One of my favorite Emily Dickinson poems begins with the line ” I dwell in possibility.” Now some of you are thinking, “Oh no! Mrs. Bauer is going to talk about poetry." Yes I am, but the poetry of life. There are a number of ways to interpret what Dickinson might have meant by the phrase “I dwell in possibility” but I have always thought that Dickinson was talking about the power of the imagination and an expansive mind. As a teacher I “dwell in the possibility” of a different kind because I have faith in the potential of all of my students. When people ask me what I do and I say, "I teach art to 5th through 9th graders," and this is the humorous part, I often get this response, "Oh no! They are CRAZY!" People look really frightened, as if I said I do the filming for Shark Week on the Discovery Channel.
And I have to enlighten them about what a wonderful age group I teach. While on some days it does seem like Chaos Theory is the rule of the universe in the art room, it is not really dangerous except when I hand out sharp tools or there is a lacrosse ball whizzing by my head. And I have the privilege and the fun of watching young people go from this:
I apologize to those of you who joined the class after 5th grade but we will have to wait for your soon-to-be seen baby picture to consider your physical transformation. But the pictures only tell part of the story, and what is not seen in these photographs is how your minds are growing. Being witness to the moments when a light goes on in a student’s head – metaphorically – just never gets old for me. For a teacher, watching a student reach for a big idea, have a stunning insight into a novel, make a drawing they thought they couldn’t do, or write eloquently about a photograph with a depth that brings tears to my eyes is to “dwell in possibility.” Or the moment when the teenage boy who usually answers my greeting with a grunt says instead, “I'm okay, Mrs. Bauer. How are you?” Or when I see a student take a chance and perform on stage and be fully committed. For a teacher, that is truly living in the realm of possibility.
Some students may realize it already or some are still waking up, but all of you dwell in possibility. You are in the middle of it and the road stretches out ahead of you. And as if all of that growth is not enough, you are also in the midst of profound emotional growth. Recently on the New York City trip, one of my students said to me with a knowing smile, “Mrs. Bauer, I am practicing empathy.” That is a great thing to do, to try to think beyond your own needs. Writer George Saunders describes his greatest regrets as “his failures of kindness.” His choice of words is significant – a failure. It is not that he is a bad person but that he missed an opportunity, a possibility if you will.
I have a friend and I think you would agree, who never fails to be kind. And he has been a part of your lives this year. Mrs. Pratt’s dog Otis! By the way, this is what Mr. Griffin wants you to do tomorrow. Shake hands and look at the camera!
A dog’s life is a microcosm of our own and we have watched Otis go from this:
Okay, maybe his intellectual growth is still a work in progress and his idea of possibility is that someone may have a dog biscuit for him, but Otis is patient...with everyone! I love the way dogs insist on greeting other dogs and people. Dogs just have to say hello and sometimes they bring people together. I have a neighbor who hasn’t been very friendly over the many years we have lived in close proximity. But then he got a dog, and the dog insists on saying hello. He is a happy little dog and when he sees me, he does this – points himself toward me and refuses to budge. Nope! We are going to say hello to Mrs. Bauer, and my neighbor has no choice unless he drags the dog down the sidewalk. This dog has forged a connection between us by simply insisting that we acknowledge each other. Now you may be asking yourself “Why is Mrs. Bauer talking about dogs right now?” and Emily Dickinson might well be asking the same question if she were here. The point is this: whether you are joining a new school community or you are staying at Shore for another year, I urge you to be aware of everyone around you and to make kindness your practice, as yet another way to dwell in possibility. I guarantee that extending yourself to the people who surround you will enrich your life as much as it enriches theirs.
And try to be a good listener – like Otis!
Dickinson’s poem ends with the line “The spreading wide my narrow Hands - To gather Paradise.” It calls to mind a lovely thought that the metaphysical riches of the world, those that are unseen - are abundant and are right before us – by dwelling in possibility. It has been my pleasure and my privilege to accompany you on this portion of your education, to live in possibility with you, and to cheer you on while I have watched you grow in all ways.
I love you guys and will miss you!