Forgotten spaces in my heart and mind

I walk in the red double doors and into the dimly lit hallway.  The faraway sounds of a piano echo down the hall, closed doors and haphazardly tacked announcements adorn the borders of my vision; and I walk slowly, drinking in the sounds and smells.  Musty in  a way no other building ever is – smelling of piano strings, possibly bow string rosin, and hammered brass. The music building.  My eyes fill with tears and the ball in the bottom of my stomach threatens to break into a sob.  What in the world is wrong with me?

The music building -once a home away from home. A forgotten space filled with history and future, with hope and possibility. A place to be me, and to know others like me. To be alone but never feel alone.

I spent so many years in music rooms that, even now, they really do feel like home. A public  living room to fling all of the paraphernalia of school and life; to lay across the plastic chairs – chairs, that in any other classroom felt sterile and cold, in the music room became a place to loiter and talk to friends between songs, to transpose music and talk about life, a place to find out who I was, who my friends were, and to discuss the plans we had for life.

Every person needs a safe space. A music room, a corner of the library, a busy lunch table, a club, a team, a sunny spot on the grass – what was your space in high school? In college? Did they look similar? Have you visited them since? As a teacher, I forget that every space in the school is not a safe space for every person. I forget that even when I was comfortable with the teacher as an understanding human, my peers had the ability to make a space more like an war zone filled with invisible electric fences than spaces I felt comfortable being myself. Any wrong move, any stray hair, unwanted tap of the finger, unconscious pencil biting, breathing too loud, could invite the damnation of that predatory kid across the room who seemed to thrive on peer embarrassment and teacher ignorance.

I remember, and I wonder what I miss as a teacher. I wonder what I see as an adult and comprehend differently than my teenage self. It’s tricky being in a space where people are becoming who they will be and who are under the microscopic attention of one another on the dreaded, daily basis. Making a safe space in a petri dish that is filled with invisible boundaries is tricky, and because I know some students fling their things down and lay across the chairs during break and lunch, I have hope that my classroom is a safe space, but I also know that it isn’t for everyone, or isn’t all day. Students – find a safe space – find a music room. Breathe and relax into those spaces.

Teachers, I know you are trying to give them a space – remember your own music room – better yet, go visit – visceral reactions have an amazing way of reminding you what it’s like to be a teenager. What was your space?


In Pursuit of goodness,truth, and beauty

I know that sometimes a call from God is planted in our imagination, and if it persists we need to bring others into the discernment process to test if it is something to pursue or just a diversion.

Henri Nouwen  Discernment 100

Becoming an educator is something I always knew I would do. The form that would take has morphed and changed and seems to be ever changing as I take on the role of teacher each year. I’d love to be able to say that my place in education becomes more and more clear each year – that I feel like I’m standing on solid ground, but perhaps that’s not what actually happens to educators – instead, my world is constantly rocking – not always in a bad way, not always in a good way. Just rocking so that I can never fully find my feet, or if I do, I cannot control their movement, just stabilize my center of gravity so that I do not fall over.

Of course, the main fact about education is that there is no such thing. It does not exist, as theology or soldiering exist. Theology is a word like geology, soldiering is a word like soldering; these sciences may be healthy or no as hobbies; but they deal with stones and kettles, with definite things. But education is a word like “transmission” or “inheritance”; it is not an object, but a method. It must mean the conveying of certain facts, views, or qualities to the last baby born. They might be the most trivial facts, or the most preposterous views, or the most offensive qualities; but if they are handed on from one generation to another they are education….. Education is tradition, and tradition (as its name implies) can be treason.

G.K. Chesterton – Whats Wrong with the World

I’ve always had this idea that education could be better than it is – that the system of education could adapt to the needs of the students and subsequently the world around them. This kind of thinking, though, identifies education as a thing to be changed, a thing to be done. Chesterton’s quote reminds us that education is a method – a way – and that whether we choose old methods or new, the need to recognize treasonous traditions and separate them from virtuous, is necessary. I recognize that statement, in and of itself, is one that some people may automatically recoil from – that the argument of who decides what is treason and what is virtue comes immediately to the forefront – and that ideas of dictators and cult like thinking begin to dance through our debates. So I extend this question to you, dear reader: Are there not definitive, cross- cultural standards for morality? Do we not have clear and inarguable ideals about what is good and what is bad? And, if we do not have common, clear understandings of good and bad – how can humanity ever thrive? We would not have a common understanding of what it would mean to flourish….

Recently, a friend sent me an article from the New York Time’s: “Why Our Children Don’t Think There are Moral Facts”  She prefaced it with the question: ‘Do you think your high school students could understand the difference between opinion and fact?’ I find that the more and more I think about this, I’m not sure that they could – I’m honestly not sure that I can always tell the difference between what we might call opinion and what we might call fact. Scientific method can only go so far to prove truths in the world – if something is not testable, does it make it automatically opinion? No, I don’t think so – but I say think here, because it is my opinion that there are truths which cannot be proven by any method we’ve come to agree upon as a human community. I have basic truths that I believe and it is my understanding of the world, that these are widely believed:

  1. hurting or killing another human is bad
  2. love and kindness is good

Good and bad – we can agree on these: Treason and Virtue. Dishonoring humanity is treason, honoring it is virtue. So then I extend this question – how can we, as educators in whatever capacity we may be – make sure that this is the tradition that is passed on to students. That the knowledge they gain from their education provides a clear path for kindness and love to outweigh a desire to do harm?

My teacher boat is still rocking and my feet aren’t quite stable, but I think I’m getting closer to recognizing an end goal -whether obtainable or not is the question. We shall have to see…

Breaking it down

“No one need invite us to reason, compare, imagine; the mind, like the body, digests its proper food, and it must have the labour of digestion or it ceases to function.”

Toward a Philosophy of Education – Charlotte Mason

Last year, a friend said I was showing signs of teacher burnout – something she said didn’t usually happen until 10 years in. Last year being only my 3rd year teaching, the implication was. and still is, that I am overworking myself.  Daily, I show up in my classroom ready to teach, and daily, I walk out of my classroom feeling like I care so much more about the education of my students than they themselves do.  It is so absolutely discouraging. 

I love learning. I love reading words on a page and interpreting them in my mind. I love the thoughts and emotions words can inspire. I love reading a beautifully crafted phrase and then stopping to read it again – to let the words play in my mind and on my tongue. I love that I can travel miles into the past and across the present, that I can envision how someone else imagines the future; that worlds can be created and broken down and created again – all on a page. I love the ongoing discussions that began hundreds of years ago and continue through the writing of my contemporaries. I love that sometimes I get to eves drop on long written conversations, and sometimes I get to write into them.

I thought that as a teacher I would be able to communicate this love – to inspire students to love language and communication – to read and write and live into the beautiful and the broken – to be more themselves and to allow them to practice who they want to become.

I did not think I would feel like I was parenting 90 children who despise me because of what I love or because of the system I am a part of – because they despise every part of it’s functioning; that many of them would view their school day as a type of imprisonment. I didn’t know that they wouldn’t love words – that they would hate every letter – that their discontent would be contagious: A mob mentality that glorifies all things instant and simple. Their apathy toward their own education – the atrophy of their minds – does not bother them in the least. It seems that they’d rather slide off the cliff because it requires nothing, than climb the mountain that requires strength and a willingness to exert effort in order to reach a goal that might not be fully defined.

I don’t have a way to fix what I see. I don’t pretend that I do. However, I want to try. I want to share and inspire and be inspired. I want to learn how to host education in a way that both teachers and students can thrive. Where all want to practice that “labour” of digesting, creating,reasoning, and imagining. These things should need to be forced – they are part of our very human nature! I want to host a space where thoughts become words which can be read and spoken – where those thoughts and words challenge beautiful growth and breakdown brokenness. I will not give up. 


It is the reason that, as a child, I deplored. It is the reason, however, as an adult that I often give my children when I myself am beyond any ability to add more logical thought to what I have to say.

“Because I said so.”

Oh I see you fate, laughing in the corner as I listen to the words drop from my lips and into the malleable mind of my pre-teen child who takes them in along with her eye roll of fully felt unfairness. I see you. Giggle away, my friend.

I would like to take  a moment to defend my use of this reason that I so hated as a child, for it is not the first reason that I give. I see now that it was probably not the first reason my parents gave either (laugh away), and so I guess part of this post is apologetic and a head nod to parents everywhere – you are not alone – and you are not wrong.

When I say “Because I said so”, it is because the last half hour of logical reasoning seems to have been charlie-brown-adult muffled and my lovely, bright eyed, inquisitive kiddo, has not understood that those beautifully logical, caringly given responses were the answer every time to her “but, WHY?” and all I have left is self-defense. A quick “because I said so” and now I am the villain, the Mom/teacher refusing to listen, refusing to see “reason”.  Oh the silliness that is life. So parents, teachers, authority figures who have tried to reason, what is your end the crazy looping discussion go to reason?

Good at school.

As a teacher, I am constantly, every day surprised by what is difficult for my students. Things should be difficult, and it should challenge them to try and to become even more than they are. Afterall, anything worth learning should be hard, it should challenge thoughts and motivations, learning should spark more questions. But I see students struggling ALL THE TIME, and instead of being motivated by the struggle, they ignore it – they choose the Fixed mindset when we work so hard to choose Growth. They choose less than mediocrity in order to not be bothered.

All the time. Every day, every moment of every class period at least 1, probably more like 15, students are struggling just to sit still long enough to understand what they’re expected to do. Those same students are struggling not only to pay attention to the details of directions, but they’re also struggling to fit in socially, or if they’re socially adept, their entire focus remains on what friends are doing and saying they have no ability to even comprehend why it is they are failing when they haven’t turned a single assignment in all year. These are students that when the entire class is working to complete an activity, they’re making faces across the room, or staring out the window, or are stuck somewhere in their mind, daydreaming about something completely outside of school. School is hard for these kids. Not because they can’t do it or they’re not interested in engaging, but because they really just can’t seem to balance engaging in classroom activities while surrounded by peers. Those who are not engaged with peers or the window, are attempting to get away with playing games on their chromebooks or phones, effectively tuning out not only the academic part of school, but the social aspects as well.  What is going on?!

I know that students need to be interested in what is happening in a classroom.  Interested in a way that motivates them to be engaged, to come up with and ask questions – I know that students need to feel safe enough in a room of peers and a teacher to ask questions without knowing the answers. I just haven’t figured out how to sustain steadily this sort of engagements on a level which reaches these young individuals with different interests and goals. It’s at worst disheartening, but mostly just exhausting to daily think that I am learning more from them than they are from me.  When school begins to feel like glorified babysitting – what needs to change?  What should we do?

I don’t have clear answers, but I’m going to keep observing and attempting every day to welcome these kids and thank them for being here (even when met with groans of disappointment or annoyance).  I don’t know how not to be sad that I care more about their education than they do. Furthermore, I don’t know how to reverse that motivation within the context of a society that doesn’t clearly value education. Society and pop-culture (nearly one and the same) – value bombastic caricatures of what humanity might be at its most artistic, but is instead so broken. It offers models and idols and promise of fame with zero responsibility – it mainly offers lies that look like happiness. And I’m just tired.

People, we need to change the culture we’re in. Actively engage in changing it. Culture is not some all-encompassing dictator of our human movements – it is built by us! We are the makers and sustainers of culture. How can we change it to be better for these kids? For us?

This is my rant for the day – A bit random, a bit unfinished, but posted anyway – because I may be a bit random and unfinished forever and so I might as well share it with others.

This began last week and ended today and I sadly watched the disengagement overflow into the beautifully ignored pre-summer air – face down in their screens, not even looking into the eyes of the friends mumbling next to them – And how often do I model the same behavior?  How about you, friends?  Any ideas to change this culture? this zeitgeist that is the culmination of the wonders of technology and the lack of wonder for anything else? Let’s discuss. 🙂

Building Positive Classroom Culture

(From the beginning of the year, to the end)

The title of this post, along with the above parenthetical, was the title of my very first ever professional speaking session. Mid-March, I was granted the opportunity to present ideas and strategies for creating positive classroom culture at the California Association of Teachers of English. I was, back in October, amazed and ecstatic when my proposal was accepted for the conference, and then as the event neared I was pretty much convinced only 5 people would show up to my session and that they’d probably all politely walk out mid-talk. Having this sort of self-doubt is probably not healthy, but it did probably add to my being overwhelmingly happy with the 25 people that came to my session, did not leave, and even stayed to ask questions afterward. So neat. This event has further convinced me that teachers may be some of the best people in the world (not trying to flatter myself, just the other people I come into contact with all the time). Teachers have the ability to educate masses of smarmy, often careless, de-motivated minors, while keeping the unending optimism that something said, taught, facilitated, is having a positive and life-long affect on those scattered and confused young minds. I met dozens of teachers, sat in sessions with hundreds – all of whom traveled to attend a professional development conference for 2-4 days over a weekend, knowing full well that Monday morning would land them without a proper weekend, rest, or time to grade/lesson plan before jumping right back into the classroom. It was lovely.

My own session went surprisingly well and I only forgot one part of my plan – to hand back anonymous letters of encouragement to the teachers in attendance on their way out the door – I caught the last stragglers and handed them each an affirmation, but I do hope that the ones who left without one, still came away with ideas and encouragement.

For fun, I thought I would go ahead and link here the padlet pages included in the talk.

First – a padlet of resources and ideas:

Second – a wall of gratitude – feel free to add what you are grateful for – It’s actually lovely to see what other people are thankful for.

The specific prompt for this padlet was: Write 3 things that you are grateful for as an educator, about your profession – This could extend to any profession, but the purpose of this was to get teachers thinking about what they love about teaching, and them to challenge them to reflect on how and if their students and/or co-workers know that they are thankful for these things.  Do your students know what you love about teaching? If they do, they may have a little more understanding of you as an actual human being who has their best interest at heart. Do your co-workers know what you’re thankful for? Do you know what they’re thankful for? What would our school culture look like if we actually, vulnerably engaged in sharing, and listened with empathy to, what we’re thankful for, what we struggle with, what our goals and successes look like?

I love the variety of things that people shared, and the willingness with which they shared.  I loved the chance to share my ideas and short lesson plans that maybe someone else could find useful. And so, this final link will take you to the full slide show if you’re interested. Thought it better to share than hold on to. If you have any questions (because I did a whole lot more talking than is clear in the slides or in my notes), let me know. If you have any ideas to add to the resource board, or a classroom strategy that you employ in order to create a positive classroom culture, throw it my way!

Building Positive Classroom Culture – Slideshow :

Happy Easter, Happy Teaching, Happy Spring and people, we are almost to the Summer, hang in there!

ps. the sunsets in San Diego are gorgeous:

Struggling with words

This weekend, I have had the amazing opportunity to attend and present at the California Association of Teachers of English Conference in San Diego, Ca.  It has been a place of networking, sharing brilliant ideas, asking and answering questions, and most of all: connecting with and feeling a new sense of inspired rejuvenation from being near like minded and passionate educators who are struggling and striving to provide classroom spaces that are meaningful and relevant to student’s lives.

Some of the workshops centered around poetry and giving our students space to authentically engage in spoken and written words. Spaces that allow them to continue struggling for answers, not especially designed to find answers, but to provide space for the struggle. As is normal for me, I have to test the waters of struggling before attempting to challenge my students to struggle, and so my struggle with words and life is below. I can’t wait to post about the rest of the conference and my experience as a presenter, but for now this is where I am and where I’m struggling.  Not sad, not worried that I’ll never find an answer, just here.

Finding a space

Loved. Love. Respected. Respect.

Care for other. Forget Self

Work hard. Go to College.

Be better.

Better than what?

Better than this?

What’s wrong with this?

Amazing parents. Working so hard.

High school graduates and then some.

Hard work. College. To work less. To be better.

To be more.

What’s wrong with this?

So happy. But so much work.

What’s better? College.


Get out of small town. Go. Better. Bigger.

More Debt.

I don’t understand.

Moving on. Growing up. Pushing away.

I’ll go eventually. Start a family.

Pull back.

Push away. Care for self to care for others.

Forget to forget self.


Bachelors. Masters. Job.

Education is broken.

In five years I will be….

Education is broken.

Breaking my beautiful kids.

…I will be….

I will fix it.

In five years.


Where did the time go.

My beautiful kids.

Where did my time go?

What will I be?

Who will they be?

In five years.

Hold on.

Don’t let go.

I’m working hard.

You can work hard.

They’re still breaking.

I’ll fix it.

Work hard.

Don’t cry my little loves.

Hold on.

I’ll fix it.

We will make it better.


Working so hard.

Don’t give up.


Don’t forget

In five years.

Love. Loved.