Conversation with Anne Easterly

by Amechi Chukwujama

“Find a symbol of your dream. It can be a star or a butterfly or anything that brings the loving memory of your dream to you. Ask your mind to notice when that symbol appears in your life. Plan how to reach your dream or goal. take a step, look for your symbol. Learn from that first step and plan your next step.”
– Anne Eastely

Anne Easterly is an American school teacher of more than twenty years experience. She is a wife, mother, grandmother and school librarian living in Oregon City, Oregon. She was in the Peace Corps in Liberia and has visited in Nigeria in 1966, 1997 and 2000.


Do you feel fulfilled being a school teacher? Is this what you truly love to do?

I teach in a truly multicultural school with students who are African American, Spanish speaking Americans, Asian Americans and Native Americans (Indians). European Americans are in the minority in most classes. Most of the children have loving parents or grandparents but not a lot of material resources. The US has 40% of its children living in poverty. Our school probably has 80% of the students living in poverty. I find this basically working class community challenging and rewarding. There is a divine love bond between students, parents and teachers. Sometimes toward the end of the year I doubt my ability to give but most of the time I find it rewarding and fulfilling.

If you weren’t a school teacher, what other role would you be playing occupationally?

I also serve as a local coordinator of a high school exchange program. I Find host families for students coming from other countries for 5 or 10 months of high school. This provides me an opportunity to meet students from many parts of the world when I am unable to be out traveling myself. I love learning and making new friends.

In Nigeria, teaching, on any level, is not a profession of choice. People prefer employment in the oil, banking, IT, and multinational enterprises, which attract better remuneration. How do we resolve the “conflict” between doing what we love to do and pursuing something else that offers a higher income? Is this a conflict?

In the US experienced teachers are paid a good wage. Beginning teachers are not but they get raises each year as their experience grows. I have taught for about twenty years and have a master’s degree. My salary has always been adequate. When I was not teaching and at home with my second daughter, there was a recession. My husband had less work and income. I learned to shop at second hand places. I love to garden so from September through November I have my own vegetables and can preserve some as well.

Whether you have a lot of money or a little money, my experience is that it is your attitude of contentment more than the cash in your pocket that determines your feeling of well-being. In the US although experienced teachers are paid decently, teachers are not generally respected. There is a saying:” Those who can’t do, teach.” It’s not really true. There are many excellent teachers who have left jobs as bankers, business professionals, etc. to make a difference in society by helping children learn. Most people would agree that our children are the most important part of our future. But they aren’t always willing to give schools adequate funds, or volunteer their time to assist students and teachers to do their best. The media is much more likely to print bad news about schools and teachers than accomplishments. If children are the most important part of our future why not give them the best schools, materials and instructors we can? Why not volunteer to help make the school, the community and the country the best we can? Another saying made popular by Mrs. Hilary Rodham Clinton is “It takes a whole village to raise a child.” We are all part of the village or we are not supporting our future.

What attitudes must a school teacher possess in order to assist children bring out the best in themselves?

All children can learn. If a child is slow in one class encourage him/her With new ways of teaching. Make sure the child sees her/his strengths. Ask the child how they learn best. The teacher and the child, with the parent and the villages support, are responsible for each child’s learning. A loving, nurturing can-do attitude on everyone’s part leads to excitement and success in learning. Traditionally education focused on the child learning the way the teacher taught (and was taught). Now we know that each person has different learning styles. There is a lot of research that needs to be applied to individual students in every classroom. If you aren’t a teacher think of the hardest lesson you had to learn. How could you have learned that lesson more easily. Share that experience with a teacher or discouraged child. If everyone believed we can all learn we would, not necessarily at the same pace or with the same enthusiasm but we would be much happier. I had a student, Jesse, as a beginning teacher. Jesse was not bright and English was his second language. It was hard to teach him. I would not even remember him but my grandmother and I took some of the children for a hike. It was steep and my grandmother was about 75 years old. She fell behind. Jesse stayed with her. Who do you want at your side in your old age a brainy kid with no experience in compassion or someone with an open heart? If we are always concentrating on our children’s faults we may be closing the hearts of many a beautiful ‘Jesse’.

Children, and many of us adults who grew up in the age of TV, have short attention span. How do you get to “arrest” their attention and sustain it long enough to get them interested in what you want to highlight?

Individually you listen. You give the child or adult your full attention. Find out what their interests are and encourage them to tell you about it. The rush of modern society is in your question ‘long enough’. Long enough is the amount of time it takes- short or long. With a group you still need to find ways to let each child or adult express themselves. It can be through writing exercises, through drawing or asking them to share first in pairs and then in the larger group. Find a way to challenge them. Show them your own love and enthusiasm for the subject. If you will set an example of listening well, showing the child or person this is a place where individual interests are encouraged and sharing your own experience the group will learn to trust you and to listen as well. Most people love to hear and tell stories that touch their hearts.

Change is happening at a very fast pace these days. How do we increase our ability to recognize, accept and use change in our lives?

I think that change requires time to process. Sometimes you must react Quickly and ‘just do it’. But often we can organize our days so that we have time to think as well as do. Each morning I do a spiritual exercise. My goal is to quiet my mind, fill my heart with love and listen to the messages the Holy Spirit may have for me. Often by the end of this special time I have a new insight on something I am planning. I then walk with my dog through a lovely part of nature. My mind again has time to give me the insights I may need for my day and to see how the cycles in nature may apply. When I am able, I plan my work to have moments of reflection. It is easy to consider many other things while driving the car or washing the dishes. When the pressure is on to learn something NOW, I ask for a demonstration. Each person has their own best style for learning. If we respect our own strengths and trust Spirit will assist us. When learning something new focus on the part you understand and give Yourself encouragement: “I’ve learned this, now I need to learn…” You will be able to do your best if you are doing something you love. Respect your talents and try to find jobs that fit your skills and interests. If the job you have is not to your liking, focus on the part that is easiest, most interesting or at least better than the parts you dislike. Think of ways that this can lead you to a job you would like better.

Our daily disciplines, our routines, are at the foundation of our ability to recognize, accept and use change. What are your daily disciplines like?

I start my day with twenty to twenty-five minutes of spiritual exercise: I invite God into my life and declare myself a channel for divine Spirit. I walk -physical exercise. On my thirty-forty minute drive to work I listen to the news if it interests me or I listen to joyful, uplifting music. At school I give divine love to each student and colleague I meet. Sometimes this is just a smile. With my students this is through encouragement and active listening. When I meet a challenge I look for the lesson for me as well as the ‘solution’. When I return home I try to take a few minutes to let go of the tensions that sometimes build up. I do this by napping, reading, or listening to music. This is sometimes only for five minutes but I try to respect my own needs for rest.

It is part of human nature to resist change. This is the Internet era. Many young educated people in Nigeria could get better jobs if they could take the time, attention and efforts to learn new information, communication and technology skills. But they’d tell you “no time”, “no money”, or something similar. Beneath this talk is a well-worn fear. How do we start replacing this fear with positive desire (love) for the new result we want to produce in our lives?

We all have felt the pressure of ‘no time’ and most of us have felt that There was ‘no money’ for something we have wanted. But the human mind is amazing when harnessed to a loving heart. First you need to let your mind and heart find a common goal. What job engages your mind and brings you a sense that this is worth learning? What skill do you have that family or coworkers often compliment you on? Focus on what you want, not on the obstacles. Figure out the first step. Take the goal and the first step into contemplation. If it feels like the best you can do at present, take that first step. Then pay attention to see what the next step will be. If you observe someone who is successful you will usually see someone who is busy but appears to enjoy much of what they do. They focus on what they can do and do it well. Follow that example. Look for what will lead you to your goal.

When you meet an obstacle, look for the lesson. Look at your goal not your fear. My experience in Nigeria is that you can get whatever you put your attention on. If you focus on your fears they will manifest. If you focus on building something you love, it, too. will manifest. When I visited in 1997 I was apprehensive. My hosts taught me what to do to avoid danger and to put my mind on God as often as I was afraid or unsure. When I visited this last August I focused on the tremendous love of the people I had come to see. I had learned the ‘precautions’ and put my attention solely on the goals of divine love, our workshops and seminar. The love and learning was tremendous!

Learning is difficult for many of us adults, and especially for professionals. How can we as professionals, and adults in general, increase our capacity to learn?

Trust yourself. Look for what you know and build from that point. Choose to learn what you dream you will love doing. If you need to learn something you think you will not like, find something you like about it or find a teacher who loves that skill or knowledge. Think positively but in small steps. “I can learn this piece today”. Surround yourself with people who believe in you and will assist you. If you are struggling, ask Divine Spirit and your colleagues for help. Give yourself permission to be a beginner. I broke a bone in my right wrist. I could not write or type with that hand For six weeks while in a cast. I had to learn to write with my left. My writing looked like that of a primary student. I couldn’t be proud of it as ‘adult writing’ but I could encourage myself that first I was trying. Then each day It got a little better. Eventually I could do fairly well. Because of the Way our brains are connected I think I actually am thinking more flexibly because of using my left hand for awhile. Look for the Blessings.

Listening is central to learning. When do we listen? How do we listen?

Eventually we listen every moment. We start by trying to focus on the inner love song of divine Spirit or the words of those we love. If we are adults learning to listen, choose one person who knows something you want to know more about. Listen as much as you can. Try to keep questions until they have finished. Focus on what you are learning not your questions. Expand that one person to one more. As you are successful keep expanding. Listen with your heart as much as you know how to. What do we listen to? You listen to what you give value to so you must ask yourself, “What do I listen to?” And why is it easier to tell than to listen? We want to express ourselves. We often think we are the center of the universe and that is partly true for each of us as individuals. But as we observe the world around us we learn that there are all these other beautiful Souls/people with many other perspectives and bits of wisdom. If we listen to each other’s stories we are richer and life is a feast!

How important is clear, precise, timely and jargon-free communication in being understood?

Essential. Jargon seems to be the modern “Tower of Babel.”

For many of us, when we look at ourselves, we see a gap between what we know mentally and what we do with what we know. This gap happens to be the gap between our dreams and our reality. How do we narrow this gap?

One step at a time. Find a symbol of your dream. It can be a star or a butterfly or anything that brings the loving memory of your dream to you. Ask your mind to notice when that symbol appears in your life. Plan how to reach your dream or goal. Take a step, look for your symbol. Learn from that first step and plan your next step. Believe in yourself. Know that the challenges are stepping stones to your goal as well as the smooth road you may walk easily. Daily write an affirmation a dozen or fifteen times, such as: “I am happy, successful, loving, growing and wise.” Choose the words that you want and believe in. Know that divine Spirit will fulfill your wish to become the Best that you can be. That’s why you are here to express the special qualities that make you you.

Parental control was very strong in Africa. Every day it is getting weaker. Many African parents are afraid that weak parental control will result in loss of discipline. Where do we draw the line between allowing the child to be and maintaining parental control?

The first thing a parent or caring adult needs to decide is “what is essential for my child”? As parents most of us want our children to be loving and successful. To be loving the child needs to experience and see love. To be successful is not as simple. What does success mean to you? For your child? Our world requires more and more flexibility and quick decision making. The child needs to learn discipline and, at first, that comes from the parent. But they must go beyond believing that the parent will always be there to provide the guidance and the answers. We need to teach them a process that will bring self-discipline and self-reliance. So we love our children. We provide structure and provide safe choices. You may not play in the busy street. You may play with this ball or read that book. We provide choices that we believe are good choices. We teach the child to be respectful but also a decision maker. We recognize their success with love and appreciation. We teach from mistakes that each ‘error’ is a chance to learn. We watch, we listen, we encourage and we ask someone we respect for help in the difficult places. We put our children in the hands of divine Spirit as we know our world is changing too fast for us to presume to know how much more change our children will see, given how much we have seen. We always love them.

Are you a school teacher or a librarian?

I am both. I have been a school librarian for 17 years but presently am teaching reading skills and taught various grades before that.

What is the most difficult lesson you have to learn in life?

To love myself and my fellow beings in every situation.

What single most important factor made it possible for you to learn that lesson?

The love and patience of God. As I have come to know the love of others who love God and their fellow men I have been able to believe yes, God loves me. Yes, I am here to love myself, God, others and the unique gifts that are me and my way of sharing in this world. I have learned that what I have judged my worst mistakes in life have also been the turning points that have taught me the most- not always immediately but in the long run. It is sometimes a challenge to accept that God loves me even when I do not love myself. But I love my children when they are unhappy with themselves as well as when they are happy. I believe God is even more able to do so.

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