The last twelve months

Twelve months ago today, I met my boyfriend for our annual look-at-the-lights date. The one I always insist upon. Because New York in December is filled with darkness and cold, and I enjoy the reminder that it's also filled with sparkles and artists.

We met at Columbus Center. Made the stops I always request along Fifth Avenue.

Bergdorf. The most stunning windows, every time.
FAO Schwartz. Evaluate the props and discuss what our Muppet selves would be like.
Rockefeller tree selfie.

All the while, unbeknownst to me, he was attempting to execute a delicate plan. It crumbled that night, some of the details didn't come through, a sweat might have been broken. But before the night was over, it had worked out.

It was kind of too exciting to document, but here, grainy phone pictures:

I said yes, and we celebrated all over midtown.

It's bizarre to think that only a year ago we were not even engaged.
That we were living in two separate boroughs (an actual long-distance relationship) and meeting up once in a while at a halfway point.

Sometimes it feels like an age ago.
In the best way.

I had no idea what twelve months later would look like.

- - - - - - - -

One evening in late July, Kristin and I did a recap of the Year's Events In The Life Of Amal, Past and Forthcoming.

Get engaged.
Leave first big-kid apartment.
Leave Harlem.
Move in with future-husband.
Plan wedding.
Get married.
Leave job.
Start new job.
Pack up life in New York.
Say goodbye to all that.
Move to new city.

This list leaves out the details.
The hundred small steps in between each of the big ones. Involving storage units and late-night conversations, big government offices and lots of craft supplies.

I wouldn't necessarily recommend this cram session of life events into any single year for people who enjoy sanity.
But, somehow:

It's been a whirlwind of good.
Really, really good.

- - - - - - - -

One of my favorite parts of wedding planning was choosing the ceremony readings. Two English teachers. Literature always wins.

We each chose one.

I knew it had to be Vonnegut. Cheri read this that day:

Because. Even in the chaos of this year,
which might be the hardest of my life so far,

I still feel that way.

- - - - - - - -

In the last twelve months
I've learned important things.

To leap.
To say yes to scary big stuff.
To take risks.

That important work is really hard.

That I'm getting better at things I'm bad at.

I'm learning.

To depend on others. To ask for help
more than is comfortable.
To say thank you.

That I'm strong. And pretty dang resilient.
(And my breakdowns have been minimal, and justified, and mostly non-psychotic.)

That all of this. All of the things on the list, and not on the list,
for the past twelve months,

are stupidly fortunate.

I'm grateful to have the thought, out loud sometimes: "If this isn't nice, I don't know what is."

Which is not to say, not in the slightest, that I know what's what.
That it's all breezy.

It's just me thinking. Accepting.
Forgiving. Reflecting.
Reliving. Listing. Questioning.
Processing, sort of.

All that can happen in a year.


This has been my week's mantra.

In the face of all the things. The sometimes spinning. The newness and the climbing and the full spectrum of the feelings.

"Let it wash over you."

Day by day. One solution at a time.

It'll all get there.

Thank you, Marcie.

Signs from the Universe

There's a theory that we, as humans, synthesize happiness. It's like we have a psychological immune system that helps us adjust our perspectives about the world so that we can feel better about our actual situations. We basically generate happiness, then, by imagining it.

Which is, to be fully analytical here, absolutely bananas.

It gets even better. The synthetic happiness we create actually leads to sustained happiness

Do you see what this means?! 

Our brains are happiness factories! Production is in full force!

It just so happens that my brain, in particular, while it is simultaneously failing at all sorts of simple things, is actually prodigy-level skilled at the psychological manufacturing of bliss.


This is interesting information. It makes me feel good, obviously, but it also fills me with doubt. What if I'm completely wrong? What if things are objectively crummy and I'm blinded by this neurosuperpower? 

I need to know! Because! See.

We've made a lot of big decisions lately that would have any normal humans second-guessing every step. We're moving our lives to a new city, and this has us reading way too much into each little thing that happens. Two English teachers who get really excited about symbolism tend to do that, I guess.

Every event, every interaction, every circumstance, is being considered a sign from the universe. We're constantly looking for some sort of cosmic feedback that we're making good decisions, that our move is the right one, that our happiness is more than imagined.

And so. We're in a bit of disbelief, I guess, that the signs have been overwhelmingly positive. A little bit of: Wait, really? Can it be? The swirl of chaos that is apartment hunting, packing, moving, and starting a new job in a new place is so surprisingly pleasant, like a violent tornado of rainbows and unicorns. It's challenging, sure, but it's simultaneously such a relief. A big whew, every eight minutes or so. It's such a welcome chaos.

I can't even really explain about how I just stopdropleft New York City. 

Much less how I did that and am hardly looking back. If you can imagine, I didn't expect that to be the case at all. I expected to feel everything a lot harder than this.

We're going to live near here.

It's all just come together, I guess. It feels natural. Like we're taking steps in the direction we want to go. Like we're doing it on purpose.

It feels right. 

And maybe my brain is imagining that. Maybe the signs are all contrived. 

But even then. It's just as real.

Goodbye, Little 42

///I wrote this before and during the move, which will have already happened by the time I post this.///

This little apartment of mine, with all its imperfections, means a whole dang lot to me.

It was five years ago that I moved in, making this the longest I've lived anywhere since my family moved to the east coast when I was 14.

It is the only place I have ever lived -- and will ever live -- completely alone.

In these last five years, in this apartment and in this city, I think I have done more growing up than I did in the first 25 combined.

I remember the spring of 2009.  It was a weird time in my life.  I dragged my lowest lows and carried my heaviest insecurities up four flights of stairs into this space, where I could be alone with my thoughts and faced with my self.  Because I wasn't feeling myself.

It was actually a really hard year.  I was truly lost.  In navigating the grown-up pieces of life and work and humans in the big city, it took a bit to find my way.

Nobody really prepares you for how stupidly hard your twenties are going to be.

One of the first things I did was paint this on the wall, in the hallway near the door.  It was the first aesthetic decision I made, the first step I took toward figuring things out.  I welcomed myself home.

I made a home.

I had only a bed and a stack of wooden boxes when I arrived.  Finding the objects I would include in my space meant choosing the things I would bring into my life.

And now, it's all just stuff.  My stuff.  Seemingly endless amounts of it.

Packing this apartment is forcing me to confront all of it.  I've collected and amassed and gathered so many things, little details of my history here.  Business cards from people I've met.  Recipes for someday.  Craft supplies for ambitious projects.  A lot of junk, yes, but still, pieces of me.

The process of sorting. trashing.  treasuring. abandoning. is a bit overwhelming.  Part of me is happy to leave all of my things behind, to discard the excesses, to pare it all down to the things I truly love and need, to reduce it all to a new version of myself, the bare bones I want to start with in the new chapter.  The other part of me, though, knows how much these things, though simply things, are part of the story. Their only real value is in what they represent to the story that only I really know.

It's bittersweet, as I'm letting it all go.  It really is a welcome change to close this chapter.  To find long lost objects behind the furniture and realize I don't even want them.  To realize how easily I can detach from this space I've made.  To paint all the walls back to white and start something new.

Goodbye, Little 42.  And thank you.

In My Brain / 05

Thank you, Internet, for the good things you're leaving behind.

Here are the things that have made my brain happy lately:

Humblebrag Generator: "Ugh, so annoyed.  People keep offering me jobs even though I'm not looking for work."

My creative process, reflected quite accurately.

I won't tell you how many rounds I played of this most amazing game.
(Do you recognize the voice the background music?)

Even the cool kids get rejected.

Also making me happy is the lettering work of Sean Tulgetske, whose lunch napkin (above) is far sexier than anything I've ever made.  I love the type-on-photography pieces the most.  Following him on Instagram will probably make your brain happy, too.

Teacher Autonomy and Optional Margaritas on #engchat

Tomorrow is Cinco de Mayo!  It's also Monday!  Since I love being old, my night will look like this:
- a homemade margarita that is mostly juice
- microwave nachos with perfectly even cheese distribution
- festive boxer shorts, and
#engchat on Twitter at 7pm EST!

Will you join us for a lively discussion?  This week we're talking about teacher autonomy.

Teacher autonomy is a contentious part of the conversations around education.  As someone who believes teaching is inherently creative, I have a hard time with the arguments for standardization and conformity.  I can barely stomach scripted materials.  So much of what I do and why I do it revolves, for me, around the creating of the things and seeing them through with the kids.  On the other hand, I spend most of my time in my classroom's four walls, where my autonomy can leave me feeling pretty alone and disconnected.  I'm sure this is not uncommon. It's a big part of why I write and central to my pursuits in this profession.

Here are the questions for tomorrow's chat:

I'm hoping to learn a lot about what other educators are doing to take advantage of the autonomy they do have, the risks they're taking in their professional lives, and the balance they strike between professional independence and collaboration.

If you're new to Twitter, check out my previous posts about why I love it, how to get started, and how education chats work.  I hope to connect with you tomorrow night!

Classroom Tunes / 01

I like playing music while my students are working.  It changes the entire feeling of the room when the dominant sound is neither my voice nor the keyboards clicking.  

I don't DJ, though.  Taking students' requests can wreak havoc on a studious space.

There is a key to good classroom working music.  It has to be backgroundable.  The kind of music you can enjoy listening to without fully listening, because you're actually writing something important.  The kind you can't sing along to.  The kind that's secondary to the other things in your brain.

I asked Lamar Shambley, a fellow educator who is also my friend and a music nerd, to share a playlist he uses in his Brooklyn classroom.

Lamar would basically be the math teacher of your dreams.  He is passionate and full of life and energy, and I imagine his classroom is a semi-magical land where students aren't afraid to get excited and nerdy.  Which, if you ask me, is the best way to be.

During his musical work times, Lamar tends to play entire albums, which is a sensible practice for keeping the energy and mood of the room consistent.  Here are his favorites:

Thank you for sharing your classroom sounds, Mr. Shambley!  I know what my writing lab will be listening to as we close out the school year.

Interested in contributing a classroom playlist?  Email me your ideas at

HBD, Shakespeare

Every English teacher on the planet is doing a nerdy little mental dance today to celebrate Shakespeare's birthday.  Students everywhere are subject to mini-lessons that aim to remind them of the bard's masterful wit and wisdom, featuring common phrases we owe to his writing and terrific insults we should be keeping alive.  I always used to put my favorite Shakespeare joke on whatever the classwork of the day was.

There's something so powerful about the fact that his works have remained so relevant and such a fixture in English classrooms across the globe.  That the characters and the themes and the language haven't gotten old (not a day over 450!), and that students are still able to connect with them.

Also.  How lovely is this type by Allie Brunton

Spring Break: St. George Island, FL

St. George Island - Spring Break 2014

I just got home from our spring break trip to St. George Island.  No matter how beautiful and relaxing and necessary a vacation is, I so love the feeling of returning home, which hits me as soon as I see the skyline from the airplane window.  Even in cloudy and misty New York, within minutes I was in boxer shorts and eating the sushi that was delivered to my apartment (spicy tuna topped with spicy tuna ... whattt) and I'm going to continue this chilling out for a little longer before I begin unpacking and cleaning everything and fully hammering down what I'm teaching tomorrow morning.

I mean, I have a general idea.  Be real, people.

Allow me to use this procrastination break to share a little bit about this island with you.

St. George is a really special place, in general, and to us, in particular.  We've been visiting the island since the beginning of our relationship, and we're getting married there this summer.

St. George Island - Spring Break 2014

I haven't explored too much of Florida, but I'm going to go ahead and declare this island my favorite part of the state.  You get some wonky Florida-ness (absurd heat, vicious flesh-eating mosquitoes, extreme Southern-ness that I always forget about) but this place can be so lovely and idyllic that it's kind of perfect.

I almost don't want to tell you about it because you'll tell your friends and they'll tell their friends and eventually everyone will ruin it together.  These are my fears!

St. George Island - Spring Break 2014

But seriously.  It's not unlike an earthly, Southern, backwoods paradise.

Here are eight fun facts:

1.  The entire island is 28 miles long and less than a mile wide.  It is divided into three sections:  the protected state park, the public town/beach which has a handful of businesses in it, and an exclusive/fancypants gated community.  We stay in the public part.

2.  When you cross the bridge from the mainland, you might notice pelicans hovering over your car.  They look like actual dinosaurs, but they're harmless and funny when they dive.

3.  There are zero stoplights on the island. Most people ride bikes or drive golf carts there.

5.  Apparently the Gulf of Mexico is where all the dolphins hang out.  You'll see them go by almost every day.  They are a species that devotes over 90% of life to playtime, so I support them.

St. George Island - Spring Break 2014

6.  There are a zillion types of birds on the island, in all of the colors and aviary hairdos.

7.  There's an interesting economic mixture on the island.  You have some jillion-dollar homes, and you also have bars with corrugated metal roofs and dirt floors.  You have some of the most exclusive and expensive properties on the Gulf of Mexico, in one of the poorest counties in the state.

8.  It is not foolish to plan your day around oyster happy hour.  It is a deal not to be missed, especially since the oysters are from rightoverthere.


On the sunniest and brightest day of this trip, we took the boat out to Little St. George, which is a separate island just a wee swim away from our island.

St. George Island - Spring Break 2014

You know, in case the bustling metropolis of regular St. George becomes too overwhelming.

St. George Island - Spring Break 2014

Little St. George is uninhabited, covered in shells, and where all the cool pelicans hang out.

We took walks, collected shells, and enjoyed a picnic.  There was a perfect breeze, which made my sunburn a nice little surprise for later.

St. George Island - Spring Break 2014

Hanging out on a deserted island looks like this, mostly:

St. George Island - Spring Break 2014

I took all of these photos on my iPhone, and I did zero editing.  That blue is real.

We talked about our love for this little corner of the country, and how we feel like we belong to it a little bit.  We talked about wanting our own family someday, and maybe we want to include coming to St. George, or somewhere, as part of our family traditions.  It's funny how we become attached to places and make them part of our stories.  I like that.

It's back to work tomorrow, but we're so excited to go back to the Forgotten Coast (as the locals really do call it) this summer and share this magical little place with our friends and family.  Is it too soon for a countdown?

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.

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.


I was recently asked -- in one of those great road trip conversations where you're catching up and sharing life and figuring out the universe -- about the rules I live by.  I liked the question so much that I wanted to think about it for a long time, and in pieces.  Until I have a comprehensive list, which I imagine (and hope) will never happen, I will share my rules in this series.

I can explain.

One concept at the core of educational theory is Lev Vygotsky's Zone of Proximal Development. Since learning about this in grad school I have thought about it every day -- partially because it's central to being a teacher, but also because of how I use it as a framework for the rest of my life.

Hang on.  It's about to get pretty nerdy.

The purpose of Vygotsky's research was to explain the relationship between development and learning.  Does development happen first, and then a person is capable of and ready for learning?  Or does learning happen first, and then a person is able to develop as a result?

Vygotsky determined that learning and development are interrelated from the first day of a person's life and reminded the scientific community that the human brain is absurdly more complicated than any previous theory has expounded.  (To reach stratospheric nerd levels, you can read his academic smackdown here.)

Central to Vygotsky's theory is the Zone of Proximal Development, which is basically the sweet spot for learning and development.  The ZPD is somewhere in between what a person already knows/can do alone and what he/she cannot do at all.  It is where teaching should be targeted because it is where learning and development happen.

For a teacher, this recipe for an academically successful and engaged classroom makes sense:  Take what the students know/can do already and push them to what they don't know/can't do.  You build your classroom around the ZPD, and from September to June your curriculum does everything it can to maximize growth.

It's what happens in the ZPD that determines the outcome of learning and development.  The Zone of Proximal Development is about exposure and materials and the help and external motivations a person receives.  In a sense, it's what school does with lessons and activities and projects and rooms full of people.

But I'm not talking about being a teacher or being a student.

I'm talking about me, personally, and a rule by which I try to live my life.  It's a principle that guides my choices and goals.

It's about prioritizing learning and building a life that values personal growth.

It's about being aware and reflective about what I already know, and attempting to discern what I do not.  It's about figuring out where I am in the journey and assessing my own progress and failures.

It's about collaboration.  Those who are present in my ZPD guide me toward the goals.

Awareness of the ZPD pushes the boundaries of imitation and encourages me to try new things, to think creatively, to take chances.

My favorite thing about considering my life in this framework is that it is constantly shifting and evolving, when goals are reached and new sights are set.  I want to always reevaluate, to see how far I've come and how much farther, always farther, I want to go.

(I know how nerdy this is, but this is my head.)  It's curriculum design for my life.  It's asking myself: What is the classroom I want to create?  How will I challenge what I already am, and wherehowwhy do I want to end up?

I fail at this.  I fail often, and sometimes pretty hard.  The anxiety zone comes in many forms.  For all of us.

But that's part of the learning.  It's part of the development.  It's me, trying.

Making massive decisions makes everything feel a little bit different, in the best way possible.

We really hit the ground running in 2014.

That's because in December, right before the holidays, we got engaged!


It felt like this.  It still feels like this.  I hope it doesn't go away, feeling like this.

We got really excited.  And our families got really excited.  And our friends.

And our to-do lists basically exploded with excitement.

I was living in a whirlwind throughout January, trying to organize the priorities and manage the anxieties in February, and now I'm back to being straight-up thrilled about all of the things.

We're.  Doing.  This.

The Unintentional Personal Literacy Hiatus

There was some radio silence: on the blog, with my dozens of unreturned emails and phone calls, and with the visits with friends I've been delaying until things settle down.

The silence was unintentional, though not altogether surprising.  Through other hectic periods of my life I've noticed two things take a hit from my life activities:

Reading. Writing.

I'm still an English teacher five days a week, so I inevitably read and write for multiple hours a day.  But it's not the same.  My students' written aren't full of the intellectual challenges I revel in with pleasure reading, and the most interesting thing I've written lately is a pretty sweet test.  A Scantron one.  I haven't fully been making stuff.

You can't really beat making stuff.

And so, I find myself living in a literacy hiatus that I accidentally created for myself.

Do other teachers experience this?  Where you devour books all summer and then read only student work for the other ten months?  And you lose some of your creative intellect when you're knee-deep in the routines and requirements of work?  Do non-teachers go through these waves, too, sans the weirdness of the school calendar?

The main reason I keep this blog is because I like writing.  It's a true craft and it takes work and practice.  I want to challenge myself to keep thinking and reflecting and collaborating.

I'm going to find my way back to sentences.

And making stuff with words.  Of which, arguably, some of the best things have ever been made.

Tiny's & The Bar Upstairs

It's been stupidly cold.  We've had the teasers of warmth - those two days in the fifties (a heatwave!) where I remembered about running - but mostly it's been kind of unfortunate out there.

It would be all too easy to come home from work on a winter Friday and not leave again until Monday morning, when there would be actual consequences.  Fuzzy Slippers > What's Out There.  In the comfort of my apartment I can imagine happiness and warmth and light.

The reality, however, is worth exploring.  Even in the most miserable misfortunes of winter's dark times I can find a way to love this city.


Partially because it's full of colors and hidden treasures.  That definitely helps.

I'm glad I put on real shoes and made my favorite people meet me down in TriBeCa recently.  It's a neighborhood I can only occupy in my richkidfantasy, and on Sundays for brunch and walks.


I would like to recommend to you one of my favorite little spots in the city:  Tiny's & The Bar Upstairs in TriBeCa.

It's really adorable, inside and out.  Their graphic designer did a great job.  It's even pink.  I mean, come on.



If you're grown-up enough to make a reservation, indicate that you would like to be fireside.  The folks there are accommodating when I ask for that, which is always.

Living in this city teaches you that good fireplace is not to be passed up.  So do ask for it.


And even with your hat underneath your hood, don't stop looking up.  This place has layers.