Inspiration Inspires Confidence

My last blog cited examples of how I gained independence and confidence in life; however, real confidence comes when it’s least expected.  My husband and I had to euthanize our Benny boy over the Thanksgiving weekend.  He was a mix of Border Collie and Golden Retriever, a dog I rescued from certain death 12 years ago.  We figured his age to be 14 when he passed.  Benny’s joy for life and love of everyone inspired me to be even more adventurous in my own endeavors.  Always by my side, he encouraged me to be me with that ever-present smile and kisses to spare.  When I watched him try to cheer up another one of our elderly dogs by bringing her a pear off of the backyard tree, her favorite fruit, I knew he was teaching me that in the end only kindness matters.  When we got our fearful dog, Brindey, a German Shephard, Golden Retriever and Coyote mix, at 8 weeks old, Benny allowed her to pull, chew and nip at him whenever she wanted.  He was teaching us to be patient with children- a lesson I needed constant reminding of in my own work as an educator.

When we knew it was time to release him from his cancer pain, Benny taught us that death is a noble act.  As I sit here typing, I feel his loss tremendously.  Brindey is even more fearful and nervous without him, but I have learned through Benny to be patient, loving and kind with her; and, to accept her as she is, personality disorder and all.  Benny loved her unconditionally, and as a result, so have we.

Benny was one of my inspirations.  His death is teaching me that we can’t rely on others to always be there to make the hard decisions needed to keep our faith in this life.  His life taught me that inspirations come in many forms, and even though the forms take on new sizes and shapes, we must always follow our passions in life.

Brindey and I took our first walk without him yesterday in the greenbelt behind our home.  I could feel him in every bog, rivulet, tree, bird, and pond.  He was still jumping in the mud-filled trenches and chasing birds.  He was still herding me along the path.  He was still romping with Brindey in the tall grass.  He is still teaching me how to live with grace and dignity.


Confidence Requires Risks

As you recall, I pestered the apartment manager in Santa Monica until he caved and offered me a contract.  I even convinced him that I would get a job to support my rent.  Miraculously, he believed me.  I got my first full-year teaching job (I had worked in Orange County a half a year as a long-term sub) one month after I signed the lease in August of 1979.  I am convinced my unabashed bravado made all the difference.  (Even if you don’t believe in yourself, fake it!)

I was told that my first interview would be a panel interview, including the man who wrote the master plan for Special Education in the state of California, Dr. Frank Taylor.  I read up and studied everything he ever accomplished in the field.  I was bound and determined to get a teaching position in this prestigious school district.

In front of six district administrators and Dr. Taylor, I stepped up to the challenge of their demanding questions, feeling relieved I had studied the pedagogy of the times and this district’s educational philosophies.  However, Dr. Taylor’s parting comment was completely unexpected.  When I stood up to leave, Dr. Taylor shook my hand and said, “Well, you certainly are pretty, but can you teach?”  Even before sexual harassment was against the law, something in me recoiled.  I forgot about my hunger for the job and just wanted to stand my ground for what I believed to be right.

I straightened up my suit jacket and stood tall before I fired off this heated response, “Dr. Taylor, I am a damn good teacher in spite of my looks.  You can bet on that or not.  Thank you for the chance to interview.”  And just like in the movies, I turned on my high heels and stomped out of the room.  I was sure I had blown my chance, but truth be told, it felt good to be able to represent my values, no matter the outcome.

Later that day, Dr. Taylor called me.  He said, “Young lady, you are very impressive for someone so young; you have spunk and good teachers need spunk.  Report to the principal at John Adams Junior High tomorrow at nine, he will give you the keys to your new SDC classroom.”

My mother always told me that if you work hard and believe in yourself, you will find your way.  Part of that search includes the risk it takes to stand up for what you know is right.  With only myself to rely on for my successes and my failures, her words have always rung true.

Nothing Like Reality to Summon Up Confidence

So I returned home from Europe as a college grad with many roads to take.  I decided to take a year off of school and figure it all out.  I got a job as a classroom aide for Learning Disabled teens and found three other people to share an old home in the heart of Fullerton, California.  Within the first month of that job, I began to date the teacher for whom I worked and decided to leave that position for obvious reasons.  Two things happened that year after I took another position on the same campus: I discovered I could do better as a teacher because the special education teens weren’t being taught (they walked to coffee shops and watched movies); and, I would never let a man dictate my direction in life.

I moved in with that well-intentioned man and returned to school to get two teaching credentials.  I worked as a waitress at night, taught traffic school, and finished both credential programs in two years.  When I came up for air, I could see that my boyfriend tried too hard to change me.  What was worse is that I was listening to him, trying to become some kind of renaissance woman while working to secure my future.  After several art, dance, and music classes (in between work and studies) to make me into some kind of superwoman for this man, I finally said, “Listen, I get that you have many hobbies and want me to be as cultured; however, you have your career already.  I need space to figure out the direction of my life.”  And I left him for a life in the city.  Ironically, I kept up the hobbies he introduced.  But that’s another story.

As luck would have it, I found an inexpensive apartment on the beach in Santa Monica (because of strict rent controls in the late 70’s).  I didn’t have a teaching job yet, but with an elementary teaching credential with a specialty credential for K-8th grade learning disabilities, I knew I was marketable (sometimes confidence can be blinding).  Out of 30 applications for the apartment, I got it based on one simple fact:  The young apartment manager was a magician and liked my tenacity to stay after everyone left so I could beg, cajole and pester him to death for it.  He even believed I would get a teaching job because he was sure I would break the interviewer down.  I signed the lease for August 1st and got a job August 15th.  In order to execute confidence to work in your behalf, never giving up usually works.  In the next blog entry, I will describe how confidence allowed me to stand up for my beliefs.  You can never go wrong there.