, there are those moments apart from my job that offer wonder. Monday, I only needed to look to the heavens for such a moment. My husband, granddaughter, and a brother watched the eclipse with me. We were close to the path of totality but not quite there. 

Each Tuesday the Slice of Life story challenge
happens on the Two Writing Teachers blog. Thank you, TWT, for
sponsoring this writing life that is my lifeline. 


  1. Your post resonates. The last play Rob and I went to was Waiting for Godot. Years earlier we saw a handful of Beckett plays in Dublin.

    There is little time to waste waiting fir what will surely not come. That is the message I take from Beckett . Wait at your own peril.

    Rob retired early at the age of 58 and joined me in my consulting business. We had two halcyon years working together. He lived his teaching and students but found the absence of leadership daunting. He gave it all up and ended up making a big difference working w teachers at inner city schools.

    You're so talented Glenda. Sending warm thoughts your way. Carpe diem.

  2. I'm with MaryAnn... sending you my best vibes for a great year even if you are missing the support of an inspired leader. It's hard to work with mediocre administrators. I've been through more of them than the good ones. Hope you have some good support from teachers around you. But those kids are there to learn with and from you. Keep us posted.

    1. Thank you. There's a specific decision made that makes me sad, but my principal has only been w/ us a year. He's a good guy who treats me well. Others should know, however. Sometimes decisions get made w/out those making them really understanding their impact.

  3. There is a theme here today... your post, my post, Margaret, Tara... the sadness and frustration that can block the joy of teaching. The line about seeking out a professional life/ identity outside where you work is something I connect with and it's what has saved my life as a teacher. But I wish it could be different and I'm sorry for the years you endured with poor leadership.

  4. Having a professional life outside school saved teaching for me...it allowed me to find the joy and nourishment I would never have found within my building, joy I needed to feel in order to teach.

  5. I love your honesty, the exploration of pain that's always part of the human experience - your reflection is hauntingly beautiful. The lines you chose to weave though are elegant, like silver lacing around the deserts of waiting. I love the eclipse symbolism and connection. The truth of it all is paradoxically uplifting - even if for no other reason than a momentary respite, the comfort of knowing it's okay to ache and speak of it, for it is something we all feel in some way, somehow. Bravo :)