Thursday, March 17, 2016

5 Things I Learned While Living Offline for 6 Weeks

My life consists of Teaching, Writing, Editing, Studying... Not necessarily in that order, but the level of responsibility is equally balanced. So, I forced myself to take a break from social networks throughout the entire month of February, leading into March. 

With numerous classroom observations, a growing iWrite4orU workload, demanding online coursework and a quickly-approaching final deadline for my fifth book, I needed to focus. Seriously. No distractions. Period. Overall, I succeeded, but I did sign in to Twitter to live tweet during #TGIT. 

While hibernating, I was able to complete four editing projects and I aced my Character Creation and Development course, resulting in an overall 3.63 GPA. I'm halfway through Full Sail University's online MFA program and closer to awakening a new dream of writing for television. The recent stress has been lifted and I can breathe easy again. Now that I have reactivated my social media accounts, I must not reignite the habit of dissecting other people's lives, or give those people opportunities to freely evaluate mine. Even though I am oftentimes willing to share details about my personal experiences, my privacy will never be relinquished. 

5 Things I Learned While Living Offline for 6 Weeks:

1. It's possible to have more than one calling. 

First of all, I'm excited to announce that I received a Highly Effective rating on my formal observation. As a first-year teacher, that's equivalent to winning a Grammy or an Oscar or The Pulitzer Prize (which is on my to-achieve list). It was not an easy feat. Entering a Title I school mid-year, assigned to students with extremely low standardized test scores, the pressure was on. I was initially hired to teach English, but after an unexpected personnel shift, I was asked to take over a Reading position. I willingly accepted.

"You're killing it!" were the exact words spoken by the Assistant Principal who monitors me closely to ensure that I am properly applying the curriculum and receiving all the support that I need. A natural worrier, I was shocked by the feedback. But, mostly proud. I am a Writer. And now, I am also a Highly Effective Teacher. It's documented on my professional record. And it's a requirement that I will strive to consistently accomplish.

146 students (give or take due to far-from-perfect attendance) rely on me for more than just an education. A few days ago, I had to console one of them. Her buttons were being pushed by a classmate in a different class period. Security escorted her to me, in tears, based on her request. I helped calm her down, though it took her a while to explain: "Ms. Williams, she keeps bothering me and I ain't do nothing to her! She's a Senior and she acts so childish! If I get into another fight, I'ma get kicked outta school and I'm tryna keep that from happening." After explaining the benefits of being the bigger person, having the courage to walk away from drama and focusing on what's more important academically, the student promised me that she would try her best to stay out of trouble. Since that day, I've watched her, reminded her, and encouraged her. 

This particular student works two jobs because, in her words, "I want my own money and I don't wanna be a burden to nobody." She craves independence. Yet, she's only 17. I want so badly to tell her that she has plenty of time to grow up; to enjoy her youth while she can; that adulting can wait. But, I understand that her route to freedom is via mastering the art of taking care of herself. It's a tough pill to swallow, but my current full-time role is quite complex. All 146 of my students are in jeopardy of not being able to graduate. From comprehension to behavior, their issues were not compassionately addressed before we were introduced. I am their last chance...

In just three short months, I have become more than just their Reading teacher. I am a counselor, a confidant, a pro bono consultant. They tell me things that they may not feel comfortable telling their parents. I've gained their trust. I've earned their commitment. They don't want to disappoint me. I don't want to fail them. We've generated a dynamic that is extraordinary. I reflect on my small victories in the classroom constantly. I'm so emotionally invested, it's frightening.

"When I'm helping these kids make sense of their lives, everything about my life makes sense to me." - Quote from the movie Freedom Writers #iTeach

2. Physical health is just as important as mental health.

I'm "thicker" than I've ever been, presently weighing about 150 pounds. Attempting to be proactive about it, I set a 30-day fitness  goal. My very own version of March Madness:

50 Squats 
50 Crunches 
1 Mile Run
No Fast Food
Drink at least 4 Bottles of Water

Struggling, but determined, the results can be mildly seen. I'm not aiming to lose weight, just toning. I've never had severe body image issues (other than wishing for smaller breasts). As a former athlete, the realization that I am technically out of shape has begun to sink in. Mentally, I am stable, but my physical health matters, too, and I need all the energy that I can muster for Teaching, Writing, Editing, Studying... 

3. "I'll sleep when I die" could've actually killed me.

I am a previous member of #TeamNoSleep. But these days, I value rest. My body can't function the way that it should if I am not allowing it to be still, to recharge. I nap for about an hour or two immediately after leaving my classroom. My students are a rare breed. They desire my full, uninterrupted attention. They exhaust me... in a welcomed way. 

After my nap, I usually wake up to a packed list of things to do, well-organized on my calendar(s): the one on my iPhone, the erasable one hanging up on my desk at home and on my three laptops. Yes, I just may have obsessive-compulsive disorder when it comes to orderliness. But with everything God has called me to do, I can't waste any spare time.

4. Time cannot be controlled. 

I am constantly adjusting my schedule, trying to map out my day accordingly, leaving no space for idle activity. However, time never stops. I must frequently realign myself with where it has gone in order to stay up-to-date. It's frustrating. It's challenging. It's... 

5. ...great to be missed, but better to be remembered.

There are a few disadvantages of disappearing without notice. As an entrepreneur, my online presence is crucial to my success. But, so is my sanity. I am most deeply inspired when I am secluded, shielded from chaos and protected from negativity. Ironically, one of my biggest fears is being forgotten. I've worked hard to create a unique brand, to establish credibility, to give people a reason to want to follow my lead. Every time I fade away, I risk losing it all, because there's always someone waiting and plotting to steal the spotlight. Literally modeling my ideas, copying my puns and coaxing my supporters. This Maya Angelou quote sums up my post 6-week revelation:

"I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel." 

I make people feel capable. I make people feel like their dreams are valid. I make people feel that they matter. My existence is identical to no one else's. My drive cannot be duplicated. My purpose is multi-dimensional. So, the next time I decide to log out for an extended length of time, please don't miss me. Instead, remember me... and LIVE YOUR DREAM in my honor.