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Saturday, November 12, 2016

One Little Old English Teacher Lady's Response

I woke up Wednesday morning and did what I always do.  I made a cup of coffee, turned on my local news, and grabbed my iPad.  My husband had sent me a text message at 2am telling me I was right, it was over, and Mr. Trump had won.  It said some other private things that I will cherish forever, but that is private.  I feel like, as a nation, we've forgotten some things can be private.  My husband and I have never discussed who we voted for or why in public forums.  We watched the debates, and as a teacher of language, my students and I discussed both candidates' rhetoric.  We discussed the different media approaches to the election, and had lively, thoughtful discussions.  I would wager that many of my students have no idea who I voted for.  It never came up.  I am a teacher of language.  We analyzed the language on both sides and had wonderful discussions about how both candidates were attempting to address their target audience.  That's my job.  To teach my students to be critical thinkers-to examine the evidence and make a decision-for themselves.  To develop their own arguments (with evidence) and to attempt to see both sides of an issue.  Wednesday morning, as I scrolled through my social media, I saw on Facebook so much panic and disbelief.  I took a breath, and got ready for what I knew would be a difficult day.  I put on a cheerful dress, an extra layer of mascara, packed extra chocolate in my girl and I's lunches, and headed to school.

This election for me is not about anything other than fear.  With the ability to encapsulate yourself into a small spot on the internet and surround yourself with people who think like you, you can feed your fear and disdain of others.  The people who are devastated by the election of our new president are afraid.  They fear the racism and misogyny and hate that they believe will be possible-and even desired-as a result of Mr. Trump's election.  They surround themselves with people who encourage and support their fears.  They read articles about how horrible Mr. Trump will be.  They reinforce the fear and highlight the evils of Mr. Trump.  The spread news articles about the Trump supporters (considering there were thousands of them, I imagine it is a tiny percentage of them) who are engaging in their own hateful, disgusting actions.  But, I wonder if they've even considered the fear of the Trump voters?  Have they considered how marginalized these people felt-no one listening to their concerns?  They have tried to make themselves heard over and over again, and they talk in their own isolated corners of the internet, creating their own fear and hate of others.  They spread news articles about immigrant crime and other candidate indictments and trade deficits and growing government debt.  They spread articles of riots and violence against Trump supporters.

My question is, what have we done to overcome the fear?  The only way I know to overcome fear of a thing is to get to know it.  I am not afraid because instead of issues being a paper and pencil threat, I see the world as human.  The things I fear are the things I don't understand or know about.  I have seen the most ignorant kind of hate alleviated when barriers were removed and the people got to know each other.  It happened to me. I never really knew an illegal immigrant until I was a teacher, and I sat with terrified families and listened to them, taking on their fears and trying to see America through their eyes.  I never really understood their struggles or understood how much these people could teach me.  I had never met a transgender person until I was a teacher.  And then, I learned to love a young man, laughing with him and him teaching me humanity.  Watching his struggles on every level taught me so much.  And by authentically being able to talk to him about my misunderstandings and misconceptions he learned I wasn't trying to marginalize him, I was just un-informed.  I want to believe we both gained a lot from our relationship.  Honestly, I had never really known someone who is truly racist until I became a teacher.  And I have watched walls come down with students when they befriend a black or Hispanic person.  Of course, at first, they just think their friend is an exception to all the hate they have been taught, but  it is the beginning.  If I start off, with any of these people, by being closed off, refusing to listen, exactly what do you imagine these students would learn from me?  That they shouldn't change.  That their teacher is-insert whatever extreme group they think I belong to-and they don't have to listen.  Harper Lee's remarkable book, To Kill A Mockingbird comes to mind for me,  when Atticus Finch says, "You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view..Until you climb inside his skin and walk around in it."  I try every day to leave my biases at the door (impossible but I try), and to, instead, create and model a classroom where listening is valued.  I try to let students have a voice that will not be mocked, and I try to encourage them to listen.  I try to show my own curiosity and open-mindedness, and hope that maybe they will take a risk and listen to someone different from them.  Many of them don't.  I am aware of this, but if even one student hears something different,  thinks a little differently, I think it's worth it.  If I let my fear of the unknown of the upcoming four years show, I am giving permission to some students to feel afraid, and I am showing other students I am biased against them and their parents, immediately building a wall that they will refuse to tear down in the short time we have together.

What I am seeing, is not just a refusal to try and see anything from someone else's perspective, but an out and out war on people who are trying to learn from people different from them.  In the worst post I have seen, a person I thought was loving and kind, posted that Trump supporters were terrible parents, they could "go f*** themselves."  Can you imagine this bringing anyone together? As a parent, I try to live by example. I have never posted a curse word-particularly destined for another person.  What kind of parent writes this as an example to her child?  This person is claiming her daughter is being bullied.  Have you tried getting to know the families of the so-called bullies?  Have even attempted to understand another side of this?  Have you asked your daughter why the students that say these hate-filled things feel this way? Get off your computer and get into the world.  Go hug a bully.  See what happens.  Don't show your daughter the isolating, hateful, exercise of complaining and name-calling and accepting the evil.  Face it.  Reach out.  When you write that hate language, you immediately make people not want to learn from you.  You either reinforce other scared people who feel like you, allowing them an excuse to keep to their corner, or you alienate the people who think differently from you, causing them to fear you and, as a result, refuse to listen to you.  By the way, another thing I have learned, is that the overwhelming majority of parents are making choices they genuinely believe are best for their children.  The audacity for anyone to assume they know why someone was motivated to make decisions they did, and to insult their parenting, is the most hateful type of action I can imagine.  To believe, in the most ignorant way, that people voted to hurt others, and not even consider that, they, just like you, voted in a way they believed was best for them is the definition of elitist and in my opinion horrific.

So, what to do with all this?  Where do I go?  Here's what I know.  Now, more than ever, I need to teach empathy.  I need to give space and time for students to learn to listen.  I need to read articles that are counter to my own positions.  I need to remember, despite all the fear, that love and understanding really will triumph.  Because, I can't forget Scout's most profound idea, "I think there's just one kind of folks. Folks."    I am going to try to model empathy, and when I fail, I'm going to admit I was wrong and pray for grace. I am also going to offer grace and refuse to believe anyone is the oversimplified version of themselves they are creating on social media.  I am going to reach out in love and an authentic attempt to learn.  I wish you all the best in your journey.

Friday, January 1, 2016

Present: Being Here

Welcome 2016!  For the past two years, I have selected a word to focus on.  I saw a guy talking about it on the Today show, and I was hooked on the idea.  The first year, 2014, was the year my son graduated from high school.  I picked the word "cherish" and I did my best to focus on enjoying the process.  Last year, I picked the word "embrace" because I knew it would be a year of a lot of change. This year, my word found me.  In the last month of the year, I had several things happen that drew this word to me.

First of all, I have lost touch with many of my writing friends.  Every time they planned something, I couldn't make it.  I was too busy or it seemed too far away.  Then, one of the most important people I associated with the Writing Project passed away.  He was always planning ways to keep us together as a group.  I felt horrible I hadn't been to any gatherings.  However, at the busiest time of the year, I found a way to make to a writing session.  I don't know why I felt so compelled to go in the last week of school, on the night of my school's Christmas party.  But, I went.  And it was wonderful.  We sat and wrote and talked, and it was a gift.  There was a woman there who I admire very much.  She taught me when I was in the Writing Project, even though she didn't remember because she has helped so many teachers and shared her gift with so many people.  As we talked, she shared, even though I don't think she wanted to, that her mother had passed away recently.  She talked about being intentional.  She talked about being a person who doesn't just say things, but a person who takes action.  It really affected my thinking.  Then, she asked me for my blog address.  I wrote it down, and thought how kind it was for her to ask.  But, something remarkable happened.  She read it-she read it-and she left me comments and I felt validated and important.  She went to the beginning and read my entire blog, and then I went back and read the posts and it was one of the greatest gifts I received-her commitment to actually do what she said she was going to do.  I will never forget this.

Then, I gave a final to my seniors.  We had been studying the Holocaust, and our final reading was from The Book Thief.  It was the short story within the novel called, "The Word Shaker."  It is a deceptively simple story about words, and their power.  Inevitably, even if you have all the best words in the world, and you don't share them, you can't make a difference.  For our final, we became "word shakers" and gifted each other words or phrases that had been gifts in our lives.  As the days of the final approached, I felt apprehensive and worried that the students would take it as a joke or be stories.  It was my favorite day of the year.

As I was driving home, I got a text from my mom.  My dad fell over Thanksgiving break and in complete shock, my mom shared that he was not well.  To add to the news, there is not really anything doctors can do.  This is not a surprise, he has not been well for a while, but this seems like another thing.  They told him he can't drive any more. All of this seems really scary and sad.  I am always so wrapped up in my own head, I want to be there for my dad and my mom.  I want to recognize that nothing is permanent.  I want them to know I love them dearly and I want to make memories.

As I reflected on these things, I thought about my word for the year.  I thought about words like intentional and action and purposeful.  I mean, these things were all of those.  I know that I don't want to sit back and think magic and luck will make things happen.  I want to participate, I want to be active.  As I thought about it, I realized all my favorite memories are the ones where I am PRESENT.  Authentically, entirely, present in the moments in my life that truly matter.  And I knew, I knew my word and my commitment to myself and my friends and my family is to be present.

present [prez-uh nt]
1. Being, existing, or occurring at this time or now; current:
2. At this time; at hand; immediate:
3. Grammar. Noting an action or state occurring at the moment of speaking or writing. Noting or pertaining to a tense or other verb formation with such meaning.
4. Being with one or others or in the specified or understood place
5. Being here
6. Existing or occurring in a place, thing, combination, or the like:
7. Being actually here or under consideration

All the definitions talk about being, immediate, existing-and that is my goal for 2016.  I hope to be present in my life and for the people that I love.  I hope to write more and participate and help shape the memories I can't wait to make.  I wish you all the best friends!  Happy New Year!

Thursday, December 31, 2015

In order to find joy, we must embrace the challenge

HOORAY!  It's my favorite time of the year.  I love New Year's Day, and this entire season-more than any other part of the year (not weather related of course).  New Year's Day is my most favorite holiday of all of them.  It's because it's not about anything other than giving yourself permission to attempt to be better. New Year's is time to acknowledge your blessings and truly reflect on your goals.  My family traditions include sitting around all day and watching Netflix (I'm pushing for an all Gilmore Girls extravaganza of awesomeness-we are on the final season, and I hate it, but I will push on).  We will have a toast in our ONLY NEW YEARS ONLY fancy champagne flutes we got as a wedding gift, I will make black-eyed peas with ham and green vegetables with bacon and cornbread in a cast iron skillet, and we talk and laugh and love each other.  I freaking love this holiday!

As you may know if you read my blog, three years ago I stopped making resolutions. Instead, I began choosing a word of intention for the year.  I am staying with this again this year.  I have been thinking about what my word for 2016 will be, and I'll be blogging about it on New Year's Day.  This tradition has been a great one for me personally.  I love thinking about and focusing on a word that has the power to affect my thinking and my actions.  It has been incredibly powerful in my life.

This year, my word was "embrace."  I'm not being authentic if I write that I opened my arms and embraced this year of incredible change.  I chose the word because I knew this year would be challenging.  I have also thought about this blog, which I did not succeed at this year.  I have thought a lot about the purpose of writing all these things down.  Then, I went back and read some of the old posts.  This blog is my history.  It is me.  Right now I am going to embrace the fact that 2015 is ending.  It was a year of growth in my life.  It was a year that I humbly failed at some things.  I am thankful to embrace the fact that I have a long way to go.

In 2015 my son continued his journey to adulthood.  I knew I was going to have to embrace the fact that he has to struggle a little if he wants to be a good man.  I didn't do as well as I would have liked, but I believe our relationship today is one of much more mutual respect than it was this time last year. I have watched him make choices on his own.  It was really difficult this summer when instead of moving back to our home, he got his own place to live-his first home. The fact that he has become a wonderful cook and a kind friend has made me incredibly proud.  I have seen his generous heart in action. I have seen him face a challenge, and I am resolute and confident that he is going to be an amazing person.

My daughter turned 16 this year.  I did not do well embracing this challenge.  Holy macaroni, I was terrified.  However, last week she drove me around in her brand new, adorably perfect for her car and it was wonderful.  It was my turn to run the radio, and we laughed and listened to my playlist for a change. She is so much more capable than I would like to admit.  Today I met her at a local grocery store.  I walked in and she was shopping. I saw her before she saw me, so I watched her for a second before joining her.  She looked so confident and self-assured.  I stood in that store and tears welled up in my eyes.  I hope she knows how proud I am to be her mom.

I knew this year was going to be challenging for me at work.  Change was inevitable. I knew it would be easy to simply cross my arms and set my chin and be miserable. I would have plenty of company. On a lot of days-I failed to embrace change as I would have liked.  I failed more than I am proud of. I struggled and I fought myself.  But, my word kept bringing me back-I kept turning it over in my mind every time I heard myself resisting a new challenge.  I have really fought myself to embrace the things that will make me the best teacher I can be for the people I am privileged to serve and that I love so dearly.

I did embrace adventure in unprecedented ways.  My daughter and I traveled all alone to Europe.  I made a promise to myself I would try the food, refuse to miss anything, explore every opportunity we were given. We met some of the most amazing people and had the time of our lives.  Travel is truly fatal to prejudice and the greatest teacher.  I still can't believe we wandered all over Paris, just the two of us-lost as we could be, but continuing to laugh and explore and celebrate.  The memories I have will last forever.

I applied for and was accepted for a professional development in Washington D.C. at the US Holocaust Museum.  I went all by myself.  I promised myself I would not sit in the back and let this experience go to waste.  The first evening, I wandered through the national mall, basking in my favorite memorials and filling my heart and soul up with history and legacy.  I love DC and I was humbled and honored (and hungry). I met some of the most talented, intelligent, and compassionate teachers during this experience (#yellowdots4life).  I also embraced trying new curriculum and teaching my students something entirely new because of this experience.  I believe we are all better off because I refused to let my fear of really difficult content to override my belief that my students deserve to be trusted with the intellectual challenge they have earned.

I have a lot of new people on my team at work.  I am nothing if not an acquired taste.  Sometimes I can be really overwhelming to new people because I am kind of passionate about kids and education and I have a million ideas in my constantly moving and changing mind.  I will not lie-I was really scared on the first day of teacher back-to-school professional devevlopment.  However, my new team has been truly the biggest blessing.  I love each person I work with with my whole heart.  They have accepted me.  They keep me grounded. They make me want to be better every single day.  The teaching has changed! I am, for the first time in my career, advising a group of sophomores.  Every single day, for 30 minutes, I have the chance to talk and care about these 15 new people who are not students in my English class, but people in my awesome advisory "framily".  I'm working on it.  They are generous.  They are patient.  I am trying to be patient.  At our Christmas party we celebrated the fact that this was our first annual Christmas party.  I promise to do my best for them.

In 2015 I saw some of the most amazing people graduate.  I had an incredible number of students go away.  This was hard for me.  I have tried my best to send encouragement and love as I was awed by their success.  I loved last year's crew.  It was not possible for it to be better.  However, my word was embrace, and so I went into the first day of school ready to embrace whatever was going to happen. Best. Decision. Ever.  My new students are amazing. They are propelling me to be more curious and creative-to think in new ways and to show up every day ready to be challenged and to learn.  I am embracing the fact that I am a constantly changing person.

So, 2015 was a year of challenge.  I expect nothing less from 2016.  I am eager to welcome a new year.  I hope I am humble enough to recognize that my year of "embrace" was wonderful, challenging, flawed, perfect, and absolute necessary in my life's journey.  Happy New Year Friends.  I can't wait to see what comes next!

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

I love-I love-I love-I love OLIVIA!

One thing I love about teaching Seniors is that I get to participate in an event each year that marks a definitive change in someone's life.  I have been blessed with participating in so many young people’s life changing moments. Today marks one of the most important personal moments of unequivocal change in my own life.  16 years ago, December 22, at 3:32 in the afternoon, one of my most favorite human beings came into existence-my daughter!  I was there the whole time!  Olivia Linda Moore, I have loved you since before you existed, and now, 16 years later I am absolutely certain I will love you forever and always.  In honor of your day, I want to celebrate 16 of my favorite things/memories/awesome things that make you the greatest gift I have ever received:

  1. You hate mornings and love late nights, and I love mornings and hate late nights: This might not be everyone’s favorite, but some of my favorite memories we have together come at really not great hours for either one of us.  I love that you were born in the afternoon, kinda a truce time for us.  When we were in Europe together, jet lag had nothing on us-our late night giggles (that I’m not exactly sure happened at night for our bodies).  I love falling asleep, and then suddenly you are saying something that jolts me up in giggles or astonishment.  I also love the fact that I get to wake you up in your groggy state.  It is, and always has been, my favorite thing.  I am not forgetting to buy you an alarm clock-I forget because I don’t want to loose my morning cheeriness which you don’t understand and that first head kiss each day.
  2. Your fearlessness: You are fearless in the way that I will never be able to understand.  Each time you audition, I stand out in the hall or outside the door, and hold my breath until I nearly pass out.  I am inspired by the fact that you know what you love to do, and unlike most people I know-YOU DO IT!  Some of my favorite memories are sitting in a crowded theater with everyone laughing, and tears running down my face with pride as I can’t help but laugh at your amazing talent, timing and spirit!
  3. Your passion for weird animals: You always want to stop and pet things.  You are truly a donkey whisperer, cats flock to you despite the fact that you are allergic, you loved your bunny bunny and you would welcome a buffalo to our backyard if I let you.  You have a kind and adventurous heart for all creatures.
  4. Your music taste: I love your eclectic music taste.  I love that you have helped me appreciate edgy Broadway to 21 Pilots to Elton John to Disney Princesses to Justin Bieber to Dio.  I love that we can sing and rock and not worry about the cars around us.
  5. Your sense of right and wrong: You have an incredible sense of morality. You absolutely want to do the right thing, and you always strive to be the best person you can be.  You hold people to a very high standard, and you make me want to be better always.
  6. Your love of old things: You love old cars, vintage clothes, old TV shows and movies, and lots of super cool vintage things.  You are authentically in love with stuff that other people try to be in love with to be cool.  Thank you for helping me discover Cheap Thrills and old cars.
  7. Your love of tradition: You want to keep traditions alive.  This is really important to you.  I love that when I suggested changing something about our Christmas feast, you looked at me like I was speaking another language.  You believe in the power of tradition and the sentimentality of things.  You make me appreciate the memories and the connections that I often push aside.
  8. Your love of roller coasters and fast things: I can’t ride roller coasters.  I can’t even watch roller coasters without getting a little queasy.  But ever since you were tiny you climbed to the highest places and fought to ride the craziest rides.  You have made me peak and wave and celebrate as you sit next to your brother and dad and laugh with unabashed delight.
  9. Your sense of direction and correct song lyrics: Okay, you have neither of these things!  When it comes to song lyrics, I love that you sing whatever you feel like to whatever tune you desire whenever you want.  You make me realize that music is the most fun when it is the music you make yourself!  As far as sense of direction, I love that when you were three you got lost in the indoor PlayPlace at McDonald’s.  I’ll never forget your face staring down at me, wondering how you got there as I sent Austen up to save you.  However, because you have no sense of direction, we have been on many interesting adventures.  You are never bound by what is close by or what is far away, because you're not really sure what town we are in, so I am often willing to just go and see where we end up.  Thank you for making me realize the most fun can often be the journey, not the destination.
  10. Your wit: You are freaking funny!  I mean authentically make me laugh out loud funny.  You see the world unlike anyone else, but you explain it in the most relatable way.  Thank you for always making me laugh.
  11. Your individuality: I love/hate playing games with you, because you see the world in a way no one else does.  I’ll never forget playing pictionary with you, and you would get so angry that we couldn’t guess your drawings.  You drew a man in a suit with a really big head and you were so mad that we didn’t get it.  The word was “global warming,” and clearly you had drawn Al Gore.  This is how your beautiful brain works and I wouldn’t change it for anything.
  12. Your love of rain and pajamas and lazy days: I don’t love do nothing days, but you have made me appreciate Netflix marathons and popcorn and fuzzy socks.
  13. Your intelligence: You are smart-I mean smart in a usable way.  You enliven any conversation and you come alive when you school us all as the youngest who often knows more about stuff than we do.
  14. Your desire to make everyone smile: Even when I have been really upset, it has been your driving desire to make me laugh.  You will do stupid stuff or say crazy things because you hate for people to be upset.  Your kind heart feels the pain of people around you and you will do whatever it takes to make them smile.
  15. Your authenticity:  Oh my, this one is such a gift.  You are truly always yourself.  I remember being so afraid when you went to middle school.  I cried and begged you to stay true to yourself.  You have.  You are the most authentic person I know.  I am incredibly proud that you are always you.
  16. Your beauty: You are truly the most beautiful person I know.  All of these things shine in you, and you simply take my breath away.  I have never been prouder of anything in my life than the fact that you are my daughter.

Olivia, I love you truly madly and eternally.  I hope you have the best year ever.  Thank you for making my life so much fuller, happier, and filled with beauty.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Enjoy the Little Things...

I am unequivocally one of the luckiest people I know.  I am so freaking blessed, I don't even know where to begin.  I have an incredible husband who loves me and makes me feel valuable and special and loves all my weirdness.  I test him and push him, and despite everything-he is always by my side.  I have two kids who love me and accept me.  They have become amazing friends and who love each other. I am not even exaggerating that random people have approached me to tell me amazing stories about my kids.  My sister is the BOMB! If I go more than two days without talking to her, something is seriously wrong. My friends are super ridiculous.  They are smart and funny and we have discovered Snapchat together. They make me think critically, and when I can't do that anymore, they make me laugh at really ridiculous double entendres that only English teacher people can understand (we have the ability to make everything dirty-I mean everything.  Staff meetings and CPR training are potential gold mines for us).  When I have a super bad day, they convince me I'm not ruining the future or going to go to the bad place (another high school).  I have read amazing books and traveled to amazing places.  I wake up nearly every single day and can't believe I get to the work I get to do. I teach remarkable human beings who teach me so much more than I could have ever thought possible.  This being said, I thought I would write a post about 20 silly things I am thankful for.  Yep, still thankful for all the biggies, but here are 20 little things I am so thankful for today and always.

1.   My dog: I love her.  When I talk to her, she makes dog noises like she is conversing with me-even when no one else will.  She does sometimes poop in places I wish she didn't, but it's a small price to pay for a creature who is so delighted to see me at the end of the day she throws herself off of very high places and flings herself into doors simply to welcome me home.
2.   Netflix: I am not good at watching programs when they are on TV. I am years behind.  But I freaking love Netflix.  I have had love affairs with House of Cards, Breaking Bad and Gilmore Girls.  I am so much cooler because of Netflix.
3.   Yellow Downy Fabric Softener
4.   Baked Cheetos: They have powdered cheese, they are not too greasy, and I can convince myself I am making a healthy choice.
5.   Hot Hands Hand Warmers: When my husband and I were dating, he had a jeep.  The jeep was held together with safety pins.  It is much more awesome to talk about it now than it was to live it.  Our first Christmas together, in my stocking was hot hands hand warmers.  I used them when he took me to his mom's for our first Christmas.  I am so thankful for these amazing scientific wonders.  I still love them to this day.
6.   "Heathers-the Musical" Station on Pandora: There is no end to the amazing singing that has happened in my car due to obscure musicals that I have come to love due to hours of listening to this amazing station.
7.   Strawberry Flavored Cupcakes
8.   Wine in a Box
9.   My Husband's Love/Hate Relationship with Social Media: I love this man.  He is bold.  He is brash.  He is unafraid to tweet KFC to stand up for the respect he believes is due to the original Colonel Sanders.  I am in constant wonder of the magic of my husband on twitter.
10. Mark Twain
11. My ridiculously fancy watch: For our wedding anniversary, my husband got me a super fancy watch.  I wear it to run on a treadmill because it is super fancy and I love it.
12. Dresses: I love dresses.  I love weird patterns and the fact that they are only once piece.  I love feeling put together and I love expressing myself through my odd fashion choices.
13. Chick-Fil-A Breakfast
14. Converse
15. Sunglasses: My husband never trusted me with more than $7 sunglasses. For my 40th birthday, he trusted me with fancy sunglasses.  I still have them, I still rock them, and I still love them.
16. Edna (my car):  She is very forgiving and she is unafraid to go over instead of around when called for.
17. The ability to pause television
18. My Nook: I need to be able to access a preview to any book at any time.  This makes me feel so freaking powerful.  I can't even tell you how many samples I have on this thing!
19. Monday morning coffee in my favorite mug: I love coffee, but I have this one brown mug-it is my favorite.  Every Monday I make sure it is clean so I can make sure to have an awesome day that begins with my favorite mug.
20. Cheese dip

These are 20 little things I am grateful for.  I am also grateful for so many people who read my blog.  If you read this, I would love to know, what is one little thing you are thankful for this year?  I wish you the best Thanksgiving and holiday season!  Thank you for being a part of my life.

Monday, November 23, 2015

“We must find time to stop and thank the people who make a difference in our lives.” John F. Kennedy

Thanksgiving!  It is not my most favorite favorite, but I love it.  Our family likes to chill out, eat, and celebrate all darn day!  I love to send texts to people near and far all throughout the day to let them know how thankful I am to have them in my life.  I've been thinking about writing this post for a while now, but today seems like the perfect day.  I have read a lot of posts grateful for teachers-from students and parents and friends.  I am a high school English teacher, and I appreciate the fact that I have so many people have lifted my profession (and myself) up and encouraged me and thanked me over the years.  I work alongside some truly gifted educators and people who humble me not only with their intellect, but with their compassion and generosity.  I hope that they know how thankful I am for them.  My family is ridiculous.  They love me and support me and encourage me. They put up with so much so that I can do crazy things and be myself.  I will NEVER be able to be thankful enough.  But, today, I want to write about some people who rarely get recognized-my former students.  I remember when I started teaching, I never fully grasped the concept that the biggest blessings and challenges of teaching is that each year you start with a brand new team, which means that each year you have to say good-bye to a group of people, many of whom you have come to love dearly.  The common conception is that you will likely never see these people ever again.  Because of social media and my small town, I have many former students I have been blessed to become friends with.  This is such a special thing.  I hope my dear former students you know how thankful I am for you.  Here are five reasons I am thankful to have you in my lives:

1. You help want to be my best: You are right now doing amazing things.  You are in service to our country, or working, or going to school, and even though you don't know it, I hope that these challenges are a little easier because you trusted me to help prepare you to face the challenges you are overcoming.  When I see you doing miraculous things, I resolve myself to do my best every single day.

2. You showed me each moment can be a memory: When I post a picture or write something, often times I get a message from you about how you remember our class.  I am always surprised because it is not often the "big moments I thought I was killing it as the most amazing educator of all time" you write about. It is often the tiny moments I struggle to remember that you reflect on.  You don't often remember the amazing feedback I gave you on your essay or the titles of the books we read, but you remember getting your point across this one time in this one Socratic circle.  You remember making a new friend.  You remember laughing with me at the oddest moments.  You remember taking a selfie in the rotunda. You remind me that each moment counts.

3. You made me more compassionate: When I first started teaching, I really believed I did not have to go "all in".  I thought I could just teach you about reading and writing-maybe laugh a little, and we would be all good.  You showed me that this gig is not a temporary thing.  You told me about your lives, you wrote about your struggles and your triumphs. You shared your heart with me and wanted to know about me in return. After you graduated, when I have posted about my struggles, many of you have sent me messages.  You check on me.  You wish me happy birthday.  You take time to be a good person, and you make me realize no matter how much I have to do, there is time for connection.

4. You aren't too cool to hug an old lady: As a teacher, I don't really expect for anyone to remember me.  But, when I ran into you at that football game or at the mall or at Starbucks, you ran up to me and hugged me. I was giddy.  I was there with my friends or my family, and here comes this "got-it-all-together" young adult who I remember as a slightly less together teenager, who is willing to come up to me and give me a hug and catch up for a minute.  I am so thankful that you would take your time to say hi.  You will never know what that means to me.

5. Your success honors our work: When I see you post on social media about passing a test in college, or getting a promotion, or getting married, or loving your children, or simply being happy, I feel so much pride.  I listen to the music you create, I read your blogs, I look at your photographs of your families and your friends and your travels and I celebrate your success.  Your transition into adult contributor of society makes me humbled and so freaking proud.  

Dear former students, I hope you have an amazing Thanksgiving and holiday season. Thank you from the bottom of my heart from just a little old lady English teacher.  I wish you many many blessings.

Saturday, October 24, 2015

Embracing Imperfection

Over the last couple weeks, I have had some pretty amazing opportunities.  First, my students and I applied and were selected to attend not only a reading from Taylor Mali, but we got the chance to write with him in the afternoon.  Then, this past Thursday, I took 80 of my high school seniors from my AP Language and Composition class to Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art, a world class museum located in Bentonville, Arkansas.  After our trip to the museum, I was honored to watch my daughter perform in her first high school play (along with several of my students).  It has been a whirlwind of a couple of weeks.

There is something that has been hitting my heart as I have been participating in this crazy season of my life-imperfection.  I am swimming in a sea of imperfection, and I need to figure out how to embrace this. Taylor Mali, a nationally acclaimed slam poet and author, asked us to describe a page in our journal.  Then he explained that he usually gets two types of responses.  The first one reads something like, "My journal is filled with hopes and dreams.  The writing is illegible.  The pages contain scribbles from a young man/woman seeking the impossible."  Okay?!?  But then, he said, he sometimes reads this, "At the top is a coffee stain, not because it was an accident, but because I thought it looked artistic.  I see the beginnings of the song lyrics I was writing to him, "On the wings of a dove..."  There is a random phone number that for me, no longer has an owner. There are also the beginnings of a list: key chain, apples, light bulbs, oatmeal."  Clearly B is so much better-but why?

Hanging with Taylor Mali
Mali went on to talk to us about the fear of choosing one-the fear of being specific.  What happens if we embrace and examine only one page of our journal, only one memory, only one person-will all the others get upset (too bad :).  Upon close examination, will we be forced to describe our flaws-isn't it easier to appear perfect from 10,000 feet?  If all you have to do is look at my life from afar, I am certain I can filter it just enough so that, without even seeing the filter, you believe the glossed over image I can present.  Clearly, when we wrote the first time, I was response number 1.  I was the ambiguous journal without any real content.  I left with my head spinning.

Then, this past Thursday we went to the museum.  I was thrilled and a little nervous.  I had never taken a group this large-in the end; there were 78 students-on a field trip.  I was also nervous because I would be guiding half the students while the others toured with museum professionals.  I would be doing this in the presence of some of their parents (just so you know, teaching in front on my students' parents is terrifying-it makes me worry that I am not only being judged by 40 teenagers at a time, but also their parents might listen to my lecture, realize I am crazy or weird, and immediately contact my administrator for a refund and a schedule change).  As I guided my students to the two sculptures we were looking at (selected with help and guidance and thought from my friends at the museum) I was having a wonderful time.  I was thinking and talking and laughing.  

One of the sculptures was of a giant spider that is located outside the front doors of the museum.  It is titled "Maman" by Louise Bourgeios and it is a tribute to her mother.  Students examined the sculpture and we talked about why spiders are frightening and then we talked about if that fear is realistic.  Then, I talked to them about this being a tribute to her mother-she calls it an "ode".  I talked to the students about how our mothers in particular are seen by everyone else but us in a certain way, but that our relationship will never be fully understood by people outside of it.  I asked the students to imagine the tribute they would make for their mothers that represented both what the world thought, and what they thought.  I did this in front of some of their mothers.  I was so scared.  I didn't even know if they would get it.  I had no idea what the responses would be.  At first, to be honest, I feel like my students were confused.  I had not done a good job explaining the complexities the sculpture represents.  But then, a student brought me a picture of a toilet.  I said, "Seriously-a toilet?"  And gave in to my usual reaction that I teach teenagers, and there always has to be a toilet somewhere.  But he said he wanted to tell me about it.  His family immigrated for him.  His biological father is in prison, and his step dad works whatever job he can get to keep his family afloat.  But his mom.  When she first came here, she did whatever she could-cleaning, cooking, anything to learn and survive.  But now, she has worked herself all the way into a bookkeeping job.  He said, whenever he thinks of his mom, he can hear her tell him, "I don't care if in your life you end up just cleaning toilets-but you better do it better than anyone else."  He talked about how toilets are necessary, even if we don't want to admit it-how life would be unbearable and would not even function without them.  I laughed through the tears-because he was sincere and lovely and thoughtful and a teen-aged boy all at the same time.  How lucky his mom is to be that toilet.  While I was working with him, I forgot about being judged by the other parents.  I forgot to worry about if my 77 other students were getting it.  I simply lived in that moment-sharing this intimate story and cherishing the fact that this one human being had decided to share something with me.  

The amazing thing is I had these kinds of exchanges with students all day.  At one point, I took a 6'3 football player, and asked him to lay underneath an installation with me, and we talked about how we could never, not matter where we went, see the whole thing at one time.  People were walking around us; I have a feeling some people stopped to look at us (I mean, two people, one a giant, laying in the floor of a museum might appear strange to some people.)  But, we thought about the fact that no matter where we stand, we can never see anything in its entirety. Even the people closest to us. I got up and thanked him and walked away-I have no idea what he will take from that exchange, but I will never forget it.

My trip to the museum was not perfect.  I had some students get stuck in an elevator (because of their actions), and I had to deal with museum security and staff who I admired and who had trusted me to bring this many students at one time.  I felt I would have to deal with the scrutiny of the parents, museum staff, and my own administration because this had happened under my supervision-this has never happened in the history of my high school.  It hurt my heart and embarrassed me.  I felt like a true failure for allowing this to happen.  I honestly cried about it.  I didn't even want to school on Friday and deal with this issue.  I had let a split second decision by three teenagers impact one of the greatest days of learning I had ever been a part of.  I am human, and I am embarrassed more now for letting these affect me so greatly.  My administration did not yell at me, the museum staff simply got them out and said it was up to me to deal with them.  I have heard from only one parent on the trip, and it did not even mention the incident.  My students' reflections of the trip are, at this point (I am still missing many reflections) 100% positive.  If I get to go on this trip next year is a complicated question (field trips are never easy for a high school teacher) and there will be many factors that my administration and I will have to consider, not just this one incident. But, I intend to grow from this.  It made me think about all of the wonder I have missed out on because of my fear or embarrassment.  If I had been too scared to teach the students in front of their parents, or not been who I really am, I would not have connected with so many of them on Thursday.  If I let my embarrassment and shame prevent me from fighting for this trip next year, I will let my own humanity get in the way of my students' possible learning.  I have to get over myself, admit I could do better, and focus on the good stuff.

I am embracing the challenge to look at the imperfections and in them find the perfectly imperfect truth of humanity.  Instead of not looking at the flaws, I want to look at the flaws and figure out why they are what makes life beautiful.  I hope you find a little something today that makes you embrace your humanity.  I hope you have a wonderful week friends (it's my birthday week :).  Thank you for reading and forgiving me supporting me!