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a quote from my favorite author

“The most solid advice, though, for a writer is this, I think: Try to learn to breathe deeply, really to taste food when you eat, and when you sleep, really to sleep. Try as much as possible to be wholly alive, with all your might, and when you laugh, laugh like hell, and when you get angry, get good and angry. Try to be alive. You will be dead soon enough.”

-William Saroyan, The Daring Young Man on the Flying Trapeze

Monday, March 19, 2012

Unpacking


The Slice of Life Challenge is hosted by Two Writing Teachers
The first time I painted these rocks was during my first year teaching, almost 12 years ago.  I had just been trained to run support groups during my plan period, along with our school counselor, a science teacher, and a dean.  I collected the rocks while I still lived at my parents’ house—we had an empty lot next door that had yet to be sold and turned into house and yard. 

Most recently, I painted these rocks this weekend. 

Once they were dry, I placed them into a sturdy gym bag, with packing peanuts to cushion them from each other.  The bag is representative of the emotional baggage we all carry around inside our hearts.

Our team needed these rocks. 

Lately, our 8th grade team meetings—no matter how hard we try to steer them in other directions—have been disintegrating into frustrated venting about our inability as teachers to meet our students’ needs because of the pressures and mandates put on us. 

Finally, we said enough is enough.  We knew what our students needed.  We knew how we could give it to them.  We knew we couldn’t get anywhere with our curricula if we didn’t address these issues that needed addressing. 

So, I dug out my support group resources.  We brainstormed a plan.  We got our assistant principal on board.  And we started Community Meetings one day per week in each core subject area (so 4 days a week the students have a meeting like this in one class per day).

Last week was all about building community in each classroom (a little late in the year, but it is now or never).  This week is about feelings. 

Today, we pulled out the bag of rocks in each of our language arts classes.  We talked about what it represented.  We took turns trying to pick it up.  We speculated how well we would be able to do our work all day if we had to carry that bag of rocks around. 

Then we unpacked the bag. 

I knew our students needed to be noticed.  I knew our students have a lot of life to deal with outside of school.  I knew our students carried baggage.  And yet, I had no idea

My honors class, the class I foolishly thought might think this community stuff was hokey, was so involved in sharing that when the bell rang for lunch, they asked if they could stay.  So, I gave all 30 of them the option to get their lunches and return to continue our conversation.  29 returned.  The 30th told her friends she just couldn’t eat and cry at the same time.  She needed a break.

29 students quietly ate their lunches, listened to each other, cried together.

During such a short lunch period, we quickly ran out of time…again, even though I was really watching the clock because I understand the importance of shoring them up before sending them back to the reality of school. 

Luckily, this cluster of students has social studies together right after lunch with a friend of mine.  She also teaches language arts and understood where they were.  The group moved to her classroom, just next door, finished their conversation, discussed the positive effects of sharing, and found reasons to laugh together.  

And maybe, just maybe they left school today feeling a little bit lighter

13 comments:

  1. WONDERFUL post about teachers who understand we teach children - not robots who will take tests to give us raises! You are a wonderful teacher for sure!

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  2. My hats off to you and your fellow team members for taking the time to do this even though those "tests" are bearing down on you. Your example should be shared with all teachers of how we teach the "whole" child. Great slice..I'm going to share this with some friends at work. I know they will love this. Thanks for the inspiration as always.

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  3. Can I be one of your students?
    This is pretty amazing stuff, and I am in awe.

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  4. Wow. I sit here with tears rolling. So many stories to tell, yet most never give them the time to tell them. Your students are so very blessed.
    Tammy

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  5. Just goes to show you can't make assumptions. Your kids are so lucky to have such a team of teachers who "get it". You are inspiring!

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  6. I don't think it is ever too late to build community. I had to do that my last year of teaching. It was early spring and things were not right with my class of all girls. I shook in my boots wondering if this would just flop and the rest of the year would be a nightmare. Surprisingly, the few it reached was enough to start the others not so willing. It wasn't perfect afterwards, but at least we all knew what everyone should be working towards--respect for one another. The year ended okay. Glad you have other teachers to support you--makes all the difference in the world.

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  7. Your students are so lucky to be with a team of such caring teachers. Teachers who aren't afraid to let students continue hard/needed conversations. What a wonderful gift you are giving them. They will be a community long after they leave 8th grade.

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  8. You just might be too amazing. Is that possible?

    I love this line: "And yet, I had no idea." It works well craft-wise following the repetition. And it hits the reader hard, marking your meaning in this slice.

    Well done, writer-friend.
    Ruth

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  9. Inspirational. Weighing what you should do, what matters the most and then being decisive as a team is how all schools should function. This was a powerful story of looking beyond the academics and trying to understand the person.

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  10. I wasn't able to pay much attention to how you crafted this writing piece, Sorry! But that is because the content of what you shared was inspiring. I am so happy to hear that you and your team set time aside for what really IS important to our middle level students. No matter what school - public or private, or which state you teach in, the mandates and other crazy expectations steer us away from the real learning that should occur in our classrooms. Being able to recognize this and take action is what quality teachers do! I really needed this now, so thank you...to you AND your team.

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  11. Wow! How great to have the sense of community, both for you teachers and the students, to be able to face life together.

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  12. Wow! That's so neat! I am amazed at all the things your school is doing to care about your students and help them be better people! No-name Calling Day stuff was so cool and this is even deeper!

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  13. (Applause - I'm standing!) You are amazing. I'm so glad your team took the direction to do something to help build the foundation necessary for educational learning. The community piece hugs the rest. I like your ending - a little lighter indeed.

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