It’s okay to be wrong. 

I’m a huge believer in failure. My first five years of teaching were trial by fire and failure. The nicest thing one of my early principals (he was not a fan of mine on any level) said to me was “At least you don’t make the same mistake twice.” For all that I didn’t love his methodology, I wouldn’t be the teacher I am without having tried and failed repeatedly. My learning curve during that time was almost a line straight up. I knew what I wanted to accomplish, but I had a hard time balancing the application of my ideas, the snarly side of my temper, and teenage attitudes—it didn’t help that I got massive anxiety any time anyone besides a student came into my room. The moment in May of 2006 where I said “Fuck it. I’m just going to do what I do,” was a huge turning point. Since then I’ve focused a lot on refining what I do and how I do it.

This shift in my worldview has helped me truly accept the fact that my teaching style doesn’t mesh with every student and my personality grates on some people’s nerves in an epic way. It’s also helped me accept the need for stupid questions. If I can get information I need, then I don’t care about someone scoffing at my question as long as they answer it. People should never be shamed for seeking knowledge. However, teachers have to teach their students that not all knowledge is equal or useful. These days information is easy to access, but much of it is unreliable or heavily curated. Misinformation is all around us, including places that were traditionally bastions of fact (looking at the news media here).

The ability to fail and learn, the willingness to ask stupid questions—well, these are qualities I hope to instill in my students. Yes, they need to be able to communicate effectively in the wider world by mastering the basic rules of English, courtesy, and personal responsibility. Yes, they need to learn how to find multiple solutions to problems by sifting through information, evaluating information, and applying what they come up with to the life they lead. In order to do those things, they have to try and fail, they have to learn from failure, they have to be willing to do the grunt work.

In my quest to instill these ideas and skills, I have to meet my students where they are at. Some students need detailed outlines. Some students need access to class materials online because their lives don’t allow them to attend every class. Some students are ready for deeper discussions. My job is to do my best to teach them something new, help them improve their current skill sets, teach them to be discerning thinkers, and show them how important a strong work ethic is.


I daydream a lot. Ever since I was little, listening to my grandfather’s stories, it’s been easier for me to retreat to the worlds and people in my head. Over time this tendency became a little more dangerous as I internalized far too much which probably exacerbated my depression and anxiety. I also missed out on so much due to missing little things or using it to avoid people and social situations.

I’m a little better at living in the world rather than my head. This tendency sometimes helps me understand and appreciate my students’ quirks. It also means that I tend to make connections in my head that have difficult logic chains to unwrap using words. We all have those brain to paper and brain to mouth difficulties. It’s not so bad to try.

Morning Meditaions (re: a tumblr post)

The data mining of all Google accounts (and probably all things Apple) is real and scary. Turns out Big Brother isn’t just the NSA, it’s all those corporations you don’t know are connected. Little Brother is just as real and just as scary, because we choose to participate by having these devices, by downloading apps and games, by posting to blogs and social media, by tagging each other.

I keep trying to impart the idea of consent and awareness regarding the Internet and technology to my students. I’ve accepted that corporations have far more information about me than I suspect. I think many of the people who are playing PokemonGo have accepted it as well. Ever since the series of laws that created Homeland security, ever since the inception of MySpace and AOL, people have been freely giving their information to entities that use it as a commodity.

I think some of my students are sheltered and don’t realize, I think some of my students have ______________ so much away that they won’t realize for awhile what they’ve given away, but I know that many of my students have accepted it as the price of doing business in the modern world—they are aware of their tacit and explicit consent, they are aware that things will be posted about them with any consent, and they just accept it.

That was one of the most interesting points to come out during our 1984 and Fahrenheit 451 discussions. Millennials (or whatever we’re calling them) aren’t stupid. They understand the Internet, the idea of Big Brother, the idea of Little Brother intrinsically. They may not use the same labels, but they see it and some of them figure out how to use it. They will usually be a step or two ahead of me on how to use modern tech to their advantage, but I don’t mind the need to adapt.

This is why next year any printed or handwritten notes are fine for quizzes (I can deepen the questions), this is why next year each class period has its own five question Friday quiz (pictures from the morning won’t help the afternoon), this is why tech stays in bags or on the desks for quizzes (I see you going to get water or hitting the bathroom just long enough to google the answer), this is why I’ve returned to and revamped journals.

This is why high school students are awesome to teach. They are learning how to be the people they want to be. They are learning to think critically. They already have a layer of inherent knowledge that is vastly different from the knowledge weaved into my bones at that age.

Evening Meditations

The wind has picked up in bits and pieces over the last few days and the clouds have been creeping through, promising rain, but not delivering which is good for everyone still harvesting. The temperatures are more temperate than usual for July. And across the world fear and anger rule the day.

I wish I knew how to help, what to do.

So many people have righteous anger over senseless deaths and that anger turns to violence online and offline. Tuesday morning Alton Sterling was shot and Wednesday night Philando Castile was shot. These are just two of the most recent shooting deaths by police officers. There have been so many deaths in the last four years; pairing those deaths with the long-term treatment of Black Americans, people are angry and want justice. The police officers get more and more worried about reprisals which causes them to operate more on fear than compassion and the shootings of police officers in Dallas tonight shows us why many officers are scared.

Things have been wrong since the first twenty Africans were brought over as indentured servants. Things have been wrong since slavery was institutionalize long before it became law. Things have been wrong since domestic terrorists used laws and brutal punishment to keep the descendants of slaves in the fields of The South and then sent them fleeing once they weren’t needed in such large numbers. Things have been wrong since the Chinese who came here to build the transcontinental railroads had to live in underground tunnels they built so they wouldn’t contaminate towns and their citizens. Things have been wrong since the riots of 1919. Things have been wrong since we put Japanese Americans in internment camps because they looked different and might be spies. Things have been wrong with the treatment and payment of migrant workers (especially the population that moves between Mexico and the Western States). Things were wrong long before Emmett Till and Rosa Parks and countless other social justice victims and warriors. Things have been wrong since freedom really meant bottom of the food chain and segregation. Things have been wrong since waves of immigrants were treated with anger even though the jobs they take are the ones no one else wants. Things have been wrong since the Alfred P. Murrah Federal Building was bombed. Things have been wrong since people started shooting up schools, shooting up churches, and using peaceful protests to create anarchy and chaos.

Are there any answers? All I see is more questions:

  • How do we help police officers to interact better with the people they talk to or pull over?
  • How do we help citizens to interact better with each other and with police officers?
  • How do we stop this increasingly vitriolic and vicious cycle?
  • How do we show the next generation about respect and courtesy and justice?
  • How do we stand up for our beliefs and get people to listen?
  • How do we bridge the divides that are being created right now?
  • How do we make this better, less violent, less deadly?
  • How do we honor people who have died on both sides of the issue while finding a solution?

I keep coming back to what I wrote this morning: 

  • We have to keep trying.
  • We have to listen. 
  • We have to stand with those who are victimized.
  • We have to see the whole picture, especially the parts that make us uncomfortable.
  • We have to learn.
  • We have to own our mistakes.
  • We have to do better. 
  • We have to give others the chance that we would want—to live, to apologize, to learn, to speak, to change.

Morning Meditations

Every profession, every community, every family has good people and bad people and people who make mistakes. How many of those people (good, bad, human) will stand up and say, “I was wrong”? How many of those people (good, bad, human) will listen to the complaints of their critics and really reflect in order to change? How many of those people (good, bad, human) will stop and think before they react?

Few people are all good or are all bad. Few people are taught the importance of admitting painful truths. Few people can humble themselves enough to say, “I was wrong” or “That was wrong”.

It’s hard to offer solidarity and support to people who need it sometimes, because we don’t know the story and we don’t have enough information to tease the truth out of conflicting stories.

The world is filled with nuance and pain and cruelty and kindness and racism and social justice and fear. We are all raised with a set of “watch out for” rules set down by the experiences of those who came before us. It is on us to learn, to listen, to do better. It is on us to learn from the collective past and the personal past. It is on us to make better choices and to behave with more compassion toward others.

The things we are taught to fear, the people we are taught embody that fear, can be hard to release. Dealing with our fears can take lifetimes. We owe it to our ancestors, our descendants, and our contemporaries to try to do the right thing, the compassionate thing each time we are given the choice.

We will sometimes fail.

We have to keep trying.

We have to listen.

We have to stand with those who are victimized.

We have to see the whole picture, especially the parts that make us uncomfortable.

We have to learn.

We have to own our mistakes.

We have to do better.

We have to give others the chance that we would want—to live, to apologize, to learn, to speak, to change.

Midnight Meditations

My first five years of teaching included me trying to make sure my students learned something about English, communication, comprehension, and critical thinking while I made all sorts of rookie mistakes. Too many new teachers get pushed into the deep end without lifeguards available.

I didn’t know if I would be walking back into a classroom ever again at the end of year five. I internalized every criticism (valid or not) and I internalized more than my fair share of responsibility for the things I’d screwed up. Luckily, I spent four weeks that summer participating in the Oregon Writing Project at Eastern Oregon University. The people I met and worked with and learned from that summer saved me in several ways. I began to internalize other ideas: not everyone is going to like me and that’s ok; not everyone is going to like the way I teach and that’s ok; I’m never not going to make mistakes and as long as I learn from them/don’t repeat them, then that’s ok; the best teachers of writing are people who write; the best teachers of literature are people who love stories.

I worked with the OWP for most of the next decade and it is one of the most meaningful and best experiences I had as a teacher, because I came away every summer with new ideas for assignments or new approaches to canon literature or better strategies for helping difficult and low-level students.

About eleven years ago, I put together the information I wanted all of my students to be aware of regarding society and storytelling which means we look at historical time periods and trends, philosophies that impact and shape western culture, and how we assess information and the sources of information. I am also the teacher who will read Beowulf out loud to my students so that we can discuss traditional and non-traditional interpretations of characterization, plot development, and the use of various tropes; the quality of the storytelling depends on the medium/genre/time period. It all goes together and I want my kids to see that. I’m constantly revising this document, adding things, removing things, reorganizing it. My Frame of Reference document hold the notes on what I want students to understand and learn during the two to three years they may have me as a teacher.

I am always looking for ways to be better. I am a very different teacher from the naive do-gooder who faced her first classroom at the tender age of 22. I’ve also come a long way from the teacher who was terrified of most administrators at 25. I still run a different classroom; I still admit when I’m wrong. I don’t lose my temper as easily or in the same ways. I have learned the best ways to inspire most of my students toward finishing high school or passing my classes. I still make my own wiggle room.

For the last three years I’ve become certified to teach WR115 and I taught two years of WR121. WR115 is a class that colleges developed for the students who didn’t have strong enough research skills or enough depth of thinking; it’s an elective class designed to help students write in college while WR121 is the first writing class most students take toward any sort of Liberal Arts degree. These have driven a number of changes in what I prioritize each year and how I approach key skills with my students. And, I found much of the Common Core to be focusing on those same skills (unrealistically, but we can’t have everything).

I adore what I do even on the days I hate it. I’m here to teach my students to assess information and its sources before accepting and incorporating it into their knowledge base. I’m here to teach my students how to incorporate the words and ideas of others without plagiarizing. I’m here to help my students write better paragraphs/papers/emails/cover letters/applications. I’m here for varied and ranging class discussions that allow kids who are more verbal to shine and allow kids who are less verbal to access new ways of looking at the world. I’m here to teach my kids that failure is a really important learning tool. I’m here to remind them that consent isn’t just important in health class—big brother, little brother, and hundreds of corporations are tracking us all. I’m here for the kids who hate me, but learn something anyway. I’m here for the kids who need someone to believe they can pass the class, that they can graduate from high school, that they can become functional adults.

I let my students know about some of my failures, some of my quirks, and how my views on things have changed. When I first heard about the Black Lives Matter movement, I was one of many who said “should all lives matter?” Over the course of 2012 I read what people had to say. I listened when people who hasn’t grown up white in a fairly rural and sparsely populated part of Oregon talked. I read various postings on several social media sites. I was reminded by several events in my life that listening is really important (and sometimes all we can do to help or show respect). I’m starting to understand, as best I can, why Black Lives Matter—institutionalized racism is still a problem.

The image at the top is from the end of my notes. Feel free to correct anything I’ve gotten wrong if you read this.