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The Beauty of Ordinary

July 4, 2012

Teacher Musings:
Mid-way through the school year I was chatting with a couple of my students in a coffee shop after one of our outings to a local bookstore to pick out some young adult novels.  We were talking about the aspects of school that frustrate them, like learning things they don’t think are relevant, or feeling pressure to be perfect that made them want to just shut down.  So I asked them, “well, what do you want in your future?  What do you want your life to look like in 5-10 years?”  I expected to hear the usual things I hear from my students: being a doctor, being a lawyer, being a nurse, finished with college, etc.  And one of them answered the most surprising, interesting and flattering way.  She said “Well, I want what you have Ms. L-P.  A job I like, a family, a child.  I want that.”

Wow.  You could have knocked me over with a feather, not just because I didn’t know she saw me and my life that way, but also because what she said was so unheard of.  We tell our students all the time that “they are the future” but when we give examples of that, we are often talking about leaders or “change-makers,” exceptionally successful professionals, etc.  This student recognized the beauty of being ordinary, or aspiring for ordinariness, even as it was embodied by her ordinary teacher.

There was an article in the New York Times recently about the benefits of being ordinary, entitled Redefining Success and Celebrating the Ordinary.  It was a great article that celebrates what we think of as ordinary, and argues that, in an age where so many people feel the pressure and need to be “extraordinary” we might need to take a look at the value to society most of us bring in our boring little lives that are rarely celebrated.  But there is another aspect to being “ordinary” that this article did not pick up on that is very, very relevant to my students.

If supporting oneself in a professional or field that one enjoys, and maybe having a family is ordinary, than my students who have this life are often extraordinary.  My students are immigrants and refugees from war-torn countries.  My students have often grown up in poverty.  My students have taken care of young children, households and parents at a time when other teens are just getting to make their first unaccompanied trip to the mall.  My students have worked hard and studied hard in school when they have no good place to go study.  My students will likely enter college needing to take remedial classes, and they might be one of the few people of color in a sea of white faces for the first times in their lives.

I’m flattered that my student found my life to be a life worth aspiring to.  I’m proud to embrace my “ordinary-ness” and this was especially touching as I was about to embark on a year dedicated entirely to my family in a way that society does not celebrate, but also is definitely not ordinary.  But, more importantly, I’m glad that she sees value not in money or prestige, but in doing something you love and having people you love in your life.  That is something we should all aspire to.

Yummy Stuff:
Well, I haven’t been developing a ton of new recipes this week, but stay tuned for next week, when we get our CSA box of veggies – I plan on trying a few new creations!  In the meantime, enjoy this recipe that I posted a few years ago that is a great way to enjoy some beans and greens!

Gratin of White Beans with Herbs


3 1/2 cups of navy or Great Northern beans (white beans)
1 TB olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 bunch of greens (kale, collard, beet greens, etc.)
1 fresh tomato chopped
1/4 cup veggie stock
1/4 cup unsweetened soy milk (with 1 TB of cornstarch added)

3/4 cup panko bread crumbs
2 green onions finely chopped
3 TB olive oil
1 TB fresh rosemary
1 tsp dried thyme
1/4 cup parsley chopped

1) Sautee the onion and garlic in olive oil over medium heat for 5 minutes.  Add the greens and stir, then cover until greens are wilted. Add tomato and cook 5 minutes more, stirring frequently
2) Add stock, soymilk and cornstarch (already dissolved in the soymilk) and stir for 2 minutes
3) Pour the veggie mixture over the beans in a casserole dish and stir gently to mix
4) Mix topping ingredients together and sprinkle on bean mixture. Bake at 375, uncovered for 30 minutes

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