Make Something.

Today’s break challenged us to “do something hands-on.”

I am not a creative person. I work within boundaries, follow recipes, duplicate designs via tutorials. I wrote about my inability to create a couple years ago; nothing has changed. So this challenge was, well, challenging.

Yesterday I saw a tutorial for how to create custom watercolor effects in Adobe Illustrator. I thought that would be a good use of my time, so I headed out to Joann’s, armed with a nice coupon, and bought a watercolor palette and some brushes.

When I needed a break, I grabbed some paper, filled a paper cup with water, and set about creating.

It did not go well.

The watercoloring went well enough, but the tutorial was created for the latest version of Illustrator, and I have two versions back. Sometimes that’s not an issue. This time, it was. After 30 minutes, I needed a break from my break, so I went back to the watercolors.

I turned on Faure’s Requiem to calm me a bit (it’s quite beautiful), and started to paint again. I painted a series of horizontal lines, broad brush strokes in complementary colors. Then, worried that it looked too blank, I painted squiggly vertical lines. It looked awful.

New piece of paper: wanting to experiment with gradient effects, I painted watery blobs of color, taking care to not let the colors bleed too much. Except I learned quickly that I can’t actually control water blobs of color, and soon I had a mushy mix of nothing.

New piece of paper: I painted a giant heart. It looked too stark on the page, so I cleaned the brush, picked a new color, and drew a heart inside the big heart. I repeated the process, creating a babushka doll effect of hearts, but it didn’t look right. It looked cluttered.

By this time, the requiem was over, and the final song on album played: Cantique de Jean Racine. I took a deep breath, closed my eyes, and started humming the alto part. This song remains one of the most exquisite pieces of music I’ve ever sung with a choir. Take a listen. You won’t regret it. (It is in French.)

New piece of paper: I drew a giant heart in a bright pink, with cerulean rays surrounding it, and left it at that.

I tend to overcomplicate a lot of things in my life, then wonder why my metaphorical wheels get stuck. Next time, I will try singing a song, then simplifying the task at hand, and see if that makes a difference.

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Breaks.

A friend posted an invitation to a unique 10-day challenge: taking purposeful breaks. I’m not sure I really need to take breaks right now–I’m basically on a 10-week break from school anyway. But I do still create structure and routine in my day, and purposeful breaks could actually help with that structure and routine.

Today’s break was to daydream. To be honest, this break terrified me, because whenever I have been instructed in my yoga practice to meditate, I usually end up with a panic attack. I can’t shut off my brain, nor can I trust it to not have a complete meltdown. But challenges are supposed to, well, challenge us, right?

So I pulled the blinds of my balcony sliding door wide open, sat in my office chair and stared outside. At first, it was uncomfortable and it took me a while to lasso the voices in my head. But then I noticed something: the trees looked like they were conducting music.

It’s a hot and windy day here on the prairie, and in the 10 minutes of daydream time, I noticed four distinct wind gusts, each causing the trees to move in a distinct rhythm.

Gust #1 was flowy and lush, timed to the rhythm of George Gershwin’s “Lullaby for Strings”–my most favorite piece of music of any genre.

Gust #2 was a smooth with a lilt, reminding me of Allison Krauss’ bluegrass work.

Gust #3 was violent, and the trees shifted from a back and forth sway to up and down movements, reminding me of the mosh pits of my youth, listening to Nirvana.

Gust #4 returned to a more serene rhythm, in almost perfect 3/4 time set to the “Waltz of the Flowers” from The Nutcracker.

In between the gusts of wind, I thought about how music has been such an important part of my life. I flipped back in my memory to walking across BYU’s campus with my Walkman and Dvorak’s “New World Symphony” or the soundtrack from “Pretty in Pink.” I listened to every song in order, I listened to full albums. I hardly ever listen to full albums anymore.

My daydream time today reminded me of all the music I own and I craved a return to listening to music before Spotify and Pandora and Genius playlists.

I don’t know if listening to full albums will end up changing my life, but I rather enjoyed staring out the window, watching trees conduct music. I will have to do that more often.

A Month-ish of Blogging

A little over a month ago a tweet showed up in my timeline about a blogging challenge. I hadn’t been writing much and was in the early stages of the 4th quarter slump. And 4th quarter is typically not the time of year I want to be blogging about school, of all things. Because here’s how I feel by the time the end of March hits:

As hard as it was to carve out time every day this month to blog (and I did miss a few days), it was good for me to spend this particular month reflecting on why I’m a teacher, because it’s typically this month every year that has me questioning my career choice. I’m angry and cranky and May is just so. far. away.

Instead, I’m heading into the final three weeks of the school year still happy to be teaching. I’m more motivated than usual to spend time this summer really preparing for next year.

I’ve still had some monumentally frustrating days in April, days when I came home and escaped into a book or a TV show. (I actually read six books this month. That never happens during the school year.)

Blogging about my teaching, in part, allowed me to breathe and realize the importance of balance.

So I’m glad I participated in the April Blog-A-Day Challenge. I’m thankful to Meredith Towne for creating thoughtful prompts. And I’m grateful for the reminder that, as busy as I am, I can always make time for things that I value.

 

Celebrate Good Times.

Prompt: How do you celebrate your work and the work of your colleagues?

Short answer: I don’t.

When it comes to my work, I feel like a terminal failure. I struggle to find much to celebrate. But even if I could find things to celebrate, I’m intrigued by the question “how.”

In order to celebrate my own work, I need a paradigm shift to see my work as something worth celebrating. How does that happen?

Probably another round of therapy.

But seriously, this prompt has been tough to write to, because the forced introspection made me realize that I completely undervalue the work I do. I don’t celebrate my work, because I haven’t trained myself to see anything but the failures: losing my cool with a chatty class, grading quizzes and realizing not a single kid got more than 5 points, sticking to lectures too often.

But as I reflect on this day alone, I can celebrate the following:

  • Every semester I really do get better at teaching graphic design. My instructions become clearer, and my students produce better work.
  • Whole-class revisions of student writing is one of the best things I’ve ever done in my writing class. Today we revised three feature stories, and several students said they felt better, realizing they could meet the standard I had set.

Now, how to make celebrations a regular occurrence? Not quite sure. I tried earlier this year, in a way, with my 180 Days of Happy project…that lasted 90 days. But those weren’t true celebrations or reflections on my teaching.

And celebrating the work of my colleagues? When I’m never in their classrooms, it’s hard to see what they are doing. We don’t always have time or make time to share our work worth celebrating. When we are tasked with looking for ways to implement different strategies to improve test scores, well, I’m pretty sure no one feels like celebrating all that much.

I know celebrating our work is important–today I reminded my journalistic writing class that the work my friends Ann Feldmann, Jeannette Carlson and Jeff Bernadt do with our iPad Academy is groundbreaking work that deserves all the recognition in the world. I reminded my students that they hear way too often, from parents and journalists and yes, even teachers, that public schools are a joke and are broken beyond repair; I reminded them that it’s just not entirely true.

There is great work happening in classrooms all over the country. Work that needs to be celebrated. And the first step in “how” to celebrate our work is to make sure our students know our work is worth celebrating.

Why Do We Need Teachers?

A few years ago, I read this article. 

If you don’t have a lot of time, skip down to the section that begins “Dani Indovino” and read from there.

And I come across articles like this quite often–articles predicting sweeping changes in education, some of which make sense, some of which have me shaking my head.

And then there’s this grim scenario, outlined by The Atlantic’s Michael Godsey, that nearly put me in tears thanks to his myriad sources basically claiming that teachers will soon be obsolete.

But what each of these articles omits in the land mine of education reform is best read here. 

Education reformers often ignore and discount the heart of teaching–the emotion and passion of it. What Chase Mielke writes in the previous link is left out of every article that antagonistically asks, “Why do we still need teachers?” And sure, if you see school as a content delivery system, then Godsey’s imagined future is probably spot-on. But school isn’t a content delivery system.

When I taught AP Lang and Comp, I preached the gospel of collateral learning: that it sure was fantastic I was teaching them how to analyze argument, but what I really wanted them to learn was how to work hard. How to overcome adversity. How to be kind. How to be respectful. Can a superteacher’s recorded lectures, monitored by a classroom facilitator do that?

I think not.

Why do we still need teachers? Because for so many–too many–kids, a teacher is the one adult they trust. The one adult they can confide in. The one adult they know has their backs and will fight for and with them.

Why do we still need teachers? Because a recorded lecturer cannot hear the kid in the back ask a question, or correct a misperception.

Why do we still need teachers? Because a human connection during the learning process adds an immeasurable value to both student and teacher.

If we replace teachers with cold software and pre-recorded lectures, it is not hyperbole to suggest that a dystopian future awaits us. Every dystopian novel I’ve read has alluded to a complete removal of human connection from the classroom, if not a complete removal of  traditional education.

Why do we still need teachers?

Why do you even need to ask?