Category Archives: Teacher

When You Shoved a Desk at Me as I Walked Past You . . .

I didn’t punch you, like any of the teachers in any of the viral videos punched their students.

I didn’t punch you, because . . .

I am an adult, and adults are here on this earth to nurture and mentor young people, to teach you who you should become as an adult, not to teach you who you shouldn’t become. If I had hit you, I wouldn’t be nurturing you or mentoring you. Most importantly, your decision-making skills will not be fully developed for another 10 years. I cannot expect you to make choices like a mentally-well adult, because you are a middle schooler.

I want, more than anything, for you to grow into a wonderful, smart, caring, kind, and loving man, not the sort of man I will read about in the headlines for doing something mean and heartless. I already had to read about a former student trying to murder his girlfriend, including some graphically sordid details that didn’t need to be in the newspaper. I don’t want to read something like that about you.

On most good days I actually enjoy my job, and I look forward to coming into a school where students, ready to learn or not, will get one little glimpse into the beauty of this world and into the theological concept of grace. My goal, each day, is to teach my students one thing that hadn’t ever thought about before.

I am a pacifist, and even if I wasn’t, I want for you to know that your first response shouldn’t be what can I do back to them, when they’ve done something wrong to you. I should model that a response can be forgiveness, love, and grace, not retribution.

I can control my initial reaction, and I can look you in the eye and tell you, “NEVER do that to me again, because a person’s first instinct is to hit back, or push back, and I don’t want you to get hurt.” I mean that. I really want you think through your actions, your words, your behavior, because I want for you to act with purpose, making good choices, not out of impulse, making poor choices.

You are a kid living with (probably significant) trauma in your life. You don’t need me to add onto that, and I probably didn’t think through this one hard enough when I got angry. Instead of talking through your actions with you and helping you to see how many other good and pure choices you could have made, I spoke harshly, punished you and your classmates who were laughing, and then made you work in silence.

I love you, even when you don’t love yourself. Even when your sole mission is to entertain the other kids in the class with behavior that is the opposite of what you know is right and good, I love you, and I want the best for you. At this point, it feels like I love you more and care about you more, than you love or care about yourself.

Situational Paralysis: Make a Good Plan

While I am visiting my parents this weekend, I came here to Gas City to a Starbucks, where I worked during graduate school which seems like ages ago now, to work on lesson plans for school next week. The school corporation where I work uses a system called PAR to evaluate all new teachers and also struggling teachers who have been teaching for a while.

I value this system, because every teacher should have other teachers observe them, and every teacher has room to grow and learn, which is facilitated well by conversations with a good, mentor teacher (I am lucky, mine is fabulous). Conversely I dislike this system, because it requires me to write formal lesson plans every weekend for every period for every class, and sometimes I just want my students to work on a project for a few days, but I don’t know how, in a formal lesson plan, to adequately express where I will be and what I will be doing for those days.

And sometimes, let’s be real, formal lesson plans seem like one more thing when you have a general trajectory for your students’ lessons, like they are taking time away from making the lesson happen, doing a bit of extra preparation for your students, grading their work and making meaningful comments, and all those things that really make a difference.

But, in American culture, what are we without a plan? We start planning our kids’ lives from before the time they are even conceived. We tracks students by their achievements from the time they are in preschool. We guide students forward on their trajectories all through elementary, leaving brown, black, female, financially poor, and queer kids at the margins (if you don’t believe me, a simple google search will prove my point; there are countless scholarly articles that speak to these issues as well). These groups spend far more time out of class, in the principal’s office, in the nurses office, and out of school for behavior or absences, and frequently they are left behind.

We start seriously asking students what are their plans for their futures in seventh grade (I’m 44 and I still don’t have a solid plan), but those same groups of kids (the marginalized) are largely at a loss for guidance as papers (lessons and punishments) are pushed their direction, sometimes in languages they and their parents cannot speak or read, sometimes for opportunities they and their parents do not understand, and sometimes with the lens of a cultural structure into which they do not fit. Twenty-first Century Scholars in Indiana, for example, must be applied for by the end of 8th grade, so students and their parents have to choose to go to college by the young age of 12-14. If they miss the 8th-grade deadline, there is no second chance.

So, yes, plans matter in the USA. And your plan had better be a good one, the right one. As a teacher, my plan had better be a good one, the right one. No pressure.

 

 

Dear High School Students

You don’t have to go to college the year after your graduate. You really don’t. In fact, you’d be much better off figuring out who you are, what you want in life, and how you can go about getting that. Right now most of you are probably whoever your parents want you to be, you are probably pursuing whatever your parents want you to pursue, and you are probably following the path they’ve laid out for you since you were a small, small child. Likely you have no idea who you really are at the core, because you’ve spent the last 17-18 years trying to please your parents, your teachers, your religious leaders, your friends, your siblings, or countless other people who love you and think they are doing the best for you by pushing into college.

News flash: those people who love you will still love you, even if you tell them to piss off and get a minimum-wage job on the opposite side of the country or in another country for a few years until you figure out who YOU are, separate from them, separate from everyone’s preconceived ideas about who you should be.

News flash: college is expensive. If you are not 100% certain about what you want to pursue for a career, you might as well take your parents $100,000 or your $100,000 in scholarship or loan money, stack it next to the toilet, use it to wipe with, then flush it down the toilet.

Maybe I am a bit bitter about all this, because I am 40 years old now and wishing I didn’t have to pay nearly $750 a month toward student loans and credit card bills to pay for one graduate degree I quit and other graduate degrees that will get me nowhere. I don’t regret my education; I simply regret not waiting until I was ready to go to school. I regret not working at a job for a while. I regret not moving away from home sooner than I did. And I regret doing what I thought would give me security, instead of doing what I loved.

Maybe this is all to say, do what you love. What YOU love. Not what you think will pay the bills, not what you think will satisfy someone else. DO WHAT YOU LOVE. In the words of Bukowski: “My dear, Find what you love and let it kill you. Let it drain you of your all. Let it cling onto your back and weigh you down in eventual nothingness. Let it kill you and let it devour your remains. For all things will kill you, both slowly and fastly, but it’s much better to be killed by a lover. ~Falsely yours.”

One thing I will promise you, as Bukowski promises you, all things will kill you, but I’d certainly rather be penniless and making art or writing than smothering to death under a mountain of plastic debt, false hopes, and eviscerated career “opportunities.”

Give yourself time to find what you love, and let it kill you.

Dear Librarians

You are the unsung heroes of intellectual development. You are the guardians of the word. You are the harbingers of hope and grace. You foster the light in a dark world.

From a very early age, when my mom would pack up the wagon with me and my brother and our bag of books and walk the nice two mile haul to the Hartford City Carnegie Public Library, I was in love with reading and books. I read everything. No, literally, I read everything the children’s section of our tiny library had to offer. From the easiest picture books through Charles Dickens’ Tale of Two Cities, I read it all. I absorbed the nonfiction like a sponge and could spout off random facts at whim, and I relished the fantastic realities I found between the covers of every mystery, fantasy, science fiction, historical fiction, or fiction text I read. I tried without success to write poetry modeled after the poets I’d read. I escaped from whatever chore I was supposed to do, from whatever small inconvenience of real life I had to endure, and I loved every word. Even the books I thought were boring, I read with fervor, just to say I had read the whole thing. To this day, I have only ever not finished four or five books. One of those was Shades of Grey. Please tell me how that got published and became a best seller. Ashamedly, one of those is One Hundred Years of Solitude, which I just can’t make it through, though I know it’s a beautiful piece of literature and a blessing to those who read it. Maybe I’ll try that one again.

I remember C G helping me each week to find books I hadn’t read. She taught me how to look at the cards to find my number to see if I had read a book and just forgotten it. I remember how she would hold back brand new books, so I could read them first, if they were ones she thought I would particularly like. Mostly, from my childhood, I remember the summer reading program. The year when we did bookworms was my favorite, because for each book I read, I got a section to add to my bookworm. By the end of the summer my bookworm was the longest in the library and I chose the colors so it made rainbow after rainbow: red, orange, yellow, green, blue, purple. I just loved reading.

As I got older, I used books to escape the things I couldn’t tell my parents about. I read my way into dealing with grown-up things that happened too soon. I was proud the day when I walked up the stairs and asked B M to help me locate the young adult books, which were reserved for students 13 years old and older. I was little (I still am) and I looked younger than I was (I still do), so she called downstairs to see if I had approval to read those books. I did. So at the age of ten, I read a highly banned book that is still one of my favorites, To Take A Dare by Crescent Dragonwagon and Paul Zindel. I lived vicariously through the protagonist, and when I, too, lost my virginity at a young age, I reread the book, giving myself hope that if a fictional character could live through all that then so could I.

At school, I was fortunate enough to have two librarians, R H and B A, who guided me and continued to nourish my love for literature. We were fortunate enough to have, as part of our language arts curriculum, education in how to use the library and research with the resources found there. I found myself spending as much time as possible hanging out in the library, sometimes even leaving class to go the bathroom, but ending up in the library reading. During high school, my first job was working at the public library where I had grown up, and I was also a media center volunteer during the few times when I had a study hall in my schedule.

Throughout college, my strong quality education in library science came in handy, as I had no problems transferring the skills I’d learned with the Dewey decimal system to the newly arranged Library of Congress system used by most college libraries. Because of my work at my small public library, I had trouble using Microfilm or Microfiche, and I had problem getting a job working for the circulation desk, where I promptly got fired for sleeping in a stairwell with my coworker. We were simply taking a little nap, which was apparently highly frowned upon. Still I remember everything about libraries in my life with a fondness that I can’t accurately capture in words.

I write to you, librarians, to let you know how important you are! Your work is perhaps some of the most important work to keep our culture thriving and filled with imagination. Sure the authors who write the texts are necessary, but I would bet that so many of them spent so much of their formative time with so many of you, that you are in fact to blame for their greatness. Libraries, and you, librarians, will save us. I am sure of it.

What is that Ray Bradbury says, “You don’t have to burn books to destroy a culture, just get people to stop reading them”? Well, you are the fine folks who keep us reading, who guard our culture, who inspire us to keep pursuing knowledge.

Thanks.

Dear J H

For the longest time I have been searching for you through the Internet, because I wanted to tell you that I am a triathlete. I have finished one Half Ironman in the summer of 2013, and I am training to finish another one this summer. I wanted you to know about my athletic endeavors for selfish reasons, because I wanted you to know that I give you no credit whatsoever for my athletic success. I’m not usually so selfish or mean, but I’ve carried a lot of shame from the years that you were my PE teacher. I’ve also carried a bit of that seventh grade girl, whose biggest desire was that somehow you’d be proud of her. Doesn’t every seventh grader, somewhere deep down, desire the approval, even the love of his or her teachers?

Imagine me, as a seventh grader, already different from the other girls in so many ways, just wanting somehow to fit in. The one place I had always fit in was in athletic pursuits. I was a kickball master, I could cross the monkey bars singles, doubles, and triples, I could jump rope like a beast, and I swam like lightening. Was I the fastest? No. Was I the best? No. Did I ever in all the years I participated in PE ever pass the ridiculous and contrived Presidential Fitness Test? No, but I can tell you that I played sports, all kinds, all the time.

What confused me as a kid—and I even gave you grace because my parents said that you were fresh out of college and bound to make some mistakes—is that you played favorites and you said and did some really mean things. There was no doubt in my seventh grade mind that you held certain girls, particularly those who were a lot like what I think you wanted to be when you were in middle school (popular, pretty, athletic, and smart), in higher regard than those, like me, who were probably more like you actually were in middle school. I forgive you for that; none of us wants to look in a mirror and see what we don’t like about ourselves reflected back at us. I just wish you wouldn’t have taken your own insecurities out on us. I learned this from you: never let my own perceived inadequacies determine how I treat my students, love them all the same, and treat them all with dignity.

Do you remember that time when we were playing field hockey and H S high sticked me and made a bruise that covered my whole shin, making it painful to walk for several days? You have probably forgotten what you asked me when it happened: what did you do to make him high stick you? You didn’t ask if I was okay. You didn’t put him out of the game. You didn’t send me to the nurse. Instead you blamed me and asked me what I had done to deserve it. You gave me my first experience of victim-shaming, over field hockey.

Do you remember when I tried out for seventh grade volleyball? I wasn’t the best, and truth be told I was just looking for a sport to play between softball and swimming, which were my loves. I worked so hard in those tryouts, though, and I wasn’t a horrible player. But I was cut from the team, which didn’t bother me as much as your reaction to my questioning what I did wrong. You have probably forgotten that when I asked why I didn’t make the team, you didn’t tell me the skills I needed to work on to make the team the next year. Instead you told me that I was too fat and that I needed to lose weight to be on the team. Of course, you didn’t give me any sort of plan by which to do this; you simply said, lose weight and try again next year.

Do you remember in eighth grade when I showed you my first, first place swimming ribbon for the 500, because I was proud and I figured my PE teacher would be proud as well? You likely don’t even remember me showing you, because you told me that was nice and said it was probably because we swam against a school with a slow team. You then turned your back to me and started talking about the previous nights basketball game with your three favorite girls. You weren’t there coach, yet you went to every game. I don’t remember you ever coming to one, single swim meet.

I don’t bring all of this up to you, because I dislike you or because I want to somehow get back at you. I don’t bring it up because I am bitter about it. I certainly don’t bring it up because I want or need an apology. Really, I’m just processing here.

I bring all of these things up, because this is what I think about while I am putting in miles in the pool, on the bike, and on my feet: despite all the horrible things I learned in PE throughout school, I am still an athlete. I may be fat, but I keep going. I make myself proud when I receive my finisher’s medal, and those people who love me are proud too. The seventh-grade girl that rears her ugly, jealous, approval-seeking head every once in a while, thinks that maybe if you knew I’m still an athlete, you’d be proud of me, too. Or maybe at least you’d take the time to ooh and aah a little over my cheesy running hat that says finisher.

So, J H, you are the first person I am writing a letter to this year, because I want you to know that I forgive you for being young and not giving me what I needed in middle school. I forgive you for being fairly self-absorbed and playing favorites. And, mostly, I thank you for showing me how I wanted to be as a teacher, and I thank you for giving me the drive to succeed in sports without a great deal of external motivation.

I hope you are well. Maybe one day we’ll bump into each other at a triathlon or a run.

EDIT: I finally found you on the Interwebs. You do utlra-running. You teach health and PE in Southern Indiana. You still think everyone should be thin, but it seems like you’ve worked out some of the kinks you had at Blackford Schools, because the students you work with seem to like you. I still think you look kind of sad and not very fulfilled, so I hope the best for you. And I hope you get happier.