~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.”

 

 

 

mind shift

So, it is Monday. And on top of that, lately I have been a little too permissive with myself and my ability to sink into the stereotypical expectation that Monday will be awful…endless…just the worst. Truly, before this particular Monday even arrived, I had already imagined the drama and distraction and defeat it would wield.

(of course it didn’t help that Monday’s first greeting was my smoke alarm blaring at 2 am…but that wasn’t Monday’s fault…not entirely anyway)

But, this morning (after recovering from the deafening rudeness that awakened me hours before), I rerouted my usual attitude. I was determined to breathe in positivity and joy and to exhale peace and grace and to bring that goodness into the day with me. And I have to say that served in superior fashion to subvert the self-induced misery that could have easily infiltrated my day. And honestly, it would have have been a self inflicted wound–because that is what bias does when we allow it to. It distracts us from the goodness the other might contain. And while my opinions about Mondays are a pretty menial example of the impact of bias, it is still worthy of notation that I willingly sacrifice this day every week because of what I assume will happen with no true knowledge of what might actually happen. I relinquish the possibility of a happy or productive or joyful Monday just because someone a long time ago decided to denounce the day. We do this all the time, in so many significant ways.

Which makes me wonder…

What am I missing out on?

This question draws me into deeper reflection on the implicit bias I carry in other areas of my life (that we all carry in other areas of our lives…it is just human nature):

What other goodness am I absent from? What possibilities am I preventing myself from participating in? Who am I withholding myself from knowing better? How much different would the world be if we quit assuming we know the things and started asking questions to find out more…to dig deeper…to understand and to uncover the truth rather than the baseless expectation?

Humans are complex creatures. To assume we know someone or something because the stereotype is the easy excuse, the popular story, incurs loss on so many levels for the person in control of the assumption and even moreso for those on the other side of it.

Monday has not truly earned its bad name with me. I never gave it a chance to be anything other than awful when I think about it. So as I move forward into Tuesday which has notoriously become known to me as “2nd Monday”, I do so with a different attitude. One of wondering what goodness the day might bring…one of owning my responsibility in actively making the day better (because let’s face it, the order in which the days arrive means something, but they are not in control of whether we enjoy them or not…that is really on us).

And as a good friend of mine told me this evening— “I don’t know, Mondays are full of hope for me. It’s the beginning of something new.” (that will make you shift your focus!) So, by this logic, if Tuesday is truly second Monday, amazing possibilities await. (thank you, Kristen for steering me in a new direction–just goes to prove, the words we say have impact we never anticipate!)

So, go out into this world tomorrow (or tonight) and shift someone’s perspective for the better. Break them free from their blinders and open their horizon to new understanding. And then be ready to receive the same grace in return. It is a whole new day after all…a gift of life…and we choose how to spend it.

(Day 4–positivity project)

flowers and a poem

 

Today I bring you flowers and a poem. Tulips, above, and also, “Tulips” by A.E. Stallings.

Tomorrow, my students will consider both during notebook time. The tulips pictured above will be present to more fully illuminate the imagery that Stallings calls forth. Except, I want my students to witness more than wordplay and careful poetic craft this time. I want them to notice more than structure and form. I want them to do more than consider their personal impressions of these friendly flowers and to do more than write a few original lines in their presence.

All of these events will occur, but my purpose is larger than the classroom. This intentionality isn’t new for me. The kids have come to expect it.

My hope is for an epiphany that will walk out the door with them…something beyond reading and writing. Lofty? Sure. Impossible? Nope. I want to edge them closer to realizing how much more brilliant the world becomes when we pause to consider not only the words in a poem (though that helps), but also the simplicity of the the beauty that surrounds us everyday. I want them to employ their curiosity as a citizen of a world that is full of natural and created enchantments…to remember what it is like to be struck with wonder in the presence of such gifts.

I kind of think we could all use a little more of that in our lives which is why my phone contains a profusion of pictures of beautiful skies.

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I am pretty sure my obsession with the sunset and cloud formations and rainbows and any other gift the sky chooses to bestow has exhausted my family (well, except for my youngest who has joined me in this endeavor). I am not deterred. The moments where I pause and take in this bit of grace extended to anyone willing to look up are moments of pure serenity; they are moments of poetry. And in these moments, there is an exchange that takes place that I am not sure how to put words to–a sort of gratitude, of silent adoration. Accepting this unearned gift, appreciating it, is so far removed from the cliched flowers we have all been instructed to stop and smell.

Look, the world is a busy place and we are killing ourselves to keep up, to do more, to be more. Don’t discount the fact that teenagers feel the same way. It is easy to lose ourselves in the rush; it is easy to lose our balance and our way. Stopping to see the world, to be of the world is grounding and at the same time allows us to transcend the drama of the day, the stress of the season. It is a reminder of all that we were created to be and to become…and sometimes that looks different than the life we are so furiously forming.

So tomorrow, we will pause and take in these beauties; we will enjoy A.E. Stallings’ poetry (always a gift); we will create in response. And maybe, they will walk out ready to do it all over again…on their own, for themselves.

(Day 3 “positivity project”)

forgiveness

For all of my optimism and fancy “love your neighbor” speak, I am remarkably good at harboring a good old-fashioned grudge. Ironically, I pride myself on being a skilled practitioner of rationalizing the behaviors of the people in my life, recognizing that there is always more to a person’s words and actions than I am granted witness to. But every now and then, someone does or says some hurtful thing, shows little or no contrition (this is what really gets me), and the barb sticks a little deeper and the sting lingers (for far too long).

And maybe “grudge” is the wrong word? Because I typically extend grace in spite of it all so that I can proceed without the daily reminder of the hurt. I acknowledge that carrying all of that around really only injures me, mars my quality of life. Except, as is often true, this particular process isn’t so neat and tidy. Something within me can’t (won’t) forget that the words were said or the actions taken. There is no resulting legitimate intrusion into my everyday life; in fact, I feel pretty at peace most of the time. But when triggered, the emotion and hurt flood fast, forcing the barb to drive a little deeper…reopening the wound…growing the scar.

I know this is all within my control. That if I took the time and the effort to remove the barb completely at the start and to truly forgive, I would eliminate the possibility of  heartache set on loop. But that’s the hard work of being human, isn’t it? To figure out how to be less human and closer to the divine, because it is absolutely a divine gift to possess the ability to obliterate that kind of damage and to move forward freed from its weight and potential for reincarnation.

Yet, far worse than nurturing wounds inflicted by another is the inability to forgive ourselves (myself in this case). I wield compassion willingly toward others, yet too often withhold it from myself. I recognize that I am human and that humans are imperfect and as such will make mistakes, fall into error…all the things. But that doesn’t alter the standard I have set for myself and the guilt that persists in spite of it all. I would like to say that I am tougher than I am. That when I mess it up, my response is “well, that’s just me and people will just have to be okay with that or that’s their issue.” But I’m never going to be that person. And that’s not to say that I over-worry about what others think of me. Far from it. I simply want people to know the truth of me and when I falter from my center, my core, then I’m more hidden than revealed.

So, this is the work. Learning to forgive myself, working harder to truly forgive others. Freeing myself from the weight that accompanies and amasses with lingering negativity. Releasing myself to enjoy life because mistakes will always be made but I don’t have to focus my attention there alone. There is goodness enough in the world that is far worthier of that kind of dedication. And that is where I will work to turn my gaze.

sermonizing

Every so often on a Monday, I have the opportunity to address my entire high school student body. I take that privilege seriously and use it as an opportunity to find new ways to remind my kids that we are in fact a community rather than some cold institution and as such each member has a responsibility to be a decent and kind human being. Without that standard being upheld, we devolve into just a building with people working side by side rather than together…without that, we lose our heartbeat, and the vibrance of who we have always intended to be as a school withers.

We are a small school, so these moments of sermonizing are rather cozy occasions–no microphone needed, just me talking and interacting with 120 kids seated side by side on the floor in front of me. Part of me recognizes that I have usurped a time typically reserved for announcements simply to yield an extra opportunity to teach now that my new position has reduced my class load. (But I am okay with this) I have taught at this high school since the second year of its existence when it only consisted of two grades, 9th and 10th…when I was the English department…when we were only 20 students big. In those early days, it was evident that there was something special about this school we called home…a school where learning for learning’s sake was embraced before grades and test scores…where the operating principle of “be kind, be kind, be kind” centered us everyday…where we were as much a family as a student and faculty body…where cliques were shunned and acceptance of all, required. Most importantly…acceptance of all. Every single kid, no matter their uniqueness was accepted for exactly who they were in that moment and they were given the grace to change as they grew over time. It wasn’t perfect all the time, but it felt ideal at its core.

As we have grown in size, slowly but steadily, it would be easy to move farther away from that beginning…to rise far enough above the core that we forget it is our foundation.

I can’t let that happen.

I have poured too much into this place and I treasure our first few classes of kids who knew this and embodied this and, truly created this bedrock, to walk away from it or to cheat it in any way. Honestly, the main reason I applied to be Head of the High School (having had zero inclination toward administration before) was to preserve the heartbeat of this school…to make sure a stranger didn’t arrive who might not get it…who might unwittingly stray from our purpose and who we are meant to be.

So, here I am. Stealing time on a Monday to reinforce these values in myriad ways. This week, we spoke about judgement…about how what we see of others is sometimes the eighth layer of the wall they have built in order to protect who they really are from being hurt…about how instead of judging others and walking away, maybe we could ask some questions to grind away the layers…about how we can extend each other some grace because sometimes life is hard and a little compassion goes a long way…about how it is not our job to judge, but that it is our job to love, to accept, to uplift the members of our community.

Did they hear any of this? Hard to say, really. But if even one kid walked away with new understanding and with the ambition to act on it, then I’ve done okay…then, the example will be set and spread…then, the time was well spent…then, our little school will continue to strive toward being the community of learners we were created to be, to become.

And hopefully, the tiny community will begin to influence the community at large. Teenagers are pretty remarkable humans. If anyone can begin to change this world for the better, it is them.

(Day 45–I still cannot believe there have been this many daily blogs in a row…two weeks away from king cake!! I cannot wait!!)

reading life

I have been rereading Toni Morrison’s Beloved…lingering over the language, pausing to absorb the weight, walking away when the truth (atrocity) overwhelms me (knowing that is a weakness), standing in awe of the craft and construction of this text–a text that knows itself, doesn’t oversell, over word, or over extend itself. I have adored this rereading more than any other reading of this book for some reason. I am not sure why, but something inside of me was ready to understand it differently (and I am not entirely sure that isn’t simply because I’ve been writing more and that impacts my perspective).

But I’m conflicted.

I am rereading the book because I recently took over a class for a colleague who had assigned Beloved to AP juniors. So, this time I’m reading the book to teach it. Working through literature with teenagers is honestly one of the best parts of my job. Inevitably, my students reveal insight through their analysis and questioning that is profound and reflects a perspective I might not have considered. This is particularly prone to occur when I allow them to lead the way in discussion and response. When I allow them to define what is important and to determine what is worthy of study, their engagement with the text deepens. When I allow the text to belong to them too and I grant them agency as readers and thinkers, the work is suddenly far more than a school assignment.

Yet despite my love for facilitating discussions about and analytical work with literature, I’m struggling with this one. I really just want to read the book. I just want to enjoy that reading and with all that I am, I sort of just want to keep it to myself. I don’t want to have to mar the solemnity of the read or intrude into my interaction with Morrison’s words and images in order to create lesson plans. Selfishly, I want to consider and consume the book in solitude…to make sense of it on my own and not to have to share that with anyone else. And in the midst of the whining I’ve been partaking in because of this, I realized something else.

My students feel this way all of the time. Sometimes they just want to read a book without school sort of wrecking it.

We (as teachers) talk all of the time about the importance of independent reading. And then we attach regulations and projects and logs and assessments to what we are calling “independent” and in doing so we have stripped the independence clean away. When we micromanage the reading lives of our students, we in no way stoke a joy of reading…if anything, we stifle it. As an avid reader, I really just want to read books I will enjoy (and sometimes I want to read them more than once…and sometimes they are beneath my reading level but they feed my brain in a different way…I’m looking at you Crazy Rich Asians) and then I want to talk to someone else about them. My 10 year old would agree with this philosophy. He is pretty clear on knowing that if  a book project is required, he doesn’t really want to involve a book he loves…because that kind of work destroys the read for him. I think it is time that we really consider the work we attach to independent reading and then consider what those assignments are doing to heighten the reading experience, to strengthen reading skills, and maybe we also need to consider what those assignments are doing to the reading lives of our kids. And then, from that place of understanding, we need to take some action.

So, as I plan structures that will allow my students to share their understanding of Beloved, I am working hard to maintain my personal reading life and also to help my students develop theirs. This book isn’t part of their independent reading…it was assigned to the whole class…but maybe there is a way for them to own it as though they chose it themselves…and maybe I can help make that happen.

(Day 39!)

A rough start

(The following is the start…a very rough one as the title implies…of a piece I am working on. It’s been a long day and as midnight nears, I know I can’t do this topic justice this evening. Planning to polish and complete it tomorrow. Just didn’t want to miss a day of writing and given that I’m writing about patience, I think that being patient and working my way through this one exemplifies my point.)

—————————————————————–

Missing:

the ability to sit still, to wait (with grace), to wonder in the waiting.

Patience has fallen out of practice and become nearly obsolete. Technology grants us immediacy. Answers to just about every conceivable question reside just a google search away, we can mobile order coffee or fast food to lessen the wait time, packages can be ordered and delivered overnight, if desired. And these options, in bringing ease to our life, make us comfortable and lull us into believing everything requires swiftness…that we should be living our lives at a faster pace…that if we aren’t moving quickly, moreso than those around us, then we are falling behind.

(Day 35–almost didn’t happen. Grateful for just a little perseverance to get even just a little writing in!)

voice

Since the surgery on my inner ear, a negative pressure has developed. What might this mean? Well, thankfully, it doesn’t make me dizzy, but I hear every inhale and exhale I take no matter how shallow. My heartbeat pounds my eardrum causing vibrations deep in my ear (we won’t even talk about the cacophony in my head when I am running–all breath and pounding). There are several more elevated internal sounds that would shake even the most serene soul, but only one feels like a burden. Every word I utter reverberates, echoing loudly inside my head. If I didn’t talk for a living, this might not be such a big deal, but I spend my days talking to teachers, kids, colleagues, parents, etc. Sometimes I can just ignore it, but other times the distraction is overwhelming and I am rendered exhausted by the effort of just attempting to hold a simple conversation. In crowded or noisy places where I really cannot trust my own sense of the volume of my speech, I think twice before talking, wondering for a moment if what I have to say is really worth the exertion.

It’s in those moments, that I am so grateful to have the outlet of writing–to know who I am as a writer, to know how to use my voice in that way, and to know I have the confidence to do so. So many young people, though, come to my classroom having been told they can’t write, will never be able to write, are failures as writers (because that is what an F translates to) and their confidence is shattered. I imagine that for these students, writing feels about as comfortable as holding a conversation does for me right now. I also imagine that mustering the courage to put the words on the page, no matter how few actually make it there, is absolutely draining.

For many of my students, their first writing goal is just to work on their confidence because so much of me knows that they will never be able to learn and to grow as writers if they believe they can’t.  But confidence, it seems, takes trust. And so, my first goal as their teacher is often to build that trust. To prove to them in my methods and in my words that I’m present and my only hope is to encourage and support, to listen and assist, and to offer opportunities for revision and growth. Trust also comes because with the choice and freedom they have to define and develop their writing, they know I respect them as thinkers, as individuals. They know I believe that who they are matters enough to allow it to shape their assignments.

It takes time, developing that trust and building confidence, and sometimes it doesn’t happen in a single school year. But, it is always worth the effort because witnessing the moment a young person finally realizes and owns their voice as a writer, is one of the greatest gifts a teacher of writers can receive. There is a vibrance that is indescribable–the words have a greater texture on the page because they’ve been imbued with authority and style and every so often, nuance and grace. There is a vibrance that is indescribable—the smile that creeps across the face of the writer whose heart and mind are finally at peace with one another. There is a vibrance that is indescribable—in the face of a kid who is finally hearing commentary that recognizes not only their skill as a writer, but more importantly, its worth…their worth.

Those are the moments I was terrified to miss when I left full time teaching to become a principal who only teaches a couple of classes. How could I walk away from such incredible moments? Well, it took me some time, but I finally realized that I actually was creating the same moment only in different context.

I am always yammering on to students (and anyone else who will listen) that three things are most important to me for our students at all times:

  1. That everyday–I mean every single day–students come to school and feel free to be themselves–exactly who they are without the mask of who they think they are supposed to be. And that they feel this freedom because they feel accepted.
  2. That at some point in their educational careers at my high school they feel truly engaged in their learning. That may not be an everyday, every class event. I understand this, but I want them seeking engagement rather than just teacher or parent pleasing…rather than just working for a grade.
  3. That my kids leave this school knowing the import and weight of their voice and knowing how to use it for good in this world–and that they have the confidence and the skills to do just that.

All of these are integral to our success as a high school and, in my opinion, to the educational and future successes of our students. School shouldn’t be about just checking off skills and courses; it shouldn’t be about just getting a diploma or into college. School should also be about learning what it means to be an effective, productive citizen in this world. And if I’m being honest, I think that has everything to do with accepting yourself, seeking engagement, and using your voice for good. And again, if I’m being honest, when I see my kids standing up and using their voices in a purposeful way, with confidence, it is just as vibrant as it was in the writing classroom…just as meaningful…just as significant.

I suppose I should start listening to my own advice when it comes to this ear situation…accept, engage, speak up anyway.

(Day 5 done! This daily writing thing has been far tougher than I expected and I suspect my dog is tired of me spending so much time on my computer at night instead of scratching behind her ears, but the challenge has me moving through the world with the eyes of a writer in a far more intentional way. Grateful.)

 

awestruck

As an educator, I’ve long realized that my students are brilliant beyond all expectation and that if I will just get out of their way, they will prove that truth time and again. It’s the dismissal of my own pet projects and the getting out of the way that can be tricky. There are certain works and assignments that I simply love to witness kids interact with and grow from, so the temptation to micromanage the curriculum can often be difficult to dismiss.

This is particularly true in my AP Literature class. It’s less a temptation in this situation and more a burden placed by the weight of the test in May…you know, the test that is made without knowledge of my kids but that determines whether they will receive college credit without regard for the fact that maybe they have completed important, intelligent and profoundly thought provoking work all semester but maybe came into the test not feeling well. An entire year of work denied in four hours. I digress. My point is that given the import my kids place on this test, I feel an obligation to find a balance between teaching a really solid literature course and also instructing on the nuances of the test.

Every other course I teach roots itself deeply in the choice offered through reading and writing workshop, but my AP class has always been a little bit different. Choice has been present but within parameters–often set by me (particularly when it comest to reading).

This year has been a bit different. We still share a central text every now and again so we can discuss and learn from each other as a whole class. But our reading for the most part has existed in book clubs. And while, yes, there have been literary analyses that were written, this year we have also participated in a true writer’s workshop. Students set writing goals for themselves, selected a style of writing and topic that would assist them in achieving their goals, and then set to work. I was present for conferencing and teaching one on one as they went through the process.

What I found incredibly intriguing is that so many of the kids were inspired to write based on the books they had chosen for their book clubs. A few students read Layli Long Soldier’s poetry collection entitled Whereas. This beautiful book of poetry reveals the hard work of the poet, and the intricacy of Layli Long Soldier’s craft deepens the connection of the reader to the work, to the meaning (and also opens eyes). As much poetry as I have shared with my kids over the years (there has been so much poetry, trust me here), there was something magical about their independent reading and interaction with Whereas. Not only did they appreciate the text and have riveting book club discussions, but they also all decided that their writing goals would include exploring what they could really do with poetry.

Now I have to say that historically, when a student asks to pursue poetry for independent writing, questions like these are often involved… “So, like, how many poems do I have to write?” “So, 3 or 4 haiku would count, right?” “But what if I worked really hard on these two poems? Two would be enough, right?” This group of students, however, asked an entirely different set of questions… “Can I include an intermission in my collection?” “Would it be alright if my collection had 3 parts?” “I’d like the third part to be interactive for the reader–is that too creative? Will people get it?” “Can I play with spacing on the page and punctuation if it works with my point?” Meaningful questions about the work of a writer–questions that reflected thought and consideration and investment. I was dazzled.

And the outcome? Well, one student crafted a 62 page, three part collection of poems that illustrated the transition from anxiety/depression/hurt to taking a breath to finally healing (the healing is approached through an interactive set of poems and directives that aim to help the reader work toward healing rather than simply acting as a passive observer). Another student, who had never attempted to write poetry and maybe hadn’t even really attached himself to any piece of writing before, composed his own multipart collection in which he plays with spacing, punctuation and word choice in a rather magical way. His continued affirmations that he was so proud of this work only made its worth shine more brightly.

One student, intrigued by Jean Toomer’s style in Cane, attempted an entire essay composed in prose poetry, and get this, merged the airy, imagistic language with terms and ideas associated with Calculus and Physics. It was utter brilliance. Stunning to read. I’m pretty sure I audibly gasped at certain points. Again, the pride she took in her accomplishment was remarkable. She wrote, “I read it out loud to myself for the first time last night and I heard growth as a writer, thinker and viewer of the world.”

Finally, another student who had been frustrated and a little bored by Camus’ style in The Stranger realized that his own writing reflected this very same style. He went back to the short story he had been composing in workshop with a fresh eye and revised from there. His self reflection included these words, “Who knew I would end up liking to write? Probably you, Mrs. Clark.”

And I’ve only mentioned the kids whose writing was inspired by their reading…For the sake of space I haven’t  included others who played with style, development, genre, imagery and more apart from their reading, but with equally impressive outcomes.

Here’s the thing. I could never have created a set of directions that would have led to the crafting of any one of these assignments. My brain would never have gotten there. And if I had by some small miracle, actually assigned even one of these pieces, the investment and engagement that was palpable in the classroom simply wouldn’t have existed. Why? Because they would have been working for me, for the grade. They would have been doing the work that I asked them to, in the way that I told them to and it would have been good but it wouldn’t have meant so much. Teacher pleasing is not engagement. It gets the work done, but it doesn’t resonate, it doesn’t linger.

The student who wrote the 62 paged piece has now, long after the grading is done, methodically increased the collection to 120 pages and is considering inserting photography as well. This piece is hers and hers alone. Its genius stems entirely from her mind and her process. The small intricate touches she is adding don’t reflect the work of school; they reflect the work of her heart.

The writing turned in during this writer’s workshop represents the inspired work and thinking of students who, when given the chance, were ready to prove without question the value of choice and freedom, the value of engagement and ownership.

And as a result, despite knowing these students for the last four years, after shifting my role completely to consultant rather than instructor and after the joy of witnessing the results, I find myself quite simply awestruck.

(this piece really needs to be longer…and less clunky…I don’t have an ease about my writing when I write about my classroom yet–something I am working on over these months… Day four writing, done!)

Enjambment

—in poetry, when a sentence or phrase overflows its singular line and pours into the next (and maybe beyond) before meeting with a solid pause and some kind of terminal punctuation…

As I sat in my office early this morning considering whether I really needed to teach the term “enjambment” to my AP seniors later in the day, I suddenly found myself daydreaming and spiraling away in wonder from the task at hand.

My affection for poetry runs deep. And I’m not even sure there is a tangible way to describe why. For a while, I thought it was because I simply loved the puzzle of analysis or the way writing a poem allowed me to lay my emotions down on the page. But as I began to include more poetry in my classroom–and not just poems that I was choosing because “they were important to study” (how do you even qualify that?), but poems that students sought out because they were struck by the words on the page, poems that we read aloud and then lingered over, poems that made us smile or think or pause, poems whose careful construction crafted something unexpected–in those moments, I realized that I loved poetry because it was, in fact, the greatest teacher in my life.

As a teacher of writers, poetry has instructed me to choose and arrange my words with care and how to apply punctuation in all of my writing to deepen meaning and understanding. As a teacher of readers, poetry proved to be a bridge rather than the barrier it is always portrayed to be. So often the assumption that students will hate poetry prevents us from really giving it a chance in the classroom. We relegate it to a singular unit as though it has no place in our everyday lives. Except that unit is a false metric. Poetry presents a perfectly sized challenge to our readers–all of our readers. In their brevity, poems allow us to better understand what it means to be a writer and also grants us the opportunity to better understand ourselves, the world around us and our place in it without alienating or overwhelming us with verbosity stretching from margin to margin, page after page. (there’s so much more for me to say here–but it’s not my point, so I’ll return to those thoughts another day…it’s not like I’m not writing everyday at this point…king cake is a powerful motivator!)

But, today, as I considered the word “enjambment” my brain strayed from line breaks and end marks in poetry to the moments we consider end marks in our lives–and I realized that maybe they aren’t the clearcut extended pauses we hope they will be, maybe there is nothing “terminal” about these moments we see so clearly punctuated. And maybe that’s the best possible circumstance, to live a series of enjambed lines.

The more I thought about it, this truth grew more brilliant–it would seem my  life has been exactly that: an extended thought that overflows the expected boundaries.

I can’t isolate events without realizing that every moment I’ve lived, every hardship endured, every joy celebrated has influenced and shaded in some way every moment that followed. Because each one of these experiences has molded and shaped me into the person I am today. There may be a brief pause for momentous occasions as there would be to denote the end of an unpunctuated line of poetry, but then the poem keeps going, we keep on living–defined by the lines above, defining the lines to come. I like this so much better than the cliche of “starting a new chapter in life” as though you need to completely close out one period of time in order to move into the next. As much as I joke about how great it would be to just close the chapter on my inner ear illness or the years where I thought we would never have a baby, I also know that my perseverance and much of my strength emanates from having endured those years. To view healing as a complete stop and better health as a new and entirely separate enterprise would be to deny the truth of my experience, of my life…and the wisdom and compassion gained in living those days…it would deny me the continuity and movement of each experience flowing into the next.

I didn’t end up teaching enjambment today. I needed more time to figure out how to grant my students the opportunity to see it as more than just a literary term with form and function. I didn’t just want to give notes and examples. There seemed to be greater opportunities available. So we will wait.

I suppose that it might seem I was wasting valuable planning time in this wandering distraction. Yet, I feel like it defines the real reason I love poetry…it grants me the space and time to be still and to wonder. And as much as I love gifting myself with those moments of freedom as I wade around in a poem, granting my students that opportunity to think freely and for themselves and then witnessing the outcome is infinitely more valuable. And certainly isn’t an opportunity to be caged in a single unit, taught once a year.

(This one was tough to write. I knew what I wanted to say but by the time I sat down to write it, I was exhausted and the thoughts jumbled. But day 3 is done and I’m proud of that!)