Saturday, January 9, 2010

Step 9: Perseverance

"With ordinary talent and extraordinary perseverance, all things are attainable." ~ Thomas Foxwell Buxton

I've known some people in my life who are so brilliant, so capable, and yet they never seem to reach heights that are well within their grasp. They toil away in jobs that aren't quite right. They miss the opportunity for love, for community impact, for profound influence because they weren't willing to put in just a bit more effort. My father was one of these people. He had a truly brilliant mind and could have been the leading clinical psychologist of his day. Unfortunately, he thought the world should reward him specifically because he was brilliant. He didn't realize the world doesn't work that way.

And then I've known people of fairly modest talent who were just relentless in their efforts, and achieved not only what was within their natural reach, but also successes that no one else thought possible. It's the people in this latter group who have been my greatest teachers. They showed me that the world rewards those who work as hard as they can and give the best they've got everyday. The world rewards commitment, particularly commitment that perseveres in the face of great adversity.

I thought about this ideal this morning when I found out that my after-school education program with Citizen Schools starts the week of February 8th, not the week of February 25th as I had originally planned. This accelerates the time line I now have to work under. I'm going to have to shuffle around some other commitments so that my first few lessons plans are created and edited in time for the class. I've been collecting resources for several months and now is the time to just sit down and plow through the work.

And then I paused as I looked at all of these resources, most from designers of incredible talent. I appreciate design and use the tools of a designer in my profession as a product developer, though I am not a traditionally trained designer. I didn't go to art school and I'm not an engineer. My product development skills have been self-taught. I'm a volunteer teacher, though I don't have a degree from an education school and I don't have a teacher certification. My teaching skills have also been self-taught. To top it off, I'll be teaching in a school in East Harlem with more than its fair share of challenges: it is the lowest performing school in the Citizen Schools portfolio. 87% of the students receive free or reduced-price lunch (this is an indicator that 87% fall at or below the poverty line), 86% read below grade level, and 78% have math skills below grade level.

I leaned back in my chair, and asked myself, "What exactly are you doing, Christa?" But I didn't ask this question with an air of despair or fear. I asked myself the question to mean, "What is the heart of the matter here? What gifts do you have to give these children who need you so much?" With that motivation in mind, any trace of trepidation disappeared.

I have modest design talents with extraordinary passion, empathy, and determination to back them up. I grew up below the poverty line, and still many adults believed in my talents and abilities. Now its my turn to manifest that same belief in these children. I'm paying forward the great and good gifts that so many people gave me when I was in school.

My idea to use design as the backbone to engage students in the learning process is not revolutionary; many people have thought of this idea, and many of them are far better designers than I am. No matter. There are so many children who need help, so many children who need an adult to show up for them and take a vested interest in their lives and education, that it is impossible for me to not have a profound impact in this field. My own individual commitment and perseverance is the only limitation on the amount of good I can do with this program, and I've got both of those in spades.


Sharnanigans said...

of this I have no doubt. I so admire what you are doing. Love your insights. Go girl

Christa said...

Thanks so much, Sharni. 2010 is already shaping up to be a wonderful year! It feels great to have something valuable to offer these kids.