The Paradox

For the past two months, I have been at home taking care of our newborn daughter. She’s adorable, incredibly alert, and usually snuggly.

Perhaps the most frequent piece of parenting advice I’ve received is “Enjoy this time; it goes so fast.” That’s true… except when it doesn’t.

At three AM when 15 minutes with a sleepless, fussy baby feels like three hours. When you realize that the accumulated sleep debt is affecting your brain’s ability to process information. During an errand that would have been a mindless 30 minutes pre-baby turns into a two hour ordeal. Checking in on work email and realizing that you really miss your colleagues and the intellectual engagement of your job.

While I love her intensely, there are certainly moments in which enjoyment is the furthest thing from my mind, and I’d love to be doing something, anything, else.

The paradox is that this time with a child is exactly what I’d longed for in the abstract for years and in the concrete for months. While watching others hold their children. When hoping for a positive pregnancy test of our own. Although I am looking forward to returning to teaching in a little more than a month,  I also suspect that these moments with her will be the ones I find myself thinking wistfully back on. 

I choose a poem each school year and, given my current station in life, one that our priest posted recently on Facebook seems particularly apt.

The Paradox

When I am inside writing,  all I can think about is how I should be outside living.

When I am outside living,
all I can do is notice all there is to write about.

When I read about love, I think I should be out loving.
When I love, I think I need to read more.

I am stumbling in pursuit of grace,
I hunt patience with a vengeance.

On the mornings when my brother’s tired muscles
held to the pillow, my father used to tell him,

For every moment you aren’t playing basketball,
someone else is on the court practicing.

I spend most of my time wondering
if I should be somewhere else.

So instead, I have learned to shape the words thank you
with my first breath each morning, my last breath every night.

When the last breath comes, at least I will know I was grateful
for all the places I was so sure I was not supposed to be.

All those places I made it to,
all the loves I held, all the words I wrote.

And even if it is just for one moment,
I know I will be exactly where I am supposed to be.

(As performed by Sarah Kay in Scripps College Commencement Speech, 16 May 2015)

I find it so easy to want to be somewhere else in the midst of so many seasons of life, to be looking forward to what comes next or  mourning what I’ve left behind. This FOMO (fear of missing out) seems a hallmark of so much of modern life and, more often than I’d like, the space on my head. Gratitude, Kay suggests, may not take away FOMO, but it can help us avoid wishing our lives away. 

In addition to pushing back against FOMO, Brene Brown writes that gratitude also fights the anxiety and fear that find their way into the hearts of parents. Anne Lamott names thank as one of the three essential prayers.

This school year, abbreviated though it will be, I’m hopeful I can be grateful for where I am at the moment. 

Great TED Talks for History Teachers

One of the most popular posts that I’ve written on this blog is Great TED Talks for English Teachers from 2010. Sure, it’s a listicle, but given the sheer number of TED talks, folks have said that the post has been helpful to them in suggesting some talks with which to start. I’m currently teaching history classes now, so I thought that a similar post focused on talks that might be used in the history or social studies classrooms could be useful. Some of the same talks from the English post would work in the history classroom, as well. For example, I use Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s talk The Danger of a Single Story in a unit on globalization in seventh grade World History.

Since I wrote the English post, TED has created a site called TED-Ed. It abbreviates and animates TED talks (as well as talks created specifically for the TED-Ed site by educators) for use in the classroom.  The site also allows you to create your own lessons from TED talk videos. The lessons on the site vary in quality, but some, such as one on the Atlantic Slave Trade, can be useful introductions to a topic.

1. Zak Ebrahim: I am the son of a terrorist. Here’s how I chose peace.

Ebrahim, the son of one of the 1993 World Trade Center bombers, discusses how he chose a very different path from his father. Great starting point for a discussion about what leads people to make the choices they do in life and the role of education and experience as a young person in shaping those choices.

2. Eman Mohammed: The Courage to Tell a Hidden Story

Mohammed tells of the challenges that she has encountered as the first female photojournalist working in the Gaza Strip. She describes the ways in which what might have been a hinderance, her gender, has allowed her to take photos that her male colleagues couldn’t have. Her talk is accompanied by many of her incredible photographs.

3. Neil Macgregor: 2600 Years of History in One Object

Macgregor offers a biography of a very old thing, a cuneiform cylinder and how it impacts our understanding of the politics of the Middle East today. Because of the length and level of depth, it’s probably more appropriate for older students. I do really like the idea of constructing a biography of a thing and its impact on life today. That could be a great activity for students.

3. Sanford Biggers: An Artist’s Unflinching Look at Racial Violence

A short (6 minute) talk that blends history and art. It takes on America’s history of slavery and issues of contemporary violence directed at blacks in the US. A provocative discussion starter for high school students.

4. John Graham Cumming: The Greatest Machine that Never Was

Cumming describes the “analytical machine” designed by Charles Babbage in the 1800s but never built. He also describes the contributions of Ada Lovelace, who envisioned greater possibilities for this sort of machine. If students are interested in this TED talk, a great book follow-up is The Thrilling Adventures of Lovelace and Babbage.


With thousands of TED Talks out there, I’m sure there are many more that could be added to the list. What are talks that you’ve seen that you’ve used or could be used in history or social studies class?

The Boredom of Summer

I like the rhythm of school year and summer; it’s one of the reasons I became a teacher. But even though the summer brings a welcome change of pace, I don’t usually hope for unstructured weeks on end. During the school year, my life is segmented into 45 minute blocks and so to wake up with unscheduled hours before me can feel overwhelming.

This is the first summer in 19 years that I haven’t had some sort of paid employment. It’s an incredibly strange feeling. I’ve had to find ways of making little schedules or to-do lists for myself to keep from going absolutely mad. I’ve done yoga, gone swimming, read books, gotten massages, played games on my phone, run errands, and cleaned house, but there’s also been plenty of time where I’ve just felt bored. Boredom can be a good thing, especially for kids, and it’s certainly pushed me to check out places I hadn’t been before and do some things spontaneously that I likely wouldn’t have had the energy for in a more scheduled day. pool

(I’m aware there’s a great deal of privilege in how my summer is playing out. I have the advantage of a salary spread out over 12 months and an employed spouse. I have the advantage of not needing to work at a physically demanding job at the end of pregnancy.)

One of the great gifts and challenges of this summer is the reminder of how much I love and miss work, specifically paid employment. I suspect this feeling will continue into the early part of the fall. We’re expecting a baby any day now, and I’ll be taking a couple months off at the beginning of the school year. (No, seriously, baby, any day, given that your estimated arrival date was last Tuesday.) It’ll be the first time in 30 years that August has not included a return to school for me. I’m sure there will be challenges with going back to teaching come October, but I’m really looking forward to a classroom, students, and a schedule again.

Cinnamon fully embraces the boredom of summer

Cinnamon fully embraces the boredom of summer

A Change Would Do You Good

One of my favorite features of Facebook is the Memories tab. I keep a journal, but rather sporadically, so for reminders about what was happening in my life in the past, Facebook is a more consistent reminder of the day to day. There are certainly challenges with this, perhaps the chief being, the difficulty of accessing that information in an easy way. That said, I find it fascinating to have an easy way to look back every morning to see what I was doing/thinking on that day from one to ten years ago.

In April, the above Facebook Memory popped up. What was especially ironic (in an Alanis Morissette sort of way) was that I had agreed, just days earlier, to teach 8th grade English next year. I was initially hesitant about the change because I’ll be returning to school in October after a couple months of parental leave, and it didn’t seem the ideal time to pick up a new prep, much less a new subject. But it was a move that I think will have long-term benefits for the school because it will give us a teacher at each grade level in the middle school who will be teaching both History and English, hopefully facilitating increased communication and collaboration between the departments. I also think ultimately it will be a good move for me, if perhaps a bit of a bumpy start. I’ve taught 7th grade and 8th grade History for the past five years, and, as Sheryl Crow says, sometimes a change would do you good.


In 2016-2017, the Language Arts and Social Studies departments at our school will be undergoing a curriculum review. This news wasn’t meant with universal acclaim. I think it’s very easy, especially for those who have been teaching for any number of years, to feel like whatever professional development we undertake is just the latest new fad that will be abandoned in 1-5 years. It’s not an entirely unwarranted feeling, especially given that initiatives have been abandoned or moved on from in the past.

Despite all this, I’m feeling positive about the curriculum review for several reasons. The first is that the timeline for the project- a four year cycle- seems reasonable; we’re not attempting to reinvent the wheel in six months. The first year will focus on reflection and years 2-4 on implementation. Because I will be away for the first part of next year on parental leave, we started the process a bit early at our June PD meeting. The second is that, while there is a loose structure guiding the process, much of it will be driven by the reflection that’s done in the first year.

The two departments met together and the Language Arts department chair and I led department members in the first part of a SOAR analysis.1 We focused on Strengths, Opportunities, and Aspirations:

Strengths:  What are we doing well?  What are we known for?  What are our areas of expertise?

Opportunities:  What are our best future opportunities?  What are our areas of untapped potential? How can we distinguish ourselves?

Aspirations:  What are we passionate about?  What difference do we hope to make?  What does our preferred future look like?

There was some nice overlap between the two departments related to wanting to find ways to connect students to additional resources and communities outside the school campus. There were also some areas of strength and opportunity that were unique to each department. I’m looking forward to the work to come.

Curric Review

1 Stavros, Jacqueline M, Cooperrider, D L, & Kelley, D Lynn. (2003). Strategic inquiry appreciative intent: inspiration to SOAR, a new framework for strategic planning. AI Practitioner. November, 10-17.

Year in Pictures 2015

It took me a little longer than in previous years to get my year in pictures book put together. In the midst of sifting through thousands of pictures, I sometimes wonder if it’s worth the effort, but I’m always grateful at the end of the process that I took the time to do it. Last night I sat down and looked at the books for years 2010-2015. I loved seeing the way that my family, friends, and I have grown and changed over the years. There were ways in which 2015 was especially challenging, but putting together the book this year reminded me how many moments of kindness and joy there have been in the midst of it. I’d also forgotten how much traveling we did over the course of the year.

Click on the image below to flip through the book.


What’s Changed and What Hasn’t?

I’m six weeks into my ninth year of teaching. Part of me misses the sense of it all being fresh and new. One of the things I like about teaching, though, is that there’s always a sense of newness and possibility at the beginning of a new year, even if it’s not quite as strong as it was on day one of my teaching career. A few reflections on what has and hasn’t changed since the first day I stood in front of a classroom.

I give more timely and useful feedback

I’ve now seen thousands of pieces of student writing and other work, so it’s gotten easier to see patterns and to point out ways for students to improve. Because the prep is a little less overwhelming now, I’ve also been able to shift some of that time to feedback on student drafts. That energy is wisely invested because it almost always means the students’ final drafts are better quality.

I love being in other teachers’ classrooms

I’m convinced that one of the best ways to earn about teaching is to watch others teach. Teaching is a craft and watching skilled craftspeople offers the opportunity to observe the moves they are making, sometimes unconsciously as they work. As a beginning teacher, I would often go and sit in the classrooms of the teachers that I admired as I struggled to figure out how to make work in my classroom run more smoothly and be more engaging. One of the reasons I so enjoy being a department chair now is that part of my position involves observing others teach and offering feedback.

I have (to make) more time for things outside of school

In the last 18 months I’ve gotten married and adopted a puppy, so some of that shift in time has come just as a result of not coming home to an empty house. But I’ve also gotten better at using my planning periods more effectively, since I know that I have other responsibilities (and possibilities for enjoyment!) at home. What this means is that in addition to creating more space for others in my life, I’ve also created more space for things that I enjoy, like reading.

Getting up in the morning hasn’t gotten easier

I am not a morning person. It doesn’t matter how early I get to sleep; I always struggle before about 9am. Unfortunately, that’s a full three hours after I have to be up for school. I wish schools were more willing to fight the cultural forces (athletic schedules and parent work schedules seem to be the biggest ones for us) that result in early morning starts. I believe it would be better for kids, and certainly better for me, if we started later. In the meantime, I’ll drink tea in the morning and nap in the afternoon.

I’m on the lookout for the next thing

At a recent leadership retreat, we were asked to explore an accomplishment in our career that had been a moment of pride for us and to consider what had led us to that point. For me, the creation of our school’s first blended learning course was that accomplishment. I taught the course for four years, but haven’t taught it for the last two and miss the challenge that it brought. That’s not to say that I’m without challenge or things that I find exciting, but I do feel that I’m on the lookout for new opportunities, either at my present school or beyond. I like being involved in big ideas and, perhaps even more so, working to make them realities. One of the things for which I’m very grateful at my present school is that we are so supportive of risk-taking. There are certainly some interesting opportunities coming down the pike as we begin the implementation of our most recent Strategic Plan.