Joy

 The last weeks have been a whirlwind. I’ve made it through the initial days of “here’s middle school!” and “here are your classes!” and “here are the rules” and “oh, by the way, here’s a laptop and some assignments!” My students have started to settle in and reveal more by their actions than they perhaps realize – some of it wonderful, some of it challenging, some of it mystifying, and all of it human.
I’ve come to the conclusion that there will always be more to do, more things to finish and compile, a better way to do almost everything…AND most of that will have to wait. I have something of a map, am working on filling in more details, and each moment I spend thinking on my feet brings insights into both myself and the content I am approaching – suggestions for meaningful ways to teach grammar welcome! I’m doing everything I can to try to stay organized enough to remember what worked – and what didn’t – so that next year I can try it better. One of the magical things about teaching is that there really isn’t a perfect way to do it – even when you change from the year before, there will always be a different group of individuals in front of you – and that might even happen between the first half of a class before B-lunch and the second half after!

 Every day there is something that delights me, something that surprises me, something that just is inexplicable because it is done by a middle schooler, and a new level of awareness I reach about how little I know about my students while I am simultaneously aware of exactly who is having a tough day and who needs to move and who is struggling silently. I have a feeling that trend will continue.

I’m humbled by the amount of muddling I’ll have to do this year while I figure what exactly it is I am teaching, and I am trying my hardest to remember how it went so that I can make it better. The changes I make on the fly have worked so far, and they would be even better if I could finesse them. I also catch myself having to frequently define my speaking vocabulary and re-select words to make sure that my students understand!
 After a hectic week that involved curriculum night  – meeting parents and families of students – a professional development half-day, and more than a little thinking on my feet as we begin to dive into the deeper learning and the start of grading, my brain was whirring. Somewhere, I must’ve known I would need space – last weekend I signed up for a half marathon on the Middle Fork Trail in North Bend.
I went with few expectations. The last few races I’ve done have been hot, I haven’t managed to eat enough during them (a whole other strategy to learn for trail success!), and though I’ve found calm during them, they’ve been a struggle. Yesterday was different.
It was joyful.
Pure, simple, unbridled joy. The entire race, I could not wipe the smile from my face. Maybe it was the ridiculous bright blue striped knee socks, maybe it was the cool fall morning and exquisite Cascade ridge-line and pristine mossy woods, baffling boulder fields and mud and dirt of the trail…maybe it was just the calm sense that I was in exactly the place I needed to be.
I ran almost the entire race alone, sans a few brief interactions with my fellow racers either to pass or be passed – always positive moments. I heard the same words of an old song in my head for the entire race – even as I wiped out in the dirt and rolled an ankle on my way back – “lay down your burden – I will carry you.”
I am carrying the weight of my students. And I am not doing it alone.
I am carrying myself with a new confidence. And I can not do it alone.
I am constantly humbled by the magnificence in this world and its vastness, by the magnitude of the task of teaching.
I need joy in the same way my students do, and I will hold this moment for a long, long time.
I can’t wait for more.

Fairies

As we start the new year, I find myself reflecting on my student teaching. I came across a post I’d saved during those months to which I couldn’t find a proper introduction. I don’t know that I ever will. I just know that the more I learn about each of these humans in front of me, the more urgent and fervent my need to provide support becomes – however small what is in my power may be. How do I sustain that automatic desire to help over a lifetime of potentially lost beautiful souls without becoming jaded or dismissive or predictive of “they’re bound to fail” – because that’s the risk.

Care for yourself as hard as you care for those kids who will haunt you for decades – easier said than done. This is for you, A. 

 

Fairy

 

That first day, I watched

your faded blue hair slink

into a chair at the back

of the classroom.

 

Everything about you

matched the document I’d read.

Except your eyes –

Hollow crazed windows…

 

The way they stared

out of your face, stretched too

tautly in their sockets, pushing

out and into others

While you hid

 

behind a screen of constant panic

bitten nails, tattered red skin

framing each fingertip.

Hands tucked

beneath your overlarge sweatshirt.

 

Recommend books about fairies

to you, you said.

 

Did you wish to fly away

with them, under your frayed and hollow

bleached and over-dyed halo?

 

Somewhere in that head

lie thoughts I’ll never know

that the world will never hear.

What are your dreams?

 

Of what do I know absolutely nothing?

 

You know little or less of me than I do of you,

and we’ve both assumed.

Yet every time you cried in the corner

it pulled a corner of my heart out,

a fragment that went to you

that I’ll never get back.

 

Did the fairies remember

to give it to you? Did I lose it?

Was I too cold, too close…?

How could I help?

 

The thing is, I don’t know.

 

I don’t know how

to give, what my class can help you with.

You need more than me, you need more

than your therapist –

you need YOU.

 

How does a middle-schooler

become themselves

When no one is there to frame

their world?

To tell them they are enough?

 

You are enough. With all

your mistakes – even because of them.

I’ll always want you to know that. Always.

Always. Always.

 

Your face will line the walls

of my memory.

 

You are enough.

 

Transitions Home

What does it mean to be “home?”

I’ve written on the subject for myself before, and have yet to come to a definitive conclusion. Sometimes, the studio, the home of creation or practice, feels like home. Sometimes, it is that first place we felt safe as a child. Sometimes, it is with loved ones and family, sometimes alone on a trail in the woods. Sometimes a classroom, sometimes an apartment…sometimes, it is glaringly, horribly absent from all of these.

Traditional American culture operates under the assumption that home is a fixed and stable external place to which one can return for an indefinite amount of time and gain relaxation and rejuvenation. It is constant and unchanging.

And yet, the physical places we call home shift constantly – in the last five years alone, I have called more than eight places “home” – whether for that moment, in reference to a past experience, in anticipation, or even simultaneously.  All of these places were truly home, and all of them sometimes just were not where I was supposed to be; how then, can “home” be a single place?

What if “home” is not concrete? What if it is instead a series of fleeting moments, an ephemeral concept whose true constancy is our ability to perceive and exist within it? To find it within ourselves?

In a practical sense, this is not an implausible interpretation; the Icelandic word, heimr, to which home is etymologically related, means both “world” and “peace.” To feel at home, then, would be to experience our world at peace – to be exactly where we need to be, with what we need, surrounded by those whom we need or who need us.   That sensation, that notion, isn’t rooted in a single place, but rather in a personal perception and deep-seated understanding.

During transitional moments, it is easy to lose track of our sense of home, to feel adrift and remote even in familiar places. I stand at a crossroads yet again, on the edge between teacher and student, independent adult and dependent child. I have my own apartment – as Virginia Woolf would want, I have “A Room of [my] Own” – enough money to start out, and the prospect of earning enough to support myself beyond mere necessity. I have stepped from a scrappy world of just-getting-by into a professional world I have known only from a distance. I feel like a pretender; where do I fit in this world? Where are the peaceful moments?  When will I recognize myself? How will I know when I am home?

The truth is, it is these times of transition that show me how deeply embedded my home is within my sense of self; in just the last two weeks, home has been: a moment on my morning run looking at a hot air balloon with Mt. Rainier in the background, staring at the sunrise in stopped traffic on the interstate, listening to “Make Them Gold” by CHVRCHES on repeat one morning, sipping coffee in my new apartment, watering the roses at the house I lived in last year… It is in moments, not places, in which notice I am home. Sure, these come with more regularity in the places with which I am more familiar, but that is likely because I am more able to recognize them –  I am not so busy working to figure out my role and place that I lose track of the moments of home, those flashes of internal clarity when I know I am enough.

In a few short days, I will greet my students for the first time as their teacher. Many will be starting the year in a new building, some may be in a new town, state, or even country, and all will be adapting to a new population of students, a new set of teachers and expectations, a new set of learning outcomes to which they will need to rise, new technology, new friends…transitions will be in no short supply – and school may be the most stable piece of the world for more than several. As I find my own place, how can I lead my students to the same? How can we use these transitions as ways to, together,  find home, to recognize ourselves inside the unfamiliar?

As the Socratic sentence stem begins, there is not one answer to this question; as with all learning, it will be the process and the practice that will teach the most. One of our building’s goals for the year is that each student be able to experience joy each day. Perhaps I’ll start there and, through finding joy, end up at home.