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:) )

imperfection still gets grace

So, I work with teenagers for a living and I feel entirely grateful to have that privilege. I resolutely believe they are absolutely remarkable humans with incredible potential to do amazing things with their energy and their determination and their ability to see possibility even in the darkness. They are imperfect creatures, just like the rest of us and they will falter mightily from time to time because learning demands those kinds of lessons. And I think that the adults of this world cling to only vague memories of what it was like to be that age–a pang of being grounded for talking back…the sting of a derision for making the hard decision to do the right thing…the ripples from careless words when you didn’t realize you were on 3-way calling (I’m a child of the 80’s…what can I say). That kind of nostalgia requires little effort. What we have shielded ourselves from, though, is the daily difficulty of living in a world that only gives you part of the respect you deserve–only sees you as adult when it is convenient for them to place you in that box, while reserving feelings like love, stress, heartbreak for an older population. As though the right to the intensity of those feelings has some sort of legal age requirement and should be diminished as childish before that point. And it is easy to look at adolescents and remark on how they are so different from kids when you were young–because they are different…the world they live in is different, so they have to be too. That does not make them bad or less than. It does, however, make them worthy of an effort to come to greater understanding, and it makes them worthy of our grace.

Here’s how I know that the young adults of this world are deserving of unrelenting grace…

Tonight, I accidentally encountered some photocopies of my creative writing from the 6th grade. My entire memory of writing these pieces is comprised of the joy I felt in the writing process and the fact that I intentionally tried to concern my teachers by killing off my family in every story in the most ridiculous ways (literally, I had them run over by Mardi Gras floats in one story…). I remember feeling exceptionally proud of my work and that my teacher always seemed to enjoy my stories.

In looking back at my writing now–in seeing the actual pieces that I composed–I am mortified at the person I was. There are comments and story elements throughout that reflect the sort of privileged private school existence that I was granted. Don’t get me wrong, I am grateful for my education and the sacrifices my parents made to make it possible. But I really thought I was a far more enlightened kid than this writing reveals. And while the teacher in me wishes my own teacher had called me out on some of these judgements and careless words, that very same teacher in me is also grateful that she responded to my creativity with positivity and understanding. My stories really are no masterpieces as I remember them to have been, but she overlooked flimsy storylines and outright character flaws (in me and on the page) to offer careful guidance and not to tarnish my joy in writing. She saw that maybe I was more than some of the thoughtless assumptions I included in my text. She saw more to me than my words and for that I am incredibly grateful.

Here is another reason to extend some grace. In a piece titled “What I Adore and Hate About Myself,” I wrote about how I adores how well I roller skated. I spent nearly a page sharing how hard I worked at this “sport” and how proud I was to be able to jump as opposed to hop on my skates (like I said, child of the 80’s). This “adoration” exists nowhere in my memory. I remember loving to roller skate but had no memory of still doing it in the sixth grade. Our memories are not complete–hazy at best despite feeling intense at times. Which means that just because we might look at young adults and discount their experience because of their youth or because we don’t remember being or behaving like them, doesn’t mean we are accurate in our assumptions. Recognizing that while they still have room to grow and mature, their levels of sophistication do not erase the reality of their current situation. Just because I look back and cringe at listing roller skating as what I loved about myself doesn’t make it any less important or meaningful to 12 year old me.

Will our young adults make mistakes? Yes! Do they still deserve respect throughout that learning process and the promise of our understanding? Of course, they are humans in this world. And as humans, they require support as they identify and repair flaws and mistakes. They also merit appreciation for their goodness. Our young adults should not have to earn our grace, it should simply be an effortless gift bestowed–because we would want the same generosity given to us.

(Just for comedy’s sake for those of you who really know me–in that last piece I referenced, the thing I hated about myself consisted of “the faces I make when I get mad at somebody or I am upset.” My reason for wanting to improve? “Because my mom always bugs me about it.”  Nothing about trying not to upset other people or about attempting to show greater respect or about using words instead of faces–none of that rational mature stuff…nope. Just that my mom was always bugging me about it. Hilarity.)

(Day 19–a bit of a rambling rant…but I didn’t feel like writing at all, so I am honestly just happy to have words on the page)

 

say it

I hate confrontation. Like a lot. I would rather suffer within and turn myself inside out than actually speak the uncomfortable truth. In fact, if I am breathing confrontational language in your direction a couple of things must be true…

  1. I love you a lot and trust not only that our relationship can handle the conflict, but also that you will own your part and not turn my feelings around on me.
  2. The situation lingered in a way that absolutely no other choice remained but to speak it.

This avoidance of discord has followed as my shadow for as long as I can remember. It’s as much a part of me as my excessively curly hair…as though this trait were assigned to me at birth. I am a middle child and a peacemaker by nature and the very thought of being a disruption to someone else’s contentedness and ease repels me. I would rather make myself miserable than disturb anyone else, and so I just hold all the frustration in. (Okay, no doubt my students are laughing raucously at this point because I don’t hold frustration in at school and have no problem saying what is concerning me there…work is different…it just is.) Sure, I gripe about the minor scrapes and scars of daily life, but the deeply personal wounds remain buried. Except, despite years of practice with shrouding hurt feelings, they always bubble back to the surface in unexpected ways and places because the fact of the matter is concealment is not erasure. The feelings are still there. I cannot force evaporation and when they linger, they intensify.

It took me years (too many years) to recognize this about myself, to claim my voice as important, and to work on using it in meaningful and constructive ways to resolve conflict rather than martyring myself to it. I want my kids to know better and to understand how this kind of communication works. I spent the last ten minutes before bed tonight explaining to my youngest that saying “I’m fine” when it isn’t true won’t magically transform struggle to peace. I gave him all of my best advice on this full of elaborate examples only to be met with “No, mom, for real, this time I am actually fine.” He and I work on this a lot because he transforms from Bruce Banner into the Hulk with little to no warning. We often don’t see it coming because what he is really mad about is not the thing that flipped the switch.

This is one of those complexities of human nature that never ceases to baffle me. It’s the thing under the thing. If we look at superficial behavior and judge someone, we are not giving them credit for being a three dimensional human facing the intricacies of life in this world. What we witness is not necessarily complete…not absolute truth. Typically, there is more weight to an erratic moment of fury than the moment itself and if we don’t work to find the underlying motivation, we are missing the truth of that person completely. And this includes our kids…who are possibly more misunderstood than most because we too often expect them to have it all together when they are still trying to decipher how to coexist with all the emotions, all the hormones, all the stress. Their lives are just as weighty as those of fully grown adults. Their stress is just as taxing. Their heartache is just as painful. To diminish it only drives them to keep it within when what they really need is to say it, feel heard, be understood. What they really need is for us to provide the space and to foster the trust that it takes to reveal the thing under the thing.  What they really need is for the adults of this world to model this kind of behavior so they see how it works.

I can provide space and foster trust with ease, but as for that last very important challenge of living the example…well…all I can say is I am working on it.

(Day 18! Also, there is a really delicious king cake in my house right now…temptation is high…not giving in!)

really rough draft

As my poetry students begin diving into the real work of writing their own original poetry, it is time that I venture in the same direction. It is time to move away from simply admiring poetry and from shaping poetic prose, and into actually crafting poems myself. This is not comfortable territory for me, partly because I feel like I know who I am as a writer of prose-my voice is clear to me as I employ it and this grants me confidence. As a poet, I almost feel as though I’ve lost my voice or as though I am in the midst of some identity crisis. I don’t know what kind of poet I want to be or could become. Imposter syndrome possesses undeserved strength and takes over my mind convincing me that I should just not even bother to explore my poetic identity. It drowns out all of the rational writing advice I so freely give to students and persuades me to put the pencil down…even when I know better.

Today, my students read Naomi Shihab Nye’s poem “The Stolen Camera” and heard John Mayer’s song “3×5” and considered what it might mean to really see the world and hold those images only in our minds. Then, they went outside to find something in the natural world to truly take in…all the while knowing that they would be writing from this experience. In a quick write session after our time outside, I wrote the following lines after paying specific attention to two trees standing side by side, one dead and leafless and the other fully alive and overwhelmed by green foliage. This is truly a very rough draft, composed in maybe 8 minutes of class time and not edited since…sharing here is my way of reminding myself what this process will feel like for my students. A level of vulnerability is required when drafting writing and turning it in for feedback–in doing this we are essentially saying, “Here, let me pour myself across the page and you can then dissect my truth and tell me where I have been false” This is not easy work. But it is critical work. So, here is that untitled draft…

Barren brown branches stand strong,

though morosely self-aware—

right next door stands

another set of branches,

generously glorified by the green

leaves clinging in pride reveling

in their vitality.

 

Death and life—side by side

coexisting peacefully—

as though friends…

Unaware one should fear the other

Unaware the other is fueled by the one

 

—One eye…then the other

In closing the first, death

dominates the landscape in front of me.

In closing the other, life

blooms brilliantly verdant.

Looking through both eyes reveals

the truth of the world—

 

Not all is death.

Not all is life giving.

Both…together…side by side…

giving weight to the world—

balance to our existence—

an end to the beginning.

 

Shielding one from the other

is neither prevention nor protection.

Only loss.

 

(Day 16! Got home super late from a lovely night out but still managed to get this writing done!)

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)

thank you note

Somewhere around seven years ago, in what were still the early days of my school’s existence, a junior came to me and pleaded with me to help her start student council. We had tried student government, but it wasn’t affiliated with any state or regional organizations. This student was looking to do something more…something bigger…something lasting. I hesitated. This felt like a lot of work and at the time, I was still only teaching at the school part time, still in what would be the early stages of the vertigo debacle and my kids were merely 4 and 6. I didn’t feel like I could really add anything else without risking health and home. However, this young woman persevered and given that I had taught her everyday of her high school career, it didn’t take long before my will crumbled. My response to her?

“I will help you get it going, but I will only help for a year. After that, someone else will have to take over.”

I feel like, after typing that statement, I can hear every teacher who might lay eyes upon it roaring in laughter at its ludicrous nature. One year agreements like this never work in school. Everyone is busy; everyone has obligations, and no one wants to take on more. Once you say yes to something, it is yours…eternally. Important to note…the reason I agreed to help wasn’t only because I couldn’t stand to disappoint a student who meant so much to me. The truth is that I took on creating our student council, despite my lack of experience and knowledge, because if she were my kid, I would want a teacher to do the same.

In my time as student council supervisor, my student leaders instituted heaps of traditions; created our first winter formal, prom and homecoming; began an annual celebration of People In Need of Kindness (PINK Week); fostered field day and countless other activities that took a skeleton of a school and imbued it with heart, spirit and personality. I regretfully complained too often about the work being too much, but truly I lived proud of my kids who became and remain the true architects of so much our high school.

When I traded in my student council role for that of principal, a dear friend and colleague took over and her joy, even in the stress, of helping these kids to grow and learn as young leaders makes me proud, makes me thankful. This phenomenal teacher and delegates of her student council are all at state convention right now celebrating several enormous successes for our little school with big dreams and the only way I can think to explain my pride in this moment is that of a grandparent doting on her grandchildren. I know where this council began…with just a few members who went to their first convention having no idea what to expect or how to be in that space. I was there for the growing pains in the days when we were defining who we wanted to be as a council. And to see all they have accomplished now from a different role–as their principal, well, there just aren’t enough words. These kids and their advisor are just spectacularly gifted and joyful humans and the world is a better place for their presence.

And that whole bit about hoping someone would do the same for my kiddo has been fulfilled. My 12 year old is at this same state convention with his junior high advisors who took the leap and brought ten, 12-14 year olds to experience this remarkable event. He is having the time of his life, meeting kids from across the state, and learning what it means to truly be a leader (something he will learn far better at this convention than by watching many leaders in this world today). The gratitude I feel for the teachers who gave up this weekend with their families has consumed my heart.

This is what teachers do, day in and day out. They sacrifice their time and their sleep for the benefit of their students. Whether by braving student council conventions three hours from home or by staying up late to write encouraging comments on papers or by simply being a listening ear, teachers give of themselves without asking for much, if anything, in return. And they do not receive enough praise nor enough sincere thankfulness. But they also do not often ask for it. The breaking apart of the self for the good of the other is just what a teacher’s heart is compelled to do.

However, the gift of my kiddo attending this convention with three enthusiastic, caring teachers has seemingly become all the return on my 20 years of teacherly efforts that I could ever need or ask for. And you can be certain they will know the depths of my gratitude.

(Day 12!)

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:) )

ominous beauty

The lavender morning sky betrays the tenderness of the sunrise and the wind whispers of dangerous weather not so far off. Its beauty all at once admired and unsettling.

Thunderstorms and my inability to have any control over them have hastened my heart rate and knotted my stomach since I was a child. Certainly, anxiety over bad weather isn’t terribly uncommon-especially in kids-but growing up in Southeast Louisiana, where afternoon thundershowers populate summer days and hurricane season seems to be ever extending its stay, should have presented me with plenty of opportunities to face it and to manage a peaceful coexistence.

And yet, even though I can control and mask my anxious reaction to impending severe weather far better than I used to, the not knowing and the unpredictability still unsettles me.

My oldest son (who somehow inherited only my anxiety and is otherwise 100% a replica of his father) has yet to learn to mask his weather worry in any sort of meaningful way and so instead of waking him to appreciate the beauty of this early morning sky, he remains snuggled safely unaware in his bed in an effort to shrink the window of his worry.

Growing up, my dad always felt far differently about these events than I did. When a thunderstorm brewed and I wanted to hide my eyes from any evidence of it, he would lift every shade in the house, welcoming the brilliance of the illuminated sky. On summer vacations at the beach, he would wish for an evening thunderstorm to arrive and when that wish was granted would steady his camera on the tripod in an effort to capture the fleeting electrical display as it webbed through the dark expanse above the waves.

In the grand list of all the things I love about my dad, this is certainly one of them. However, in those moments years ago, his joy in the thing that terrified me, also perplexed and probably frustrated me, and I’m sure in an anxious moment (or many) I said some things about it that weren’t so friendly.

It’s confounding to me because I typically welcome the unknown as an opportunity to learn, to grow. I teach teenagers for goodness’ sake! There are no creatures in the world more unpredictable than they are and so many people misunderstand that and question my choice to spend my days with them–and yet my kids, my students, teach me something about myself and this world everyday. They push me to be a better human and I cannot imagine my life without those 143 young people.

But I guess when I think about my urge to run and hide from the force that is ominous weather as opposed to my dad’s desire to witness its power as beauty unbound, it feels sort of like the difference between hiding from acceptance of the truth of anything/anyone we don’t fully understand and opening ourselves to envision the potential beauty rather than the seeming disaster. Ironically, when it comes to my dad and I, I’m the optimistic one and he’s the cynical one.

Funny how those one word titles don’t encompass the whole. Bet that happens a lot in this life.

(Day five courtesy of my dog waking me up too early which allowed me to witness the early morning sky)