This is a reflection I wrote in response to questions from the Reserve Record staff as I prepare to depart Western Reserve Academy for Dubai American Academy.
Today I went for a nice walk and I thought about how beautiful our campus is. On top of the cross country hill, near “mini stonehenge”, the wind was blowing through the long, wild grasses, heavy with seed now. The red-tailed hawk that I met on my first day on campus was circling above, looking for a mouse snack. Northeast Ohio, and especially Hudson and Brick Row, are splendid this time of year. But Reserve is beautiful every time of year, even when it’s raining, and especially when it’s snowing. We have incredible resources here. I am so thankful to have had the Wortendyke Wrestling room as a teaching space, for example, and to have studied wrestling with a master teacher like John Gordon.
I’m going to miss my apartment, which is fabulous. Custom cabinetry, hardwood floors, the gas fireplace that turns on with the flick of a switch. AWESOME kitchen. I’ve loved hosting kids and colleagues in this apartment. I have great classrooms: my apartment and room 103 in Seymour. 103 is a really cool space with the right ratio of room to move around and room to sit and work, and the windows onto the front lawn are perfect for a dreamy English classroom at an elite prep school. I am so thankful to have had these three years here. But by and far, I will miss the kids the most. I made strong connections with kids I taught in class or on the field or in the dorm or wherever we happened to be when we were interacting.
I was telling Susan McKenzie the other day that from my perspective, when you’re doing it right, working in a boarding school is like living in a monastery where the monks pray with every breath. Schools can be sacred spaces, and just as people view food as a sacrament, I think education is a kind of sacrament, in that it should be delivered with purpose, heart-centered. At Reserve, I feel like I am investing in the people around me with every breath, and that is a very rewarding feeling. It’s actually a kind of high, which sustains through a long, sometimes grueling year. We talk about mental toughness a lot at independent schools–it’s sort of an in-vogue word. And we talk about Emotional Intelligence (EQ) being as important, or even more important than the IQ we are used to talking about. Living and working at a boarding school, investing with every breath, takes a lot of EQ and mental toughness, especially for the teachers. There’s a reason teachers aren’t knocking down the doors, lining up to join this thing of ours. Sure there are plenty who would want the apartment and the dining hall and the good salary and the chance to work with great kids, but that’s just the cream off the top. The bulk of this job is guiding a couple hundred teenagers through a rigorous, total person course of development, which is often quite hard for the participants. I know what MY boarding school experience was like. I see my kids go through similar challenges that I faced when I was their age, struggling with the grind–learning to embrace the grind. Let me tell you, my high school growth was not often beautiful. But I grew to love the development process because it gave me something to do and someplace to go and I felt like I was improving all the time, especially after I failed at something. That structure was immensely valuable to me as I grappled with big questions like “Who do I want to be?” and “What do I want to do?” At schools like St. Mark’s and Western Reserve Academy, we do harder things than most high schools; We are not playing the game on the Easy Level.
When I think about what I’m looking forward to in Dubai, a lot of it is opposite of my current life at Reserve. First of all, we are essentially moving to an advanced colony on Mars. Every drop of water is desalinated from the ocean. Everything that is not sand is transported by hi-tech ships. There will be no fields of waving prairie grasses or forests in Dubai. As an aspiring dreampunk novelist, I dig the location because of its physical remoteness. It’s also geographically close to where I lived when I was in 7th and 8th grade. That’s an important connection for me as I emerge as the teacher I want to become. Next year I’ll be teaching 9th graders my method for deep reading, critical thinking, and organized writing. I want to get to them sooner. Ultimately I think I may end up gravitating towards 7th and 8th grade…
Dubai will be nothing like the Dubai I saw in 1995. Coming from Doha, which was then a one-traffic-light town, ice-skating in the mall was something you didn’t even do in the States. That and the idea that you’d be ice-skating when it was 120 outside was sort of giggly fun. Dubai was over-the-top then; I’m excited to see how much more gratuitous it has become. Over the last 20 years, Dubai (and Doha) have become interesting snow-globes through which to interpret where we humans are going as a species, and how we’ve harnessed fossil fuels to accomplish incredible things. As an oil-brat, my whole life was supported by the industry that made all this happen. So it feels right that I’m going back there, personally.
For the family’s benefit, which is most important, I’m very eager to have Ada with us on this new overseas rotation. Expat life is pretty cool. I find it a more freeing and ultimately happier lifestyle. I find it offers more choices and flavors. I especially like the idea of exposing my daughter and myself and Laura to new and strange things. I think that’s where a lot of growth happens, and in the end, that’s sort of the whole point, right? Our philosophy is to live lives rich in experience, not necessarily things. Right now we are getting rid of almost all our things. It’s very nice. Speaking of which, if you want to a great deal on a good book for the summer, swing by our apartment. $1 paperbacks, $2 hardcovers.