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Shiny Happy

Iced tea, book, good pen and new calendar...
Iced tea, book, good pen and new calendar…

Much is made about how teachers relax over the two months of summer. This summer’s been a blast for me, and the momentum is just getting going.

When I was in college, (the BFA time around), I was a waitress at a place called The Deer Park in Newark, Delaware. After a hectic shift, I always found myself wound up, and unable to turn off the switch from my shift, and on more than one occasion staring up at the ceiling well past midnight stewing about an 8AM class. (Yes, even Art/Art Historians have to take an 8AM class once in awhile.) I think a lot of teachers feel that way, too, as they slide into summer. We’ve just been on a 180 day shift, where can’t go to the restroom on our body’s schedule, or eat at a leisurely pace, and the sheer energy of absorbing 130-150 emotional demands takes up mental and emotional space. When the school year ended this year especially I just went around somewhat dazed and bewildered, like seeing a bright light after months of darkness (Note to self: that was the sun.). Now I’ve got the groove of summer, and I’m sure by the time the end of August rolls around the transition may have a little grit involved, like stepping into a sandy flip-flop. It’ll be fine though, I am sure, because I’m doing what I love, including thinking about cool things to do for students. There’s a shiny new calendar, too, beckoning: Write in me! Plan! Prep!  I’m Purple!

The Just Write class via Puget Sound Writing Project has brought me around many folks who are not teachers first, but writers first. We have a morning benediction of sorts, reminding us all not to plan or prepare, but to, you guessed it, just write. We’ve enjoyed the ‘life as writer’ insights of Jennifer Bradbury, a real honest-to-goodness working and publishing author. It’s like having an artist-in-residence as a friend/guide. (And she’s dang nice too, as well as incredibly smart and talented.)

And: secret’s out. I am having a summer romance this year. (It’s okay, you can tell my husband.) This year I’ve fallen back in love with cultivating my creative life, my teacher life, and have a somewhat grown-up family: as much as I loved when my sons were small, I am really enjoying this phase, now too: before wives and their children, just enjoying the young men they are. What a good place to be. But it didn’t just begin this summer. Last year I decided to continue a new tradition in our family of actually looking events up, buying tickets, getting in a real car, and driving to see performances and lectures by writers. So far we’ve seen Ira Glass,  David Sedaris, Patton OswaltNeil Gaiman, the Moth Radio Hour, and have plans to see Sarah Vowell,  Anthony Doerr, Ta-Nehisi Coates, and any others we can. Hearing stories live is like being read to again: just as endearing and enchanting. Music to my ears.

So I have a date to continue growing this creative life: it’s the best thing I could do. And it’s relaxing. The planning is like canning fruits and vegetables, the reading of all kinds of novels is like planting wildflower seeds and tenacious daisies and other perennials, and this blog–a Farmer’s Almanac I guess, to guide where the wind changes, and plan for the rains.

Time to go see that big yellow thing again.




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Dear First Year Teacher: A love letter from the Puget Sound Writing Project, 2015

Note: I asked the participants of the PSWP (Puget Sound Writing Project) to provide a letter to a new teacher – well, we teachers are busy folks. I know there’s one I can’t find in my e-mails, and others are well, teaching. I’ll nudge again, and see what happens. Here are two for the time being.

An autumn morning in Seattle, Washington at the University of Washington with the Puget Sound Writing Project — discussing my love and passion for blogging, its benefits to self and soul, and how to use the Internet for good, and not evil, I asked my colleagues to write a love letter to a new teacher. I will post these as they come in.

My love letter is simple: remember, always, this child in front of you is someone’s baby. This child was created and is here, now. Their creation and their story is their own, and singular. No matter what you judge, or runs counter to your beliefs, this is someone’s baby. And they trust you to hold that sacred, even if they seem incapable of the same.


Dear First Year Teacher,

By now you have found that working at Woodward requires an amazing amount of attention, an ability to juggle 17 balls at once, and a talent for keeping in mind each student’s needs and interests. As an old crone who has watch you as a child grow into a colleague, I would like to pass on a bit of wisdom for this first year, and beyond. That is, “You do not have to be good.” This is the first line of Mary Oliver’s poem, Wild Geese, which has become wildly over-used of late, so I will address only the two most useful lines for me. The whole poem is included at the end.

“You do not have to be good…” I found this particular line supremely comforting during these last 14 years of teaching because it allows that, while none of us – student, teacher, or parent – are perfect and will, in fact, make many mistakes in our roles, we are still trying to do our best. It is okay to make mistakes, to try new and innovative paths (even if they are dead ends), to say NO to ways of teaching if they don’t fit who you are. In your first year, you do not have to be “the best” teacher. You only have to strive to be a very good first year teacher. Do you see how that opens you up to so many possibilities? Have compassion with yourself, as you would to any of your students who are practicing Algebra for the first time.

Oliver goes onto say, “…You only have to let the soft animal of your body love what it loves…” In the past few years, this line has supported me in recommitting myself to the reasons I went into teaching in the first place. Take a little time right now to write down WHY you have chosen to teach, and what you love about the profession. Write down what you hope to learn and accomplish through teaching; then post this writing somewhere you can revisit it from time to time, or set it up on your calendar so that it appears monthly as a meting you have. In other words, keep an eye on what you know feeds you. If your purpose changes, go back and take the time to edit it. There is no right or wrong answer here, as long as it is your own.

Teachers are notorious worriers, particularly about being exposed as frauds. This is because there is always more to learn, always answers we do not know. Perhaps this has not been your experience as you are so soon out of training and education yourself. Still, in the longest days if correcting a zillion papers, and then staying up later yet to plan the next day’s lessons, remember Oliver’s last lines: “like the wild geese over and I’ve announcing your place in the family if things.” You belong here, dear teacher, stick with it, hang on tightly to your self, your soul.



“We are like lutes 

once held by God.

Being away from his 

warm body

fully explains

this constant 

yearning.”                                           Hafiz


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National Writing Project (NWP): Yes, in my backyard…

spongebob writes

Call this shameless promotion. Accuse me of having an agenda. I do. An important one. As I approach my ninth year of teaching, as I begin to sift through the hours of professional development, stale staff meetings, and reform, reform, reform, and oh, “Would you like a new assessment with that reform?” one clear and shining beacon of hope burns bright for me still — the time and relationships I’ve built with Puget Sound Writing Project, my local chapter of the National Writing Project. The NWP celebrates 40 years this yearlet that sink in for a moment. I’ll wait. 

Did you check your e-mails? Did you post a cat video on Facebook? No, I’m not being smug or snarky: those would be things I would do. Allow the static and volume both in noise pollution and quantity to interfere with my own thoughts. But consider the stalwart insistence of four decades: no matter the changes and turbulence, the National Writing Project has held true to its mission:

Our Mission

The National Writing Project focuses the knowledge, expertise, and leadership of our nation’s educators on sustained efforts to improve writing and learning for all learners.

They believe something I have not witnessed in many administrators: they believe teachers are the best teachers of teachers. NWP encourages and clears the path for us, allowing us to flourish. What is the very essence of education? My truth–to provide a space where I and my students thrive, push, connect, and remain messily, unabashedly human. There is something that supercedes or transcends devil-in-the-details about Common Core or its accompanying assessments such as the SBAC. It doesn’t matter how we feel about those things — what matters is how NWP/PSWP provides the clear-thinking mental (and physical) space to support each other. All I can think of is a stupid metaphor about how we teachers are the farmers, reform is the changing weather (tornadoes, drought, and pestilence at times) and our crop, naturally–our students. Okay, forgive me. That was dumb. I’m stretching. (Quietly walks over to coffee pot to see if caffeine will help!)

I think it did. Okay. Back to this.

Here’s what it’s done for me:

  • Made me believe I am a writer
  • Given me sustaining and nurturing relationships
  • Provided me with a means to help students tell their own stories
  • Given me a free space where none of my ideas are stupid, dismissed, or discounted
  • Let me talk things through
  • Honored me, and given me status
  • Shown me through gentle leadership how to empower others and give them status
  • Provided a dragon’s vault of valuable lessons and instructional delivery
  • Encouraged and expected my own teaching vision
  • Space for critical thinking and reflection of others ideas and research/analysis
  • Supported connections with educators around the country and world
  • Periodical check-ups for teaching health (this is HUGE)

I thank my lucky stars every day for Holly Stein, too. She’s the former and now current director of the PSWP. Without her encouragement and guidance–don’t even really want to think about that right now. The working studio environment — time to work, time to talk, time to share — honors teachers from all paths. If you’re feeling fatigued from the current state of affairs in education, possibly even close to extreme burn-out, (as I was), consider looking into your own local NWP group. Even if there is not a physical space at a university, consider reading news and updates from this organization. We are digitally connected, and our front porches as close as our screens.

Now — time to write.

National Writing Project, Twitter: @writingproject