Crying At Work When Work Is a Room Full Of Teenagers

I was this close to simply calling it in. I needed to stay at home and getting through some of the things, to make sure I was taking care of myself.

What I really needed was a mental health day.

Instead I did the thing where in the morning I told myself:

OKAY. It's happening. Just go.

I wore black pants and a black sweater and black shoes because that's the level of coordination my brain could summon. I wore a big necklace to pretend that I tried.

I dropped the coffee maker and spilled mushy wet grounds all over the floor. The crash awoke my husband, and I shouted up the stairs, "It's fine! I'm sorry! Go back to sleep!" Just this had me fighting back tears.

I moved throughout the first few hours at school, hoping nothing would trigger a meltdown today. And hoping nobody could tell that any. little. thing. might put me right on the other side.

I tried to make my eyes smile, like Tyra taught me.

It's a big whopping performance, a few times a day, this gig. The audience walks in and you're on. The whole time, regardless of the lesson. You're the teacher. You're the grown-up.

Days like this one are rare for me, thankfully.
But still. I'm right on the edge of mental and emotional chaos at all moments. Something trivial will happen and boom, it'll be over.

For me it was, "What are we doing today?"

Tears. I just couldn't.

In front of the tough-kid 12th graders, who most days let me know: Ummyeahwe'regoodthanks, and now they all looked me while I stood there and lost it a little bit.

I vented-slash-apologized. I told them I was embarrassed but that I knew this was coming today. That I'm totally okay, big-picture-wise, I'm just wiped-out and a large series of small failures have culminated in this moment. This tiny pressure-explosion is, I'm sorry, happening now.

I owned it. I had to.
I said to them, I'd way rather reach this point in the privacy of my own bathroom, but hey. I guess our class is called Being Human, and some days, this is what that looks like.

Not optimal.

But. It's okay to not be okay.

Our health teacher shared that wisdom with me once, and it stuck.
It's okay to not be okay. I'm glad she's around to tell that to our students, too.

I'm awkwardly standing there. What now?

And they own it, too.
They all said something like: Dude, we so get that.
And: Here, do you want this brownie?

Also: Your waterproof eyeliner is great.

I got their eyes and ears. And a hug.

And after a pause and a deep breath and a lingering uncertainty.
One student said, I want to talk about this passage on page 147. At which point everyone opened up their books and discussed and discussed and forgave my minimal input.

And later, I saw multiple emails saying, Seriously, I feel like that basically every day.
And before lunch, some flowers:

And this pumpkin with my face drawn on it:

Pretty accurate.

It says a lot about a community when your most vulnerable self is met with support.
When at your worst, you feel totally safe.
When a room full of teenagers is the least intimidating space.

When everyone cares about, yes, but also cares for, one another.

When a day like this leaves me with gratitude.
Above all the other feelings.

The Feedback Loop

Schools are closed on Veterans' Day. Still, I set an alarm, packed my bag, and rode my bike across town to meet a few awesome colleagues. It's the end of the first quarter, and a massive grading session was in order.

Armed with an almond croissant and the wifi password, I opened my laptop to a single window with only the necessary tabs. I spent a few (too many -- ironic) minutes selecting an appropriate focus/concentration/study Spotify playlist. I kept my phone mostly away. I buckled all the way down.

It wasn't long before I opened a few more tabs.

The original assignment description.
The rubric.
The unit plan.

But I wasn't distracted. It's just that I thought of so many new things as I read their work.
Hmm, this part of the instructions needs tweaking.
Yikes, that needs to be added to the rubric.
Let me add that to the unit notes.
Oh hey, these students executed this thing better than I even intended. I'll make that part of the project description in the first place.

The grading. The reflections. The adjustments. The planning.
It happens all at once because it has to.

It's a feedback loop. The output feeds the input feeds the output feeds everything.

I assign a Reflection for major assignments.
For this project, I asked students about their outcomes, their process, what worked, what they would do differently, how they feel about all of the things.

I also asked this question:

This is my first time teaching [this] unit and assigning [this] project. What advice do you have for me if I decide to teach it again? (I promise I do not take this personally, and truly value your opinions.)

And I do.
Their experience with this thing I made for them. It matters a lot to me.

The pair who had the best time, loves their project, and basically wants to do it again?  I'm overjoyed.
A terrific student who had a miserable time and suggests I never assign this again? Kills me.

The Reflection is about agency.
In writing it, students take ownership of the things they controlled.
How they worked. What they made. What happened.

And then. When asked.
Agency becomes affecting change for the things they could not control.
What I assigned. What the expectations were.

And it feeds back.

Reading their Reflections gives me agency, too.
In asking students how things could be done differently to improve their learning experience, I am tasking myself with taking that advice.
I am believing that their input is the most valuable feedback I can receive.

The learning is, after all, theirs.

I'm also learning how to be more attuned to indirect feedback.
When students aren't asked. Or don't tell.

When parts of an assignment are misunderstood, and the outcome is convoluted: I should have cleared things up.
When quiz grades are low but class discussions are informed and engaging: something's wrong with the questions I'm asking.
When the connections I thought were obvious are mostly absent: I should have been more explicit.

Teaching is a special gig. You get as many do-overs as you want.

And the learning is yours, too.

Photos from Chapterhouse Cafe, a wonderful coffee shop and grading space

Rule To Live By // 03

He always proves that he knows me better than I give him credit for.

For my birthday, my husband gifted me this print:

It's beautifully illustrated by a letterer/designer I admire. I need to find the perfect spot to hang it.

It's also a quote I love. 

My mind connects it to the Kurt Vonnegut reading we chose for our wedding last year.

I'm grateful that I've made up my mind.
And I get to be pretty dang happy these days.

Not long ago, a dear friend asked me what my superpower is.
"What are you better at than most people in the world?"

"Finding happiness," I replied.

It's a weird superpower. I'm pretty sure it's inherited from my mom, whose freakish optimism exceeds all human expectations.

I mean. I still feel all of the things.
And am sometimes overcome with anger.sadness.guilt.exhaustion.self-doubt.anxiety. like everyone else.

But mostly, I can find the bright side.
It's usually a question of how full my glass is.

A bright outlook is easy, I guess,
for the generally kickass hand I've been dealt.

And I'm not sure what there is to do about that,
except share.

So I try.

Gratitude is the starting place. 
More and more I realize that it's the biggest of all the feelings.

EduCon 2.8 // January 29-31, 2016

I want to tell you about EduCon. It weirdly changed my life.

EduCon is how I found SLA (and later how SLA found me). It's one of the reasons I didn't leave teaching the 38th time I almost quit.

The first time I came, a few years ago, I had never heard of EduCon, or of SLA, and barely of Philadelphia, to be honest. I happily tagged along with a colleague from the Writing Project with zero expectations.

It was January of my sixth year. I had worked enough to know progress existed, and seen enough to feel defeated and deflated. Burnout was a legitimate threat.

I had no idea how badly I needed a refreshing perspective about this thing that I do.

Unlike any conference I had been to previously, EduCon was hosted in an ordinary-seeming high school.
It appeared to be run entirely by the students.
The place was filled with people who cared about learning. I didn't see any vendors.

All of the sessions were conversations, where many voices were heard and participants were encouraged to connect and discuss and bring in their own experiences.
Socializing and networking were encouraged and facilitated. I met so many wonderful educators from all over the world.

I got to see inspiring classrooms in action. I pocketed about 800 ideas to take home.

We talked about real issues facing schools and classrooms. Every conversation was one I didn't know I'd been craving.

I mostly walked around and exclaimed, "YES! THIS!"
For two and a half glorious days.

I went back to my own teaching world feeling rejuvenated and excited to continue the conversations with the educators in my building and online with the folks I'd met in Philly.

Now. I had no idea I'd ever end up at SLA, or that I'd find myself a co-chair of EduCon.

But life is freaking nuts, y'all.

And I genuinely want to invite anyone reading this to join us.
Come to EduCon.
Be a part of the conversations.
Take the experience with you into your own pocket of education.

Our modest little unconference will take place this upcoming January, conveniently timed between the three-day MLK weekend and the Superbowl.

Register to join us.

And, better yet, propose a conversation for the weekend.

And I can talk about what an incredible experience it can be way, way more, if you'd like.
And I can answer all of your questions.
Please do reach out.

Will we see you there?

All photos from my Instagram, many EduCon moons ago :)

In My Brain // 09

Queen Of Earth // I saw this film this week (on a school night, y'all) and I can't stop thinking about it. The depth reached in this character study is incredible. I can't help but think of how my students would devour it and analyze the heck out of it. Check out the trailer.

Why Pronouns Matter // I love teaching grammar. (Honest. It's oddly thrilling for me.) I might order this to use for some added flavor in lessons.

14 Psychological Tricks Everyone Should Know // We're fascinating creatures.

Flair // I'm happily convinced that a comeback is realistic.

Heart Eyes // Charley Harper

My dear friend, Kristin, whose aesthetic sensibilities are always spot-on, recently taught me about the artist, Charley Harper. I know I'm way late to this party, but I can't stop scrolling through his works.

I'm especially taken with his "Animal Kingdom" series. He called his style "minimal realism." I love how simple colors, shapes, and textures result in such stylized pieces. Especially because this all came about before Adobe Illustrator forced artists to break things down that way.

I want all of the prints.

This one's my personal favorite: