Added on September 17, 2015: We had the pleasure of hearing Andrea’s story a few months ago. We were blown away by her relentlessly positive attitude, her resilience, and her joy. While the news of her passing saddens us, we know she lived an unbelievably courageous and full life. She is the very definition of a Pilgrimer. Our thoughts and prayers go out to her family.
Each day we encounter obstacles. They may be simple –– a decision, even, such as which shoes to wear or the flavor of potato chips with your sandwich (salt & vinegar for me, thanks). Then there are the days that bring more elevated hurdles –– students finishing essays at the last moment, parents rushing from this side of town to that side and back again. It’s the difficult decision about a career, or the job hunt itself. Illness for you or a loved one throwing things out of the loop, be it a common cold or something more severe.
These moments often play a role in the way we characterize ourselves and identify with the world around us. Whether you can relate or not, agree or disagree, let’s consider another aspect of this: attitude — which can be as private or as public as we want when facing these obstacles.
All of our stories are different and unique. It’s the classic “hand you were dealt”. But when thinking of exceptional examples of having the right attitude through it all, one individual stands tall.
Andrea Kabourek is a high school English teacher and cross-country and track coach at Lincoln East High School. She was a runner at both the high school and collegiate levels, graduating from Lincoln Southeast High School and Nebraska Wesleyan University. She recently received a Masters Degree from Doane College. She is married to Brian Kabourek. She’s travelled extensively and has run multiple half and full marathons. She’s held (and been urinated on by) a koala. And she’s been diagnosed with cancer on three separate occasions since 2009, most recently this past July.
They’re just details, talking points of Andrea’s story. Because her true narrative is told by her mentality –– the manner in which she lives. It’s reminiscent of a phrase she picked up from a high school coach, “I can. I will!” It’s since become a mantra, a battle cry in the face of adversity. Not to mention, it’s freshly inked on her wrist.
One thing Andrea has learned through her experiences is perspective. She has a great deal of this, and it purposefully leaks out into her teaching. Among the list of classes she’s taught, creative writing is a staple.
“Just to see them grow, and to see them figure things out and improve on their own writing ability and thinking ability is what I enjoy.” She continues, “Just the stories, and being able to tell stories to each other.”
Stories –– common tools we use to explain to people who we are and what is important to us.
“I think this year I’ve done a more extensive job in trying to do that more deliberately. Part of it is just getting diagnosed right before school started again, third time with cancer. You kind of reevaluate what is important. What is it that you can let go? What do we need to focus on? What is it that I need to teach my students? Not only about English, but about life.”
As if teaching correct in-text citations isn’t tough enough, there’s still so much more. Andrea begs the question:
“How do you make sure that every experience you have is worth something, and that you don’t waste time?”
Andrea shares some stories which prove effective in engaging students and getting them to think not only of the things they can do, but the people they can be. She shows them pictures from of her excursions, photos of her skydiving during Thanksgiving break.
“Letting them laugh at the pictures of your face deflating and inflating as you’re screaming and the wind is blowing a million miles an hour. Showing kids pictures of where I’ve been, trying to explain that you can go out there and have adventures, that you don’t have to hold yourself back.”
She goes on to describe one of her favorite moments in a school year.
“The first day of the year, or each semester. Students are sitting there, bored, listening to all these rules and regulations. I try to spend my time telling those stories and sharing pictures of adventures, trying to make those connections and show them that I’m willing to put myself out there, so hopefully you will be willing to do the same thing –– be the real you, which should show in your writing and discussions in the classroom.”
Since graduating college about fifteen years ago, Andrea will have been to 25 different countries as of this summer.
“Teaching and learning are very much like the traveler mindset. You get an opportunity to explore the world and make it yours and learn from other people. You can do that by traveling. You can do that by reading other people’s experiences. You can do that by writing and sharing your work with other people. You can do that by talking to your colleagues and talking to your students, sharing your experiences and living through things together.”
Living through things together –– both the celebrations and the trying times. It’s a concept she works into her lesson plans, amongst instructions on proper grammar and punctuation. She challenges her students to take a look at their owns lives, and to consider:
“Every day is an adventure. How are we striving to make things interesting and meaningful?”