growth · humility · TEACHING

#learning

9.6.18.jpgWhen my students say sorry, I respond: Don’t be sorry, be learning.

As a phrase, “sorry” is thrown around a lot, but doesn’t seem to do very much to prevent that same behavior from happening in the future.  It’s my intention to show my students that it’s okay to make mistakes — it is okay to “be sorry” — but if that’s where you stop, then that’s not far enough.

We’re heading into the season of the Jewish calendar that emphasizes a return to self, to “goodness” perhaps, and to the start of a new year.  A fresh slate, a new page, a beginning.  Who do we want to be as we head into that year?  Are we being the person we want to be?

As I asked them recently, where have I allowed fear of not being “good enough” prevent me from accomplishing something I wanted to do?  Where have I not been as courageous, kind, or thoughtful as I wanted to be?  Where I have stood aside because it was the “easier” thing?  …  Where have I thrown something in the black garbage bin because a compost wasn’t easily accessible?;)

I don’t only want to be sorry.  I do need to apologize where it is warranted — and I have this year!  (See recent rant.)  But I also need to be learning.   What is there for me to learn from this?  Am I growing from this mistake / misstep?

If all experiences and people in our lives — from the schmo who cuts me off on the highway without looking to the coworker whose shoulder I sobbed on yesterday when I found out my best friend is cancer-free (thank you, god, universe, everything!) — are here to teach us something, can we pause long enough to discover what it is?  Can I allow it to change me?  To inform my actions, to tell me something about my knee-jerk reactions or long-time habits?

Don’t be sorry; be learning.  (Though I suppose the more clunky, “Don’t just be sorry, be learning” is most accurate!)

Shanah tovah, all.

 

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fate · god · TEACHING

“Why do good things happen to bad people?”

https://dug-studios.com/2017/10/26/the-fates/
https://dug-studios.com/2017/10/26/the-fates/

In planning my lesson for our 7th grade novel, I’d toyed with the idea of framing the whole book — and perhaps the year — to center around these questions: Why do good things happen to bad people?  Why do bad things happen to good people?

The protagonists in our novels this year are, by turn, a bully attempting to reform, a distraught girl exacting revenge on her best friend, a social outcast hero, and Anne Frank.

It would be very logical to bring these two questions to bear on these books.  But as I think into it further, I wonder if the answer I want them to arrive at is too prescriptive: “Because they do.”

There was a time after cancer when I felt that, because my understanding was that I had in some ways brought leukemia on myself by denying who and what I am in the world, in remission I must act in ways that wouldn’t bring down that wrath again.  So, I joined a band, began singing, got real headshots, auditioned, flopped auditions, got cast.

The two years after cancer (following a few months of emotional whiplash: “You’re going to die!  …  Wait.  Looks like you’re not going to die.  Good on you.  Bye!”) became a flurry of activity, in part to embrace that I was alive and in part out of desperate fear to be in that circumstance again.

At some point during those two years, I was on the phone with a mentor describing my terror of “not doing enough” (even before cancer, “wasting my life” was my biggest fear…and remains up there today…).  I said to her that if “G-d” was trying to send me a message to engage in my life, will “G-d” do it again if I slow down?  I was perpetually haunted by this question.

So my frientor (friend/mentor?!) told me this:  “Maybe you need to take G-d out of the equation.”  Less G-d, she said.

Less Fate, less scales in the balance, less sword of Damacles.  Less notching up good and bad, useful and harmful, actions toward live Molly and actions toward dead Molly.

This was a huge relief to me.

It was important at the time of diagnosis and treatment to dive into the idea that I could effect some change on my circumstance.  And, it became important after remission and treatment to absorb the idea that maybe it didn’t have anything to do with me.  Maybe it just “was.”

This, is a very tough pill to swallow.

In a world where we (I) do much of what we can to exact control over our circumstances, to accept the belief that we’re not at the mercy, or benevolence, of a force outside ourselves — a force wherein “things happen for a reason” — can be unmooring.

Sometimes bad things happen to good people.  Sometimes good things happen to bad people.

Sometimes “it is what it is.”

I don’t yet know if and how I’ll bring in these questions to my students.  Are they useful questions?  Or do I have one aim, which is to bring the idea that sometimes they just do?

The present book they’re reading (The Thing about Jellyfish; great book, go read it [Thanks for the rec, Marie!]) is an entire attempt to grapple with the question of “Why?” and itself comes to the conclusion of “Just because.”  So maybe it’s a question to hold up for them for this novel, to help us all see that, while our actions do have consequences, sometimes things do just happen, too.

 

compassion · resilience · TEACHING

Humanity isn’t a bad word, just a hard one.

8.25.18.jpgBeing the first week of middle school, there are a lot of nervous students and even more nervous parents.  Meeting with a few of these parents this week, I said to a coworker that underneath the specifics of each child, underneath their “learning style” and labels, all any parent wants to hear from us teachers is:  Your child will be loved.  Your child will be held.  Your child will be okay.

It’s this last piece that I think is the hardest for some to grasp, because I think it’s hard to grasp about ourselves.  But a child is a developing being, and often what that means is that there are moments when they will not be “okay.”  They will feel angry, frustrated, lonely, righteous, overwhelmed, and frightened.  In other words, they will feel human.

The faculty read this summer was The Gift of Failure, and while there are efforts in place to disseminate this information to the parents of our students, too, until that happens, it’s a one-on-one meeting at a time to say, Yes, I hear that your child is having a hard time.  However, I also hear that this is a chance for them to learn something new about resilience, flexibility, perseverance, and independence.

The ironic piece is that, in my own way, I’m trying to protect these students, too!  Trying to save them — from “bio-doming” themselves, or their parents doing it for them.  I’m trying to save them from not experiencing the slings and arrows.  To be clear, I’m not injuring these children!!! I’m just holding what I see as the bigger picture… and that picture sometimes clashes mightily with the bigger picture a parent sees.

And, oy, how that “is what it is.”

There is little I can do to change the perspective of parents, except to gently encourage them to take their hands off the back of the bicycle seat and allow their child to falter.

I can also work on my own letting go of their experience and actions.  I want them to see things my way, but that’s a two-way street.

What I want and what is are generally extraordinarily disparate until I can get on board with what is.  And what “is” is that people are nervous, people are frightened, and I don’t have to save them from those feelings.  But I do need to open to the experiences of others and not consider my way the right way, either.

There’s so much “learning” going on, and we haven’t even had a full week of class!;)

G-d save and help us.  We are all only human.

 

beginnings · courage · TEACHING

A Teacher’s Prayer.

Lord, Universe, Please help me to remain sane and grounded, present and open, confident and competent this year.  Dear G-d, please help me to not take any person’s actions personally & allow those to injure or deflate me, and please help me to hold my empathy doors, well, as windows so that I can remain present.

Help my words be kind, honest, and necessary.  Help me to “eat the frog first” & not procrastinate, put off tasks that must be done; no rug sweeping.  But calm, diligent work so I may feel worthy and available to myself & others.

Help me to “step up and step back” with honesty and humility about what is necessary, and help me to connect more with my colleagues in & out of the school.

Please help me to take my breaks outside, away from the 4 walls, to remind me of the bigger world outside my classroom, and to listen when my body or mind says, “Get up!” from my computer or planning work.

Help me to ground at the beginning & end of my day, to slough off the student energy that isn’t mine, so I can be a whole person in the world when I leave.  And please help me to balance what I want to do & what I can do & remember not everything is imperative right now.

Help me to hear & integrate my supervisors’ feedback, and to follow up on parent requests.  Help me to hold that half-assing-it kid with love and to be guided in guiding them toward healthy effort.

Remind me to breathe.

Remind me to eat.  To pee.  To walk.  To pause.

Dear G-d, help me to remember I don’t have to be or to do it perfectly.

Amen and thank you. ❤ Molly

 

career · gratitude · TEACHING

Why is a raven like a writing desk?

8.9.18 2There is a “gathering” feeling as the school year approaches.  The impending anxiety as the work you’d intended to do over the summer looms large.  The gleeful imagining of your reassembled and redecorated classroom.  The curiosity about the makeup of the new faculty and how it will gel.  The cynicism that the challenging dynamics that existed may persist.

The excitement to see your favorite students again, and the realism that 7th graders must needs grow toward independence and individuation, which may mean your favorites won’t be able to be who they were with you anymore.  And that’s okay; it’s just different.  Besides, you’ll have a new crop of 6th graders with whom to guffaw and conspire.

Arriving at my second year as a middle school English teacher, I experience a true love of my work, fully in its assets and detractions.  I worked as a 3rd grade teacher for two years prior to this, and “love” wasn’t what I experienced.  I felt merit in what I did; I appreciated who the students were, my own creative and professional development, and the leap of faith my boss took on a novice teacher.  But two years of chronic insomnia were enough to underscore I needed out.  And so, being here, looking my next year in the eye, I am so grateful.

I am grateful to walk through a university library gallery and snag a pamphlet on Alice in Wonderland sculptural interpretations, and feel excitement to teach my 7th graders this favorite of my books.  I’m grateful to toss my copy of The Outsiders on my bedside table just now, with the reminder to re-read it before the school year starts.  I’m grateful to fall down a Pinterest-like hole into the Facebook English Teacher groups… and feel awe, inspiration, overwhelm, and humility.

Many here know the path to anticipating my work with relish has been so rocky, its quarry-like walls have cut off the light of hope.  I squandered, despaired, agonized, railed, wallowed, isolated, and stymied.  That I can sit here today with excitement—and yes, plenty of realistic trepidation—is unfathomable.

And yet, I have swum up those fathoms.

 

excellence · expansion · TEACHING

Hungry Hippos.

5.2.18

As the school year draws to a close, I find that I feel a little stale in my teaching practices.  I have a toolbox with many drawers, but I tend to reach for the uppermost because it’s convenient, familiar, and reflexive.  Therefore, I’m not alone in my classroom feeling a little bored!

So, yesterday, I reached into my classroom bookshelf for my thumbed-through copy of Teach Like a Champion to remind myself of other techniques that are available to me.  OH MY GOD, what a relief!  I forget how many tools are literally (yes, literally!) at my fingertips.  I’m so grateful that my boss at my first school handed me a copy from her stores when I began my career and was drowning in novice-hood, sore-throated and haggard.

As I thumb again through the book, I see a handful of pages dogeared, but for the most part not touched.  The few techniques I recall (Vegas Moment, Exit Ticket, No Opt Out)… well, I recall them, but I can’t always say I use them.  Or say I always use them!

Of course, it’s not to use every tool every time, but to refamiliarize myself with all the drawers in my toolbox is like a draught of water on a hot day.  I feel relief.

Therefore, as I sat in meditation this morning, the idea struck me that I wonder if other teachers at my school might be feeling similar stagnation and welcome the chance to get together to read/re-read and discuss one or two tools a week and spitball some ideas for how to literally 😛 implement the techniques in their own classroom (since theoretical professional development is the WORST).

After dismissal, we’re still contracted to be on-site for another 30 minutes.  Well, what if I hosted a “Drop-in PD” in my classroom for 20 of those minutes?  We’d read a tool, refresh and head on our way.

Charged up with this idea and already composing an email to the faculty in my head (yes, during meditation!), I figured I should probably square this with the head honcho, in case there was a conflict or even an existing opportunity that I didn’t know about, and also to gain her ideas on the subject.

Therefore, at 6am today, there I am composing an email to my boss about how to improve my teaching, and perhaps the teaching of my peers.

Hungry.  That’s what I imagine she’ll think when she reads that email!

Because it’s not the first talk we’ve had recently on what I could do to increase my value (and compensation) at the school.  I met with her a few weeks ago to bandy about ideas and, through my supervisor, I heard that there may be one option on the horizon.  One that will be HOLY COW a lot of work, but it’s mostly initial set-up that can then be replicated with somewhat lesser effort in subsequent years.

I haven’t heard from the big boss on that yet, so I’m waiting for our monthly meeting next week.

But, in the meantime, can’t hurt to say I wanna host a klatch of teachers to improve our professional excellence, now can it?;)

 

generosity · gratitude · TEACHING

What act of generosity can I carry out today?

4.25.18.jpg

This is the central question I now have Post-Ited to my fridge.  Beneath it is one that reads, “What act of generosity did I carry out today?”

As things progress, stagnate, circumnavigate and develop, I can get a little lost in my brain, thinking about things to the detriment of actually doing them, particularly thinking about my relationship instead of myself.  Thinking is not always my highest mode of operation.

Therefore, it’s important for me to have a touchstone to come back to, coming back to myself and what’s happening before me and the people around me.

While contemplating this, today’s title question came to me: “What act of generosity can I carry out today?”  This helps me to reframe my day and my life to see how I can be of service in the world, and to employ the gifts I’ve been given to brighten said world.

I like the bookend nature of these questions so that, when last night I came home late from our school’s Open House, I got to reflect on what I had done for my students, rather than on the parent questioning me about why their 8th grader’s vocabulary scores weren’t higher on standardized tests.

Particularly, last night, I got to reflect on one piece of joy and light I brought to a family.

First off, my 6th graders are my saving grace.  While I enjoy and love (some of!) my 8th graders, depending on the moment, the 11-year olds are my delight.  Sure, teaching them during the last period of the day can challenge one’s patience, but that’s my own learning to ensure that there’s something active and capturing for that last 45 minutes of their schoolday.

One of my young students is one of those sports players I mentioned a while ago whom I’ve tagged as a strong writer, and his father stopped me in the hallway a few weeks ago to sincerely thank me for encouraging his son’s writing.  I replied that I was only acknowledging the talent that he clearly has.

And last night, that same dad and son came to Open House and, while the son interrupted with apologizing for grammar errors or “it’s not edited yet” interjections, I read them both the latest short story from the boy.  The father was staggered.  (If I’m not mistaken, his eyes were misty by the end of the reading.)  He was so clearly impressed and delighted at his son’s writing, plus it was my pleasure to read this story aloud and reflect to the son that his words (even without editing!) are of value.

This, my friends, is my act of generosity from yesterday.  I continue to feel that encouraging the talent of this student and others is my greatest act of generosity—and privilege.  While there are good writers in my classes and even poor writers, and I get to find the diamond in the rough of each of them, clearly the ones with writing talent are among my favorites.  I can’t help it, I’m an English teacher after all!

I am so honored and thrilled to have done something for this student (and the 3 other parents who stopped me last night to say that their child was absolutely loving my class, some even saying that their child didn’t even particularly care for English before).  This is my honor and privilege, and as much as I know there are still hills for me to climb professionally to feel more capable and confident and engaging in my teaching, I feel nearly dumbstruck with gratitude that I get to shine a spotlight into the talent-corners of these children’s lives.  Amen.