The Just-Right Trip: Healing the energy of 90 days of teaching in a high-poverty middle school

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Sprague Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park

Though it was right on the heels of a difficult 90 days and the teacher in-service days that followed, my trip to what I call “out West” was just what I needed.

Maybe it’s because it was right on the heels of this challenging time that it was just right.

When I left the house on a Saturday morning to drive to Columbia, Missouri, I was still in the after-effects of a tough school semester with middle school students.

I was still tired. I still felt depleted. I still had negative energy swirling about and within me.

But after only a few hours on the road, I could feel everything shifting.

Sometimes all it takes is a new perspective to jump start a new energy.

Travel always helps me be more in the now, more present to what is going on around me at each moment.

Seeing the St. Louis Gateway Arch that Saturday afternoon let me know that the West, a travel destination I always enjoy, was getting nearer.

I enjoy the clarity of the sky in the West, the brightness of the colors, the largeness of the horizon.

The West does my heart and soul good. It helps clear out the clutter of whatever negativity I am feeling at that point.

And this trip was even more special because my sister joined up with me in Kansas City to drive across Kansas and to spend time in the Rockies with me.

But I was already feeling like a new person when I picked her up at the airport. It’s on the western part of Missouri that I always start getting more “western” vibes. She flew into Kansas City, which is at that western brink for me.

Though it seems most people don’t like driving across Kansas, I do. I love the sense of climbing in altitude as I approach the Rockies. I love the expanse of sky, the wide, wide horizons, the gigantic fields of corn and wheat, the tiny farm towns with the huge silos that you can see from the interstate.

I even enjoy the windiness!

And then, after driving for hours and hours across flatness . . .  to see those snow-capped mountains on the horizon . . . my reaction is always WOW!

WOW, WOW, WOW!!!

The Rockies are SO much bigger than our mountains in the East. And so much, well, rockier.

Their energy feels newer to me. I suppose that makes sense. Our mountains in the East are lots and lots older than the Rockies.

Maybe it’s the “youth”of the Rockies that draws me to them.

Or maybe it’s that they’re craggy, snow-capped, towering – so different from the mountains I see from my back yard.

Whatever it is, the Rockies were the right medicine for me at this point in my life.

Staying in Estes Park, Colorado at the edge of the Rocky Mountain National Park was a delight.

My sister and I went to various places in the park (Moraine Park, Sprague Lake, Sheep Lakes, Lily Lake, almost to the top of Trail Ridge Road) and enjoyed all that was there. Beautiful vistas, different birds than we have in the East, elk and more elk (in open areas, among trees, at the side of the road, crossing the road right in front of us), a handful of deer, one moose far away eating in the middle of a stand of tall bushes that mostly blocked our view, and, finally, a herd of bighorn sheep. We tried several times at the Sheep Lake area to see bighorn sheep. It wasn’t until our last day and a final drive through the park that we saw them. They came out to wish us farewell, I think.

Being in a place so unlike home recalibrated my energy.

I left Colorado and drove back home feeling like a new person.

A refreshed person. A renewed person. A revived person.

And a person who doesn’t take travel for granted.

I know I’m blessed to get to travel.

Not every one gets to have a getaway. I’m sure few of my students do. Their families can’t afford the expense of gas and motels and meals out for two or three days, and certainly not the 11 days of my trip. They perhaps don’t have a car that would get them to Colorado and back.

What a difference travel would mean for them, though. It would expand their horizons, just as it has mine. They would see that there is a larger world than the one they inhabit daily.

They, like me, would have their worlds altered, their energy shifted.

But I know very few of them will get to travel during this summer vacation time. So many in our society simply can’t afford an 11-day trip. They can’t afford time away from work, and they can’t afford the financial outlay.

So I’m especially grateful for this trip.

For all that I saw and all that worked to change me, to shift my energy.

Snowcapped mountains, wildlife, interesting cities, quaint towns, other happy travelers.

I don’t take any of that for granted.

I’m grateful for such a wonder-filled, renewing time with my sister.

She and I have traveled enough together over the years that we know that some time apart during the trip is good for us. We know that we need different experiences.

So some afternoons she went for a hike or walk while I stayed in the motel room and napped and wrote – or I sat in a park and read and wrote. Or I sat in a park and enjoyed the day, no book required.

I enjoyed the time with my sister and the time alone.

My energy level got replenished.

For the first time in 90+ days, I didn’t feel like I was in energy deficit all of the time. I got beyond the tiredness that came with teaching in a high-poverty school.

Beyond the exhaustion of dealing with negavity, of feeling the negativity that permeates these children’s lives.

Beyond their anger, their depression, their sense of hopelessness.

However, I’m very aware that they don’t get to leave that.

My next steps are to find other ways to help, ways that do not put me in a middle school classroom each day but that do allow me to try to help my students – or kids and adults like them – to see and experience another world.

What will those ways be?

I have no idea. Yet. 

But I will be reading and learning more about poverty, talking with community members, talking with leaders of organizations, sharing ideas, asking questions, looking for ways to be involved, ways to help my students or others like them to expand their horizons.

This expansion probably won’t be through travel as it has been for me so many times, but there are other – nonliteral – ways to travel.

I’d like to help provide some of those ways for people who can’t afford to travel.

Because I well know that expanded horizons can be healing.

Just as this trip with my sister to Colorado was for me.

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Elk by the road.

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Two bighorn rams.

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Herds of bighorn sheep and elk by Sheep Lakes.

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An elk herd crossing the road.

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Aspen at sunset

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Sunset at Sheep Lakes

 

 

 

 

 

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3 thoughts on “The Just-Right Trip: Healing the energy of 90 days of teaching in a high-poverty middle school

  1. Pingback: My Middle School Experiment: What I learned, Part 1 | eddies and currents

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