A Little Less Ironed

They came to me last August. They were all tanned, bright-eyed, newly outfitted, and confident. They were confident in their abilities to write cohesive essays. They were confident in their abilities to earn A’s in my class. They were confident juniors and seniors, ready to take on AP English Language and Composition.

There is the kid who took my writing lab class last year, a class designed for students who struggle with writing. She knew taking an AP course was a stretch and would challenge her, but she was ready to take on something she very well could have failed. She was willing to take a chance, to take a risk with herself to see what she is made of
academically.

There is the kid who, in order to test the establishment of school itself, made a deal with himself not to do any of the homework assigned. He was very quiet about this little deal he made, and I am proud to say I was able to figure it out fairly early into the school year. He wanted to see if he could pass the class with minimal work, only doing what was required during class time.

There is the kid who has traveled to Kathmandu who I instantly felt connected to. He created  spaces to engage in conversations with me about his writing, about reading the Beatniks, and to compare travel adventures.

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With one of my students, cheering her on before walking in to her exam this morning. 

There is the kid who started out with a rocky relationship with me – the kid who goofed up some communication early on – who thought I “hated” him, but who ultimately redeemed himself. He worked to create more open communication. He worked to understand where I was coming from when he upset me. He worked to become a better stronger writer.

I could keep going down my list of students who have had an effect on me this year, but that is unnecessary because they know their effect, and I know how much I appreciate how much each class changes me every single year I get to teach.

So when Cullen asked me why I did not cry on my last day with them, it really took me back. He told me that some of his other teachers got very emotional their last day together. He told me that he was hurt that I wasn’t crying or didn’t even seem upset. While he said this playfully, I have thought about this since Monday when he asked the question.

Cullen: here is my answer. Here is why I don’t cry when my students leave me.

I have done my very best to make sure you are a better writer than when you walked in that door in August. We have worked together to think and read and write and create feedback that would help you grow.

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With some of my students this morning before walking in to their exam. 

I know that you are leaving me a better stronger writer, a better stronger human being than when you walked through that door. That despite any differences we may have had, all those are laid to rest because all of us know that the intention has always been to prepare you for whatever the future holds for you.

What the future holds is very different for each of you and cannot be predicted in this moment. But here is what I do know – I have done my very very best to prepare you for whatever experiences fortune shines upon you. I have made my greatest efforts to make sure that it is not the difficulty of writing that will ever hold you back from whatever it is you deem valuable enough to spend your time doing.

When you walked into my room for that first time last August, you were naive. You thought you could write. You figured you’d take this class, get some credit, and it would be done. But the fact of the matter is you are now more prepared than ever for greatness.

You are not quite as optimistic, maybe a little more skeptical of some things. Your clothes are a little less ironed, a little less new, a little less neat. You are a little more unsure of  your skills simply because you have realized that the more you know the more there is to know. In short, you are a better thinker, a better writer…and a better human being.

And…I – I am a better human being for having spent a year with all of you. What is there to be sad about that? Yes, I am a better human being: I am a little more open to students who struggle, I am a little more understanding of those of you who create little tests to see what you can get away with, and I am more willing to laugh with you when you goof up, and I am more excited than ever to share travel adventures with you.

There is nothing to cry about, dear ones. There is only joy and happiness and excitement to see what your future holds.  It is with excitement I send you into the world to use your new-found writing skills to create goodness  in the world.

 

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Mom and Me

When I was two years old she put me on skis. She made sure I learned how to swim. She encouraged me to write, to draw, to even make those ’80s friendship bracelets. She cheered with me as I got better and faster on my bike.

She made sure I did all the things I do well now.

She died 11 years ago – Mother’s Day. The week after she died I remember driving to school, wondering. Wondering how my life would change with her gone. I won’t lie- we had a really complicated relationship. Her death, nonetheless, knocked the wind out of me.

In the last 11 years I have worked to become a less judgemental person than she. I have worked to eat healthfully. I have worked to treat myself with compassion.

The truth is- she did none of this.

Her struggles have become my strengths. I have worked at the same school for the last eleven years. In the same time span she and I had moved to at least five different towns. I have stayed in the same career for my whole adult life. I am married to the love of my life and we will celebrate our 18th anniversary in June. She worked her way through three marriages and countless boyfriends.

I have worked very hard to move into a place of loving what I have. It is this love that shows up in my day to day life. It shows up in the laughter with my students. It shows up when I cuddle with my daughter after a long day. It presents its smile while on my mat at yoga. It nourishes me with the foods I choose to eat. And it snuggles in at night as my husband and I share our day.

Love is present everywhere in my life. Losing my mom allowed me the space to work on this love.

For that, I am grateful.

#whyiteach

I have a confession to make. I am a kindergarten dropout.

It’s true.

I failed kindergarten. The report card objectively stated “motor skills not strong enough for first grade” in perfectly curved cursive handwriting. 

The teacher, I don’t even remember her name, tried all that year to get me to write with my right hand. The results of these efforts were evident by that report card. My second year in kindergarten went better bad I was graduated to first grade.

It was in third grade that my school taught cursive handwriting. I had that left- handed style where my whole arm would drape over my paper and my little hand would create letters almost upside down. My paper would be turned at a right angle compared to all my friends’ papers. 

My teacher would draw perfectly curved letters on the board. Then she would hand out the chunky blue and red-lined paper so we could practice. 

I could never figure out how to get the loops to curve to the right like all of my friends. I could never get the letters to look right. My teacher would try to help me, but would soon get frustrated.

She finally told me to color, to practice using my hands with crayons to get the motion. 

Yah, right. 

In my estimation, these two early school experiences were the foundation for my belief that I couldn’t write. This belief stuck with me through high school and finally ended in college in Dr. Findlay’s adolescent literature course. He wrote, “You have a lot of important things to say” on my paper. This is all it took.

One person to believe in me enough that I could believe in myself.

I will never give up on my students.

I know what it feels like to have someone give up on me. This feeling, this is not something any child should be burdened with. 

I teach to empower the next generation to believe. To believe in their abilities. To believe in their talents. To believe in their in manifested potential.

To believe they have something important to say.

The Mythology of Teaching

“Oh my gosh, you work so many long hours. You must do incredible things in your classroom.”

“Boy, your car is parked when I walk into school in the morning and when I leave every night. You really work hard.”

“You’re always running around, you must really be working hard.”

These are things that I hear teachers say to one another daily to commend each other for what looks like hard work. Teachers who support one another in the mythology that to be an excellent teacher, one must give up their personal life, that they must look like they are running around, that they should have the appearance of being overly busy and stressed. This mythology has GOT to stop or we are going to continue to lose our newbie teachers from burnout.

The truth of the matter is that even those of us who hold it together and who look like we are not overly stressed are just as overwhelmed as those who are running around feeding into the mythology. The difference? I do not want to emit negative energy, I do not want to bring “stressed” energy into my life. I want to feel calm, so I try to behave in a calm way.

A colleague of mine told me today that another teacher’s view of me is that I don’t work hard, that I have it easy. So here’s my question: why can’t we just be supportive of one another? Why must we judge each other based on our own truths?

The mythology we have set up for ourselves is that if we don’t lose ourselves in our profession, then we are not worthy teachers. How about we change this narrative?

I propose we change it to: let’s do our best. Let’s keep things positive and loving for our students. This means teachers love themselves enough to treat themselves and each other like everyone is doing the best they can.

What’s your narrative? What would you change about the mythology around teaching?

Let Them Know You Believe in Them

I am a little heart broken. I have a 15-year-old daughter who has swum on and off since she was 5 years old. She is thinking of quitting the sport altogether.

Yes, the practices are hard. Yes, the practices are early. Yes, she has had a number of her friends quit the team. Yes, she has other commitments in high school she prioritizes over swimming. Yes, she loves the sport. Yes, she began to excel.

And then she got a new coach. It was great at first. But then she could tell that he stopped believing in her. And now…well now…she wants to quit. Because of her age, she doesn’t want to switch teams.

If it’s not with this team she’s on now, she’s done.

She wants someone who will believe in her. Someone who will push her to reach her potential. But this coach, this coach has her swim with elementary-aged students, not even with her age group. She is never tired after practice, and she is calling enough already. If she is going to spend so much time doing something, she wants to spend it with someone who believes in her.

The classroom lesson? Students know when you don’t believe in them. They give up and disengage when you don’t believe in them. So go out, take a risk, let your students  know without a doubt you’re on the journey with them.

On The Hill

Yesterday was a busy day. I am in Washington DC, and I got to go to The Hill to advocate for education on behalf of the National Writing Project (@writingproject).

The night before we had a briefing of what we would ask for. This year we asked for money for SEED grants and for money for states in something called LEARN which brings money to individual states. It’s a lot to remember- but as the core is the notion that the funding our congress people sign for makes a difference in individual classrooms and for individual students.

For instance, one of my colleagues was awarded a grant through the National Writing Project which will be used to train teachers in teaching argumentative writing. But more than that I have been able to bring this information to my classroom. 

In order to ask for the money, what I realized, we have to create a connection to our students, show our representatives what the money is being used for in a very tangible way.

Yesterday was a busy day. I am in Washington DC, and I got to go to The Hill to advocate for education on behalf of the National Writing Project (@writingproject).

The night before we had a briefing of what we would ask for. This year we asked for money for SEED grants and for money for states in something called LEARN which brings money to individual states. It’s a lot to remember- but as the core is the notion that the funding our congress people sign for makes a difference in individual classrooms and for individual students.

For instance, one of my colleagues was awarded a grant through the National Writing Project which will be used to train teachers in teaching argumentative writing. But more than that I have been able to bring this information to my classroom. 

In order to ask for the money, what I realized, we have to create a connection to our students, show our representatives what the money is being used for in a very tangible way.

The Biggest Short

On my way to Washington DC today I watched the movie The Big Short about the Great Recession of 2008 and how the housing shorts pushed the whole crisis. The story is about those investors who predicted the crisis, shorted the market as a result, and made a ton of money betting against the housing market. 

These investors knew doomsday was to come. They invested against the American economy and were rewarded monetarily. At the end of the movie there is a voice over that reflects on what value really is. He questions the true value of something while an earlier character, now homeless, chases his child around his car. 

What holds value, he asks.

Another character points out that in tough times poor people and immigrants are blamed, but the voiceover adds teachers to the list. Teachers were blamed for the crisis. 

It makes sense if you think about it. Blame the teachers- they have created this mess. After all, they are the ones who educated these bankers.

However, I don’t know a teacher who teaches for any other reason than to make the world a better place. The money certainly does not bring people into the profession.

The truth is: those of us who get into education do not place our bets in funds or markets. No- we place our bets on the future- on our hope for greater things to come- our children.

Time…is not on my side.

No slice yesterday. Deep struggle. It is true; there is little time to be had for teachers at the end of March. Students are scrambling, teachers are scrambling, and everyone is a little snarky.

Although I had no slice yesterday which means that will not make my goal to blog every day in March, I am not giving up. I won’t give up on my self. In fact, it is a reminder to me that perfection is not my goal. To do the best I can with the tools I have is my goal.

To be kind to the people I care about, that is my goal. In this time when colleagues are struggling, my goal is not to come to that frustrating place with them. My goal, instead, is to raise the vibration.

After all: we’re all busy. We’re all stressed.

Commitment

The students walk in groggy-eyed, dreading what is ahead of them for the morning. I walk in to the library and the juniors and seniors are milling about, some in pajamas, others in yoga pants, or sweats.

The first year I did this I worried about behavior problems, but in the seven years I’ve done it I have never once had a student melt down or give any kind of problem. After all, putting 70 students into one room is normally not a great idea.

I was lucky this year because there were other people in the building facilitating another event, CREATE. I didn’t feel quite so lonely as I watched students bubble and bubble and bubble, and then write their hearts out.

 

This morning I proctored 70 students as they took the AP Lang practice exam our school offers. I have never had that many students take this exam. We arrive at 7 in the morning and are finished by 11. We offer this experience so that our students understand the endurance involved in taking this exam. I was exhausted afterwards, and I didn’t even take the exam.

These students? They’re committed.