A Teacher’s Daily Moment of Gratitude

I’m grateful for the way my seventh and eighth grade students smile back at me as I greet them at the door of my classroom. Many of them even ask how my day is going. Surprisingly few give me the stereotypical adolescent scowl that one might imagine on the faces of middle school students.

Lately I’ve being trying to be mindful of the fact that my students will generally reciprocate the same attitude that I project upon them. This is not the case for all of my students, but it honestly is the truth for the vast majority. Sometimes it’s easy for me to fixate on the negative behaviors and attitudes of a mere handful of students, when I should be focused on the overwhelming number of students I have who truly want to give their best effort.

Making A Move

My daughter’s worried little face reflected in the rearview mirror of my car. She had just voiced her concern that she had come across as foolish to the parents and other spectators who sat on the sideline of the previous week’s basketball game. She was worried that she had fouled too many times, played too aggressively, or unintentionally committed another one of the million little errors that anyone who is learning the technical sport of basketball is liable to commit. She wondered if she should tone it down a bit on the court in order to avoid criticism.

I did not hesitate to dole out a heaping dish of advice that took the better part of our twenty-five mile drive.

“Don’t hold yourself back from playing your hardest. It’s worth putting everything you have into any endeavor that you truly care about,” I said, nodding authoritatively. “Even if you stumble along the way, you’ll feel much better about yourself if you know you gave it your best shot.” I heard the words come out of my mouth, and along with them an unsettling hum that I couldn’t quite place began to buzz in my ear.

Having finally reached our destination, I sat on the sideline and watched my daughter take my advice. She was a fearless little warrior on the court, throwing her heart and soul into the game. A sense of pride filled me as I watched her play. No, it was more than pride that I felt; it was a sense of satisfaction that took root within me. Pride in watching my child give her best effort was understandable, but deep rooted satisfaction was something else. I was living vicariously through my child in that moment, as if watching her push herself to play her hardest and achieve her goals, somehow fulfilled my own long abandoned hopes and dreams.

The nagging little hum that had started on our drive, turned into a full-fledged ringing note of hypocrisy. How easy it was for me to dish out advice to my daughter from the sideline, judging from afar the level of rigor with which she should tackle her goals and dreams, while I sat safely, comfortably by waiting for some distant day in the future to make a move toward my own goals and dreams. The realization of the disconnection between what I so assuredly preached to my daughter and what I actually practiced in my own life was unsettling.

In fact, it probably would have been far more appropriate if our roles had been reversed and my daughter sat in the driver’s seat on the drive to her game that morning giving me advice on how I should go about giving it my best shot. After all, she had put herself out on the line to achieve goals that she set for herself repeatedly over the past several months alone. She ran her heart out at her school’s annual Turkey Trot last fall and came in an admirable third place. This winter, she had devoted herself to practicing chess during her lunch recesses in preparation for her school’s chess tournament. The afternoon of the tournament, she had greeted me at the door with a mile-wide grin holding the giant Hershey bar she’d won for coming in first place at the tournament. Now here it was basketball season, and the degree to which she had thrown herself into the sport was turning out to be no exception to the pattern that she had set for herself.

She had accomplished all of this only months after being diagnosed with type 1 diabetes. Her diagnosis hadn’t stopped her from living. In fact, it hadn’t even slowed her down. And here I sat, waiting in the recesses for a time when my words would come out perfectly articulate and my performance would be impossible to negatively critique. Here I sat, playing it safe in the shadows, instructing my daughter from afar to push herself without fear of what others might think.

Much like my daughter, I used to be the kind of kid who was adamant that I could accomplish anything that I set my mind to. I put myself out on the line to tackle the goals that I had set. I fearlessly tried out for drama productions, sometimes alongside adults. I could stand up in front of an audience of people without letting my nerves rule me. My confidence outweighed my fears and reservations. My desire to achieve my dreams ruled over fears of how I might appear to others. I had confidence that my voice mattered. I literally and figuratively threw myself onto the stage of life.

As I transitioned into adulthood, my apprehensions and fears claimed superiority over my confidence. I became the master of daydreaming about a time when I would start working on accomplishing my dreams. I went from a little girl who said I will accomplish this, to a woman who said one day when point a and point b align perfectly in my life, I will start working on that goal I want to achieve. I became a woman who dreamed from afar, a woman who counted down the days for a better time in the future to begin working on that distant goal.

From my position of safety on the sideline, I watched my daughter set an example for me by truly living in the present and making a move toward a goal that she cared about achieving. She worked through her fear of what the people on the sideline thought of her performance. In that moment, I realized she didn’t need my advice; my advice was just words. She needed a true-life, living example of an adult, a woman, a mother (her mother) who carried her dreams and goals into adulthood and continued to make a move toward achieving them regardless of what life circumstances got thrown in her way.

That afternoon when we arrived home from the game, I turned the advice that I had unleashed upon my daughter earlier that morning into an internal dialogue directed at the one who really needed the advice:

Life is too short to be paralyzed by fear and insecurity. I need to reclaim my ability to take chances and put myself on the spot, even if is means risking criticism. It’s okay to not be perfect. It’s okay to make mistakes. It’s okay to stumble. It’s not okay to clam up and keep yourself from trying for risk of failure or others’ criticism.

Then I turned my computer on and I began typing.

My daughter’s worried little face reflected in the rearview mirror of my car…

Here’s To Impulsivity!

Even when we have a million drafts already in progress and we know we should focus our energy on completing what we’ve already started, sometimes what we really need is a new beginning. We need different things at different times in our lives, and the same is true for our writing practice. To box ourselves into one mold or form of writing can be constricting and defeat the purpose of writing in the first place.

I often feel the need to spend several days and sometimes a week or more laboring over a piece of writing. I don’t want to present anything that misrepresents me as a writer, as a person, or that makes me come across as careless. Yet, my life is messy at times, and sometimes my head is a mess as a result. My life circumstances shape the need for me to write impulsively. Other times, my life comes together more cohesively, paving way for a more organized thought process. During these times, I have the luxury of slowing down and drawing a piece of writing out over a longer period of time.

Yet, time after time, I try to box myself into an idea that I have of who I want to be as a person and as a writer. The end result: I lose interest in a piece that has magnificent potential. Or, I feel so intimidated by the magnitude of the expectation that I have set for a piece that I can’t progress forward with it. What does all of my fussing and trying to make it all turn out immaculately polished do for me as a writer? Nothing. Often it makes me lose inspiration for writing altogether. This happens because I’m not paying to attention to where I’m at as a human being. Writing needs and human needs go hand in hand.

When it all comes down to it, what are we trying to accomplish with our writing? For me it’s an honest recording of what life is like, with all of its beauty, pitfalls, mishaps, realizations, and mess-ups. Also, it is to connect with others and to garner some comfort in the fact that others are also going through this crazy experience called Life. Sometimes with the process of trying to accomplish this, comes the need to let go and be okay with sounding disorganized and impulsive. This is part of the process of life and of writing. Why would we only want to honor the most polished perfect versions of either? Of course they look pretty, but do they accurately represent how it really is?

P.S. The horse drawing was illustrated by my daughter. It epitomizes the way that I feel when I’m allowing myself to be impulsive. It was also added to this post on an impulsive whim.

I Aspire To:

Be at peace with my life as it is.
Feel connected to those around me.
Open up to others and not feel shame.
Find the confidence to let my voice be heard.
Reclaim my sense of identity.
Believe in myself.

Some Words Of Gratitude And Acknowledgment

The day six assignment for the Blogging 101: Zero to Hero challenge is to write a post to my dream reader. I’ve taken some liberties with this assignment, and I’ve basically written a post to acknowledge my appreciation for a few of the blogs that I have enjoyed reading.

My dream reader is someone who I can foster mutual reading and writing connections with. Recently, I’ve had the opportunity to make connections with other bloggers, and the reciprocal back and forth interchange has been really rewarding. Reading the work of other bloggers makes me realize the connection we all share, regardless of the fact that we are located in different areas of the world and come from different walks of life. Even though what we seek to communicate varies from individual to individual, the thing that does not vary is the idea that we all have passion, a voice, and something that we are trying to communicate.

I started this blogging endeavor with the idea that everybody and their grandmother was blogging and to attract readers meant I had to compete with other bloggers. I’ve reframed my perspective over the past couple of months. An overriding ambition in my studies, in my teaching practice, and in my life in general is to create a space for multiple voices and perspectives to be heard. I see blogging as a perfect forum for this.

My blog recently received a shout out from a boy named Sue in this post. He said some really kind things about my writing that filled with me with a sense of gratitude and pride; more than that though, he made me feel that my voice had been heard and that it mattered.

I wanted to extend this same gratitude to some of the blogs that I have been reading and enjoying. The first three are blogs I have just recently had the pleasure of getting to know during this challenge.

A boy named Sue is one of my new favorites. The humor in his writing is a nice reprieve from the often all-too-consuming seriousness of life; yet, his humor is also laced with larger implications that create the opportunity to reflect more deeply. See this post for an example.

Another new blog that I have thoroughly enjoyed reading is Mostly True Stories of K. Renae P.
I find her humorous stories about the trials and tribulations that teachers face hilarious and relatable. See this post for an example.

Looking Glass Mama has some comical and very practical parenting advice to give. Check out this post to read some helpful advice on how to remain out of the line of fire when changing your little one’s diaper.

I want to give one final word of acknowledgment to Mary from Lifeinthedport.
I have been following her blog for a couple of months now, and she always writes high quality posts on a variety of topics. I especially appreciate her inspired, compassionate posts on teaching and learning. She also writes beautifully about the natural world. Check out her amazing work in this post.

Getting Started

I unlock my classroom door, and as always, the papers I didn’t finish grading the day before greet me. And as usual, I jog down the hall to make photo copies and my daily battle with my arch nemesis the copy machine ensues, as it devours and single handedly destroys my main copy, and then screams and beeps at me to fix the damage it has done. I’m annoyed; I’m tired. I get fed up with the never ending pile of papers. I want a copy machine that doesn’t break down every time I look at it, in a copy room where there isn’t a lineup of people waiting to use it. Needles to say, I’m not a morning person.

I have my coffee in hand as I greet my students at the door, and I sigh with annoyance when I hear, “Ms. C., I forgot my homework and my book, and also, can I borrow paper and a pencil?”

But then there is always that student who goes out of her way to ask how my morning is going and that student who has something that he wrote the evening before that he just can’t wait for me to read. Their genuine sincerity begins to rejuvenate my sleep deprived mind.

The majority of my students are eager to please and truly want to do well. They are emotional and passionate, and many of them are just finding their voices. They are kids in big bodies, often misunderstood by people who don’t have the privilege of working with them.

Class begins, and without fail, they have me laughing over some antic they’ve tried to get away with or some silly remark someone has made. There is so much humor to be found in each day when I allow myself to forget about the trivial things, like the pile of paperwork and the evil copy machine, and appreciate what a truly lucky position I’m in to work with middle school students. My students are used to hearing me say, “I could work with adults all day, but this is much better.”

A Little About Me And My Goals As A New Blogger

There is nothing more satisfying than shaping and molding words to create personal meaning. I love the gratification that comes with the ability to take something that started as a mere nagging at the corner of my conscience and shape it into an idea that reflects an important theme in my world. Of course with this comes grappling and wrestling with words and ideas, and this requires perseverance. Blogging helps hold me accountable for sticking with my writing and completing pieces that I begin. I wish I was the type of person who was completely internally motivated, but without the accountability that writing for an audience brings, (even if it is just one or two people) I rarely develop my writing beyond journal entries and quickwrites.

I launched my blog Nonlinear Compilations two months ago and have posted ten pieces in that time. Each time I post something that I have stuck with and really worked to shape, I feel a sense of accomplishment that I was unable to achieve through my haphazard journal entries. I need to create to be satisfied in life, and this blog allows me a space to do that.

I’ve grappled with feelings of insecurity and doubt all of my life, and blogging helps challenge me to be vulnerable and to allow my voice to be heard, regardless of my imperfect state.

I’m a parent, partner, teacher, and writer; hence, I write about these topics. The theme of my blog centers on my pursuit to find beauty, and contentment amidst what feels like a chaotic existence of trying to juggle multiple roles and responsibilities. To learn more about me click here. I would love to connect with other bloggers and develop mutual blogger/reader relationships. As much as I love to write, I also love to read about the worlds and perspectives of diverse people.

Blogging 101: zero to hero

Why We Shouldn’t Wait For Perfection To Let Our Voices Be Heard

For much of my adult life I have held back from expressing my voice. I thought that once I had refined my thoughts and written what I wanted to say in a precise and organized fashion that my voice would be worthy of sharing. The problem was that I could never get it right. My thoughts refused to come out exactly the way I wanted, so instead of risking vulnerability and criticism, I opted to silence myself, and I put my ideas on hold for a better time when they would come together in a more articulate, concise, and profound way.

I found myself particularly out of my comfort zone this week when I assumed a role that I had never undertaken: sports commentator. It was the much anticipated staff versus eighth grade boys’ basketball game, and I sat shoulder to shoulder on packed bleachers with my seventh grade students. To my left sat one of my students who has a visual impairment severe enough to prevent him from seeing a basketball game from the position of the courtside bleachers. He could experience the excitement in the air as hundreds of amped up middle school students stomped in sync, clapped, and cheered. He could hear the intermingled voices of his peers amidst all the chaos, and he could periodically catch a score update, but his limited eye vision could not capture the play-by-play action on the court.

Realizing that it would be difficult for my student to fully enjoy the game without some commentary, I clumsily and inarticulately began to string together a verbal account of the game as it unfolded before us. I messed up on technical terms many times along the way. I didn’t verbalize every play perfectly. During my hurried description, I missed a few ball fumbles here and a few passes there. I had to recruit one of the boys sitting in front of me to be a second set of eyes and double check my facts. “Who fouled whom?” I leaned over and shouted above the roar of excited students, my hands waving wildly in the air as I struggled to quickly and succinctly convey the back and forth action of the game to my student. I’m certain my loud voice and dramatic gestures must have pegged me as an over-aggressive sports enthusiast to the elementary teachers sitting on the other side of the court with their classes.

I stole a glance at my student from time to time, embarrassed by my inability to express the correct technical terms of the plays taking place on the court. When I saw the smile on his face, I knew that he was not concerned that my ability as a sports commentator was less than ESPN worthy. He was not judging me for misstating what type of foul Mr. M. just committed or for accidentally calling a Hook Shot a Jump Shot. My commentary was enough to paint an image in his mind of an experience that he would not have been able to fully engage in without my shaky, inarticulate words. When the game ended, we parted ways to our separate third period classes, but not before he expressed one of the sincerest thanks yous I have ever received from a seventh grade student.

My experience as a sports commentator reminded me that we can’t always wait for a time when point a and point b line up perfectly to let our voices be heard. Sometimes others need to hear our voices, even when we have not rehearsed what to say and our words come out in a jumbled mess. A scratchy, hoarse throat followed me throughout the rest of the day, reminding me of the power of voice, of language, and of words. Not necessarily the kind of words that are perfectly polished and refined, but words that grasp, claw, and struggle to convey ideas for the authentic purpose of helping another see, feel, and experience a moment.

Chipped Plates

Monday morning breakfast served on immaculate china. Adjacent chairs. Shared prayers. His fingertips tentatively brush her knee, satisfied by her flush of exhilaration.

Sunday night’s supper served on faded, chipped plates. Silent, individual prayers. Opposite ends of the table. Canyons between her pinched lips and his downcast eyes.

Weekly Writing Challenge: Fifty

Today They Are Still Little

The rush and flow of millions of gallons of river intermingles with high pitched kid laughter. The river slaps, pushes, and forces its way over the tops and sides of rocks that have been worn smooth, compliant, and accepting of the inevitable nature of their fate, as they are positioned in the path of the river’s relentless downstream pursuit of the Pacific Ocean.

Unaware of the river’s loudly proclaimed domination of the silent, subordinate rocks and similar other little battles and harmonies that take place in the natural world that surrounds them, My daughter, J. and her friend R., pretend the day away.

Today they are still little enough to stand atop a giant sailing vessel (a large river rock) harpooning a killer squid (a shadow in the depths of the water) as giant bubbling rapids (small undertows in the current) threaten to overtake their vessel. Today they are not worried if what they pretend appears as silly to anyone else. They are not out to impress or to make a statement. Today they still know how to play and how to live completely in the moment.

They are on the cusp of adolescence, but today they still hold onto days of pretend worlds and magic.