Guest Entry--On Getting off the Escalator

It's Matt. This may happen on occasion since I on occasion have something to say but would never write regularly enough for a blog. Hence the cameo.

The school I'm working at has nine floors. That's how HK works; It's a vertical city for practical and philosophical reasons. With so many people, such rugged topography, and only so much land to 'reclaim', things can only go up. I work on the eighth floor. So I begin each morning with only one place to go: up. It's a nice fact.

My favorite stairwell is an external one that winds up the outside corner of our building. I love that it spirals and that I have to tread eight flights. It's long enough that I become somewhat contemplative by the fifth floor. This was the case the other morning. In between floors six and seven, as I rounded the pillar and turned toward another glimpse of HK and the harbor, before the stairs snaked right and back toward the building, I realized that I'd stepped off the escalator. I was winded, had broken a sweat and had almost reached the eighth floor, so it should have been obvious that I wasn't on an escalator, but it wasn't. I realized that our entire Hong Kong experience is about stepping off the escalator.

This is exceedingly ironic. I moved from a pastoral, idyllic, rural context and a very traditional, comfortable high school to an uber-metropolis whose reputation is banking, shopping, and efficiency and work at a prestigious, cutting-edge high school whose scores and college acceptances are unavoidably enviable...to be able to reflect? But it's true. For all that HK is, for all of the things I have to learn as a teacher new to this school, new to international schools, new to the International Baccalaureate Middle Years Program and Diploma Program, new to five different classes, new to those five classes' books, new to teaching five different grades, new to living abroad, and new to fatherhood, HK is a pause. It is a momentary stepping off to have a clearer sense of where I've been, where I might be going, and where I'd like to go. Mind you, I'm working as much as I did my first year of teaching, so it's not like I have a box of books to read on a tropical island where epiphanies drop like coconuts. But I've been eating a lot of food seasoned with coconut, and it's having an effect. 

I'm realizing that I'm 30 years old, that I've lived a bit under a third of my life, that the nature of my discipline, English, can be about what it means to live well, and that I have a responsibility to teach and show Finn what living well means. On the other hand, it's easy to neglect to teach the important things in life, and it's easy to be too tired and distracted to live them out.

I'm lucky. My students are so driven I can worry less about their learning what they need to know for their exam; they work and worry enough to cover that. So I'm left to ask, How will this book or task help them enjoy learning, live better, be a better person, or gain the courage and know-how to change the world? For some this is airy-fairy stuff, but I think it's the only way to endeavor to begin the day. It's all up from there.




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