Motivation in around 300 words

At first, I thought it was the king cake that kept me motivated. Then, posting each blog on social seemed to hold me further accountable. What could be a more powerful incentive than the forces of friends/family and food?

My students.

Some of my students started reading my blog. And it is just the best validation for why I believe English teachers need to be writing for themselves…and in some way, large or small, sharing that writing. My kids are saying things like “I can totally tell when you are excited to be writing and when you are just doing it because you promised you would. It makes me feel like a teacher-like when you can tell we haven’t done our best too.”

It’s the reciprocity that matters, I think.

They see me working hard and being vulnerable by posting work publicly even when it isn’t my best. And I know better what it feels like to go home exhausted with loads of responsibilities and still have to find a way to sound coherent on the page.

Even better than that, they know me as a writer which is only fair given that I know that side of them so well.

I also feel in a very real way that they will know if I miss a night. I wouldn’t just be letting myself down, I would be letting them down. And that is the accountability that keeps me going. My students traveling this journey with me is far better than any slice of king cake at the end. What we have gained along the way far exceeds that delight!

(Day 23–short entry because, well, I got to chaperone Winter Formal tonight)

Heavy

We wear our stress until our stress wears us out. The physical toll, unmistakably draining, exacts its punishment mercilessly. Yet we persist in carrying that weight under the misguided impression that we were meant to bear it alone. We shelter others from what we shoulder as though we prove something about our worth in doing so. We exist within community but refuse the benefits of becoming an actual member of that community. We deny support. We deny outreach. And in doing so, we deny our best life. Sleep eludes us; irritability invades. We become merely a shadowing our possibility. We grow weary and feel heavy.

I can discern simply by looking at my high school students where their stress levels are–and a lot of times, I find myself concerned. I do not mean to imply that they should be shielded from discomfort or that they have nothing to learn from it or that sometimes they don’t create it themselves. A healthy amount of intermittent stress and learning to manage it and to cope with it possess the potential to hone life skills in meaningful ways. What worries me is when my kids turn that stress inward and refuse to speak its truth because they think they should simply tough it out. What worries me is when their stress becomes their shame because what they learn in those moments is to feel less than and unworthy…isolated and singular.

So today, I wore the hat of relatively corny principal/English teacher–but I hold no humiliation in actions I think could remotely help even one of my kiddos. As they filed in for assembly today, I asked that each kid grab a rock from a collection that had been scattered on a table. I began by asking how many of them ever felt weighed down or heavy from holding onto their stress. Hands flew up. Then, I explained that sometimes in community, we forget that that we share the space so we can share the burden as well as the bounty. Sometimes we get a little lost and a little blinded to the help that surrounds us. I told them that a visible reminder that they didn’t have to be alone in carrying the heavy seemed like it could be helpful. Then, I asked them to write their stress on their rock and when they felt ready to share the  gravity of that burden, to drop it in a back pack that I would carry around school as that reminder–a reminder that, in fact, people were all around them ready to listen and lighten the load.

There were some very to be expected eye rolls:) But I fully admitted that I didn’t care how silly it seemed, we were doing it because they and their well being are important to me. There was also concern over my carrying a bag with 150 rocks in it, but I told them that I could manage the weight without wavering…not to worry.

At some point today I opened the bag to shift the rocks a bit and saw some of the stressors written on them. The rocks may have been small, the words written flatly across them, but the immensity of what these kids are walking through life with was unmistakable. Part of teaching the whole child, or of seeing the whole human, is owning a willingness to witness the reality of their existence. What may come across as a kid overly concerned about good grades could really be deeper stress that is fed and fostered by something much darker, something much more difficult to manage. And there is no way to know this by simply looking at the surface. We have to be willing to open the door to conversation, to trust. We have to be willing to put on a backpack full of rocks if even for a second it alleviates their weight and allows them to feel seen and loved. We have to be willing to see past our own discomfort to understand that of others.

And not for reward, but simply because this is what we do in community.

We live in relationship with one another.

Hard to be in relationship if we live alone in our own heavy.

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(Day 20! That’s a lot of days in a row:) )

lyrically redeemed

Thursday holds such promise. It’s the day that unabashedly informs me that weekend is promised soon and by Thursday night, despite Friday’s proximity and eventuality, I feel as though those leisurely days have arrived…I feel as though we’ve made it through yet another week at school successfully…I feel as though I can breathe a little easier and my brain rejoices at the sight of relaxation on the horizon.

Today, however, at least in my world, did not do Thursday justice. Today, for me, became Thursday in name only as it was infiltrated by the stress and worry and anxiety of some other day of the week…you know, like Monday maybe? (though, this accusation feels hypocritical because I have a whole blog about how Mondays don’t deserve that rep…I’m abandoning that momentarily though in light of today’s misery). Today was just not very friendly and it began the moment I woke up.

I could spend my time tonight sorting through the details of what made this day so demanding, but honestly that would be a waste of my time and yours. What deserves far more attention are the redemptive moments in this day. Because, truly, even the toughest days have those moments if only we seek them out–if we open our eyes and our hearts to the promise of positivity. I had to look hard today, but my people came through to drag me out of my funk.

The salvation of this Thursday came in the form of three songs gifted to me by three very different humans under very different circumstances, but when I consider those moments all together, they reflect generosity and goodness and love…they remind me that even on my worst day, that is what surrounds me.

Song #1

“Mrs. Clark, are we having notebook time today…because I have this rap in my head and I have to write it down!”

Okay, so let’s begin here…in the history of notebook time in my classroom at this particular school, those words have never been uttered. Sure, students have come in excited for notebook time (every now and then), but this is not usually the reason presented. Regardless, I had spent the day for the most part mentally and emotionally exhausted and wishing I were at home rather than at school, and then those words were uttered and I couldn’t help but smile–inside and out. In this single moment, she reminded me how grateful I am to work with my students and young adults in general. I’m relatively certain she had no idea the impact she would have on my day. She was just being herself in the middle of her own day and it was entirely what I needed to begin to turn my attitude around. Then she agreed to perform her rap, despite unexpected stage fright, and the room erupted in support and laughter and joy and I was wrapped up in gratitude for the opportunity to spend the last hour of each school day with that particular room of students. Seniors can often take themselves too seriously because they are under a great deal of stress. This moment, though? This moment was pure silly fun…and we all needed it. Maybe me most of all.

Because I will quote the others songs that saved this day, here is a snippet of her rap (which she graciously allowed me to share)–

“ate chocolate all day, following my heart

maybe I should do better things

like make art

I’m sitting in English, breathing in air

to use my notebook time wrong

is something I don’t dare

and maybe me rapping won’t be so rare!”

Song #2

My friend, Morgan, possesses passion for music that surpasses just about anyone else I know. Her song lyric vocabulary and register exceeds my poetic one, and I can always count on her to send me the perfect song in any given moment in my life. Today was no exception.

I had gone to the gym after school because I knew that if I didn’t workout, the joy of that rap would soon be scattered by returning reminders of the stress of the day that will string out into days to come. Exercise is essential in my life in that way. Morgan knew I was there and why and when I was leaving I had a message from her with “When It Don’t Come Easy” by Patty Griffin in it (along with a comical note about why she wouldn’t sing it to me herself:) ). This song was new to me, so I listened to it on the way home from the gym…and cried through every lyric. I know what you are thinking–that doesn’t sound like a song that turned my rotten day around. Except these were tears that came in recognition of the fact that I have this amazing friend in my life who loves me enough to send me just the right song in just the right moment. I have a friend who knows that she cannot fix my life with a song, but who also understands the way words move my heart and she wasn’t afraid to send a song my way…A song with lyrics like this:

“Everywhere the waters getting rough/Your best intentions may not be enough/I wonder if we’re gonna ever get home tonight/But if you break down/I’ll drive out and find you/If you forget my love/I’ll try to remind you/And stay by you when it don’t come easy”

In the midst of the Mondayest Thursday ever, I was wrapped in support, in love, in friendship.

Song #3

My youngest son will one day rival Morgan’s lyrical dexterity. Tonight, after his shower, and entirely unaware that I had “suffered” this difficult day, he brought me his ipad while I was cooking and said, “THIS! We should sing this!” He proceeded to hit play and sing “Trip A Little Light Fantastic” from Mary Poppins Returns (in his best Lin-Manuel Miranda British accent…).  His smile and his joy percolated comfort and happiness within my heart and mind reminding me that there are things in this world deeper than a day. But also, beyond that, the lyrics of the song presented me with advice I give to others far more than I adopt for myself…

“When you’re alone in your room/Your choices just embrace the gloom/Or you can trip a little light fantastic with me/For if you hide under the covers/You might never see the day/But if a spark can start the inside your heart/Then you can always find the way…”

It was up to me to turn this day around…to recover my smile…to rekindle my own joy and to resist owning the struggles of others too much as my own. It was up to me to “trip a little light fantastic” and with the gifts of gratitude for students and friends and family, I was able to do just that.

(Day 15! King cake…really delicious king cake…crossed my path today…tempting…but I refrained:) )

courageous community

For the last few days, my AP students have been working their way toward and into a short story by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie titled, “A Private Experience”. A superficial description of this story might read something like this: two Nigerian women seek shelter together in an abandoned shop during a riot. However, what this story asks students/readers to confront is far more complex than that simplicity. Through her careful storytelling and arrangement of detail, in the nuanced way her characters reveal themselves and their truths, Adichie places readers in the position of having to consider their own assumptions and biases. She coerces us to exchange places with these characters facing an actuality that the comforts of American life (even at its worst) do not reveal. The exchange between these two characters opens eyes to both the assumptions we make about those we only think we know that establish distance between “us and them” as well as misunderstanding and to the compassion one human can share with another that bridges that vastness.

I wasn’t sure how ready my students would be to read this story with honesty and without pushback. These kinds of truths can be super uncomfortable and while I know my kids well enough to realize they can do this kind of work, I wasn’t sure they were in a place to examine it willingly. We waded into this story by considering what the call to “love your neighbor as yourself” truly means in this modern world. Then we read some history of the riots that took place in Nigeria in the earlier parts of this century–so, not so long ago. Then they read the story independently–so it was just them and the words on the page–a conversation between reader and text before we hosted a conversation between reader and other readers in community. They needed to have the space and the quiet to think this one through and to question themselves adequately before really speaking to the story and the power of its influence.

I spent today listening to their thoughts and explanations of how they connected with this story; how it made them confront truths that weren’t so easy; how they appreciated the way Adichie’s style and craft drew them into this honesty without screaming it at them; how they now understood that academic knowledge of a crisis doesn’t supplant the lived experience of those moments. I spent today with reminder after reminder of why our young people don’t receive the credit they deserve. It would have been so easy for them to stop short of meeting the story where it asked them to. It would have been so easy to just see a story about one woman attempting to help another. It would have been so easy to never involve themselves because it was just an assignment for English class. They didn’t do any of these things. Instead, they allowed themselves to be vulnerable and to share the not so pretty realizations they had about the assumptions they make of others…to discuss what they learned of themselves and of others in the reading. Their intelligence and their honesty and their willingness to be uncomfortable and to sit with that discomfort was compelling.

It was also a brilliant reminder of why I teach young people and the hope their ability to step out of their comfort zone and embrace new ideas delivers. I cannot speak for all high school students on all the days of the year, but today, my kids made me proud as they taught me a thing or two about how to confront difficult ideas courageously in community.

(Day 14)

100 quick words

The culmination of my school week included cheering on my students as they claimed the soccer district championship. Witnessing my kids play the game they love with energy and passion is a gift. I cannot pretend that all kids will love school, but one of the beauties of high school is that young people have varied opportunities to express who they are and explore what they love. During the first game tonight, one of the fans didn’t realize I was the principal and asked me which one of the girls playing was mine. My answer was simple.

All of them:)

(Day 10–I’m tired–100 words was all I had–it would have been super easy to quit on this challenge tonight, but 100 words counts–even when I don’t love these words. I’ll do better tomorrow.)

 

 

unexpected

Pretty early in my teaching career, I realized that no matter how well I knew my students, my barometer for the questions that might stir them wavered in its accuracy. Some days I would anticipate a raucous discussion only to be met by a few meager, diffident responses that were really only offered aloud to absolve us all of the weight created by awkward silence. Other days, I would anticipate a quick idea share only to find myself suddenly immersed in intense inquiry. The easy answer here is that teenagers are unpredictable. I could simply sigh in frustration and place the blame on them for their inherent fickleness and never dig any deeper. Honestly, I am pretty sure that I would have some company in this reaction.

The truthful answer, though, is that a whole host of components often beyond their control (the day of the week, the conflicts they are confronting outside the class, the amount of sleep they have been able to accrue, their comfort level with every other human in that room on that day, the text beneath the text in the question itself),  could deter or encourage their ability to respond. The other part to this is sometimes the question itself is faulty-maybe removed from any sensible context. Understanding this has lead me toward teaching students how to craft substantive questions for themselves and then turning the role of the asking to them…giving them the power to sculpt and shape our talk in a way that is meaningful to their lives while I am there to simply provide boundary, to push further, to require a deeper exploration, to help maintain respect.

Getting to this point was a process of letting go because sometimes I really just want my students to talk about what I am curious about–to explore the parts of a text that I find super meaningful. I suppose that is a search for connection in some way, but a stronger connection is built on respect . When I respect my students’ ideas and abilities and when I open the opportunity for them to invest themselves in their class rather than simply permit them to operate in mine, suddenly we are in community as learners in a shared space…and in that moment the real learning occurs. In that moment, engagement receives the oxygen it needs to ignite and suddenly school is no longer something we are doing to our kids, rather it becomes an education they are creating for themselves.

But today, I broke my rule. I asked the question. We are preparing to read a story and I wanted to lay a foundation of sorts before I transition the weight of the work to their intellect. I had no idea how they might respond. I suspected they would have opinions to share…I suspected that they would have a stake in the conversation…but I could not be certain. They were to answer first in their writers notebooks (a bit of a free write) and then to take their thoughts on the road with them as they left school and see how lived experience shaped them. Our actual discussion will be tomorrow.

Here is what is interesting–I offered the question and they wrote furiously–some filling pages in their notebooks, others thoughtfully choosing words and crafting ideas with care. I had to call their writing to a pausing point in the last seconds of class, yet even then, some continued to write. It was apparently one of those times where my hope for a question was met with a mirror image in reality.

So, what was the question that stirred them?

It was quite simply this:

What are the implications of the call to “love your neighbor” in this modern world we live in?

I have no idea what they will share, but here’s the thing. Say what you will about teenagers, the fact that they immediately knew what they needed to convey about this question shows us not only a great deal about the world we live in, but also their awareness of their experience within it. I honestly cannot wait for these discussions tomorrow. I imagine their thoughts will be fulfilling, challenging, provocative, honest, and full of heart (and knowing  my kiddos, some intense philosophical assertions as well).

I also expect that more questions will arise. And we will chase those too.

(Day Eight–this one was tough–National Championship viewing on Monday makes for a sleepy Tuesday. I struggled all day to make complete sentences just in conversation and the sentences in this blog ended up way too long…sorry about that…but the writing is done! And I am proud of that:) )

Revive

In the last few weeks, I’ve allowed myself to become wildly overwhelmed–in part by the stress of running a school but moreso by something a bit elusive. What began as a low rumble of productive internal doubt, soon became a hurricane of hesitation–of blinding uncertainty and insecurity. A little self doubt typically keeps me in check, so I permit its presence. Questioning my decisions before they are final both at school and at home just seems to reflect careful reasoning. And this works.

Most of the time.

Trouble stirred recently because at some point even with this very self-aware process, I spiraled and before I could recognize what was happening, I was deep–really deep. I’m guessing this place is familiar to many. It’s the place where the refrain “you’re not good enough” echoes from the far reaches until it is all you can hear. It’s the place where every turn seems to drive deeper into the wilderness of withering confidence. It’s the place of helplessness, yet at the same time you will swear you are doing everything you can to help yourself. It’s the place where wallowing becomes the way instead of the won’t.

And you don’t even sense your citizenship to this place–that’s the insidious part. There was no intentional journey or paperwork to fill out, you just weren’t paying attention. It feels like “this is what life has become.” People can reassure you, but you’re so deep that it doesn’t resonate…they are just words without weight…the impact despite the intent.

Yet the words linger. Reminders of what you once knew yourself to be.

Funny story about this…one of my better skills is helping people (kids mostly) recognize when they’ve reached this destination and helping to support them as they unwind the spiral of negative self-talk…helping them harness the buoyancy of their spirit. Yet, somehow it seems, and not surprisingly really, I am pretty abysmal at helping myself in the same way. Goodness, even Dante needed Virgil to get through Hell and Purgatory. I needed another voice…a guide.

~~~~~~~~~~~

Somewhere around a week ago, my youngest son shared some memoir work he had composed in ELA. In this collection of pages was a half sheet of revision notes. On this page at some point he misspelled the word “Revise” and he wrote:

“Revive”

And I thought, I should help him see his mistake. And then I thought, wait a second, revive is a perfect word because isn’t that what revision does in the first place–it revives the work.

And then, because I’m an English teacher, I thought of Eliot’s Prufrock and his “visions and revisions” and how the indecision of it all paralyzed his entirety.

And then, I realized what I was doing wrong. A light came on, my vision was restored and I knew what needed to be done. It was time to revise my thinking and my acting in a way that would revive my spirit and in doing so renew my purpose. This wasn’t about changing other people. This was about the work I needed to do for myself. You know, the work we never want to take the time to do…because it is so much easier to make our inner mess someone else’s fault…that work.

I had to realize and own yet again that I cannot control the choices my students make, though I can guide them. I cannot control everything that will happen in the school day despite planning for it. I cannot control every action of every being and while I can try to control things in my house, inevitably, it is still going to be sort of a disorganized mess and my kids will still talk back to me from time to time. None of these things are necessarily failures on my part (okay, maybe the messy house, but that is a lifelong struggle and my husband knew this when he married me!), but I had been taking sole credit for too much that wasn’t really completely mine in the first place. I needed to unburden myself from this weight but had no idea how to do that in the midst of the busy-ness of life.

But to revise is to step away from your work so that you can return refreshed and ready to breathe new life into it–to revive it.

~~~~~~~~~~~

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My step away was booked months ago before I even knew I would need it. It involved leaving both my school and my family with more going on than I should have left behind in order to attend NCTE. I wan’t sure I should go. I nearly canceled several times in the weeks leading up to my departure.  I felt selfish. While I knew this conference and the people here would remind me of my “teacher/administrator why”, I would be leaving behind a lot of people who rely on me to be there for them.

Except, I hadn’t really been there for them because I was a bit lost in my own stuff. This trip would not be selfish. This trip would restore me to the people I know and love. This trip would center my focus and energize me to move forward. This trip would give me time to reflect and to be still as well as time to interact and be social. This trip presented a shift in my physical location but also stood to present a shift in my mental location as well.

I had to go. Here’s why…

as the plane

lifted above the clouds—

weightless—free,

visions of magnificence, of blessing

struck awe

 

sunsets are the stuff of the everyday—

skyscapes from the ground,

majesty beyond humanity’s ability—

a gift—a reminder

all we have, all we don’t deserve

 

as the plane

lifted above the clouds,

a new perspective dawned

at dusk—unusual timing—yet not;

a sunset from a new angle

glowing through the grey

 

inhale, exhale

—release—

sparks of revival glow in those clouds

igniting the path

to myself

my truth

my life.

redeeming grief

In December of 2004, I lost a piece of myself that isn’t really retrievable. It was a week before Christmas and I found myself delivering my first child into a world he would never know. There will be no deep dive into the details of my pregnancy with Nathan and what determined our loss–if you want those, you can find them here.

This blog series is aimed at positivity so it seems odd I would bring this loss up at all, but I promise, it comes with good reason. You see, this year, Nathan, had he not been so sick, would be old enough to attend high school…and since I am a high school  principal and teacher, this weighs heavy. I walk around my school each day and I watch the antics of my freshmen–I hear the silly giggles, still tinged with junior high joy; I see the awkwardness settling as they begin to figure out high school; I reassure their parents that their kids will in fact mature and that they will find success. And I do all of this with a bit of an achey heart these days because I should be more deeply involved in this scenario than just the voice of principalian experience (and yes, I just made that word up…). I should be walking campus tickled by the laughter of my own son and his friends…I should be the parent in need of reassurance. In the midst of this realization, I felt my grief, which I have spent so long taming, rediscovering its roar.

Sadness was welling up and I was struggling to push it down.

This was so much harder than I thought it was going to be…and I spent the summer preparing for it!

But as we have wandered through these early weeks of school, I have learned to live my gratitude (which is what redeemed my grief all those years ago). These days, I walk around campus and instead of feeling betrayed by loss, I feel even closer to Nathan than usual. It is almost as if he is present with me just a little bit more each day. Instead of what ifs, I just feel grateful that I have the chance to work with, teach and help all of these kids who are as old as he should be. It is my gift back in some strange way.

I have spent the last 15 years of my life trying to figure out the purpose to my grief, and while I may spend the next 15 years trying to do the same, I have learned a few things. When I harness my grief to offer empathy to those who are suffering, the loss is less. When I view my students through the lens of “If this were Nathan, how would I want someone to treat him in this moment?”, I am a better teacher and human. When I transform grief into gratitude, my loss is vindicated. When Nathan feels alive in my heart, when I recognize that I am still his mom, his death doesn’t feel so vacant.

People question my sort of annoying optimism regularly. I feel like if they understood the loss and the illness and the sacrifices endured, those questions would dissolve. I have every reason to live angry with the world. I choose not to. That isn’t easy. It is a daily decision; it is an active lifestyle and it is imperfect. But optimism and seeking gratitude allow me to see greater purpose in the difficulty, in my life. It allows me to put myself on the side and to see beyond the periphery of the moment, of the wounds. It allows me to seek positivity each and everyday. It allows me to truly live.

And that is what Nathan would want most for his mom anyway. I can’t deny him that.

(and because I haven’t offered enough poems lately…here are a couple…“One Art” By Elizabeth Bishop“Lost” by David Waggoner (okay, for real, if you don’t click on this link you need to read this line–life changing! “…Wherever you are is called Here,/ And you must treat it as a  powerful stranger,”)

~hope~

The college admissions process, if I am being honest, is a destructive force in the life of high school students (I have other language for this but it’s not quite appropriate here). The urgency for students to make the very best grades in only the most challenging courses available hijacks their high school careers, and in many cases their quality of life and mental health. Students feel burdened to focus solely on a journey toward acceptance into college rather than on a course of self discovery; they are trained before they ever venture through the doors of high school that earning the highest grades supersedes learning for the sake of learning; high school becomes a means to an end rather than a place to dive in and truly engage in exploring curiosity. Teachers work hard to battle against this disruption in the educational lives of our kids, one that owns the potential to strip the true value of learning from their high school experience.

As a high school English teacher and principal, I could express concern for days on this subject. And not because my students are delicate flowers who can’t face the challenge–quite honestly, they persevere through it in a way most adults could not manage. My concern comes from the knowledge of what their high school careers could look like and the distorted version they are forced to live.

But this position is not the point of this blog…this is the “positivity project” after all! And the title of this blog is “hope”…so where is the hope, you are wondering? It is with the kids. They are always the hope.

Today, I was working with a senior on her college essay–guiding her through the process of maintaining her voice while revealing the best of herself. It was a delightful conversation–one that allowed her to maintain total control of her words and thoughts so that her essay absolutely represented her. She chose to write about a problem she would like to solve; she chose to write about civil discourse. Okay, so it is a given that anyone choosing the challenge of modeling civil discourse in our divisive and often vitriolic world and anyone willing to encourage others to participate has my attention. But the fact that this 18 year old is so driven by the import of this challenge delivers hope to my heart and reminds me why we do the hard work. It is important to note at this point that civil discourse is a sincere concern of hers and not just some concoction of desperation for admission to college. And her words reveal that:

Before I didn’t grasp how allowing vulnerability and discomfort into a conversation could solve the problem at hand. I didn’t realize that they were valuable and essential things I should embrace. I didn’t realize that what made me uneasy was the fundamental element that makes conversation helpful.”

Hope.

Because if everyone understood this and lived into it, the world would be a far more unified place to exist–people would live in community rather than in polarity. Rather than seeking means to always be in the right, we would spend more time listening, considering, understanding–even when it makes us uncomfortable, even when it means sharing in an honest and meaningful way. We would come to conversations in love rather than hate. We would be better humans.

Hope.

Because she will make this world a better place. Because she already has. Because if we listen carefully, this legion of teens we are torturing with a grueling college admissions process will show us the way. They are already leading us in the right direction. Let’s give them the credit they deserve, swallow our pride, listen and act on their guidance.

Hope.

In her words, “ I know that if society wants to reach true productivity there has to be a constant, earnest conversation. No loopholes..can be tolerated so those engaged are dedicated to working for the common good and not their personal interests. 

I don’t know where I will end up after college or what profession I’ll venture into because I am unsure about a great deal of things. However…I recognize that I have a passion and a gift for encouraging other people to listen and for exemplifying how to discuss respectfully, and I have no intention of wasting it.”

 

 

 

frivolity’s function

“Hey Mrs. Clark! We have a question for you!”

It was the very beginning of class. I smiled. I have taught these kids for nearly three years now and I had the sneaking suspicion that this question would have nothing to do with the text we had been working with. But I also knew that it would probably evoke a good bit of laughter…which is always welcome. School days are too long to reject or deny a break from the monotony of routine.

So what was this question that they were so anxious to ask?

“Okay, we’ve been debating this all day and we need more input. Are you ready?”

One can never be ready in these moments.

“Is a pop-tart actually a form of ravioli?”

Just a little bit of background. This is my AP Literature class. Seniors…who will populate some of the best universities in this country next year. Their schedules are intense because college admissions is intense. Their days are full of AP and honors courses; their evenings are full of homework, part time jobs, extra-curriculars and other responsibilities. And still this hotly debated topic was the one thing they couldn’t wait to share. (And also, don’t lie–you know you are having this argument in your own head right now…for the record, I said no…pastry not pasta was my criterion…we are still arguing…).

It would’ve been easy to be frustrated in this moment of distraction from our purpose. It would have been simple to shut down the question and admonish the frivolity…to drone on about wasted class time and how much we have to do. I could have been offended or self-conscious that our coursework wasn’t entertaining enough. I could have assumed that my agenda was more important.

Except, these kids are the reason I am in that room…they are the reason I teach. Their personalities lend levity and dimension to my days. Moments like this fill my classroom with joy and delight and wonder. Allowing an off-topic debate such as this humanizes my role as the teacher (and principal) and proves that I respect my students for who they are, where they are in this life.

I spend the hours prior to this class sifting through administrative duties…tasks I never imagined would be my responsibility because, honestly, I never wanted to be a principal. Not ever. This particular school and its particular quirkiness drove me to the madness of applying for the position. I couldn’t stand the thought of some new person, an intruder of sorts (dramatic, I know, but also true), coming in and potentially changing the heart of this place. So here I am. Answering a gazillion emails, filling out paperwork, creating and enforcing rules, moving in and out of endless meetings. It is exhausting. These kids make every bit of it worth it.

Every

single

day.

So yes, I entertain debates of this nature (you should know that “Is a hot dog a sandwich or a taco?” came up as well…). Because when it comes down to it, we will always make time for reading and writing…there will still be conversations about literary analysis and how to write a good beginning rather than an intro that reflects some geometrical shape…we will always make time to read the poetry that moves our souls…there will still be writers notebooks to create space for wordplay. But none of this work succeeds–none of it means anything to them–if I don’t also make space for allowing my kids to express themselves, if I don’t care about hearing their voices.

We didn’t spend a ton of time in this debate (which, by the way, their arguments were impressively substantiated). But everyday since, I have found myself smiling at the nonsense of it. I have found myself grateful for my kids and for this job that gives me access to moments like this. I have found myself thinking that anyone who doesn’t have the privilege of teaching for a living is missing out. I have found myself grateful that I work in a place that understands that kids (and teachers) just need to be who they are.

Even and especially when that means we pause for a moment and indulge in a bit of silliness.

(Positivity Project day 2)