SOL #22 Stay Strong

“I’m sorry! Stay strong.”

Four words to tell me

It was not my imagination,

that my hurt was visible and plain.

One child saw me

and that was enough

to bring me back again

the next day,

committed to do better,

be better

and still be myself.


 

A 9 year old urging me to “stay strong.”

A 35 minute class that felt like 55.

A hint of success despite irritations.

A power struggle with no winners.

Mixed reactions in a distracted crowd.

Giggles to hide embarrassment or nothing at all.

Frustration levels reaching the ceiling.

A stalemate followed by a capitulation.

Continuation cancelled. Forget it, we’re done.

Students released, teacher relieved.

Return to clean-up, discover four words.

“I’m sorry! Stay strong.”

No mistake, I feel seen.

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SOL #21 A World Poetry Day Event

World poetry day and I had two slim books in hand: my own collection of word play in German and Counting Descent by Clint Smith. I arrived in the library where the room was fairly full and the lights dim. It was middle school lunch/recess. One seventh grade student after another approached the mic to share a selected poem from their recently released collection which is available from that crushingly prominent online retailer which shall not be named. I was struck by their bravery. Any hesitancy seemed quickly cured by a smile and gentle nudge from a friend. I listened closely although I could not hear every word. I was standing near the back where the dangling display of found poems touched my shoulder. I needed to stay close to the exit, my next class was in a few minutes. There was no time for me to share from the books I brought which was just as well. It was a celebration of student achievement and creativity and I was grateful to have had a taste. Now back in my office, I leaf through the pages of Counting Descent wondering which poem I would have chosen to read, given the chance.

SOL #20 Random thoughts on the loose

I hear myself speak sternly to my students. Then I think of changing the title of the Tina Turner hit from “Proud Mary” to “Stern Sherri”.

The notion of applying the descriptors declarative and procedural to identity opens up a box of intellectual surprises I would never have dreamed. First, though, I had to share it “out loud” on Twitter.

When I get to my light teaching day and I feel like I’ve just swum the English Channel (again) before I turn around and swim back to France.

Thinking about this writing business and how much time I invest for my own edification. Simultaneously also realizing that without the daily presence of teaching – the rustling, bustling, corralling and collecting – that writing would lack the same degree of color, profile, urgency, nerve and power.

To stand before students of any age and carry the expectation that they will listen to you, follow your lead, acknowledge your hard won wisdom and expertise, is to be humbled on a predictably regular basis. To persist in this act is courageous, exhausting and a large part of the job description.


Sometimes I use this space as a sort of verbal sketchpad. It’s a place where I can keep some of my not-quite-ready-for-prime-time ideas on record yet not feel compelled to ask the world to help me make sense of them. The more I write, the more my head seems to swirl with topics both mundane and profound. They catch me at night, get caught on one of my sloppy dreams. Sometimes they wake me up, follow me onto the yoga mat, risk slipping out during the downward dog but travel back up my spine on cobra, and nestle in my tangled hair as I manage a headstand. Some thoughts slide into my tea with that spoonful of sugar I can’t resist adding. A few athletic ideas like to jog with me up and down the stairs as I hustle to pick up and drop off groups of students. At any rate, I am surrounded. Hundreds of thoughts coming and going like travelers in an airport after they pass security.

What’s a good way to end a post I couldn’t predict before I wrote it down?

Once upon a time, a girl wrote and wrote until she couldn’t think of single thing more she needed to say. She stopped, saved her work, and closed her laptop and walked away.

The end.

SOL #19 My Nightstand (reprise)

My nightstand holds stacks of my best intentions.

As a piece of furniture it offers open space, a flat surface and contains no frills. Four pieces of wood that create a cube with two open sides, it’s highly practical and indifferent to chaos. The fact that its form is hardly visible elicits no hard feelings. Its function remains impeccable which I suppose is what counts.

Inside this open cube I have remnants of readings and artifacts that I have yet to sort and archive (as if this were a thing that I ever did). A cookbook my mother gave me in my early 20’s, 3-4 self-help books some for the physical, some for the emotional, at least one in German. There are 2 old envelopes of photographs. You know the kind you got from the drugstore processing distributor. Mostly pictures of my oldest son from his middle years, I think. Old journals, a few more books I started but didn’t quite finish. Dustcovers of books that I loved yet never replaced on their hardback originals. The assortment is messy but navigable.

On top there appear to be two stacks of books. The back row are a mix of favorites like Gathering Moss and Braiding Sweetgrass, both by Robin Wall Kimmerer which I couldn’t bear to put on a shelf plus a notebook or two thrown in. The front row are a combination of recent aspirational reads and books I’m in the middle of. There’s Ibram X. Kendi’s Stamped From The Beginning, Sara Goldrick-Rab’s Paying The Price and Cathy Davidson’s The New Education. Zeynep Tufekci’s Twitter and Tear Gas is still waiting patiently to be opened.

Despite the relative chaos and unfinished business, I am at peace with my nightstand. I always have something to read. When And Where I Enter  by Paula Giddings happens to be on top and I just returned poetry by Natalie Diaz, When My Brother Was An Aztec, to its owner. Somewhere in that jumble of pages there’s a copy of my own small book of poetry, Die Sprachbuergerschaft.

In a year of two, the combination will shift and be reconfigured. The nightstand will remain stuffed and covered and always entirely necessary.

SOL #18 My Nightstand

My nightstand holds stacks of my best intentions

hundreds of pages …

Interrupted. Life got in the way. 11 y-o chatterbox sitting in my office apparently completing math homework and rapping and quoting lines from the last movie we saw “Inside Out”. He mumbles jokes to himself, weaves youtube memes into his arithmetic, quizzing me about I’m not sure what. Do you mind if I finish this quick write, please? I beg.

Suddenly he’s done there are 30 seconds of silence and now he’s ready to go. “So I would be ready to go and we can go now…” We start to giggle as he continues to imitate every silly joke we’ve ever shared.

It is nearly impossible to continue writing as he leans over my shoulder asking “What’s so funny?” in every imaginable accent. Now he’s holding my phone and pretending to delete the parental controls for his Nintendo Switch.

I’ll tell you about my nightstand and what’s on it another time.

“Let me finish!” I shriek.

Ok I’m done. Tomorrow’s another day.

SOL #17 Scholar Sunday

On Twitter there’s a hashtag for recognizing scholars of all sorts. #ScholarSunday was initiated by Dr Raul Pacheco-Vega who in addition to his academic work in environmental politics very generously shares his methods for research, note-taking, annotation, work flow organization on a near daily basis.  Surprising but true, my name has appeared on a number of occasions along with this hashtag and it has always felt like a very special shout-out because I have trouble seeing myself as a scholar sometimes.

One of the reasons I enjoy Twitter so much is that it has allowed me to locate and hang out with people I would otherwise never have found. Several colleagues in higher education have become good friends and we learn a great deal from each other. This morning while I was sorting out ideas to describe my own writing ambitions, I came up with the term “casual scholarship”. Casual because when I deign to write about ed tech or surveillance capitalism or any other topic that is of interest but not in my academic wheelhouse, I approach the topic like the guest that I am. I pop in, take a look around, engage the experts in a bit of conversation, then share what I learned. Here’s an example of that kind of writing.

Perhaps I am a “casual scholar”. When I choose to write something that explores a tentative understanding, I borrow from better, more experienced thinkers. Most of my writing that could be called “scholarly” demonstrates this pattern.

Anyway, I decided to play with the term and tweeted this:

Casual scholar. Come as you are scholarship. Bring your own baggage scholarship. Make myself at home scholar. Potluck scholarship. Block party scholar.

Because really I want scholarship to be a more welcoming proposition than it is to many. I want scholarship to wear jeans and a t-shirt and flip-flops. I want scholarship to be more invitational, less aloof; more generous and less stingy. Scholarship should also be a choice like going to a party, or joining a potluck. Bring your best thing and let’s share. Today seems like a good day to circulate this sentiment and give a new dimension to #ScholarSunday.

SOL #16 Track Season Has Arrived

We had tryouts for High School Track and Field this past Thursday and Friday. I’m the sprint coach and lead the warm-up drills on the front end of practice, then lead small groups through the same technique drills while giving individual feedback. It’s not actually ‘tryouts’ as no one will be cut. We’re happy to have anyone who’s interested come out, train and compete.

Yesterday, once the distance runners took their leave, we had just a very small group of athletes left and due to a doctor’s appointment I needed to leave early, so I was only able to offer a short session with a group of all girls. 3 seniors and one 9th grader. I’ve known the seniors mostly since middle school and the 9th grader since birth since her mom and I have worked together for years. The atmosphere therefore was different than usual. I joined them for most of the drills and we giggled and laughed about how we were doing. They are all familiar with my routines which is why I decided to break things up. We did a few fitness drills – mountain climbers, arm swings and hotsteppers – followed by 40m recovery striders. We didn’t overdo it. Our session was relaxed and motivating and intimate. A gift on a Friday afternoon.

Thinking it over again this morning, I realize how deep these relationships run. Coaching track is the one thing I have done professionally longer than anything else. The fact that I can still demonstrate high knees and kick butts accurately means a lot to me. My student athletes learn that I am far more interested in their care than in their eventual times in the sprints. Our season is ridiculously short and I tell them that my goal is to get everyone to the end-of-season tournament healthy, uninjured and able to compete to the best of their ability. I know that that can only happen if we pay attention to making practice a desirable destination, one that is fun, friendly, and worthwhile. The same is true for me. I need to make practice a place that I also want to be at the end of long school days for the next 9 weeks.