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Start Where You Are: A Teacher’s Story

Sometimes one just needs to start where they are.

A few years ago, I was dealing with some mysterious health issues. I was having trouble with my stomach. Having trouble with my skin. My respiratory system. My mental health. I was having trouble– and thus feeling in general like I was ten years older than I actually was. My stress levels were through the roof, and I was also having anxiety attacks.

I felt a general malaise about life.

I went to see a doctor at the out-patient clinic near where I live, and I described to him what I was feeling. I explained to him the symptoms, and I pleaded for him to help me, with as much dignity as I could muster. (Sidebar: It is a humbling experience to know that parts of you are broken and that you need fixing.)

The doctor wrote me out a prescription for some drugs I had tried in the past, but then he picked up the medical pad and scrawled down these four words: ‘start where you are’.

He passed me the paper, and as inadequately as I am at summing up the gist of what he said, the message was clear: start where you are right now and make the changes happen from that place- from the place you find yourself in or the circumstances you are involved with at this very present NOW.

Start where you are.

Start Where You Are happens to the be the title of a book that the same doctor recommended I read, and although I have never picked up the book nor absorbed the words between its pages, I have never forgotten the thoughts nor the kind-willed intention behind that doctor’s choice to not only offer me conventional medicine, but also a compassionate dose of empathy and concern.

I have reflected on starting where I am for quite some time now.

Where I am now is a different place than where I was back then. And it is a different place than I will be tomorrow. I am at a different place emotionally, spiritually, spatially- as it concerns my work, and mentally as it concerns my peace and contentment right now than I might be even thirty minutes from now. Every second the clock ticks, I am growing older, and yet: I hope a little bit wiser to the workings and ways of my inner self. I listen more now than I did back then, at the time of the afore-mentionned doctor’s appointment. And I am hopeful that this ability to stop and be still, quietly seeking for the heart to stir and speak- I am hopeful that I will only grow in understanding as time moves relentlessly on. For I have come to the realization that in order for change to happen, one must take at times, baby steps. And one must develop the art of listening to hearts.

When I can appreciate that I am at a place of constantly starting from where I am today, I can do the same for others. Appreciate that they too must needs start where they are.

I teach kindergarten students- bubbling fountains of energy wrapped up in sweet, soft skin and precious wonder. A kindergartner lives life at full tilt. When they get off the bus in the morning, they are like high-speed passenger trains jacked up on rocket boosters. There are times when they quite take my breath away.

It can be overwhelming at times to think of the enormity of my job over the school year- and the great leaps these students will take in physical, mental and social growth and development. Sometimes I find myself getting overwhelmed- thinking about where they are now and where we all need to be, come June of the next year.

Today, I decided to just start where they were and launch a writing workshop as part of our daily routine.

My head was telling me I was crazy, even as my heart was saying otherwise. They are only four years old. Only five. Can they be writers already? “Start where they are,” my heart repeated back to me. And so I did.

I started right where we were.

When we start where we are- and when we accept people where they are, suddenly perspectives shift. Attitudes change. Emotions begin to even out. Anxiety levels lower. Stress dissipates. And our ability to make an impact increases.

Here’s what happened today:

I launched a writer’s workshop with my students, having not completed the reading I should have done the night before. I fell asleep last night around midnight, tired from the busyness of the day.
Late for work this morning, I had one thing I needed to do so as to feel that I could at least start the ball rolling, feeble as that rolling ball might be.

To say the very least, I felt ill-prepared and less than enthusiastic. And I wasn’t sure what the students might think when all was said and done. (Let alone, what they might do when I presented them with a booklet and pencil and told them to “Go! Write! Write!”)

My own fears and anxieties and concerns as to how it would all play out aside, I decided to take a leap of faith- and follow my belief that we all have to start somewhere, so we might as well start right where we are: and I did it. I told them they were writers- told them they were Writers! And I gave them the paper.

Here’s what they did- they wrote. And they wrote. And they wrote and wrote and they wrote some more. Then, they did even more than I expected- at three different times today, they picked up the pencil to write out and continue their heartfelt stories.

One little boy passed me his eight-paged booklet and said this, ” I worked soooo hard on this, Mrs. Gard!” And he wasn’t kidding. Writing is blood, sweat and tears- he got it!

Here’s what: today magic happened in my classroom. The children exceeded my expectations and then some. They wrote stories about their friends and their family; about roller-coasters and spiders and monsters- they wrote about Mario and Luigi. Some stories had a middle, beginning and end, complete with character development, conflict and conflict resolution. Half of their stories had some words or print other than their name.

And most importantly, every last one of them believed that they were a writer. That they were a WRITER!

And all this: all because we all took a collective risk as a class and started right where we were.

If four year-olds can start right where they are, then so can thirty-nine year-olds. And here’s the thing: starting right where you are just might be the best beginning you’ve ever launched. For certain, it’s the only beginning you can launch—right now.

So, start where YOU are. And watch amazing, beautiful, courageous things happen.

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