I’ve just started writing a serious draft for the UGP; it’s tough going, to say the least. I worked pretty consistently for a little over two hours and got four or five sentences written — three of which are already crossed out. To be honest, it has been a little frustrating. The most difficult part of memoir writing thus far has been going through my life experiences to decide what stories I feel need to be told. It has involved a lot of self-reflection and even some uncomfortable realizations; overall, however, very productive.
This project has forced me to really think about what I believe about education, and how I’m going to incorporate these beliefs into my career; I’ve learned that my beliefs about education can be boiled down to one statement: Education is for Everyone.
Like I said, it’s been productive. I hope to work on writing in my unfamiliar genre everyday to get some momentum going; also to get this project done on time. If I’m only getting two or three good sentences in a day, I better get a move on.
Considering I’ve never even tried to write in this genre (memoir) before, it’s no surprise I’m having this much trouble. It is proving exceptionally difficult to write about myself in a more narrative form; I’m so used to journaling and writing my thoughts as they come and then leaving them on the page; now I have to take these thoughts and organize them into a cohesive story with a “what I’ve learned” and “what I believe” take away at the end. That’s a pretty bug task. But so far I’ve loved working with my thoughts and trying to organize them into a story; hopefully something decent will come of it soon!
Recently I’ve been thinking about my relationship with writing; its had its ups and down, but normally we’ve been pretty consistently together. I journaled at least once a week, kept up a poetry blog, wrote short stories, thoughts, etc. We were going steady for a long time — I would even call it a serious relationship. But lately we’ve been distant; I actually feel like I’ve been losing my writer’s voice. And it scared me — could writing and I be breaking up?
So here I am, crying over a potential break up; so typical, right? But instead of wallowing and accepting the loss, I’ve decided to fight for it; this relationship is important to me, and I’m not letting it go that easily, dammit.
So this is the first of many attempts to hold on.
What does it mean to be a teacher? At first I thought it was about content; instilling a love of literature as deep as my own into every student that walked into my classroom, making sure they knew the absolute most they could about adverbs and sentence structure and how VITALLY IMPORTANT the oxford comma is. All of this, of course, is not what it means to be a teacher. As I learn from amazing teachers, I’m seeing what it means to become one.
I am learning so much.
Teachers are collaborators. They know they are not the owner of knowledge or power, but instead the facilitators of it; they introduce its ebb and flow and let it make waves or watch it crash back to the shore. They work hard and in groups; they’re people people. They thrive in conversation, revel in helping others, enjoy living in change, and are master thieves; if you don’t want anyone using your ideas, keep ’em away from us teachers — we steal like we were born for it.
Which reminds me: Teachers were born to be teachers. They know it in their bones, they feel it in their shaking hands on their very first day, and their aching hearts on their very last. They know what it is to love what they do, to come home tired-eyed and smiling; they know what it is to be so invested it hurts, come home tired-eyed and defeated. They were made for this. They might not always feel it, but it is always true.
Teachers are fighters; they have a mean right-hook and can take a hit or two. They spend their days fighting on behalf of their students, fighting policies that make it harder for them to do what they do best: teach. Care. They can strike fear into the hearts of 7th graders with a single look, and sit teary-eyed as their high school students graduate; they are strong-and-soft hearted.
Teachers are learners; they are writers; they are readers and scientists and construction workers and MMA fighters and artists and dreamers and doers and caretakers and everything in between.
Writing has always been my survival instinct; it’s encoded in my DNA. Writing is what I turn to when all else has failed, when it’s the end of the day and it’s dark and there’s no one around. It has been a way to simultaneously escape and bring me back, to get lost and to find my way home.
Sometimes I’m like a broken mirror: not really great at reflecting. I write to pick up the pieces, I suppose, and glue them all back together so I can see myself clearly again. Sure, it’s fragmented and not too clear, but some of the broken shards throw rainbows in the sunlight, and I’ve always thought of myself as many parts of a whole anyway.
I write to heal. Writing down how I feel has always been bandaging new wounds, letting old ones breath, ice packs on swollen ankles and soft lights for headaches; it’s how I honor the pain and the person I was, but acknowledge that all pain is temporary and I am who I am now. And I can grow so much.
I write to remember. I have journals full of bent corners with scribbled dates and descriptions on them, pages and pages describing one night, a thousand napkins and scratch papers with just one or two words on them, kept in books and all but forgotten until I’ve decided to read again.
I write to process. I write to explore. Sometimes, I write because I am told to.
What are my views on education? What do I believe about the way we teach our kids, and why? I’ve honestly never given much thought to this question, which is scary seeing as I’ve been a preservice teacher for almost two years.
I suppose, as a survivor of the No Child Left Behind Act, I believe kids are so much more than test scores and cookie-cutter learners. I honestly believe that every single child in every single classroom needs a personalized way to learn and grow; this means lawmakers need to allow for much more “wiggle room” on standards, curriculum, etc., because every school, every classroom, every single kid is different, and setting every child in the U.S. to get the same tests in the same way over and over again is just never going to work.
We need an emphasis on learning, not “achieving” (i.e. “getting an A”). We need to intrinsically motivate kids, give them more time to explore what they’re interested in and guide them toward content and standards accordingly. I’ve only been observing teachers in classrooms for about a year, and I know that some kids get a disappointed look when they pick the “blue” task, and some kids get an “awesome effort!” when they pick up a pencil.
We need to stop treating kids like they’re all the same. We need equitable education, personalized education, and room for teachers to do what they know and believe is best for all of their students.
I don’t know that much about current education policy; I plan to change that very soon. But for now, I know that I believe one of the major touchstones of education is that one size doesn’t fit all, and if you don’t acknowledge and appreciate the individual learner that every kid in every class is, you’re going to be taking them 10 steps down from their highest potential, and that’s just not acceptable to me.
The following is a quick-write of the story of my getting one of my favorite tattoos. This will serve as practice for the memoir-type drafting I’ll be doing in the coming weeks to prepare for the Unfamiliar Genre Project. This is my first attempt ever at anything like this, so go easy on me.
I’ve always been a bit impulsive. For as long as I can remember, the first idea was the best idea, and once I set my mind to something there was no turning back. This made my 18th year very interesting; by the time I’d reached the big 1-9 I had jumped out of two planes and gotten four tattoos.
The tattoos are what I want to focus on. Though they were a slight societal taboo, both my parents had several and I had always wanted one. They all have stories, of course, and some mean more than others, but the one that means the most resides on my right arm, just below the elbow: two thin black lines, about the width of a standard sharpie, half an inch apart and wrapping all the way around, unbroken.
This tattoo, like all my tattoos, was not planned more than two days in advance. It was just before finals week my freshman year of college, and I was 16 hours deep in a weekend long study session, full of caffeine and regret (having left all of my studying to the last minute). Unable to stand one more second staring at a textbook, I stood up and said “Do you guys want to come get a tattoo with me?”
My friends, of course, said yes, and ten minutes later I was sitting in a chair with a needle in my arm.
This tattoo was a lot of things to me. I originally got the two bands as a version of an equality sign; the equal rights movement for the LGBTQIA+ community was in full swing, and it’s an issue that’s very important to me.
It also represents connectedness; two rings with no beginning or end, existing together in permanence, all the good hippy stuff.
It was also to honor who I was at the moment I was getting the tattoo. I had just gotten to the other side of a particularly difficult time in my life, and this mark was a permanent way to commend myself of that, and serve as a reminder that I can make it through anything, that I’ve come out better once and I can do it again.
Finally, this specific mark was meant to represent the time and the people I knew in that moment. I wanted something permanent on me from that time in my life, when I knew those specific people. It has become a daily reminder of all of this, and I am grateful everyday for it.
For me, that’s what tattoos are: reminders. They take you back to a place or time, they honor the person you were and the feeling you had, and they mark or make significant change.
REFLECTION: Definitely made me uncomfortable. I don’t like this piece at all; it doesn’t feel like my voice or style and definitely doesn’t communicate what I want it to. It was hard to even complete it as a quick write, because almost every time I finished a sentence I would want to delete it and start over. I think I need to think about a write down the specifics of the memory before I’m able to really write productively about it, and also play with figuring out my voice and the style I want to write in/the direction I want the piece to go. I also want to start thinking about how to connect it to other memories and how to make all of it make a bigger point about education. Maybe I should figure out my overall views on education first, and find memories from there? Or let the memories take shape and use those to form my views? Clearly I have almost no direction on this project so far. I’m hoping the more quick writing I do, the easier this will become.
Today I began exploring different genres to begin the UGP; since part of our specific project is relating it to education and writing about education, I’m straying away from some of my original ideas (short story, sonnet, screenplay) and leaning more towards writing a memoir. The more I think about it, the more I’m convinced this is the right genre for me. I’m used to creative writing and stretching my limits there, but nonfiction makes me very uncomfortable, specifically writing about my own life. Autobiography is definitely something I’ve never attempted, and it would fit well into this project.
Today began the exploration of my genre; I found two amazing articles, 30 Great Short Memoirs and 17 Memoirs by Women, and from their found an incredible memoir called Scars by David Owen. Reading this story really pushed me into making the decision: Memoir is definitely the genre I’ll be writing for this UGP in CO301D. I’m a little nervous, but mostly excited to get started with the project overall!
Now that I’ve chosen my genre, I’ve gotten a little more stressed about the project itself; there are a lot of moving pieces and I can’t see any of them fitting together yet. I do know that I learn best by doing, so today I’m going to work on quick writing some drafts of ideas or stories that might be relevant to education/writing about education. Since memoir is pretty reliant on memory, I figured I would go through and write some quick descriptions of some memories I have involving my experience with the education system. Hopefully some ideas will flow from there!
Take a deep breath. You’re definitely freaking out, and you probably have every reason to; this is your first day as a real-life teacher. One hundred things have probably gone wrong and you think you’re not ready and you’re so scared and you’re maybe even thinking you made the wrong decision, that you’re not cut out for this and you shouldn’t be here —
But you’re right where you belong. This is where you’ve dreamed of being your whole life, where you know you can make the most difference and be the absolute best person you can be. This is where you pictured yourself, so take a look around — this is your biggest dream coming true.
Think back to being me. Sitting in CSU’s library, studying with your best friend, dreaming of what it will be like when you have your first classroom. Hell, I’m freaking out about it right now, I can’t even imagine what you’re going through. Knowing us, I think it would help you to remember your own advice: if it scares you, it’s probably something you should try. Just because you’re scared doesn’t mean you can’t do this. Even if you have the worst first day of your life, it doesn’t mean you can’t do this. You are qualified, confident, and (in the words of your idol, the Queen herself) you’re Schoolin’ Life. You’ve got this. This is what you were born to do.
And you. can. do. this.
You’ve spent the better part of your life training for this, the last four years tirelessly working to know everything you can know and being as prepared as possible to make sure you are your students greatest support and toughest critic and biggest fan.
So stop for a minute, between all the preparations and the fear and the nerves and remember: why did you want to do this in the first place?
First: you love literature. You love reading and writing and want other people to love it, too, so you chose to teach it. Think of who you were in high school, and all that it took to get you to love English the way you do — don’t give up on them. Give them choices and let them discover the love for themselves, and use your passion and love of the subject to teach it well.
Second: you want to make a difference. The biggest way to make the best impact is to teach; teach them empathy and what it’s like to take care of one and other; teach them the implications of their politics, of their beliefs and their words; teach them to think first with their hearts, and speak and act, always, from a place of kindness. Teach them what a wonderful thing it can be to help another person, and how even more wonderful it is to love and help themselves; teach them that they have the power to totally change their lives, and the lives of others. Remember that you started doing this because you wanted your students to know how capable they are, and how powerful kindness can be. This is a big task; you’be be crazy not to be scared.
Third: you love people. You love being around people and talking to people and counting on people — and having people count on you. Accountability can be a scary thing (and I hope you’ve been holding yourself accountable more as you’ve gotten older — you’re kind of crap at it right now), but you need it, and it helps you thrive. This is a job that requires you to talk all the time, to problem solve and laugh and have fun and just be with people. You’re going to do so well here.
Remember: they wouldn’t have hired you if they didn’t believe you were capable — but you have to believe it, too.
Look forward to the little things:
Taking papers to coffee shops to grade (latte in hand)
Having students visit years later and thank you
Your first difficult student that you’ll get to love learning or reading and writing or even just tolerate all of it because they like you
Teacher conferences/trainings/etc. with all your teacher friends
Decorating your classroom (which I’m sure you did an excellent job at)
Coming home on the hard days and knowing that you have a chance to do it all over again tomorrow
So, like I said, take a deep breath.
Remember why you’re here.
And above all, have fun today; you’re gonna remember it for the rest of your life.
For class this week Cindy had us watch this TedTalk by Carol Dweck and respond to it; this is the result.
For me, the power of “not yet” as a teacher of writing is incredible; students can’t fail at writing — they just haven’t gotten it yet. If they’re struggling with a certain genre or a specific project, instead of saying they don’t get it — implying that they will never get it and give up — they can just say “I don’t understand it yet.” That one little world opens a door to improvement that many students wouldn’t otherwise consider.
Dweck’s ideas of “growth mindset” and “fixed mindset” really caught my eye as well. I’m a firm believer that students learn better when they understand how they learn; if they understand the way they’re brains best receive and commit information to long term memory, that process is more likely to happen, and much faster than it would have otherwise. As Dweck says, by telling students that they learn more from a challenge than a success, that they’re more likely to grow when they struggle, to show them the statistics and the brain activity and the studies, we’re letting them know the way their brains work, and I find it’s much better to learn with something when you know how to use it.
This strategy, of course, will not work for every student — because no strategy works with every student. I would like to see Dweck expand on these ideas, and take into consideration the students who will resist and push against the “not yet,” or the students can’t seem to fully get into the growth mindset; how do we adapt this for individual students?
In my comp class we were asked to write a letter to ourselves as writers as part of a morning exercise; here is the result.
You’ve been writing for quite awhile now. It has become an integral part of who you are, not just to you but to other people. Stop and think for a moment: there are people in this city that think of you primarily as a poet (in other words, a writer); give yourself some credit for that.
But let’s not stop here; we have so much work to do. I want you to work on the Daily Writer pose, so to speak; sit down and write something every. single. day.
And not just journaling or blogging, but try short stories, poetry, thoughts on the things you see in the media, thoughts on the things you see in the classrooms you observe every week, and really work on reflecting.
Somewhere you might wobble: you tend to think of yourself as the busiest person in the world; you’re not. You have time. You can do this. I think you might even end up enjoying it.
Okay, here’s how you’re going to do it; right after the yoga class that ends your day, go home, find a silent lounge, turn on your writing music, and write write write. about absolutely anything. for at least ten minutes — without stopping.
Maybe this will help you finally start thinking of yourself as the successful writer that you truly are.