Fame is powerful motivation. It sustained me through childhood expectations that I would become an Olympic gymnast. I watched Nadia on TV as a little girl. I must have stood up in our Oregon living room and done a handstand or something because from that moment on my parents decided I could be just as famous. They both hated their jobs, where they lived and how hard it was to scratch together a living in rural Oregon so my Olympic quest became our entire family’s path out of ordinary.
I never questioned it – not even when a six-hour-a-day training schedule meant no sleepovers with friends, no hanging out at the mall, no birthday parties with fattening cake. The fame that would come with competing in the Olympics would make up for everything. When I broke my back in a training accident in college, I had to find some other way to be famous and decided on the oh-so-meaningful career of broadcast news. Which is how I ended up in Beaufort – the one good thing that came from it all.
The problem is that you can’t control fame, so I’ve come to believe that it’s actually a terrible way to motivate kids. They might work as hard as I did, back-breaking hard, and through no fault of their own not “make it.” I’ve always thought that if I had kids I would steer them into worthier pursuits, try to build their self-esteem on achievable goals and attributes like scholarship, civility, patience, dedication, compassion.
The thing is that building character instead of pursuing fame is much less glamorous. I never realized just how much less until I signed up for a second year at St. Helena Elementary’s career day. It’s a great cause – showing kids out on the island that there’s a whole world of opportunities beyond what they might see every day. Last year I talked about screenwriting and had the kids read parts from my most recent screenplay “The Wedding Photographer.” Movies impress fourth and fifth graders – even when they haven’t been sold or made. They pretty much thought I was famous and I have to admit, it felt all warm and fuzzy.
So this year I had to top myself. I decided blogging would be a good topic, probably more achievable than a career in journalism these days. Gary pointed out that I couldn’t use my own “Womenisms” blog as an example (even after I removed the word orgasm from the definition of the invented word). So I created a blog just for that day: www.careerdayblog.wordpress.com. I figure I could get the kids to feed me topics and I’d transcribe them live online. For Miss Brooks 5th grade class I tried to get them to open up about their everyday fears and challenges. It turns out standardized tests weigh heavily on their minds. But, as you can see, it didn’t make for riveting reading. I could hear the yawns they tried to stifle. One kid just put her head down on her desk and slept through the whole 20 minutes.
So I caved on my other two classes. If you scroll down the blog you’ll see that I used fame as a motivator. Not my own faux fame, but home town girl Candice Glover’s fame. On American Idol. I couldn’t type fast enough to keep up with the shout outs from students. They want to be just like her, I realized. They aren’t thinking about careers in writing, or how blogs can share their thoughts with the world. They want to be famous, just like Candice. I suppose it’s no different than wanting to be a professional basketball player, or rap star, or model, or Olympic gymnast. There’s nothing wrong with being any one of those things. But fame is still a goal that these kids won’t ever be able to achieve based on their own talent or dedication. Fame is fickle and unpredictable. Undeserving people sometimes get to be famous. Hard workers often don’t. What was I teaching them after all?
Before I left, one little girl came up to me and said, “Miss Teresa, I remember you. You came last year with that wedding movie and I was one of your stars.” I looked a little closer. It all came back to me. She was the girl I’d coerced into playing the lead, Amanda, not knowing that she couldn’t stand the little boy I’d picked to play Dillon. I thought she was just shy, so I persisted, even when the teacher’s eyebrow was sending me serious don’t-go-there signals. And guess what? That little girl threw so much attitude and resentment into her lines that it cracked up the whole class. She was a star, if only for that morning. And a year later, she made me feel like I won an Olympic gold medal.