Visible Thinking

When I teach writing, I often make my thinking visible for students. Sometimes that takes the form of my reflection that we read together. Usually, though, it happens before, during, and after they look at a piece of my writing. I “talk it out” as a way to model being a purposeful, thinking writer (and person).

Below, you have some of my recent thinking. Like most thinking it sometimes follows logically and other times jumps around, apparently randomly, but with personally relevant tangents. I offer it to you as an explanation for a recent unexpected decision.

I’ve been retired from teaching for just over one year. It’s been a semi-retirement since I’ve continued to work several part-time jobs. I’ve enjoyed working for ASPPIRE (as job coach and Personal Finance teacher), for Schuler Books, as a tutor, and for the National Writing Project in various roles including assessing students’ online writing. Having so many very part time jobs was both satisfying and confusing. It seemed odd to me that I both appreciated having a flexible schedule and missed having structure to my days. How could both things be going on at the same time?

When I retired from full-time teaching, I would have taught part-time if it was an option. I still enjoyed teaching English and the energy of middle school students. I just wanted more time in my day to do other things (write, exercise, travel, read, go to the bathroom when I wanted to…). However, no part-time positions were available in my district. And so I retired, leaving the job in capable hands (Joie, a good friend and high school teacher).

Time passed and, for personal reasons, Joie (the teacher that replaced me) asked for a one-year leave.

Despite everything you’ve read so far, I didn’t realize I was waiting for the opportunity to teach again. A few friends have told me that they saw it coming (and other friends tell me I’m crazy to leave retired life), but when a colleague and friend told me there was a part-time opening teaching three 7th grade English classes, I was suddenly interested. Maybe not at first, but within a few minutes, even I could see it was what I wanted and needed at this point in my life.

Money is always an issue. I wasn’t sure at first that I could work (even 60% of a full-time job) for so little money. Once I got my head around using this (extra) money for a specific, fun thing (Hint: ALOHA everybody) that helped me move toward wanting to teach again. And I felt like they (at least on some level) wanted me back. Also, thankfully, the school district worked with me to make sure the salary I would earn would not interfere with my pension.

There were a few points along the journey that felt strange and uncomfortable. Texting with the administration instead of face-to-face meetings was odd; being asked to complete a criminal history check and an online application by the district that I worked 17 years for bordered on ridiculous. The fact that I never really heard anything from the Human Resources department along the way was disconcerting. Maybe they didn’t communicate with me because I didn’t complete parts of the online application (I couldn’t find my teaching certificate, for example) and the HR folks didn’t know what to do with me. On the other hand, I nailed the following question on the app:

What makes an outstanding teacher?

I wrote: A teacher needs to be a good listener and observer. Watching and hearing students as they work and participate, teachers can get a sense for their needs. Teachers need to assess students in reliable ways and use that information to present lessons that match student needs, abilities, and interests — while offering just the right amount of challenge. Outstanding teachers are also patient, clear, and consistent; they create behavioral and academic expectations, then follow-through on enforcing rules and providing opportunities for success. The best teachers are also fun and funny, cooperative and collegial, and reflective and always learning. Part of being a lifelong learner-educator is teaching students digital literacy skills and having them write for real audiences.

They were probably googling phrases from that answer to make sure I didn’t scam if from some online teaching reference.
:^)

And just as I finished the application and the three Professional Development days were about to start…I came down with a cold. I needed to plan for teaching 7th grade English and go to meetings, but instead I slept for hours and hours and drank gallons of water. (Some meds that we didn’t use on our Europe trip helped a bit too) It may have been a stress-induced cold, but it was real enough in my head, throat, and chest. And then, right in time for the last PD day, I felt mostly better.

Seven days into this nearly 10 month gig…
To the dozen people who have asked if I regret the decision, I say “no.” It feels right. I’m teaching a curriculum that I know (and I’m even coaching / working with the other part-time English teacher a bit) and I have received a lot of support from parents, colleagues, and board members. Heck, Joie had my favorite M.C. Escher print up (that I gave her) and a card on the wall that I had written to her to remind her to smile more often; I feel like I’m looking in a mirror most days. And I like what I see.

Continuing to Re-Learn

Lisa Genova wrote the movie, Still Alice, several years ago. In her recent TED talk called “What you can do to prevent Alzheimer’s,” she concludes that continuing to learn throughout life seems to be very important in preventing Alzheimer’s Disease. This makes sense intuitively as well because if I am always learning, I stay fresh and current…like a constantly sharpened pencil never getting dull.

For me, though, it’s more like learn, learn, forget, re-learn, re-learn.

Another short, four-day writing camp ends and I have learned many things — I hope the students came away with something, too. For at least ten summers, I have taught teens in the summer at the Red Cedar Writing Project’s Spartan Writing Camps. For years, I led a camp called “Digital Writing,” but more recently I have been widening the focus to “Creative Writing.” I like the flexibility that such a class affords and often I include some digital writing as part of the camp.

One techie thing I re-learned was how fun and useful Storybird can be. It’s a great tool for sharing longform stories, picture books, and poems. I also was reminded that their notion of a poem is something you create with the words they provide (like refrigerator magnets); choose “picture book” to share a previously written poem and you can add photos to go along with the poem. And who did I learn all of this from? A teen named Elaina. Seeing her enthusiasm for the website, I asked her to teach the camp about it with a 10 minute introduction. She jumped right up and did an amazing job. Five more students were using it in minutes and ended up presenting their final project with it. This bright 13 year old even inspired me to create the following haiku on Storybird.

On the last day of camp, I was able to get Lansing’s new Poet Laureate, Dennis Hinrichsen, to visit our camp. That simple act re-taught me a couple things to start: it doesn’t hurt to ask and even relatively short notice is sometimes enough notice. Dennis did a marvelous job explaining the context of a couple poems and reading them. He answered students’ questions for quite awhile and in a very genuine, personable manner.

At the end of his talk, Dennis said he was willing to work with someone on their draft in front of the group. None of the 35 students or two other teachers took him up on his offer. So, I went to the computer, found two of my pieces of poetry, and was reminded of that exciting, queasy feeling called risk. He spent over 20 minutes workshoping them (for free) and both poems were markedly better. I enjoyed watching him talk through his suggestions and questions, while engaging and challenging the students.

NOTE: Dennis would like to talk about poetry in classrooms around the tri-county area in the fall. If you are a K-12 teacher in the Lansing area, shoot him an email at LansingPoet@gmail.com. I highly recommend him for his rapport with young people and his insights into poetry.

I also learned what it means to power through. I had surgery to remove a benign growth on my parotid gland (near my right ear) on the Wednesday before the Monday camp began. My four days to recover were shortened since I needed to stay overnight in the hospital due to the mass being infected and surgery lasting five hours (instead of 2-3 as expected). I also had an extra trip to the ER on Sunday due to inflammation and swelling. All of which is to say that I was in less-than-favorable condition to lead 11 sixth-eighth graders in much of anything.

Here’s what I looked like when I came home from the hospital

The stitch started at the top-front section in front of my ear, went under and behind my ear, and then petered out on my neck. I’m not sure if I grew my beard so I wouldn’t have to shave or to hide the gruesomeness of it all.

I, of course, used the surgery as an example of taking life and turning it into creative writing: “What if instead of just taking out the growth, they put in a tracker or made me bionic in some way?” That inspired at least one story. Fortunately, I had wonderfully creative and cooperative 6th-8th graders. They jumped on everything on the camp agenda and cut me some slack when I needed to relax a bit. When you throw in that it didn’t rain, we all got ice cream, and they actually pay me to lead the camp, leading this camp felt like a success (thanks to regular pain meds and a bunch of antibiotics).

I’d like to give a special shout-out to Hannah Schulte. She pinch hit for me on Tuesday morning when I had a doctor’s appointment. She’s a recent, Spartan graduate looking for a teaching job. She was in my class regularly a couple years ago and I was very impressed. May the Force be with her.

Sharing Our Stories

We are more alike than we are different. And we each have our own story. Our own history or herstory of success, of failure, and all those gray experiences in-between. Life is such an extraordinary mystery that we each live one day at a time. One moment at a time. Everyone, living their important lives, all at the same time.

I love biographies and autobiographies. I enjoy learning about how other (sometimes famous) people maneuvered their way through this lifetime maze. Funerals can also be learning moments; so many times, I am impressed by the story of a person’s life after his or her passing from this life. These aren’t usually objective tellings of the events of a person’s life. We don’t hear about the shortcomings at most funerals, though the occasional biography will include them. And how people handle the difficulties can be the most instructive elements of their lives. History, too, is incomplete, though. “The winners write the history books” as they say. It’s hard to get the actual story of what happened in people’s lives and in the country’s “life.”

These next two story-telling shows attempt to tell an intimate and often honest version of life experience:

Storycorps‘ mission is to preserve and share humanity’s stories in order to build connections between people and create a more just and compassionate world.
We do this to remind one another of our shared humanity, to strengthen and build the connections between people, to teach the value of listening, and to weave into the fabric of our culture the understanding that everyone’s story matters. At the same time, we are creating an invaluable archive for future generations.”
It’s also a podcast and the interviews are archived at the Library of Congress in Washington.
In a recent Storycorps interview, Vernon Dahmer’s family recounted his last days fighting for voting rights for Blacks. His statement that “If you don’t vote, you don’t count” was a powerful message that I wish all U.S. citizens would take to heart.

On Being is a Peabody Award-winning public radio conversation and podcast, a Webby Award-winning website and online exploration, a publisher and public event convener. On Being opens up the animating questions at the center of human life: What does it mean to be human, and how do we want to live? We explore these questions in their richness and complexity in 21st-century lives and endeavors. We pursue wisdom and moral imagination as much as knowledge; we esteem nuance and poetry as much as fact.”
There’s a podcast and a mobile app, which I use.
Listening to Krista Tippet interview people reminds me of the importance of the skill of listening. It’s really the Rodney Dangerfield of English class. She affirms what people say, she asks to know more about the off-hand comment, she hears the feeling with which the words are said…she’s a listening pro and that magnifies her interviewing skill. One of my favorite interviews of her is when she interviewed the founder of Storycorps, David Isay; it’s called “Listening as an Act of Love.”

Other websites that share stories and opinions:

Youth Voices

Letters2Trump blog

Letters to the Next President

Soundcloud

The Remembering Site

The Life Stories Project

Biography.com
http://www.biography.com/

Open Library
https://openlibrary.org/help/faq/about#what

Some of my favorite biographies:

Dreams in the Mirror (about e.e. cummings)

Born Standing Up (Steve Martin’s autobiography)

Kiss Me Like a Stranger (Gene Wilder’s autobiography)

The Life and Wisdom of Gwen Frostic

Humans of New York

The Boys in the Boat: Nine Americans and Their Epic Quest for Gold at the 1936 Berlin Olympics

One of my New Year’s Resolutions is to listen more. Reading biographies and autobiographies are one form of listening…listening to another person’s life story. I invite you to listen, too.

Focusing Back on the Cup

Politics is damn distracting — all sparkly, full of itself, and seemingly important. But I’ve decided to treat Politics like my dentist or proctologist — a necessary evil seen infrequently.

Instead, I’m focusing back on the cup with the water in it. You know the one. Sometimes it looks half full, sometimes it looks half empty depending on your perspective on life. I had a Facebook friend challenge me recently to look at my cup. At first, my cup looked empty. Just when I was starting to nod in agreement, I realized the evening light was playing tricks with my eyes. And I was too close to the cup anyway. As I backed up, the water level was right around half way and it dawned on me that my life is at least half full.

I have a steady, though small, regular income; I may be the last person on Earth to get a pension, but as of this writing I still have one. It’s roughly 33% of my previous income as a teacher, but it’s something. And I have numerous opportunities to make more money: Schuler Books gives me money for hanging out there and helping people find books they want; I’m writing an online unit for Youth Voices; and ASPPIRE of Mid-Michigan just asked me to job coach a bit more and teach a Personal Finance class soon. Maybe I can learn something from that Finance class to help me keep some of my savings in the bank. Retirement from teaching has given me time to read, to write, to exercise more often, and to volunteer in various places — all blessing to be sure.

Plus, I have a loving family and wife, I have my health, I live in a safe country without many natural disasters in my area, and my community/city (ELi needs your help) is a very diverse, close group of people. My faith in God also sustains me. Though I’ve struggled with seeing it clearly, God’s presence in my life is a constant reassurance and strength — definitely part of that full part of the cup.

That empty, top-half of the glass does concern me, but I’m trying to see it more for its opportunities. I don’t think we can ignore the half-empty part of the cup. It’s the yin to the cup’s yang; neither could exist without the other. There are the obvious, recent causes of looking at the cup as half empty: our President-elect has no experience to lead us and has surrounded himself with a bunch of like-minded, wealthy, self-absorbed puppets; millions of people voted for this guy; climate change is real and we’re not doing enough to stop it; our country is still incredibly racist and sexist at a deep level; we won’t address poverty in any real way so as to affect educational opportunities for a great many young people in any transformative way; too many people live in fear and lack hope for the future…. It’s overwhelming if you focus on it. I’m acknowledging all of it, but I’ve decided to take the Serenity Prayer approach to it as much as possible.

Here it is if you need a reminder:

The Serenity Prayer

God grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change;
Courage to change the things I can;
And wisdom to know the difference.

Living one day at a time;
Enjoying one moment at a time;
Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace;
Taking, as He did, this sinful world
As it is, not as I would have it;
Trusting that He will make all things right
If I surrender to His Will;
So that I may be reasonably happy in this life
And supremely happy with Him
Forever and ever in the next.

Amen.

(prayer attributed to Reinhold Neibuhr, 1892-1971)

The things I can’t change just tend to infuriate me if I focus on them; I need to accept them and move on. I’m not saying it’s easy or even possible all the time, but that’s my goal. Other people…can’t change them. Who this country chose as a President…can’t change that. Deep breath. Moving on.

Even harder is having the courage to change the things I can change. Often that means rocking the boat and I’m not very good at that. But it needs to happen. I can call my senators and voice my concerns about Trump’s nominations (Check…did that today regarding DeVos). Not much rocking, but somewhat satisfying. Other, harder things involve digging deeper for courage: getting to know people of different races and cultures; working on improving relationships in my life; seeing a counselor when I need it; listening to people who think differently than I do; volunteering my time in ways that push my skills….

Yes, I see myself as a glass-half-full person. Life is good. I’m so grateful for the life I live. And The glass-is-also-half-empty. My life and the world could both improve greatly. I want to believe I’m learning to know the difference between what I can change and what I can’t…and I’m working to change those things I can.

Keep Working

You may have thought I was going to talk about regret — about how I wish I had kept working…and so you should keep teaching or whatever it is you’re doing.

Not so much.

What I have on my mind these days is how we need to keep working on what’s important to us. I’ve had a nice run being a preschool teacher’s aide on and off for the past few months. Every interaction with a young person makes my soul sing. And I am working a bit at Schuler Books (Eastwood) and it’s quite gratifying to work alongside former students of mine who love books too; I think I’m a closet librarian because I love helping people find what they are looking for in a library/bookstore. Even shelving books alphabetically gives me an odd, wonderful sense of accomplishment.

While some friends of mine may be thinking that I could have, should have taught for a few more years, I offer that I’m still teaching and using my abilities daily. I’ve been amazed at how many opportunities pop up. In the coming months, I will be working with ASPPIRE of Mid-Michigan as a job coach. This organization supports adults on the Autism spectrum in social and work situations. I attended a job coach training recently that felt like a perfect reminder of my time as a Special Education teacher, the unit I taught on Careers, and the importance of making learning practical. Utility. How can I use what you are teaching me in my life? Students of all ages care about those things.

Another aspect of my teaching career that’s in full swing is my association with the National Writing Project. I hope to keep working with both the national and local (Red Cedar Writing Project) chapters for years. Recently, I’ve led in-services on Letters to the Next President, 2.0. This program is also focused on authentic audiences for student learning; not only the actual next President, but other students around the country. The rich conversations around issues of importance to students can be rewarding to read. Students care so much more about the message they are sending when the audience is enlarged. I’m on a team of teachers creating curriculum for another national program called Youth Voices where students can communicate and collaborate with teens around the country. We are using a beta site called LRNG that is testing my ‘new learning’ skills just like all the new jobs I’m going through training for. What I’m working on is using my skills and developing more skills in a more flexible manner.

Here’s a blog flashback…

So, I’m still dealing with the joys and frustrations of teaching and continuing to learn and teach. I continue to present at conferences as I have in the past and learn at conferences, too (I plan to go to Atlanta next month for the National Writing Project annual conference). I even am putting books in people’s hands these days, albeit one at a time with family and friends. Finally, I know there is even more important work to do regarding overcoming racial biases and I’m helping organize a men’s retreat at our church on the topic.

Last week, I was awarded the Middle School English Teacher of the Year by the Michigan Council of Teachers of English. I am humbled and excited by the honor. And part of me felt, at first, like I didn’t deserve it since I’m not teaching in a public school right now. I don’t know if I deserved it or not, but I’ve taught 25 years and it was a joy and an honor. And I’m still working…and teaching. And I like it. I hope you are enjoying your journey, too. Peace.

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Bonus blog entry…..

P.S. Congrats to Bob Dylan for winning the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Dylan singing Mr. Tambourine Man in 1964 (introduced by Pete Seeger)

The amazing Joe Henry’s thoughts from his Facebook page:

“it may be stunning to some, imagining that a songwriter coming out of the folk tradition might receive a nobel prize –and for literature, of all things. but in truth, nothing in our collective culture speaks with more subversive authority than do songs; nothing so scrolls in subtitle to our shadow-life with more illumination; nothing moves as so much weather upon the day, both lifting our sails and powering their aim in ways unseen and essential.

through centuries, and until not so very long ago –within my adult lifetime– songs have stood in fact as our most commonly shared social media: it has been by song that revolutions of every manner are borne aloft and passed wide, that mythologies are ratified not as half- or untruths, but as key and legend to our fading, fraying maps of identity; where love is professed to be both earth and blood to our progress –its mystery given shape and dimension, even as it shifts us wildly upon our axis.

“jewels and binoculars hang from the head of the mule,” the young man offered, and so we go on: with the treasure of our expanding vision; with gratitude.”
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If you want to borrow my copy of his memoir, Chronicles, email me (akabodian@gmail.com). I also have his complete lyrics if you want to read them; one of my favorite lines from one of his songs is from “Tombstone Blues”…
“…saying ‘The sun’s not yellow it’s chicken.'” On a car ride years ago, Aaron and I played that song over and over to hear that play on words.

Thinking about Bob Dylan isn’t complete with sharing Weird Al’s “Bob” palindrome-play song. Imitation is definitely the highest form of flattery.

Books by and about Bob Dylan

Being an Advocate for Reading

When you love something, you find a way to do it — dancers dance, singers sing, jugglers juggle, writers write, and readers read. I love all of those things, but I make time to read more often than most anything. And I have hundreds of books. I surround myself with books. I’ll admit that there’s a certain comfort in being in the midst of books; safety in the sheer number of stories and information potentially at my fingertips. I feel more alive being within hands-reach of all that thought, feeling, creativity, and knowledge (which may account for my recently getting a job at Schuler Books…Eastwood location!). However, it’s more about the reading than the having.

I consider myself to be an advocate for books. Both having them and reading them. I subscribe to the notion that people tend to read if there are good books around. All teachers and students benefit from having some sort of classroom library, all family members benefit from have a family library that morphs as children become teens and then adults. Books just accumulate in this house. They come from friends and family, from book sales, from students, from bookstores, from being found, from libraries, and other more mysterious places over time. When they start piling up on the floor, it’s time to buy a bookshelf or give away a few. When I was teaching, I would horde books so that my classroom library had a bit of everything. I didn’t want students telling me they couldn’t find a book they wanted to read from my room or the library. They needed choices and I was there to provide them.

To some extent, I’m still like that. I’ve given many boxes of books away over the last few months. Some to book sales and some to individuals that I thought would like to read the book. There’s a Little Free Library down the street from me and I have been supplying it with books for months; I really need to put one up in our yard/garden soon. When we were in Seattle this past summer, I was pleasantly surprised to see many Little Free Libraries in the Greenwood neighborhood where Rachel and Robbie live. I wonder if that would work in East Lansing? I’m all about getting books in the hands of readers, that is, you. I hope to catalog all of my books and start my own library…bookstore?…but until then, if you need/want/desire a book, feel free to stop by our house. Find a book you like and it’s yours. No charge. (No book report due on Monday either.) After you read it, give it to a friend.


In recent months, I’ve read (and recommend):

The Alchemist, by Paolo Coela

Inheritance by Christopher Paolini

The Lacuna by Barbara Kingsolver

Golf and the Spirit (finished after many months of reading it sporadically in the john) by M. Scott Peck

Bouquet of Red Flags, by Taylor Mali

Michigan: Four Seasons, by Bob Rentschler

Currently reading:

Strength to Love (digital version at archive.org), by Martin Luther King, Jr.

Neither Wolf, Nor Dog by Kent Nerburn

What I Know Now: Letters to My Younger Self, Edited by Ellyn Spragins

Social Thinking at Work: A Guidebook for Understanding and Navigating the Social Complexities of the Workplace, by Michelle Garcia Winner and Pamela Crooke

The Yes magazine

Upcoming events:
Saturday, Oct. 1, the East Lansing Public Library re-opens after renovation. Festivities all afternoon.

Sunday, Oct. 2, the 64th Michigan Antiquarian Book and Paper Show. 9:30 am. – 5:00 pm at the Lansing Center in Lansing. $5 admission (children 13 and under are free)

Sunday, Oct. 9, the CROPWALK in Lansing. I’ll be walking. Add your support at my page.

Friday, Oct. 21 – Sunday, Oct. 23, the People’s Church Men’s Retreat, Conversations about Race. $100 (includes five meals and lodging) or $75 just for the program on Saturday.

P.S. Hillary Clinton for President!

What Now?

The unpredictability is becoming predictable. So many aspects of life are on the verge of being jiggled off the tightrope. If life is a series of tightrope walkers (which is an unnerving analogy, I realize), we seem less and less sure which ones will get across to the other side.

The easiest example is the weather. Mr. Weather tightrope walker is a Rodney Dangerfield-type character. He’s so annoying it’s funny. He gets no respect since the headset he’s listening to is obviously not giving him accurate information. He thinks it’s God or the Weather Channel and it’s more often Gilligan’s Island reruns and Nirvana songs. The chances that Mr. Weather makes it across to the other side are 1 – 51% (weather is a male in my example because he has trouble asking for directions and is sure he is right, until he’s not). Worthless predictions galore.

The political race is a troubling (possibly drunk), “What now?” tightrope walker. From now until November, we will be wondering about the outcome. And even after the election, “What now?” will fit. I don’t really want to get into which candidate is better or worse (though I have strong opinions). All I want to offer the discussion on that matter is to say that we all have a responsibility and privilege to vote. The unpredictability factor is lessened a bit when we know we’ve had input. I’ve heard too many folks saying they aren’t going to vote because they don’t like the choices. Instead of opting out completely, I hope for civil discourse (reasonable discussions) and participation. And beyond that, I have faith that things will work out. But faith isn’t enough. We need to be active. I view the U.S. like a P.B.S. show sometimes: “This show, called the U.S.A., is presented by the generosity of voters like you; it’s up to each of us to participate and then we’ll really know what this country wants its show to look like.”

Some have lost faith in the system, but I believe we need to use the system and be active in improving the system. I was a teacher for over 25 years; public schools are flawed, as is our democracy. As part of these systems, however, we have more power than we realize and than we’ve used. One model for sharing this voice we have is called Letter to the Next President (another model is called…just contact your representatives and senators). It’s a nationwide initiative designed to give 8th-12th grade students an audience to share their concerns. And if I may plug a free workshop I’m leading…If you are interested in learning how you can get students participating in the initiative, check out this brochure about the workshop. Be vocal without being annoying or disrespectful.

Why am I staying impartial on the political question? I liked what Michelle Obama said in her Democratic Convention speech:
“So in this election, we cannot sit back and hope that everything works out for the best. We cannot afford to be tired, or frustrated, or cynical. No, hear me — between now and November, we need to do what we did eight years ago and four years ago: We need to knock on every door. We need to get out every vote. We need to pour every last ounce of our passion and our strength and our love for this country into electing Hillary Clinton as President of the United States of America.” So there it is.

People love to ask questions and make predictions about my retirement also. “What now?” is a logical curiosity. I’m only 55; I could live 30+ more years if I play my cards right. Many like to predict I will miss being with young people and miss the teaching…and in some ways they are probably right. However, predictions about me being bored or wishing I hadn’t retired (I predict) seem improbable. If I can go back to the tightrope walker analogy, I feel quite content on my walk; as a matter of fact, I’m embracing the unpredictability of retirement. Open to the possibilities of life.

As a wrap-up, I have to give a shout out to our POTUS on the occasion of his 55th birthday (yesterday). President Obama has led us admirably. There will never be a perfect president. I thank him for his level head, his intelligent way, his vision, his humor, his songs, his family focus, and so much more. Here are 55 photos of him on his 55th birthday. And I have to wonder “What Now?” for him, too.

While I’m doing shout outs, I loved New Jersey Senator Cory Booker’s speech at the convention (here’s the text). I wonder if we’ll see more of him in four years…

This article by David Korten points out more of my thoughts on the campaign…
Yes Magazine’s article entitled “This Presidential Race is a Clear Choice: Flight, Fight, or Fellowship” May the Force be with us.

Processing the process

Note: Somewhere along the way, this entry turned into a commencement address or ‘what I would have said at a retirement soirée’ if there was one. I wrote it over the course of the last few months, which explains why it rambles a bit.

I was not one of those kids who knew what he wanted to be when he grew up. For the first couple years of college, my major was officially “Undecided” and at one point it was “Undecided – Economics.” My cousin, Laurie, was the only practicing teacher in my extended family; she and I never really discussed her job, but knowing she made that choice opened the profession as an option (even if only subconsciously).

And now after 25 years in the profession, I am retiring. A year ago, I pondered retirement in a blog post. I mentioned that, though I had taught all those years, it felt like many jobs. In a blog post entitled “When I Retire,” I noted all my different teaching positions:

* Years 1-3, teaching high school English
* Year 4, teaching middle school English and Social Studies
* 1 1/2 year break to go back to M.S.U. and get my Masters Degree in Special Education
* Years 5-7, teaching middle school Special Education in a self-contained classroom and some co-teaching
* Year 8, teaching high school Special Education
* Years 9-10, teaching high school Special Education at a different high school (more of a Resource Room)
* Years 11-14, teaching high school Special Education at a different high school (back to a self-contained classroom)
* Years 15-17, teaching 8th grade English
* Years 18-23, teaching 7th grade English
* Year 24 (and now, Year 25), teaching 7th and 8th grade English

Moving between four school districts and back-and-forth between English and Special Education has helped the “quarter century” fly by. I realized in my mid-20’s that I could combine a love of reading and writing with a passion for working with young adults — I sincerely appreciate all four school districts (Rochester, Charlotte, Okemos, and East Lansing), all my colleagues over the years, and all of my students and their parents for the opportunity to be a teacher and to learn from each of them. It takes a village to raise a teacher and I was blest by teacher friends and by family who supported me in numerous ways. Two that come to mind right away are Joanne Hubbard and Troy Hicks. They both renewed my love of the profession when it was waning and I sincerely thank them both.

I’m leaving with some pretty good company: Calvin Johnson of the Lions, Kobe Bryant of the Lakers, Peyton Manning of the Broncos, Barack Obama, Garrison Keillor…John Brandenburg (of East Lansing High School), Sue Hulteen (of MacDonald Middle School). We didn’t all get together and decide, but I feel like we’ll always have a special bond. We knew when we could afford to turn down the millions of dollars a year and find some other — more relaxing — thing to help us pass the time (though I suppose Obama didn’t have a choice).

Some things have helped me with this transition year. Having third hour planning has helped in an odd way. Third hour is the hour that teachers read the announcements and have the students say the Pledge of Allegiance. While those are good and necessary, I have not missed them a bit. I will occasionally read the announcements myself so I know what’s going on around the school; frankly, however, I think not knowing every single thing has helped me disconnect a bit. I get plenty of e-mails with information. I know enough about what’s happening. And the pledge? It’s patriotic to recite it daily…for a few days. By the sixth month of school, it’s difficult to keep it fresh. I love this country. But I don’t miss saying the pledge everyday.

Through a scheduling fluke, I ended up eating lunch with mostly 8th grade teachers. They are wonderful folks, but they aren’t my usual eating companions; I miss eating lunch with my 7th grade teacher buddies, but it did require me to take another step back and away.

We had a snow day in February. One of the many things I did was write a countdown of school days in my planner. It was 85 days as February started and that seemed like it would take forever. As I write these words, though, we are in the teens (14 1/2) already. I had a very astute 7th grader comment that “the years fly by, but the the days sometimes last forever.” So true.

In some ways, the changes in being a teacher have sped my departure from the profession. The over-reliance on evidence-based decision-making has made us into test administrators. We spend much more time talking about testing among ourselves (reading about them, planning schedules around them, commiserating about them…) and with our students (preparing them for taking a test online, explaining new schedules, debriefing how the test went…) and it stinks. It takes away time from what we would rather be doing. It also sets an impersonal mood and takes the focus off relationships, creativity, and curiosity. I recently watched Michael Moore’s latest movie, Where to Invade Next, and part of it dealt with Finland’s amazing public school system. Finnish teachers were imploring the U.S. to stop using standardized testing and Finnish students were talking about how their no homework, shorter school day helped them learn. Finland, and other countries like France, put the curricular emphasis on nurturing healthy, happy young people and on developing critical thinkers who know how to play and make time for it — things we are straying away from, unfortunately. (I highly recommend the movie. For more information about it, read this review.)

The nice thing about being in a transition year is that I say what’s on my mind (mostly). I take a deep breath, then tell my students something to the effect of “I’m not sure why you didn’t read it off the handout or off the board or hear me say it several times, but the answer to your question is…” or “Ask someone else.” I offer several lectures a week (at no additional cost or obligation) about common sense. And about thinking before you speak or act. I’ve been the point person for several staff members, too, who have needed an honest person with nothing to lose to say something to the administration. Though I’m not always proud of it, one thing that has helped me this year is lowering my expectations…for myself and for the students; together with that extra deep breath, there’s something about cutting myself some slack and not worrying when students don’t quite reach the bar that has kept me moving along with a smile.

They do do cool stuff now and then. Zoie walks up with a smile on her face and says she signed up for my summer camp on creative writing (as did two other awesome students). Elisabeth stays after to clean up the mess left by another student. William helps also. I will miss Julia’s mature, sensitive writing style. Many make me laugh. And they don’t bug me (much) about my messy desk.

How I know it’s time…
– when I give a male student the choice of researching anyone’s life that he’s interested in learning more about and he chooses a male porn star (it didn’t happen)
– I find myself muttering under my breath too often
– my ocular migranes are increasing in frequency
– on the grumpy vs. silly scale, I’m leaning more toward the Dark Side
– students don’t listen. Don’t pay attention. Are incredibly distracted. Most students. Not all. I can say something, write it on the board, say it again, they have it on a handout in front of them…almost every time, someone will ask about it
– that book is not going to write itself; I need more time for such things

People give me ideas of what to do with my retirement. Recently, I was told that home-school organizations are always looking for teachers. Many districts need substitute teachers I’m told (not going to happen). And tutors make good money from what I hear. I’ve been told to travel a bunch. Many people predict my “honey do” list will get increasingly longer and longer. They say I’ll be more busy after retirement than when I was working full-time (though this last list of folks probably just has trouble saying ‘no’). I may try one of those ideas, but I’ve really enjoyed looking at all the possibilities; this next stage of my life feels akin to the high school and college graduates I know as they embark toward whatever’s next. Students I taught in middle school reminded me (in the ELHS commencement addresses) to “pursue my dreams” and “be innovative.” I’ve appreciated these events with a fresh, personal perspective and I’ve felt quite inspired by them.

It’s also been an emotional year for me. I tear up often, over crazy stuff: that last time, 6th hour, when I closed The Giver for the last time in front of my students; unexpectedly seeing Thia and her smile on my walk home; seeing Alex return after being gone for a long time for personal issues…and our hug; seeing Berkley’s name in a Literature book and thinking about the several, unique girls I have known with that name over the years. I’ve been on the verge daily. As joyous and giddy as I feel at times, I also get pretty choked up. Not a regretful feeling — I just know I’ll miss this great profession. I may need to do some of that tutoring after all. And I’m sure I will be writing about the next steps I take, whatever they are.

sign

My Gift to You

My Gift to You

You may think I took the easy route

Since I didn’t buy a
Thing and wrap it

Since I didn’t make up a fancy
Metaphorical analogy like
A light bulb with your name on it

But this gift took some thought
Which counts —
Some would say
The thought is what that counts
Most

And my time is worth
Something;
I believe it is a gift
That shows I value you, too.

So here it is, my gift to you:

I’m not going to tell you what to think about

You get time
To think about whatever you want.

It’s only going to be 10 seconds,
So use them well.

Here it comes. Think about whatever you want…
Starting now.
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.
.
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I hope you liked it.
I hope it “fit.”
Feel free to pay it forward.
You’re welcome.
Have whatever kind of day you want to have.

Highlighting Poetry in April

I challenged myself and my students to read or write a poem everyday in April. I’m not necessarily going to share every poem I write, but at the end, I will share the poems I read — and I’ll share some of the poems I write. Here’s one from this morning…

Sisters

I saw a former student
Who reminded me
That her sister currently
Has me in class.
She said,
“You’re her favorite student!”

And I wanted to correct her
But I just accepted
The compliment
Because to be a student’s
Favorite student

Makes me seem wise

But as she was walking away
She said,
“And that’s so ironic”
Which I realized
Moments later
Really meant
That the sister I was speaking to
Didn’t like me as a teacher

(Maybe because she felt
She hadn’t taught me anything)

But that didn’t negate
The compliment
From her sister.

So yeah.

Poetry.