If That Makes Me a Teacher….

Not that long ago, I was asked why I do not have any students. I was flattered by the question, as someone thinks highly enough of me to believe I would be a good teacher or mentor to other Pagans. However, my response went along the lines of not really being qualified to teach anyone anything – except for myself. I really hate giving responses like that, but there is a seed of truth encased in there. I am not sure I would be what anyone would expect of a Pagan teacher. To put it in a different way, I would be the most unlikely teacher around. Sort of like Mr. Miyagi in the first Karate Kid movie. Just an awkward, ill-conceived set of approaches to topical matters.

Why would I say that about myself? Because I know what works for me. I am also aware of how it does not work for most others. The old saying goes along the lines of “when the student is ready, the teacher will come” – or conversely – “when the teacher is ready the student will come.” For me, any student that could conceivably work under the approaches that I use – well that one student may have to break one of my knees to get me to notice.

I am very flattered by the idea that I would be a good teacher. I am more amiable to the notion that one day I might make a good mentor. Not necessarily a teacher, but more of a guide for someone that is learning on their own. Someone that they could come to with questions when they get stuck on something. Naturally, I would be upfront about my own limitations. Magick is not, nor has it ever been my forte’. I can help in a crude measure of understanding, but someone looking for a smooth, sophisticated approach would do better searching elsewhere. Or, if they would like, I could point them in directions and towards people that I think would be helpful. Granted, some of those people may hold low opinions or even harbor anger towards me, but I don’t take people’s opinions of me into account when trying to help someone else find a better guide. Go to this or that individual – just don’t mention my name. 😊

To a point, I am confused why people would find me to be a good teacher. Its not like I am placing myself into a position that would advertise me as such. I have yet to offer a class of any sort – online or face-to-face – to the Pagan community at large. I have not taken a single student for one-on-one teaching. I have; however, taught in a collegiate classroom (for nearly three years), but I don’t see how that would ever bring me to the forefront of a conversation of who would be a good teacher. Plus, my approach to learning is to hand you the same resources that I used, tell you to go read, and when you felt like coming back – we could have an in-depth conversation. That’s it. No tests. No quizzes. No certificate of completion. No final assessment of whether you were a top student or just someone that barely made the grade, in my opinion. Just a discussion, held at your convenience. Preferably around a fire, late at night, out where we can see the stars as we hold our discourse. My kind of classroom.

I guess a lot of that comes from my perspective of learning about Paganism. Its not something you can get out of a book. A book should lead your mind to more questions, and a desire to explore for answers. A book should have you wanting to try to do things rather than learning my theory of how to do things. For me, learning about Paganism was about reading, questioning, doing, experiencing, being…. I didn’t need an individual who would sit and endlessly lecture to me about their way of doing things. They would talk about how they did it. If I had questions, I asked. Afterwards, I went out and did it…myself. I didn’t need their approval over any twists or changes or additions that I put to it. I took their framework and built my own on to it. In the end, it might look nothing like what they “taught” – and that didn’t matter to me, so long as it held meaning to what I was doing.

I will honestly and openly admit that many people will find the way I approach my Paganism to be distasteful and unappealing to them. Because I chose to discard traditional aspects for things that work for me. Because I set aside pre-printed rituals that arrive via the post office, in favor of embracing the moment. But I will also acknowledge that whatever works for them, works for them. I am more than thrilled that these methodologies work for them, because it provides an authentic feeling and connection to the world around them, a valid and strong connection with their Gods. There is no fucking way I would ever want to discount any of that for them, simply because they use a methodology that is not mine. That would be disingenuous to what Paganism is about to me, what true Paganism should be all about: the individual’s experience. Their connection with the authentic passion of their own practice – whatever it looks like.

My personal approach to my own Paganism, my own Druidry is uniquely mine. Parts of what I do overlap with the practices of others. While I feel the draw of being a mentor to others, I am not entirely sure what that would look like, considering the deep personal aspect that my approach holds for me. Perhaps, I will eventually find that one student that can meaningfully learn from my approach, and together we can explore what it means to teach that to others. In the meantime, the only way that I know to do this, is just to be myself. If that makes me a teacher…I am just as surprised as anyone else.

–T /|\

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Teaching Happens All the Time

Today’s blog is going to start in the Star Wars universe, but I promise it won’t end up there. If you do not mind indulging me for a few paragraphs….

This past weekend, I was flipping through the television channels and came across a broadcast of “Star Wars: The Last Jedi”. It had been a while, so I stopped in to watch. Now, I have seen every release of the Star Wars movies for the first time in the theater, including the one-off movies “Rogue One” and “Solo”. Episode VI is a very favored memory of me and my father, who dragged me to the theaters to see it. I had no idea what I was being taken to see, and to be honest I didn’t really comprehend what I had seen when I left the theater. Like many folks, I have my favorites. My favorite of the films is “Rogue One” which had some powerful storytelling to it. The last three movies of the story arc, VII, VIII and IX are my least favorite films. I don’t care for the story pacing, the story arc, the acting, the directing…none of the three are good films in my mind. So it was an interesting moment for me to stop on a tv channel to watch a film I didn’t like very much.

Maybe I was bored. Maybe I had nothing to do. Or maybe I just wanted to hate on the moment that happened to be on the screen – the start of the scene where Luke comes to burn the Tree and the Jedi Temple, so as to kill the Jedi Order. I remember in the theater, I absolutely hated this scene. I never believed that a character such as Yoda would laugh at Luke with scorn, much less burn the Temple to the ground with a lightning strike. It was a moment in the film that captured every ounce of my scorn, and here I was watching it again. I braced myself to start hating this film again. I watched what happened in the scene. I listened to the dialogue. And suddenly I realized what I was missing…one part of Yoda’s dialogue that had basically blown past me with all my gathered emotions in the theater.

Pass on what you have learned. Strength. Mastery. But weakness, folly, failure also. Yes, failure most of all. The greatest teacher, failure is. Luke, we are what they grow beyond. That is the true burden of all masters. –Yoda

There was a deep lesson here for Luke. The Temple meant nothing. The “sacred” texts of the Jedi meant nothing. It was his teaching of Rey, showing her not only what he knew, but where he had failed that mattered. Yoda’s point was that each passing generation grows the knowledge a little further, expands on the experience just a little more. Their passion, their energy, their joy, their anguish – that keeps the knowledge thick and able to spread further, not allowing it to thin to a super-stretched, elastic substance that holds nothing and can be seen completely through.

There is a lesson for me on this as well. I am constantly touting that I am no teacher. Whether I like it or not, I am. I am because I exist. I am because I have been on my Pagan Path for thirty some odd years. I am because I write about my experiences and thoughts in this blog (and elsewhere). I might not be formally training people (yet – never say never), but there are folks who gather information and thoughts from what I write. They take that information, process it for themselves, and assimilate what they need for their own Path. Like it nor not, we are all teachers. Like it not, the future of Paganism springs from all of us.

I don’t keep an altar in the house. This is as close as it gets.

Every year I have been to Gulf Coast Gathering or some other Pagan gathering, I notice the younger people that are there. I am in my mid-fifties, though I feel a lot younger on some days and much older on others. I see the twenty-somethings at these gatherings. Especially those that are obviously hungry to add something with meaning to them within their lives, seeking that deeper connection to the world around them. Certainly, they dress and look wild, are a bit louder and far more full of energy than an old fart like me. But then, I remember when I was that young, twenty-something Pagan. I am sure my enthusiasm and exuberance at finding footsteps that felt “right” on my Path made the same impressions on the elder Pagans that I met. I know Pattalee Glass-Koentop made that comment to me one day in her store in Grand Prairie, Texas (Flight of the Phoenix). “You need to find a way to ground yourself, though your excitement and energy is certainly catching.”

I know that teaching my knowledge is a part of my Path. Its a part of all our Paths. We all teach others, every day with every interaction. Whether we understand that or not. My way is not the only way. However, it works for me. Maybe parts of it will work for others. Maybe not. Will I formally teach my knowledge? Perhaps. There are strong indications that it would not only be a good thing but also fun and informative for myself as well. What would it look like? I have no idea. At the moment, its a secondary part of where I am pushing myself. I have my own Druidry studies to get back to, as well as a path to clergy status to figure out – as well as how all of that will look and be within my life. One step at a time. One task at a time. And yes, I recall that I must always be mindful of the living Force. Star Wars may have created that out of some aspect of thin air…or based it on something…but its quite close to the primary part of my Druidry: connection to the world around me. So, live long and prosper…wha? Yeah, I know its not part of Star Wars, but what does that matter?

–T /|\

No-no-Notorious

This blog post originally started as a Q&A response on Facebook. I sometimes get questions in my Facebook Messenger from folks, and I’ll pick a few to answer publicly rather than privately – because either I find the question interesting or it seems to have a much broader appeal. So, here’s how things started….

Q: I think you could do excellent as an online teacher for Pagans, Druids, etc etc. Have you thought about exploring that direction at all? I think you would be awesome!!!!!
::blush:: Thanks. Have I thought about doing that? Yes. I have taught face-to-face and online Introduction to Computer classes for a handful of collegiate systems. But that’s a bit different than what you’re suggesting here. But yes, I have thought about it. Only issue I have – is charging money for it. Yes, I get that its “my time” and I should be compensated for it. I just don’t feel right about charging something that could be done over a handful of conversations sitting around the fire, sipping a drink of our individual choices, and enjoying the stars. I also grok that people are hungry for knowledge and direction for a Spirituality that has firm roots within Nature. This also boils back into my podcasting….feck…..let me change this over to a blog post, because this is going to get lengthy.

So, let me approach this a bit more methodically and a touch more in-depth.

Teaching

I have been an adjunct faculty member at a few junior college systems in Texas, as well as a few national for-profit systems. Teaching is something I had a lot of fun doing. There is a strong appeal to helping people understand concepts, whether those be related to Information technology or their own Spiritual Path. That moment of seeing the light-bulb go off and the individual actually “get it” is a real rush for me, as the individual that helped guide them to that point of understanding. When I left the adjunct faculty base to work in Administration, I was sad to leave all of that behind. Turned out, I could continue to teach even in this capacity. Faculty and Administration folks would come to me with data requests or questions about the data sets that they had procured. I essentially fell into a role of Data Evangelist at the college I worked with. I helped more than one faculty member put together data studies for a dissertation or some sort of grant funding, which was a lot more fun. I got to teach them about their data, and I learned a bit about their topic. So I do have to admit that teaching an Introduction to Paganism type of class has a certain allure to it.

Podcasting

This is another area that I get a lot of questions on – will I go back to podcasting? Well, I can’t say “never” – that would be foolish. However, I have said in the past, and continue to say now – “never again, without someone else joining in.” I enjoyed running my two podcasts, “From the Edge of the Circle” and “Upon a Pagan Path”, and you know there is a “but” coming… But I really hated essentially having just a conversation with myself. After a time, I felt that the shows were becoming repetitive, dull, and stale. Thus, I stepped away, twice. Did I enjoy it? Yes, it was a lot of fun – particularly when the listeners would send Emails and we could converse back and forth. I never really got that intense about download numbers. I truly didn’t care enough about how many times the episodes got downloaded. Just like I don’t really care how many times these blog posts get read. I only hope that the stuff reaches at least one person, who needed to hear or read what I was saying at that moment. I’d be more than thrilled to go back to podcasting again…but not alone.

Book Writing, Blogging, Etc.

I have been asked if I ever thought about writing a book. Yes, I have. And I am. Currently, I am not sure it will ever see the light of day, though I am on thinking of publishing pieces of it on Patreon. If I ever decide to do that, I will let everyone know it exists. by the way, my Patreon level is set at the lowest possible point – $1. And it would stay that way, even if I published portions of my writings there.

Blogging…well, I actually enjoy writing. I am not the greatest in the world at it, but I do try to put my emotions behind what I write. I write here on the blog for the same reasons I did the podcast – in the sheer hope that a single individual will read what I have to say and be able to get something out of it at that moment. That really is all I have ever asked out of Life. To be helpful.

See, I have no desire to become some kind of “well-known” Pagan. Nor am I willing to present myself as a matter expert on anything – except my own Spirituality. I know what works for me. What works for you might be the same, somewhat similar or so different so as not to seem to be the same thing…and all of that is awesome, from where I stand. I’m not writing to denigrate someone else’s Spiritual perspective. I write to discuss what did or did not work for me, in the hopes that it stirs some internal debate for you. So that you might turn over the topic on your own, ask yourself the hard questions, and hopefully be honest in your replies to yourself. All of this feeds into the last aspect of all of this teach classes online thing….cost.

Gimme Your Cash-Flow

There is a ton of debate about paying for services within the Pagan community. How much should you pay for a hand fasting, a Tarot reading, for someone to perform some kind of ritual based on the Wheel of the Year, a Pagan-oriented convention, a weekend gathering, etc etc.?? Now, I am of the mind that you pay for whatever services you are accepting from someone else. An online tarot reading? Sure a twenty-spot (US currency) should sound about right to my ear. Not that I do tarot readings…but that’s another blog post. I have no issues paying for services that I procure from other Pagan folk. But somewhere inside of me, I have an issue charging people for my services. And its something I cannot readily explain. However, if you were looking for the greater sticking point to me doing online classes and teaching and stuff….this is the tip of that iceberg.

So, would I teach an online class? Maybe. At this particular moment, I have nothing planned or even organized. So the appropriate answer would be – not right away, if I was going to. Will I go back into the podcasting world? Maybe. Find me another person or persons that want to do a show together. Not alone. Not ever again. Will I write a book? Sure. Publishing it is another story altogether. 🙂 There is one larger reason why I move with slow reluctance in all of this – I have no desire for fame or even fortune. I only need enough money to live comfortably, and the way I live – its not that expensive in the first place. And fame? That’s certainly not my bag. I just cringe at the idea of being considered a “subject matter expert” on any topic. I am always learning, always finding new methods, changing, improving….I’ll never consider myself an expert. However, I can steal from Duran Duran….I could get used to the idea of being No-no-Notorious….. 😉

–T /|\

Teaching and Learning, My Way

For about the last six weeks, I have been peppered with questions asking if I was going to do what other Pagans have started to do – teaching online. I have tried to be light-hearted about the potential idea – but the true reality is that I am not the kind of teacher that folks would really get much out of way. My way of teaching follows the same perspective of how I learn – it’s about discussion and experience. Honestly, theory blows by itself because there is nothing tangible to hold on to until you try it out. That turns theory into experience and puts this right into my wheelhouse. Makes sense? No? Perhaps, I need to dig a little deeper into how I teach and how I learn…and why this way makes sense to me.

For a little more than three years, I taught Intro to Information Systems in a collegiate setting. The first semester I taught, I had four classes and stuck hard to the material. However, once I got the idea of what the author of the Gods-awful textbook that was assigned to the class was trying to convey – I started adding my own spin to things. I wanted to convey to the students how information systems affected their lives daily in a manner that they never really realized was taking place. I brought in examples of new computer technology, along with computer technology from back in my early hey-day in the 8-bit world. I wanted them to not only see the difference in the early technology versus the new, which afforded them a good, strong look at micronization, but I wanted them to physically hold and inspect the items for themselves. Being able to hold the technology and physically appreciate the differences is about experiencing what is there.

I also spiced up some of the lessons with stories of what I did in my days working in Information Technology Operations. As I told them in class, if there was a way to do it wrong – I’ll bet that I did it. For some of them, being able to find solutions to errors and mistakes – by making errors and mistakes – was a signal that absolute accuracy was not something that could be achieved. If you want an awesome example of that – go back a few years here in the blog and check out my horrid typing mistakes.

And all of that is how I learn best. Regurgitating information from a text or lesson plan teaches me nothing, except to memorize information for the short term. I cannot tell you how much I have learned over a high school diploma, Bachelor’s degree, and two Master’s degrees that I have forgotten shortly after I no longer had a need of that knowledge. I retain what I need to know and lose the stuff that has no real application to what I am trying to complete. I had a strong, wonderful education in Catholic history, theology, and teachings when I was in high school. I wasn’t even a Catholic and I understood things far better than most of my classmates. I graduated high school in 1984 – I can tell you right now, that my recall of that knowledge has been next-to-zero. I started on my Pagan Path in late 1986 and set aside everything I had learned about Catholicism – it just wasn’t important to me any longer…and remains in that category to this day.

I do a lot of code writing in my professional life. I have certain aspects of code memorized. Others, I don’t use as often, so I keep a lot of the code I have written over the years – so I can bring my mind back to it. I have programs that I have written in Pascal, C, C+, C++, SQL, and a few variants of BASIC. I am not a proficient programmer, since I do not understand a lot of the programming language’s syntax, but I understand the logical pattern of loops, structured programming blocks and modular programming. I don’t understand development concepts such as Agile, because I have no need for it. I know how to tackle a program’s basic constructs and move on from there.

How did I manage all of that? Trial and error – basic experience. People have often asked me why I don’t do magick workings or spell work. It’s simple. I see those as a nuclear option – essentially a last resort. I try to solve things with my hands, my brain and my sweat first. Nine-Hundred-and-ninety-nine times out of a thousand, one of those methods or a combination of some sort tends to achieve the results I want. Magick and spell-work I hold off for that one chance in a thousand….and then, I still must ask myself if I want to travel down that route. In other words, do I really need it.

I know the question…why not teach? Because my idea of teaching Druidry and Paganism is more about sitting with you around a late-night campfire and having a casual conversation. On what? You pick the topic. You pick the starting point. Over the course of the conversation, I can assure you that we will wander all over the place – and hit whatever topic you want. But here’s the real hitch to things: I don’t have any answers for you. You’ll find that those are inside of you and have been all the time – you just needed to talk it out with someone that you trust and understand, that would presumably me. Why, I am not sure…but hey, it’s a hypothetical situation. What does it cost? Maybe two or three beers. And a little time. And trusting enough to open yourself to a healthy conversation. To me, this is what teaching is about. Not pouring information INTO you, but helping you get OUT of you what’s already in there and that you instinctively know.

See, teaching online isn’t really the grandest perspective for me. Other folks are wanting to give you knowledge. I just want to talk with you. I cannot see charging you a single dime for something we can do for free on the front porch swing at your house. I’m not arrogant enough to think my ideas and perspective are any better than the folks down the road. The difference is simply that I am here, and you feel trusting enough to talk with me. I’m no guru. I’m no leader. I’m nobody special. I’ve just been on my Pagan Path long enough to keep the drama out of my life as much as I can, and to know when an experience is one I shouldn’t step into. That took time to learn. The only way you’re going to learn it, is to grab that hot pot handle and burn yourself. That’s how you’ll know.

–T /|\

I’m a Teacher or an Example

Am I ready for the real world, will I pass the test?
You know it’s a jungle out there
Ain’t nothin’ gonna stop me, I won’t be second best
But the joke’s on those who believe the system’s fair, oh yeah

Teacher, teacher, can you teach me?
Can you tell me if I’m right or wrong?
Teacher, teacher, can you reach me?
I want to know what’s goin’ on, oh yeah

–.38 Special, “Teacher, Teacher”

The above are some of the lyrics of the song “Teacher, Teacher” by .38 Special from the soundtrack of the movie “Teachers”. This movie came out in 1984, my senior year of high school. The main character is played by Nick Nolte, a burned out Social Studies teacher who actually is able to connect to the high school students he teaches. There’s a ton of other sub-plots to the movie, but its the very end of the movie that I am wanting to reference. Nolte’s character is told that he is crazy for caring about the students, and his response is “I’m a teacher.”

My old classroom

I have noted before that I used to teach in a collegiate classroom – Business and Computer Information Systems. Essentially, a class about how computer systems and applications help human beings make decisions. Not exactly rocket science, but usually over the heads of most people that took the class. I did everything I could to try and demonstrate some of the concepts of the class to the students. I brought in old and new motherboards to show the students how much technology changed – to essentially demonstrate the concept of miniaturization to them. I had them compete against one another in making paper airplanes in a certain fashion, with one group playing the role of quality control – to demonstrate the aspects of the manufacturing process. I even asked them to write concept papers telling me where a chosen technology would be in five years, ten years, fifteen years and twenty years in the future. For some, these teaching methods helped them to understand aspects of the business world and the manner in which technology played a role. For others, the class was just “fun stuff” done by the “weird professor.”

I hear requests from folks who want me to teach them about Druidry, from time to time. When I hear this, I think back to those classes, to the reactions of students, how much fun it was to interact with them, and all the difficulties in getting the students to do the work. And all the blood, sweat and tears – a lot of tears and sweat – that went into planning lessons, practicing delivery methods for standing in front of a white board and lecturing for fifty minutes, and finding ways to hold their attention over that time. My mind begins to wonder if I still have that in me to teach people about Druidry. Especially when I am learning something new about my own Druidry everyday.

Nick Nolte tells the principal that the school wasn’t built for the administrators and the teachers to have jobs. It was built for the students to be educated and have their own experiences in that environment. At the time, the school has been evacuated because of a fire drill. “Half of them won’t go back when the fire drill is over,” retorts the Vice Principal. “But half of them will,” replies Nolte. Its at this moment, that he is told that he is crazy and he responds with the statement of “I’m a teacher.”

And that’s the rub, isn’t it? How can I teach something to others that I am continually learning about myself? At best, I can show them the footfalls that I used to get where I am. I can show them the not-easily-seen piles of shit that they can avoid stepping in. I can bring them right to the door of the labyrinth that is studying, learning and living one’s own Druidry, and that would be as far as I could take them. The rest would be their journey to undertake on their own. Holding anyone’s hand to get to where I am in my own Path of Druidry would do nothing more than cheat them of the experiences that they will need to go further. Even if those experiences are steps of complete failure. Failure is an experience that we learn from, just as we learn from our successes as well. Helping them to build the puzzle that is their own experience would rob them of all the lessons they would need to build a foundation. So my typical response is a polite “no”.

There is also the often quoted adage of “When the student is ready, a teacher will arrive.” I’ve also heard it quoted the other way around, “When a teacher is ready, the student will come.” There are plenty of folks out there, waiting to be students of Paths such as Druidry, Wicca, or even more generically Paganism. However, I see many of those students displaying the same mentality of many collegiate students – wanting the information spoon-fed to them, provided with no mental effort on their part. And when the material gets harder, and the classes require the student to reach up with more effort, most students withdraw from the class and look for an easier teacher next semester.

I’m not ready for these kinds of students. Not because I don’t want to teach lazy students about a Spiritual Path that I find challenging and such a beautiful experience. Its because I want them to be able to prepare themselves for that moment when they stand in front of that labyrinth door, ready to take their first step on their own journey. I will be more than happy to sometimes walk with them on their Path, but it is their Path to walk, not mine. I’ll always be ready to help with advice, when asked. But the puzzles, the symbolism, the meanings will be their to find, assemble and interpret. If I step in and do the work for them, I rob them of the experience.

Am I a teacher? In a collegiate environment, I certainly can be. In a spiritual environment, I’m not so certain. I can help, I can assist, I can advise…but I am not certain that I can teach, aside from being an example.

Going Beyond

Being a teacher can be a tough and somewhat thankless job. For nearly three years, I was an adjunct professor at the community college, where I now work in the administration for. I both dreaded and enjoyed teaching students about information systems and the uses these seemingly perplexing machines have in our society today. I enjoyed explaining how data-driven queries and algorithms actually have a major effect on people’s lives, even when they did not really comprehend that such processes were being placed in how their lives were being lived. However, I also dreaded being in the classroom because I always had a fear that a student might actually be able to showcase their knowledge having gone further than my own. Looking back, I had such a silly notion in that area.

A few weeks ago, the silliness of that notion was on display in the newest Star Wars film. During the dialogue between Yoda and Luke at the Jedi Temple, Luke laments that he cannot be what Rey needs, and Yoda responds:

…we are what they grow beyond. That is the true burden of all masters. –Yoda

My fears were truly unfounded. Should a student find a mastery of the topic that went beyond where I was, it should be a joyful moment. I have poured all of my knowledge and wisdom (a truly debatable term for another time) into my student, in the hopes that they will grow beyond the point that I have managed to reach. The goal is not my vanity and ego as being the font of be-all, end-all knowledge. Because, in all honesty, I continue to grow my own mastery and understanding of the knowledge as I, myself, progress in this existence.

In a manner of speaking, a teacher is considered to also be a leader. The expertise and mastery of an area of knowledge, as well as their wisdom (there’s that word again), places a teacher in a position of potentially leading others. There’s a similar area of responsibility in the hands of the follower, who provides a connection to that leader by allowing that architecture to be placed in the individual (or individuals in the case of larger groups with more than one individual placed in a role of leadership). That dual-feed of the teacher providing information, knowledge, and wisdom, and a student placing their trust and faith in an individual or individuals to lead them correctly can be a very wonderful relationship with the right degree of trust and responsibility coming from both ends of it. To quote from many places, it truly is a manner of perfect love and perfect trust. Too much or too little from either side, and it can be a corrosive and/or abusive relationship (another deer trod to travel down at some other point).

What about flawed individuals? People who have done bad or unsavory things when they were in these positions of teaching or leadership? We need to toss everything they have taught us and start fresh with a better perspective, right? Or we need to abandon that particular Path of knowledge because we placed a leader into a position of being far more than what we should have. Our reasoning for following them is flawed; therefore, everything we learned is flawed, right?

I would say that is not necessarily the case. We do need to stop, look back, and re-evaluate everything. But that is by taking everything one piece at a time, determining what value that bit of knowledge has to us, and then making a decision to keep it, alter it to our needs, or pitch it all together. Plus, I have one another thing to consider: every single one of us is flawed in one manner or another. A significant majority of us has done something wide of the mark in our past to one degree or another. However, before we all start feeling guilty about all the stuff we did when we were teenagers or in our early twenties, let’s consider one other side of Yoda’s statement to Luke in that same scene:

Heeded my words not, did you? Pass on what you have learned. Strength, mastery. But weakness, folly, failure also. Yes, failure most of all. The greatest teacher, failure is. –Yoda

We have all met failure to one degree or another. We all have weaknesses (one of mine just happens to be Bushmills whiskey). And I would daresay that we have all done wrong by someone or many someones at one time or another. The true measure of these incidents in our lives is not what we did, but rather if we have grown beyond those transgressions.

I am a firm believer in second chances. I am also a firm believer that knowledge can grow and become stronger from places where most others would see rot and decay. Time, patience, and so many other elements are important factors to add. Or as I am fond of saying, x and y are important variables, but their strength in the overall argument can dissipate or grow due to the variance of the z-variable (typically referred to as “time”).

As we, Pagans, continue to grow our knowledge and our various traditions, we stand on the shoulders of giants, as Damh the Bard notes in his song “On the Shoulders of Giants”:

So by peace and love we stand,
Heart to heart and hand in hand,
On the shoulders of giants we stand.

We stand on the shoulders of our Elders, our teachers, our leaders – growing our traditions for the coming generations so that our shoulders they will also stand upon – a mighty foundation. Over time, our foundations can wear down, from the equalizer of time, as well as other factors. But even that weathered stone has merit. It may not look as pretty and polished as it did in a time long past, but it is still there. Over time, we may found out that our Elders, teachers, and leaders have done things in their lives that we find to be unsavory or even difficult to comprehend. None of that nullifies the knowledge that was brought to us. Because it is not the individual that provides the legacy, but the knowledge itself. A founding member of a tradition can be found to have done unspeakable, unimaginable things in their lives. None of those actions can nullify the beauty, wisdom, knowledge, compassion, loving attitude, and joyful care that the Priests (men and women – I believe Priest to be a gender-neutral term) in that same tradition have today and what the future Priests will bring as they receive their ordination. I just cannot condemn or color what a tradition is because of the actions of one individual…even a founding member.

As for me, I have my own transgressions in my past that haunt me. No matter how much I want to wipe those away with notations of second chances or excuses, I will live with those for the rest of my life – however long that may be. For those that know what those are, I can only hope that they see the change in who I am today versus that person I was previously. For those that I wronged, and have been able to apologize to, I can only hope that they have forgiven me and accepted those apologies. For those that I cannot make apologies to, for whatever reason, I can only continue to offer my apologies when I pray. And yes, even Pagans pray. And while those transgressions do paint a tone to who I am today; for any future students I have, any followers who may provide me with the reins of some form of leadership — those failures helped me to learn and try to be a better teacher and leader. And through those experiences, as I continue to move further along this nearly thirty-five years on a Pagan Path, I hope that I become the Elder that the Gods have aimed me towards being. After all, I am fallible — like anyone else.

The Data Whisperer

My old classroom
My old classroom

About three and a half months ago, I applied for and was hired for my current position. My title is “Assessment Analyst” – but it functions far more like a Data Analyst. People around the college request data from me, and I access the various data systems that are in place and retrieve the information for them. Then I put it together into a functional format that allows them an easier time to look through the data presented and draw their own conclusions.  Sometimes, I am asked to draw a conclusion from the data points I present as well. Its a fun job. There’s the challenge of wrestling the information from the database – trying to find the right question to ask, and the right syntax to put that request into. In a manner of speaking, I am learning to be a linguist of data. A few days back, a fellow colleague of mine from the Instructional side of the house referred to me as a “Data Whisperer”.

As much as I love my new job, and thrive in the challenges that I am given – I actually miss being a professor. I miss being able to talk with students about various topics, and trying to find underlying correlations and relations to computer systems (I taught a class that was basically an introduction to computer systems and applications). Teaching the subject was one thing, interacting with students about the overall topic and allowing them to elongate the directions of the topic was intriguing. Some students never understood or caught the flow of what I was trying to bring to them, others not only grasped the concept – they took the tiger by the tail and carried conversations even further afield. Together, we spent time walking down the long, well-worn corridors of Computing History, and even find a few side-trails to take into the as yet realized future of computing. Honestly, as a professor, there was never anything more fun than watching the students take the current ability and application of a computing system and its related software programs – and dream up where it could be taken. And what made the conversations even more fun, was getting them to explain the “why” of their visions.

I truly do miss that.

Currently my position is not setup to allow me to teach. Going into the classroom would mean over-time for me – and as an employee at a state-funded institution, over-time is a huge no-no. My boss has promised me up and down that I can eventually return to the classroom – but I am a bit more realistic about things. My position is tied to the funding of another department – a federal Grant program – for the next three years. Until that time has elapsed, my position’s pay designation is not going to change. I can teach online for another college or university – but frankly, online is not the same as face-to-face. The interaction with the student is not quite there, in my opinion.

So why did I take this job?  Well, its a full-time position, as opposed to the part-time pay I was getting. And honestly, its hard making a living at the wages that an adjunct professor is paid. Plus, there was the challenge that the position offered. I do like a good challenge.  One day in the future…its a hope I will continue to have.  In the meantime, I will whisper to the data, and attempt to tickle the stories behind the ones and zeroes out into the open…

 

A Few Thoughts on Awen…Inspiring and Being Inspired

Awen
Awen

I am completely intrigued with folks that not only embrace their creative side, but are completely consumed by it. Growing up, I had my own areas of hero worship. My love of technology had me completely absorbed with anything that Steve Wozniak had a hand in creating. On my home office wall, I have an Apple ][ motherboard that I mounted to a piece of wood. Its there because I see not only the technical side of its setup, but I also am enamored by the sheer beauty of its simplistic design. I am also very much drawn into the musical side of things as well. During my latter high school years, I had two individuals I looked up to – Randy Rhoads and Cliff Burton. I played bass, and really wanted to be able to play like Cliff Burton – and had wanted to play on stage with Randy Rhoads.  Just once. Each of them died in accidents while on tour – Randy in Florida in a single-engine plane crash, and Cliff in Europe in a bus accident. I still look at their contributions to music as a major inspiration in my life.

Back in my late teens and early twenties, it was really easy to look and see the beauty in someone else’s playing of a musical instrument or the creation of some piece of technology. As I got older, I found inspiration in other areas through the creative of others. The movie Dead Poet’s Society left a lasting impression on me in many ways – the creative in the written word, the creativity of the spoken word, the beauty of inspiring others to reach deep within themselves to find who they truly are. And I find myself being able to do just that with some of the students I encounter in my classroom.

I teach a fairly boring subject – Business Information Systems. To be completely honest, there’s not much you can do to excite someone’s passion about finding patterns in data that can be exploited for the increase of a company’s profit margin. I do my best to try and keep the students focused on the material – but I do attempt to inject some other information into the material as well. I try to show them where the information comes from, how much of it is them just freely giving away pieces of their lives in the Social media platforms, and how companies try to draw these patterns into a series of relationships and assumptions of them as consumers. I spend approximately seventeen weeks with the students in a normal semester. And over that course of time, I learn more about them. I eventually find out where they are trying to aim themselves in their lives, what their goals and ambitions are – and most importantly, I eventually get to know what it is that drives them in their lives. I have had students that are writers in my classes, students that want to get into the medical professions so that they can help others, and students that are just trying to find a way to make as much money as they want. I don’t always agree with their dreams and desires, but I always try to help point them in directions where they might get more knowledge to achieve those dreams and goals – or encourage them to take chances by submitting their writing somewhere – and encourage them to look at rejection in the light of

Its not a ‘no‘ – its ‘not yet‘.

And watching them accept a new way of seeing the world, watching them learn how to don their armor against a world that may reject them outright, and in some cases, getting the chance to see them succeed beyond their wildest imaginations – that inspires me. I will be honest, I get paid shit wages for the time I put into the students. With money running tight, I am now seeking a part-time job that will help hold off some of the bills going into the future. I am not looking for a job that will replace my teaching, but rather something I can do to augment what I make as a teacher – so that I can continue to do what I have come to love.

I have said it numerous times before – I never viewed myself as a teacher or as a leader. I am now entering my fourth year of teaching – and have discovered a job that I enjoy doing, and something that inspires me to take chances in areas I had never dreamed of trying. Earlier this year, I submitted one of my poems into the Literature contest put on by the English Department. I not only won first place in my category, but I also won the award for Literary Excellence – a sort of “best in show” award. I have never won any award for my poetry before – but I have never considered my poetry to be that good. I was inspired to take a chance – and its shed light into an area of my world that I had never considered to be more than outlet for my own emotions.

I’m aware that not every single student I have is inspired by the things I say or the material that I show to them. Not everyone finds my teaching style to be engrossing or fun. Everyone sees the world differently – I am merely glad that I can get some people inspired enough to chase their dreams – and am completely excited when I am contacted by former students who have made their dreams into reality. Every semester, I run into former students who are excited to see me in the hallways or in my old classroom – and they want to tell me how well they have done. And I listen, smile and laugh with them over their triumphs. Inside, I am humbled to the point of being on my knees and shedding tears for their joys, their triumphs, and their personal discoveries. There are days that I will stand in my classroom and see disinterested students staring into the distance – and wonder to myself what the fuck am I doing in here? And all of that melts away, when I met students that I managed to touch that strain of Awen within them – and I see how much they smile when they see me. And that’s the moment that I remember – this is what I am doing. This is why I teach. No curriculum will ever approach that. No set of quizzes, tests or Case Study will measure this outcome. And for me, this Outcome is far more important than any letter-grade or number-grade I could ever give to a student’s submitted assignment.

And walking to the window
He throws the shutters out against the wall
And from an ivory tower hears her call
‘Let light surround you’
-‘Surrounded‘ by Dream Theater

Rainbows, White-Lighters, and College Students

Rainbow SplotchesI read quite a bit. In part, it comes with the job of being a teacher in an Information Systems class. I spend huge chunks of my day going through news stories, trying to find material that will help elevate the boring class material that I have into something that’s a little more interesting. I have found that recent news examples tend to be the most helpful medicine I can dose that boring textbook with. But it also means I spend a major amount of my day connected to the internet – rather than being outside where I want to be. This happens to be true during this part of the class semester – the very beginning. Since I am constantly refreshing the material in my class, I rarely teach my class the exact same way each semester. I am constantly removing and adding exercises, trying to see what works best and what doesn’t. Its a lot of work. And to be honest, like many educators in the various levels of the Education System – the pay is not great. But when the students get that “AHA!” moment, where the material clicks in their minds, and it opens up a whole new way of looking at the world around them – there’s not a dollar figure in the world that would conquer that moment. Its that moment that keeps me teaching.

The same can be said for the way I approach my “religious” and “spiritual” Life. I am constantly adding and subtracting to the way I approach these metaphysical matters in my Life. I know what doesn’t work for me… elaborate ritual, ceremonial accoutrements, hardcore dogma…and I am aware at what does work for me…spur of the moment ritual, awareness/awe of Nature, showing for rituals or gathering as I am. But I am always willing to look at new ideas, new ways of doing things…always willing to see the world through a new set of eyes. I am fully aware that my Life is lived by my own rules, along with a respect that others may not see the world the same as I do. Parts of that have had to change though. Coyote and Crow pull me along a Path of their choice. Surely, they have a purpose, something that I am to do. However, I also have a lot of things to learn before I get to that. In exchange for that knowledge, that learning…I am agreeing to whatever task (for lack of a better word) that they may have for me.

In a manner of speaking, this quite similar to being in college. I teach the students about Information Systems, how these systems are created, how they are used, and how they can be abused. My ultimate goal is for them to walk away from the class with a better understanding of the pitfalls, and dangers in today’s information-centric society, but to also see how these tools are useful in business related application. As I relate to them, the tool is not good or bad, its the usage of the tool and the result (both anticipated and unanticipated) that provide it with a moral coating. If the students pick up other lessons, such as a better way to argue their points in their writing assignments, or a better way to shape their position in an oral discussion – that’s great. In exchange for the knowledge that I impart to them, all I ask is that they continue on in their education, be the best student that they can, and whatever their chosen profession – be the innovators of new products, as well as the harbingers of positive change in how we treat our environment. Yes, I do teach a block on Green Energy for computing solutions in this class.

I have always said that I am not much of a teacher, and to a point that is correct. But, in true essence, we all serve as teachers, mentors, facilitators…we all try to help the younger generation avoid some of the pitfalls we experience in our daily lives. Sometimes, they listen – sometimes they don’t. But we all approach people new to our working environments with welcoming arms, and understanding when these new folks are a little naive about their standing in the world around them. Just one final point to ponder…if that’s what we do at work – nurture the new workers along until they finally “get it”…why do we, as Pagans (in the general sense of the term), feel the need to bag on the White-Lighters and Rainbow Children? Most of the time, these folks are new to their Path…and are the naive, wide-eyed innocents we all were when we started down our chosen Paths. Why treat these folks with derision and sarcasm?  Should we not nurture them and help them along their Path as well? Imagine how different your own experience might have been, if someone else had (or had not) been there to help nurture you on your Path. Just a thought…