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.

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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.


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.

People Are Terrifying (An Apology)

I have done this. And I’m sorry.

“There’s just too many people here,” I whispered to my mom at the beach earlier today.

“I know,” her nose crinkled like mine does, “but it’s nice to share.”

“…Maybe I just don’t like people.”

I promise, I’m familiar with the term “introvert.” I’ve written about being an introvert for Teach For America, and why I think introvert students need to be cared for. I’ve identified myself pretty strongly as an INFP (I even have a hat) for a few years now. Susan Cain’s Quiet (and its TedTalk) meant quite a lot to me.

So, I’ve gotten pretty good at identifying my own needs. I’m glossing over a bit because, frankly, I’m worried that my friends and loved ones are tired of hearing me talk about it because I talk/think about it so much. I even feel like “revealing that you’re an introvert” is a cool thing to do now, something that people post memes about on tumblr and say, “omg this is so totally me!”

And maybe it is, and that’s good. I don’t want to be jaded here. I’m glad more people are thinking about what they need and how to advocate for it. That’s clearly a good thing.

It’s good for me to even check myself, since we’ve come to the crux of my matter: I don’t come across as an introvert. When I first wrote about it, I had quite a few people tell me they couldn’t believe it. That’s fair. I teach for a living now, so I’m around people for about 85% of my day (which, I’ll admit, is tiring. More on that later though).

Here’s the thing: I love people. I enjoy, generally, being in front of people, and I try to be a good conversationalist. When I’m in the right mood, I love hearing stories and learning more about people. I am always so grateful when people let me into their lives.

Still, something about new people, when I’m not in the right mood (and honestly, it’s like a 50% chance I’m not), is completely and utterly terrifying. And exhausting. What if they don’t like me? Or I don’t like them and it’s obvious on my stupid, Muppety, heart-on-my-sleeve face? What if they keep asking me questions? Or I don’t know what to say? Or I say something dumb? I’m just tired, and I already deal with people a lot. Can’t I stay home and quietly watch something? Or read? Or even tweet, which is the most introverted way of being extraverted ever?

50% of the time, that’s honestly what it is. Terror. Anxiety. Now, being in a job that requires me to be around people, the stakes feel higher, even if it’s different. I mean, my students have to be around me, so I care a little less if they like me (though obviously I care). Since so much of my time, though, is spent worrying whether or not I’m acting the right way, my me-time only feels more precious.

Looking back, though, on people I’ve met, on friendships I could have formed, on the people on the cusp of friendship I have now– I know what often stands in the way is my own mini-anxiety-attack about people. I have missed out on or straight up avoided seeing people or picking up phone calls because I am worried that I won’t be able to handle the emotional toll of that interaction. It is, often, easier to stay home quietly and avoid the 50% chance that I screw everything up. The only pass is my guy, who (like my students) I hope loves me even when I am a terrible human. Even then, sometimes we have nights that are separate or silent, because we both need it.

He sees me all the time though. What about the people that I’ve given every reason to give up on me because it always looks like I don’t care? I promise I care. I promise I’m grateful, and that I probably think you’re great. I just have no way of telling you that because every time I think about randomly letting you know my throat seizes and my pupils widen in panic.

I wrote in my last post about trying to find balance, and I guess that’s what I’m trying to figure out as I type. What’s the balance between accepting your introversion and not completely cutting yourself off? At what point is claiming “introversion” just a shield for “anxiety about meeting people”? And how do I figure that out?

Anyway, I promise myself in 2015 (resolution post to come!), I am going to try and be better about this. I am going to try and find that balance, to move past my own anxiety and love big and crazy.

And to anyone that might have felt blown off by me, I’m really sorry. I promise it wasn’t you. It was 50% of me.

Over-Planning and Keeping the Adventure

Hello again. It seems like I got a few followers from my last post. Cool! Hi! *wave*

Anyway,  I just set a 5 min timer. I’m going to try and write for at least as long as my students have to. That seems like a good start (though I’ll probably go over).

I had to ignore the alarm I set on my clock to write each week because I got caught up in lesson planning. I’m pretty behind of what I thought I’d get done over the break, which I finally realized today. Definitely my own fault– I forgot to bring the books my kids are reading, which is about the dumbest thing ever. I blame the sudden and complete overthrow of productive-brain for vacation-brain.

So I started jamming today, and realized a few things:

1) The online app for student discussion I had planned on using with my students doesn’t actually fit my needs. Through a series of tweets, a facebook post, and even a G+ post, I’m trying to crowdsource the best response. BTW if you stumble upon this post and know one, I’d love to hear from you.

2) I need to give my students more formative assessment over the course of a book. They asked for it! I allowed my students to give feedback, and most of them said they want to do MORE while we’re reading. So, time to get crafty and figure out some great projects for them to do.

and finally 3)

I’m worried about over-planning, however, and ruining the sense of adventure and spontaneity that I can gain with my students.

Some background: I’ve never been great at lesson-planning, or just planning in general. It’s always been a HUGE area of struggle for me in my practice. I have the skills to create a good project plan, but when it comes to the doing of something, I’m a big procrastinator. This is actually a reason I went back to the classroom– the jobs that I had had were all fuzzy and “project based,” which I appreciate, but realized is not an environment I do well in. I am trying to own the fact that, unless I’m REALLY COMPLETELY hyped about a project, or someone is going to hold me accountable to get something done (like, say, 28 children in a classroom looking at me saying, “What are we doing today, Ms. T?”), it’s going to be completed in the 5 minutes before I need it.

Now, this has been generally fine this year. I did make a point to unit plan my year, and the school I work at has a daily English curriculum that we follow each day. Beyond believing in it as a curriculum, it makes my life MUCH easier as a teacher. That said, I am worried about getting lazy and falling back on this too much, something I think I may have done at the end of this semester, and lose out on the opportunity to do some great projects.

SO, I’ve been trying to get better about planning. What I’m worried about, though, is that if I over-plan now, I won’t leave any wiggle room for some fun projects I come up with on the fly. For example: after hearing some of my students talk about Instagram, I got the idea to have them create Instagram accounts for characters in The Adventures of Tom Sawyer (my example). I threw the activity together that morning, which was nuts but often where my best ideas come to light, and the kids and I had a blast. They also did a great write-up.

In general, I am trying to leave things more up to God to point in my direction (I think St. Ignatius called this “spiritual freedom” or “ambivalence”). This morning, for example, I had planned to do a 12-mile long run. I wasn’t feeling it almost as soon as I started, but I tried to keep moving and power through. As I was running, I realized that there was a national park open I’d never explored before. I decided to head over and check it out. Did it screw with my splits and mileage? Sure, but it was really pretty and certainly fun.

So how do you find balance between good planning and the freedom to play? How can I make sure I don’t get lazy and not push my kiddos and myself, but still let us take the time we need? In an education environment so test-heavy and over-focused on scores (which I am always worried my school will become), I want to make sure I enjoy the fact that my kids aren’t hindered by this and we can take the time to explore stuff.

Anyway, beyond that, life’s good. Planning, writing, running, napping. Ah vacation, you are great.

I also, by the way, have a 2015 Resolutions post coming. I decided to submit something to HuffPost Hawai‘i though, so we’ll see if it gets play there first.