My stunningly lame final post for this month's challenge:
My random act of kindness was to finally organize the dreaded pots and pans cupboard in our kitchen. As I've mentioned before, I'm no organizer, so this really was a stretch for me.
I should have taken a "before" photo so you could see how disgusting it was, but I really didn't intend to find success with this endeavor.
That's it. Challenge complete. I ran out of steam at the end here, but it was fun to once again connect with others doing the challenge. I'm looking forward to my usual 2-3 times per week blogging about the things going on in my classroom. Thank you for reading if you stopped by this month!
Who inspires me to be my best?
Me. I inspire myself.
You don't go through an 80+ pound weight loss with no gimmicks or diets without being able to self-motivate. You don't have the courage to leave a dangerous, physically abusive relationship without wanting something better. You don't grow up in a house rife with addiction and mental illness and not want a different life for yourself.
So this one's for me. I kick a lot of ass, and I inspire myself every day to keep that streak of ass-kickery going strong.
I cannot think of a single opportunity that has passed me by, let alone one I'm grateful for. I've been wracking my brain trying to think of one, and since I can't, it must be for one of the following reasons:
1. Opportunities don't come my way very often. (This is cynical and I refuse to believe it. Opportunity is everywhere all the time.)
2. I never pass up opportunities that come my way. (I like this idea better, but it's false, too. I say no to stuff all the time because I don't want to do it. I have never been a person who has a hard time saying no.)
3. I have never felt the sting of rejection or disappointment. (I won't even dignify this with a rebuttal.)
I must be genuinely content with my life path so far and the opportunities I've taken and missed. Who knew?
A perfect day is...
Mediating with a cat on my lap
A sunrise run around the lake
A slow breakfast with time to read
Listening to storytelling podcasts while I shower
Coffee with enough cream that even a child would drink it
Reading science fiction/fantasy
Writing about life
Getting dressed up
A fancy dinner with just enough booze to make me bubbly
and dessert, of course
Tickets to some kind of show
In some strange city
Conversation with Tyler
#1: Early Mornings
I wake up at 4:30 a.m. so I can meditate, work out, read, and generally do whatever I want by myself. The hours between 4:30 and 6:30 a.m. are my favorite part of each day because I make the choice to start every day on my own terms, with things I love to do. I could sleep in until 6:30 or 7 and make it to work on time, but that would rob me of my essential "me" time. On days when I make the choice to sleep in or have a schedule change for some reason, I'm not as happy. I crave that time to myself. It's hard to describe to people who hate early mornings (who seem to be the majority), but the pleasure of my lonely early mornings ensure that I start each day with self-focused happiness.
My favorite activity. Have I mentioned that before? Any moments I can steal away to read something are moments of pleasure during my day. I'm always disappointed when people say, "I don't read," like they're kids refusing to eat broccoli. Why would you not do something that's pleasurable, that stimulates your imagination and also makes you smarter and more empathetic? The smallest, guiltiest pleasure in my reading addiction? The Dear Prudence column on Slate.com. I can't help myself. Ever since I was a kid, I've had this weird obsession with advice columns. I can't get enough of reading these small snippets from others' lives and seeing what the "expert" has to say about it. I limit myself to only reading this column because I usually like author Emily Yoffe's advice, and I also know how quickly I can turn into an addict. I don't remember what I was supposed to be doing/learning in my high school computer classes, but I do remember that I spent every day reading advice columns on the internet. This is the first time I've ever admitted that I do this. Now that I've typed it, I actually think being an online advice columnist might be my dream job.
I eat 1/2 cup of organic rolled oats with one tablespoon of generic Nutella and one tablespoon of powdered French vanilla creamer every morning (oddly specific, I know). It is perfect, and I am ridiculously excited to eat it every day. It is the perfect blend of self-righteousness (I'm healthy! I eat unprocessed rolled oats! Quick oats are for losers!) and sugar-addict chocolatey indulgence. If I ended up in some bizarro situation where I could only eat one food dish for every meal for the rest of my life, this would probably be it. I have been known pack the supplies with me in travel containers when staying at hotels just so I don't have to miss my favorite treat.
I would like to let go of stuff. "Stuff" meaning junk, mostly. I am not a clinical-level hoarder, but I have a hard time throwing things away, even when I know I should. This happens with the piles of junk in my basement that I have no intention of ever looking at again, the clothes in my closet (some of which I've never worn), and it extends into my classroom cupboards.
I keep random stuff out of fear that I might need it some day. Some of this I use- the bottom picture is my prop closet, and we put those swords and shields and donkey ears to good use during Shakespeare units. The top picture is where I need to let go. It's actually cleaned out somewhat since the beginning of the year because I've started giving away junk to students as prizes. Kids love junk prizes!
My fear came true just this week, actually. At the end of last year, I did clean out a lot and threw old student work away. I thought I was safe throwing things away from my early years, products from units that I don't even teach anymore. On Monday, I received an email from a student who is now a sophomore in college. He wanted to know if I still had a copy of a movie he made for a group project in 7th grade. I didn't. I threw it away in June. I remember the movie, remember how silly and enjoyable it was. I remember the tough choice to throw the DVD away, justifying that my MacBook Air doesn't have a CD drive, so it's not like I could play it here even if I wanted to. I know it's silly to feel horrible about this; that I can't possibly save everything from every student every year, but I still feel terrible. I still feel like I've failed that kid, even though I haven't heard from him in six years. I need to let go of the stuff and let go of the guilt that goes with it.
I would also like to let go of the past. I know this is probably the same for everyone in life. I would like for my mistakes not to bother me so much, and for the bitterness I feel toward others not to have such of a lingering impact on me. This is something I actively work on a lot in my life, but I still wish there was some way to erase it completely. I envy my husband because he is blessed with this natural ability to let go and move on. I said in a post last week that I'm happy I learned that I'm in charge of my own happiness and misery. Not letting go of regrets and scars from the past is one of the biggest ways I contribute to my own unhappiness.
I'm hoping to clean my closet out over Winter Break. Maybe I can let go of some stuff then. I'm hoping to enjoy the holidays with various family between now and Christmas. Maybe I can let go of some other stuff then.
My biggest dream for education in the future is that our society stops vilifying our schools and teachers. If reform keeps coming from those who love to drone on about our failing schools then we'll never see real progress. Focusing on the negative will not allow the positive changes we need.
I dream for a move away from standardized tests. We are spending too much time in assessment, giving detractors the proof of "failure" they so desperately want, and all of that time and energy is taking us away from the actual business of learning. I want reform to stop being a moneymaking venture, and for the powers that be to stop allowing testing companies to get rich while our students are made to feel dumb based on a number.
I wish someday I would be able to teach without grades. And I don't mean switching to standards-based grading instead; I mean no grades whatsoever. If we are truly preparing children for life, then why not have a model closer to most businesses? A quarterly performance review based on observation and work? I'm not saying that's perfect, and I don't have a real solution, but I wish I didn't have to put a mark on student writing. I could do so much more to help them love writing if they don't have the scars of past failures lingering with them.
I dream that those in charge would assign teachers a reasonable workload of students. As a teacher of writing, I should not have 138 students (or 151, or 146, just thinking of the past three years) and one planning period. I should have a number closer to half of that number, so I can give them the attention they need and deserve, without driving myself crazy. I wish that I could ask for things like that without people thinking teachers are lazy.
In the future, I hope administrator salaries are cut drastically, so that they make no more than $20,000 above a classroom teacher. The money districts save could be put to good use, like hiring more teachers (see above). The administrators in my district make more than twice as much money as I do, and I have the same level of education (the principals in my district do not have doctorates). Why are they worth twice as much as me? I'm not asking to be paid more; I think I make the money I should given that I have summers off. But I do think the discrepancy between teacher and administrator pay is insane.
I hope schools in the future are safe. I don't want to turn on the tv and hear about the latest shooting, the latest community hit by tragedy because mental health access was limited or signs were ignored. I don't want to worry that the quiet, angry boy in the back of my room is capable of worse actions than being a surly teenager. I don't want violence to be one more reason why people hate (or are scared of) schools. I don't want to hear the call for Lockdown Level Three and know that it is not a drill.
I want only people who truly have the passion for learning to go into the teaching profession. There are bad teachers out there: apathetic people who count down until retirement, people who have forgotten what it was like to be a teenager, people who place coaching sports above academic learning, people who reach a certain age and allow themselves to become lame ducks. I want those people to recognize that this is not the job for them, that they can and should be happier elsewhere. It doesn't mean I don't like them as people, I just want to know that schools everywhere are filled with only those who truly have passion and keep learning.
Okay, I haven't been as good about this as I hoped to be. I said I was going to spread more positivity to parents via email, but I've really only done couple since I set this goal on Day 9. That's me for ya: I'm an idea person. Follow through? Not so much. I would be unstoppable if I had the focus and organization to follow through with all of my great ideas.
The positive notes to parents that I did send were from my advisory "Homebase" group. Our homebase kids have to send an email of their grades every Monday so their parents and advisor can nip any issues in the bud. We encourage this to be three-way communication between student, parent, and teacher. Most parents never reply. I wrote a thank-you email to the five parents in my homebase that always respond, without fail, to their students' emails. I even got a thank-you in return for the part I take in helping with a student who struggles.
My excuse for not being better with follow-through is this: during that time I was commenting on and grading trimester finals for all of my students (138). On high-stakes, final writing, I write a response letter to each student. That's about 50 pages of single-spaced letters, tailored to each individual student, focusing on their strengths and weaknesses and the feedback they specifically asked me for in a Dear Reader letter. Here's a link to the letters: Tri 1 Response Letters
Forgive the typos (as I ask my students): I wrote them fast, since I always try to return papers and the letters within a week of turn-in. Many kids choose to put my letters in their conference folders so their parents can see what I wrote to them, so I'm allowing it to count as part of my positivity goal.
I have been avoiding this post since I first looked at it this morning. It seems unfair in the midst of all this reflection on professional and personal growth and whatnot to confront that I don't have any family traditions, unless you count the endless cycle of my step-dad entering his latest rehab stint, and the subsequent phone calls and bitterness between my mother, sister, and I. That's the only thing I can think of that my family has done year after year, with relatively little change. I could use my words to spin it into something I'm grateful for; that it has made me a stronger person in many ways, but I don't want to. Right now I just want to be bitter in today's post. I'll get over it when I'm done writing and go downstairs to snuggle with my husband and cats on the couch. That's my kind of tradition.
Instead I'm going to use this post to point out how I hate that our schools and teachers frequently do stuff like this to our students, even though it's unintentional. We make the unfair assumption that there are shared family experiences, things that everyone can relate to. The idea that everyone has family traditions that are even pleasant is so woefully ignorant considering how many of us grow up in at-risk environments. We lament about how we're supposed to get all kids to achieve regardless of what's happening in their homes, and then we treat them just as cruelly by expecting them to conform to some kind of "normal" behavior and thinking while in our care.
The rational part of me realizes that this prompt is innocuous and I shouldn't be upset. Maybe it's because we have parent/teacher conferences right now, and I've heard one too many teachers remark about students' home lives and think that they are stuck because of them, or that only a very few ever move beyond the bad circumstances of their childhood. I get sick of my coworkers making harmless comments like, "These kids aren't growing up with the kind of families we had," while I sit there and try not to roll my eyes. Kids are entirely capable of moving past their at-risk home lives if we don't pigeonhole and pity them. We are educators and we should know better.
I'm going to stop here. This is turning into nonsensical rant-mode. I think it's great that families have traditions, and I look forward to what my other blogging friends write about so I can live vicariously through them.
Day 21: List a book you are thankful to have read and how it has inspired you to be better at what you do.
I could (and probably should) talk about one of the many books that have inspired my teaching. I should mention that Key Works on Teacher Response: An Anthology edited by Richard Straub is something I consider to be the Response to Writing Bible. Writing without Teachers by Peter Elbow is something I still thumb through for inspiration, and if Donald Murray's name is on something, I'll read it. All of those professional texts (and more) inspire me to be a better teacher, but today I want to talk about a book that inspires me to be more compassionate with teenage girls.
Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls by Rachel Simmons is a book that connected with me on a personal level as a woman, and a professional level as a teacher of middle school girls. Just hearing the phrase "middle school girls" is enough to make grown women shudder. When people ask what I do for a living and I tell them I teach middle school English, their first reaction is never based on my content; it's a reaction to the age. "I would never go back!" or "You could not pay me enough to deal with that age!" and "They are so mean in middle school!" are just a few of the things I hear on a regular basis. And on one level, I completely agree with all of these statements.
I hated middle school, and I was terrified to go back during student teaching. I still carry scars from the girl who placed a horrible note on my desk about how much of "poser" I was, and how she signed it, "from those of us who are for REAL." As someone who's always had a crippling level of self-consciousness, and an equally high desire to be a unique mystical butterfly, that note crushed me. I sobbed in the middle of class until the girl who wrote it gave me a hug. A hug from the monster who created the tears in the first place! Or what about the girl, my best friend at the time, who told me she couldn't be friends with me anymore because I wasn't religious and she didn't want to be friends with someone who was going to Hell. I was twelve! Twelve years old and told by my friend that I would burn for eternity. Oh, I know all about how evil middle school girls can be, and that doesn't even count the horrible things I did to others, for no logical reason.
Odd Girl Out explores the way females treat each other, highlighting how we are often cruelest to our closest friends. The girls and situations described in the book are heartbreaking because they are so relatable. I have been that bully and that victim. I have both done and witnessed all of those types of relational aggression. I have perpetrated and accepted them as social norms among grown women. I read this book on a beach in the Dominican Republic, and could not believe that in the midst of paradise I was absorbing a piece of writing that so accurately depicted many of the social relationships I'd known in my life. The contrast between the white powder sand and the aching in my heart is a moment that blazed itself into my memory.
This book inspires what I do because every day I see this kind of aggression in action, and there doesn't seem to be a way to stop it. How can we prevent girls from being mean to each other when their mothers are mean to each other? Our society in general is one big place for people to be mean to women.
Odd Girl Out doesn't give any real answers; reading it didn't help me solve the problem. But it gave me more empathy for girls on both sides of every situation. It reminded me that none of them fall into either bully or victim category 100% of the time. It reminded me that instead of rolling my eyes when I read weekly writings from girls complaining about "drama" for the 10,000th time, that I need to have real conversations with the girls who write them. It reminds me that I should speak out against this aggression between women and girls when I see it, and try to stop myself from participating in it during seemingly-casual conversations. It reminds me to be a better feminist in my real, daily life instead of just from an activist viewpoint. The more we do every day to empower each other as women, the less this type of aggression will be commonplace for our girls.
I teach 7th and 8th grade English in rural Iowa and hope to reflect, connect, and share with other English teachers. Iowa Council of Teachers of English Executive Board member. Iowa Writing Project superfan. UNI MA:TESS graduate.