Teacher Person(a)

In my first year of teaching several older and wiser educators told me: Don't smile until Christmas. 

They had discerned quite quickly that I would need a tougher exterior.

The subtext of this advice was: being yourself won't cut it.

I recall one teacher in particular whom the students especially feared. She was a veteran in the English department, and her classroom was very different from mine. In some ways I envied the order and discipline of that space, which I believed had led to so much of her success.

On the other hand, I was as terrified as the children in her room. I wondered if I could ever make my class feel like that.

Around the office, she would joke that she spent years developing her teacher persona. Her classroom self and her real-life self were unrecognizable to one another.
The toughness and severity of her teacher-self, she explained, were necessary to get the job done.

I didn't have a strong sense of how this idea fit into my life or career.
It didn't quite fit, for me, but I didn't have an alternative plan here, either.

Questions about a teacher persona lingered in my brain for a while, especially during the early years of my career when I felt like I didn't have classroom management completely under control or when it was a struggle to consistently build dynamic and engaging lessons every day. I wondered if I should have been developing a stronger act,
a bigger presence,
a different me
to play this role.

I never did, and I'm glad.

Now I kind of resent ever having heard that advice, actually.
I push back on that thinking about this work. A lot.

I'm very much myself, inside and outside of the classroom.

For better and for worse,
to the students who realize my corny jokes are my real jokes,
and my friends who have to discuss character development and thematic consistency about books and movies and TV shows.

The confidence to not change didn't come immediately.
But it was essential.

Now I play the role of guiding younger teachers.
Some of them are in my building, and some of them have very different teacher-lives than me.

And my biggest piece of advice is the same:

Be yourself.
In this gig, who you are matters as much as the work you do.

Students see you and know you and appreciate you.
Because it's not about English or History or Algebra II,

it's about people.
And relationships.

I'm reminded of this every day.
In the middle of the lessons with the newest students in my care,
in the meetings with parents and families about good news and concerns,
in the conversations with colleagues near and far,
in the messages and notes from alumni and students long ago.

Truly. I don't recommend waiting to smile.

How can you even help it?
It's the best part.

Take Me To There

I saw Call Me By Your Name this week and immediately began wondering if I should figure out a way to spend my summers in northern Italy.
(Sidebar: go see it so we can discuss.)

The itch to travel has been so present for me ever since our trip to Prague and Budapest last year (for which I still need to edit photos).

I simultaneously love where we live and can't wait to be everywhere else.

I keep a folder of collected images from all over the world at all times.

It makes me feel so small.
It's a world out there. There are so, so many possibilities.

Like: I maybe could just grab my camera and walk out the door.

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Progress Report // Reading and Loving It

Not to get too ahead of myself with the self-congratulations, buuuut:

I'm about to finish my fifth book of 2018, y'all.


This is not my normal. I've written before about my unintentional literary hiatuses and how my nightstand book piles are ridiculous and toppling over in the night.

But hey. I'm a work in progress.

I've been using Goodreads to track my reading, set goals, and keep lists for what I want to read. I've even started using it as a classroom tool; my 9th grade students are all over the site for their independent reading, and they'll be posting reviews for their book choices as their final project soon.

(Also, the other day a bunch of kids had their phones out during class, using the Goodreads app to share books and exchange recommendations. My face was just that heart-eyes emoji.)

My updates at the moment:

I'm currently in the middle of three books, as is my wont.

  • 2AM At The Cat's Pajamas by Marie-Helene Bertino
    You might notice that this is a holdover from my 2015 summer reading list, which I am choosing to be totally not embarrassed about.

  • The Power, by Naomi Alderman
    A few people recommended this to me (including President Obama, you might've heard of him) and I decided to bump it up on my reading list when it was the Girls' Night In Book Club pick for January. I've been roaring through it and I want you to read it so we can talk about it.

  • The Argonauts, by Maggie Nelson
    This has been in my "currently reading" pile for over a year, I think, even though I put it down months ago and haven't picked it back up. I'm still determined to resume -- errrr, restart.

Soon I'll be participating in a book club for Margaret Atwood's Alias Grace, which I just finished. Students have been recommending the Netflix series to me, and I can't wait to watch it, too.

I'm very into this list of books that I want to read but haven't yet. I know it's stupid to be pleased with my aspirational self (the woman who reads all of the books) rather than my actual self (the woman who dreams of reading all of the books), but I look at it and think: dang, that's a mighty fine list.

Always interested in recommendations. Fire away.