"Success is not a doing process, it's a becoming process."
Jim Rohn said that, and the quote in its entirety hangs in both of my offices.
I also think education is a becoming process. And becoming -- personal growth, change -- can be a hard thing to measure.
Tests can measure a change in knowledge, and there's certainly an important place for that. One thing I've noticed from all the heated debate regarding education and testing, though, is that people aren't really debating about tests. What they really care about is what education is helping our children and students become.
Focusing on tests can make students become good test takers (and/or become really anxious students, depending on how you look at it). But tests can also help assess where a student is at, how much they're learning, and where there may be gaps on their road to becoming. Tests also help ensure certain qualifications before someone can do certain things, like getting a driver's license, or certain professions, like becoming a doctor, lawyer, or nurse. I think most of us are okay with preparing students for these kinds of tests and helping them become good test takers in order to get past these hurdles that, like it or not, do and will exist.
Becoming only good test takers, however, at the expense of real growth, is what really scares us.
I think most people on every side of the debate really do want the same thing -- for students to become educated and engaged citizens, excited and able to contribute their skills and talents to the world.
I know that's what I want.
There's a lot of debate on how to get there, and I certainly don't have the answers. But what I do know is this: Education is a becoming process, and becoming takes a long time.
I was recently thinking about this as I prepared a speech for a group of California career counselors who work with students from middle school through community college. I decided to share my defining "career moments" from middle school on -- the moments that had the biggest impact on getting me where I am today.
What astounded me was how many moments and great people there have been, as well as how integrated, connected, and long the process of discovering your career in and after school actually is.
Formal education should aim to help people prepare for a career. That is obviously important (and especially crucial when we talk about education helping break cycles of poverty). I also think the becoming process is just as important, because the person you become directly impacts the career success you can have -- it's almost impossible to separate the two.
But how do you measure who someone has become after an education, a class, a teacher, a degree? How do you measure hope, trust, citizenship, critical thinking, art, respect, self-esteem, or a desire for growth and contribution?
I'm no social scientist or testing expert, but I'm guessing this would be a very difficult feat. Sure, something could be created, but could it really capture the full depth and breadth of the lifetime of becoming that is growth, growing up, and education?
I don't think so. It's too complex. Too variable. And yet it's crucial.
I had this English teacher who died before I was able to tell her what an impact she really had on helping me "become" in my life. She died before I was able to realize how large that impact really was -- it was hard to see immediately because she had shaped the person I was becoming; becoming is a slow, gradual process. It can't be quickly measured. And sometimes it's not quickly realized.
While this English teacher helped me become many things -- a better writer, a better thinker, a better researcher, a better student -- she also literally helped me visualize what I could become, something more than I ever thought possible.
She helped me do this via an activity where she took our entire 9th-grade English class through a guided visualization of what our life would be like in 10 years. She played soft meditative music in the background, and she walked us slowly through imagining our future self: What did we look like? Where were we living? What were we doing? What was our job? How did we feel? What did it smell like? What did it look like?
If I had any painting skills I would be able to paint for you exactly the picture I saw. I can still see it in my mind, clear as I can see this computer in front of me.
The image I saw was of me as a writer, surrounded by flowy white curtains (which I actually have in my new office, I'm just now realizing) sitting on a couch, working from home, my condo being cooled by a salty ocean breeze dancing through the open window (I was living on the beach, obviously; still working on making that part a reality).
This image is burned into my brain. And it was so much more than a passing exercise. It honestly made me think I could actually become that person, A Writer. Because, through visualization, I already had.
Sure, the reality of getting to that place would be (and has been, and will be) very hard. But in that moment, the first hurdle I needed to get over before I would be ready to get over the others was to believe that I could become that person.
That, to me, is the first step in any good education, formal or informal. You have to believe you can become the person you want to become and that the education you're pursuing will help you get there.
This teacher helped me become who I am today before I even became it. Becoming is a long process, but she found a short cut. She helped me "become" instantly, and then the rest of my education became a process in becoming someone I actually felt like I could be, because I had already lived it in my mind.
She also taught me so much about writing itself and the vital skills I would need to become who I wanted to become. She praised the skills I already had, the natural sense of good writing I'd gained from being such an avid reader, and yet was still liberal with her red pen, showing me where I could improve.
She taught me how to do a big research project, how to break a big thing into small parts, strategies I used when writing my first book.
She also taught me things that helped me pass tests, eventually an AP test. She didn't do this all in one class, one course, or one semester, though. I had her for two years.
Education is a becoming process, and becoming takes time.
I'm glad she taught me things that helped me pass tests. But that's not what I would have told her if I'd had the chance to thank her in person before it was too late. I would have thanked her for all the things she gave me that can't be measured on tests. I would have thanked her for helping me become a writer in every single way.
Don't wait to thank a teacher, or anyone who's been crucial to your becoming process. Think about who you are today, who you have become. Who has made that possible? Say thank you, and explain why. (Feeling awkward about reaching out to someone you haven't talked to in a while or saying thank you to someone you talk to all the time? Just tell them you read this article and it made you think of them... trust me. You. Will. Make. Their. Day.)
And then, don't stop becoming. Be the kind of teacher she was, no matter what your profession. Become someone who helps others become. Grow so you can help others grow. See more in you so you can tell others what you see in them.
Education is a becoming process. And I think you can tell education is working when students become the kind of people who realize that the best life is one where education -- the process of becoming -- never ends.
Thank you Mrs. Hernandez for helping me fall in love with writing, with becoming, and with education. Thank you for giving me skills. Thank you for giving me encouragement. Thank you for helping me understand how much work is required of becoming. And thank you, so much, for helping me become that person you gave me permission to dream about thirteen years ago.