School Isn’t Uber And Never Should Be

My dad was an oil and gas equipment salesman for most of his life. He raised the four of us in a refinery town where the town’s fortunes rose and fell with oil and gas prices. Growing up in a boom/bust cycle imprinted itself on me, giving me a visceral sense of capitalism and business before I could intellectually understand ideas like profit/loss and return on investment, or fixed and variable costs.

So when I see yet another argument for draining public money from public schools, I feel like I’m standing in the middle of the boarded-up Main Street of my home town. All that looked so solid when I lived there decades ago is dust and plywood now. Except my high school. My high school looks the same and is still vibrant. That’s what comes of investing in a public good. Continue reading School Isn’t Uber And Never Should Be

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.

Continue reading Slap A Smile On Your Face And Get Out There

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.

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

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?

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?

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.

Continue reading You’re Saved By What You Love

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.

Continue reading Discomfort By Design

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.

Continue reading I #LoveTeaching Like This

#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

The Personal Spin Cycle: Blame

…we make everything that’s uncertain certain. Religion has gone from a belief in faith and mystery to certainty. “I’m right, you’re wrong. Shut up.” That’s it. Just certain.The more afraid we are, the more vulnerable we are, the more afraid we are. This is what politics looks like today. There’s no discourse anymore. There’s no conversation. There’s just blame. You know how blame is described in the research? A way to discharge pain and discomfort.- Brene Brown 

 

Pain and discomfort are the ground of teaching and learning. So, to hear Brene Brown describe blame as the way to discharge that makes sense to me.

I don’t have to sit in too many meetings or listen to too many people, like the cardiac nurse who hooked me up to the treadmill for a stress test, to know how often blame is heaped on teachers or students. Sometimes both.

Why isn’t (fill in the blank) happening? Teachers.

And teachers will say: students. A few will say: administrators. Others will say: parents. And around and around it goes, the blame cycle picking up speed and creating enormous distance between people.

This graphic is from a post meant for construction contractors, but it elegantly describes what blame does and how it proliferates along its own vector.

Brown outlines, in her brilliant TED talk, a way out of the cycle. One that is initially much more painful and uncomfortable: the courage to be seen for who we really are:

To let ourselves be seen, deeply seen, vulnerably seen … to love with our whole hearts, even though there’s no guarantee — and that’s really hard, and I can tell you as a parent, that’s excruciatingly difficult — to practice gratitude and joy in those moments of terror, when we’re wondering, “Can I love you this much? Can I believe in this this passionately? Can I be this fierce about this?” just to be able to stop and, instead of catastrophizing what might happen, to say, “I’m just so grateful, because to feel this vulnerable means I’m alive.”

 

Image credit: Patrick McManaman/Unsplash