Pretty Lights

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One rainy night when I was a child, I awoke in my mother's VW. She was driving us home on a mountain road, close to midnight, the time my mother prefers to travel. I still recall the VW's sharp scent of vinyl and gasoline. Sitting up from my nest of blankets, I watched the rain on the windshield. My attention drifted to the glittering city lights in the valley below. Amazed, I said, "The lights look pretty down there."

When we were finally driving among those lights, my mother's response was pragmatic: "Not so pretty down here. Everything looks better from a distance." I continued looking out the window, undecided, as the bright globes of streetlights glided silently over the windshield like a long, white ribbon.

However brief, that moment on the mountain, the city lights below, shapes how I see many things -- and often, I've pondered my mother's words: "Everything looks better from a distance."

All I've tried to achieve starts with a glittering vision. When I became a teacher, I imagined enthusiastic students, asking deep questions about literature. I pictured conversations about good and evil in "The Crucible," the rich stories of mothers and daughters in "The Joy Luck Club."

I'd like to say my visioning yielded inspired learners, like students in "Stand and Deliver," but I'd be lying. The truth is, students with eager hands raised often asked to use the bathroom, or, "is this stuff was going to be on the test?" And now, in my administrative work, when hopeful teachers arrive to a meeting, they really want to know: "How long will this take?"


But there are days when the city lights materialize, when a student smiles because she just learned how to write a thesis, when a teacher tries a new strategy and students' eyes light up with that look that says, "I get it!"

My mother was right -- everything looks better from a distance. But the view is only the beginning. Really, it's the view that compels us to descend that mountain, and join the ribbon of vision-seekers to work on making a single light shine.

With a Perspective, I'm Monica Stoffal.

Monica Stoffal is vice principal at Buscher Middle School in Santa Clara.