Leaving and Taking

As part of this morning’s improv activity, we were invited to think about what we would take away from the UNCC National Writing Project Summer Institute and what we would leave. I decided to use those categories for my reflection on SI.

What I’ll Leave

The feeling that if I don’t do it it won’t get done and that won’t be ok
The whole group video portfolio project feels like it’s consumed a big chunk of my thoughts over the past several days. It’s reminded me what an incredibly complex kind of text a video can be. Even a six minute video has required hours of work spread across a number of people. At some point, I started to feel responsible for the video and simultaneously frustrated that I didn’t feel like I had the right tech (in this case a Mac) to make it happen the way I’d hoped. In the past, I might have pushed through anyway, volunteering to finish the project anyway. Instead, I talked with other people who were working on the project and we figured out a way to share the load some. (Many props to Laura, who ended up pulling the final cut together.)

The feeling that I’ve somehow escaped “having” to teach writing because I teach history
Last year when I was teaching all history classes for the first time, I breathed a sigh of relief when I realized that I was no longer going to be a “writing teacher.” In some ways this was really freeing, but it also meant that I didn’t work as hard to find creative ways for my students to connect to the material through writing. Many of the demos over the course of SI have given me ideas for writing in different ways as a part of history class. Next year I get to teach writing as part of history class.

A sour taste in my mouth for tech
Over the past year, I’d been really wrestling with my use of digital tech in the classroom, or lack thereof. Tech had started to feel like just a shiny toy, rather than a useful tool. Being able to incorporate tech in useful ways in my demo at SI and seeing the use of tech in others’ demos reminded me of the joy that I used to find in using technology with students.

The sense that all writing has to be directed toward an end product
I’m a goal-orientated person who doesn’t like to feel like I’m wasting effort. I want my writing to be directed toward something- a blog post, an article, even a tweet. I sometimes feel that if writing doesn’t end up in some publishable or shareable form, it’s not worth doing. The sheer amount of writing that we’ve done over the course of the Institute means that there’s no way that it could all make it into a form that makes sense to share. It’s been freeing, though, to let those scraps be.

What I’ll Take Away

A reminder that good teaching requires careful planning to look effortless and create space for messiness
Prepping for my demo reminded me that really good lessons create space for the surprising to happen, but that space requires careful thought to ensure that things don’t get chaotic or seem haphazard. This will be the first year in my teaching career that I’ll be teaching the same classes as I taught the year before. (Yay!) I’m hoping that not having to be in “just one step ahead of the students” mood will allow me to spend some more time thinking about how I craft space for student learning and inquiry.

A reminder of how much I love learning
I’ve heard it said that some people become teachers because they don’t ever want to leave school. Guilty as charged. I don’t see this as a bad thing though. My love of school isn’t about being a sage on the stage or a power trip. It’s about getting to have the opportunity to learn alongside students, to curate sources to pique their curiosity, and to help them ask good questions. It was fun to get to be get to be a student in the formal sense again.

Gratitude for thoughtful, passionate teachers
Throughout the SI, I’ve been impressed by the skill and dedication, both of the Teacher Consultants facilitating the Institute and the other participants. In a country where the media and politicians sometimes portray teachers as lazy and ignorant, it’s been a privilege to work and learn with people who are the diametric opposite of that portrayal. It’s also been fun to have the opportunity to “talk shop” with people who care as deeply about issues of teaching and learning as I do. I’m deeply grateful for the experience and for those who encouraged me to pursue it.

An Unlikely Advocate

At first glance, I’m an unlikely candidate to write a blog post in support of the National Writing Project (NWP). I haven’t attended an NWP institute, or even a workshop. I teach writing, but with a fair amount of fear and trembling. I’ve even written posts about how I hate writing (which is likely just code for- writing scares me).

What I do know is that the people who have consistently encouraged, gently goaded, and offered feedback on my writing are vocal advocates for the NWP. They believe passionately in the work of the NWP and speak powerfully about its impact on them. Folks like Paul, Zac, JimCarol, and Bud. Because of these and others, I’ve written more and dreaded it less in the past two years than in any period I can remember. Not to say that it’s all been pleasant; writing’s hard work, but I’m confident all that writing has made me a better teacher.

I’d like to have the opportunity to attend an NWP Summer Institute, but the elimination of federal funding for NWP threatens that future possibility for me and other teachers like me. If you’re interested in advocating on behalf of NWP or learning more, check out Bud’s tips for making your voice heard. Thanks to Chad for organizing the #blog4NWP effort.

Faithful Delivery

Two weeks ago, I got off a NYC express bus on my way to TEDxNYED. I walked into a Starbucks, reached into my purse, and realized I had left my wallet on the bus. I called my cousin, who immediately got on the phone with the MTA and started working to relocate the wallet. I then called Karen who was gracious enough to give me a ride to Collegiate. For most of the morning, I was physically present but mentally spinning out the likely consequences of my error. (I thought about students, some of whom have situations far worse than a missing wallet with which to deal. How much effort they have to exert on a daily basis to learn and be present!)

I tend to be a person who is always imagining the worse possible outcomes. Some of this I blame on law school. There students are taught to anticipate all outcomes but to focus on the worse possible scenario, so they can help their client balance the potential risks and rewards of the situation in the eyes of the law. It’s an important skill for lawyers to learn, but if you’re not careful, the lawyer brain starts to consume your life.

As I was sitting in one of the last TED talks of the morning, I got the following text from my sister (who was staying with my cousin): “THEY FOUND IT!!!!!!!!!!!!” An hour later, we met the bus at a 121st street, and my wallet (completely intact) and I were reunited.

Wallet

In the days since my wallet was returned, fortuitous things keep happening. Nothing totally out of the ordinary, just everyday sorts of good things. Meals with friends. An unexpected gift card. Likely approval for a class I want to teach next year. A dentist visit with no cavities.

I’m starting to wonder- Am I seeing good things because they’re happening or are good things happening because I’m looking for them? Perhaps it’s the reason I liked today’s poem from the Writer’s Almanac so much.

Trust
by Thomas R. Smith

It’s like so many other things in life
to which you must say no or yes.
So you take your car to the new mechanic.
Sometimes the best thing to do is trust.

The package left with the disreputable-looking
clerk, the check gulped by the night deposit,
the envelope passed by dozens of strangers—
all show up at their intended destinations.

The theft that could have happened doesn’t.
Wind finally gets where it was going
through the snowy trees, and the river, even
when frozen, arrives at the right place.

And sometimes you sense how faithfully your life
is delivered, even though you can’t read the address.

“Trust” by Thomas R. Smith, from Waking Before Dawn. © Red Dragonfly Press, 2007.