Door 44 Jewelry is nearly one year old, and this year has been far more successful than I dared to hope. So, I’d like to say thanks to all of the amazing friends, relatives, customers, and fans responsible for the success of my fledgling little jewelry business. Every like, share, pin, comment and purchase makes a difference. You’ve helped me spread the word about Door 44 in countless different ways, and now I’d like to give back to you!
I’ll be giving away one piece of my handcrafted jewelry every Saturday between today (I just announced the first winner an hour ago) and December 17th! To enter these drawings, just ‘like’ and share each weekly giveaway post, which will be pinned to the top of Door 44 Jewelry’s Facebook page. Be sure to ‘like’ that page as well so you’ll be sure to catch all of the latest drawing updates!
This piece was originally published on October 8, 2016 at door44jewelry.com. You can find more of my most recent blog posts, as well as all of the jewelry I currently have for sale there, so please stop by. Also, follow Door 44 Jewelry on Facebook for exclusive holiday deals!
A couple of decades ago, back when I was still young and idealistic, I naively believed that hard work was all it took to get ahead in life. So, I worked. Hard. Pretty much non-stop, as a matter of fact. By the ripe old age of twenty-six, I was a card-carrying member of workaholics anonymous.
I’m joking, of course. I don’t even know if there is a such thing as workaholics anonymous. If there is, I’m not making fun of the organization or its members, so please don’t send me hate mail! I’m just trying to make the point that work was my sole focus at that juncture, and it was so at the expense of all other aspects of my life. Personally, spiritually, and physically, I suffered from a rather extreme and persistent case of imbalance.
That imbalance took a heavy toll for ten long years before I finally reached my breaking point. All it took was for one particularly clueless supervisor to hit a very sensitive nerve in the midst of a difficult and tedious project, and I snapped. I had quite a flair for drama back then, so I didn’t just burn that bridge. I blew it up.
Career suicide is the technical term, I believe, but for me it proved to be the most liberating day of my life to date. I might have killed what I know now was always a dead-end career anyway (hindsight being 20/20 and all), but with that same strike of the match that lit the dynamite that destroyed the career I’d spent ten years building, I also revived a long lost connection to a person I’d neglected for a very long time: Me.
I hardly recognized my own reflection in the mirror the next morning. I looked and felt ten years younger. And as I marveled at the reflection of the young woman looking back at me, I felt something else for the first time in many years. Hope.
The main take away from that experience is that I know now that I can’t let my life get so wildly out of balance before I take time to refocus and rebalance. And that’s the thing about balance, right? It’s elusive. You find it and then you lose it, and then you find it again. Sometimes you hit a sweet spot and it’s like the heavens open up. You can almost hear the angels’ singing while you bask in the magical sensation of perfect balance. And then, poof! It’s gone. Again.
I launched Door 44 Jewelry just over eight months ago, and as new ventures are wont to do, it’s thrown my life out of balance. Not in a bad way, necessarily, and certainly not to the degree that I’ve experienced in the past. It’s been enough of an imbalance, though, that I’ve had to remind myself to take a breath and refocus.
While examining my transition from jewelry hobbyist to full-time working artist this week, one important area of imbalance that I’ve discovered is that I’m too isolated creatively. I have many friends who are artists and fellow creative minds, but none of them live within a 60-mile radius of my current residence. Although I know the city in which I currently live is brimming with artists, I’ve yet to make a meaningful connection with any of them.
That’s my fault, of course. I consciously made the decision to get my online shop up and running smoothly before tacking on the extra challenges and complications that come with selling locally at craft fairs and seasonal artisan markets. To further complicate matters, I also have family time and my daughter’s extracurricular activities competing with my personal need to expand my own creative social circle.
Something has to give. Competing priorities must be reprioritized, and I need to make time and space in my life for some local artist friends—maybe even a mentor. I’ve had to remind myself this week that balance is active. People tend to believe it’s passive, so they mistakenly think the key to finding balance is to remain still. The truth, though, is that stillness is the surest way to lose your balance.
I realized recently that I’m guilty of this myself. For months I’ve been telling myself to be patient and to wait for the right time or the right person to come along, but the reality is that the time is now and the person I’m ultimately looking to connect with is me.
As counterintuitive as it might seem, the key to finding your balance before the wobble becomes unrecoverable (as was the case with my former career before I wiped that slate clean) is to keep moving—maybe even a little faster than you feel comfortable going. Lean into it and trust that you’ll find that elusive balance once again. You know you will. After all, you’ve been doing it since you first learned to walk.
Life is short, and it’s easily thrown off balance. All you can do is keep moving forward. Make space for the things you need in order to rebalance (some local creative friends, in my case), and pursue what you love with the knowledge that you’ll always catch your balance, sooner or later. And then enjoy that balance for as long as it lasts before you lose it again, because you will lose it again. That’s just the way of it.
Balance isn’t a destination. It’s a process.
Can you believe it’s already the first of October? This year has been an absolute whirlwind for me! After far too many years of sitting on the fence when it came to selling my jewelry, I finally opened an Etsy shop on January 28th of this year. The response, thankfully, has been overwhelmingly positive, so I am now in the process of formalizing my business structure and taking a more strategic approach to growing Door 44 Jewelry into my primary source of income.
A major part of my business strategy, of course, is a formal door44jewelry.com website, which I recently launched. As luck would have it, though, my current business cards reference beyonddoor44.com. So I can’t simply pull the plug on this site. Not yet, anyway. For the time being, I’ll be maintaining both sites. I’ll probably still write some occasional blog posts here, but the blog at door44jewelry.com will be the primary location for all jewelry-specific blog posts for now.
Eventually, my goal is to let go of the beyonddoor44.com domain and move door44jewelry.com to a WordPress platform. I’ll get there, but the transition will likely happen gradually over this coming year. Step by step, brick by brick, I’m inching closer every day to achieving my full vision for Door 44 Jewelry. And I’m thoroughly enjoying the process along the way.
Life is short. Do something you love!
Do stones have healing properties? I don’t know for certain. It sounds implausible at first blush, yet people (mostly indigenous people) have believed in the healing power of stones for thousands of years.
I’ve always been drawn to stones for some reason, but I always assumed it was simply because I appreciated their natural beauty. I know people who say they can sense the energy of stones and crystals. I’m not one of those people–at least not consciously. I don’t physically feel or sense energy in a way that I can clearly articulate, but I have come to realize through many years of dealing with emotionally incongruous people that I am extremely sensitive to emotional energy. I seem to be something of an empath in that regard. I pick up on the emotions of pretty much everyone around me, which certainly explains why I tend to prefer the company of animals.
Animals are masters of emotion. They move fluidly through a full emotional spectrum, and they’re able to live in the moment. People, on the other hand, have a strong tendency to live in either the past or the future where they cling stubbornly to emotional extremes. This inability to live in the moment and process a healthy range of emotions fluidly results in emotional incongruity. We all have that one friend who smiles and jokes loudly (often inappropriately) to mask “negative” emotions like grief or anger that she simply doesn’t want to acknowledge.
It’s those masked emotions that I seem to absorb like a sponge. I actually don’t have many emotionally incongruent people in my life anymore because I’ve spent the past ten years systematically eliminating them from my inner circle, but there was a time when I was completely surrounded by them; and they literally sucked the life out of me. For years I wondered how I could feel so emotionally drained while I was surrounded by other people yet I immediately felt better the moment I was alone. I blamed it on the fact that I was an introvert, and (naturally) I assumed that it was my fault that I felt so overwhelmingly sad or angry when I was surrounded by people who appeared to be happy, albeit superficially.
You might be wondering right now what any of this has to do with stones, and that is in fact the same question that I’ve been asking myself. For the past three years, I’ve managed to live inside a happy little isolation bubble. For the first time in my adult life, I’m not working outside of my home. I’ve had very little contact with anyone besides my husband and our daughter during that timeframe, so I’ve enjoyed the luxury of steering clear of most of the emotional pollution out there in the world.
These three years have been a social sabbatical of sorts, but as my business grows, I’m finding it more and more necessary to interact with the outside world. I’m being invited to teach classes and to be a vendor at local craft shows. I’m getting more requests for custom work and private commissions, which involve a great deal of back and forth communication to hash out the details of the customer’s jewelry design. I’m toying with the idea of writing tutorials or perhaps starting a YouTube channel to share my own jewelry making tips and tricks. Additionally, I’m starting to get involved with my daughter’s school now that she’s attending a unique little charter school. Her school is growing at an alarming rate due to the phenomenal academic achievements of its high school students, so the PSA is desperately in need of parent volunteers to help support the teaching staff.
Basically, I’m having to come to terms with the fact that, whether I fully understand how emotional energy works or not, I am an emotional empath. Avoiding prolonged contact with all but my closest friends and family members certainly made coping with this innate ability easier and more comfortable over the past three years, but it’s become increasingly clear to me since I opened my Etsy shop that social avoidance is no longer practical. I’m going to have to learn how to function in a world of emotionally incongruent people in order to grow my business, so I’m looking to the energetic properties of stones to help me stay balanced in a decidedly imbalanced society.
Not surprisingly, then, my jewelry is starting to move away from the glass beads that I’ve always loved. I’ve recently found myself drawn more to gemstone beads in general and jasper beads in particular. About a month ago, I went on a bit of a shopping spree and splurged on more than a dozen strands of beautiful gemstone beads. It’s the largest single supply purchase I’ve made since opening my Etsy shop in January.
Almost none of the strands I bought were marked with the actual gemstone name, so once I got all those gorgeous beads home, I set about working to identify them by name. I was somewhat surprised to discover that the vast majority of the stones I chose are various types of Jasper. Once I began researching the energetic properties of Jasper, though, I realized that I’d intuitively chosen precisely the kind of stones I need at this particular phase of Door 44 Jewelry’s development.
Jasper, it seems, is widely regarded for its grounding and balancing characteristics. Deeply connected to the earth, and used for thousands of years in various cultures around the world, it’s said to be a warm, nourishing, and protective stone that balances the feminine yin and masculine yang energies. These energies are unquestionably out of balance in our society presently. One only needs to turn on the news to see the latest antics of two of the most wildly inappropriate presidential candidates in our nation’s history to see clear evidence of that fact.
I don’t know if stones really do have healing properties or not. What I do know is that I’ve been powerfully drawn to various forms of Jasper lately, and I’ve felt almost compelled to create Jasper jewelry over the past couple of months. I’ve also been wearing Jasper jewelry almost exclusively in that same period, and I’ve noticed that I feel generally calmer and more confident and grounded while wearing it.
Maybe my jewelry can help restore a healthier energetic balance in the world. Maybe not. I won’t go so far as to claim that the stones I’m currently using in my jewelry have magical healing powers. They are pretty, though. Perhaps the simple act of wearing or gifting a piece of lovingly handcrafted jewelry made with a beautiful natural stone will do nothing more than make someone happy. And maybe more happiness in the world is ultimately the answer to restoring balance.
I spent nine years of my former life as a corporate drone working for a telecom company in Alaska. During that period, the company went on to become one of the first fully integrated telecom service providers in the country. Professionally, those were some of the best years of my career. Personally? Not so much.
I was wired to the hilt. Even back then when wireless technology was relatively new and still extremely limited in rural Alaska, I was virtually accessible to my employer around the clock. I worked from home. I worked from the office. I traveled to some of the most remote regions of the state, and I was always tethered to my job by technology.
To say my personal life suffered would be to imply that I actually had a personal life. I didn’t. I was married to my job, and not necessarily unhappily so. Not for the first seven or eight years, anyway; but as unbalanced marriages inevitably do, mine eventually crumbled. I was struck with the harsh realization on a redeye flight home to Alaska after visiting family in Colorado that, for someone so thoroughly connected through technology, I was woefully disconnected from the things that actually matter in life: friends, family, nature–the kinds of relationships that actually feed a spirit rather than isolate the spirit with the illusion of connectedness while slowly starving it to death.
That startling realization marked the beginning of the end of my marriage to my employer. I quit my job a few months later, and I spent most of the following year getting reacquainted with myself. I disconnected all but the most essential communication services, and I refocused all of my attention on things that actually mattered, like my hopes, dreams, and creative impulses. I also moved back to Colorado that year, and thank goodness I did because I’d have never met and married my husband had I not cut those cords.
Today marks the tenth anniversary of my return to Colorado. Ten years of being mostly unplugged from technology, and now I find myself being steadily reeled back into that tangled web. I suppose that’s a hazard of starting an online business–or any business, for that matter. This time, though, I’m determined to maintain a much healthier work/life balance because this time I do have a personal life. And a pretty wonderful one at that.
…the Internet trolls start hating on you. It’s one of those things you always half expect to happen as a working artist (or just as a healthy, functioning human being who interacts with the outside world, I suppose), but it’s no less shocking or upsetting when it finally does happen.
My initiation to the sad, twisted world of unhappy Etsy trolls happened today. Mere minutes after receiving a new order and while still riding the high I get when I’m preparing a shipment for a new customer, I opened my email to find this:
Initially, I intended to show my sweet little troll’s user name to properly call her out as the shameful coward that she is, but a quick Bing search suggested that, although it’s likely this handle is used by one individual all over social media, it’s equally possible that there is more than one person going by that name. I don’t want to inadvertently disparage someone by that same name who does not run around the Internet verbally attacking people behind the guise of a nameless, faceless Etsy user profile. So, I’ll just refer to this individual as My Pet Troll or MPT from now on.
I replied immediately to MPT and invited her (I presume she’s female, based on her user name) to a very open and honest discussion about which pieces in my shop she feels are stolen. Needless to say, the response to my invitation has been deafening silence thus far. I’ll let you know if she does accept my invitation to hash things out.
Here’s the thing: an unfortunate reality of being a working artist and throwing your work out there for all the world to see is that people are going to knock off your designs. That’s just the nature of art as a business. If I had a dime for every one of my designs that I’ve seen pinned to someone’s “Projects to Try” board on Pinterest, I’d make way more money than I’ve made from sales of those same designs through my Etsy shop. The numbers aren’t even in the same ballpark, as a matter of fact. One of my most popular items on Pinterest, my Trumpet Vine Earrings (pictured below), has been pinned nearly 1000 times through multiple image sources to inspiration boards all over Pinterest. I’ve yet to sell the first pair of those earrings, which is a shame because they are truly lovely. Photos simply don’t do them justice, but I digress.
Am I under any illusion that people aren’t already knocking off this lovely earring design? Nope!
Do I care? Honestly… a little, but not as much as you might think. For one thing, I know perfectly well that I’ve drawn inspiration from other wireworkers while honing my own wire work skills over the past several years. I still draw inspiration from other artists, to some degree, though the field of artists who inspire me narrows as quickly as my own design skills and confidence improve. I don’t believe I’ve ever overtly stolen another artist’s designs, but I’d be lying if I said I never got ideas from other people’s work. I don’t live in a bubble. I see all the same things on Pinterest as everyone else who shares my interest in wire jewelry, and with a nearly photographic memory for things that catch my eye, it’s virtually impossible to erase anything I’ve ever seen from my mind.
One of the ways I strive to stay true to my own creativity is that I don’t keep any visual references within eyesight while I work. My laptop is not even in the same room while I am designing, and I have to get out of my chair and walk clear across the room to reach my bookshelves if I need to refer to a book or magazine article for technical reference. The only time I keep a visual reference in front of me is if I am consciously recreating a project from a purchased tutorial or book, and as of last year, I’ve stopped purchasing books or tutorials for wire wrapped jewelry, which is my primary discipline. I reserve browsing Pinterest, Instagram, and Facebook for times when I am away from my workbench and out of work mode, and then I consciously stay off the Internet and away from photographic images of jewelry when I sit down to work.
I’ve also been signing up for a few classes in other jewelry making disciplines, such as bead embroidery and micro macramé, for two reasons: First I feel it’s important to give myself a mental and physical break from wire wrapping now and then. Secondly, I’m interested in further setting my work apart from other wire artists by integrating other techniques and disciplines that interest me.
If you’ve been paying attention to the progression of my work, you’ve probably noticed that I’m starting to do a lot of multi-media pieces, like this Starfish Necklace, which I recently completed in response to a design challenge proposed by micro macramé artist extraordinaire, Sherri Stokey of Knot Just Macramé on the wonderful blog to which Sherri contributes, Love My Art Jewelry:
My system for maintaining design integrity isn’t perfect. I don’t doubt that the work of certain artists I admire clearly influences my own work, and I openly address that fact in my product descriptions as well as in my Etsy profile. Short of properly crediting those artists when I do create something designed or inspired by them and continually policing the visuals available to me while I am in design mode, I don’t know what else I can do to ensure that my designs are purely and clearly my own.
Several hours after reaching out to her, I’m still waiting for MPT to tell me which of my designs she believes have been stolen from another artist, but I won’t be surprised if I never hear from her again. Not directly, anyway. If she stays true to the tried and true Internet troll formula, she may very well start anonymously bashing my work on every social media platform where I have a presence. And my response will remain the same. I’ll invite her to engage with me in a civil discussion about my work so we can get to the bottom of this “creative theft” nonsense.
Thankfully, I recently had a very different conversation with a happy repeat customer who sincerely admires my work. Had I not already been actively engaging in a discussion about the evolution of personal design style, my response to MPT might have been far less calm and rational, so I owe this wonderful customer a huge debt of gratitude for that as well as for her continued encouragement and support.
According to this lovely lady, who makes no effort at all to hide her true identity in her own Etsy profile by the way, my work has a certain recognizable style that she feels she could identify even if not clearly credited to me. That, of course, is the highest compliment any artist can ever hope to receive. That unique individual style is what every working artist strives to achieve because no one with even a modicum of integrity wants to be accused of creative theft.
Life is hard enough without hating on random strangers we encounter on the Internet, isn’t it? One of the things I told my lovely customer, who is also a jewelry maker, is that there’s more than enough room at the table for all of us because we all have something unique and special to offer the world. I hope to be the sort of artist who encourages up and coming artists to spread their wings and fly.
I’m on the fence as to whether or not I’ll start offering any of my designs for sale as tutorials or start formally teaching classes. Part of the challenge of that for me is that I’m left handed, so writing tutorials and taking photos that will make sense to everyone may be tricky. That said, I trust that those who admire my work will treat my designs as respectfully as they’d like me to treat their own designs. If we all do that, we’ll all thrive. Believe it or not, there are enough potential customers and admirers out there for all of us.
A message for MPT, on the offhand chance she’s reading this: There’s no reason to be so mean and spiteful. If you feel strongly that someone is stealing another artist’s work, it’s not unreasonable to confront her about it, but do it respectfully and don’t hide behind an anonymous user profile. Any artist who is worth her salt will welcome a respectful dialog about the origins of her designs, just as I have.
Life is short, people–much too short for petty nonsense from nameless, faceless trolls. Do what you love, do it with integrity, and never let the haters bring you down.
One of the things I’m enjoying most about making the transition to full-time jewelry maker is that I no longer feel guilty about the amount of time I spend following other artists to see what they are up to creatively. That used to be something of a guilty pleasure that I sneaked in whenever I took a break from my “real” job, but now that I’m focusing on jewelry full time, it’s really more like market research. Another thing I never got to do very often was join in on the creative design challenges proposed by fellow artists because it seemed I never had the time (or the energy) to create a submission before the deadline.
Fortunately, things have changed. Not only do I get to follow the work of other artists without feeling guilty, I also get to join in the fun of a good design challenge; which brings me to the point of this blog post. If you’ve been following my work lately, you already know that I’ve been dabbling with jewelry cord and various cord techniques in addition to the wire wrapping and chain weaving I’ve been doing for years. One of the artists I discovered along my recent foray into cord jewelry is Sherri Stokey of Knot Just Macramé. If you’re not familiar with Sherri’s work, I highly recommend perusing her Etsy shop. You’ll be astounded by what this woman does with jewelry cord and beads. I’m in awe of her stunning creations!
Anyway, Sherri recently proposed a design challenge based on the pretty palette of colors she’s been using recently in her starfish jewelry collection. Having been in a bit of a creative slump lately, I decided to accept the challenge. My first thought was to create something with the beautiful beach glass my sister-in-law gave me a while back; but as I toyed with that glass, the inspiration failed to flow. Until I stumbled upon a sand-colored agate focal bead that’s been languishing in my supply stash for years, that is. It’s a large stone–the perfect size, as a matter of fact, to showcase a wire-wrapped starfish.
The following are a few photos of my submission as it’s progressed from start to finish. I started with the wire-wrapped focal piece first, and then I pulled a few beads from my supplies that are similar to Sherri’s starfish color palette.
This is what the focal stone looked like after the wire wrapping was complete, but before I antiqued and polished the raw copper wire:
Since Sherri’s primary medium is cord and I’ve been dabbling with cord quite a bit myself, I decided to hang my starfish pendant on a multi-strand hand knotted cord necklace. I love using an abundance of beads in my knotted cord jewelry, so I went with five beaded and knotted strands for this piece.
Then I added a fun and frilly beaded tassel for a bit of movement and color to finish off the wire-wrapped pendant.
At this point, I faced a bit of a design conundrum. I want the length on this piece to be adjustable, so I planned all along to use a macramé slide knot clasp to finish off the necklace. The challenge was finding the right components to securely link the sliding clasp to the knotted cords.
I searched my local bead and hobby shops for some tasteful findings that would blend with my color palette, but I had no luck. I ultimately decided to make my own connectors, so I wrapped these pretty little infinity links using the same wire wrap pattern I used on the starfish.
Note the mirrored image of the two connectors. This is the beauty of making your own findings. It’s difficult to achieve this level of detail with store bought components, which is why I like to make my own metal findings whenever I can.
And here’s the finished piece:
Fabulous, isn’t it? I’m so pleased with the way this necklace turned out, and I can’t wait to see all the other wonderful submissions for Sherri’s starfish design challenge! I’ll share a link to that gallery here in this post as soon as it’s published.
Edited (6/17/2016): The starfish design challenge gallery is fabulous! Well worth the wait, so go check it out!
Sometimes you just know. It’s the perfect fit. The perfect color. You’ve finally met the right guy (after dating far too many of the wrong guys for more years than you care to admit). Whatever it is, the knowledge that it’s right rings through me like a bell–it’s an unmistakable sensation of vibration that I feel in my gut.
This sort of sensation doesn’t happen often when it comes to jewelry, but it did happen with this particular piece. By the time I made this necklace, I’d known my best friend Jenn for a few years, and I’d had the good fortune to meet her wonderful parents, Jim and Jeanne Snyder, a few times. I never got to know the Snyders as well as I’d have liked, but I always enjoyed spending time with them when they came to visit their daughter and grandson in Colorado.
When I finished this particular necklace, I knew immediately that Jeanne was its rightful owner. That unmistakable hum rang through my body and Jeanne’s name popped into my head. She’d wanted me to make something for her for a while by this point, but I hadn’t been able to come up with anything that I felt suited her. When I started making this necklace, I didn’t have anyone in particular in mind. The moment it was finished, though, it basically told me it was for Jeanne. It’s funny how intuition works. It’s impossible to explain, and it always sort of surprises me when I get such strong intuitive kicks in the gut, but I’ve learned to simply accept them as the divine guidance they’ll inevitably reveal themselves to be in hindsight at some point down the road.
In addition to being my best friend, Jenn is also my muse when it comes to jewelry design. We have similar styles and interests, which certainly helps, but it’s more than that. There’s just something about her that inspires me to create some pretty fabulous designs. Three of my all-time favorite pieces of jewelry happen to be pieces I made for her. It’s also through jewelry that I formed an important connection with Jenn’s mom. Jeanne always admired my jewelry and encouraged me to sell my work. As she had a strong design background, I appreciated her support and encouragement more than she’d ever know.
Sadly, Jeanne passed away last year, so I never got the chance to properly thank her for encouraging me to pursue jewelry making full time. When I finally decided to get off the fence and open Door 44 Jewelry a couple of months ago, however, I did so with a strong sense that Jeanne would approve. It may be too late to personally thank Jeanne Snyder for her support and encouragement where my craft is concerned, but it’s never too late to honor our guiding angels.
I never made this design again after I made Jeanne’s necklace because I felt so strongly that it was her design. In talking with Jenn, though, I realized that Jeanne would want me to share her design. And then it happened again–that intuitive kick in the gut–I knew immediately how I could share Jeanne’s design and honor her memory in a meaningful way: Jeanne’s Jewelry!
I’ve created a special section at Door 44 Jewelry called Jeanne’s Jewelry. This section will be regularly stocked with pieces based on Jeanne’s original necklace design along with a selection of other pieces of my work that I know Jeanne would have loved. 25% of the purchase price of all Jeanne’s jewelry will be donated to her favorite charity: the St. Vincent De Paul Society of Ann Arbor. All donations will be made in loving memory of Dr. James C. Snyder and Jeanne Snyder, beloved parents, grandparents, friends, and life-long patrons of the arts.
My daughter is a talented cellist. I knew from the moment she first held a bow that she’d found her instrument. She started playing two years ago, but to hear her play, you’d think she’s been studying music for much, much longer. She’s talented, yes. More importantly, she’s passionately committed to mastering her instrument. She practices for at least an hour every day after school, and she works with her private teacher every Saturday. I occasionally have to remind her to clean the cat’s litter box, but I never have to remind her to practice her cello.
If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you’re probably aware that I am new to parenting. I’ve been a stepmom for about three years, and I’ve only been a full-time mom for a little over a year and a half. Although it’s been quite a challenge to get a handle on being a parent, one major advantage I think I have is that I’ve not been completely desensitized to the dysfunction of our public education system. Most parents I know are resigned to the fact that their children aren’t getting a solid education. Those who are fully engaged in parenting try to fill in the gaps where they can, but so many more parents just send their kids off to school and hope for the best.
My husband and I have taken a more proactive approach to our daughter’s education. We’ve gone so far as to relocate to another city just to get her into a particular school that we feel will give her the best opportunity to achieve her full potential. It’s a charter school with a classical approach to education and a rigorous curriculum. Unlike our current public school system where the bar is set so low that no child can possibly be left behind, the standards at our daughter’s new school are set so high that even the best and brightest will have to stretch to hit the mark.
I may be new to parenting, but I am certainly not new to teaching or learning. I’ve trained dogs and people for decades. I’m also a self-taught jewelry artisan and a life-long learner. It’s been my observation that, whether you set the bar high or set it low, any student (quadruped or biped) will almost always hit the mark. So, why not set the bar high?
That said, I’ll get back to my original point about my daughter’s musical ability. We had an unusual experience at her recent solo and ensemble competition, and it’s been bothering me for weeks. This was her second solo and ensemble competition, and (just as we expected) she did extremely well. She received a superior rating for her solo. Last year she also achieved a superior score for her first solo, and we were able to collect her blue medal on site after her score was posted.
Being in a different school district this year, we weren’t sure how or where she would get her medal as there were no vendors present at the competition. So, we stopped one of the district orchestra conductors in the hallway and asked him how our daughter could get her medal. He explained that the district buys the blue medals for those students who received superior scores, and that parents could purchase medals online from the vendor for lower scores. I mentioned that our daughter achieved a superior score, and then I watched the man transform, right before my eyes, from helpful educator to hard-core recruiter. He immediately started grilling my daughter with questions about where she planned to go to high school, and then he pitched his high school to us.
I could sense his frustration when I informed him that our daughter would be transferring to a charter school next year, and as that she would be completing her secondary education there (the charter school serves students from sixth through twelfth grade). I get it. Public school teachers hate seeing their best and brightest transfer out of the public education system into charter schools and private schools.
It must be incredibly disheartening for those teachers who love to teach to lose the few students in their classrooms who love to learn. But as a parent, my only concern is for my daughter’s best interests. She’s a straight-A student at her current school. She’s in advanced classes across the board, yet she’s not being challenged academically. Frankly, the bar at her current public middle school isn’t set high enough to stretch our daughter’s mind or her imagination. She readily admits that she’s not challenged, and this is where I think the public education system is truly failing our children. The commitment to leaving no child behind is admirable and well-intentioned, I’m sure, but it comes at the expense of smart kids like my daughter.
The talents and intellects of our best and brightest aren’t being challenged in public schools because of a bizarre national obsession with leveling the playing field. As parents with an obligation to prepare our daughter to face the real world, where the playing field is most certainly not level, we’ve opted to raise the bar considerably when it comes to her education. I’d much rather see her struggle to get Bs and Cs in calculus and Socratic seminars than watch her get straight As in her current school’s curriculum with little to no effort.
My daughter already has a strong work ethic. I see it every day in her commitment to cello practice. Her work ethic alone will take her far in life, but imagine how much further she can go with a strong work ethic and a great education. Our public education system is irretrievably broken, and I understand that that’s not the fault of the teachers alone. I’m weary, though, of seeing teachers greedily eyeing my daughter as if she’s some sort of solution to the deficiencies in their classrooms. The same education system that is failing to challenge my daughter desperately wants her to remain in that system–not so she can be educated, but so she can elevate test scores and win awards and scholarships that will reflect positively on the school.
Again, I get it. But my job as a parent is to make sure my daughter is adequately prepared for a future that, frankly, is looking pretty bleak given the current political state of this country. I’m not at all interested in boosting the ego of a high school orchestra conductor by allowing him to lay claim to her musical talent and prodigious ability. Nor am I interested in boosting the test scores of a public school by allowing my daughter to languish in an unstimulating environment for the next six years.
Education is not supposed to be about what our kids can do for the system. It’s about what the system can do for our kids. My daughter’s new school understands the difference, and it’s committed to doing precisely what public schools have failed to do: educate the best and brightest by providing a challenging environment and maintaining high academic standards.