Can I finally unpack?

teaching

This school year was unreal on so many levels and I am not sure I entirely realized it until I watched our class of 2017 walk across the stage. Our principal did a run down of all of the accomplishments of the school and as he did a run down I suddenly felt like you do if you are sitting in a church hearing a sermon and like they are talking directly to you. I shook my head, I began to cry and I wiped my eyes as I smiled ear to ear.

I have not talked a lot about what I have been through professionally this year because I was worried it would come across as bragging or hurt my fellow teachers who work just as hard and furiously as I do. Teaching isn’t a single player sport. It requires collaboration, team work and the support and sometimes flat out job carrying of others to get through.

More than anything…nothing about my job is about me. I don’t teach for me. Sure I get a paycheck, but when I walk into that room or I support a student outside of my classroom it is never about me. I had the blessing to find a job that helps bring out my best attributes and fulfills a passion I never knew I held so deeply. As well, I am not even sure I can correctly articulate the wonderful things that happen at my school or in my classroom and there are many times I scratch my head and wonder if this is how every teacher feels.

But to get to the point of what I want to unpack is that a professional high that happened for me this year and it so hard to even put into words and even now months later I cannot even explain it. A local public radio interviewer came to do piece on my student population and I was picked to have them in my classroom and had the pleasure of recommending students for the piece to be interviewed. I was also interviewed. The feature ended up being picked up statewide and then nationally in an NPR piece.

And while I appreciated all that, I wish I could bottle the way I felt hearing and watching my students interact with Claire. The pride and excitement of what my students have had to overcome to change their worlds and just how they do that. I stand in awe on a regular basis.

Well the hub bub died down and then we got a call that our state’s former first lady (Judy O’Bannon) wanted to come and visit with our kids after hearing about the NPR piece. The former first lady who takes up educational issues. She also has a documentary type show where she features foreign lands and tries to make connections, so that the world seems a little less big. She has always traveled abroad for the show.

Then she heard our story and realized there is a story that fulfills her criteria right here in Indiana. She interviewed our local community, our mayor and then ended up again in my makeshift classroom and with my students. Again, I got to beam with pride. But there wasn’t much better than the moment she sat down alone to interview me and asked about the conflict that is brought to my classroom based on the diversity in my school.

Something I hadn’t really thought about since my first year at my school. A question that I tackled and went back to my own mentor to seek guidance and support. Amazingly, I responded with my 5 years of wisdom I didn’t have back then and that is that, “Most of the time it is us adults with the conflict.” I followed up with there is a lot they could teach us. She said that was the perfect way to end and hugged me and thanked me with tears in her eyes for all I do for my students.

This isn’t just about a group of students to me. It isn’t just about a school or even my classroom. I am not getting attention because I am doing something so different then the teachers who teach beside me are doing. I am just giving a face/name/classroom to what is already happening.

This is what teaching is doing. It is working more hours than you are paid for, spending more in your classroom than you probably should, sitting back and realizing students can teach us things sometimes more than we can teach them and more than anything for me it is my passion. I do it because I have found my calling and talent and I can get paid.

If you pay any attention to this post don’t pay it to me. Pay it to a teacher. Maybe a teacher that meant a lot to you or changed your life. Say thank you. Hug them and tell them because it isn’t always easy. It is exhausting quite frankly and many times I have driven home and updated my resume and decided to get out altogether. But then there is that one student….the one who shouts your name as you are leaving graduation from across the room and mouths thank you and places their hand on their heart. Yea, I cried.

So to unpack….yea it was a year…but every one is. – MR

My love and my best wishes: Class of 2017.

Class of 2017

This one has been ruminating for awhile now because saying goodbye is always so hard for me. It is probably the 2nd hardest part about being a teacher for me. You know you are sending them off to bigger and better things, but it hurts. I remember when my # 1 was just learning to crawl and I had an epiphany on the painfulness of raising children. We are literally giving birth to them to constantly watch them move away from us.

And because my own motherhood is woven into my teaching it feels exactly the same. I wrote something to share with my class a few weeks back about how I truly feel as their teacher. I am giddy, afraid, hopeful and apprehensive all at once. This is very much like motherhood. We hope we teach them well to do amazing things in the world. A world that can sometimes beat the hell of out them. But we have to trust them, we have to trust ourselves that what we taught them had an impact, and we have to watch them walk away and try it on their own.

My first group of kids was special because they were first and I love them dearly. This 2nd group of kids served a very unique and personal role that I am not sure many of them even know they did. I had them all a lot the year my guy had his brain surgery. They gave me the ability to get lost in my work. Their emails when I was down in Indy with him were uplifting and thoughtful. The daily hugs, and words of encouragement. Their love and prayers were felt on levels that they likely don’t even understand or know. When they made their way back around to me their junior year our bond became even stronger. They were and continue to bless me every day.

But on top of that they were the 2nd children in a very unique school where a big deal was made of our first group. They always kinda felt like they stood in the shadows and truthfully they did. Even though they changed the face of our school in their own unique and amazing aways. But still the shadows. But one of my best human qualities is my ability to pull people out of the shadows. This isn’t a brag, it is just my personality.

Over the last few days I have been thinking of each of them and feel nothing but immense pride at their hard work and ability and my little tiny role in that of making sure they all shined in their own ways while in my classroom and sometimes out of it. I make it a goal to have at least one connection with each student in my classroom every year.

Of course, you connect with some students more than others but there are so many in this group. In just a few days, I will watch them walk across the stage many already with their associates degree and I know that I will be that proud teacher that is all those mixed bag of emotions and trying to figure out how to say good bye. For some, I will likely never see again and others they will be shipping off.

I just can’t. I don’t want to. But I have to because it is part of the job. It is trusting you have made an impact, no matter how small, in their future so that they know they CAN and WILL be a success in where ever this life takes them.

So to my precious class of 2017 I bid you farewell. I have said it 100x to you that remember if you need reminders of your greatness you know where to find me and yes I will always awkwardly reply to your proclamations of affection because that is me. But remember that doesn’t mean I love ya’ll any less. Life gets really hard sometimes, but if you follow your heart and lead with love it won’t ever steer you wrong. Now go do great things and make us proud!

My love to you always.

Love Always Wins -MR

Rage against the dying of the light…

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First off….I love social movements, social justice and culture jamming. So for you my MR audience I am sharing my favorite version of all three of these and a poem that represents the feelings this graffiti makes me feel.

Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night

Do not go gentle into that good night,
Old age should burn and rave at close of day;
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Though wise men at their end know dark is right,
Because their words had forked no lightning they
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

Wild men who caught and sang the sun in flight,
And learn, too late, they grieved it on its way,
Do not go gentle into that good night.

Grave men, near death, who see with blinding sight
Blind eyes could blaze like meteors and be gay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

And you, my father, there on the sad height,
Curse, bless, me now with your fierce tears, I pray.
Do not go gentle into that good night.
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.

-Dylan Thomas

Being human. 

Today was not the day I was expecting. I walked in expecting to teach a roomful of students who are ready, excited and willing to learn and for the most part they were. But today was one of those days when they were human and I was human. The kind of day that our state and federal legislatures need to witness and get a better grasp at what it is that myself and my fellow teachers face every day. 

The kind of day where kids make mistakes, or worse yet I make mistakes. The learning that took place was the kind that teaches compassion, forgiveness, survival and the kind of skills we all need to exist outside of class. The skills that make us human or in the least make the world seem a little less harsh. But we can’t prep for these lessons as they usually come out of nowhere and you can’t predict when they will start or where they will end. 

And yea it wasn’t perfect and likely won’t warrant an upswing on a state standardize test score. But what it will do is be a memory for them and for me of a day where we had to stop, take a deep breath and get through the next moment. We were human in very real moments that no textbook teaches. Moments that are hard to describe or explain in any sort of manner that gives them the justice of their enormity. 

When you set up a classroom with your inspirational posters, books, expo markers and your daily schedule with date on the board it all seems so easy. That stuff is easy. Even the testing and data is easy. It is the humanness that makes it hard. Some compare it to dancing or playing an instrument and those comparisons aren’t that far off. But they still don’t come close to describing what it is like to be with 20-40 humans in your classroom including yourself and the lack of predictability that exists in that humanness. 

The reality when dealing with humans is you have human moments. The kind where you just sometimes sit in silence and you just let them know that though we are in silence you are not alone. Also teaching them that silence isn’t bad and that sometimes to be human means not trying to understand the silence and just letting it exist. I am adult and I need that exact same reassurance. Sometimes the world seems unnecessarily hard and cruel and in order to survive we have to laugh, or cry or just sit in silence. These moments require very little from us other than just for us to be still and be present and be human. 

MR- On the importance of being human

I really don’t know everything.

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Can I tell you I learn every year the importance of being authentic with your students. True to yourself. Some may call it vulnerable. I know there are teachers who have taught for years in the don’t smile till December mode and that is great. I don’t judge them. Teaching like parenting for me is don’t judge it because we are all in the trenches trying to figure out what works for us.

But for me it is to be truly, authentically myself. That means if I feel silly that day and I sing and dance in front of the class I will. That also means I have grumpy days, my feelings get hurt and I don’t feel well and above all education for me is a gateway to who I am and truly long to be. It always has been and always will be.

In my speech class I model a lot. I don’t mean my latest clothing styles. I mean I publicly speak. I purposefully place myself into situations where I also become the student. This is my third year teaching dual credit speech and it was to be my third year modeling the same advocacy speech about TN. And yes much advocating needs to be done where TN is concerned…but my speech was tired and easy. Guess what…that isn’t modeling if you are comfortable. I changed it to a completely different topic and that was advocating for taking care of our Hoosier teenagers. I made it relevant by connecting it the Semi-colon Project.

However, I advocated that we wouldn’t have to talk about suicide, poverty and mental illness near as much if we [Adults] found better ways to listen and support our youth. I identified the issues as I see them in my home, my classroom and in relation to my own teen years.  For this speech building up your ethos is paramount and the must have part of the speech. Speak what you know so to speak.

And in my world I know it means a lot when my voice shakes, my eyes go to the floor, a lump in my throat appears. I have two sections this semester and I delivered it to one and I nearly had a panic attack. I started the speech and stopped and admitted in front of them I was so nervous. What a great learning moment that was for all of us. They begin reminding me of nerve lessening methods. I started and stopped a few times and each time was met with so much support. I took their criticism and admitted I would have given my own speech a D. Not an F because I got up there and did it and made it through. But a D. A you didn’t get it at all, but you tried grade.

But the way I felt when it was over was gross. I had the icky feeling of teaching things that are too personal. You know like why I can’t and won’t and refuse to ever teach Jane Eyre. This book is so personal and was such a life line to me in a time in my life when I needed a character like Jane Eyre. It is personal because it matters. It MATTERS BIG!!! I had no idea this would be my reaction, but then I realized it was a revelation of my childhood dreams of being a supportive and loving mother, a teacher, a leader in my community and my very reason for standing in front of a classroom full of teenagers. It truly doesn’t get more personal than that. At least not for me. I imagine the feeling I had is akin to one of those don’t smile till December teachers actually smiling in November and thinking, “Aww crap…I lost them. They know I can smile.”

The feeling though scared me out of repeating the speech for my second section. At least until a little more than two weeks later. I needed time and distance and I needed to admit I had a severe shortfall on this speech because I chose something too personal and something that mattered too much. I used it as a teaching moment and talked about why I couldn’t repeat it till that day. It was stigma, the lack of support, the fear of judgement and their own expectations of me. But I like students to see me like they see themselves and that is as a learner.

The second delivery still skirted on the overly raw emotion and a massive case of the stage frights. But they got to witness me manage my speech and I imagine they felt a little more ease at knowing they aren’t alone. And if they didn’t that is okay…What I truly hope they picked up from the speech is it is okay to be who you are even when it is scary.

Because yes I was scared, but guess what I did it and I survived. No tears shed and they know a little more about why I do what I do. And I would easily give myself an A- or B+. So yes my students see me smile. They see me mad. They see me care. They see me cry. In fact, I am quite known for crying when students deliver big on goals I set for them. In fact, I think we were the second week in and a junior whom I had only ever had those two weeks asked me, “Why do you cry so much?” I thought for a minute and quietly said, “Because it matters.”

So yes readers…it matters. The things we do in the world matter even if you aren’t doing it in front of a classroom full of teenagers. Your kids are watching. Your partners are watching. Your friends are watching and your enemies are watching. Show them it matters every single day by being you.

I am okay with not knowing everything and being the student. -MR

Our public schools and teachers are not the problem. 

I know our politicians and media want to tell you that our teachers and schools are failing our kids. It is every where that us greedy money grubby mediocre teachers and the buildings we are housed in are failing America’s youth. They are trying to convince you that we need more charters and vouchers and business in education. These people (basically an unknown entity with a very predictable agenda) need to convince us via fear that the system is broke. That our educational system is broke and it is the educators who seek tenure, more pay and enjoy summers off that are to blame. 

Can I tell you where the real problem lies? It is the narrative. Quit listening to the stories of politicians who think just because they have been a student in a seat that they know what is best for our children. Remember that it was their idea to test our youth to death. They are creating the narrative. But I have a story I want to tell. If you are looking for one where I complain about just how much testing encroaches on my classroom or how mad the politicians make me. Look somewhere else. That same old tired played out story won’t be happening here. Education already has enough negativity in it without me adding my two cents. 

I would like to tell you my story if you will listen. It is the one of a starry eyed teacher with a hope, bravery and hard fought for naïveté. I have taught for 7 years. I have had roughly 800 students in front of me at this point. I taught 2 years at a public university. I have taught the next five years at a public school. I am a public educator. From the beginning, I have always looked at my job and treated it as a public servant. I work for the public. I take that honor seriously and yes it is an honor. I am grateful for every single person who made the decision that put themselves or their children in front of me. I am venturing to guess that any student who has been in front of me can vouch for that. 

I love what I do and in my classroom it shows. That isn’t some full of myself bravado. There are stories upon stories of my love for my kids and yes they are my kids. But one story in particular is hitting my heart hard tonight of a student who would have walked into most classrooms and fallen behind or into the cracks as they say.  The world. The people in the students life. They gave up. They decided the student’s story was already written. The world does that to our youth you know? Dangerous assumptions and false narratives. The world gives up on them and they sometimes give up on themselves. I try and never read those narratives and stories. 

It is a hard and fast rule I have. You walk into my room…clean slate. Write your new story. Use your voice. I want to hear you. Rarely do I hear your class is so hard. But I know we do hard work. They are pushed and pulled because for years they are told what to think. Do what I say. They come in my room and suddenly I say, “What do you think? It doesn’t matter what I think.” I don’t need to have kids fail to know I am doing something right. The way I know I succeed is the days, weeks, and years removed and they tell me the impact my classroom had on them. Maybe it was a lesson. Maybe it was something I said and did. 

But back to my narrative I have worked in the real world. In fact, I did so for many years and never did I work the overtime like I do now. Never will there ever be a day I lock the door to my classroom and just walk away. Some teachers can do that. Not me. I stay after school. I wait for parent rides with them. I go in early and let them get to a computer. I probably check my email too many times at night. And yes I do shut down. In fact, I would say as the years pass I get better and better at it. I have to for my family. I have to for me. 

But back to that one student from before. They had a chance to rewrite their story and they did. I had no idea the impact at the time, but the longer I teach the more I learn of that impact. My impact isn’t a narrative that is easy to write, but it is one that is felt and seen. You can’t capture it in numbers or evaluations. It doesn’t show itself in a paper or portfolio. I feel it. My family feels it. My school feels it. My classroom feels it and my students feel it. 

That is the narrative I want to tell because my narrative isn’t any different than any of my colleagues. We all have those stories of that one student that eventually turns into a handful, a dozen and a 100 students. Yea I am sure somewhere along the line there was/is a teacher that got into it because the pay was so lucrative, the respect was so high, and they loved the summers off. But I have not met them yet. I am a toddling toddler in teaching age, but not so young to think these people don’t exist. If they do though I imagine they are long gone and I can tell you now that I haven’t taught with them. Our narratives need told. We are not the problem. Public schools are not the problem. The narrative is the problem. 

The land of no where.

dual_credit

This blog post probably won’t be particularly exciting. It is something that I continue to carve my niche into. I have been a dual credit college instructor for the last 5 years. And actually is probably more like 7 because when I was on campus I never had a class that didn’t have a high school student sitting in it. I also am sort of a unicorn because I also hold a license for  teaching grades 5-12 grade high school language arts. I am literally standing in the middle of  bridge. Sometimes I feel like the gatekeeper and other times I feel like the usher.

But most of the time I am from the land of no where. I am affiliated with and represent a university that I teach for. I also represent and teach for a public magnet high school and I remember dual credit existing when I was in high school, so I often have to ask myself why is it that dual credit programs seem to still be such an anomaly. To one side my program is likely the enemy because my courses take dollars from their campuses and I am just a high school teacher. To the other side I didn’t go through a formal education college program so I lack some sort of training in classroom management and human behavior.

So I am petitioning for a new role and that is the one of a dual credit instructor because honestly my role is different than both of those. The reality is there are kids sitting in high school classrooms that need and are ready for more, so why shouldn’t we give them more? Do they not deserve the challenge of a high school college classroom because they haven’t reached a traditional age of a college student set many years ago? My answer is they do deserve more.

Or what about the student who is traditionally targeted for dual credit high school programs? The ones who are first generation. The ones who never even could utter the word college because it just wasn’t something they thought possible. The one who is often in an under served population or lacking in resources in their community. Yes let’s talk about them for a minute. No books in their home. There is usually not talk of tomorrow let alone college. Dual credit programs breath life back into those communities and provide opportunity where there once was not. That is not a bad thing.

Yes you could say I am cheap labor I suppose because I am just an adjunct or I am not a real professor. Or you can say I am cheap labor because the government provides incentives for students to utilize dual credit programs in high school. But the reality is dual credit teachers and programs are providing a college education to students who need and want this and deserve it. Why does it matter where it happens?

What happens in my classroom looks exactly the same as it did when my office was housed on a campus and not a high school classroom. And the education experts that say I don’t understand classroom management or human behavior are welcome to sit in my classroom any day they want. My classroom runs pretty amazingly. My students are learning just as much as their adult counterparts did in my instruction. My expectations in my classroom are the exact same as they were when my email address has an .edu behind it. The one real issue that no one can truly understand is what faces a dual credit student. But I can try and I do and have been.

They have the same will and possible want of any student. But the reality is we are talking about a 16-18 year old taking a college class in high school. I have to walk the tight rope of capability. But guess what folks…that looks similar in a college classroom. Their needs are different yes. But it doesn’t come from watered down curriculum or a non-credentialed instructor. I hold a BA and MA in English. I am also 3/4ths of the way to an MA in Communication. So yea I have the credentials.

I will continue to make the argument the best people to understand where a dual credit student comes from  is a dual credit instructor. Especially  who understand who they are teaching. That’s me. But more than anything I will continue to be an advocate for my students and the people I teach with because ultimately we are the ones who are continuing to carve out this space where we are. The one where we aren’t just high school teachers, or college instructors trying to teach high school.

MR, Instructor to some Amazing High School College Students

 

My heart explodes. 

It needs to be said, but per my usual the most significant and meaningful moments I have no words. You would think a person who has made her life about words and writing would not not have them, but should at least be able to write them. I can tell you a few things about this moment. 

It is a huge one. My excitement and sense of pride is probably no different than most teachers on graduation day. But it feels different. It feels….It feels as if my heart is exploding. It is sad because I know after today I will never see some of these faces again. It is hard saying goodbye to these once 14-15 year olds that sat in my classroom trying to figure the world out. It is joyful because today is a culmination of a lot of hardwork and manifestations of dreams for families. It is the edge of something spiritual and great. And can I tell you how many times I heard the word, “I can’t…”. But they did. 

So this is the tip of a tongue moment where time stands and you look around and want it to last forever and are scared to say a word because when you do you acknowledge it is over. But it is…their world awaits. 

Today I am grateful for…

ENTRY # 1 

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Yes boys and girls and whoever else you want to be…you changed my life in so many ways. But no boys and girls, I won’t share specifics ever of my students. That isn’t just for me, it is for you. You didn’t ask to be published and I didn’t ask for permission, so if and when I share about my classroom experiences typically they are very broad and definitely not identifiable.

But I decided this summer to write more. Much, much more. Much like Stella, I seemed to have gotten my groove back and lost about 75-80lbs. The one groove I didn’t manage to find is my writing self. I hardly blog anymore. I rarely creatively write. And when I stop all of that, I lose bits and pieces of myself.

Alas comes, “Today I am grateful for…” Entry # 1. It is solely dedicated to the students who walked into my school four years ago. Not just that…they walked into my classroom and changed my life forever. I want to be real clear here because like any parent (or teacher) you always hear, “You like them better…” And that would never be the case.

I once was asked if there were ever a student I have had that I have hated. The answer is an easy no. I have  loved every single student that has ever crossed the threshold to my door. The first class is like your first child. You both walk into something completely blind having no idea what you are actually doing or if it will even work. But somehow each of you have blind faith in where the road leads.

My graduating seniors (even the ones who left) took as big of a risk as I took (maybe more) on our school. We were innovative, cutting edge and a big FAT risk. My risk was not as cringe worthy because if the school failed I could go back to teaching college and move on. They couldn’t go back and get their education back.

But the reality has hit and the goal we all strove for has arrived. In a week from tomorrow you will walk across the stage. Your parents will cry, your friends will cheer. Your families will beam with pride. Our fearless leaders and creators will feel affirmed.

But me. I am just a teacher. I didn’t build this legacy and it wasn’t my idea. It was just something I read about in a textbook and I felt the need and calling to pursue. So what I feel on this day is grateful for each and everyone of you for your blind faith not just in our school, but in me.

I was book smart in the ways of teaching high school kids college, but in no way was I life smart. You were patient and kind and recognized this was a part of my dream too. You helped to make it a reality.  The students who walk into my room every single day are an amazing opportunity for me to pursue what I love. Teaching writing. But you gave me that first chance (and if I am honest probably the first six or seven), so thank you!

As you all head your separate ways just know you will always and forever be a part of the “E gang”. It started as survival, but it ended with love. You are amazing people and I want you to go out and write and tell your stories. Best of luck to you my class of 2016! You will always be loved by Mrs. E (Eich) and today I am grateful for you!