Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Being Deliberate

My second year of teaching came to a close three weeks ago, and I am nearly two weeks into my first graduate course.

My head and my heart are struggling to catch up. 

Adulthood is no longer something that I can smirk at and roll my eyes toward. 

It's real and it's here and it needs my attention immediately. 

As I slug through the motions of finding a new car (my car was totaled about two weeks ago when a massive deer decided to stand its ground in the middle of the highway), learning how to budget, reflecting on last year, and trying to honestly process the readings I'm assigned, I keep returning to the same thoughts.

Are my actions reflecting my ideals?

How can I make sure that all that I am learning changes the parts of me that need to change?

How the hell do I relax and find a healthy work/life balance?

I don't exactly have peace right now, but I know that deliberate decisions have to come before the peace does.

So, for tonight at least, I am making a deliberate decision to shut this computer down and run until my thoughts run out.

Monday, June 19, 2017

Oneida Street

I was seven years old the first time I heard a gunshot.

I'd waited for my parents to turn off their bedroom light
before quietly stacking my dolls under my arms to continue
my play by the light of the streetlamp in the living room.

Three shots were fired.
Rubber screamed against cement.
Three beats of silence and then sirens.
I don't remember the sound of glass shattering,
but the bay window from the house catty-corner from
my own was now scattered across the lawn.

My father ran into the room and I waited for
the furrowed brow and demand of an explanation.
His anger never came.

The doorbell rang and my mother jumped.
A tired policeman sat in our living room,
one restless foot crushed the arm of my doll.

My mother brought him coffee and
he asked questions that I didn't
know how to answer.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Growth Is Messy

I need to go run.

I stared up at the ceiling and contemplated another nap.

Get your shoes on. Run for ten minutes. Then you can nap.

A drawn out and dramatic exhale left my chest.

I traded my dress pants for shorts, laced my running shoes, and was off.

The past few weeks have been nothing short of a whirlwind, and I've evaded processing it all for a stretch of time now. Some things are small. Some things are big. Right now, most of them remain labeled as "things" as I run through each labored breath.

Parts of the past few weeks will take time to process. They'll need to remain vague reflections until I have enough distance from this period of time to understand them clearly.

Other things are becoming clear in quick and unexpected moments.

Today was full of those moments.

It was the last period of the day, and my sophomores were about thirty minutes into selecting research topics and developing research questions. As I knelt down next to a group of students, each with questions and voices overlapping the next, a wave of exhaustion came over me. I put the group on pause so I could get a drink of water and let a moment of silence reset me.

I walked back into the room and smiled at the messiness of the writing process. They were caught up in it. Words were simultaneously being tangled and untangled. Each voice a layer to an overarching conversation we have been having all trimester.

So. Stinking. Beautiful.

My teacher heart swooned, and I realized how well I know their voices.

How well I've come to understand their idiosyncrasies.

How easily I can determine what kind of conversation is going on in any part of my classroom.

I feel so differently about my classroom than I did ten months ago.

Growth in the classroom equates to so many small moments, and few of them have built consecutively.

It's messy, just like the writing process.

But it's also pretty stinking beautiful.

Friday, March 31, 2017

SoL Challenge Day #31

It's the last day!

I'm excited that I managed to write every single day, and I'm hoping that I can keep up the habit in the coming months.

For my final day, I wanted to share a moment that is still echoing inside of me.

My creative writing students spent a great deal of time this past week reading and listening to poetry. We looked at different poetic elements and forms, but mostly, we responded to how the poetry impacted or didn't impacted us. 

I created a Sweet 16 Poetry Bracket on one of my walls, and the students searched for poems that they felt belonged on that bracket. 

Today we listened to first two contending poems: "OCD" by Neil Hilborn and "I'm Sorry" by FreeQuency. One, obviously, deals with OCD. The other deal with the way our society speaks about rape. Both poems are intense, and both poems have the power to make an audience uncomfortable.

After having the students respond to the poem in writing, I took a seat on my stool in the front of the room and asked them to listen carefully to me.

"Raw and incredible writing is not always appropriate for the general classroom. It requires a great deal of respect, reflection, and maturity. With that said, my classroom should not be a place that crosses your personal boundaries. If you feel the poems we read today cross your personal boundaries, I will redraw mine for this classroom. Send me an email or talk to me after class if topics like this are too much for you."

I went on for a few more minutes, but then asked them to share their responses to either of the poems with their table partners. 

I noticed one boy, who is usually rather outspoken, silent and staring blankly at his paper. 

I pulled him aside as students filed out for their next class.

"Was that second video too much for you? I do not want you to feel uncomfortable in here."

"Not at all. It's just... it's sobering. I'd never really thought about it. I just didn't know what to say."

Sobering. Poetry can be sobering.

In that moment, I was reminded of my own high school self discovering poetry that angled my view of the world. Anis Mojgani. Buddy Wakefield. George Watsky. Sarah Kay.

Sometimes the lines need time to turn and settle in us.

The words need us to be patient. To wait. To let them linger and echo in us as we grow.

My heart aches. This is why I write. This is why I read. This is why I teach.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

SoL Challenge Day #30

Subjective grading
gives me much anxiety.
I wait for complaints.

In addition to getting better at staggering due dates for my own grading sanity, I realized today that this foresight has other benefits.

I crumble a bit inside when students don't feel I've graded them fairly. I go through the rubric with them. I give feedback on drafts. We look at enough examples to understand the product without stifling their creativity. Their final grade is explained. Yet, it seems, with each assignment there are one or two students who don't feel they were graded fairly.

I handed back two larger writing assignments today. After watching one student crumble up his paper without reading the comments and another mutter anger under her breath, I felt entirely deflated.

So much time put into each assignment.

My willingness to discuss any grades after class was not taken up on, and I fought frustration with my students and myself the entire way home.

Tonight I will work through another rubric and try to eliminate as much potential for subjectivity as I can.

Tomorrow, I will try again.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

SoL Challenge Day #29

The first time a student had a panic attack in my classroom, I was a student teacher.

It was the second day of class, and I noticed her as my mentor teacher was handing out papers.

She had bustled in a few moments after the bell rang, quickly dropped her stuff and tears immediately sprang from her eyes. I walked over to her and asked her if she wanted to go to the hallway. She readily agreed and followed me out.

Once in the hallway, we just sat there. After a few minutes of breathing, she explained that she'd fallen on the arm that she would soon have surgery on. Panic ensued, but eventually subsided.

It happened to me for the second time yesterday.

She was the last speaker of the day, and the class waited patiently for her to come in from practicing in the hallway.

One minute passed.

Two minutes.


To the hallway I went.

I propped open the door to a study room outside of my classroom, and she was heaving with sobs.

Oh man.

Cue camp counselor mode.

"Can you sit on the ground with me?"

She nodded.

"Okay. I want you to breathe in when I do. I'll count for you. One...two....three. Let it out."

Several jagged breaths escape.

I smiled. "One more time."

Her breathing evened.

In the few minutes before the bell we discussed her speech, her nerves, and I told her all of my favorite dad jokes I'd heard on Jimmy Fallon the night before. She left, seemingly calm, with her best friend on her arm.

Breathe in. Breathe out. Everything will be fine.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

SoL Challenge Day #28

Things I've noticed since beginning this challenge:

1. It is so challenging to write substantively for myself when I am giving tons of feedback on student writing. It's like my brain is rationing my ability to put words onto a page.

2. Writing through difficult days has made me better at navigating them as they are happening so there isn't quite so much emotional aftermath. I try to be a reflective thinker in general, but writing through the mess requires more from me, and gives me more in return.

3. I miss getting the amount of feedback on my writing that I did in college, but this process has encouraged me to start submitting my work to different places.

My brain is mush. There are more papers to respond to, but I am happy to do it.