Collecting every positive quote about independence, strength, courage to be myself, know I’m who I say I am, yadda yadda yadda, but seriously, I sense a profound shift in my relationship connections with others of my species. I wonder…is this trauma?
And I’m thinking the only remedy is some kind of further homeopathic response: fight this isolation with further isolation, that somehow by allowing myself time and space to forcibly evict some of the harmful thoughts and events.
Just a garbage post to remind myself I can do better, it will be better, and it’s going to be okay.
There were more than a few times when I told students that I was not a television, video, or YouTube star, I was a human, talking in real time, and to actively listen and practice solid metacognitive thinking, having a dialogue/exchange is one of the ways we learn from each other. Face to face. In person.
I joked with my students (we started school on September 9) that now I am a YouTube star. One student said WHAT IF YOU DID MRS. LOVE?! What if I did indeed. My chubby face, grandma-wave-bye-bye-arms, and extremely warm workspace (yes, that’s the shed payment on my bar so I don’t forget) is not the makings of movie and screen magic. I gave them the metaphor it’s like they’re on Jupiter, I’m on Mars, and I’m their teacher in space. That analogy seemed to help frame our current situation.
But I am lucky. And I wish “luck” had nothing to do with it. My district and several neighboring ones are working remotely. Reading about the lengths teachers and parents are going to around the country, many schools opening to face to face instruction, closing right back up again, etc. I’m seeing tweets about being “allowed” to wear scrubs to school (!!!!!) and which ones don’t get wrinkly. My pitch for my novel: the future is a hybrid of schools/hospitals where the sick and dying are cared for by women in scrubs providing rotating read-alouds. Forever. The End.
Yes, teachers are asking for scrubs recommendations. And wondering about classroom management so kids keep their masks on. I can’t even get a Ford Dealership service manager to keep his mask on, what makes us think we can expect our colleagues and students to do so?
The big things: the skies are thick with smoke, hazy and orange, visibility and air quality down to nothing, somewhere in an orange man is plotting his return by lies, cheating, and stealing with complicit minions, fires are burning, COVID keeps killing, and there is not a thing I can do about it. Oh, and white supremacists continue to spew their toxic, hateful, racist, immature garbage for their trolls. And get published by Education Week.
The little things: my students did log on this week, by and large. I kept the cognitive load low. I helped a student with her science homework. I helped one student work out a flexible schedule so he could work 40 hours a week and still go to school (I know this doesn’t sound like “help” but I will do whatever I can to help this young man graduate and support his family.) We had great conversations in drawing class, and we now have a mermaid skeleton naming contest for next week.
I’m going to keep focusing on the little things. They are large in my heart.
John Oliver’s recent episode about history in the United States summed up what many of us have been thinking, saying, and advocating for for a long time. (Language warning. It is HBO, after all.)
We teachers must do a much better job at making sure our ELA, History, Science, Math and electives reflect and provide more than dates and events, and especially the racism of omission. Some teachers don’t know where to start with this process, so I’ll offer a few suggestions and resources, and overall, this is a case made for adding accurate and representational historical fiction to your readings.
Jennifer Binis is an educational historian, and shared this thread on Twitter. First and foremost: shape your questions around bigger thinking:
I love fiction. And I love history. Historical fiction is my Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup of literature. The best historical fiction blends a perfect balance between my background knowledge, my curiosity, and willingness to research, and learning something new. Historical Fictions novels are my portable time machines, where I get to live a life set in reality, time, and setting. I learn so much from great historical fiction, and its pairing with history would truly help deepen contextual and important learning.
Readings – Historical Fiction/Fantasy
Some historical fiction novels are deeply problematic. However, they can be used as mentor texts of what not to do. Many of us don’t have time in the school day to do this, but just be aware: if you can steer away from teaching the problematic ones, please do so. There are so many other solid choices out there that don’t uphold white supremacy or colonization. Here are a few books I recommend, and am continuing my search. Please recommend historical fiction novels that involve US History.
Dread Nation by Jill Ireland: Dread Nation is NOT historical fiction, but I’m adding it here as an example of historical fiction mixed with fantasy/horror.
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead – this is also not exactly historical fiction, but a mixture of magical realism.
The Nickel Boys by Colson Whitehead: I am hoping to teach this whole class next year if I get permission, or add it to independent study if I don’t.
A Soldier’s Heart by Gary Paulson; this short novel touches on one soldier’s story and battle fatigue.
The Astonishing Tale of Octavian Nothing by MT Anderson: this novel was life-changing for me. The second novel is equally important.
Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi: a story of two sisters and their paths through enslavement.
The Seeds of America Trilogy: Chains; Forge; Ashes by Laurie Halse Anderson
Weedflower by Cynthia Kadohata
The Last Town on Earth by Thomas Mullen (very apropos to our times)
Fever: 1793 by Laurie Halse Anderson
An Indigenous People’s History of the United States for Young People by Jean Mendoza, Debbie Reese, and Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz
An African American and Latinx History of the United States (REVISIONING HISTORY) by Paul Ortiz
Today is unquestionably beautiful: the summers in the Pacific Northwest are glorious. It’s 9:30 AM, 68°F, relatively low humidity, and sunset is at 8:56PM tonight. I mention that because summer is light and warmth. Now I love a good, Gothic, gloomy rainy day next to the vampiric girl, but I can appreciate summer, too.
I’ve used Mary Oliver’s line from this poem as a personal tagline for over a decade: “Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?
So, a reminder: it’s okay to take a break during the summer. It’s also okay to play. Do some curriculum planning. Plant some daisies. Tell my family I love them. Make a will. Up my life insurance. Draw some doodles. And just enjoy this one life.
This last week of June has been full of tears, grief and sorrow. No, no one I knew was sick or died. Wait–yes, someone just this morning reported the death of a cousin. And though I’ve reached the last of the thirty days of posting, the work, thinking, and focus is not over–it’ll never be over.
My husband and I have been doing all right during the quarantine. Some little snarls here and there, but nothing that’s a big deal. We mostly move around the house, separated by a few rooms, and leave each other to our work.
But last night, he came in to check on me during another one of my marathons of ‘Jane the Virgin,’ and just broke down. He didn’t cry, or scream: he expressed how much sorrow and distress he feels for white cops killing Black people, and just wants it to stop. I am doing a horrible job of describing his voice, his body language, and sorrow. But it unnerved me: I know how he feels and what his values are. But this different: he is in a great deal of physical chronic pain, and that’s been his focus to try to manage, and to see the pain of the world and our nation, too…I told him about Elijah McClain and we both started to cry. And we both know tears aren’t enough.
If you don’t think you have a friend, partner or spouse like mine, someone who shares this grief, you do: I can be here for you, too. This is all about love. White people: if you respond to the world with debilitating fear and loathing, it will betray you. It will betray your chance at love. Fear will destroy you.
But if you love, your fear will calm. You find joy again. Love your fellow human.
The Summer Day
Who made the world?
Who made the swan, and the black bear?
Who made the grasshopper?
This grasshopper, I mean-
the one who has flung herself out of the grass,
the one who is eating sugar out of my hand,
who is moving her jaws back and forth instead of up and down-
who is gazing around with her enormous and complicated eyes.
Now she lifts her pale forearms and thoroughly washes her face.
Now she snaps her wings open, and floats away.
I don't know exactly what a prayer is.
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through the fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?
This is going to be an odd confession: I dislike the word “joy.” I don’t know why. The cynic in me? The grumpy old lady? The word feels blandly chewy in my mouth. I don’t like the texture of it. It’s the uncooked tofu of words. When I think of Marie Kondo and things ‘sparking joy’ I look around my ‘stuff’ and my happiness is diminished because seeing it through another’s eyes makes me doubtful and harnesses my insecurities.
But this morning I got an uncharacteristically early text from my dear friend, suggesting I do something joyful today, or that would bring me joy. She must recognize I am in a place of deep despair for our government today. We are watching a corrupt takeover of our nation and everyone, and I mean everyone, has something to say from their seat in the auditorium. It is not out of the realm that the current president could declare martial law, cancel elections, and take over the press and other media outlets. This morning I am out of hope. And I am ashamed of my gall and privilege for, while being outraged and sickened, during my life I lived with veiled trust and progress. We, White people, did not do nearly enough to include, raise or center others’ voices. We marginalized Black History Month–the audacity of a “month” where every month, every day, the voices of history and present demand and deserve to be heard.
Back to joy: what will bring me joy today? Maybe joy isn’t going to ‘bring’ me anything: maybe I have to reach out for it, recognize it, and allow it in. I do have small moments of euphoria–where my serotonin levels bust through and I’m in a peaceful ‘everything is cool’ nirvana. Work brings me joy: productive disruptions, productive anger, and opening space and making room. And friends who give me wise woman words to put down my shield for a few hours and rest.
I don’t have this entirely substantiated, so if my facts are incorrect, I apologize–this is a quick sketch of my new teaching position and how the students’ classes are structured. I believe my principal made this change last year in order to help more students recover credits and graduated on time or close.
There are a few pathways for students at this alternative high school, but the shift has been to offer ‘day school’ options alongside the computer programs and off-campus options. I’m still learning more about those, and can’t speak to them. However, here’s my role: I was hired as full time ELL/ELA, and in the past had a teacher who came in to support the ELL students and keep up the paperwork, but no full-time class. She’s been helpful in my transition to the building and role as an ELL teacher.
My principal changed the schedule to four periods per day, about 75 minutes each, and each quarter is worth a semester’s credit. As teachers who were in the building prior to this shift have had to adjust their scope/sequences and tighten up content, and it is a challenge to ‘fit it all in’ in a quarter. For me, this is how most high schools should operate, especially for freshmen who are trying to acclimate themselves to high school. There are pros/cons to this schedule, and it would have to be rolled out with intentionality and understanding of impact.
Students at alternative high schools have a different transportation system than others. They have to wait at their home schools for another bus, and the busses are often late, and students must wait outside in the cold. No accommodations are made to keep them warm while they wait.
Students at alternative schools often have a deep history of trauma, attendance obstacles, academic and emotional challenges, and if they don’t have the support they require during the school hours when they’re present, and moreover, accommodations for support when they’re not, they lose credits, and then may give up.
These accommodations must mean allowing for make-up work at 100%, choosing careful times when they’re present to get the work done (this is happening at my school, but I need to be more conscious of this), and never marking a zero in the grade book if a student is absent: missing, yes, but no zeros. (I need to take a look at this, too.)
Four classes a day means there are limited course options. But, the quarters are quick, so they can grab other classes when they need them.
There is time in the class to go at a calmer, deeper-learning pace.
The class sizes are smaller at alternative high schools, and the benefits of this cannot be overstated. One notice, though, is if kids are absent, the momentum does slow down.
Small class size and longer class periods allows for better connections and relationship building. If one struggles with this as a teacher, it might be challenging.
Students can recover credits quickly, and that gives them momentum and hope.
Tightens up learning, and as helped me focus on essentials–what’s really important:
Reading/Independent reading, journaling, close reading, discussions, seed ideas/ theory of themes, informational texts, and work across all content areas
My two freshmen girls are very excited, and so proud of themselves for having completed/passed all their first quarter classes. One girl wants her mom to come to conferences because this is the first time she’s ever passed all of her classes!
Many students, however, continue to struggle with attendance, substance abuse, and other responsibilities.
As I get to know my colleagues, it’s my hope that we continue to grow and collaborate on essentials and cross-content connections. I have a lot of autonomy this year to create curriculum, and this space is where I’m fulfilled and excited.
Finally: to all of you 8th grade students out there: please–do NOT blow this year off, thinking it “doesn’t count.” It is for your present and your future–when your teachers say “you’re going to need this” what they mean is not some abstract time, but concrete, hard and fast: you are working on background knowledge, content, skills, strategies and empowering yourself to be turbo-charged for your days in middle school AND for your beginning in high school. Guaranteed, you must be a craftsperson of your own knowledge building. Grades may not “count” in middle school but they count in priceless, immeasurable ways. It’s a paradox. You will feel this vague and uneasy sense that you ‘missed something’ and feel lost. Eighth grade allows you the time to practice, take risks, and fail, and those risks will serve you well.
“Everywhere we go, always take the weather with you…”
We move through the world, on our own narrow trajectories, new places, friends, lost and found, along the way. Thinking the other day of what it’s like to join a new community as a teacher, I am no expert. Some teachers stay relatively in the same building for years, and others jump around a bit more. I’ve changed districts three times, and reflecting on that, it’s been imbalanced.
When moving to a new teaching community, we can only bring the person we are. We come with our own narratives: hurt, experiences, successes, etc. We craft our identities based on our values:
Thinking of my own professional timeline, twelve years at a Title I middle school, one year at another, and now at an alternative high school in my third district, with a new position as the ELL/ELA and ELL Study Skills teacher, and a Check/Connect time. I really admire and appreciate my principal and assistant principal. It’s a small, tight-knit staff, overall. There are prior grievances and interpersonal conflicts, of course. And I’m finding who aligns with my values for the workplace, and more importantly, our students. Culturally relevant teaching, engaging, representational literature and texts, student support and connections: I can infer which staff members feel the same way I do. It takes time. For example, I put these posters outside the room I share, and one of the teachers happened down the hallway, and they brought up a great discussion about a new Netflix show she shows students, “One Strange Rock.”
Now I’m navigating other treacherous waters. I have the full support of my admin, who has made it very clear I am in charge, he hired ME and my expertise, and to make the program my own. I am giddy and energized by this. And then, on Friday, (and there’s context here I won’t get into) a mentor basically cut me off and said, not quite in a loud voice, but kind of, sort of, loud and aggressive, at least to my ears, “WE ALL KNOW WHAT YOU KNOW, KELLY!” Fortunately, I don’t think anyone else heard her, but I can’t be sure. I have a habit of prefacing a statement with context, but once in awhile this irritates others. It’s a gopher hole I step in, unintentionally, of course, but it’s painful nonetheless. I stayed calm and approached it from another angle (because she was basically telling me what to do, how to do it, etc.) I am a master of reading subtext, and am growing in my skills of how to use it to maintain good, collegial relationships: it’s a balance between cowering in fear and advocating for myself. Essentially, I maintained the pitch of my own voice, and said I have been teaching at Title I schools with 80% free and reduced lunch for thirteen years, with a deep and wide ELL population. Please do not assume I’ve been teaching at suburban schools with a largely white, native speaking population. (What prompted this was she said I wasn’t used to teaching ELL kids.)
What do we do when someone makes assumptions about us that are inaccurate? How much is self-advocating versus going overboard? My exuberance is both a fatal flaw and blessing. And all I can control is my own language and responses:
Use more ‘we’ language
More sentences that recognize others’ accomplishments
More acknowledgement of what others’ contributed and how it’s valuable
Don’t tell others my plans.* (Because that takes away their chance to dart throw.)
When we meet others who are clearly more interested in their agenda, smile, nod and do what’s best for students.
Seek instructional allies. You will find them. Have faith and trust.
Like writing workshop feedback, take the comments and suggestions and just say “thank you” — the root of ‘author’ is ‘authority’ – believe in the agency of your actions, accomplishments, and abilities.
*With this caveat: if others ask, share. If not–watch out for that gopher hole. Notice who’s receptive and who’s not. Those are your allies.
Insecurity takes root and I notice my language, (in an attempt to be humble yet not let others make assumptions about me), takes on this “Here is my resume. This is what I’ve done. This is what I know how to do” tone. Especially when cornered by others of authority and matronly posturing. Probably need some therapy for this, but in the meantime…I’ll just try to write, reflect, and take my own advice.
PS I wish there was a job in schools of a teacher liaison –not a union building rep, but SEL for staff!