November 18th, 2014

Retraining

“No pleasure could equal, she thought, straightening the chairs, pushing in one book on the shelf, this having done with the triumphs of youth, lost herself in the process of living, to find it, with a shock of delight, as the sun rose, as the day sank.” — Mrs. Dalloway

I’m retraining myself.  I stopped making lunches at night and I hoped that I’d feel the pull towards words again, but instead I’m now making lunches in the morning and still avoiding words at night. I’m not avoiding any particular words, I just can’t pull them out as easily as I usually can.

It’s starting to feel a bit disconcerting.

Where have my words gone?

Words usually pour out of me. I usually narrate my life as if I’m living a story, seeing the world and all its detail as the setting and plot line of the way my own story is unfolding right before my eyes. But lately that narrator is taking a break. It’s replaced by less satisfying urges to play games on my phone and watch mindless TV. And sometimes binge read awesome young adult books.

But I do those things and I’m never quite as happy as I am when just the right words put a cap on the day that I’ve lived.

I’m trying to retrain myself. To notice the wind on my face and the way she holds her pencil. To memorize the silly things he says as he tries to grasp more and more language. To be patient for the story to settle in as he refuses each night to go to sleep. I’m trying to get back my writer’s lens, my inner narrative voice. I’m trying to think of the story that began long ago and ended tonight with her showing me the last sentence of the latest book she’s read.

There are stories all around me.

I just have somehow forgotten how to tell them.

A book I’m reading for school struck me last week. In it, the author, Randy Bomer, argues, “The ability to tune into your own thoughts – to listen inside and find out what you’re really thinking about – that is an academic literacy…And it’s another important skill to be able to compose new thoughts in words – not just to find out what you’re already thinking, but to make yourself think something new.”

So I’m practicing this skill right along with my students.

I’m tuning in and listening and recording and seeking to find that something new.

Thanks for sticking around while I search.

Retraining

 

Linking up with Heather for Just Write.

 

Be Sociable, Share!

November 6th, 2014

Collections

He collects rocks. And tiny sticks. Anything that can fit in the pockets on his t-shirts or the oh-so-small pockets on his toddler-sized pants. On the playground at school or on his walk to and from school he looks for pieces that fit and he puts them in his pocket ever so gently.

In the afternoons, they are my gifts. “Look what I got for you today, Mom!” he says as he reaches his tiny fingers into the pockets and tries to draw them out to show me.

They are gifts, these rocks and sticks. Mementos of his time away from me.

I like to think that he remembers me all day in fits and spurts, just like I remember him. I like to think that he is running around after his friends, having a ball, pretending he can fly, when all of a sudden he sees a rock in the shape of a heart or a rock with just the right color or a rock that he knows will fit in his pocket oh so perfectly and he think of me. He thinks about me and collects something for his pocket and then he goes on with his chase or his building or his game of superhero.

That’s what I do. I conduct my lessons, I read drafts of papers, I discuss literature and politics and modes of persuasion. But somehow, in the middle of it all, I still am stopped dead in my tracks. I still, six years into this working mom gig, have moments where my brain can only focus on the wisps of his hair or the sound of her voice or the way their hands feel in mine.

I collect things too – her artwork, his stolen pieces of nature, the way his hair curls out over his ears, the way he cocks his head to the side when he talks, the perfect empty space in her mouth where baby teeth used to be, the way she looks each night as she reads herself to sleep. I take his rocks in my pockets, her art in my bag and in those moments when I miss them, I have a collection of tangible and intangible to get me through. I remember or look or feel and keep teaching.

He collects, puts things in his pockets, and keeps on playing.

FullSizeRender (5)

Be Sociable, Share!

November 4th, 2014

Flying

In June, as we drove across the country, he incessantly talked of flying. He was sure he could do it if he reached deep enough for the power all of his beloved superheroes possessed. “I’m going to fly,” he would say over and over again.

At night he would jump onto the beds, arms stretched out in front of him as if he could just take off. He would land in the pile of pillows he’d set out for himself. Every once in a while, if his running start was good enough, he’d declare success.

He was sure he could fly. He was so sure that it sometimes scared me. What if he tried to fly and there were no pillows to soften his landing?

At the Air and Space museum he looked at the rockets and planes and the astronaut suits and he marveled at their power to take flight. At the top of the stairs, as we headed out to continue our travel, we spotted above us a suit made for flying. A human suit with wings attached. I looked up at that contraption and wondered if its inventor also had a small boy who wished every day that he could fly.

Pretty soon the declaration faded. His intention to fly was overtaken by his fascination with running and jumping and building and fighting pretend bad guys. He would run as fast as Flash and for a while he seemed content with keeping his legs firmly planted on the ground.

But lately, he wakes up and tells me that he dreamed of flying. He will be riding in the car or playing with his cars and he’ll look up at me, head to the side, and say wistfully, “I dreamed I could fly.”

This morning he ran laps in the house before we left for school, arms out to the side flapping up and down in classic flying motion.

“I wish I could get the air like a bird,” he said, looking at his arms and wishing here were feathers where he had skin. “Then I could fly in the air.”

I’m pretty sure he knows he can’t really fly, but that doesn’t stop him from dreaming and wishing and flapping his arms and hoping beyond hope that if he flaps enough he could sprout wings. Today he pretended all of his food was bird food and he looked up at a bird sitting atop a telephone pole and said, “If I was a bird I could fly up there and talk to the giants.”

He runs and flaps and declares his intention to fly and I listen and watch and wish that for a moment I too could feel the joy and possibility and weightless wonder of a young boy who looks at the sky and wishes to be up there looking down, swooping and gliding and talking to the giants who live in the clouds.

flying

Linking up with Heather for JustWrite.

 

Be Sociable, Share!

November 3rd, 2014

Casting My Ballot

Casting My Ballot

 

The very first time I cast a vote I was 18. I stood in my dorm room and penciled in the circles indicating who I wished to be president for the next four years. I sealed the envelope and mailed that ballot halfway across the country so it could be counted in my home state.

The next time I voted, I spent more than an hour in line. It was cold and dark in Boston that night as we stood, coats zipped and hats on, in the parking lot of the VFW waiting to go in and cast our votes. For some reason my memory of that line is vivid: the darkness, seeing my breath escape into the cold air, Ken’s blue coat with the fuzzy collar. That year we all learned just how much a vote can matter and that hanging chads were a thing most of us had been previously unaware of.

Four years later I stood in line at a small New England fire house. The lights were bright and the fire engines shiny red. The ballots changed that year – no longer on paper or with complicated buttons.

Four years later and I was a mother dressing my infant up in a onesie sporting my candidate of choice. I went to hear him speak and held signs boasting his name. I was excited by what could be. And I stood in line at the community college, heavy carseat draped over my arm, and I voted for the first time with my little one by my side.

It’s been that way ever since. She and I standing in lines I am sure are worth standing in, picking candidates and pressing the red button to make it official. It was that way with my mom and I too – I could go back even further to memories of standing in lines as a kid, going with my mom into the booth with the blue curtain and a plethora of buttons and levers.

Before last week, I had never early voted. It seems weird to me for some reason – the ability to just walk into the grocery store or the community college or the library and vote. There’s usually no line.

There’s something about the line on election day that I enjoy, that triggers memories of all the other times I stood in that line. But last week I realized that Nora and I could go, just the two of us, and vote together. I could let her turn the wheel to select the names I had meticulously written down on my voting guide I created for myself.  She could press the red cast ballot button and hopefully start to soak in the same pride in making her voice heard that I soaked in many years ago in voting booths that are now relics of politics past.

Hopefully she’ll learn to never miss an opportunity to speak up or out and that voting means something.

Strangely, I’ll miss standing in line tomorrow.

Be Sociable, Share!

October 27th, 2014

Let Them Read Books

I spent the last hour of the school day today stamping brand new books. It’s the best feeling, really, opening box after box of books that tomorrow I’ll get to put in the hands of teachers who will then get to put them in the hands of students.

Some of these books are bound to be the one that finally shows a student how amazing a book can be. Or maybe one of them will remind a used-to-be-reader of why they used to sneak books after bedtime when they were younger.

For some, one of these books might be the very first book they’ll ever finish.

Last week I read a blog focused on “this generation” of students, how they lack focus and attention span and how they just aren’t readers. The blogger wrote:

The underlying problem here has been studied both empirically and anecdotally by anyone who has been in a classroom in the last 15 years. An alarming portion of the students who enter college classrooms apparently have not read…anything, really. I have serious, well-founded doubts as to whether some of the students I deal with have ever read a book. I know for a painful fact that most of them read no news. At best they look at headlines. Essentially anything longer than a tweet or a Facebook status update is too long. Any video longer than about 3 minutes – the average Youtube clip – is also incomprehensible. This is the first generation of college students who were raised on both the internet and wireless devices, and it is absolutely goddamn staggering how poorly they are able to focus on anything. Anything at all, be it educational or entertaining. Open a textbook in front of them and their attention is drifting off to their smartphones before the end of the first page.

I’ve been in the classroom 15 years and I often think about this too. What have the iphones and smartphones done to our kids? To us? Are they making us smarter? Are they sucking away the valuable moments our students should be listening to a teacher or speaking with a group? Is sneaking a text different from sneaking a note on a lined piece of paper?

Will the iphone generation be the generation that stops reading – where, as Aldous Huxley argues in Brave New World, what we love will be our demise?

My students are supposedly reading Brave New World right now. At least, that’s what I’ve assigned them. We are talking about this in class. Some of them will be writing about this too. And because I talk about this for 3 hours a day, I keep entering in an argument with myself.

Yes. Huxley was right.

No. He wasn’t.

Which is it?

My students are distracted. If I look up at any given moment, I’m bound to see an earbud in, a phone lighting up with a text, a student taking a selfie and probably snap chatting. They have a constant distraction at their fingertips, their friends always a text away, the newest game calling to them as the teacher asks them to read or write or solve or hypothesize.

I wonder, though, if they are more distracted than my former students, than I was when I was a teenager. We wrote notes. We went to our lockers when we didn’t really need anything out of them. We made up our own games of distraction.

Is the smart phone making today’s students distracted? Yes. But if it wasn’t, something else probably would.

My students aren’t all readers. But I don’t think I can say any class I’ve ever taught or taken was comprised 100% of readers. I’ve certainly had classes where most were, or most were worried about grades enough to fake it. Maybe my students aren’t the avid or, at least, willing readers I taught 15 years ago, but I don’t blame the iphone for my students not reading the news or being unwilling to read a short story.

When I was a teenager I didn’t read newspapers. Neither did my friends. We were high-achievers, but only some of us were true readers. We didn’t even have flip phones.

If I blame anything for today’s students lack of interest in reading, I’m going to look, not at the phone, but at the educational landscape. What are we doing, or not doing, to make it a true statement that a student can get all the way to a college classroom without having read a whole book? What are we doing, or not doing, to make reading seem like a chore and not like an investigation into life, love, human nature, the world we all live in and share?

We aren’t letting them read books.

We are assigning test-prep packets* and focusing on raising test scores*. We are replanning lessons to combat the “distraction” of the phone instead of teaching them how to use it as a tool for learning, reading, sharing knowledge (I have a lot to say on that – which I’ll save for another post). We aren’t giving them time to read for the simple pleasure of it.

I read my daughter a chapter from Ramona last night and during the part where Ramona exhibited pure joy at the thought of sustained silent reading, I started to think about how different things were in the 80s when Beverly Cleary wrote of the idea that a student would read a book – any book – for the pure joy of it. No book reports. No worksheets. No “accountability” except for reading it. The students in Ramona’s class all loved it. Students in today’s classes would too. But how often do we allow them to just read. To pick a book just because.

Maybe that’s why today’s students complain a lot about reading.

No one has taken the time to show them the way in to the reading world, to hold a book in their hand as a form of entertainment, as a way of finding who we are, as a way of answering questions we don’t even know we have.

We still must, of course, assign reading and give assignments -expose them to ideas and viewpoints they may not find on their own (I obviously assigned a novel. They obviously don’t all love it). But  that can’t be the only thing we are doing.

So let’s let them read. Let’s not always follow it up with multiple choice questions or art projects. Let’s let them explore books that might matter to them – not just the ones that matter to us. Let’s just let them read.

I bet that might solve some of the problem.

And if they find a good book, I bet, just like good books used to distract us from whatever made our minds wander, they’ll forget about their phones for a while.

 

Let Them Read Books

*I feel compelled to say that these are my observations from teaching over the past years and that myself and my colleagues do not test-prep our students to death. I work in a school that supports literacy over test-prep. I wouldn’t work at a school at which that wasn’t true. 

 

Be Sociable, Share!

October 21st, 2014

Blank

I’ve been staring at this blank screen for too long. I’ve flipped the pages of my worn and marked Mrs. Dalloway book for inspiration, scrolled through my photos to see what story I’ve lived that I haven’t yet written. I type and then I delete and the screen is blank again.

I’m not sure what my story is tonight.

But I know I feel words wanting to boil out, feel the weight of having taken more than a week away from this task that sets my mind at ease.

So I’m typing.

Miles has a fever. He woke up from his nap yesterday warm and I left early to go and pick him up. I walked into his class and he was milling about but as soon as he saw me he slumped his shoulders, lowered his eyebrows and declared, “I’m sick.”

But I’m not sure if he is. He’s happy. He’s running around pretending to put out fires with his flashlight as he wears his plastic “fighter-fighter” helmet around the house. He’s running outside in his cowboy boots and his too small cowboy hat, climbing to the top of the play fort before coming in and asking for milk with a special straw.

He doesn’t seem sick.

Except when every so often he’ll hold his head and tell me it hurts. He’ll feel just a touch warm and he’ll rest for just a second before he gets his energy back. He’s the kind of sick that made me cancel his doctor appointment I had made early in the day because I could only see a doctor looking at my like I was an insane mom to take such a happy kid to the doctor and declare him sick.

I cancelled the appointment and then the fever came back.

That always happens, doesn’t it?

He wished today that he could see inside his head, that his eyes looked inwards occasionally instead of out.He said he might see oceans if his eyes looked inside his head.

Blank

 

Linking up with Heather for Just Write.

Be Sociable, Share!

October 9th, 2014

What Happened When I Wrote About Moldy Doughnuts

My post about day-old baked goods hit a chord with people. It’s been read and shared more in the past few days than anything I’ve written in the recent past. And for that I am grateful. I’m grateful that other people share my frustration at the way teachers are undervalued by most of society.

But really, the most amazing thing about writing that post hasn’t been the readers or comments or shares. It’s been the reaction from my most important audience, my students.

I’m not secretive about the fact that I write a blog. I don’t openly promote it to my students, but I do share the fact that I am a writer, I am shaping words and stories the same way that I encourage them to. Some of them read my words. And some of them share their own in the most spectacular way.

This morning I got a text from a fellow teacher. “Did you bring baked goods today?” she asked. No. I hadn’t. “The teacher’s room is filled with real, homemade, fresh cookies and muffins,” she said.

What Happened When I wrote about moldy doughnuts

And it was. It was filled with perfect blueberry muffins and sugar cookies in huge quantities. And on the table was a note. A note from my students. A note that I couldn’t possibly love more. A note that demonstrates all at once why I do what I do and how amazing teenagers are.

Because they are.

Teenagers are awesome people.

We should say that more often – to them and to the world.

This letter? It was perfect.

student letter

I’ve blocked out the name of my school because I feel better that way. But I hope that this response to my original post gets shared and read just as widely.

This is why I teach.

Thank you, students, for your words. (And your baked goods. They were pretty awesome too.)

Be Sociable, Share!

October 7th, 2014

Day Old Baked Goods and Respect for Teachers

There were doughnuts in the teacher work room this morning. And muffins. Slices of cake piled on top of each other. Pieces of pie and a few boxes of cookies.

Bleary-eyed teachers walked in and lit up momentarily – sugar tokens of appreciation.

Except they weren’t.

More than one of us took a doughnut, a guilty pleasure as we stood in the morning copy machine line. We took that doughnut and we lifted it closer and closer to our mouths in anticipation of its sweet reward. Some of us even took a bite. And then we realized the doughnuts were moldy.

These tokens of appreciation? They were baked goods left in the containers past their sell-by dates. They were old. They were garbage, really. And they were moldy.

Suddenly we all wondered where they had come from. How had they gotten here? All these containers of baked goods that could no longer be legally sold in stores? Who had dropped them off here? In our teacher work room? To taunt us as we prepared for our day?

Investigation led most to conclude that someone from the grocery store where they were baked had brought them to us.

Let’s feed the teachers old baked goods, they thought. That will be so nice of us. Who would appreciate moldy doughnuts more than those hard working teachers?

I’m not sure where they came from, really. I actually doubt the store would allow these old foodstuffs to be donated to a school, but what do I know? Maybe they were brought by some well-meaning grocery store employee.

I know that to me, these day old muffins and doughnuts and cakes are a metaphor. A metaphor for how much the public thinks of teachers. Can you imagine anyone donating old food to a law firm? Or a group of investment bankers? No? Neither can I.

But, sadly, I can see someone thinking that teachers would appreciate old food. That we wouldn’t mind just a little bit of mold. Sadly, I can see someone thinking of teachers as a charity group, deserving of these donations because part of our job expectation is to sacrifice our financial security for the good of the future.

If you’ve read this blog for any amount of time you know that I love my job, that I am, at my core, a teacher. But something about those baked goods got to me today. Something about bringing a moldy donut almost to my mouth made me contemplate my place in society.

Teachers are undervalued. Our paychecks hardly change from year to year. Sure, the starting salary for a teacher is pretty competitive, but when you’ve been at it as long as I have, my monthly check only changes by single digit numbers from year to year. Teachers like me are pushed out of the classroom, enticed by more money if we become principals, burned out by the hours we spend in the classroom and at home, downtrodden by the culture of teacher-blaming, drowning in data that means far less to us than the humans that sit in front of us each day.

This is my 15th year in the classroom. And when people find out how long I’ve been at it they look at me like a rare species – someone whose survived beyond the dreaded 5 year mark, when we lose so many teachers to other careers. At 15 years, I am the senior member of my department. I’m asked more often then not when I’m going to become an administrator. This is part of the problem with the expectations for good teachers today: we are expected to leave the classroom. But here’s the problem: we need good, experienced teachers IN the classroom. We need incentives for good teachers to stay. Part of that incentive should be monetary, but part of it also should be respect. Respect for our work and our pedagogy and our intelligence and our diligence.

We need to be respected enough that no one thinks about bringing us moldy doughnuts.

 

(Make sure to read the next post – the amazing reaction of my students to this post. It’s worth it. I promise!)

Be Sociable, Share!

October 4th, 2014

I Let Them Write Poetry

A few weeks ago at a teacher professional development session for English I, the woman in charge said that there is no reason for our kids to ever write poetry. We were in the midst of a unit that culminated in our students writing poems about themselves, the places that define them, trying tricks of the poetry trade on for size.

“They will never be asked to write a poem on STAAR,” she said. “There’s no reason our kids should ever be writing poetry.”

I held back in the moment because it wasn’t the place or time to have an argument. I subtly rolled my eyes and made eye contact with the rest of my team. They know me well and they knew without my saying anything that I will always believe there’s a reason for “our kids”  – kids who are amazing individuals who happen to live through struggles of poverty and language acquisition – to write poetry. To write period. And the reason is never that it will help them pass a test.

This morning I read an interview with one of my favorite poets – Billy Collins. He said, “Poetry can do a lot of things to people. I mean it can improve your imagination. It can take you to new places. It can give you this incredible form of verbal pleasure.” My students deserve that as much as any others. They deserve the right to explore language and unique ways to tell their stories. They deserve the right to swim in the ambiguity of poetic language and to see what words they have to offer back to this world.

Collins, in the same interview, said of teaching, “Well, because teaching is a very mysterious process. You’re throwing information, in a sense, into the dark. I mean, you spend an hour talking to this group of increasingly younger people and you walk out of there and you think sometimes you’ve had a good class, and other times it’s not been that great. But no matter what it is to you, you’re not sure how it’s being taken or what effect you’ve had.”

When students write poetry or respond to poetry, many times you can see the effect. I’ve had colleagues whose students tell them that writing and sharing their poetry was the first time in their school lives that they’ve felt the power of their words. I have a colleague who teaches an entire class on poetry and she unleashes their words and experiences in a way much more profound than a test ever can.

They won’t need to write poetry to become better test takers. But writing poetry might make them better humans.

So I will let them write poetry.

Found poem by student

Found poem by student

Be Sociable, Share!

October 2nd, 2014

True and Complete

“I want to take up this mantel so that their daughters, sisters and mothers can be free from prejudice but also so that their sons have permission to be vulnerable and human too, reclaim those parts of themselves they abandoned and in doing so be a more true and complete version of themselves.” –Emma Watson 

He looks straight at me and tells me he loves me. Ten minutes later, he stops what he’s doing to say it again. I’m ordering my dinner and as I speak to the man across the counter, Miles grabs my face between his hands and kisses me loudly. He smiles at me so big I laugh as I tell the man what kind of salsa I’d like in my burrito.

He holds my hand and more often than not still wants to be held. I carry him even though he’s three and he’s heavy because how can I not?

He tells me, as I’m putting on his night-time diaper, that he’s just a little boy. “I’m not a big boy,” he says. “I’m just a little boy. Growing.” We walk to his room so I can cover him up with his blankie. “I’m just a little boy who always loves his mom.”

He tells me how much he loves his sister, how much he misses her when she’s not around. He fights with her and calls her names but he mostly loves her. And she him.

He pushes Elmo around in the stroller and he covers him with a blanket and the other day I caught him reading Elmo a book in his room.

“Every afternoon, after lunch, he whispers to me that he loves me,” his teacher told me last week.

Of course he does, I think. That’s his favorite thing to say. Some days he says it to me so often I laugh at its frequency and marvel at his sincerity.

True and Complete

I’m a week late to the Emma Watson HeforShe party, but I am here now. I listened to her speech last week amidst many distractions of life but when I sat down to relisten and to prepare to read the transcript with my students today, my breath caught at the line quoted above. Because I have a daughter. Because I have a son. And what I want for both of them is to be their true and complete selves. Isn’t that what we all want for our kids?

But just like I find myself worrying more about Miles’ love of guns than I ever worried about Nora’s love of princesses, I find myself wondering more and more often how long he will be this sweet love-declaring boy. How long will he say I love you out loud to me? How long will he hold my hand? Those things will ebb and flow as a normal part of growing up, I know, but I also worry about his ability to hold fast to his tenderness in a different way than I worried about her growing out of holding my hand.

Superheroes and dragons, swords and things that shoot – those are his favorite things to play with still. He is the good guy fighting the bad guys. Always. He sets up battles – Batman v. the dinosaurs, himself v. the invisible enemy. He pretend chops and pretend shoots and pretend kicks and then he comes right back to me and hugs me so tight it almost hurts.

He runs around on the playground with his friends, pretending that they have fire power and super fast running power. He pumps his arms as fast as he can so that he looks like the flash. He sees me at the gate to pick him up and he runs to me so quickly he almost knocks me over. He hugs his friends goodbye too. He’s the class hugger. And I want him to be like that forever and always.

Himself. True and complete.

True and Complete

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...
Be Sociable, Share!
  • Follow Me!

  • Enter your email address to subscribe to this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

  • Follow on Bloglovin
  • The Past…

  • Categories