Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Coming back

Tuesdays at TWT!
"This keeps getting more complicated." Over the dull din of other diners at Panera, my colleague tosses his head back and laughs. "I keep finding that teaching is so much more complicated than I ever imagined."

"So do I!" I giggle, but I feel a surge of silent gratitude to be sitting here on a summer afternoon, discussing the joys and challenges of this job career profession calling life I love with a colleague who, despite a first year that absolutely kicked him in the gut, somehow loves it too, just like me.

We're working on our presentation for next week's district conference about supporting ELLs in content classes, but our teacher brains, too used to running a thousand programs at the same time, keep taking us other places. As we screenshot the best examples from our adventures together in his 3rd period Physical Science class, we drift back and forth through time, reflecting on last year and looking ahead.

Now that it's on the topic of school, my brain is spinning hard. "I really want to do more with my kids this fall to help them learn how to learn in their regular classes!" I'd thought of this in the spring, but it almost slipped my mind until we started remembering the utter lack of academic skills my kids ("ALL freshmen, really!" he interjects) have. "I mean, nobody tells you in your education classes that in addition to your content, you're going to have to teach your kids how to study, how to take notes, how to focus, how to regulate their emotions, how to set goals..."

The sheer BIGness of teaching hits me with its full force. It IS complicated. And amazing.

And out of the haze of a baby-filled summer, I remember, in a visceral surging way: I LOVE this job career profession calling life.

This crazy, stressful, fun, demanding, soul-crushing, uplifting, life-changing job career profession calling life. Am I looking forward to returning to lunches gulped in fifteen minutes, one scheduled bathroom break, and work that piles up far faster than I can ever get it done? Not really. Do I love feeling like I constantly have to settle for "good enough", knowing I could do so much better if I just had more time to prepare, reflect, and collaborate? Definitely not -- it's that much harder when you're a perfectionist.

But I love it. I love sharing my love of literacy with my kids. I love getting to know my kids and learning about their cultures, their languages, and their incredible lives. I love encouraging them in their learning and supporting them through their many challenges. I love being an expert who helps my colleagues teach my kids better, and I love being a learner who is constantly looking for new ways to improve my own instruction. And mostly, I. love. my. kids!

And while I'm grateful for the rejuvenation summer brings, I can't wait. I can't wait for booktalks and read-alouds, brainstorming and revision, messy thinking and proud products. I can't wait for purposeful conferences and quick conversations, joyful hugs and hallway tears. I can't wait for those cinder block walls to become a little home. I also can't wait for family meetings, for collegial collaboration with hearts like mine, for failed and successful experiments in new ways to help all students learn.

This is a colossal, complicated, challenging job career profession calling life. And an awesome one. And I'm so thankful that for all the ways it beats us up, it holds so many joys and promises that keep us coming back, whether it's our second year or our tenth.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Learning to fly

Tuesdays at TWT!
In The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Douglas Adams wrote that learning to fly consists of "learning to throw yourself at the ground and miss".

Watching my 14-month old lately, I realized that learning to walk is pretty much the same thing. She took a few of those first tottering steps this weekend, in the midst of a hundred hilarious kerplunks, tumbles and flops. And every time she fell, she giggled, squealed, chortled, and clambered back up to try again.

Getting there!
Splat! (with a big smile!)
So while pondering how to make this post more than a series of cute baby pictures, I remembered an article I saw recently (which alas, I did not save, and now cannot find) about how the role of persistence is often undervalued in creative pursuits. And how I immediately thought of writing, and the sheer persistence that is required to be a writer.

I remembered so many Tuesdays and March days where I've had to absolutely drag myself to the couch, pry my laptop open, and make myself write. Throwing myself at the ground, over and over, whether I have a huge spark of a story that begs to be written, or a tiny hiding inkling of a maybe-idea, or no ideas at all.

However I start, the important thing is that I started. Something always comes out. Something great comes out! In that repeated persistence, I end up with stories that might not have been told, craft moves I might never have tried, conclusions and revelations I might never have arrived at, and connections I might never have made. Only in repeatedly throwing myself down do I learn to miss the ground: to conquer my fears, rise above the minutiae of being "too busy", vanquish tiredness, and dispel the myth of having "nothing to write about".

I've always loved how Thomas Mann said that "A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people." I pour so much of myself into my writing. I agonize over words and phrases, play with hooks and conclusions, spin and weave the pieces of a story until they fit just write. I purposefully use strategies I've learned over time. It's hard work, not some magical cloud of golden inspiration.

I don't want my students to look at me and just see "a good writer". It's so easy to look at "talent" and think "That's not me. I can't do that!" Right? We all have our myths we've created: I'm not a good artist, I'm not athletic, I just can't do whatever like so-and-so does.

Soon, my baby will be walking everywhere without giving it a second thought. But other babies won't look at her and say, "oh, that kid's just a good walker. I can't do that." No! They, too, will someday fling themselves at the ground enough times to eventually learn to miss, and then off they'll go, walking everywhere too!

I work hard to make sure my students see me as someone who works really hard to make herself write, to learn about good writing, and to try different strategies to make her writing better. That's why I write in front of them, and that's why I share my writing life with them.

In fact, that's why I share my life with them: so they can see that success is not luck or some magical fairy dust, but rather the result of habitual, intentional tenacity over time. Writers write. Readers read. "Good students" study with purpose and intensity. Success comes from being strong, and being strong comes from being brave enough to keep throwing ourselves down, over and over, until we miss the ground and just take right off.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

A walk with elsie

Tuesdays at TWT!
I love the feeling of possibility of a winding path cutting through a wooded field. The sunlight shines through the opening like an invitation, full of the hope of more beauty.

Little Sweetie, more asleep than awake in the stroller, stirs and gently fusses as I stop to take a picture. Maybe I can slice about this walk! I've been in such a writing rut, and Elsie always writes such fun slices about her walks! 

Around the bend, the promise of beauty is fulfilled as the fountain glitters like a firework shooting out of the pond ahead.

And to the other side, a bursting flowerbed that I would normally walk right by with just a quick glance. But Elsie would take a picture of those flowers... And find a story in them! So I flip the brake on the stroller:
ok, but...
I almost keep walking, but oooh, but the other end would show those pink ones that are hiding now! I sneak a few yards backwards and take another.
much better!

Little Sweetie is now flopped limply under her canopy, breathing with that steady rhythm of pure sleep.

When the gentle jostle of wooden bridge slats doesn't stir her, I decide to brave the stronger bounce of bumping her across the grass to a bench by the next pond. Sure enough, she stays asleep, and I settle on the rough wood and open my Blogger app. 

A spiky seat is a small price to pay for this exclusive view: my sweet baby asleep on my left and a picture-perfect window of branches framing the pond just for me.

Squeak! To my surprise, a tiny brown frog leaps in the mud in front of me. I'm used to the big bullfrogs everywhere, but this little guy is new! When I stand up for a closer look, several more scamper through the mud and sticks too! A whole little community of little friends that I would never have known about if I hadn't sat on this particular bench!
Do you see him?
So thanks, elsie! Even though you're states away and we've never met in person, we sure had a lovely walk together today! 

And thank you, TWT and all my slicing friends, for teaching me to walk like a writer, with my eyes, ears, and heart more open.