Good Bones

(The title of this post is borrowed from my current favorite poem, introduced to me by my current favorite TV show. More on that later.)

I love stories. I’m a life-long avid reader, TV watcher, and movie goer. My list of favorite, formative books is too long to mention, so I’ll stick to TV and movies. As a kid, I rented the same Strawberry Shortcake, Popples, and Care Bears videos so often that I had most of them memorized. In middle school, Walker, Texas Ranger was my show. (I do not need your judgement. It was a simpler time.) The movie Dangerous Minds made me want to teach English; then high school brought JAG and during college came Law & Order: SVU.  I also have a well-documented love of NCIS, Hamilton, and most recently, Madam Secretary. Different shows for different stages of my life.

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My childhood faves notwithstanding, all the others share two things: careers in public service and strong female leads. I think most people who know me will agree that I clearly watch/read/obsess over too many A LOT of stories. (I haven’t had cable in 3+ years, but Netflix and libraries are enablers. What can I say?) Thankfully, my family and both of my church homes also made sure I knew the Bible — lots of individual stories pointing to the greater story of Jesus and God’s love and redemptive work through him. When I look at my life today, I can’t help but see a tangle of all these stories.

I knew I wanted to be a teacher when I was in first grade, but I didn’t know I wanted to teach high school until Dangerous Minds. Then, during our junior year, my friend Amy and I served as pages in the Mississippi Senate. It was so fascinating to me that I almost went to MSU as a political science major. (I didn’t get their specific scholarship, so I went in undeclared. Praise God, every credit transferred when I switched to secondary education sophomore year.) I didn’t join the military or the police force or become a lawyer like my favorite leading ladies. I did become a public servant, however, and my years as a teacher irreversibly shaped who I am.

Teaching is a difficult profession for many reasons, and sometimes teachers just need to commiserate with colleagues in the lounge between classes. But in their classrooms with their students, good teachers push everything else aside and respond to what matters: the kids. Occasionally that means they teach a state-sanctioned subject, but more often it also means being a parent, a nurse, a counselor, a confidant, a coach, a judge, a cheerleader, etc. until the most pressing needs are met. (Students do not care about a state English test if they have not eaten since yesterday, just broke up with their boyfriend or girlfriend, and/or have no idea where they will sleep tonight.) In addition to concerns about their own families and themselves, teachers bear the burdens of many of their students. It is an awesome responsibility, and it can wear on you after a while.

In a season 3 episode of Madam Secretary, a policy advisor reads an excerpt from Maggie Smith’s poem “Good Bones” after a particularly tragic day at the office. The last part of it resonated with me during a difficult part of last semester, and I kept the poem open in a browser tab for pretty much the remainder of the school year. The speaker talks about how the world is dark and dangerous, but she keeps that from her children because she’s trying to “sell them the world.” She compares herself to a realtor walking a buyer through a terrible house but trying to point out its good bones: “This place could be beautiful, right? You could make this place beautiful.” Each time I walked into my classroom, I had the opportunity to make it more or less beautiful based on my attitude and actions. It didn’t matter what was going on outside those walls; I was only in control of me. So I did what I could in that classroom until I couldn’t anymore.

Public education has a long way to go, but I believe it’s worth fighting for. So here I am, beginning work on a policy degree. Doing my best to make public education — and my corner of the world — more beautiful, not less.

You are where you are, with your specific gifts, loving the people and things you love for a reason.

This place could be beautiful, right? You could make this place beautiful.

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Teaching: A Day in My Life

Today was a bit of a rollercoaster. The day started with a staff breakfast and celebrating a coworker’s birthday. First period was filled with lots of banter and 80’s music thanks to the two yahoos below:

There were fifteen other desks in the room, but where did they want to work on their 20 Time project? Mine, of course. They crack me up.

During this class, I received an email saying one of my students was out with a doctor’s note until May 7th. She’s one I’ve taught before, so I happened to have her number and sent her a quick text asking if she was okay. By the time 2nd period rolled around, I received a follow-up email telling me the student had been in a car accident where the car had rolled and then caught fire. Her mother and two siblings were okay, but she was still being treated at the hospital. I’m telling myself she’ll be fine, but I haven’t gotten any updates to prove it.

Fast forward to third period. My sweet friend and coworker covered the beginning of my class so I could go sit with my “school daughter” in algebra. Apparently, this week she’s had trouble staying awake long enough to complete her work. Let’s just say she didn’t have any trouble today! 🙂 At the end of the day, she stopped by my room to tell me she’d done all of her work and to show me a picture of a guy with boyfriend potential. “He’s going to meet my mom, and he knows he has to meet you, too.” Wednesday evening he noticed the background photo on her phone – the two of us from an interview at school earlier that day – to which he responded, “Your mom is white? I didn’t know you were adopted!” K took the time to explain AFTER laughing at him for about five minutes. This was one of my finest moments as an educator. 🙂

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My conference period is at the end of the day, so I was semi-relaxing and catching up on emails when I received this text:

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I taught J eleven years ago – my 2nd year of teaching. She struggled with depression and cutting and family issues during high school and later dealt with substance abuse. Today she is a 27-year-old, real-life GROWN UP, and I couldn’t be prouder of her. I am so honored that she asked me to be there when she tells her story.

Teaching is hard. The days are often long and difficult, and we teachers sometimes feel like what we’re doing isn’t making a bit of difference. Today was a good reminder of how it does.

20 Time – Post #2

So, it’s time for a little update on how the 20 Time projects are going. Most of my students have done really well, but a few of them seem to still be determined to do the least amount of work possible – even though they chose a topic they were supposedly passionate about. This has been disappointing, but the kids who are into it are REALLY into it, so that makes up for the others.

The update for each of my own projects follows.

1st Period: My running attempt started off fairly strong as my free app bossed me around, telling me when to walk and when to run. However, at the beginning of the second week, the “free” part of the app ended and I needed to purchase the full version to keep going. At that point, I switched to the original C25K (Couch to 5K) app and paid for the full version. Unfortunately, what little momentum I had was sapped due to shin splints, and I haven’t attempted running in two weeks. 😦 My goal is to start again this weekend.

2nd Period: A local friend of mine (Angela) put me in touch with a friend of hers (Paige) that currently lives in New York City, so I was able to speak with Paige about what it was like to move to NYC from Texas. She was able to live with friends for four months and then found a great job to help pay for her living expenses. I don’t have any connections like that, so I need to look into where I could actually afford to live. I’m also interested in beginning graduate school, so I’m researching the programs at Columbia University and NYU.

3rd Period: I’ve created a Facebook business page called Liberty Lane Goods, but I still need to add pictures. Finding time and good lighting to take pictures of my crafts has been difficult. Hopefully, I can do that tonight or tomorrow and make the site live by Sunday.

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20 Time – Post #1

With lots of help from all over the web (like here, here, and especially here), my classes and I are delving into the 20 Time experience this week!

Since I teach three classes, I am attempting a different 20 Time project for each class. My goal for 1st Period is to run a mile without stopping; I will use the Couch to 5K app on my phone each week and post my stats on this blog. For 2nd Period’s project, I am researching how to move to New York City. In 3rd Period, my 20 Time goal is to create a Facebook Business page for my crafts.

Successfully completing all three projects may be unlikely, but I love to remind my students that I don’t ask them to do things I am unwilling to do. So, it seems worthwhile to at least try to complete all three. Wish me luck!

History Has Its Eyes On You

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I saw Hamilton: An American Musical four times this summer, and I still haven’t recovered. If you have somehow missed hearing about this show, stop right here and go listen to the whole thing for free on Spotify. You’re welcome.

One of the (many) things I love about Hamilton is its reminder that history has a place for all of us. As I teach my students this fall, I can point to this musical and say, “Look! If you love the subject of history, there’s a place for you. If you love rap, there’s a place for you. If you love theater, dance, singing, there’s a place for you. If you love to read and write, there’s a place for you, too.” The writing, staging, reception, etc. of Hamilton encompasses all of these things. All of these things together have created a cultural phenomenon that is quite possibly the best musical of our time. And it would not have happened if even one of those components were missing.

This reminder that we are living tomorrow’s history now isn’t just true for my students. It’s true for all of us. We need to find what we are passionate about and pursue it. We were created with unique personalities and talents for a reason.

We each have a role to play, and each role adds something to the fabric of the history of the human race. So go do your thing.