I had two good moments today for every bad moment yesterday. My favorite moment came at the end of the day when two students came into my room to waste time between school and practice. Both of these girls finished All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven two days ago, and have been anxiously waiting for me to finish as well. "Have you finished yet?" "Not yet. I will though. I promise!" "Well... where are you in it? What can we talk about?" I thought for a moment. I'm a few chapters in, but I keep flipping back to the epigraph by Ernest Hemingway. "The world breaks everyone, and afterward, many are strong at the broken places." When I looked up, they were giving each other a baffled version of side eye.
"I didn't see that part." "Me either. That's actually really cool. Who is Ernest Hemingway?" Be still, my beating heart. I listened and prompted as they unpacked his quote and asked Siri a slew of questions about Hemingway. I drove home smiling, and was reminded of the beauty in this daily writing challenge. Yesterday was hard. Today was easier. Thank you for lifting me up on the bad days so that I can look forward to the better ones.
For the past two weeks, my sophomores have been creating speeches about what it means to be a learner versus someone who plays the game of school.
I poured hours into this assignment, and was so excited to see what they would do with it.
While a few students hooked into it, so many students were creating carbon copy speeches of my example.
I was disappointed. We'd read through numerous articles that approached this topic from different angles. I'd created a Flipgrid response where several adults reflected on how the way they interacted with their high school education has impacted their adult life. I gave my own personal testimony, and we reflected in our journals every single day.
So, after giving a great deal of feedback, I tried again with a more straightforward approach.
I took an example paper from last trimester that looked a whole lot like so many of the papers I was seeing.
This group likes to critique, and they're pretty awesome at it.
"This falls flat at the end, like the writer just kind of gave up and repeated himself."
"The arguments feel generic. Actually, it looks kind of like my paper."
Small group conversations focused largely on these two ideas. I explained that while this paper technically meets the requirements of the assignment, the student isn't really taking advantage of this opportunity to reflect and to understand something about themselves. Therefore, it's not all that interesting to read.
Something seemed to shift, and when workshop time started, hands were up calling for my attention. I was worried that students would be asking me to create their papers for them after realizing that what they'd created needed quite a bit of work.
I really shouldn't assume. They keep surprising me. Their questions were direct and specific. They didn't need me to reiterate everything I'd explained minutes before. They were applying, and just needed guidance with specific aspects of their piece.
I am pooped, but pretty excited to see how these pieces of writing develop
Even though I spent a chunk of each day working on school related tasks, I still feel like I haven't done enough. That I haven't planned lessons that will be exciting enough. That I missed a whole array of things I could have been doing instead of relaxing.
However, I feel relaxed. I feel rested. I feel full from the laughter and conversations I was able to have with family and friends over the past week.
I will work for a while tonight, and try to come to a good place with my work and with myself.
I am learning a lot right now as a new teacher. Like, a lot. Every single day. My brain is saturated with information.
Some things stay there. Some things are involuntarily swept away as new information comes barreling in.
The things that stay though are shaping the edges of my teacher brain, and I've been thinking about one piece of advice in particular over the past few days.
"We have to respect teachers where they are at. We have to respect what they do well, even if we more prominently see their shortcomings. If we do not acknowledge and respect who they are right now, we will have very little impact on their potential growth."
This is paraphrased, but is the essence of what I heard many months ago.
I feel like other teachers have given, and continue to, give me this grace.
I hope that I give other teachers this same grace.
I spent most of the morning and day today hiking Effigy Mounds with the science teacher in our building.
She's on the opposite side of the building and I hardly see her during the week, but I am so grateful for days like these when I get to explore nature and sort through some of my backed up teacher thoughts.
It is relieving to hear someone speak frankly and directly when I present them with my challenges, school related or otherwise.
I crave honesty and feedback regularly in my life, and I have found a wonderful marigold of a teacher who values growth through conversation in the same way that I do.
With spring break quickly coming to a close, I began to feel the anxiety of school return while I gave feedback on student work last night. I fell asleep still running possible lesson plans through my head.
As I verbalized all of the things I want to do in my classroom to her, she paused and said, "Well, then do it. Why can't you start some of those things next week?"
Good question. Fair question.
I'm a planner and a micromanager, and neither of those lend themselves to spontaneity in the classroom.
She's right though. I see opportunities for great learning experiences right now in my classroom, but I'm too nervous to act on them without a summer of careful thought and planning.
My plan this next week: Let it be messy.
I can let them explore and present them with challenges to which I do not have an answer.
With a little over two months left, I want to challenge myself in this way for my students.
I will revel in the stretch that I can feel happening as I write this. :)
I have kept a plant alive for almost nine months now.
This is a big deal, you guys. I received it as a present and, because I see this friend often, have managed to care enough for it to keep it mostly healthy. I've forgotten what kind of plant it even is.
Over the past two weeks though, it has started to wilt. Leaves have browned. I watered it faithfully, but nothing seemed to be helping.
So, I poked around with it for a few minutes and when I pulled the plant out of its original plastic casing, I could not believe it.
The entire thing was roots. There was hardly a speck of dirt left underneath.
The darn thing was starving.
One trip to Target, and an hour later my plant was feasting in its new, larger, and dirt filled abode. Within three hours the entire plant seemed to have lifted.
I sort of roll my eyes when people compare students to plants. It's cliche, but the change that happened in mere hours after giving my plant nutrients reminded me of its truth.
I am responsible for the quality of the nutrients, information, my students receive.
Could they still grow with dry material presented to them in pretty uninteresting ways? Probably.
Will they thrive? Probably not.
My reward as a teacher is their growth as students and as people, and I want to see them flourish in both roles.
So, as I enter into the latter side of spring break tomorrow and begin planning for next week, I will hold this cliche close to my thoughts.
Next week I will provide them with good soil to grow and flourish in.
I finished up my errands around eleven this morning, and found myself driving through the neighborhoods around the University of Northern Iowa's campus.
Living a post-college life in my college town is this weird blend of familiarity and unfamiliarity.
This small area of town was an entire world to me for four years, and I'd learned nearly every square foot of it.
I pulled over on an off street and walked into the local campus coffee shop to treat myself for getting my errands done before noon, and smiled inwardly at the fervor of conversations between students.
Oh, academia. Paired with caffeine, you set people alight.
One pair discussed the social hierarchy of their dorm floor with gusto.
Another pair discussed an upcoming accounting exam with dread.
I love this. I miss this.
I felt my smile twist for a moment and then fall.
I can recognize my faults as a, basically, first year teacher. Most of them I've at least improved upon, but allowing my enthusiasm for writing and reading to overcome the stress and pressure I feel to look basically put together has been challenging.
I do love what I am teaching. It's difficult to get out of my head enough during a class period to allow that joy to spring forth.
I'm forming habits right now though, and I'm grateful for this reminder to make joy in teaching a priority.
These thoughts are only partially formed right now, but I think they're important to keep sorting through.
The five things I would share with guests at Leigh Anne's Favorites Party - 1. Aroma's dark roast coffee and vanilla creamer. I miss living near Omaha for a few reasons. The zoo, the bookstores, Ted & Wally's. Mostly though, I miss Aroma's coffee and baked goods. Nothing makes me feel quite as settled and ready to write as the smell of freshly brewed coffee and caffeine setting sail in my veins.
2. Books of poems. Poems have always been the best writing prompts for me. I love being able to look at the language and ideas woven together in ways I would have never considered.
3. Huck, or any dog really. This is my puppy nephew, and I have spent a good portion of spring break determining the pros and cons of getting my own pup. There is so much joy in this little guy's heart. It's infectious, and it is impossible to not feel more childlike and joyful with him around.
4. Dark chocolate, especially the kind with sea salt in it. Mmm.
5. A brand new Moleskine. Most of mine have been given as gifts. There is something that feels so academic and collegiate to me about writing in one.
I am twenty-five years old and still stumbling over the mudwasps working something furious in my throat, trying to form fists that are both heavy and light enough to fit around their straight shooter smiles.
I haven’t quite gotten a handle on it all yet.
But I can weave whittlespeak timbre over sun-spilled porches, stitch leftover lines into novelties, and bend the sky beneath all of the whitespace I’ve ever written into existence.
My fists will never stop buzzing banjos, and my voice will never stop searching for any shape of consistency.
On my drive home today I started to think to the last chunk of the year, and what I can do over my week away to make the remainder of the year more enjoyable for myself and my students. I'm sure I will add to this as the week progresses, but this is a start:
1. Eat lunch, for goodness sake. A real one.
My stomach rumbled at me as I walked out of school. I had packed yogurt and an apple for the third day in a row. A handful of students had stayed after school in my classroom today to watch spoken word poetry, and I could not focus or keep a conversation going at all. I need to fuel my body with real food every single day.
2. Stagger due dates for longer pieces of writing.
There was a stretch of two weeks last month where I gave feedback until 10:00 every single night. I felt grouchy and sleepy when I woke up, which was only moderately cured by my second cup of coffee.
3. Carve out time to work out.
I am a happier and more energetic human when I've spent time running the trails or treadmill. The past few weeks I have not prioritized this.
4. Trust yourself to change the plan.
Some of the best lessons I've taught this year happened when I felt comfortable enough to shift away from the original plan. I'm getting better at reading the room and adjusting, and I need to trust myself more with this.
5. Spend more time with colleagues.
I work with pretty awesome people, and I want to actually get to know them past brief hallway exchanges. This one will be easy if I treat it as a daily goal instead of a long-term goal.
Tonight though, my only goal is to sleep for eight hours and have a glass of wine. Yay!
"On the first day of school, you are their teacher. Not me. This classroom is yours. Not mine. I hope I'm not scaring you too much."
I sat in Denise's classroom, tugging at the hem of my "teacher dress" and tried to look calm and receptive. I immediately appreciated her personality. She was loud, which meant I didn't have to be. She was also direct, which meant I could ask her questions and expect an honest answer. However, her proclamation of my place in the classroom sent my introvert sirens blazing.
Two days later I started student teaching. My voice shook as I read straight from the syllabus I had poured hours into. Fish-eyed freshmen tugged at and adjusted their own outfits, their eyes darting from the clock to one another.
Oof. This was brutal. Everything felt forced. Everything felt mechanical.
With my mentor teacher out of the room, she had given me space to work through this. With each week, my robotic movements became more fluid and my flat lined voice warmed. I learned their names and they learned my expectations.
The weeks went by, and Denise encouraged and comforted me as I navigated the sort of classroom experiences that can truly only be experienced to understand. She was honest, and in her honesty I was able to reflect and grow.
I know I owe her another letter soon, and that this doesn't even begin to break ice on the foundation she helped me set, but I carry our conversations with me and think about them often.
She reminds me that when I feel my fear of failure begin to bubble up, that it when it is most important to throw myself into whatever endeavor holds promise for growth.
My creative writing class was a scene from a horror film today.
Actually, several scenes. My students started writing short stories this week, and while they were given many different directions to potentially take their pieces, many of them chose the horror genre.
I was tentative about this at first. This is not a genre I am well-versed in, and I am studying each night to come prepared with valuable advice for them.
I met with several students individually today to conference about their pieces, and as each story was outlined, a bank of memory unhinged in my brain. The first student's piece reminded me of the suicide forest in Japan that I'd read about in a Buzzfeed article a few years back. The second piece brought back memories of watching news reports on the Elizabeth Smart case. The third piece echoed local lore of the Council Bluffs Black Angel.
My students dove into these real life examples of their own stories. They were reading articles out of their own volition. Several had found interviews with victims of strange and horrible crimes.
More than anything though, I finally saw a spark move through the room.
Sections of writing were being shared without prompting.
Voices had a sense of urgency and ownership.
I moved from raised hand to raised hand feeling energized and excited to listen and guide.
As they filed out of the room at the end of the period, I turned to one of my students and said, "That is what writing can feel like."
She grinned and said, "I think I am actually going to work on it tonight!"
My heart grew two sizes. This. This is what teaching can feel like.
On Thursday night I couldn't sleep. My thoughts were spinning, and I finally gave up and called the one person who I knew would be awake.
"Hey sweetheart, what's up?"
My dad is nocturnal, and is most awake around 11:00 at night. We went through our usual topics of school, church, and their plans for summer. As we neared the end of the conversation, he let out a sigh and said, "Well, dear. I think Reggie is in her last few days."
I sat up in my bed and waited for him to finish listing the new ailments my childhood dog had started to display. Difficulty lifting her head. Walking into walls. Inability to find her way out of the laundry room.
I lifted the blanket to my eyes as tears flowed freely. I got her when I was nine. My mother had given my father a nearly impossible to meet list of requirements before we went to the pet store. I'm pretty sure my dad found the only dog in the tristate area that met that list.
I picked her up and she immediately snuggled her head between my collarbone and neck.
Oof. I was smitten. How can anyone say no to that image?
My mom couldn't. We took her home and I gained a goofy and rambunctious best friend.
I went home yesterday to say goodbye to her, in case she passes before Easter.
I held her to me, kissed her head, and reminded her of how much I love her.
So much of my childhood is interwoven with memories with her, and the ache inside of my feels stretched throughout my chest.
For now though, her sweet heart is still with us, and the snuggles from this weekend have filled my heart full.
In an effort to tell more stories, today I have written a poem. My Grandfather
It was 1998, Nebraska, and Christmas.
I’d lost a baby tooth on the drive over,
and I smiled up at you as big as I could
so you wouldn’t miss it.
You nodded and gave me a hug
that felt more like a handshake,
hands and arms tied to obligation.
I didn’t understand the hardening
that sometimes happens in men
who have seen more than they speak.
Men who don’t fit in their skin, so they kick at the surface
when no one else is watching.
I sat close to your chair and narrated my examination of the tooth. Each lisped word meant for your ears.
I was seven and resilient,
wrapping my arms around a man who
didn’t love from the same place as I did.
Week one of third trimester down, and I pulled into my apartment complex and parked. With my Friday after school coffee in hand, I balanced my weekend work on my hip and opened my mailbox. A tiny blue envelope poked out from under the mountain of grocery advertisements. My mom's name was carefully printed in the upper left hand corner. I slipped it into my purse, and climbed the stairs quickly.
My mother is a fiercely intelligent and kind woman. The nature with which she approaches the world is one that I both admire and continually strive to embody myself.
She's also a teacher, and a pretty great one. Growing up, I would often find her sitting on the living room floor with individual student learning plans covering the carpet and humming the songs her preschoolers would memorize over their year together. Her excitement for her classroom is palpable. Chickens are hatched in an incubator each year. Pumpkin guts are explored. Children's stories, quite literally, come life.
Complaints rarely leave her lips, and the language she uses when she speaks of others always acknowledges that all people are trying to be better versions of themselves.
I think about her often as I am settling into my teacher self. I hear her words leave my mouth when I direct students to put their belongings away. Her tone and volume echo in my own.
My thoughts shift to her when I walk into a conversation that tears something or somebody down, rather than builds. Years of observing her tact guide me to excusing myself quietly and undetected.
I carry her heart in my own, and that's a pretty incredible card I was dealt.
Her card sits next to me now as I look forward to the weekend. She sends her love (and a Jimmy John's gift card).
I will call her soon and thank her, as always, for everything.
"The witch in Hansel and Gretel was not strategic at all. Candy just builds fat. She should have managed a Planet Fitness or something and lured her meals in that way."
I stopped and turned toward the group in the back of my classroom with the look my students have become all too familiar with. One of baffled enjoyment guised in skepticism. They waited for my response, but it was the final period of the day and I didn't have a whole lot left in me. "That is a solid point. Carry on." The student smiled at me and continued creating her one-pager of growth versus fixed mindset.
Teaching four different preps is kind of brutal so far. I am in my second year of teaching, but in my first year with high schoolers in a rural school district. Each period changes, but my mindset hasn't changed its internal clock to match the pace of the bell. I'm sure this is in part because of a new schedule, and in part because I am planning and teaching new material each day.
Spring break, come quickly!
I am looking forward to rest, but mostly, I am looking forward to mastering this schedule.
I am growing more roots from which to pull energy, and that takes time.
I am looking forward to tomorrow and the conversations from the corners of my room that leave me a bit baffled and entirely content in the exhaustion.
I've sat down and tried to write today three separate times.
Some days I just don't have a lot of polished language to put out into the world, but if I am going to take on this challenge, some knots will have to remain.
We started a new trimester yesterday, and while I look forward to a change of pace, there is something that has me feeling deflated.
Maybe it's the momentum I'd built vanishing overnight. Maybe it's Lent.
There's something about Lent that quiets parts of me. The fuss that stirs inside of me on a daily basis is forced to take a reprieve when I'm told, "For you are dust, and to dust you shall return."
Oh yeah, I'm human and fallible.
Some day I won't be here, and while it would be difficult to live in that thought, it's important to return to that thought at points. There is time to patient. There is time to be kind. There is time to love.
There is time to meditate on God's Word and the sacrifice Christ made on the cross for me.
In a period of time where I find myself flitting from moment to moment, I am grateful for the quiet and the reminder of my vocation as an educator.
So, may the quiet guide me toward patience, kindness, and love when my surroundings aren't easy.