Category Archives: Teaching

December 1, 2019: First Sunday of Advent

Here are my Goals for 2020. You’ll notice they look surprisingly similar to the ones for 2019, partially because I did not reach all of my goals for 2019, because I’ve finally reached a balance between challenging and attainable, so I think I’ll just roll with that for another year.

    1. Swim, bike, walk, or run every single day. Finish the Indy Mini on May 2, 2020
    2. Read at least one book each month. Write at least a little every Sunday.
    3. Meditate for 10 minutes in the morning and 10 minutes in the evening.
    4. Practice silence and work on listening, with intention.
    5. Eat mostly real plant-based food. Consume campassionately.
    6. Create more, conserve more, buy less.

Live joyfully and feed my soul.

Swim, Bike, Walk or Run Every Day

My brother and I signed up to do the Indy Mini this year, and we signed up for the shorter races leading up to it, so we’d know for sure that we can finish the 13.1 miles on Indy Mini Race Day. If you don’t know what the Indy Mini is, it is a half marathon that is part of the Indy 500 Festival, and you can learn more about it here. The commitment to do 13.1 in May, jumpstarted my already running self into a Holiday Run Streak that goes from today, the first Sunday of Advent until January 6, or Epiphany.

That’s 37 days of running at least one mile each day, and I started this morning by running around my friends’ neighborhood, which I have to say is quite a nice little spot to live. What will be fun and challenging about this Run Streak is that my 20-week training plan for the Indy Mini starts on December 16, so there will no doubt be some sore legs and a lot of walking/running intervals, until I get my running legs back under me.

My goals are simply to finish without being scooped up by the sweeper bus, to spend as much time with my brother as I can before I go back to Minnesota in June, and to have the most fun I have ever had running that far!

Reading (and Writing)

So far this year, I have read 6 books—probably more, but I did not write them down in my logs, so I guess in my mind they don’t count—so this is a goal that needs some attention next year. Considering that if I put my mind to it, I can read most books in less than a day, this seems like a really low number for a goal, but with teaching and trying to balance my life, I guess I just do not read as much as I used to. I am absolutely open to suggestions for reading.

I should probably make my goal for this coming year a writing one, since I feel like I miss it so much, but I have not done it for so long, that it feels weird even writing this. I guess practice makes me better, so maybe I should commit to writing here every Sunday. From January 5, 2020 – December 27, 2020.

Meditation: Silence and Listening

This goal, which is really two combined, is one that needs quite a bit of attention. Basically, I just need to do it. I need this goal more than any other one, and yet it is the one that gets neglected the quickest.

Eat Vegan Whole Foods

I am proud to say that this goal is going along perfectly. Since October 4, 2019, I haven’t eaten any meat, and I have been working my way into being completely plant-based by December 31. Since I live with my brother, we’re doing this one together (along with eating a lot less sugar), and we’ve already seen some excellent health benefits from it.

One of my favorite meals is pizza, and I always get sad thinking that I will miss pizza when I am vegan. Luckily I found an excellent vegan pizza crust mix, for when I don’t make my own from scratch, and I am enjoying using fresh vegetables and cheese replacements to make big, delicious homemade pizzas that are way better tasting, and way better for me, than store-bought pizza!

Last night I had one of the most beautiful pizzas I have made: big brown mushrooms, little rings of yellow, red, and orange peppers, bright green spinach, and giant tomato chunks with just a bit of Daiya cheddar shreds. Not only was it beautiful, but without all of the cheese, the delicious flavor of all of the vegetables came through.

Create More, Conserve More, Buy Less

I am really getting into being conservative with my spending, which is saying a lot if you know me and know how I love to spend money, because what is it but green pieces of paper. Anyway, I have kept my spending for gas (we have a 2 hour total commute each day), groceries, and entertainment to less than what I budgeted for three months in a row!

I am trying to purchase things that are necessary (do I really need that item?), that nothing I already have will serve the same function (will the things I already have work to do that job?), that I can’t do on my own (sorry Starbucks, but I brew my coffee in my classroom now), and that really bring me some kind of joy in my life (do I need another mug because it has a funny saying on it?). I’ve also gotten into fixing things, instead of just buying new.

My ultimate goal: Live JOYFULLY and feed my SOUL.

This is my ultimate goal, because I know that if I am not searching for joy and nourishment in my life, I am not happy, nor can I help anyone else seek for joy or nourishment. Now, I will be really honest, because of the way I am wired, seeking joy is really difficult for me. I am much the realist, and never really an optimist, but I know that joy and gratitude are the keys to living a long and memorable life, so I keep trying to regroup and see if I can help others.

My brother helps with this: he always sees the good side of things, and he always gives people the benefit of the doubt. I want to be more like him, and I try, but it is really hard to always assume positive intent, think things will turn out okay, to understand that everything happens for a reason, and to make the best of every situation. I will get there, though.

They say if you keep reframing events in the ways in which you can be grateful for them, that you’ll eventually do it automatically. I do not know who they are, but they have to be right, right?

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.

 

 

Force-Feeding “Literacy”

A young African American male sits directly across a typical American middle school classroom from me, sighing heavily every time the computer puts a new question on the screen. He’s asked me several times how many questions there are, and all I can tell him is somewhere between 30 and 50, because this test is a test that gives a different amount of questions to each student dependent upon their success or failure on the proceeding question. Another young African American male keeps falling asleep so frequently I ask him to stand up to take the test, so he’ll not be tempted to put his head down. He is only on question 14, and I am sure this moment in time is only further cementing his hatred of reading. A young white female, who has obviously done this before, flew through the test, just fast enough for the “disengaged student” filter not to catch her apathy. A young white male clicked through too fast yesterday, and had to take it again today.

I am not okay with my students being this frustrated and disengaged with the written word.

I’m sitting in this classroom, giving my student the NWEA assessment, which isn’t a bad assessment in and of itself, but it’s one of three assessments I will give to my students within the first three weeks of class, and I will give another one the week after next. We use Achieve 3000, IXL, NWEA, and SRI to assess our students’ reading levels. We are expected to share this data with the students, have them track their own progress, and have them reach for grade level by the end of the school year.

I am not okay with giving more assessment than are absolutely necessary to gauge my students’ abilities.

Having students be responsible for their own data is like multi-billion dollar corporations asking me to ring out my own groceries, so they can cut the jobs of my fellow workers. I work with students who do not need one more thing to make them feel bad about themselves, students who are on average a couple of years below grade level, and it is my job, as the one with the college degree and license in education, to make sure they improve, to make sure they learn, and to make sure they grow.

Most importantly, my job is to help students love language and literature. If they don’t love it, they won’t engage in it, and they won’t change the world for the better, because they won’t know how to read. But I cannot do this by using a canned program that exists solely to make money for its purveyors, no matter how well intentioned it began.

I am not okay with Capitalism in the classroom.

Language and literature appeal to me precisely because they are wild and unruly and unpredictable. These facets of culture move with us; they are alive and changing and growing. They aren’t subjects that are fixed in time or place, and they should bring us joy, sorrow, information, relationships, anger, love, and all those human emotions. We shouldn’t expect students to read something, answer a couple of program-based low-level comprehension questions, and be done with it. We shouldn’t put a dead and static text in front of a teenager and ask them to fall in love with words.

I am not okay with teaching students to hate reading by participating in what passes for English Language Arts in American schools.

Those of you who love to read: when was the last time you read something you were forced to read, other than for work? When was the last time you sent your friends a list of basic comprehension question when you had a book recommendation for them? Do you keep reading a book or a text you hate because you have to? Is there someone in your life who forces you to read things that have no meaning to you or for you?

Personally, I like to pick my own texts, talk about them with my friends, and write about them in my own ways. I like the freedom to stop reading something that doesn’t interest me. And, you know what? I end up reading all types of texts, having all kinds of amazing conversations with people I’d normally never discuss those subjects with, and I write all types of writing in response.

Wouldn’t it be cool if we could afford our students the same pleasures we have with language and literature, instead of jamming them inside tiny boxes of canned programming and contrived literary situations?

Beginning Again Again. Homesick A Bit.

I was doing so well with my workouts.

For about three weeks, I didn’t miss a workout. I swam, cycled, ran, and lifted my little heart out. Then on week four, I felt a bit lethargic. I still walked a bit and I swam a bit, but I just didn’t feel right. Whenever that happens, I always assume I am getting sick and I try not to push my body past what it can handle. I was right. I had strep throat and some sort of ridiculous sinus mucus thing on top of it. I slept or stayed on the couch for two days, then I swam only 500 yards one day, then I rested for another day.

Today, I am back at it. After work, I plan to go for a 3-mile trail run, hoping against hope that it doesn’t get dark before I finish. I was too lazy to walk back upstairs to get my headlamp, so if it gets dark, I’ll just be running in the dark. With any luck the clouds will be thin and the moon will be out. I’m enough of a romantic to find running in the dark to be simply glorious and awe inspiring.

Tomorrow is cycling. Wednesday is swimming and lifting. Repeat. Rest on Sunday. Repeat.

*

This past week I was homesick a bit. I miss my friends and family. I miss knowing people. I miss Indiana. I realized on Tuesday that I felt so homesick because I had planned to go home to watch the school I graduated from swim against the school I previously taught at and the school who was my high school’s biggest rival. Basically, I wanted to see a three-way between Blackford, Jay, and Burris. Burris’s homecoming week was also this week, and as cheesy as I always thought it was when I was there for it, I missed it so much. I missed the stairwell decorations, I missed the dress up days, I missed the dodgeball games, and I missed the dance. I was fortunate to see lots of photos that my students had taken, but I wasn’t there in person. It was hard. I wanted to be at home watching my favorite students be seniors, but I was at work because my manager was at a three-day manager’s meeting along with every other Caribou manager.

Everything I did last week made me think of the fond things about home. I know full well that I am where I am supposed to be. I am more mentally healthy than I have been in a really long time. And, of course, distance and time have a way of softening the bad memories while simultaneously making the good memories better.

Nostalgia.

I’m better today. I’m less homesick. I’m getting more sure of my footing here. I’m stepping into gratitude for the things I have here and the relationships I’m building. I’m learning to live again in a different way, in a different place, with different opportunities.