Writing Teacher Heaven

This week I am teaching at the Denver Writing Project’s Young Writers Camp. I participated the first time last summer. I was super discouraged and beat up by my school year. I had a really tough spring for a lot of different reasons, and was apprehensive about doing the camp. But this year I’m back and obviously had a great experience.

First, the caliber of teachers who participates in this experience is truly incredible. Last year I walked away from this group with so many ideas for my classroom. And just today, one of the gals who is teaching one of the workshops used stickers. To watch the middle schooler’s faces light up when she gave them their small, but heart-felt prize was ┬ápriceless and reminded me the power of small reward, those atta boys we all crave.

That is not even to mention the kids that do this camp. It is the kids last year that gave me hope in teaching once again. I really had lost hope last year. I had begun to think that maybe it was time to get out of teaching, that I wasn’t good enough for the profession. Who would think in a million years that being in a room with 40 middle schoolers would reinstate hope and passion? Not me, that’s for sure.

Just a small taste of how awesome these kids are: their biggest complaint in their feedback last year was that they didn’t get enough writing time. I mean, did I die and go to heaven. What middle schooler says that, right?

Selfish Mom Moment

Yesterday was my daughter’s continuation from eighth grade to high school. She looked forward to it and wanted me to go an buy her a dress for the occasion. It is a big deal at her school which is a k-8 magnet school in our district. The problem is that she asked me to take her shopping the Sunday night before the last two days of my school year. I just couldn’t swing it and I knew if I tried I would make myself crazy in the process.

She found an outfit and she looked great, but I know it wasn’t the same had she actually had a new dress to show off and feel really good in. Like the kid she is, she made the best of it and moved on and had a lovely day.

After the ceremony, where I must admit I shed a few tears, my husband and I were standing at the reception, awkwardly as always, when she came bounding up to us. She gave us a hug and said that we had not signed the permission slip to go to the celebration at the beach volleyball place near her school. I could feel myself tense up. I had to get back to school to finish a report that was not good enough the first go around , and to finish checking out for the school year. In short, I was feeling selfish and wanted to close out my school year as quickly as I could. I wanted to be done.

While we stood arguing over her permission slip and where to find one, Maya’s fifth grade friend walked up, tears streaming down her face. No words. Just a big heartfelt strong bear hug. After about a minute, and many tears from my whole family of three, Abbie pulls Maya away and said, “I just can’t imagine school without you. I’m going to miss you so much.”

In that moment, that precise moment I took a deep breath realizing the weight of this day for Maya. While it seemed like a big deal, but maybe not a huge deal to me, that moment made me realize how much this day meant for Maya. This day meant goodbye to people she cares very deeply about, people who are all dispersing to different schools around the city and the country. These are people she bonded with over the last four years. Let me be clear if I haven’t yet; my daughter’s school creates middle school experiences atypical of most middle schools.

The students there really care deeply about one another.

This short scene has made me think about the times in class when I have been in that same selfish place with my students; wanting to move on because we have so much to cover, wanting to jet off to my next class or my next meeting when a student has a question, giving harsh feedback without sitting with the learner to coach them, getting frustrated in the light of learning…so many things, so many times.

To be mindful is to be present in the situation, to neither think of the past or what is to come in the future. To be present with kids is to be with them in their experiences, to neither minimize nor blow their experiences beyond what they are. To be with them in whatever moment they are in.

I hope the next time my daughter (or my students) present me with an opportunity to share their experience, I am more mindful and open to sharing it.