Word Jam

wpid-06201510102.jpg.jpeg

My best friend’s husband excitedly bounded up the stairs from the basement to present us with his latest discovery: leftover wild Maine blueberry preserves that they had made the year before.  My eyes feasted upon them first before my tongue even felt anything to taste.  The smooth, dark indigo substance paired well with the freshly made strawberry rhubarb compote that was already on my breakfast biscuit.  I took a bite and it was heaven. The differing levels of sweet and tart melded together in tasty layers.

My thoughts, of late, have been such a mixture.  I have wanted to say one thing, but then found myself stuck.  Then another wave of inspiration hit, but then another creative roadblock occurred.  So many layers of interesting things have happened in my life and the world outside that it feels a little insufficient to present just one.  It reminded me much of what observed my students felt whenever we discussed political topics, or themes in literature, or even when they were challenged to put their thoughts into written form through our poety unit.  Teenagers are good at that.  Teenagers are good at having so much to say that it gets jumbled up and they don’t know exactly how or where or when to say it.  Other times, they have such clarity that many adults still lack.  There is, though, like the mixture of blueberry preserves and strawberry rhubarb compote, a beauty in the mess and the layers of flavors.

What’s wrong with being white?  I asked myself this and began sculpting a response, from the point of view of an educator of diverse students, to the story of Rachel Dolezal who for years had been leading people to believe that she was a black woman.  Her desire to partake in the African-American experience is perplexing yet admirable.  Her deception through all of it sullied the perception of her possibly meaning well.  I mean, there are many white people who have “championed the cause” of Civil Rights thorughout the ages.  Why did she feel she had to deny her actual ethnicity to support another?  Did it help?  Did it hurt?

On the other end of the week, and social spectrum, came the mass killings in Charleston.  I found this reminiscent of the Charlie Hebdo killings earlier this year as well as shootings at Columbine, Newton, and countless hate crimes and killings that have ravaged our country, our communities, and our entire planet.  For what reason do we allow the cultivation of such destructive ideas and thoughts?  Why is it ever thought to be okay to take the life of another especially if they have not threatened the lives of others?  More importantly, at what point, and with what event will all of our politicians stop politicizing the issue.  No, gun control is not the answer.  No, loosening gun restrictions is also not the answer.  We are the answer.  The problem is that not enough of us seem to really be asking the true question…then again, I don’t know what that question or series of questions should be.

At this point in life I am not a parent, so I think about how I would address these topics with my students.  They are complex issues that stem from a lack of logic, compassion, and love.  I would, address them as I would any other controversial topic, in an open forum discussion.  I would ask my students questions.  I would have them try to see things from the points of view of others.  I would have them create and ask questions of their own.  More importantly, I would challenge them to see how the would work to make this world a safer, loving, and more appreciative place.  I would ask them to open the Ball jars of their brains and release the sweet brilliance of their words.  I would want for them to do as I am reminding myself to do.  “Don’t keep each word within you,” is what I have been telling myself.  “Spread them out, like a homemade jam atop a freshly-made biscuit.”

On Feeling Restlessness

As a more relaxed Type A personality, I enjoy having a plan.  I thrive in my plans.  Each year I draft a detailed Classroom Management Plan outlining exactly how I want my classroom to run, the rules, the rewards, etc.  Sometimes I follow the plan.  Other times I do not.  That plan always exists in some varying degree (even if it is a tweaked version of one from a previous year).

Right now I am on summer vacation for two straight months. After spending almost a week at the beach, I am now in retiree country (a.k.a. Central Florida) and I’m feeling restless.

Why?

This summer I have been trying something new.  While I usually immerse myself in Professional Development offerings (as an attendee or facilitator), this year I have opted to travel.  This has been a long time coming and certainly well-deserved.  The time I am spending in Florida is only the first leg of essentially a three-leg U.S. tour.  Of course, I planned a lot of it…and then I didn’t.

Long before my trip I had been working on infusing more mindfulness within my life.  As an educator, I am naturally quite reflective, but I wanted to take the time to reflect and sit still within my thoughts about my being me.  The whole me.  The me beyond the classroom.

My first public school
Caribbean Elementary School: Miami, FL

Great things, opportunities, and stories have arisen from me letting go of the specific details of this trip.  I was able to stay a couple more days in Miami, visit my childhood home, my elementary school, have lunch with my favorite elementary school teacher, have dinner with my surrogate mom and dad (plus sister and nephew who promptly told me that he loved me), and meet up with a wonderful college pal that I hadn’t seen in almost a decade.  It was absolutely fantastic.

Mrs. J. and Me
My first/third grade teacher and me

Right now I am sitting on a couch in my grandparents’ living room, watching Game 1 of the NBA Finals and am coming off the peak of a feeling of restlessness.  In thinking about it, I suppose it stems from a sense of excitement, uncertainty, and wanting to predict/plan the future.  I am really excited about some amazing things happening in my professional life, other wonderful opportunities are making their way to me as well, and I’m traveling to places I have never been (or haven’t seen in years) this summer.  With all of these things, I am having to remind myself that yes, they are all moving in a great direction and that I just need to trust the process of it all.

I remember the first time I constructed a lesson where the students were in control. We were doing a jigsaw of notes, nothing huge, and the students took turns presenting their findings.  It was challenging to let them run the show, but doing so yielded the best results.  The students said thereafter that it was their favorite lesson.  If I hadn’t done that almost seven years ago, I know I would not have had the courage to do Genius Hour not once, but twice this past year.  My students were the designers and facilitators of their own learning for weeks on end and the results (well, a good 90% of them) were superb.  All I had to do was let go of the reins and watch the magic unfold.

So here I am in my grandparents’ living room watching Game 1 of the NBA Finals feeling less restless.  I guess I have to remember that there is much more to be gained from letting go of the reins of life in times like these than to try to plan every moment in an attempt to predict the future.

Trust the Process and Quit Feeling Restless
My personal mantra for years, which has been popping up a lot lately.

Education was my Destiny

image

I never intended to become an educator.  In fact, the last thing I thought I would want to become once I became an adult was a teacher.  It wasn’t that I did not value the position as I had amazing teachers throughout my life.  In fact, my high school speech teacher was the first one who in class made me stop to think that perhaps teaching might be fun.  As I entered college, all hints of that idea became deeply buried in my mind like a pair of ankle socks in an over-stuffed laundry basket of ideas for my future.  Even so, becoming part of the education industry was my destiny.

My parents came to the United States as immigrants.  They left comfortable lives at times of political and economical unrest that threatened their lives and parents’ livelihoods.  In doing so, my entrepreneur grandfather, who owned grocery stores in his native Jamaica, reinvented himself as a security guard-turned-grocery store worker and perennial investor in his life here in a country he thought he would never visit.  My grandmother went from life as a stay-at-home mom to that of a hospice worker…and that’s just my dad’s side of the family.  On my mother’s side, my grandmother turned her experience on either side of the Haitian and Dominican borders into a long career as an interpreter.  After all, being on the island of Hispañola, she spoke French and Haitian Creole from life in Haiti and many dialects of Spanish from living in the Dominican Republic.  Upon coming to the United States, she then had to learn English.

My grandparents never stopped learning.  In fact they had to do so in order to survive and provide for their children.  To this day, all three of them continue to add to their skills even though they are well into retirement.

As I write this, I am in Miami, Florida to celebrate the high school graduation of my young cousin Destiny.

This beautiful young lady is such an inspiration to me and is a symbol of my family…both sides of it.  In the face of numerous adversities, she, like those before her (and before me), has accomplished so much in her young life…and this is only the beginning.  I remember one story where she really wanted to try out for cheerleading, but knew her parents couldn’t afford it.  She did all that was necessary to make the squad and worked to fundraise to pay her dues.  Though I am nearly thirteen years her senior, and also a go-getter, her tenacity inspired and motivated me.  It reminded me that obstacles are just a perception shift away from becoming an opportunity.

Life has an amazing way of presenting us with opportunities even when they are under the guise of obstacles.  Through a continual commitment to self-improvement and lifelong learning, no obstacle can ever remain as such.  In this vein, members of my family have become entrepreneurs, earned advanced degrees (my cousin, who is a nurse, has challenged me to see which of us can finish our doctorates first), served our country in the armed forces, escaped domestic violence, and have all continued to learn, grow, adapt, and overcome.

I was destined to become an educator, even when I thought I would become a lawyer, CEO of a multinational corporation, or the next Oprah.  This profession is one where people who have overcome much should walk into classrooms daily to teach and mentor children to see that your education does not end when you cross that stage (at any level) to receive your diploma. One’s true education is ongoing. So, as I make mental plans for next year’s classes, I recognize that my goal, nay job, is really to serve as an example and reminder of a commitment to lifelong learning.  I know not where my career shall take me but I do know this:  I have learned a lot.  I have learned so much that is preparing me for my upcoming phases in life.  I have learned that through continuing to learn, improve, and adapt, I shall be the fullest example of happily living my life.  After all, isn’t that the goal of it all?

And so Another Year Ends…

image

Originally published on the blog at http://MsWillipedia.com.

As the buses rolled out of the parking lot for the last time this school year, I was so excited to see my school babies go and grow.  Those eighth graders, who entered my classroom a mere nine months ago, who had made me laugh, shake my head in disbelief, and sigh repeatedly, were going on toward their next chapter in life.  I smiled widely.  I felt proud.

I genuinely feel pride toward all students who have moved through my classroom, but having previously worked in a school with a highly-transient population, it felt more challenging to cultivate a true family feeling in each of my classes.  This has been my goal for years, and this year, at my current school, it felt possible.

It seems so cliche’ to say that I am proud of my students, but this group was an extremely unique one.  In all of my years of teaching (admittedly much shorter than those of others at seven years) I had never taught a group of students that were all so mature, driven, hilarious, and felt like my own children on many occasions.  Thanks to our numerous classroom discussions and explorations of written media, my students tried their hands at poetry, article writing, filmmaking, art, and more all with the central focus on English Language Arts.  Thanks to our Genius Hour projects, my students delved headlong into their own interests and shared them with their classmates.  It was such a beautiful experience, and we did Genius Hour twice.

Next year I know will be even better because this group of students, like the ones I have taught before them, have made me a better educator.  Not only were my students open to approaching class differently and trying new lessons, but the relationships I established with each class and with each student have left me with more wisdom, compassion, and awareness than before.  For that I am eternally grateful.

And so another year ends…

Next year, as this year’s eighth graders navigate the halls of their chosen high schools and embark upon their ascent into adulthood, I hope that the lessons they encountered have made them better students.  More importantly, I hope that the experiences they encountered within the walls of ECMS have helped them become better versions of themselves.  In the end, I know that I have become a better version of myself from having met, worked with, and taught all of my students throughout the years and especially this year’s group.