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."

SLAmbassadors in Torun

In the spring I posted about our Sister Cities Exchange program with Nicolaus Copernicus High School #1 in Torun, Poland.

And this fall -- we went!

I cannot express how meaningful and transformative this trip was for our students.

They left home for the longest and farthest they've ever been away,
stayed in the homes of Polish students and their families,
played with their pets,
ate meals at their tables,
inflated their air mattresses,
and made their commutes to school.

They attended high school classes,
most of them in a foreign language,
and engaged in the learning before them.

I made an effort to document the awesomeness of it all,
earning the nickname Instagram Mom from the kids.

I decided to lean into it :)

PART I // Gdańsk

We landed in this beautiful Baltic port city
and spent the first part of our trip exploring together
before heading to the destination of our exchange.

These first days were formative;
our students bonded as a group
and began adjusting to a new culture's norms.

We did a lot of walking, talking, eating, laughing,
and staring down at our money trying to add simple sums.

At the recommendation of our hosts in Toruń,
we visited the European Solidarity Center, which we absolutely loved.
We constantly revisited the museum's thoughtful content and incredible design concept
in our conversations throughout the week.

Most of our students had never been to Europe, so walking around and observing every detail was fun in itself. All of us were constantly pointing and stating the obvious with a sense of wonder.

PART II // Toruń

Unlike Gdańsk, which has been largely rebuilt since WWII,
Toruń is a nearly-untouched medieval city.

Nicolaus Copernicus' hometown is absolutely gorgeous.

A lot of our time was spent in school at Nicolaus Copernicus High School #1 
with our exchange students and teachers. 

Their model of learning is so different from ours, 
and it was such a privilege to participate in their classes 
and get to know their students and teachers.

My colleague even got to step in to teach during a Calculus class. 
Apparently math really is the universal language!

A quick review of the notes before class ...

*Side note: I took Calculus in high school and again in college and was completely lost in this lesson. That is so upsetting.

... and then debriefing about the super-stressful national exams.

It took no time to see the ways we all value teaching and learning
and the levels of care that matter most in defining school communities.

Every student and adult exemplified this,
so even though these classes looked different from ours,
we all shared this understanding of school as home.

We loved getting to know the educators in the English department, talking to the principal,
and even meeting some of the officials in Toruń's City Hall.

One of our students even made it onto the local nightly news.

And in a town known for its gingerbread, we learned to make our own (and eat our fair share).


Our school doesn't have an existing Model UN program,
so our students' first exposure was in this international forum.

We were joined by schools from all over Europe, including Slovakia, Hungary, Finland, Spain, Germany, Luxembourg, Ukraine, and Denmark.

I think we were all a little intimidated as first-timers,
but we were made to feel so welcome and our students figured things out pretty quickly.

They loved their experience in the conference;
it was especially interesting to hear their feedback about it
in the context of our school's project-based learning model.

They had no trouble diving right in to the research and tackling the problems that needed solving. They did a ton of work before our trip, and confidently presenting their ideas to their peers.

I'm endlessly impressed by them and humbled to be in their orbit.

We constantly spoke about how lucky we all felt to be part of an experience like this,
knowing it had changed us somehow.

The tears on departure day -- our kids', their kids' their parents' -- said it all.

I am so grateful for this opportunity to travel internationally with my students
and to see them shine in new contexts.

This SLAmbassadors exchange was a massive success, and we couldn't have done it without the support of our incredible school leadership and the SLA community, the generous donations of our families and friends, and the welcoming partnership with Daniel and the amazing faculty at Copernicus High School #1. We're certainly going to try to make it happen again in 2019!