Do Not Erase

Greatly appreciating Jessica Wynne's photography project capturing classroom blackboards.

Reflecting on Reflection

A funny thing happened today while I was journaling.

just some notebooks I have on me at this very moment

Before packing up and heading home after this long day,

I set a timer for ten minutes,
opened up to a new page in my notebook,
and grabbed a pen.

I went with the orange one. It felt right.

Journaling is one of the strategies I use
-- inconsistently --
to process all of the things.

A single day in the life of a classroom or school
can involve so many moving parts
and human interactions
and goals with lots of layers

that it doesn't all sink in in real time

and I need a moment.

So for ten minutes, I spill my brain onto the page.

Without any clear objective in mind.
And almost never even going back to re-read what I wrote.

Today's entry started with some healthy rage:
I was/am upset at myself for multiple balls I dropped.

Things I wanted to have done but ended up writing on tomorrow's to-do list,
calendar items I forgot entirely,
people I accidentally inconvenienced,
the lesson that could have been better executed.

You know, your run-of-the-mill beat-yourself-up stuff.

I went into list mode:
I itemized, in orange ink, the Ways I'm Falling Short.

And then, weirdly,
I didn't get past the third item on my list

before my perspective shifted
and I felt totally differently.


I finished off the entry telling myself that this is a Season Of Doing A Lot
and most of it is actually meaningful work
that I genuinely enjoy
and while there's so much room to improve and be better,
that's work I want to do, too.

Then I thought about how reflection is my favorite of SLA's core values
(don't tell the others)

which is how Anna and I came together to lead
a session about it at this year's EduCon,

which I intended to post about prior to this,
and obviously didn't do,
thereby adding to the list of dropped balls for which I here and now forgive myself.

I've written before -- once or twice -- about
the learning that takes place at our school's little conference
and what it's meant to me.

I hope to see you there!

Come and join us as we share our practices for reflection
and how they shape our work as educators.

And so much other stuff.

Conversations I'm especially drawn to this year:

Final plug: early bird registration is on until December 31 :)

In My Brain // Trying To Get It Right

For all the confidence and excitement I feel about the work I do in my classes,
(which I recognize is a tremendously fortunate series of circumstances already)
I probably experience the same amount of dread and fear that I'm doing it all wrong
and ruining a young person's day/week/life without meaning to.

Like, maybe daily.

And realistically: there's a <0% chance that's true.

Sure, I'm doing my best with what I know and what I've got,
neither of which are constants from one day to the next.

And there are a million ways to achieve the objectives --
if I've even identified the right objectives in the first place --

at least as many ways as there are brains in the room.

So many brains that want and need and deserve different pieces,
and only one of me bringing what I've designed for that day.

It can be crushing going down that spiral.
Seems reasonable: the stakes are high.

I remember my own teachers -- the best ones and the worst --
all of them so critical in shaping who I am
and what I believe about myself and the world.

So I'll continue to do my best
and grow what I know and what I've got.

With that, some recent open tabs:

*Photo of a 9th grader's rad notebook

Heart Eyes // Night Stories

I am so struck by Linden Frederick's Night Stories series.

Partially because of my initial disbelief that these are oil paintings, not photographs.

And maybe partially because my 12th grade students just finished Cormac McCarthy's The Road,
and that novel's desolate imagery lives in my brain.

These images are so peaceful yet haunting. The tension between light and dark is so precise.

I did some further reading and really enjoyed this piece, too.

All images via Linden Frederick

Why should you read Kurt Vonnegut?

A 9th grade student who recently finished one of my favorite books, Catch-22,
asked me to recommend something she should read next.

I replied, "Have you ever heard of Kurt Vonnegut?"

I'm always reluctant to recommend my favorites to students.
They're so subjective
(even moreso the curriculum I've designed and make everyone follow).

I feel I have to defend the works.
Or be good enough for them myself.

It's weirdly personal,
in the way that literature, often at its best, can be,
in the ways I try every day to sell to students with other texts.

What a contradiction!

I've never taught a Vonnegut novel, even though he's my favorite.
(I have included "Harrison Bergeron" in a short stories unit.)

I'm kind of too scared to do it.

And then later today, I came across this video from TED Ed:
Why should you read Kurt Vonnegut?

As I watched it I thought about how I had just recommended Vonnegut to a student
and how she'll probably come back and ask me why I like this author
and want to talk about how his works align with who I am as a human being.

And realized I felt pretty good about that.

Maybe good art is easily defensible, really.

"In spite of his insistence that we're all here to fart around, in spite of his deep concerns about the course of human existence, Vonnegut also advanced the possibility, however slim, that we might end up making something good. And if that isn't nice, what is?"

*Beautifully-illustrated images from the video

The Last Class Before Thanksgiving Break

This afternoon, just before leaving for the holiday with families and finalizing college applications, students in Senior English furrowed their brows and thought through some existential conundrums.

We're reading Cormac McCarthy's The Road.

It's bleak.
We're less than 100 pages in and generating questions like:

  • What's worth living for? What's worth dying for?
  • What makes a life meaningful? 
  • What's left -- out there, in us -- when the world as we know it is gone?

One student point-blank asked me how I can teach a book like this year after year.
Why I would read it again and if I get anything out of it.

I got to answer honestly:
The thing is, see: I truly love the literature.
And there are no simple answers to complex questions.
And I believe they're worth thinking about, always.
I hope you find value in that, too.

An hour later in the library with our staff,
our boss reminded us of his own gratitude for the work we get to do.

And I feel exactly the same way.
I'm so grateful that I get to share this brainspace
and navigate these ideas with young people.

This poem has been on my mind for weeks:

"I am trying to sell them the world."