Tag Archives: Kansas City

Intend to Win

In early spring, I pledged a two-year commitment to Teach For America, a movement that fights to close the opportunity/achievement gap in low-income communities across the nation.

Becoming a teacher has always been a goal of mine. Some of the most influential people in my life have been teachers. The people who taught me in high school and college served as advocates and allies during a critical season of my life. It’s no wonder I wanted to join their ranks. I’ll be teaching elementary at Satchel Paige in the fall.

To say that teaching is a thankless and difficult profession would be a serious understatement. Some have asked why I would put myself through the rigor and trial-by-fire that is educating in low-income schools.

Simply put: because it’s work worth doing.

This is not a knock on any of my previous jobs. Quite the opposite. Every job I’ve held in the past built upon prior knowledge and helped me develop a skill set that is perfect for teaching. When I realized that TFA was an option for me, my focus became laser-like. I began to reverse-engineer and take the steps that would make me a great candidate for the TFA organization. Even the jobs I disliked illustrated a sort of ‘divine discontent’ to motivate me to seek work that suited my views and strengths better.

This is chance to attack the inequity that is systemic in America, to kick open doors of opportunity for students that will not walk through them otherwise. If I’m to leave a mark on the world, this is the first scratch I’ll make. Every child has value.

This next season of life will be challenging to say the least. Heck, even this last season was tough. I just completed five consecutive weeks of training in Tulsa, Oklahoma (teaching summer school and packing my brain full of strategies I’ll use heavily in the fall).

Luckily, I have a support system of friends, family and mentors that will be in my corner, cheering me on. My church community, my girlfriend and my new collaborators from TFA all champion this path I’m on. I feel sturdier than I have in the past. Some of the most vocal members of ‘Team Garrett’ are former — you guessed it — teachers.

I’m doing this because I can. Or maybe I can’t. Either way, I plan to reach my full potential as a communicator and as a encourager. I want my students to reach their potentials as citizens and innovators. Who knows whether the ‘problem child’ in my classroom might go on to invent new energy sources or cure diseases or colonize the moon.

Speaking of the moon, this excerpt from JFK’s speech on September 12, 1962 puts it well:

“We choose to go to the moon. We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.”

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Making Mistakes Into Masterpieces

Being flawed is easy. It comes to us naturally.  We all make mistakes. We’re human.

Yet mistakes are necessary and productive in our lives. The more we allow ourselves to make mistakes (and to learn from them), the faster our characters grow.  For my third group session at Synergy’s Youth Resiliency Center we worked together to turn mistakes into masterpieces.

Let me explain.

Each participant was given a blank piece of paper and instructed to draw an irregular shape on it — no hearts, or perfect circles or squares — something that is nothing; a mistake. Then we traded papers, passing  them to our left. I asked the kids to add their own touch to the shape (make it an alien, a monster, or whatever). Every time the one-minute timer went off, we passed again to our left.  We eventually worked all the way around the studio, until everyone had their original paper back — their “mistakes” now transformed into pieces of art. Some shapes had tentacles added, while others grew extra heads or eyes. Some looked like Picasso –some looked more like Picante sauce — but they were all changed for the better. The odd, irregular shapes were gone. Now there was an extraterrestrial. Now there was a fantasy creature, the (ahem) “Uni-Horse-Dog”. Maybe the finished products were not masterpieces per se, but now they represented ideas, thought,  and creation instead of being erratic marks or meaningless blobs on paper.

What if we allowed God to turn our mistakes into masterpieces? What if we allowed others into our struggles and leaned on our communities to help us heal? What if we treated our misunderstandings the way we used to as children — as teachable moments? What if we allowed our failures to become something unexpectedly beautiful?

To learn more about Synergy’s YRC, click here. To view my posts about my first and second visits, click here or here.


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Synergy: Part Two

For my second group session at Synergy’s Youth Resiliency Center, we focused on community and teamwork. All that is good and truly beautiful in life is made even better when we live life engaged in community. We weren’t meant to be hermits, living isolated and diminished lives. We can never be reminded of this too often. To illustrate this truth, I made foam-board “community puzzles.” Every participant was given a blank piece to decorate — with words, colors, lines, patterns, shapes —however he or she saw fit. When their piece was done, they were encouraged to literally bring their unique piece to the table and see how they fit together. I love this project (special thanks to Reyna Smoker for the idea).  It’s always fun, challenging and offers unpredictable results.

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Concert Commentary: Bon Iver

Some bands transcend the limits of genre of and category. Some bands defy definition. Eau Claire, Wisconsin’s Bon Iver is one such band. Frontman Justin Vernon and his trademark falsetto-folk-funk has been championed by everyone from NPR to Kanye West. It’s hard to listen to his albums (2007’s For Emma, Forever Ago and this year’s self-titled follow-up) and not be transported to someplace magnificent. Last Friday, I got the chance to see him perform for a sold-out crowd at The Uptown Theater.

The show was predictably epic; colossal and intimate at the same time. Opener Kathleen Edwards set the tone with her earnest ballads and her adoration of all things Americana (ironically she’s Canadian). Her charm was insuppressible, despite the sullen, poignant tone of her songs. She sort of had-me-at-hello when she cracked wise, “Well, aren’t you all on your best behavior?” I especially loved her cover of  The Flaming Lips’ ‘Feeling Yourself Disintegrate”.

Once Bon Iver started to play, the on-stage universe seem to expand. Edwards’ three-piece shindig was replaced by a nine-man army of sound. Everyone in the band played at least two instruments, giving the set an orchestral feel throughout. Vibrant lights intensified already electrifying songs like Perth” and “Creature Fear.”  All evening, Vernon projected a powerful stage presence tempered by a genuine appreciation for the crowd that had gathered to partake in his dynamic expression. The show was a series of saturated moments building up to the peak, an Olympian rendition of “Calgary”. It’s been nearly a week, and my ears are still ringing from the sheer power in this song. I was way up in the balcony but still felt the bass pressing on my chest like I was on the ground level, right up against a subwoofer.

The band cranked out a couple more songs before saying goodnight taking a break. They re-emerged to an invigorated crowd and gave them what they’d wanted all night: a sing-along version of  “Skinny Love” (arguably Vernon’s best song), complete with hand-clapping and foot-stomping.

For the full set list (which included a Björk cover), visit Setlist.fm.  For the uninitiated, check out the two songs below.

“Skinny Love”, by Bon Iver from For Emma, Forever Ago

“Calgary”, by Bon Iver, from Bon Iver

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