Saturday, May 10, 2014

Life Is Not A Race

Post by Matt Edwards: Matt is in his first year as School Social Worker at Bettendorf High School, after previously serving as a classroom paraprofessional. Matt also coaches the boys tennis team.

When my principal asked me to contribute to this blog, I felt intimidated because one, I was not even sure what a “blog” was.  I would not describe myself as tech savvy or a social media inficiato , I’m a School Social Worker, I’m a face-to-face “people person”. Second, I was so proud and honored to be asked to contribute a “social worker's” view.  Every day I get to work with the most amazing teachers, guidance team and paras.  From cafeteria staff to security staff, I get to work in a place that everyone in the building cares and is passionate about helping young people.   See, that is what my real passion in life is, my calling if you will, to help young people flourish and grow, to help them develop and reach their dreams and a better life.

I think my earliest memories of caring about life’s injustices and wanting to change the world came when I was just a young boy and I watched the classic movie “Roots” with my mother.  The principles I hold dear as a Social Worker such as treating all with dignity, respect, and with justice and fairness were ingrained in me as a very young child.  That’s just what my mother taught me, we cared about others, it was our duty, the right thing to do.  Those principles I learned as a young child and later more fully developed though MSW education from the “Harvard of the Midwest”, Washington University, in St. Louis, MO., fuels and guides my daily work as a high school Social Worker.  I recently spoke at our school’s annual  Student’s 1st Banquet which is the most amazing, inspiring, powerful and uplifting rendition of the human spirit overcoming challenge and strife.  Regular students, students who may never get any other recognition in their school career or life for that matter, get honored in front of teachers, administrators, their families, and their peers.  I shared my story that night with the purpose of letting the students in the room know that I to had felt down and out, unconnected, depressed, was once a high school dropout, a college dropout, and an overweight, unhealthy bachelor for most of my life.  I shared that I to had spent times in my life not wanting to be lonely anymore or even live.  Students in dark holes must see a flicker of light, they must be shown and told over and over, “you can survive, you can change, you can improve your sometimes bleak circumstances, and you can obtain a better future.”

Along with being a Social Worker for a long time, I have been a Tennis Coach almost as long.  As a coach, my best attributes are not the x’s and o’s of the game, but rather,  the development of players to believe in themselves more and to achieve and dream bigger than they ever thought possible, that’s what I’m fairly good at. My  social work job description lists a lot of technical and fancy roles and responsibilities, as do probably the teachers and administrators formal job descriptions in the building.  Yes, I do a lot of community resource development, student counseling, cognitive and behavioral interventions, and social skills, but my most important role and that of everyone in our school building is one of simply, “cheerleader”.  Every student deserves to have someone in their corner saying how great they are, how they make our lives as professional educators and change agents better because we get to work and interact with them every day and to remind them that despite how bad this moment in their lives might be, we know, we believe and we want better for them.  Students across the academic and socio-economic spectrum need someone to walk this journey with them.  I get to do this every day with the greatest kids and in the most caring, uplifting, positive work environment I have ever experienced, a high school.   Aside from my wife and two girls, the greatest joy of my life is to work in my school, for my school district, for my community and our children. I often share with the teens I work with, sometimes, the greatest things happen to us, when we first just  let go of the stresses, pressures, guilt’s, fears, assumptions, consuming us.  This in turn might make them more available for positive things to enter their lives.  Having my wife enter my life when and how she did, having our family, my School Social Worker job, I have become a big believer in destiny and the stars aligning just right.  However, it often takes hard work, some luck, and great positioning of oneself to sometimes fully see the stars align!! Destiny is NOT just standing around waiting for our life to be great; it takes great effort, want and opportunity.

My belief, my message,  my work with students is that change is possible. A better you, a better life is possible, regardless of the mistakes a student might have made in the past or how low or overwhelmed they feel today, how challenged they feel by school or home, family or friend, the sun will rise tomorrow. As long as they have breath, a dash of hope and a trickle of desire, everything and anything can be obtained and achieved.

A couple of months ago I attended the visitation for a friend and co-worker who lost their mother.  I was deeply saddened for my friend’s loss and I myself was very reflective on my own mother’s mortality. But in this sad moment of grief and loss. I found meaningful and inspirational words on a display by Bonnie Mohr, who writes in part “Life is Not a Race, but indeed a Journey. Be honest, work hard, be choosey, say thank you, I love you and great job to someone each day.  Love life and what you’ve been given, it is not an accident.  Search for your purpose and do it as best as you can. Dreaming does matter.  It allows you to become that which you aspire to be.”  That’s just what so many of the students I get to work with are trying to do, they are aspiring  and willing  themselves to be better personally or academically, despite challenge, hardship or some limitation in their lives.  A student’s spirit to change and improve can best be explained as the poet Albert  Camus writes, “In the midst of winter, an oh what a winter we Iowans have had, I found there was within me an INVINCIBLE summer, and that makes me happy.  For it says that no matter how hard the world pushes against me, within me, there’s something stronger, something better, pushing right back.”
I deeply desire for all the students I have the pleasure to work with on a daily basis who may be facing life’s sometimes unjust and unfair moments, who may be challenged by poverty or personal challenges physically, mentally or emotionally, to search deep within and find their own “INVINCIBLE Summer”.

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