#sol17 Villages

“We have all known the long loneliness and we have learned that the only solution is love and that love comes with community.”
― Dorothy Day

My days are basically the same: Wake up. Commute to work. Teach. Go home. Family time. Sleep. Rinse, repeat.

venn7This is why on the days when I have the chance to engage with communities which break this monotony, or provide me with a sense of refuge within it, I feel so grateful. Like some super-complicated Venn diagram of my life, these various groups allow me to more fully be my best series of selves.

My teaching community

So much of teaching is in isolation. A teacher is surrounded by students all day long – and don’t get me wrong, when my classes are really great, those groups of students become true communities – but aside from specific structures such as staff meetings or shared lunch periods, we do not necessarily spend our time with other adults. Grading is often solitary. Planning is often solitary.

Luckily, we can find ways to carve our time into something meaningful. My school has built-in common planning periods for teachers who are on the same grade-level team. Lucky for me, this includes Tanya. We have taught together for a decade now, and in that time she has become a mentor, constant collaborator, and “big sister.” I rely on the days that we can enjoy a leisurely lunch, share student work, co-plan lessons, collaborate on curriculum, discuss pedagogy and TV and politics. Tanya and the rest of my circle of work friends, people who are like-minded in how they approach teaching and social justice and teens, support and sustain the professional me.

My writing community

This year I’m running a professional development workshop called Teachers as Writers. It’s basically a writing group for and of teachers – some from my school, others from across the district – who come together once a month and workshop each others’ writing. When we enter my classroom for 75 minutes on afternoons such as today, we don’t do it in service of improving pedagogy or assessment of student writing- we do it for ourselves, to hone our own work, to honor our own craft. It is freeing, and it has already made me a better teacher of writing for my students as well.

This community – some of whom I knew well before this began, others I have met for the first time in this course – has become a way for me to nourish that part of myself that craves feedback for my work, that acknowledges the poet and writer within. I leave each session buoyed by my hope for and belief in my own voice.

My parenting community

When K was born, I was a little adrift. In those first couple of months of his life, we moved apartments, my husband changed jobs, and my sister and close friend each got married. I had a lot on my plate. When J went back to work in the fall, I needed something to fill the remaining six weeks of my maternity leave, so I joined Stroller Strides, checked out a free drop-in music class at a local community center, and finally attended a local toy store’s new parents’ coffee hour. This last group eventually led me to my Mom Community  (MoC). Although there are many online op-eds denigrating these spaces as judgmental, catty, basic, I have found an enormous amount of strength and love from MoC.

Although we often get together IRL (in real life), it’s hard to find babysitters, juggle schedules, and deal with myriad illnesses, family visits, etc. So we rely a lot on our Facebook group to share links, get advice, vent about kids/partners/family, find many shoulders to cry on. Our children span an 18-month period in their ages, so some of us can offer advice about where we’ve been; others get to look ahead to see what’s ahead in our journeys. Across our homes, across our families, MoC is a web of support connected by milk and motherhood, here to make sure that no mom is left behind.

It takes many villages

When I was younger, I would watch shows like Friends and silently bemoan the fact that I didn’t have a single close-knit group of friends to share my every waking moment. Although I know that some people’s lives do resemble sitcom television, mine has not been one of them.

Instead, I have many intersecting and individual communities: friends from college; friends from grad school; work friends; mom friends; family members who are also true friends; professional groups with whom I engage in pedagogical and ideological discourse; my large and wild extended family; my own family unit of J, K, and me.

“It takes a village to raise a child,” the saying goes. Maybe sometimes, it takes multiple villages. Like an intricate net of solidarity, each of these communities strengthens the various facets of my life, each a small village in the countryside of Me.

slice of life

#sol17 Back in the saddle

slice of lifeWow, back at it! It’s been a really, really long time since I have done this. (Almost but not quite a year.)

I guess it’s worth discussing some of the things I’ve been doing:

First and foremost, I’ve been mom-ing. My son turned two last spring and we’re quickly approaching his third birthday. Every day is an adventure; his language, his interests, his abilities change so quickly that it’s hard to keep up sometimes! Being stuck in the nitty-gritty of the everyday, I rely on poetry, private journaling, and photos/videos on my iPhone to remind me how much has changed. Thanks goodness for technology!

Also, my husband and I bought a house! We’re about 10 miles north of Boston now. It’s weird being in the suburbs, and I miss the city (especially the diversity), but financially this was the move we needed to make.

I’m also more than half-way through another school year, and it feels as though I’ve finally gotten my groove back after returning from maternity leave. My teaching feels more robust and energized than ever, and that’s in large part due to the thing that’s taken up a large part of my time…

Since January 2016 I’ve been a Teach Plus Teaching Policy Fellow. Teach Plus is a national non-profit that helps support teachers as leaders. It’s been a pretty amazing experience, not only because I’ve had the opportunity to do things like testify at the MA State House about an educational bill, meet state legislators and other community leaders, present at regional conferences, and provide input into the MA Frameworks, but also I’ve done a lot of writing and publishing in the last year.

Writing about educational issues – for publication, not just for myself or my school or my blog – has been a blessing. It’s reminded me why I teach, why I spend 180 days of my life surrounded by teenagers, why I am a public school teacher, why I feel so passionately about the promise and power of education. It has kept me buoyed throughout some politically turbulent waters, and has helped me to be more engaged and present in the process of writing with my students. I’ve known for a long time that teaching is not a neutral act, and in the act of writing about my teaching, I’ve infused my professional work with more of “me” than I ever had.

Last March I decided to stay anonymous, but I’m going to out myself here. We write because we have something to say, yes? So why not share myself with my teacher-writer peers! I hope you enjoy the writing I’ve been doing instead of blogging over the last year, and I look forward to writing and sharing and reading with y’all this month!

Thirsty Thursday #sol

It’s been a week since Slice of Life ended, and I’ve felt a little adrift without my daily blogging. I missed Tuesday’s call for SOL posting, which I’m hoping to jump into regularly. I told myself when SOL ended, I wanted to keep going with my writing, but… Right now, I just feel beaten down. As teachers we’re constantly asked to do more with less. My 4th period class is a constant rotation of absences that never get caught up. Creative Writing is producing some great poetry, but they all have senioritis. Multiple students are dealing with abusive boyfriends, sexual harrassment, depression, heartbreaking stories that I can’t fix and which make my curriculum seem both pointless and all the more important at the same time.

And it’s Thursday night. The weekend looms, but more importantly, one week from tonight we’ll be hopping on a plane for spring break. It will be almost like college – except, of course, that we’ll be taking K, our 22-month-old, on his first plane ride – but still, I am reminded of that wonderful bubble of four years where the worst thing I had to worry about was making my Friday morning Spanish lecture. Back then, Thursdays meant rounds at the bar, sitting with friends who lived down the hall or a few blocks away, pretending to be adults. Now, Thursdays just mean a cup of tea and Netflix. It’s a different kind of thirsty.

I am thirsty for a break. No responsibilities, no work, no bills.

I am thirsty for time. I want to drink seconds like I were drowning until I’ve swallowed an ocean of moments that can suspend me indefinitely.

I am thirsty for peace, for justice, for knowledge–knowing that I will never read all the books I want, never understand the why’s? of this world and its heartaches.

I am thirsty for poetry. I want verse to sustain me, to devour metaphors that fill my stomach and my soul until they are bursting out my mouth, leaking through my pores, uncontained by my skin.

I am thirsty for travel. I want to breathe air that I have never breathed before, to fill my camera with photographs and my passport with stamps and my bank account with money for plane fare.

I am thirsty for sleep. I dream of sleep and wake up and feel tired.

I thirst. I drink and I drink and I drink, and I am never satiated.

Friendly face #sol16

I think I have one of those friendly faces. You know, the kind of face that strangers want to talk to.

Take last week, for example: I had a meeting in Boston and split an Uber back to the north side of the river with a colleague. On the way to her house, we chatted in the backseat about our project, family, her cooking class. Then she exited the car, and I gave the driver my address. It would take 10-15 minutes to get to my house, depending on traffic.

During those 10-15 minutes, I learned my driver, Carmeleau, was from Haiti. He had three children, two boys and a girl, and a baby on the way. He owned the Prius he was driving, plus a tow truck and a sports car. He made five figures a month driving for Uber. He showed me pictures of his kids and his cars on his phone at a stoplight. When I mentioned that I also had a toddler, he asked me questions about my son, and I told him about my Haitian students and how I never remembered any of the words they taught me. When we pulled up to my building, he taught me how to say goodbye in Haitian Creole, laughing that I needed to make sure I remembered it!

I will probably never see Carmeleau again, but I lost nothing by being friendly. By listening, by engaging in conversation, by talking to someone different than me — if anything, in that brief moment I gained a temporary friend. I saw humanity. I connected.

What would happen if more people opened up and accepted “friendly”?

slice of life

By the Book #plagiarism #sol16

slice of lifeToday is Easter and we’ll be spending most of the day with J’s family and/or driving back to Boston, so I’m going to be lazy for this post and plagiarize my good friend and colleague Kim, who inspired me to Slice it this March in the first place, and who herself stole the New York Times questionnaire format for her blog, also.

I’ll be sure to Slice tomorrow all about this Jew’s annual Easter dinner with her Christian in-laws, and K’s first egg hunt, don’t worry! Now, on to the questions…

What books are currently on your night stand?

I’m finishing up Mary Roach’s Bonk, about the science behind sex and the researchers who study it. It’s hysterical! My school book group, with other teachers and librarians, is reading science and math nonfiction this month (our choice within the genre). Now, this is not my favorite genre, to be honest, but I’m really enjoying Roach’s irreverent voice. Plus, the topic is OBVIOUSLY fascinating! Also on loan from the library right now are Me Before You, Amy Poehler’s Yes Please, and The Book of Unknown Americans.

What’s the last great book you read?

We the Animals by Justin Torres was just amazing. It’s a series of (perhaps borderline) fictional reminiscences of growing up in a very hectic family in the 70s or 80s, and the young man who narrates it goes through such an intense upbringing. It’s slim, and I read it quickly, and I even taught some of it in my Creative Writing class. It was lovely.

What genres do you especially enjoy reading? And which do you avoid?

Young adult literature, for sure! Perhaps that’s why I’m a high school English teacher? I love fantasy, dystopian sci-fi, thrillers. I also spend a lot of time with “chick lit” (I hate that title, it’s so dismissive) and memoir. I think because what I teach is literature, my tastes in my personal writing run toward the pop fiction end of the bookshelf, but I’m trying to be more heterogeneous.

Lately, I’ve tried to avoid anything that is too heavy, anything that features bad things happening to children. I don’t read a ton of nonfiction. And nothing military or war-related; if I’m going to read historical fiction, there has to be a good solid human interest story there.

Who are your favorite writers?

A lot of classics: Chinua Achebe, Harper Lee, Margaret Atwood, Zora Neale Hurston, Scott Fitzgerald, Shakespeare, Sylvia Plath.

For contemporary authors, I love mid-career Stephen King, Jennifer Weiner, Jodi Picoult, Danzy Senna, Alice Sebold, Khaled Hosseini, Jhumpa Lahiri, and a whole host of YA authors.

What’s the last book that made you cry?

Ummm, I don’t remember? It might have been Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell. That book has BIG FEELINGS. It was wonderful.

The last book that made you laugh?

Why Not Me? by Mindy Kaling. I went to her book signing when she came to Boston and I was so. excited. to meet her. Definitely a fan-girl freak-out.

Who is your favorite fictional hero or heroine? Your favorite antihero or villain?

My childhood hero was Anne Shirley. I wanted to be her; her life had the kind of romantic mystery and drama that boring little me wanted, and I so admired her spirit and heart. I just loved her.

My favorite antihero is definitely Dracula. I finally got around to reading Stoker about five years ago, and I loved it! Better than any movie adaptation.

What kind of reader were you as a child? Which childhood books and authors stick with you most?

When I was maybe eight or nine, my parents had to ban reading from the dinner table because I would read instead of talking to them. We lived on a rural road with no nearby neighbors, and other than my younger sister, books were my nearest and dearest friends.

I remember bawling my eyes out at Where the Red Fern Grows, devouring the Redwall series, loving Bridge to Terebithia, all the Laura Ingalls Wilder and Anne of Green Gables books, A Wrinkle in TimeCatherine Called Birdy. And a lot of series: Babysitters’ Club, Goosebumps, Fear Street. I was prolific. I definitely won a lot of gift certificates to Pizza Hut during our Book It! school-wide reading competitions!

What book read for school had the greatest impact on you?

One: Romeo and Juliet, because it was seventh grade and it made me fall in love with poetry and want to put words together for myself.

Two: Things Fall Apart by Chinua Achebe. It was like the complete opposite of Shakespeare’s verbosity: spare, enormous echoes of ideas between the words. But also, if I’m completely honest, it was the first time that I read (what I perceived to be) a critique of Christianity, and for whatever reason, that meant a lot to a young Jewish teenager in rural New England.

What are you going to read next?

Me Before You, by Jojo Moyes, because Kim (the inspiration for this post!) recommended it so highly, and because the movie trailer made me want to see if I can predict what will happen before the end.

Run #sol16

Left foot. Right foot. Left foot. Breathe in. Left foot. Right foot. Left foot. Breathe out.

slice of lifeBefore I started running in 2010, the thought of long distance running seemed as foreign to me as learning to speak Dothraki. (Before I started running, the thought of running itself seemed crazy.) Even as I increased my stamina, 1 mile followed by 5K followed by 10K distances, I never dreamed of accomplishing anything in double-digit mileage.

After K was born — an event that lasted 20 hours, 3.5 of which were spent pushing, all unmedicated thanks to Hypnobirthing — my relationship with my body changed. Knowing that I was physically and psychologically capable of such sustained exertion, I began to dream past 6.2 miles.

Three days after K turned one, J and I and his siblings completed a Tough Mudder, a 10 mile race punctuated by 25 obstacles such as climbing over walls, climbing through mud underneath barbed wire, climbing over 10-foot tall walls, and in the case of our race in Vermont, climbing up and down a ski mountain. It was exhilarating!

I wanted more. This past October, I ran the New Hampshire Half-Marathon. Suffering from hip pain for the last three miles or so, I took a brief hiatus to recover. My running schedule became sporadic. I did more yoga and then, as the craziness of full-time teaching and full-time parenting slowly consumed us, I stopped running altogether. Suddenly, I looked at my Nike Run app and realized I hadn’t run in 13 weeks. WHAT?!?!

This morning, I woke to K’s voice on the monitor at 6 am, as usual. Instead of bringing him into bed with us, however, I plunked him next to his father and changed into running tights and sweat-wicking fleece. I laced up my sneakers and walked 10 minutes to meet my friend Mia, who is training for a race at the end of May after having her second child in less than two years.

After some light stretching, we started out. The light mist brushed our faces, landed on our eyelashes and clung to our hair like halos. At first, my amnesiac body argued with my brain: What are you doing to me? Then, slowly, it woke from its fugue state. My hamstrings stretched and sang. My joints loosened. Each footfall shook the cobwebs from my mind; all the stress and tension of the last week fell away like beads of sweat. Left foot. Right foot. Left foot. Breathe in. Left foot. Right foot. Left foot. Breathe out.

We had planned to go two miles. When the electric voice of my phone called out TWO MILES  we stopped. My body was left wanting more: more footsteps, more oxygen, more miles. Until next time. It won’t be too long.

runner

I Can’t Even #sol16

It’s 10th grade English Language Arts MCAS week.
I can’t even.

I have a wicked stomachache.
I can’t even.

My toddler is being a toddler.
I can’t even.

I am suffocating under a mountain of grading.
I can’t even.

My second-semester seniors all have senioritis.
I can’t even.

It’s raining and I wanted to go for a run.
I can’t even.

I had PD after-school until 5 pm today.
I can’t even.

I didn’t get home until 7 pm tonight.
I can’t even.

Making dinner?
I can’t even.

I’m supposed to blog tonight.
I can’t even.

slice of life