These Are The Parts of Me That Suck

It is probably no surprise to anyone that there is a solid list of things that I am… not good at.

When I worked in a non-profit organization, we were really big about knowing “our work styles.” We took a lot of tests to better understand what we were good at– and what were “areas of growth.” We identified what made us more effective leaders and productive humans.

And I actually really love and appreciate that, because once I did them it made me realize that the things my job was telling me I wasn’t good at were part of why I needed to leave my job.

It’s an easy stereotype, but that’s perhaps because it’s true: I’ve always been a little bit of the black sheep in my house. My parents and older brother are incredibly neat humans. While I grew up in a cluttered house, it was always very neatly organized. My brother is able to juggle and multi-task many projects at the state senate. My mom and dad often catch mistakes quickly as they write.

I am… the exact opposite. My apartment is often a mess (NOT unhygienic– I take out the trash, don’t leave food, clean up messes– but clothes. Clothes everywhere), my desk is covered in hastily made stacks of paper.

These are the parts of me that suck. I am not always good at organizing names or papers. I am often fluttering about, trying my best to get as much down, on the page, and out for feedback as possible. I don’t know why I developed like this, but I’ve always felt that I’d often rather get out my ideas– rough, raw, messy, unwieldy– and worry about the polish later. My best (i.e. highest graded, most awarded, etc.) work is often written hours before it’s due. My most successful, innovative lesson plans appear in my mind at 5:45AM that day.

I don’t mean to say that I’m throwing out papers, emails, etc with no grammar and a ton of typos, but I’ll definitely cop to missing a few commas, leftover articles, and occasional typos in my time. Clearly, the final draft of something really important will get multi-checked with my crazy-English-teacher-grammar lens, but most other things (blogs, informal emails) tend to be done how I speak– imperfections and all.

There are other things I struggle with. If I’m not interested in something, I am very good at justifying “tabling that project” until “the spirit moves me with a new idea.” I’d like to say I’m great at keeping myself accountable, but I need to really love something– my students, writing, running, fellowships etc– to actually do that. I will jam for hours, focused and unending, on something I really want to do. If you force me, though, it might take a little more arm-twisting.

And I can imagine this is annoying, especially when those mistakes ended up affecting something important. I’m not trying to excuse them. They are definitely things about myself that I should and am actively working to improve.

And yes, I’ve gotten better. Sometimes now, when I’m about to leave something for later or rush through it, my mother’s voice floats through my head, sing-song and sweet, saying “haste makes waste, mija!” I groan inwardly, stop, and make sure I properly complete the task (e.g. writing and mailing my rent check) so I get it done properly.

Still, at a certain point, I sort of had to stop and ask myself: at what point do I accept who I am, and work with my natural gifts (and challenges) instead of against them? Instead of forcing myself into jobs that asked me to be good at things that, time and time again proved were skills I lacked, when would I decide to find jobs and projects that actually helped me succeed?

This is part of the reason I became a teacher.

Let me clarify: you will be a much better teacher if you can do the things I listed above well. I’m not saying being a teacher is an easy job (ha!). Being a messy, disorganized teacher can be really annoying for students (especially when it affects grading) and co-workers. You also need to be able to sometimes get things done that you just don’t like.

What I mean is that I realized that my classroom afforded me with an extra set of eyes and ears that would keep me accountable all the time: my students. My classroom isn’t (nor should it be) Ms. Torres-getting-everything handled. It’s not really “my” classroom at all– I see my students as empowered enough to know they can correct me, work with me, and make sure that OUR ship runs smoothly throughout the year.

While being a teacher does ask me to be good at skills I struggle with, those challenges are often overridden by the fact that I really like my students. It’s cheesy, but because I want them to do well, even the parts of my classroom that cause struggle become a bigger priority. I mean, I hate grading sometimes, but man, I love my kids. I know that my consistent grading of their work makes them feel successful, so it gets done (not always as quickly as I’d like, but it does).

Here’s why I think it works though: I’m open about my imperfections with my kids, and I ask for their help all the time. I tell them, often, that I’m not perfect. I let them know that if they see something they think is a mistake, they should tell me about it. “Everyone makes mistakes!” I tell them, we laugh, and sometimes they even help me fix it (hello, teachable moments!). Because I grade pretty often, it gives them plenty of opportunity to ask me questions about why they got that score and correct it in a way that makes sure it doesn’t affect them too much (caveat: I don’t take heavy-hitter grades, like papers, lightly, and double and triple check them before I publish them. It’s only, for example, missing easy homework assignments).

The other important thing: I (try to) take feedback with humor, grace, and gratitude. If they and I both know that, sometimes, Ms. Torres is scatterbrained and needs help, there’s less of a fear that they’ll hurt my feelings if they try to help me. It also means that I need to know that people are trying to help me, and their feedback isn’t meant to hurt my feelings (this took time, but I got there!).

I’m not trying to say I’m going to remain bad at these skills forever, or that I should throw my hands up and say “TAKE ME OR LEAVE ME!” That said, I am trying to get better at leveraging the things I am good at– listening to others, respecting their opinions, being open and vulnerable about myself– to help me be better at the thing I really do love: teaching.

Anyway, this wasn’t the cleanest post, and I’m sure you’ll find a typo or two. It’s been a helluva two, crazy weeks, and I’m just so happy to be home for the next few months, and wrapping up the end of the year strong with my kids.

Humor, Children, and #TheDress –  Taking a Moment to Be Wonderfully Human

(Especially In the Classroom)

I’m not going to go into #TheDress debate in here, I promise. You can read what I’m talking about here (FTR: white and gold at first AND THEN IT SWITCHED BECAUSE SCIENCE?!).

Here’s the thing, internet: between #thedress debate and #llamadrama, we had a pretty fun week. And that’s great. We should have fun. 

While these things were happening, I saw a few folks take to their twitters/facebooks/even news outlets and say things like “HOW DARE YOU DEBATE A DRESS WHEN _________ (net neutrality, economic downfall– interestingly enough these were people who didn’t talk about Ferguson *ahem*) IS HAPPENING?!”

And, I guess I get that. I am certainly known to take to the internet and bring up tough conversations. I think it’s important to talk about things that are hard, or to make difficult, relevant conversations happen in my classroom. I think that, if we fixate TOO MUCH on something, we can lose sight of real, bigger issues in the world.

NOW, that said, I think there’s nothing wrong with people taking a break and laughing/being mind blown by something. The dress one was especially cool because it was about science, perception, and the brain. I have no doubt a bunch of people looked up how color perception works, why it happened, or learned something new about the brain (I know I did).

Brain space, passion and excitement are not a zero-sum game. That mentality gets us into so many problem. People can think about MANY things. We can consider the difficult conversations of race, privilege, or what’s happening in the outside world. We can also laugh at something silly, be caught up in something (and then move on), and learn something new. One of the reasons I love the #Educolor collective so much is because we can talk about all those things AND laugh and enjoy each other. Both are necessary and lovely.

I found out about Leonard Nimoy’s Passing as I was writing this piece. Star Trek: TNG was such an essential part of my childhood, and Spock’s character was always such a wonderful discovery about what it was to be human.

I push my kids to think critically. We about race, community, nature, and justice. I try and teach them how to advocate for themselves.

I also want to let them be kids and, most importantly let them learn how to be human. That means that, like all things, laughter and silliness and unabashed joy are absolutely encouraged in moderation (and maybe outside of it too). As this piece notes, “every now and again, it’s nice to talk about serious questions through a topic that’s anything but.”

So, at the end of their tough vocab quiz today, my kids have the space to write me a little note about what color they think #TheDress is, after my first period did it, we all had a good laugh about it and talked science. That seems like a pretty good Friday to me.