Slap A Smile On Your Face And Get Out There

You can tell the depth of my fear based on how big my smile is. The bigger the smile, the bigger the fear. It’s an odd defense mechanism, but one that’s served me in all the places and in front of all the faces that scare me.

“What are you doing on this side of town, white lady. You lost?”

This, from a six-foot-tall, seventh-grader on my first day of teaching. It was almost like he could see the fear radiating from me in little shock waves, like a cartoon. And certainly, I looked cartoonish. Dressed in an ill-fitting “ladies suit” from a department store, I resembled nothing so much as a frumpy bank teller.

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What If We’re Designing for Disengagement?

A favorite opening question of mine in professional development workshops is: What do you struggle with the most as a teacher?

The answers are almost always:
1. Students’ lack of motivation
2. Students don’t value education
3. Parents aren’t supportive
4. Students don’t believe in themselves
5. Technology distracts students

These comments are not facts, and viewed differently, they become design questions: Continue reading What If We’re Designing for Disengagement?

You’re Saved By What You Love

This is what I wasn’t brave enough to tell you because the force of your pain scared me when we saw each other last week:

Tell me who and what you love and I’ll show you that it’s the light when all others go out.

When it’s dark here in February and you feel like quitting. When you find yourself starting to envy the people you notice on your way to work. When you feel like maybe it wouldn’t be so hard to just completely change careers because this – what you’re doing now – feels too big and too difficult to do for even one more day.

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Story As Political Act

Storytellers are a threat. They threaten all champions of control, they frighten usurpers of the right-to-freedom of the human spirit — in state, in church or mosque, in a party, congress, in the university or whatever. That’s why. – Chinua Achebe

Stories have a unique power. They entertain even as they reveal truth. Joan Didion said that we tell ourselves stories in order to live. I would amend that to say that we, as teachers, must tell our stories in order that our students and our work may live in the public imagination.

Especially now when language has been weaponized in service of power.

George Orwell was obsessed with this same idea. I taught his essay “Politics And The English Language” to my AP juniors, and it seems to grow more relevant every year. Continue reading Story As Political Act

Here’s a Crazy Idea – Let Students Go To The Bathroom!

This whole conversation about who we should and shouldn’t let go into which bathrooms got me thinking about the most controversial thing I ever did as a teacher. I’d love to tell you it was teaching a banned book or something intellectual, but it was really all about the bathroom.

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Who Is Served By Keeping You So Busy?

We can’t expect those few who are well-served by the current reality to give us time to think. We need time to develop clarity and courage. If we want our world to be different, our first act needs to be reclaiming time to think. Nothing will change for the better until we can do that. – Margaret Wheatley

The most radical thing I’ve done in the past month is to do nothing. It was also the scariest because I’ve never faced a busier 28 days. Every one of them screaming at me to DO SOMETHING RIGHT NOW!

Continue reading Who Is Served By Keeping You So Busy?

Discomfort By Design

“Everyone had a very top-down approach, and it brought the same individuals as always to the table.” — Antionette Carroll

This quote, from the founder of the social justice nonprofit Creative Reaction Lab, struck me as astute and succinct.

Top-down approaches are easy. They’re controlled, predictable, and efficient. Those aren’t bad things, but they risk becoming the central values and vision of any enterprise if you exclusively rely on them.

The second part of her quote — bringing the same individuals as always to the table — is another simple, but overlooked truth.

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I #LoveTeaching Like This

Three days spent working with the 2017 cohort of State Teachers of the Year has solidified a feeling in me that I struggled to name two years ago. The feeling is a mix of relief and hope.

It’s easy to panic in this current climate, to believe that everyone is bolting for the exits and filing their resignations in teacher lounges across the country. So it is with grateful eyes that I see them as the next wave, the cavalry, the reinforcements. They are here. They will help. They will lend their voices to the voices already raised in defense of our students and our colleagues.

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#LoveTeaching

I love teaching because it is the hardest job I’ve ever had. I love teaching because it breaks my heart and makes me cry. I love teaching because it makes me so happy I feel like I swallowed a helium balloon on those days when a student owns his or her own power of expression. I love teaching because it is the only job I’ve ever had that hugs me back, that argues with me, that makes me feel like the one candle I can light in my little corner dispels a bit of darkness in the world. I love teaching because it calls on me to be smarter and braver than I ever want to be.

Yes, it’s hard. But then what do you ever commit to that isn’t hard? Yes, it can make you feel like you’re burnt to a crisp, but then isn’t that what happens when you really care? There’s a passage from T.H. White’s The Once and Future King that I turn to when I feel like I can’t gin myself up for another day: Continue reading #LoveTeaching