Potential, peripherals, inspiration. . . . 

Elizabeth Gilbert is all about inspiration in her new book, Big Magic. I’ve been listening to it daily on my commute to and from work. But this is not a good idea for me. I want to note, mark, agree, highlight, question, and, well, that is not possible with an audio book. So I bought the hard copy. I’ll go back and reread, annotate, and mark to my heart’s delight! But truth be told– who has time for that?! There is a reason why I first bought it on Audible. I can’t seem to find the time to sit and read right now.
I am bursting though. Her words are inspiring because she’s inspired. They foster an urge to act. Even more so, to create. So as I drop my son off at soccer, I try to decide where to go. (Yes, I leave. Really- he is in capable, adult hands, and I don’t really need to sit and watch a series of drills in order to be a “good mom.”) Where to go. . . . Not really feeling like a beer or glass of wine. Not really hungry. Green tea sounds delightful, but I don’t feel coffee-shopish. Then it hits me- the bookstore! I LOVE bookstores! I know, I just complained about not reading, but a bookstore is so much more. 
Potential. That’s what is in a bookstore. The shelves are lined with potential. Guides to become something, learn something, teach something, study something. Writers offer up their souls after sharing their struggles, while sharing their struggles. Some have it figured out, others are on their own journey. My soul is at peace in a bookstore because I feel that all the answers exist inside somewhere. Not in one book, but collectively. In everyone’s story. In everyone’s struggle, in everyone’s success. 
Not to mention the peripherals. The two college students discussing frustrations with the store manager at American Eagle. When they first became friends with a mutual acquaintance. The woman sitting, with her mouth slightly open and tongue protruding, skimming through a book about the Paleo Diet before picking up a diabetes cookbook. These peripherals remind me of what it was like to be young and working on figuring out life. Remind me to be grateful that I am not diabetic and, while I enjoy the Paleo diet plan, I am not beholden to it.
The inspiration comes from seeing the stacks and stacks of books written by people who “did it.” They did it. They wrote a book. They learned something. They can teach something. They did it. Their words are out there and it’s up to someone else to buy the book and read it, but they have done their part to satisfy the universe. 
I find peace here. I love that it is so organized- genre, alphabetical, visually displayed. I love the selection and variety. I love the randomly placed comfy chairs, tables with students on laptops, kids with their parents cozied up in reading corners. 
Just walking through the aisles I feel a mix of calm and a call of action wash over me. The titles alone beg attention. The covers have been explicitly designed to appeal to the passerby to stop and pause. Such a flood of words opens my mind to possibility. Could I? Why not? Would anyone read it? Maybe not. What would I write about? I don’t know. But, again, channeling Elizabeth Gilbert, you don’t write for “them.” You write for you. And if you’re lucky, you might write something wonderful. 


Mr. Keating was fired . . .

It is the night before my 13th year of teaching. I find myself flipping through random channels as I thumb through a local newspaper that features two articles about education and teaching. As fate would have it, I find that I am just in time to start at the beginning of Dead Poets Society.

John Keating. . . . 

The untimely passing of Robin Williams a short time ago generated an appreciation for his many talents and movies. For educators especially, his role as John Keating served as the inspiration to join the ranks of education. As a senior in high school, I compiled a video compilation of movie clips that represented who I was and the aspirations I held for my life. Clips from Dead Poets Society were present in large quantities as I began my journey in education.

First Day of School . . . . 

I stifle a laugh as the opening scene unfolds. The film takes us from classroom to classroom as teachers begin their classes. There is the Latin instructor that firmly believes in the repetition strategy of instruction as the boys repeat a series of words over and over. We see the instructor that outlines all his rules and policies and warns the boys not to challenge him on these points. A few more introductions and coma-inducing procedure lectures leave the students waiting for more of the same as they wait for Keating to arrive. They are startled by a cheery whistle and sit in confusion as he leaves the room after gesturing for them to follow. It is here that we experience one of the most iconic moments of the film.

Carpé Diem . . . .

Gathered in a hall, the boys are surrounded by trophies, awards, medals and photographs of the glories achieved by the alumni. Keating encourages the boys to look into the faces of those that came before them as he whispers, “Seize the day! Make your lives extraordinary!

Disruption . . . .
The rest of the movie features additional moments where Keating is pushing and challenging not only his students, but the status quo of the traditionalist institution. It is hard to not smirk, or to break out in a wide grin when Keating challenges the notion that 17 year-old boys cannot be free thinkers. The sharing of the secret society that “sucks the marrow out of life” has us leaning in with delight for the beauty held within poetry. With the headmaster watching disapprovingly from above, Keating leads the boys through a lesson showing ease at which we fall into conformity by having the boys walk in the courtyard. From ripping pages from text books that describe mathematical formulas determining the success of poetry, standing atop desks to see the world from different point of view, and, the final straw, infusing the boys with the “carpé diem” spirit to such an extent that Todd defied his father’s orders and continued his acting. It was this rebellious act that ultimately led Todd to end his life – a life he couldn’t fathom living without acting- and Todd’s father to allege that it was the teachings of Keating that were to blame.

Reality. . . . 

Back to the local paper I was reading while channel surfing. One story focused on the disservice done by Hollywood by portraying teachers as saintly martyrs instead of active professionals (Mentors Not Martyrs). The article features several iconic teachers, and I realize, they all battled to teach the way that they believed in. Why? Why do we have to battle so much? I want to be a Keating-type of teacher for my students, but does this have to come with the price of potentially being removed from teaching? Is insubordination the worst thing I could do? 

Disruption. Creativity. Innovation. 

They certainly come with a price. I personally, have decided it is one that I will gladly pay. I’m sure there will be some technicality or minor error that will snowball into substantial reason to let me go. So far I have been reprimanded for requesting student emails (for crosschecking our database), saying the word “crap” (Junior High??), and being “too overwhelming” for some people with my enthusiasm/passion for teaching. At any rate- fear can cripple creativity and passion to the point of mediocrity. It is when egos supersede camaraderie,  protocol over personalization and control trumps creativity that kids are truly failed.

Mr. Keating was fired.

What is best for kids . . . .

Go ahead. Google the phrase “What is best for kids.”  You will get a long list of sites, blogs and information for administrators. One of my favorite people to follow on Twitter is even listed on the first page-  so I don’t mean to present this as a completely negative outcome. 

My point is this: What is actually meant when administrators use the phrase “What is best for kids”?
On a day that teachers are attending building opening meetings, it seems to be the top catch phrase. 
I understand that for some situations, it may be said in an effort to make some hard choices, or to get outside of our own egos, comfortable spaces, old habits and fixed Mindsets. 
But does it carry an implied message? When it follows new procedures, policies, or assignment changes, it can feel manipulative, subversive, or at best, condescending. 
This last year I was shifted from my role teaching 7th grade English/Accelerated English to a schedule with three different Reading classes and three regular English classes. This shift also included being moved “off-team” from three fantastic educators that I worked with very well. 
When I asked for reasons for this shift, it came down to the need to fill positions with people that were “highly qualified” and this included moving a 9th grade teacher into 7th grade classes. This teacher was adamant about not wanting to teach 7th grade. She felt she was not a good fit with the – let’s say- energy level of that age group. 
The solution was to put her “on-team” where she would have “support.”
This move was filed under the phrase: We believe this is what is best for kids. 
I am incredibly grateful to have had the summer for reflection and “silver lining” finding, however, I still chew on this phrase. 
From my perspective, “what is best for kids” would be access to a teacher passionate about teaching the writing skills assigned to the 7th grade English  curriculum. A teacher who thoroughly enjoys the transformation of student during the 7th grade year from children to young adults. A teacher who works well with the teachers of the other subjects and meets on a daily basis. 
Is this the whole picture? No. It’s my perspective. Could there be more to it? Certainly. Are kids really going to be traumatized by this decision? Doubtful. 
I welcome and appreciate the opportunity to grow from this new challenge, as is the new 7th grade English teacher. We can’t change our situation, but we CAN change out attitudes. 

I continue to hear “What is best for kids” as the final line from administration. 

I would appreciate if ownership was taken that it is THEIR VIEW of “what is best for kids.”  I have wondered, “Why don’t they realize that is EXACTLY what I’m trying to do?”

Let’s talk. Let’s drop the lines that can imply a lack of effort, caring, intelligence and, especially, professionalism: what’s best for kids, just use common sense, etc. 

Always a teacher. . . .

First of all, I would rather teach all year than have 12 weeks off in the summer. Sure- it’s great for the first 3 or 4 weeks and then . . . I’m done! This is when I start noticing all the things that should be cleaned. You know – the baseboards, the light bulbs, the ceilings, the window sills, the “Monica” closet (see Friends reference here). Not only do I see projects everywhere, but I see the messes my son walks away from everywhere! Towel on the floor, milk on the counter, socks all over! Poor kid is eight and really does try to pick things up, but he still doesn’t “see” what he leaves behind. Teacher mode activated.

Attempted Solution
We have tried job charts and check sheets, but as soon as we forget to keep up on them, they lose all credibility. I have tried apps and reminders, but as soon as I open my phone to update, I check Facebook, Twitter, email and . . . . there was something I was supposed to check. . . Oh well!
I need something physical. Something that is visible to us all but not creating more clutter.

Awareness Jar
A jar of glass rocks. We are starting it half full that way there is room to move both directions. Rocks will be added as a visual to note increased awareness and removed for lack of awareness. I’m not really wanting to attach rewards or consequences, so I am working on how to make it relevant and meaningful. Continue reading

Cultivate . . . .

“Il faut cultiver notre jardin” ~Candide by Voltaire
Cultivate your own garden.

My friend Paige first introduced me to this sentiment in the fall of 2013. We were both working on transitions happening in our personal and professional lives. As Brené Brown refers to it, we were in the middle of our “Breakdown – Spiritual Awakening.” Trying to remember who we were at our core, who others believe us to be, and who we are when we are most happy, we began a journey that has led us to deeper experiences and relationships. 

Welcome to my garden.

My plan for planting includes an abundance of creativity! When is the last time you picked up a crayon, colored pencil, paint brush? There is something remarkably simple and rejuvenating about the act of applying color to a blank canvas. It seems that, as teachers, in order to increase difficulty and formality in education, we cut out the creativity. The color. The fun. Without sacrificing the integrity and objective of an assignment, what can be included in lessons for this opportunity for creativity? I don’t mean just coloring the front of a brochure- but real, inspired creativity.

Continue reading

Beginnings. . . .

A glass of wine and surrounded by the best people I know, we lay out our personal aspirations that scare us the most. One, a math specialist, has been hired as an instructional coach for two elementary schools. Terrified of teaching anything remotely ELA, she is jumping in. Another, encouraged by a college professor, is embarking on a journey to write a book about Chinese immigrants in Idaho – specifically the women involved. Jumping in. My mother, dedicated to her work for over 20 years, has been drawn towards doing her work on a larger level as well as her current position This leaves me. . . . . 

They were shocked. My closest friends and my own mother were shocked by what I was scared of most. I am scared to start this blog. My mind runs with insecurities and yet, at the end of the day, I know this much is true: I don’t propose to know more than anyone. I only know differently. A bit of tech, a lot of writing, and a need to organize it with other random information. 

So – I’m jumping in. Both feet. Eyes open. No expectations of grandeur or success. Just the hope that I can learn from others and that here, on this blog, I can have a voice.