Dear Yearbook Students…

Dear Yearbook Students,

I see how hard you work all year. Even though I’m not your adviser, occasionally you ask my advice, you let me preview work you’re proud of, and of course, sharing a room with you I get to witness your shenanigans, and sometimes those shenanigans even make me laugh.

I field phone calls and sell yearbooks and answer questions and beg seniors to get their photos in on time, because I want your product to be something you’re proud of.

And every year, you create a book.

Read that sentence again.

How many students in this building can say they’ve done that?

Are there mistakes? Maybe. I wrote a thesis in graduate school; it’s on the Internet for everyone to see. I’ve reread it once since I turned it in and I’m horrified at my word choice, lapses in logic, even tiny grammar errors. Mistakes happen in writing and publishing.

Look at any issue of the newspaper long enough and you’ll find plenty of mistakes, both in text and design. Those pages are read dozens of times and we still miss things.

The first year I coached speech, one group of students had a piece that cleaned up at every tournament. Won everything in sight. A state title was inevitable. And in the 2nd round of competition at state, a judge interpreted the rules of the event much differently than I had, and disqualified the group.

I was devastated. The kids were devastated. I was angry and felt like I had completely failed my students. Even thinking about it now, 12 years later, I feel twinges of shame. But in time, we got over it, and you can be sure we never made that mistake again.

Step back for a moment and think about what you did, and what kind of character that required. What kind of bravery, to publish your photos and writing and design and then willingly hand it out to your peers for their enjoyment and scrutiny.

And scrutiny often abounds. As Russell Baker noted in 1995, “anger has become our national habit.” He said that before you were born. It’s been a problem for a while, and right now it might feel like it’s getting worse, especially when everyone in the world feels entitled to express their opinion (and of course, everyone is right).

So relax. Enjoy your yearbook. Ignore the haters, and if the scrutiny and criticism seems too much, just remember there are plenty more people who love what you did, and love you too.

Including me.


A Friday Surprise.

I’ve let myself get pretty frustrated lately, all about things over which I have no control. This week in particular, I let those “things” start to cloud my mind with thoughts of different careers or different cities or moving to Denmark.

And then on a random Friday afternoon on my way to refill my water bottle, I get to see a face I haven’t seen in years, and I get to hear how a kid I taught for four years is following his dreams and loving his life and is a grown adult and he’s kind and eloquent and in the four minutes we have to talk (because I have a classroom of teenagers awaiting) I am bursting with so much happiness and pride that I wish I could bottle what I’m feeling and save it for the days I completely lose perspective.

Then I remember what I’m sure I’ve written here before, a teacher who retired about ten years ago shared his only piece of departing advice at our end of the year celebration: “It’s all about the kids. Everything else is bullshit.”

This week I let the bullshit take over why I really get out of bed every morning. I’m so grateful a student I taught so long ago showed up today and just by being there, reminded me why I can’t let that happen.

It’s all about the kids, and having the privilege of seeing the people they become.

Let’s Talk About Jim Boeheim.

First, watch this.

I didn’t watch yesterday’s Duke-Syracuse game, but was on Twitter when suddenly my feed was throttled with “Boeheim ejected” tweets. Now, I’ve been watching college basketball for as long as I can remember (actually, I started in 8th grade), and Boeheim is a coach that I’ve grown to respect and admire. So I knew something bad had to happen for him to get tossed.
I’m not here to argue about whether it was a charge or a block, but to explain how much I empathize with Boeheim.
He’s a coach. And granted, he makes scads more money than I do, but I have to believe that at least part of why he stays in coaching is because of the kids he gets to coach. Those damn kids have a way of making you hope in eternal possibilities–maybe this next class will do something greater, even though the current class is pretty good.  
So when I saw the video of Boeheim’s ejection, my first thought wasn’t about the charge or block debate (I’ve watched enough West Coast Conference Circus School of Refereeing this year to know it’s a losing battle), but I saw a coach fighting for his kids. His kids who were, until yesterday, undefeated. His kids who played a close game against a talented Duke team. His kids, who I sure hope, he cares about, even just a little. It’s his job to fight for his kids.
Just like it’s my job to fight for mine. 
I can’t count the number of times I’ve wanted to tear off my proverbial jacket, storm the court, and scream at administrators about the inane policies they are allowing my kids to be subjected to. Or how often I’ve wanted to rail against politicians and businessmen who think they know jack about what it’s like to be a teacher.
No, I watched that video and thought that maybe part of the problem in education is that all of us really good teachers, nationwide, have somehow convinced ourselves that we can’t change anything. We don’t get angry enough. And it’s understandable…just like the ref that tossed Boeheim, we have administrators who overrule our recommendations for kids and make us do things we never would agree to if we were running our own schools. 
So in the interest of job security, we continue on and complain to each other and maybe write a letter to our state and national legislators, but at the end of the day, you find us in the classroom, waiting for our kids. Boeheim didn’t leave Cameron Indoor on Saturday. He waited in the locker room for his kids. He went to a press conference and answered questions in an honest and forthright manner (and actually said the officiating wasn’t all that bad–just that last call that sealed the win for Duke). 
And when he goes to the ACC tourney and the NCAA tourney, there will still be calls that anger him, and he’ll probably rein in his reaction. But I doubt he’ll stop fighting for his kids.

I need to fight a little more for my kids, I think. I just don’t know how.

Lazy Blogging

I was looking on Facebook at how I was feeling this time last year, because I’m feeling that familiar stress and anxiety that comes with teaching and musical rehearsals and editing and being generally crazy, and I found this. 

Exactly one year ago tomorrow. 

My life is the movie Groundhog Day, only it’s more like Groundhog Year After Year.

Careful The Things You Say…Children Will Listen.

Today at the end-of-day study hall we have, no one felt like studying or working, as we were focused on the increasing intensity of the snow and checking incessantly and keeping a tally of all the kids who were getting called out of school early (in 35 minutes, over 30 kids were called to the office).

Two students who were sitting near me asked what would I do with my day if school was canceled. 
“Probably bake something.”
“What would you bake? Banana bread?” they asked.
“Probably not. I don’t like banana bread and don’t keep bananas around. Maybe pumpkin bread. I haven’t made that in a while. And I’ll probably dye my hair.”
“What color?”
“Oh, just the same color. Too much gray hair. It’s driving me crazy.”
They looked at me with legitimate disbelief.
“Gray hair? Where? Not sucking up here–I don’t see any,” one of them said.
“Yeah, me neither,” said the other.
And I began pointing out all the places I had seen gray hair just this morning as I blow dried my hair. Near the side of my face, right at my part, and when I lifted my hair, tons and tons of gray hair.
“Nope, still don’t see it,” they both said.
“Well, it’s there and it bothers me, so I’m going to fix it.”
In my Pop Culture class, I teach about unreasonable expectations of beauty placed on women. I teach about media-constructed ideas of what beauty looks like. I rail against it. And throughout my teaching career, on more than one occasion, I’ve told girls who came to me, doubting their beauty and worth, that they were beautiful and valuable. 
As I drove home today and thought about that conversation about my gray hair, I felt a little ashamed. If either of those girls ever talked to me about something they viewed as a physical beauty flaw, I’m sure I would fall over myself to debunk whatever criticism they leveled against themselves. 
So, Steph and Katie, I’m sorry I didn’t set a better example for you today. 
Why am I dyeing my hair on the snow day? Because when I dye my hair, I like the way my hair feels–softer. Because when I dye my hair, the darker brown makes my blue eyes totally pop. Because when I dye my hair, I feel a teensy bit more confident.
The fact that it also covers my gray hair is just a bonus.