Into the bright shadows…

I’m so happy to have actual students in my classroom again—in a normal schedule. The last two years were so chaotic for my students; I saw far too many of them suffer emotionally from being isolated or feeling closed in or trying to balance work, family obligations, and school as non-adults. This year, the freshmen class and the sophomore class are both really hitting high school for the first time. The juniors and seniors are trying to figure out what they want from their futures while being told what they are supposed to want, while realizing that they may not have all the skills they’ll need for their next steps…

Yes, we have a lot of people in our community who are not vaccinated or who hate masks (just like every other American community). We have parents and students and, occasionally staff, who rail against feeling singled out for not being vaccinated. Some of them struggle to follow the mandates for mask wearing. Frankly, our recent annual celebration didn’t help as it brought thousands of folks who weren’t wearing masks into small spaces—something is going to spread from all that closeness even if it’s just a cold variant.

Everything is part of the current political minefield—what we wear, where we eat, who we acknowledge, health & wellness, the weather…

Yet, I get to come to work every day and talk about history as it relates to stories; I get to talk about philosophy as it relates to stories; I get to discuss all sorts of sources of information, because it relates to critical thinking and communication skills. I get to see them dip their feet into discussions and debates. I get to encourage them to ask the “stupid” questions (the only way to get answers sometimes). I get to be frustrated when they are too loud or excited when they reach interesting conclusions.

For twenty-five years, the reason I kept coming back every fall was my students. In year twenty-six, I’ve already had the “Yeah, I’m a very different teacher now than when I had [blank]. The stories you might’ve heard don’t reflect who I am now.” I’ve also had conversations with students about what their parents or cousins or siblings helped me learn in my never-ending attempts to do a better job. Few thing in my life have given me the joy of watching my students move toward adulthood and embrace the struggle to be their better selves.

I know there are plenty of teachers who want to make sure others know this is just a job. I”m a lifer. It’s my vocation. It’s my honor to help my students improve their skills sets while preparing them for the hundreds of ways life will throw them curveballs. I’m here to prepare them for the whirlwinds that will blow through their lives changing everything—not always due to their own choices or actions. I’m here to help them learn to deal with what happens not what might be.

I’ve had to learn all the lessons I teach.

I also learned very early on that there is more than one way to teach. Just like I don’t want someone judging my methods just because they are different—I can’t judge those who take a different approach to students or to teaching. We all need objective outside assessments (no matter the job). We all need to hope for and to extend grace. Ultimately, we need to be effective while the world and the bar keep changing.

For the students who find this year, welcome. I’m planning on answering questions with more depth than I can in class. I’m planning on digging into topics that fascinate me, frustrate me, and inspire me.

For those who have been waiting and supporting my stilted efforts at thoughtful writing, thank you.

Fifteen Minutes

I could come up with a list of excuses, some of them reasonable (most of them not). Anyone who takes the time to look back through my archive can see my spotty history with posting. I’m not sure if I can successfully make a habit out of it, but every time I fail is another chance to try again. After all, I’ll never get better at writing if I don’t do it regularly and push myself to get better at communication.

We are in week two of the new semester and I’m teaching poetry again. I love poetry.

I can admit that last semester was not by best by a wide margin. And, again, I could come up with a list of valid reasons that would just end up being excuses. I don’t want to excuse myself—I just need to do better.

Towards that end has come my challenge to my poetry students. I am asking them to write every day for fifteen minutes outside of school. There are no points for this. However, I know the stability and growth that will come to the ones who do it (and I’m doing it with them). The rules are easy:

  • Find a place to write
  • Try to stick to the same time of day
  • Set a timer for fifteen minutes
  • Write about whatever in whatever format

It’s going to take awhile to get back into a rhythm. Although, that holds true for most of the things I’d like to focus on for the next few months.

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.