Thanks, Mountain Goats!

by danielagins

I would like to thank two musicians, whom I do not know, and whose styles are vastly different, for writing lyrics that helped me make it through the past year.  I know this is corny, but I honestly drew on their words more than once a day.

I had quite a bit going on in my life this year, all positive but stressful. My wife and I were living with her parents as we built a house, we were raising a toddler and expecting a new baby in early May. I was enrolled in a graduate program at the University of Connecticut full time in addition to my full time job teaching 8th graders social studies. I was also committed to making major changes in my teaching this year, because I knew that I had to. I couldn’t simply say, “I’ll do it next year.” It had to be now. So, to say I had a lot on my plate is an understatement. At times I thought I couldn’t handle it. One can only put one’s head down and grind away for so long without breaking. I found my first anthem for the year sometime in mid October. The song, “This Year” by The Mountain Goats became the first song I played upon entering my car each morning for my drive to school, and again each afternoon for my drive home. While the verse lyrics did not connect with my situation, as they are about teen angst and not thirty-something issues, the refrain absolutely hit the nail on the head. I would sing these lyrics (in my head, mostly) over and over and over, as if to promise myself that I would make it.

I made it. Well, I mostly made it. I have one more week of face-to-face time at Uconn in the coming weeks, and then I will have made it (although the house is not yet done…)

Not only did I make it, I actually am proud of myself for the first time in my life. I made the changes I wanted to make in my classroom. I moved towards being the teacher I want to be – putting much of what I was learning in my grad program into practice. It would have been much easier to chalk this year up as a loss in my classroom. It would have been easier to say, “I’ll make those changes eventually, because I have enough on my plate right now.” But I wouldn’t have been able to live with myself if I did that. Am I done changing? No. The way I see it is that phase one is complete. I am already thinking about phase two. I am confident that I will continue to make the changes I need to make as I move forward. This is where the second song comes into play. There is an obscure underground hip-hop artist named Edan, and I’ve been a fan of his for over ten years. In his song, “One Man Arsenal,” he recites a line that has been forever etched into my brain, but really took on a sense of meaning this year. In the song, Edan raps, “Limitations strictly defined by motivation…”

Perhaps no truer words have ever been said (to a beat).