Nourish Beginnings

Nourish beginnings, let us nourish beginnings.
Not all things are blest, but the
seeds of all things are blest.
The blessing is in the seed.

From “Elegy in Joy” by Muriel Rukeyser

I’m sitting in a coffee shop, Post-it note to-do list and rapidly filling academic year planner at hand. I checked Twitter to find that Jim is also preparing for the beginning of the school year. As usual, he offers thoughtful and timely encouragement to teachers planning for another year in the classroom.

I’m feeling uncharacteristically optimistic this year. The stress of the new year tends to overwhelm me for a couple of weeks before I get back in a good rhythm. There’s no less to do this year than usual and likely some of it won’t get done before students return on Wednesday, but I feel more ok with that than I have in previous years.

I choose a poem for each year I teach. Below is the one I’ve picked for this year…

by Michael Ryan

Fragile, provisional, it comes unbidden
as evening: the children on the block
called in to dinner that for tonight
is plentiful, as if it had cost nothing
either in money or worry about money.

Then evening deepens and the street
turns silent. There may be disasters
idling in driveways, and countless distresses
sharpening, but all that matters
most that must be done is done.

First Week Reflections

We finished our first full week of school today. A few quick reflections…

Mind warp at mad speed
This year I’m piloting a blended learning class at our school. It’s a 11/12th grade section of US History that meets twice per week in the classroom. On the other days, students have assignments to complete online and independent research they’re working on. On the days we have class, I have to make it from my sixth grade Language Arts class across campus and upstairs to the second floor of the Upper School building in less than 5 minutes.

It’s a logistical hurdle, but more than that, it’s a mental shift. This is my first year teaching juniors and seniors. So far the biggest difference I’ve noticed is how much harder I have to work to read them. Sixth graders are still at an age where most of them will cry or sing or dance or laugh or openly pout or look seriously confused in my class, but that’s certainly not the case with the juniors and seniors. I’ve dialed my usually gregarious teaching persona down a notch with the upper schoolers. Which isn’t to say I don’t get excited about ideas or make the occasional wry remark, but I’m still feeling out the right tone with them in a way that I feel like I don’t have to do with the sixth graders.

max speed 15 km/h

Can’t stop
By Tuesday, I was feeling pretty caught up on work, so I coasted a bit. (Played with blog design for longer than I should, read some articles, etc.) By Friday morning, having been at school late for Meet the Teacher night on Thursday, I was pretty snowed under. There’s a sweet spot working hard enough to keep up with the demands, but not so hard that I’m tempted to slack afterward. I am finding that working in the library during my planning periods several days a week is helping my productivity.

I love teaching
The messiness. The intoxicating feeling of getting sucked into a particular lesson or quandary. The incredible complexity of it. The hilarious things my sixth graders say and their sometimes strange obsessions (so far they include Chuck Norris, cupcakes, and eskimos). The incredulity of the Upper Schoolers when I had all their names memorized on the first day and the great personal artifacts they posted on the group blog.

Start with Analogies Instead of Resolutions

It’s the time of the year when the calendar and the late night TV infomercial encourage us to begin reflecting on the past year and setting resolutions for the one to come. But the truth is- I stink at goals and resolutions. Oh, I can keep them for a couple weeks or months but slowly but surely I begin to slide, fall off the wagon, slip, peter out, lose steam…

Goals and resolutions are scary and strange, uncharted waters that make me reluctant to set out to sea. Even if I sit down and plan out a course of small steps to achieve the goal, I still feel overwhelmed because this is something I want to do but have not tried or been able to achieve in the past.

I am much more likely to accomplish something new or difficult if I start with a metaphor/analogy instead of a goal. I like to ask myself “What hard things have I done in the past and lived?” When I come up against another difficult decision or idea, I can think “I did x and lived; I should be able to do y, too.”

This all might seem like a semantic dance, but in the following TED video on the power of metaphor, James Geary quotes Albert Einstein, who said, “Combinatory play seems to be the essential feature in productive thought.” Some of the analogies I create seem playful or silly or unreasonable. But as I’m setting out or when I get stuck or panicked, I can come back to the metaphor/analogy. (I speak in front of students all the time, so I can speak in front of teachers at a conference. I blog, so I can write an article.)

Things I accomplished in 2009 that’ll likely serve as inspiration for 2010

  • Published an article in a professional journal
  • Took a writing class (Thanks for the encouragement, Karen L.!)
  • Helped students publish a literary magazine we all were proud of
  • Received a Digital Resources grant to update the 6th grade LA and History curriculum at our school
  • Started the blog you’re reading now
  • Presented at two professional conferences
  • Joined the English Companion Ning
  • Created and ran a Local Foods Camp
  • Toured the West Wing of the White House (and caught a glimpse of the president)
  • Organized a week at the beach with friends (a couple are pictured below) from grad school

What metaphors will you make in 2010?