Saturday, April 12, 2014

Old Dogs

I have been teaching in Howard County for eleven years. When I first started traveling from school to school I sat at a desktop computer and went on Yahoo maps and printed out every single connection. Timing is important. If I can't get between schools in well under thirty minutes, I can't make my schedule work. I kept all my printouts in a folder in my car until I memorized the routes. Now I have a smartphone and an ipad and directions are much easier to come by.

This year I got to travel to a brand new school: Ducketts Lane. I figured a route from Oakland Mills to Ducketts Lane in only minutes. It's a beautiful school; the teachers and staff I work with are great. The kids are wonderful. But due to a fluke in scheduling, I have to teach there an hour earlier than I normally teach. Not the end of the world, but I almost always arrive wishing I had more coffee.

Every other week as I would follow my plotted route I'd grumble that there was no convenient place to quickly grab coffee. "This place is in the middle of nowhere," I'd be thinking. "How can you build a new school with no access to coffee?"

Friday I left extra early to scrutinize each place along the way for coffee possibilities. Nothing. And I arrived at my turnoff with a good half-hour to spare. "Well, heck!" I thought. "I'll just keep going for awhile on Route 1 and see what's out there."

In less than five minutes, to my right: Dunkin Donuts. Boom.

Right up until that moment I would have sworn there was no place nearby to get coffee. Why? Because I had plotted my route, I only drove one route, and it wasn't there. Not to make a religious experience out of this, but the solution to my problem appeared only after I looked at things in a new way.

People coming to the school from the other direction, for instance, would have easily seen the answer than I was looking for. But, of course, I never asked because I already knew the answer.

Also on Friday, I participated in an online discussion about Frank Hecker's series of blog posts on Symphony Woods. Overall, the discussion was thoughtful, and the tone civil. However, it was clear that one of the participants was capable of looking at the topic in only one way. He had plotted his route, and he only traveled that one route. He was not open to other routes because he already knew the answer.

It made me think of myself and how I had been so sure I knew everything when I had never bothered to drive even five minutes beyond my turnoff. How often do we do that in life? How often do we forget that things can be approached from more than one direction? How easy is it to plot one route and forsake all others, even in the face of obvious drawbacks in our choice?

Pushing myself off my route actually made me a little nervous. What if this makes me late? What if I can't find a good place to turn around? But the reward for going "off-map" was more than an energizing cup of coffee. I learned something I had been wanting to know for a long time:

"Hey! That's where Cindy's Soft-Serve is!"

And now, a whole world of possibilities is open to me, just in time for warmer weather.


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