A Can of Worms and Other Rituals

It’s been tough going back to school. Dealing with my own fractured energy is hard enough, but suddenly I’ve been thrust into everything else, a day-to-day chaos which teachers must shape into learning in a not so brave new world. And it requires hours of reading and conceptualizing and creating and time! And the consequences and fruits already are apparent in my body as I slip back toward adrenal fatigue.

Enter self-care. The new “best practice” which supports “teacher autonomy” and learning. Not lip-service. Rather, it is intertwined with other tools of the trade and the broad categories of this can of worms: Mindfulness, Social-emotional learning, Restorative practices, Total communication practices, Brain exercises, Comprehensible input, Coding, Self-talk. Meta-cognition.

Each day, I patiently thread this self-care in to each period online, in face, and in spirit to my ever changing school setting. I have a cozy little room and a refreshing new minimalist view on material goods. I feel safe most of the time, and I have clear boundaries. We all wear masks. We have temperature checks. Many of us try to NOT be socially isolated, but the days are long and we mostly look tired and defeated leaving. It’s hard to share a laugh when there’s no time to share a cry and hugs and hold each other in the massive emptiness of the unknown.

I have a massive respect for parents this year. I’m grateful that my kids are graduated and out of our schools. I can clearly understand the nightly meltdowns and harried demanding emails to teachers about how stupid an assignment is. I feel the same. I know I have students who can’t manipulate Google documents and make their text boxes bigger. I know because I’m one of those students.

I struggle. My practiced, refined, and automatic thinking processes crumble and cower with the 7 hour routine of being online everyday and trying to reach all my students and everyone should be able to see, hear (or have interpreted) and share, triaging 100+. remembering meetings in new departments, and doing a hundred other administrative things that only matter at school. So, I model. Here’s my cell phone. Yes, it’s on my desk, but I’m not going to look at it until lunch. Its here for emergencies. By the way, there’s a fire drill today. If you are at home, what should you do?

And what do we do or where do we find out what to do for a/n fire drill, active assailant drill, inclement weather drill, late dismissal, a kid that shows symptoms, a quarantine letter, a free testing site which has enough tests? There are memorandums which we get after we learn what we actually have to do, and do it well. We keep our F2F students safe, and let go of learning content for that period until this becomes unacceptable and incongruous with mandated testing looming (thanks to our governor and Dept. of Ed). And I’ve missed meetings because of the 3 surgeries my husband has had and I can’t watch the 2 hour recording…not that anyone says anything because everyone is dealing with the same things, which means the students are, too.

Just as practices of physical safety are part of physical and formal school, mindfulness can be, too. Revisiting and reaquainting myself each morning in my own practice beneath the sky helps me build the strength and stamina to begin anew each day until we all feel safe to do good work.

The question really becomes what is good work? What does the student think good work is? The parent? The district? The State? Is it test scores? Is it all these things and more? For me, it seems pretty clear. Learning requires a new and readily practiced set of skills for coping, growing, and succeeding.

Fama Volat.

Aeneas at Dido’s Court, Pierre-Narcisse Guérin (1774–1833), Musée du Louvre, Paris. The Athenaeum.

Today for my 2nd week of summer, I have puttered around the house, straightening and cleaning, fidgeting mostly, like I have some business to do with school or something I wrote down that I need to remember (but I did all those things earlier). I’ve been thinking a lot about Dido, and many other players in literary words about how life is supposed to work and for whom. I don’t have very many of my original text books, but I do remember reading Book IV of the Aeneid three or four times. And, now, I’m hopeless lost in looking at my translation and notes, delighting and celebrating inside that I wasn’t that kind of student who, piously as Aeneas, took the notes they think they should take…

Anyway, most of my students have never much like Aeneas–more like the unseen, unheard, and unwritten heroes and heroines in any epic. Still, there’s part of me that wants to post pictures of the love notes I’ve found on Cornell notes, close reads, and classroom desks and books from my students (I keep them). You learn a lot from what students (who typically don’t write for assignments) have to say (evidence that they are “writing to learn.”). It’s not very expansive, but there is a certain recognizable pattern from elementary to middle school to high school, and a small evolution happening. Few words start blossoming into more words, and then…

I’m lucky though. I can look at my notes from all three times I read with someone else: the stilted awkward translations sprinkled with small epiphanies of an 17-, 19, and -21 year old. Archaic writing with traces of me in it, next to Dido, in Book IV, in different color ink and handwriting (when did I stop experimenting with how I take notes? what did I mean by MEDEA! ?). The book is falling apart, the binding is coming loose (how many times did I conjugate loose in Greek only to forget now?), there are holes (which seems appropriate as this book is where I learned lacuna–holes and holes)…

It was a rabbit hole that put me here today…a question I posed myself about something that popped up in my head: fama volat. Many things fly, but rumor above all travels and lingers…gets all mixed up in the elements and our emotions. Dido’s downfall, witnessed and carried by Fama, is purely elegiac, but there’s a lot of beauty in that meter. Maybe, if Dido was given a chance to use her own words–Didn’t she build her city after leaving her childhood?–those words might say something like…

Ovid constructed his Fama as the middle of the world, where the sky, sea and earth meet together; she lives in a house on a peak with no doors and 1000 windows. She has feathers to fly, eyes to see everything, ears to hear it all, and a mouth to spit it out into the wind. She is a monster. However, the thing is, with me at least, is that I can’t believe she is actually a monster, no more than I believe in Charybdis and Scylla. When I listen to the news, I can hear all those dusty forgotten monsters speak. What words are valuable to us as society? Does turning women’s power into something otherworldly and frightening to behold or something beautiful and raw and real? As if, in America, we didn’t perpetuate the same injustices on people of color, as well as women. Was this written in the stars…

And the question for my research became this exploration of differences and similarites of then and now. Even my copy of Vergil’s Aeneid is old (first published in 1930–how much has scholarship and reading changed). It’s definitely not the oldest book I own or most unique, but I just love it. The book still smells like college, like the old, asbestos-filled building where the Classics department was located (in the Religion building next to the chapel) near the mens’ dorms (we didn’t even have co-ed dorms). I linger a bit remember all the cozy afternoons with my advisors (husband and wife team) combing through Book IV in their office–but oh! the notes…

Scribbles. Calligraphy. Drawings. English words (jejune is in there!) identifying Latin grammar and precise definitions; there are references to Euripides, the world tree, and the Odyssey…

To quote one of my students, who scribbled in the class read aloud book, Refugee: “this fuckng grate!” As I work on cleaning and ridding myself of stuff today, I wonder if the student who wrote that (I’m pretty sure I know which one) will even remember that book or maybe some theme in the world will set them off down a rabbit hole, even after 10-, 20-, or 30-years…

Who gives birth to all this? You? Your parents? The school system? Your breadth and depth of reading? A teacher? Some of this? All of this? The neuroscience of your physical humanness? Don’t we learn when they experience the struggle, like Dido? We (the teacher “we”) often take the struggle out of reading and school (and most kids never even notice). I could give some examples…

So much experience in institutions come from writing and reading; even rules we teach in school (and life) are written down (in fact, catalogued and curried each school or legistated year–you can thank the Romans for that one). I love that my students ask why, but I have to force myself to remember this (it catches me off guard somewhere in the first hour of my teacher talk). Don’t we all struggle with our rules in society, those words that others use to describe us (most of us don’t even choose our names), the characters we identify with, the resources we carry with us? And, isn’t fucking epic (and great), but filled with potential. It’s scary. In my opinion, it’s COVID-scary. I’ve seen the rabbit holes people go down in the name of public education…

What kind of individual choices would lead Dido to commit suicide? What are we missing? What kind of decisions does a person make in survival mode? That’s how I know it’s not Dido talking; What great woman couldn’t handle herself with pious Aeneas after her brother killed her husband (also not of her choosing) and she fled from the Middle East to Africa? All because Venus placed Cupid in disguise on her lap as Ascanius? Convenient. Love made her do it…

What does that say about Roman Love? Anyway, I never did buy the epic storyline, but I am captivated by it. That’s the point. In the game of civilization, there feels like there’s some chance involved. Is that chance written in the stars, and read and carried by Fama, Herself? or does She hear it from her 1000 windowed house without doors from the ships that set sail from Her shore? are these the men that carried our alphabet and shackled the us to laws about our person, our body, our roles? do those echoes sound the hegemony of today? An idea that the unread, unwritten, unheard characters are powerless (even with words)…

The whole morning has been spent staving off discomfort and gnawing fear (does Fear fly, too, because it sure feels like it?), cleaning up messes I’ve left behind over the year: what to keep, what to throw away, what to use for school, what to move past. Too much stuff. Lots of notes written in lots of books (and I’m only on the school-related shelves right now)…

Just like public school: what to keep? What to rid? What is is necessary for us to feel safe? If we are digital, I think we’ll all feel safer, but it sucks for some of us (it’s a struggle). If it is blended learning, many will have some adjustments to make for the new kind of normal (I’ll be working 1000 hours a week in a room with a 1000 doors and no windows except the ones I make). If it is traditional brick-and-mortar….

A handful of kids over the years have ask to hold this book (it was, just before the end of the year, on my classroom bookshelf with some other really special books). As if magically enchanted, all of the students have asked permission (which never happens in a middle school setting) to look at it. What is this magic of a book, of a teacher, of a classroom, of an institution that begs any question? Is it the action that forms the question or the question that forms the action?

If I could ask for one truth (or wish) for my students (for anyone actually), it would be for them to have the power to see their world as it is, not as someone else paints it or writes it to be. The caveat is if, and if they don’t like what they see, visualize that change. I pose this to classes from time-to-time, but I’m a little afraid I’m not up to the job (professionally, like). It’s good discussion, fertilizer for what might have come, but now…

I’m not writing for them though, but I’ll try to give them tools to see and express themselves, tease it out (that’s best practices). I find it the most rewarding thing about teaching multiple grades and subjects and exceptional ed. Given time (and I mean a lot of time–not mathematical time on some IEP, tied to dollars and services), students will learn to write this for themselves (writing probably being one the hardest ways to express yourself for me). I don’t mind if they write it on a napkin (definitely is epically upsetting to some teachers). I really don’t mind if a kid has to take a nap, go to the nurse, get a drink, cry because they are overwhelmed or really mad (even if they are 220 pounds and 6 foot tall), or eat a snack (they are 220 pounds and 6 foot tall in 7th grade–they need a snack), or go down to the uniform closet (although I probably harped way too many times over the year about it). Mind, not care. I care a lot about their time out of class and the fact they aren’t reading, but until they realize the power of their choice and the magic of books, there won’t be any notes or rabbit holes…

Irresistible Feeling

I cannot help but wonder as I teach a biology unit in science at life’s miraculous presence from the microscopic level to our vast universe.  I think it is time to infuse Common Core (and its critics) with movement.  Let us move from thinking to feeling.  It starts with educators! Teach empathy and model kindness.  Let us move from reacting to reflecting (the real critical thinking) via Subtle Effortless Action.  There is nothing to lose and everything to gain.  Kindness matters more now than ever.  #guncontrol #safeschools

Irresistible Ahisma

Never more relevant for our students (and ourselves) via Ahisma

Irresistible Moments

It’s not impossible to be a great teacher these days, but it is a lot of self-reflection.  How can one improve teaching without improving one’s self?  How does one rid themselves of the “nattering nabobs of negativism?” Is there a place for stillness and action in the classroom? Of course! via Moment within a Moment

Irresistible PLCs

Wouldn’t it be glorious if teachers had the time and space and community within their schools to reflect and cultivate great teaching habits?  Practice and reflection are essential and further our students!  This doesn’t happen in our PLCs. via Our place within our place

Irresistible Practice

“Practice,” as in homework, takes buy-in.  What’s the buy-in for students in our classroom?  Grades?  Fear of consequences? Accolades?  Certainly not samyama.  It’s time to rethink why we assign homework in the classroom.  Practice is important, but so is teaching why practice is important and how frustration is part of challenge and growth!  via Beautiful Samyama