If you know me…

For every person who likes me there is one person who loathes me and several who are indifferent. 

As a child and a teenager, this was devastating. When I first started teaching, it was sometimes difficult to come to terms with. In the deepest grip of my depression, I wonder how I can change to avoid making people loathe me. At the moment, I’m mostly okay with these facts—there’s so much else to worry about.

I don’t want to alienate people, but it is inevitable.

Each day I can try to do a better job at being my best self. When I am thoughtless or lost or stupid, I can forgive myself and work to not make the same mistakes. Every time I feel dislike bubbling up, I can examine its source, take a few breaths, and make sure I respond without cruelty. When I screw up, I can sincerely apologize and work to not make the same mistakes.

I hope I’m mostly a good example of a “good” adult—responsible, professional, honest, loyal, flawed, willing and able to listen, willing and able to grow.

Commonplace Thoughts

Everything worth doing requires a learning curve and a willingness to take criticism, analyze criticism, and incorporate the comments that are relevant into how we do things so we can get better. 

Failure is one-third of success: we have to fail before we can know what’s really required. Natural talent or a willingness to learn is one-third of success: everyone has something to teach us, but sometimes we are too wrapped up in ourselves to notice and that means the lessons get harder and the teachers get meaner and success is further away. The last third of success is work ethic: we have to be willing to actually work for the things we want.

Nothing is easy in life. Nothing is really meant to be easy. We need the balance between good and bad to remember to work for what we truly want. I spend my time planning, learning, updating the what and the why and the how of my lessons and units. I am not one of the truly admirable teachers who sacrifice family time, personal time, or reading time getting things graded for the next day. I do read everything my student turn in which means that I sometimes take too long to return work, because reasons. I’m still figuring out the right balance between necessary practice for my students, required assignments for the administration, and reasonable rates of return (which I would’ve thought would be finely tuned by now). When I finally achieve that magical balance I’m expecting a week turn around for most assignments and it’s what I work toward each semester (someday I’ll get there).

I don’t want to make a difference for one kid. I want to make a difference for all of them, but 100% is unachievable. I teach my students to analyze information (and the sources of information). I teach my students how to incorporate new skills and ideas into their worldview. I want them to be critical thinkers and eclectic learners. I want them to want to challenge themselves (as unrealistic as that may be). I can offer practice, model skill sets, fight to keep things relevant, and change with the times, but I can’t force anyone to learn and my teaching style (for some students my personality) can be a stumbling block. It’s not something anyone wants to think too much about—reflection and honesty are so important to growth even though they are sometimes hard to acknowledge.

For years I’ve wanted to incorporate my version of commonplace books into the projects my students produce. My first round last year was more successful than I would have thought and my second round will be fun to look through and grade next week. They are part journal, part scrapbook. I hope my students will use their commonplace books as an ongoing record of what huge events and small epiphanies shape their lives.

Grading Thoughts 

There are a lot of similarities in blogging, writing fan fiction, or writing for a high school English class. Sometimes people will blow us away and we get to see writers improve in leaps and bounds through active work. Other times we can see how little effort people put into what they put out in the world and that hurts something deep inside me. I get that my classes will never be most people’s first choice and I get that bloggers and fan fiction writers don’t have to share their words with the world.

I chose to be an English teacher, but I’d like to see more people take pride in what they write. I choose to read fan fiction and I choose not to read some things or comment on the pieces that have too many issues (one of the interesting things about the culture that’s grown up around fan fiction is the militant attitude some writers have towards criticism even when it’s meant to help).

Stories always have something to teach us if we are willing to look for the lessons. Everyone has a voice worth cultivating, but sometimes I really despise what people choose to say. I also am getting mighty tired of the way many current stories seem to thrive on a lack of communication, secrets, and not making sure the dead are really dead.

Buffy The Vampire Slayer and the supernatural (Supernatural pun intended) shows she spawned offered up an important lesson for the literal and metaphorical moments—always, always behead the dead unless they turn into dust and always scatter the remains so that the creepy monsters can’t come back.

Always… (2016)
Behead the dead,
Burn the bodies,
Salt and scatter the ashes.

Research Pre-season

Research season is coming for my students and I’m thinking about how to best help my students understand that not every source is reliable no matter who recommends it and not all information is factual even if the source is usually reliable. Last year, two classes of seniors read about fifteen articles from various sources and had to determine the value of the source, the value of information, and identify its bias.

I keep hammering the idea that not every source is created equal and many consumers fail to notice. The Atlantic Monthly leans liberal and Fox News leans conservative. Anyone can go online to see the different covers Newsweek has for its international clients versus its American clients. The point is, again, that all of these sources are biased or a consumer has to search and search for relatively unbiased sources.

The Economist,Al Jazeera, and BBC America have been regularly voted the most fair source of news in the US by various polls. Two of those sources aren’t based in the United States, so they aren’t beholden to corporations that back certain American political parties. Their news comes across as a little drier, because they aren’t trying to entertain the masses; they are trying to inform the masses. The first question every consumer needs to ask is: Who is the target audience?

To be a rational thinker and an informed citizen, We have to make sure to acknowledge and actually give time to other viewpoints, to sources of information that we might not normally rely on. It’s our job to double check information. It’s our job to make sure the source is somewhat reliable and to understand the source’s bias. It is our job to assess the information and incorporate information that has actual value.