Intersecting Stories

There are two stories I want to tell you.

The first isn’t really a single story, but a collection of them. It’s from the first three days of my classroom, and of being in the fifth-year of my teaching.

There’s the story I want to tell you about what it felt like to hit my stride. There is a moment where body, spirit, and mind connect and there’s a momentary, explosive bloom, like watching stars explode in space— it’s not violent, but graceful.

I turned towards my students on a too-warm August morning this Monday, started talking with them and thought, Oh, this is it. This is what I’m meant to do. My chest opened and the tension of uncertainty that summer brought melted away. This is it.

There are the students, who are already making me laugh harder than I have in weeks, whose stories are already burning so brilliantly inside them that I see sparks of them a few days in. It is the pop-crack of first flame at the campfire; it is the first rumbles of thunder in the storm waiting to break for hours. It is wild and unfettered.

It is perfect.


There’s another story I could tell you.

It’s about the fact that Panic is a sneaky bitch.

I think I’ve outrun him— taken every self-care precaution, immersed myself in joyful work— or kept him at bay. I’m so sure that I can sense his arrival, I let my guard down. Oh, I know he’ll show up, but I figure I’ll hear his footsteps down the hall, see the flashes of his fingers at the corners of my mind.

So, when Panic hits on King St. late on a weekday night, on a day where, for all intents and purposes, things are fine, it’s a little jarring. Panic does all the normal things he does— squeezes my chest; makes me cry; reaches down my throat and plays my vocal chords like a harp so I make squeaky, whimpering animal noises while I try to keep him at bay. I grip the steering wheel hard and grit my teeth, trying to ride the wave of his terror out, playing the scared bystander-under-desk to his Godzilla-rage.

I finally make it home and sob in my car harder than I have in months. There is no reason to it. The detailed inventory of my life is, at least, joyful. You’re fine. You’re fine, I think to myself, desperate to use that as an anchor to some kind of rational-self.

There is no logic to it, though.  There is just loud, unabashed wailing, each cry letting some of Panic’s power out of my system. I let myself weep in hopes that the more I let this wild rumpus continue, the longer I will be free from it.

The two stories seem juxtaposing, but they are not parallel universes. They intersect within me. They are consistently warring, forcing me to walk a tight-rope, a knife’s-edge worth of stable ground amidst two worlds that, if I am not careful, could swallow me whole.

Hitting the Wall and Moving Forward

Many thanks to Doug Robertson and CUE for letting write a little about how running a marathon is a little like teaching.

We all know the moment: you are moving your way along a trail— real or proverbial— and all of a sudden, the thought pops into your head:

“I don’t want to do this anymore. I would like to stop now, please.”

And with that, your body hits what runners know as “The Wall”: your legs get heavy, your shoulders hunch down, your chest feels like it’s weighed down with a bag of lead. Your entire being is telling you to give up, to stop whatever you’re doing, and surrender to failure.

Teaching has Walls too. I hit one in my first year of teaching- in October of 2012. The Wall was called DEVOLSON, otherwise known as “The Disillusionment Stage.” To be fair, I didn’t set myself up for success: instead of starting the year off with a plan, I assumed I’d be able to coast by on charisma and good execution.

Boy, was I wrong.

Read more here.

When You Realize You Are Complicit

The post initially ran in EdWeek Teacher as “The System Wasn’t Built for Us”


First, it was the lack of an indictment for Sandra Bland’s death. Then, it was the lack of an indictment for Tamir Rice’s killing.

As days and verdicts pass, I am only able to ask this question: if the basic structures built for “safety” will not protect us, then what will? 

Moreover, as a teacher, what does this question mean for my students and for me?


For students:  Students need the space to learn about and discuss these stories, as well as process what is going on. Thumbnail image for 17130711447_ca7635c0cb_o.jpg

I’ve seen some teachers say, “I don’t know how to talk about this, so I’m going to move past it.” That fear is understandable, but we must also understand that silence is compliance, and silence is violenceWhen the system is failing, we are compelled as educators not to act as “a cog in a wheel,” as John Dewey once said. We must support our students as they deal with and question the mechanisms in our society that allowed this to happen. We may feel rage (which can look like a lot of things), and that’s okay. Even acknowledging current events, as well as our own frustration and lack of answers can be powerful (Teaching Tolerance and Youth Radio had some great resources if you’d like to do a more in-depth lesson).

Even if your students, like mine, may not directly feel a personal connection to these stories, part of our job is to expose them to questions regarding the larger world and teach them to empathize with communities frustrated and hurt by these situations. For students with whom these events hit closer to home, it’s important to remember this, from Ta-Nahesi Coates’s Between The World and Me:

…all our phrasing – race relations, racial chasm, racial justice, racial profiling, white privilege, even white supremacy – serves to obscure that racism is a visceral experience, that it dislodges brains, blocks airways, rips muscle, extracts organs, cracks bones, breaks teeth.

If racism is a “visceral” experience, the space to heal from it is all more important.


dewey.jpgFor educators: We must begin to reframe our understanding of the system that we work in and, thus, are compliant in. Current events have only strengthened my belief that, frankly, the system wasn’t built for me and other people of color or people from marginalized backgrounds. The system will consistently perpetuate existing hierarchies of power.

Unfortunately, our current education system is one of those hierarchal structures. We can either remain silently and willingly compliant, or we can question and change the powers that be at work in our schools. The questions might appear small at first: whose values am I measure by in a teacher evaluation? Do my students feel like they have a voice at my school? Are the parents I work with feeling valued?

As we move forward, though, those questions will get bigger, and the commitment to the work gets stronger. Hopefully, all educators (and administrators and entire communities) will understand this: our job is not to feed content to students. Our job is to prepare young people to dismantle systems that are currently failing them, and help them uplift the voices, and ideas that showcase the best of their generation. 


Recently, Trent Gillis of On Being posted a reflection about Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s final Christmas sermon. King’s feeling that we were a “bewildered human race. We have neither peace within nor peace without…” resonate now.  

The sermon goes on, though, to reminder us of the need for hope:

Yes, I am personally the victim of deferred dreams, of blasted hopes, but in spite of that I close today by saying I still have a dream, because, you know, you can’t give up in life. If you lose hope, somehow you lose that vitality that keeps life moving, you lose that courage to be, that quality that helps you go on in spite of all. And so today I still have a dream.

I leave these words here, as a reminder of what we must hold dear in 2016. Our students still have dreams. We do too. We must continue to push so that those dreams can reach the full majesty of their potential.

 

Protest image via Flickr: Fibonacci Blue
Quote image via Awo Okaikor Aryee-Price.

 

Students as Change-Makers: Pushing the Edge Podcast

Earlier this year, I had the chance to speak to the amazing Greg B. Curran for his podcast Pushing the Edge. We talked about what I’m learning and want to learn more about regarding student voice and agency, as well as the term “minority.”

You can listen to the episode here or find it on iTunes here. I had such a good time recording it, I hope you take a listen! Plus, I sound like a SoCal-hippie teacher about 25% of the time (28:15 is my favorite, and I would like, “Man, are we teaching kids to think about the SYSTEM?!” to be on a t-shirt), which PJ and I had a good laugh over.

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.

bday

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. 🙂

The Paradox of High Expectations

Recently, I received an invitation to a group on Facebook that filled me with a strange joy and abject terror.

Screen Shot 2015-03-28 at 7.42.17 AM

Yes. It is, in fact, time for my 10-year reunion. Time seriously flies.

I do want to make something clear: I loved high school. I had a great group of friends, and thankfully still have many of them in my life. I had great teachers who pushed me, challenged me, and also humor me with a visit when I come back. All-in-all, I was very, very lucky, and look back on high school with great fondness– a privilege I know that not a lot of people have, even at my own school.

Still, I dealt with taunting– some of it the normal high school stuff, but some, as  I’ve written about, around race. In middle and early high school, I remember quite a bit of racially charged taunting, and I know my older brother faced similar things. Anecdotally, I always felt like I stuck out like a sore thumb– one of a small handful of dark-skinned kids in my classes.

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Activism, Poetry, and Students

Sorry for the delayed post this week! I was waiting for this assignment to be turned in from my students so I could write more about it! 

This week, I’m going to be writing a little more in depth about a lesson I did with my students around using poetry to discuss important topics and issues. I’ve broken it into four parts and linked it below.

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Want to Know vs Want to Win: Learning to Listen

I had a whole, long thing in my head about a topic, and then brilliant thinker who I follow from afar summed it up in 140 characters:

This made me think a lot about conversation, power, and intention though, especially in the context of my own classroom. A lot of times, we taught to enter into (perhaps difficult) conversations by asking questions: why do you think that? What makes you say that? How did you come to that conclusion? etc.

I’ve come to realize, though, that sometimes people are entering into the conversation differently than I am, and sometimes, as teachers, it’s easy to default into a line of questioning that is not helpful. This leads me to ask (often myself):

Are you asking because you want to know? Or are you just asking because you want to win?


I acknowledge that fighting for the sake of fighting (or perhaps “debating for the sake of debating”) is fine. Some people love that, and I think that it can be really great. My boyfriend loves a good debate, and is the type of guy who watches Fox News just to feel riled up and be incensed at people. If that’s your thing, that’s cool.

But just because you love that doesn’t mean the other person does, and it’s important to think about that other person. Empathy matters! It’s important to respect the other person if they decide they’re not about where this conversation goes. It’s not because they’re “weak” or “scared,” they might just not be the type of person who wants to go 10 rounds for the hell of it.

My issue with it in a lot of cases though is that it I feel like rarely leads to sharing or increase of knowledge. If you are debating or asking questions just for the sake of pushing buttons, you’re not really listening to the other person. So, instead of actually taking the time to process what they’re saying or trying to hear the opinion, you’re only listening to them so you can come up with you’re next argument, so you can find the best way to poke holes in them so you can win your points.

That’s fine, I suppose. If your purpose is to win all points and ruffle some feathers (yours and your opponents), then do you. But I don’t know if it’s the best way to lead to actual conversation and intellectual growth.


Here is where it comes back to the classroom, though. As teachers, we are always in positions of power and privilege over our students. No matter how smart my students are, I am the adult in the room. I am the one (theoretically) guiding this class, and in charge.

So when I want to have a discussion with my students, I HAVE to be asking myself: am I asking them because I really want to know? Or am I asking them because I’m right and their wrong?

Clearly, the latter has some of its merits. Guiding questions can be a good way to question students and let them find their own way to the answer while providing some clues for them to follow. But I think as a teacher it’s very easy to fall into that type of questioning even when there is no real right answer, or students can be pushed to think outside the box.

If I want my students to truly reflect on something, I shouldn’t be trying to score points of them, or only half-listening because I want to prove MY point, I should be actually listening to themDoing so might lead not only to them teaching something to teach other, but teaching something to me too.

Grumpy Teacher

My students are currently typing, but I missed my normal weekly deadline (agh!) so figured I’d type along with them. I love their topic and want to explore it at some point myself (write about something you’ll never do/never do again). 

I’ve noticed lately I’ve been in such a grumpy mood at my kids. I don’t know if it was just that time of year or the honeymoon is wearing off (I suppose that more than a semester in isn’t bad for that to happen). It also tends to happen around progress reports, because they ask ridiculous questions (can I turn in this 2 month old homework assignment for late credit?) or act immature and entitled (I sent you my late homework 12 hours ago and you still haven’t graded it!). And I’m just looking at them like “OH REALLY.” Then I feel guilty for being angry at children (who I also love). Then I get annoyed and throw my phone across the room when I see their emails (props to my guy for listening to and loving me while I vent).

I still love them, though, and they still mostly crack me up and make me laugh. I’m going to try and refocus myself this week and get back in the game. It’s only four more months till summer, right? 🙂

Oh! Speaking of summer– I’ve accepted a position to teach two classes at my school and I’m so pumped. One is a “Little Journalists” class for 5th-8th graders, and one is a poetry and creative writing workshop they’re letting me design! I’m so excited to get to design my own class completely for the first time.

Okay okay. That’s all for now. Time to get them back on task too! 😉

Stargazing (A Brainstorm on Watching Children Grow Up)

A group of

A group of students looking out on a Waimea meadow.

Ok. ok. I am writing. This is a purely life-update-y get-stuff-on-paper post. I’m a little more than delayed. With Monday being Martin Luther King Jr. Day, then I got a horrible cold from students while on a speech tournament… things just got lost.

I also got to be a part of an amazing #educolor twitter chat today, which you can read more about here.

SO… things are good. No really. My friend Shuhei asked what was new with me and… I don’t have much to report. Things are good! Chaperoning the speech team was a blast! Things are generally nice and quiet.

OH!


So, my students, their speech coach, and I went Stargazing while we were in Kohala. It was absolutely gorgeous. I’m not a particular outdoorsy person (while I love hiking, I’ve never been camping), so I have very little context what it was like to be in rural anywhere, much less Hawai‘i.

It was… breathtaking. Even remembering it, I am nearly speechless. It was like looking up in a star-dome at a museum, but knowing that it’s completely real, having everything twinkle and fill the sky with a vividness never imagined is surreal. I looked up at what felt like millions of stars, and the students and I were quiet. They self-implemented a five minute silence rule, but they were quiet and contemplative for at least ten.

After, I was standing in the freezing cold with Bill, their coach and a 27-year teaching veteran. We watched the kids laugh and joke and talk about stars. They had just a complete joy in each other. In the brief time they had known me, they had made me feel like I was part of their family, like they genuinely liked me being around.

Bill looked at me and said, “This? This is why I’m still doing it.”

I looked at their backs while they were quietly looking at the stars, and completely understood what he meant. It’s easy, when looking up into the great oblivion, to perhaps feel lost. To think about what we’ve lost and where we stand in that loss, or what we are seeking and what are place in the world is. It’s beautiful, yes, but also perhaps a little terrifying. What happens now? What will this be in five years? Ten?

I looked at my kids looking at the stars and I just… knew. This was right. This was lasting. I was filled with such a sense of peace and contentment. I loved getting to just be around, watch them learn stuff, learn stuff with them and from them, talk story and just enjoy seeing them grow up.

I think beyond the whole idea of feeling good about ~sharing knowledge~ with kids, we forget to see one of the most basic and grace-filled things we have as educators: we get to see children become adults. We are witness to and take part in the actual creation of human minds. We get to watch them change and form and reform and fail and find so much beauty and life. We get to see them discover. We get to see them empowered. Hopefully, we get to help them do it.

Things, as they stand now, are right where they need to be in this moment. I am 27 and consistently on the precipice of something new and everything is in flux always. Except that it’s not. The instability itself, the moment we were in right then and even now are what stays. The stars I saw that night may grow or die out or change position in location from where I stand, but that’s okay. Things will move, but those stars were right where they needed to be for my students and I to just love them and spend some time finding joy in each other.

We are the same. Things may will change, but all we can ask is to find the peace and contentment to see how we are affecting this moment. Right now– and likely for a while– I am a teacher. I am a guide. I am (hopefully) a friend. Right now, I am finding joy with kiddos, and it’s exactly where I need to be.