Posts Tagged ‘elementary teaching’

Sunday Sitdown #7: Taking a Look Around

February 28, 2021

Each Sunday, I’m working my way through my experiences with race. I’ll share stories and memories from throughout my life. I know I’ll encounter moments of growth that I wish I could relive. I’ll also have to think back on choices that I wish I could remake. Come join me each week.

High school.

There is something about it.

Everyone, it seems, is on a quest for identity, for selfhood. It’s what makes everyone both unique and identical. There’s drama. There’s melodrama. There’s angst. There’s a coming of age.

There’s also inner conflict as the self-involvement of youth gives way to the more empathetic views of adulthood. I keenly remember this push-pull and the tension it created.

Translation? High school was the first time I looked around at what was happening with other folks.

I noticed Black kids often sat together in the cafeteria or student lounge.*
I noticed that when they were together, they acted differently than when they were with white peers.

You’d think I would feel uncomfortable with that, or feel left out. But something else was happening for me around the same time. I was also starting to see and understand how others perceived me as a Jew.

High school marked the first time…
…someone directly told me I needed Jesus to save me.
…I received the first probing “ethnic” questions. (“So…what ARE you?)
…Sunday school was canceled because of bomb threats.
…I’d be given a derogatory nickname. (“Oh, look. Lainie the Jew.”)

It became clear to me – more than it ever had – that I was an “other.” There were places I belonged, and places I didn’t. I found that it was comfortable to hang out with other kids who were Jewish. It wasn’t exclusionary. It wasn’t an attempt to be rude.

It was a means of emotional survival. We didn’t even really talk about Jewish stuff, but it just felt good to be with people who had shared experiences. Going to youth group events created a space where we could all just…exhale.

So.
Did I mind that folks separated themselves out?
That they had different, more familiar ways of relating among folks in their own groups without me?

No.
I didn’t mind.
And I still don’t mind.
Yes, we need to integrate.
And yes, we need safety and comfort and support.
And we need it wherever we find it, from whomever it might come.

*All Black kids? nope. Nothing is never “all” or “nothing” (see what I did there?). Of course there was integration among students. But there was also enough separation for a kid to notice.

Slice of Life Tuesday: Another Little Word

February 23, 2021

When writing my “One Little Word” post for the new year, I knew the word I chose, gather, would not last me through the year. In fact, it was my hope that this one little word would soon slough its skin to reveal the word underneath.

The other day, I was at school. It was late. Way too late for me to reasonably still be at school. Especially on a mentally-challenging day like that day. I texted a colleague who I knew was still at school, asking for five minutes just to blow off some steam.

We wound up talking for an hour.

Turns out, there is a LOT that I’m dissatisfied with:
The gulf between what I want for my students and what I’m giving them.
The gulf between what I want for my colleagues and what I can provide.
I want to do everything for everybody and I have to figure out where the boundaries belong.
I want everyone to feel supported in what they do and I have to figure out where to place my energy.
While I’m at it, I kinda want to take care of my physical, emotional and spiritual self.

All of these desires place conflicting demands on my attention.

And then my colleague, whom I admire more that she will ever give herself credit for, reminded me about DISSONANCE.

Dissonance.
That strong feeling when holding conflicting ideas.
It’s also when two sounds are inharmonious, when they strike the ear harshly.
Dissonance.

Dissonance sounds terrible when it’s performed accidentally or tentatively. Dissonance works because musicians lean INTO it, striking those discordant notes with full intention. It’s that leaning into conflicting sounds that allows us to appreciate the resolution to come – or not. After all, there are musical pieces that never quite resolve, just as there are conflicts in life that never quite resolve.

My friend also suggested that the times when we feel most dissonant in our lives, when we feel the deepest chasm between the reality of our lives and our moral center, THOSE are the times when our selves are preparing for a leap forward.

I know she’s right.
I know this is an uncomfortable phase I’m going through.
I know that pieces of myself are in conflict.
I know I don’t have to like it.
And I know that there is growth and change happening. I just have to see it through.

So…my next One Little Word?

Dissonance.
I shall lean in.
I shall tune in to the discord.
I will bring out of it what I can, whether or not I gain resolution.

That is, until the next One Little Word scoops me up, sets me in a new direction, and gives me another nudge.

This post is part of the weekly Slice of Life challenge. Give them a visit!

Sunday Sitdown #5: First Lesson

February 14, 2021

Mrs. Williams was a great first-grade teacher.

She was kind, cheerful and honest.
She always encouraged us with phrases like, “You’re cookin’ with gas!”
She regaled us with stories of her little girl.
She used Girl Scout Thin Mint cookies as prizes when she REALLY wanted to motivate us.
Heck, she put up with ME as a first grader. That’s no easy task.

She was also the first Black teacher I had ever had.* And she was willing to talk about race.

One day, Mrs. Williams decided that she was going to teach us about skin color. Looking back as a teacher, I might guess that wasn’t just a random choice. I might guess that Mrs. Williams was responding to a comment or situation that came up in class. Or maybe there was something going on in the world that my first-grade brain wasn’t quite aware of. Whatever it boiled down to, Mrs. Williams decided that it was time for us to talk.

I’m going to guess that the lesson was longer than I remember, but what captures my memory most is when she held up two crayons: one white, one black.

Mrs. Williams held up the white crayon and said, “When people say they’re white, does their skin look like this color?”
A crowd of giggling first-graders yelled back, “Nooooooo!”
She held up the black crayon and said, “When people say they’re Black, does their skin look like this color?”
We again yelled, “Noooooo!”

And that was at the heart of it. It was the first time I had ever engaged, on-purpose, in a conversation about what being Black or being white really means. About what race means, and what it DOESN’T mean. It was a way to tell a group of six- and seven-year olds that race is complicated. It’s not just what we see. It’s more complex than a label we might wrap around someone.

Thank you, Mrs. Williams. You were cookin’ with gas.

*I’m also beyond grateful to be able to say that Mrs. Williams was just my first Black teacher, and not my only. For all of the shortcomings that may have accompanied my schooling, I am glad that my school district made an effort to hire a diverse range of teaching and instructional staff. It was important for children of color in my community, but I’d say it was also important for me.

Swinging For The Fences

February 9, 2021

I’m not going to lie.

This year, I have had some SPECTACULAR fails in the classroom.

And I mean, not just the oh-man-this-is-tricky-how-am-I-going-to-figure-a-different-way-of-teaching-this-to-the-kids fail. That’s just an ordinary, run-of-the-mill, cost-of-doing-business, everyday type of fail.

No.

I’m talking about the holy-cow-this-lesson-is-crashing-and-burning-and-I-have-absolutely-no-way-of-backing-out-of-this-and-no-way-to-figure-out-in-the-moment-how-to-make-it-better-and-why-did-I-even-bother-getting-out-of-bed-today fail.

I’ve thought a lot about these fails.

They haunt me.

In the moment, failures as I’m teaching feel like I’m failing as a teacher.

The good news is that time offers perspective. And through the perspective of time, I get offered moments of clarity and growth.

You see, all my fails, at least the most spectacular ones, have had one thing in common: they all occurred when I was asking more of my students than they were ready for.

That got me thinking about what I do and why I do it. I was talking with my kids this morning about yet ANOTHER ambitious lesson we were going to try and take on. Here’s what I told them:

“Friends, I’ve been thinking a lot about what we’ve been doing, and I realize sometimes I mess up as a teacher. And when I think about the mistakes I make as a teacher, I kind of have to decide. Do I want to make the mistake of overestimating what you can do, and sometimes ask too much of you? Or do I want to make the mistake of underestimating what you can do, and asking less of you than you might be capable of?”

Down to a person, we all knew the answer to that question.

So yes. I will continue to shoot big, and yes. I will continue to sometimes miss big. But If I didn’t shoot big, Would I ever get reasoning like this?

Done as a group together (you may have to expand, but there’s good stuff here).

Would I ever get writing like this?

Fourth-grade spelling. Gotta love it.

Would I ever get peer feedback like this?

This is what happens when you model feedback based on grown-up writing communities like the Slice of Life challenge.

Fact is, I wouldn’t trade all those difficult moments for the world, if it means growth for me and my kids. And maybe next time, these mistakes will pave the way to a smoother path next time, one that takes them – and my teaching – even further.

Slice of Life Tuesday: Lessons from the Chocolate Stash

February 2, 2021
The stash, after a single day. Learn what you will.

Upstairs, at one of my two schools, in the copy room, there sits a green plastic basket under a sticker on the wall that reads, “Chocolate doesn’t ask silly questions. Chocolate UNDERSTANDS.”

Can you feel the love?

There are a few of us who tend to be the chocolate fairies of this particular basket. For my part, I like to purchase a big fat ol’ bag of candy favorites from Costco each time I go. I find that I can fill the basket about three times from each bag. Here’s what I’ve learned from years of filling the chocolate basket:

Non-chocolate in the chocolate basket is an abomination. You *might* be able to squeak by with snack packs of Skittles, but seriously, folks. Don’t be putting your SweeTarts and hard candies in here. No one has the time for that kind of negativity in their lives.

The pacing of chocolate consumption is a barometer for staff morale. Sometimes, the goodies I dump in will last a full week. During report card, conference or standardized test seasons, I can fill the basket in the morning and it’s slim pickin’s by lunchtime.

There is a definite pecking order. I have found, when observing the progress of the chocolate basket, that certain treats get snapped up faster than Springsteen tickets. In order of popularity, we have:
Peanut M&M’s
100 Grand Bars
Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups
Just about everything else
Milky Way

Milky Way is the scourge of the chocolate world. It never fails. No matter how quickly the chocolate stash gets depleted, there are always five or six Milky Way bars that refuse to find a home. I mean, eventually the chocolate ecosystem balances out. SOMEbody likes Milky Ways, and people end up grabbing them. Some day I’d love to buy a big value pack of Milky Way bars, dump it in and see what happens. But I don’t, because I love my colleagues too much.

Chocolate is bad for us. And that doesn’t matter. Even if we don’t partake of the goodies in the copy room, sometimes it’s enough to look in that basket and remember that there’s someone who wants to take care of us. Someone who knows the contents of that wrapper won’t bring contentment, relief from the unrelenting obligations and pressure of teaching, or a sense of agency when we feel powerless – but knows it will brighten our day nonetheless. And that knowledge brings with it a satisfaction similar to the crunch of that candy shell.

Slice of Life: Pre-Emptive Gratitude

January 26, 2021

We don’t have a snow day today, and I’m about as happy as a wet cat.

Something deep within me ached for a day back at home, even if it still involved a full day of classes and meetings. The thought of getting up early, bundling up, clearing off the car, of navigating barely passable roads, and repeating the process at day’s end just seemed…disheartening.

But here I am, standing at my desk and ready for my first meeting of the day. And on days like this, it’s easy for me to give in to discouragement and crabbiness. Grouchiness fits like an old pair of jeans.

Unfortunately, that makes for a REALLY long day.

Instead, I’m setting my sights on the moments of gratitude and joy that I know await me today, in no particular order:

warm chai
colleagues who check in…and mean it
a women’s night with folks who ground and inspire me
fresh grapefruit
soft socks
the wisdom of eleven year-olds
the Slice of Life writing community
a dog who’s happy to see me
deadlifts in the garage
the perfect hard-boiled egg, dipped in salt
podcasts
helping folks do what they do, only better
long, deep breaths

…and all of the surprises this day has awaiting me…

A Teacher’s Guide to Inauguration in 36 Easy Steps

January 19, 2021

or, Reflections from the Evening of January 19, 2021: How to Manage to Stay Afloat for the Next Eighteen Hours and Hold up the Walls of the World While it Watches, Waits, Breathless

  1. Pull yourself away from noise.
  2. Pet your dog.
  3. If you don’t have a dog, pretend to have a dog.
  4. Drink something warm.
  5. Listen, just for a moment, to tomorrow’s poet, Amanda Gorman.
  6. No. I mean really. Go listen. It’ll take you two minutes.
  7. Pass the tissues.
  8. Get a good bedtime.
  9. Wake up. Look at yourself in the mirror.
  10. Don’t just find the visage in the glass. Find the PERSON behind it.
  11. Don’t tell yourself “You’ve got this.” You’re tired of hearing that.
  12. Don’t tell yourself to breathe. You’re tired of hearing that, too.
  13. Tell yourself that you will get through today.
  14. Just like you do every day.
  15. Even the most difficult ones.
  16. Because that’s what we do.
  17. Get yourself to school, or to your Zoom, on time.
  18. Or not. Folks aren’t taking tardies today.
  19. Remember that our children are the reason we get up each day.
  20. Put your suffocating dread in its own breakout room.
  21. Tell your students you have faith in them.
  22. Tell your students you have faith in this world.
  23. Tell them again. Most of them won’t believe you the first time.
  24. Tell them they are part of history, that future children will hold their lives between the pages of a textbook.
  25. You will get through the day.
  26. Just like you do every day.
  27. Even the most difficult ones.
  28. Because that’s what we do.
  29. Close your computer and walk away.
  30. Do what you need to do to unclinch your white-knuckled grasp from your fear and anxiety.
  31. Because tomorrow your children will be waiting for you.
  32. They will need to hear, again, of your faith in the world.
  33. They will need to hear, again, of your faith in them.
  34. And again.
  35. And again.
  36. And again.

Sunday Sitdown #1: Here I Go

January 17, 2021

I’m a member of my school district’s newfound committee on Equity, Diversity and Inclusion.*

For our last meeting, we were asked to compose a racial autobiography, to craft a reckoning of our experiences with race and identity. (Check out the Pacific Educational Group to learn about their work!)

There were a LOT of questions. And as someone who’s been thinking about and reflecting on race for a really, REALLY long time, I didn’t know how I could put it all together. I’m a person of words, but I couldn’t imagine the number of words I’d have to summon to do the assignment justice.

So I did whatever I do in situations where I need a direct connection with my thoughts: DOODLE. I grabbed my flair pens and started drawing. Instead of a written document, I came up with this:

As I drew, it occurred to me how very MUCH there is here for me to unpack. There’s a lot more here than pictures can convey. I’m going to HAVE to put words to these ideas. And I’ll have to do it one step at a time.

That’s where you come in. I’d love for you to join me on this exploration.

Each Sunday, I’m going to work my way through this autobiography, one image at a time. I’ll share the stories and memories that connect with each part. I know I’ll encounter moments of growth that I wish I could relive. I’ll also have to think back on choices that I wish I could remake.

Here’s hoping I see you right back here next week!

*Yes, I have some general thoughts about committees for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion. And also thoughts about those words needing to be capitalized. We won’t get into that right now. The good news is, I’m hopeful about what our group can accomplish. So there’s that. It’s also led by Regina Armour. So there’s also THAT.

One Little Word…For Now

January 12, 2021

I’ve been a member of the Slice of Life writing community for nine months now. It’s been a source of inspiration, support and validation as I work to become braver in my writing.

As time goes on, I learn more about the rituals and traditions that “slicers” have. Most recently, I learned that each New Year’s brings with it the challenge to come up with One Little Word to frame ourselves for the new year.

I didn’t know that was a thing the week most folks posted, but I promised myself to write a post with my own One Little Word. Which is…

gather.

For me, for right now, I have come to rely on the power of gathering.

Which, now that I think about it, is strange, given that the literal meaning is so very impossible right now.

But in the metaphorical sense, I have come to rely on gathering…

Thoughts. Some days, it takes everything I have to bring my attention and focus to heel. My brain slides in one direction and the other. Like right now, for instance. I feel in my bones…how I feel, which means I feel…how? I can’t name it. My thoughts slip past and that’s strange to me. I’m used to being able to spend time with my thoughts. I’m used to being able to stop and articulate what’s going on in my inner self. And lately, that’s been tricky.

Life. These past months in particular, I’ve experienced shattering and loss. For several weeks, I sat, cross-legged and dumbstruck, among the wreckage. I’m finally standing now. Tentatively. And as I look around the room, I’m witnessing all of the routines and habits and structure I’ve let fall to pieces. And seeing them reminds me of ways I’ve failed myself, or those I love most. One by one, I’m gathering those pieces. It’s still an armful, so this one is going to take a while.

Joy. Thankfully, I haven’t lost my ability to notice and name those things, big and small, that provide me with delight, that offer reasons to get out of bed each day, that fill my heart to bursting. I can’t forget to bring these things in and together.

Strength. Remember what I said about how all those pieces of my life were an armful? It’s a LOT to carry. I am indescribably grateful for the amazing humans who situate themselves near me in one way or another. It is through the care and compassion of others who help me with the heavy lifting.

Gather. I’ll always need this word, for sure, but I’m hoping that I’ll be ready for a new one before I know it.

Slice of Life Tuesday: Missing Dreams

December 22, 2020

Today for the weekly Slice of Life challenge I knew I had a poem to write, but wanted to experiment with language and form. I came to a modified version of a triversen, a William Carlos Williams-created form consisting of six tercets: 18 lines in 6 stanzas. I’m still tweaking and working and thinking, but here goes:

In timesothertimes my dreams are vivid
and I carry them clanking in my pocket
and I listen to how they speakatme

Now manytoomany dreams slip from holes
in my pocket and shatter on the floor leaving
shards beautiful to stare atandat

I see my selfnotself in pieces of these dreams
and I play those bits again and over
til their edges smooth roundanddown

I force these realnotreal visions to replay
like lyrics of beyond-reach songs so
I might slide into sight of what came nextandbefore

But each timeaftertime the light fades
from the edges, the lyrics never come and
neither does the wisdom that used to comeandstay

So for nowtilwhenever all my pocket holds is hope
that dream-words will once again rest there
long enough whole enough clear enough to be heardandfelt