Saturday, January 15, 2011

Motivation and Fear of the Desconocido

I feel like a particular theme has been haunting my life lately. I don't mean that in a creepy way, but I say that because I really do feel like it has been present in all of my most precious conversations with friends and family in the past week. It is what I have worried about regarding possible future careers and the topic that penetrated my memory the most when Condoleezza Rice came and spoke at school on Tuesday: La MotivaciĆ³n. So what do I do when my world is saturated by a single thought? I blog about it.

I would like to start by saying that my little brother is awesome. Really, and here is why:

Since my first semester of college, I knew I wanted to teach ESL. I really like learning languages, and I wanted to do something that both fulfilled my desire to pursue a language-based career and help people who genuinely needed help. Teaching English as a Second language! Of course! When I was little I went with my aunt to one of her ESL classes and was amazed how these people from different countries all went in speaking a dozen different languages and came out speaking English. Magic. I called up a local non-profit in Nashville that I had volunteered for and set up a schedule to volunteer helping teach ESL and citizenship classes on Tuesday nights the next semester. Unfortunately, I had to change schools the next semester and the opportunity was lost when I was in a much smaller town without a car, and for the next few semesters I did not do much to keep the dream alive.

And then, something horrible happened: I began to doubt myself. Yes, I used to want to help immigrants integrate into and function in society. I wanted to work with them and hear their stories and learn about their cultures and why they came to the United States. But, me? A teacher? Was I up for that? Did I want to carry such a huge responsibility to help people learn something well? What if they didn't want to learn? Was I up for motivating them? Ironically, this is one of the reasons that I was so eager about teaching ESL. Those who took my class would be taking it because they really wanted and needed it. I felt that it would be exciting to teach, because students would be eager to learn. They NEED to know English. However, as a difficult year unfolded, I doubted my ability to do what I wanted to do, because I just figured I was not a motivating person. BUT that nasty mentality all changed a couple weeks ago with this awesome brother who you should be jealous of.

Taking my regular Sunday nap, I was awakened by a text from my little brother who was dealing with some people with one of those horribly sad prejudices that are the result of ignorance, ethnocentricity, and fear of the unknown. Not sure if he should talk some sense into these individuals, make a scene, or just ignore it, he texted me, and I felt all warm and fuzzy inside, happy my brother thought to come to me with some issue/question/advice-seeking/sympathy. My response to the situation was to do what would most sustainably put the others to shame: educate himself (strike 1 for the monkey on my back trying to keep me from being a teacher). Read the news, ask those from other countries about their culture and political freedoms, investigate the workings of your own government, learn another language. I, a Linguistics major but most and foremost a sister, am proud to say that he has taken to learning Portuguese and reading NPR and has already heroically showed off his knowledge of Brazilian politics in his high school econ class as a result. HE even sent ME some really cool language learning website that he has been using. Rock on, Luke. Rock on.

And it is people like Luke that give me hope. If people can find the motivation within themselves to pursue real knowledge and do what they want, then maybe some day we will have peace and equality in this world. What I only recently realized, is that maybe I had something to do with him taking this path. Perhaps my diplomatic approach to his touchy situation was a contributing reason as to why he made a couple awesome decisions. I texted him, "Why not [learn about Brazil, learn Portuguese, educate yourself]! Just think of all the cool things that people do that you wish you did and actually go do them! Because you can! You just have to have faith in yourself and be determined." And his next texted warmed my heart: "You know what? I'm going to learn Portuguese. I really am." Maybe, I motivated him. Maybe I can be motivational. Maybe I can be a teacher.

As I began to ponder if this power was manifesting itself in a one-time-only instance or if I possessed some kind of ability to actually get people to do things that are good for them, I began to further ponder whether teaching was for me as I began a class on teaching literacy. And you know what I have discovered? I am afraid to do things that I haven't done before. You know what else I learned? The more I learn, the less afraid I am of the unknown. I read a chapter on teaching literacy methods and realized how complex and time-consuming it is to be a teacher and make lesson plans. To give each student the attention that they need personally. And something amazing happened: I wasn't discouraged the realization of the workload. I was inspired. You see, I though that teaching was just a talent. Period. Indeed, I think some are blessed with better teaching capabilities than others, but seeing that a good teacher is someone who works hard and not necessarily someone who just inherently knows how to teach made me think that maybe I could still teach English as a Second Language. Maybe getting to know and love my students would be all the motivation I would need to work hard to cater to their needs and make class fun and rewarding. Maybe the desire to see my students succeed would be enough to make me try harder to find books that they would like to read. To plan games that would facilitate learning. To vary my lesson plan. Maybe, I could be a hard and caring worker, and therefore be a good teacher. Strike 2, monkey.

Then, something great happened on Thursday: Condoleezza Rice spoke at school. I want to marry her. Ok, just kidding, not really, but I want to be her, for sure. Ok, also just kidding, I just want to be motivated to find my happiness in helping others and making myself happy like I believe she does. She spoke of the inequality gap in the United States that, despite our nation's relative prosperity, is quite high. I began thinking of Teach For America, and how I had been pondering if I wanted to join the corps when I graduated to teach in a high needs school for 2 years. It was that or join the Peace Corps or go to graduate school for Peace-Conflict Resolution. And then something amazing happened. I learned that I was clairvoyant. She began talking about our need for higher standards for our children and teachers. That every child needs an adult who will advocate for them, and that our k-12 education system is our nation's greatest thread to society. AND THEN she began talking about Teach For America. At this point, the monkey on my back fled as I began jumping up and down inside, shaking with excitement to make a difference in the world.

Yes, I am a hippie. In fact, I think my favorite quote from Dr. Rice that day was, "And now, it [peace] almost seems inevitable, doesn't it?" But, I see no reason why those providing social services and humanitarian work should not be ridiculously idealistic and optimistic. Why shouldn't we be bouncing up and down with excitement to teach, to help, to reach out, but a better question is can we afford not to?

I think we can all learn something by digging a little deeper and doing what is hard for us. What is scary for us. Because, by doing so, we destroy inhibitions, and by destroying inhibitions, we destroy the forces that impede us from reaching some higher purpose in life. And by not reaching those purposes, we are less equipped to use our power [knowledge] to help others do the same. I think I can be motivational. NAY! I know I can be motivational! I have done it before, and I can do it again. And now, I have a written blog to come back to when I am doubting myself. If you read this, don't forget to remind those who are fired up about something NOW that they can still accomplish great things TOMORROW. Sometimes, we forget, and sometimes we need to be reminded. And sometimes, you can be the reason that someone does not give up.


  1. I'm glad I could help you with your dilemma. Thanks for helping with mine. :)

  2. Don't forget about me when you're on national news for making the world a better place :)