Exactly Where I Need To Be: On 28

Well hello, there, 28. You’re three or so hours away on Hawai‘i time, but I’ve had some red wine and a delicious calzone, so let’s do this right now.


Last year’s celebration

Normally, I come into my birthday very reflective. Last year, I wrote about wanting to accept things as they are.  I like to think I did that.

This year, as I move into the last few years of my twenties, I realize that… I’m empty. Not in a bad way– October is the first full, meaty month of fall. The time of harvest, reaping the benefits of what was sown in hot summer months. My birth month is one of patience, balance, and hard work. The pregnant pause of the year. It’s not the beginning of fall, nor is it the holiday season. That’s okay. I like living in the pauses.

I normally lament how rushed and tired I feel around my birthday, but this year, I am choosing to celebrate it. I see now that my exhaustion, my emptiness, isn’t a sign of lacking. This year, and hopefully from now on, it is a sign of preparation for the new. We cannot fill a cup that is already full.

I come to a new year of life completely spent: I have tried to give my words, my voice, my work to my classroom and loved ones. I have tried to ensure that I don’t refuse new lessons because I am so full of old ones that may no longer serve me. Instead of  feeling full and satisfied, I quite like the idea of coming into a new year on earth empty and open: there is a hunger in my belly that is still not satisfied. I am excited to spend another year filling it again.

So, 28. Here I am. I am blessed with amazing family, friends, partnership. I understand now, more than ever, what the work feels like (I am always adapting to what it looks like). I am eager to see what comes next.

I’m moving away from making highfalutin plans for 28. Instead, I am excited to spend this year working, listening, and reveling in the joy and stability my life, love, and work has brought me thus far. If I learned anything this year, it’s that I am best served by reading my life like the waves: there are times to savor the momentary calm, wait within pause as a set comes in, and there are times to ride the waves into something marvelous.

Here’s to reading the ocean. Here’s to trusting my gut. Here’s to 28.

PS: I am still blogging over at EdWeek. I hope you come and check it out. 🙂


Teacher-Student-Human– An Embodiment of Love

“I’m worried I’m not asking the right questions,” I admitted to a colleague a few weeks ago. My school’s curriculum asks us to read aloud with our students and stop to question or guide them as we read. “Or, maybe I’m not asking them correctly?” I scrunched my face and tilted my head.

While it’s my fourth year in the classroom, it’s only my second year at my school. Our curriculum, which was designed and researched by teachers at my school (including my colleague) years ago, is wonderful but unusual to me. I don’t always know what to ask students, and I was worried that I go off on tangents that don’t properly teach them literary techniques.

Bill, who has been at the school for nearly thirty years and helped create the darn thing, is only understanding. “It’s really hard,” he says, “and there’s no right way.” Then he pauses and asks, “Why do you like the books?”

“What do you mean?”

“Well, you chose them for a reason. You should stop to point things out to students about why you like the book. The author can speak for themselves. We’re teaching our students how to love reading.

It’s been a long week, and with all the field trips I’ve gone on or chaperoned, both my kids and I have noticed my absence.

This year, I’ve been very lucky to have a sense of freedom and ownership of my classroom that I lacked my first few years. Yes, this gives me a sense of professional worth and dignity that’s an important factor to teachers staying in the classroom.

Moreso than that, however, is that it reminds me how much love is at the root of all of this— students, why I teach, even the content. Bill, who I consider a mentor, often reminds me that “the canon should be the books we love to read.” Kids can tell when we love things, and that level of authenticity, of acknowledging that I’m not this automaton teacher who forces “knowledge” down their throats, is key.

Love is a huge part of our humanity, and we need to share that with our students if we’re asking for theirs. I hope they know I still learn every day, often from them (I do my best to show them that, too). I hope my students see me fangirl over a story we’re reading or something they write or say. I hope they know I want them to be a fan of something too.

In reading Jose Vilson’s reflection in “The Eleventh Honeymoon,” I was struck by his reminder to acknowledge the “totality” of what we do. It’s not facts or definitions. It’s a whole human experience.

I am very tired this week, but I would be lying if I said that, even in this state, even in my second-year-back and fourth-year-in mindset, I love what I do very much. I laugh quite a bit nearly every day. I am trusted and cared about and for by a group of small (and not-so-small!) humans who are much, much more brilliant than me. I wake up most days and know, with certainty, that I love my job. 

Is there anything more blessed than that? Is that not grace, this fortuitous stumbling into the confident joy of knowing one’s vocation, in action?

So now, I am trying to trust myself. When I take the tangent to connect The Giver to the pathways of revolutions or To Kill a Mockingbird to #IStandWithAhmed, I feel good about that. When I also stop to nerd out about the metaphor in a sentence, I’m okay with that too. I want them to know I’m not just teaching them, but trying to share with them what I– as a student, reader, and human, just like them– experience with that book.

If anything, I hope my students see it as an olive branch, an offering to make this a space to be excited, be strange, and fall in love with something in a story they may not have thought to notice. I hope it lets them know that when they take that leap, I’ll be there cheering them on. If we do that, I think it’s a pretty good year.

#AmWriting, and Running, and Writing…

My students are writing right now and so am I.

Mostly, I’m writing much more because I’m excited to announce the Education Week has brought me on as one of their bloggers! The Intersection will discuss race, culture, and topics like that as it intersects (get it? *rimshot*) with education.

Beyond that, I’m running the Kauai Marathon on Sunday. I feel very unprepared, but we’ll see what happens.

Oops! Kids are done and so am I.

Everything Is Upside Down and That’s Okay

“You’ve always been fine but… this is the first time it seems like you really have your shit together.” My boyfriend was leaning on the counter, looking up at me and smiling.

I smiled back, not only because it’s nice when people you love validate you, but because it’s immensely satisfying when your own consciousness is mirrored back to you.

Here’s a thing about growing up (and being a teacher makes it weird, since I know twenty-seven isn’t actually “grown” at all, but consistently being around twelve-year-olds will do that to you): you either accept that everything is imperfect and going to change or you go nuts. There’s no easy way to say it, and frankly to do anything but embrace it would be a waste. 

I finished up my Teacher Leadership Initiative final project this past week, and in doing so reflected not just on my practice, but on my PLC (personal learning community). A lot of my community has been online: first, it was running and marathon training people, then TFA folks when I worked at the org, and then I was lucky enough to find EduColor and all the amazing people that I’ve met along the way.

I like to think of myself as “easily mentored,” but it’s probably more accurate to say that I just enjoy being a “fan” of things– especially people. I am quick to become an acolyte for my current favorite group or person, and just try and soak up some of their awesome. I like this about myself. I generally think people are good, and want to celebrate that as often as I can.

That also comes with a side order of self-consciousness: I value the opinion of people I like very much. I want to be liked by the people I like. While IDGAF about lots of folks, once I’m here for someone, my brain sets up a little test balloon of concern about them consistently bobbing around my mind: am I being too much? Is ____ annoyed with me? Should I do less/more of _______ so as not to upset _____? 

As you can imagine, it’s a lot of balloons, and quite a bit of mental juggling.

Here’s the thing I’m going to have to learn over and over again, though: people are not perfect, relationships change, and sometimes we’re just not going to vibe with someone. That’s okay. That’s good. Appreciating and wanting to be mentored by someone doesn’t mean you’re going to agree with them all the time. There also might be a time when they flow out of your life, and maybe the best thing is to appreciate the time they gave you and let it go.

I was reading Jose Vilson (one of many people who I consider a mentor)’s piece about #BlackLivesMatter and education. Beyond being an amazing, essential read…

(seriously, go read it. Now. I’ll wait. Done? Excellent.)

Anyway. One of the many things I love about the piece is that it reminds us how important it is to consistently question why we’re doing something. As teachers, I think we forget that far too often (both for ourselves and our students), but I know I want my students to question the “why” of every thing and every one, including me, as often as they can.

Moreover, the piece made me not just think about ensuring “The Work” is centered on our students, but it made me realize that it’s important to make sure all my relationships are centered properly as well.

In my professional world, that means students and communities of color. In my personal life, it might mean something else (shared experience, love, values, space, etc). But if growing up means embracing nuance and accepting imperfection, it means that well-centered relationships aren’t always going to feel the same. The chemistry with which I interact with people is invariably going to change, but as long as we both know why we’re in this, then I think it’s going to be okay.

It also means, though, that it’s time to let some of those balloons go. Not because I don’t still tremendously value my mentors, friends, and colleagues, but because I’d like to think that if we’re in this for the right reasons, we should center on that more than just each other. There’s a line between being a caring and empathetic individual, and just doing things to please others, and I’ve been tap-dancing on it for far too long.

As I’ve headed into my fourth year of teaching, there’s a lot of exciting things happening. It’s nice to get more work doing things I love and enjoy (instead of, perhaps, handing out flyers in Waikiki).

There is also, at least for now, an accepted confidence that even when things turn upside down, I have a pretty good idea of who I am and what I’m about. For now. If anything, the acceptance that everything will probably get upended at some point has given me a weird feeling that I am more able to roll with those punches and hopefully recenter and still love myself when I have to regain my footing.

So even if the room flips and everything scatter everywhere, I know where my center is. I’ll hold onto it for as long as I can, so that when chaos inevitably occurs, I’ll be able to find that place and seek joy in the flux.

Hello, I Am Trying to Write Today.

Hey! Hi! I have a page and here it is! Hello!

I know it hasn’t actually been that long since I last wrote, but it feels like decades. We’re in the second day of school and I’m already tapped out. Beat. At the end of the first day, I sat there thinking I forgot how tiring the job is. 

Overall, I’m loving the work so far. I can already tell, though, that trying to juggle it with the other writing and work I’m supposed to do is going to be a bit of a struggle.

BUT, I think it’s important to remember that creativity isn’t a finite well of stuff we pull from. Hopefully this will push my teaching and my writing to improve. We tell our students this all the time: getting things onto paper is the warmup drill of good writing. It’s the calisthenics. It has to get done to get to the good stuff.

I’m excited for that good stuff (wherever it’s hiding), and dive headfirst into the next year. I can already tell that this one will be vastly different than last– and it’s awesome to see last year’s students grow up so fast.

But for now… I’m just really, really tired.

What Does It Mean to “Win”?

I’m on the launchpad of the school year, which is weirdly yet incredibly exciting. I thought I would be sad and, while I am bummed to lose my free time, it feels good to get back into the classroom.

With the school year coming up, it makes me think a lot about what I want for my students. Where will we go? What do I want them to do by the end of the year? What skills do these students need so they succeed out in the world? What will “success” look like in room 206?

I know that I’m lucky to have that freedom as a teacher– I haven’t always. “Success” used to be pretty strictly defined for me: 80% of my students making “Proficiency” on a test created by the organization running my school.

Of course, the charter school I was at did this because… everyone does this. Everyone tests their kids. Now. To this day. Students across the nation began taking Common Core State Standards (CCSS) tests last year, after years of taking the STAR or CST or HSA or whatever acronym the state used for it’s No Child Left Behind (NCLB) test requirements.

I’m a lifelong product of these. Ever since early elementary school, I can remember having to sit and take day-long tests. A few months later, my parents would happily show me a piece of paper, and while I didn’t know what anything on it meant, I was happy they were happy. The scores on that paper opened doors for me: I was given awards based on the score, I was allowed to test for the Gifted and Talented program at my school (which I’ve written about here). My ability to do well on a long test directly impacted where I am in life.

Now that I’m in the classroom, knowing just how much that ability to test well gave me opportunity, I ache with knowing what so many teachers do: the ability to take a test does not come close to measuring the brilliance of my students. 

I won’t spend too long on this– plenty of folks have written tomes about how testing hurts students.

While testing isn’t a thorough measure of ability for any student, it is especially harmful for students of color (SoC). More and more, studies are finding that there is a racial bias favoring white students in standardized testing.

Knowing this, I had some mixed feelings when I listened to Nikole Hannah-Jones‘s report on This American Life (also below).

[FWIW: This is part 1, with the second part airing in two days. If that drastically alters my response, you can guess I’ll write about it. 🙂 ]

Of course, the reporting is great, and highlights some very necessary things we need to talk about in education: white fragility, biased beliefs about Black studentslack of teaching talent for SoC. These are all important and must be discussed.

My issue, overall, is that the piece still sees “success” and “the achievement gap” using the measuring stick much of the country uses: tests scores. Tests that only look at one small bit of our students’ capabilities.Tests that are inherently racist. Tests that reinforce the hegemony‘s idea of what it means to be successful in American education.

Even if school integration would drastically increase scores for Black students… I have to follow that up with “but at what cost?” Students would not only have to bare the emotional brunt of negative stereotypes (as noted in the piece), but I can’t help but wonder if their “success” is built around their ability to assimilate to White dominant culture’s ideas of “successful.” We can ask kids to do that, but we also know that comes at tremendous emotional and cultural cost.

So, a part of me says… I want more for students. If success built on integration is one rooted in assimilation, I’m not so interested. I’m not interested in perpetuating a world where my kids can’t be all of their amazing selves and not get called “ghetto” or “moke” or “unprofessional” or “angry” or any other coded, racist term we might use.

Beyond that, assimilation didn’t save Sandra Bland from unfair policing. Good test scores will matter less when unfair housing practices still make it hard to find a place to liveWill arming SoC with skills to do well on tests really be what ends inequality in our country?

Still, I also feel Ms. Hannah-Jones’s overall point, made at around 51:30 in the piece:

…What you’re saying is small, incremental progress. But meanwhile, there’s kids in those classrooms. There are kids who are going through these schools and not getting the education that they deserve while everyone’s trying to fix it. It’s not like those kids are removed somewhere and getting a good education while you guys figure it out. 

And therein lies the crux of the issue. We can call for takedowns of power and privilege but… there are kids in seats who need to be taught, who need to be given the tools to succeed in today’s society. How much longer can we ask students to wait while we dismantle centuries of racist educational practices?

Some argue that getting students into these traditionally “white” schools will be the wedge that starts breaking down some of the larger issues mentioned above. I’m not so sure, but I understand why, for many of us, it’s a place to start. I can’t protect my students from bad policing or unfair housing. All I can hope is that I can give them the strength I hope we all uncover within ourselves: the ability to stand up and say, “This is wrong. We need to fix this. Now.”