Thrive, by Meenoo Rami

There is a rambling post in my drafts folder about how hard March is.  It is, for me, the most challenging time in the school calendar, and usually not for the amount of work it involves.  It's right around par for the workload, but the thing about March is that it tries its absolute darnedest to beat the stuffing out of you.  The things that are the most frustrating and trying and genuinely confusing about teaching come to the surface; every year I reach a point where I question this career path.

I hate admitting that.  I just reach a point where I'm spinning the wheels and it feels like I'm going nowhere.  And the changes I need and want are not even on the horizon.  And I want to think about next year but I'm so deeply stuck in this one.  And I'm utterly pooped by all of these thoughts.

March wants me to burn all the way out.  Oh, how it tries.

I never published that post about March because the month passed and I was too busy getting beaten down by March.

Last weekend, though, I sat on an airplane with my freshly arrived copy of Thrive.  And I read it, all of it, only stopping to write notes --mostly exclamation marks and the word YES in caps -- in the pages.

I tweeted that Meenoo's release date on this book couldn't have been better timed.  I plan to set the book aside and pick it up every year at the end of March.

Let me tell you.

This quote appears in the introduction.  I knew it and have thought it before, but I needed to see it again.

The teaching profession is such a weird beast: you're left alone a lot but are still under a ton of scrutiny, you're supposed to come up with creative solutions, but you're being handed scripted mandates, and you're doing work that is allegedly the most meaningful there is, but you don't see any immediate results.

Thrive is a reminder to teachers of the agency and the responsibility we have to shape our professional lives, for ourselves and for each other.  It's about finding mentors and sharing feedback and inspiration with others in our buildings, our local and national organizations, and online.  It's about the needs of teachers to connect and be heard, and about how we need to always seek an environment that fosters this as well as create it.

Besides feeling completely rejuvenated and having a notebook full of classroom ideas from awesome educators, I take away three major points:


Thrive mentions Ron Brandt's characterization of teachers as "managers of complexity," and I love this.  It becomes easy to lose sight of the three things that motivate a person through creative work such as ours: AUTONOMY, MASTERY, and PURPOSE.  Sometimes I'm so bogged down in the things that I don't even realize that these are my needs.  And I can do everything about that.

I can seek autonomy by constantly evolving my curriculum and choosing the best use of my time.  I need to do a better job of seeking professional growth opportunities for myself, instead of hesitating and waiting for permission to make a move.  I can keep in mind that mastery is not perfection, and that I am always challenging myself to meet new goals each year.  I can be aware of the intellectual challenges that my work creates and how complex it really is.  And I can see the purpose of what I do.  That part should be so obvious, but it does feel lost in the daily grind sometimes.


Perhaps the biggest takeaway from this book, for me, was its focus on the teacher as an individual and a human.  While it requires a lot of creativity and critical thinking, teaching is often squashed by standardization and the watered-down version of the thing.  The squashing of a person's creativity and critical thinking can do a lot of damage.

The chapter I loved most was about being yourself as a teacher.  It sounds self-helpey, but I think about these facets of the job all the time, and it was so comforting to read that Meenoo and tons of other educators do, too.

I've thought and wrote frequently about the extent to which my personality and my true self affect my work with students.  I really do believe in being a real person in front of them.  I smile and laugh and have other moods.  I temper my frustration and I show my disappointment.  I don't wear a persona that I invented for my classroom, and I believe that's a really important part of my interactions and my effectiveness.

Modeling vulnerability allows students to follow our example.  Yes.


Thrive made me think about the relationships that impact my professional life.  I thought about my go-to colleague who always has solid ideas and honest feedback.  I thought about the many incredible educators whose work inspires me on Twitter and on their blogs.  I thought about the conferences I get excited about and the organizations I am proud to be a part of.

It also made me think about my own role in these communities and the needs of the greater teaching community.  I want to host more professional development workshops in the building to invite my colleagues to share ideas. I want their feedback on what I've tried, and I have so much to learn from them, too.  I want to make a bigger and more transparent effort with those I consider my mentors.  I want to connect more regularly on Twitter and keep sharing my thoughts and trials in this little space.  The organizations and conferences I have available to me are immense resources, and not only have I barely tapped them, but I have certainly not been as much of a contributor as I would like.  Thrive is challenging me to be a more conscious member of all of my communities and to recognize that the benefit is mutual.

Thrive really connected to my beliefs about teaching and the ways in which I find meaning and joy in the work.  I was so excited when I finished it because I had filled a notebook with ideas for my classroom and curriculum, as well as a million thoughts about purpose and identity and big picture things.  I would have appreciated it as a new teacher years ago, but I think I got even more out of it now.

Seriously, though.  Read it.  And next March.  We'll revisit.

Homeroom in NYC // Work Date at the Ace

One of my favorite ways to deal with Reentry is to get some work done.  As much as I looove sleeping in, it sometimes sets the tone for the day and I end up wasting time until the evening creeps up on me.  And then I get sad.

It seems wrong to include sadness in my Sunday, especially if I can do something about it.

A couple of weekends ago we set alarms, woke up early, and met for a work date.

Don't you know about the work date?  It's when you're sort of hanging out but also being productive.  It's essentially the most pleasant way to do work.  I'm becoming an expert at it.

The Ace Hotel in New York City has a terrific lobby with big leather couches and library-style tables.  We ordered some Stumptown Coffee and set to work for a few hours.  The 9am arrival got us out of there before the brunch crowd.

Aren't my semi-grainy iPhone photos delightful?

I packed a backpack with my laptop to work on some graphic design projects, and Francis tackled his grading pile.  It was a pretty perfect way to start a productive Sunday!

After our few hours of work, we ate delicious salads around the corner (question for the universe: why isn't Sweetgreen around all of the corners?) and then parted ways.  It was so lovely to spend the morning together, and then be left with the day already rolling with hours left to go.

I vote yes to doing this more.

'Round Here

What have I been up to?  Just closing out the third marking period.

I left work before all of the things were done today because I was literally shaking.  My hands and my stomach were doing a sort of call-and-response with the jitters, and I just had to go.  I'm not sure why, since stress levels are manageable and all is basically well.  My body's making decisions, and who am I to second-guess its wisdom?

I walked the long way home and then ate mangoes.  Crisis averted.

The third quarter got crazy, y'all.  I was accepting late written assignments, like a foolish, foolish amateur, and ended up completely swamped by the students (every one, seems like) who took advantage of that offer.

Idiot.  I know better.

For the fourth quarter I'm setting a statute of limitations on late work.  In the spirit of everyone learning responsibility and self-discipline, myself included.  Written assignments need feedback, and this week nobody received anything especially meaningful in my margin scrawl.

Let's call it a wash and start over on Monday.  Okay, deal.

I'm really digging the photo collage above.  I found it on Pinterest, and I've looked back at it multiple times.  Sadly, I can't find its original source (and would love it if you know it).  I'm heading to Phoenix this weekend and I can't wait to see its spiky flora and breathe its dry air.


Alex Proba comes home from work as a designer each day and spends 30 minutes designing a new poster.  She already has hundreds.  She is documenting them in the Poster A Day project.


I'm so inspired by her creativity, obviously, but also her discipline to set aside time for this pursuit each night.  She says the challenge was hard to build into her daily routine, and the time restriction made it possible so that now it's like brushing her teeth before bed.

Her Instagram is a very worthwhile follow.

Cheers to the makers and the doers!

In My Brain / 04 / Vonnegut

I was 15 years old when Kurt Vonnegut hit me square between the eyes.

The literature, not the man.

I pulled Slapstick off of my next door neighbors' bookshelf during the week that a snowstorm had cancelled school.  I was bored and lonely and appropriately angsty, and I would get lost staring at the wall of vintage trade paperbacks in their house.  My parents were never big readers, so I would try to find bits of myself in other people's books.  This collection represented how cool and interesting the neighbors were, an idea that was magnified at the time in contrast to my perception of my parents, who were neither of those things*.  These books, with their faded covers and torn edges, had been loved in a way that I loved books.  The neighbors used to live in New York City, and these spines were bent on long subway rides and in parks and coffee shops, and all of it seemed more suitable than my suburban high school reality.

In retrospect, I wouldn't have started my self-taught Vonnegut course with Slapstick.  The syllabus would've been completely thrown.  It's probably not a book that has changed too many lives.  In the repertoire it's fairly unremarkable.

But so it goes.

Without getting too into it, or giving you too much room to doubt my sanity and sense of reality, I'll just say that Mr. Vonnegut and I have an understanding that borders on religious.

Anyway, he's turned up a few times in my various feeds lately, and I think the following are worth sharing with all humans:

THE SHAPES OF STORIES  //  Vonnegut's rejected thesis from the University of Chicago.  I plan to work this into a lesson for my students soon.  And if you're going to read/watch anything today, it should be this.

LETTER TO XAVIER HIGH SCHOOL //  There is advice in here we might all consider living by. Practice any art ... no matter how well or badly, not to get money and fame, but to experience becoming, to find out what's inside you, to make your soul grow.

TERM PAPER ASSIGNMENT  //  Vonnegut was a teacher, and likely a memorable one.

WRITE A GREAT STORY  //  Advice from someone who should know.

Enjoy, readers and writers.

*The neighbors are still tremendously cool.  But I know now what I didn't realize then: my parents are downright exceptional.


The Sunday Blues.  It's definitely a thing.

Francis calls it Reentry.  I really like the terminology there.  The transition from the peaceful bliss of weekend life to the uninterrupted needs of the classroom is probably just like the transition from outer space back to the Earth's atmosphere.  I've never been a spaceman, but I can bet that there's some quiet groaning on the return trip to reality.

A bit dramatic?  Not in the slightest.

I've been making an effort to beat the Sunday blues lately.  Before we head into the weekend, I want to present to you, friends, the wee lessons I've learned to minimize the woes of Reentry and to get your week off to the best start.

Cooking checks a lot of things off the list that make me feel like I'm ready to go for the week.  It means stocking the kitchen with groceries.  I like to take time on Sundays to cook a large quantity of one or two things, pack it into containers, and stack them in the fridge.  Knowing that I have lunch ready for work each day makes me rest a lot easier, especially for busy weeks when healthy decisions are harder.

I try to wake up semi-early one weekend day to get a workout in.  It boosts my mood, keeps me sand, and helps me make the most of the remainder of the day.  A Sunday workout in the morning or afternoon is a great way to start the week with a positive habit.

As much as I try to not bring my work home with me on the weekends too much, it does feel really great to knock out a couple of hours on Sunday.  If it's not work work, like grading or lesson planning, I feel tremendously accomplished knocking out some life work, too.  I've found that errands run on a Sunday are a lot less stressful than the ones that need to be fit into the middle of the week.

Maybe it's because of years of fitting each other into our busy schedules, but Francis and I always talk about what's coming up in the next week on Sunday nights.  I've come to really value this ritual, because I look at my calendar and know what to expect.  I also like planning things that I can look forward to, like time with friends after work.

These tips are reminders to myself, more than anything.  Every week is a fresh start!  I'm gonna get this one.