Can Somebody Push the Restart Button, Please?

Below is the beginning of a story that I’ve been working on in my head for about 24 hours now. I’m doing more modeling with my students this year by showing them more of my own writing. Here’s the idea that’s been brewing in my mind since yesterday. Please comment and let me know what you think!


Can Somebody Push the Restart Button, Please?

Chapter 1

Second period. Staring at the notebook on my desk–Mrs. Sentor would call it my journal. I call it painful. A poster on the wall in front of me reads: There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed. –Ernest Hemingway. Well, here I sit. Trying to bleed. When I just want to cry. No. Disintegrate. No. Or is it dissipate? Ugh. I have no ID-E-A what I want, OK??? Please.

OK. I do know what I want. I want to cry. How about that? That’s what I want. And I want it to feel good. But it won’t. So I don’t. I sit here. In second period.

Mrs. Sentor put a prompt on the board:

If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?

Seriously? Seriously . . . Just one thing? Where do I start? With my eyebrows and work my way down to my preposterously thin ankles? Why do I stop at my ankles, you ask? Well, I like my feet. They are my best feature. They are dainty with perfect toes–not short and stubby and not long and knotty. My dad has gnarly yellow toes that he really shouldn’t ever show in public. I’m truly grateful that I did not inherit his feet. I wonder if Mrs. Sentor will notice if I write about something I like instead, like my feet.

But my pencil still doesn’t move. It can’t. My elbow is frozen. I wonder if that excuse will get me a pass to the nurse. But wait. I think my shoulder is frozen, too. This would explain why my pencil isn’t moving. Ugh. This day needs to be over.

Anyway, I was talking about my feet. Pretty feet don’t get a person much here at Brook Trout Middle School because they are covered up all day on the count of shoes–a required part of the dress code here in school suburbia. Not just any shoes, though. For instance, shoes without backs are verboten, as Mrs. Person, the German teacher, would say. Most of us call them slides. My mom calls them clogs or flops. Whatever. Doesn’t matter. Just don’t wear them unless you want to visit the goofy principal’s office. 

Tommy Ranker, who sits next to me in language arts, looks like a forty-year-old man because he has a glaring bald spot at the top of his head. It is round and clean, like a plate that just came out of the dishwasher. The rest of him is not unattractive. He’d have a nice smile if he didn’t spew vomit every time he opened his mouth. And he can be funny. Like the day he asked Mrs. Kleindock the question no one ever dared to ask.

Tommy has never noticed my feet. He notices everything else, though, from my unnaturally dark eyebrows compared to my light blonde hair, to my burgeoning mustache, to my small chest, hairy arms, and string bean legs. I imagine that someday someone will find him charming if they can ignore the fact that at thirteen he is already going bald and perpetually immature. If he found a girl, maybe he would focus on her instead of humiliating me.

Even without looking at him, I can feel his eyes on me. He’s smirking. “Hey, Skinny,” he whispers when Mrs. Sentor isn’t looking. “What did you write?” His quick, stubby, chewed-to-the-bone fingers try to snatch my journal. I slap my hand down into the middle of it just in time. I give him a look like the one my cat gives me when it’s hungry: the I-am-going-to-eat-you-if-you-don’t-feed-me-soon look.

“Knock. it. off!” I say through clenched teeth. Mrs. Sentor turns our way. I look at my desk. Again, what do I want? If this is the only kind of attention a girl like me gets, then I think what I want is to be left alone.

When I woke up this morning, I thought today would be different. Let me rephrase that. Mrs. Sentor is always telling us to choose that clearly convey our meaning, so what I really meant was that I thought that today HAD to be different. I didn’t think the universe had a choice. There is no way that today could be as bad as yesterday. It had to get better. It just had to. When you already have no friends, things can only get better, right?

So why don’t I have any friends? I could make a long list, but I guess the closest answer to the truth is that I lie, hoping to impress people. I do it all the time. I can’t help it, even though it never works. People know I want them to like me too much. So, as I said, I really have no friends. No one that I would link arms with or willingly share the answers to my homework with. But yesterday–for half the day anyway–I thought I had a friend. Randi. Her real name is Miranda, but she prefers Randi. Anyway, she was my friend, until Kim handed me a “message.” Right before lunch, nonetheless. She says to me, all nonchalantly, “Randi wanted me to give you this,” as she holds out her fist. When I innocently open my hand to take the “note,” seventeen little pieces of shiny paper fall into my hand. Seventeen little pieces. I wonder if Randi counted them. Or did she just blindly rip without thinking.

She ripped my school picture, the one I gave her in October, the one with my note of friendship to her on the back. She shredded it. Like it was a piece of junk mail. Like it was something that meant nothing to her. I feel my thyroid drop into my stomach like a ball of acid. What did I do to make her so mad at me?

I throw the seventeen pieces to the top shelf of my locker. What the hell? Maybe there I won’t ever have to look at them. Someday a janitor will find them and never look to see what they are before he throws them in his oversized trash can.

 

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DIY Literacy Video Series – Episode Four

If you aren’t following these ladies yet, you should! Every week they share innovative and immediately applicable tools for teaching kids literacy and writing.

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Welcome to the fourth episode of our DIY Literacy video series. People have been sending in their #DIYLiteracy teaching tools this week – check some out!

KEEP YOUR DIY TOOLS COMING! As you make your own DIY teaching tools,please share them by…

  1. Using the hashtag #DIYLiteracy when you post them on social media (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram)
  2. Upload your teaching tool to our DIY Literacy Google Drive Folder for others to see OR
  3. You can also email the photo of your teaching tool here kateandmaggie2@gmail.com and we’ll do our best to post them for you.

Here is a list of our social media sites so we can stay connected:

Each week we tackle a new problem that you sent in. Then, we match that problem with a teaching tool that can help. We are returning to a popular tool this week based on the problem…

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A Forward-Looking Reflection

Since I began teaching middle school two years ago, I’ve had to adjust to a building where teachers and students have little access to technology. The transition has been difficult. Moving from a school where I had fairly liberal access to a school where I have almost none is like slowing down to 35 miles per hour after you’d just been driving 70. You want to move faster–it seems viable and safe–but you don’t because the speed limit or traffic patterns don’t allow it.

While teaching at the high school, I learned to integrate seamlessly into my lessons.

Now I feel impaired, like I am teaching everyday without a thumb or an arm.

If I feel like that, imagine how my students must feel. They use computers–phones, laptops, e-readers, tablets, and video game consoles–nearly every minute that they aren’t in school. During school hours, kids are forced to power down. No more real world, kids!

But I am excited for next year because my team will have access to Chromebooks. I’m as anxious for the opportunity to use working computers in the classroom again as I would be for an upcoming vacation. And the best part: Blogging.

Three years ago I was looking for a more engaging way to teach the Transcendentalism unit to my sophomores. (See the list of resources at the bottom of the post.) My unit objective was for them to apply their understanding of the movement and create a blog that illustrates its influence on contemporary society. I also required the students to solicit an expert in the field to provide them with feedback about their blogs. (You can read the posts I wrote about the experience on the site Becoming Conscious.)

The process of creating authentic pieces of writing that showed they had something to say involved a great deal of research on the part of the student. And guess what? They did the research without complaint. In fact, I would argue that they did it enthusiastically. They also supported their ideas with research and proofread their posts carefully. Why? Because they knew that their audience was more than just their teacher. Their audience could be the world. The pressure to perform, to sound like an expert, was real and motivating.

The project was an overall success with the students. Many of them had never blogged before. Many of them created Twitter accounts so that they could connect with professors and authors. There were so many layers of learning occurring every day during the course of that project. The experience allowed me to connect with the students on a different level because I was reading and conferencing with them about their writing. I saw their complexities more keenly and developed a unique bond with them.

I am looking forward to having similar experiences next year with 8th graders.

Resources:

 

We All Have the Power: Life-Changing Moments

When I returned to school as a graduate student in 2003, I was scared. The students around me were younger than I. They were smarter than I. They were better writers than I. And they had read more than I. I had no business being in their company.

That is how I felt sitting in Dr. Peter Beidler’s Medieval Comedy course in Drown Hall at Lehigh University. If you know Pete, he is one of the least intimidating people you will ever meet. I was not intimidated by him, but I was intimidated by the other students. I thought they had so much more to offer than I. They were younger. They were smarter. They were writers. was a high school English teacher.

After two classes, I thought about quitting. Grad school wasn’t for me, and I was OK with that. I would finish Pete’s course, and then I would go back to doing what I was good at: teaching literature and grammar to high school students.

What I didn’t know at the time was that Dr. Peter Beidler would change my life.

If you’ve never watched Drew Dudley’s TED Talk entitle Everyday Leadership, you should. In it he mentions “lollipop moments,” life-changing moments. Lollipop moments are those interactions that have changed us for the better–transformative moments where someone’s actions or words steered us down a different path or made us think differently about ourselves–the moments that have helped us be brave.

At the close of my second class with Pete, he asked me to meet with him for a few moments in his office. I instantly started to sweat (He probably saw the little droplets form on my upper lip.) and all of my shortcomings zoomed through my brain.

“He’s going to tell me that he knows I was scouring the Internet for good ideas to look smart in class discussions.”

“He’s going to tell me that Lehigh is not the school for me.”

“He’s going to tell me that I can’t handle grad school while working full-time.”

“He hasn’t read anything I wrote yet, but I’m sure he’s going to tell me that my skills are not up to snuff.”

I was never more wrong about anything in my life.

When I reached Pete’s office, he said, “I enjoy having you in class. You have a more experienced perspective. I think the other students can learn from you.”

What???? This guy is crazy. He’ll soon find out that I’m a fraud. Right?

In his talk, Drew Dudley quotes Marianne Williamson: “Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness, that most frightens us.” How true. I expected Pete to tell me that I was incompetent or incapable. I did not expect him to tell me the opposite. Why? I had never thought of myself as auspicious. I was familiar with, maybe even comfortable with, failure. But I was not comfortable with happiness, self-acceptance, or success. Whatever success I had achieved must be fortuitous, the result of good luck.

At first, I thought that maybe he sensed my reticence about grad school and offered encouragement because he felt obligated, out of sympathy, to help the struggling student. He didn’t really mean that I had influence.

My first of many visits to Pete’s office is one of my greatest “lollipop moments.” In the end, his words, the few minutes he took to speak with me, were enough to propel me through grad school while working full-time as a teacher. I became more outspoken in class discussions. I was still nervous about sharing my writing with others, but I overcame the feeling of shame that accompanies thoughts like “I’m not good enough.” I began to believe I WAS good enough. I graduated from Lehigh University with a Masters degree in English in May of 2006. It is the one accomplishment of which I am most proud.

In his TED Talk, Drew Dudley points out that we often don’t tell tell the leaders in our lives the transformative power that they had. We keep it to ourselves, but we shouldn’t. We should tell people about these “lollipop moments.” I have shown Pete my gratefulness for his guidance; however, I haven’t ever clearly expressed to him how that moment changed my life. I will now.

A Year Cut Short

I came home from work early today, hoping to fit in a short run. The sun was shining for the first time all day. I decided to run without my iPod to enjoy the sounds of spring. About 1/4 mile from my house, the rain started. “Stop!” I yelled at the sky, thinking today the universe would listen to me. But it didn’t.

By the time I returned home, after running for 16 minutes and 58 seconds, I was soaked: My run was cut short.

I feel the same way about this school year–it has been cut short.  Why?

  • I haven’t taught my students all that I think I should.
  • I haven’t covered everything that’s in the curriculum.
  • I should have taught a few things much differently than I did.

Then there’s the perpetual echo: Have I prepared my students sufficiently for the PSSAs?

As a teacher, I criticize myself all the time. I didn’t grade any essays today. I forgot to speak to John today. Oh no! I forgot to call the guidance counselor about Kelly’s grade. Why can’t I remember to take care of everything? Why didn’t I say this or that to a student? These are the thoughts that wake me up at night and remind me that I’m not yet good enough, and I’m not accomplishing as much I should. I am often too hard on myself. I don’t forgive myself for being imperfect, for being human.

Today I am thinking differently. Today I am taking some time to contemplate what I do well. Today I am going to transcend self-criticism. Here are a few things that I have done well this year:

  • My students know how to annotate all kinds of texts. I am not kidding about this one. I taught this skill with gusto this year, and if there were an Annotating Text Championship, my students would win.
  • My students wrote every day. Every day that I met with my students, they wrote. It may have been a reflective paragraph in their writer’s notebooks. It may have been a sentence that they modeled and made their own. Some days they wrote essays. No matter what, they had time to think, process, and record their ideas on paper. Of this accomplishment, I am probably most proud.
  • My students read books that they chose. For the first time in several years, my students chose novels that they wanted to read, not ones that were prescribed by the teacher or curriculum. They discovered new authors, new styles of writing, and I believe they also learned that they are not alone.
  • I made the choice to align myself with leaders. I decided midway through the year that I was going to surround myself with like-minded people who believed in positive change and forward movement. This decision has made a notable difference in my practice, my attitude about my job, and my interactions with my students.
  • I allowed my students to teach me how to be kinder and more compassionate. Every year I learn from my students in many ways, but since I began teaching 8th grade, I’ve gained a greater realization of the power of empathy. Empathy can move mountains.

I encourage all my colleagues to take some time once a week and think about what you do well. When you reflect on your day, forgo the readiness to criticize; take some time to praise yourself. Silence the inner self-critic until tomorrow.