When I started blogging, I knew who I was, I knew what this blog would be about. I was a poet and middle school language arts teacher who loved to travel.
Four years later, I'm still a poet and still love to travel. What has changed? My job. After 23 years teaching 7th and 8th graders, I left the classroom to become an instructional coach for language arts teachers. I'm still an educator and I'm in classrooms all the time. But teacher? I no longer grade papers or create lesson plans. I don't go to parent-teacher conferences or bus duty. I'm no longer responsible for 90 or more 12 and 13-year-olds on a daily basis. It's hard for me to say "teacher" when I realize that all the things that make teaching so complicated are no longer part of my working life. It almost seems like it would be an insult to all the teachers I know who are still in the trenches.
I never expected these feelings to stop my blog dead in its tracks, but they have.
Then in the course of doing some research on how to help teachers implement writing workshop in their classrooms, I stumbled across the Two Writing Teachers website. What a wealth of information! For weeks I've been reading posts on tips about writing workshop and sharing it with teachers I work with.
Inevitably, all this led me to the Slice of Life Story Challenge. According to their website, "the individual challenge began on Two Writing Teachers in 2008 and has grown each year. Adults, classroom teachers and their students across six continents participate in this weekly challenge as well as in the month-long challenge in March."
Basically, this challenge is designed to get teachers and students to write their own "slice of life" stories and share them with the world, to get them to embrace their own identities as writers. This is exactly what I'd like to inspire in the teachers I coach, hoping they will then bring this passion for writing to their students.
Since finding out about the challenge, I've been toying with the idea of contributing for months, but the idea of a daily challenge for an entire month sounded too daunting. Finally today I decided that I'd just go for it. After all, what better way to inspire others than by modeling it myself. Isn't that what teachers do? Maybe there is some teacher left in me after all.
So here is my first post. I have one more Slice of Life Tuesday to go before the March challenge begins, so I can see how it feels. All I know is, it's the first excitement I've felt about my blog in a long time.
Then I found something I wanted to share.
One of the duties of my new position is writing curriculum that aligns with the Common Core State Standards. I know there is much debate about the new standards, but to me one of the most hopeful aspects of the new English/Language Arts standards is a renewed focus on the meaning of individual pieces of literature. In the former California State Standards, instruction centered around comprehension skills that were then tested with multiple choice questions. Trying to understand the author's real message was often lost. While writing this new curriculum, I've had to dig into texts in a way I have not done since I studied literature in college. It's been exciting.
The other day, while writing about and researching The Diary of Anne Frank, I came across an online project I had never heard of before: Anne Frank Tree: An Interactive Monument. It has been a long time since I read Anne Frank's diary, and I had forgotten how important the chestnut tree outside her window was to her. She mentioned it over and over. I also didn't know that the actual tree had become diseased and was blown down by high winds on August 23, 2010. However, people had found a way to commemorate both Anne and her tree.
This interactive project is sponsored by Anne Frank House. Individuals can create a message about Anne and how her work inspired or affected them. This message is typed on a "leaf " that joins other messages to create a digital tree as a monument to Anne Frank's memory. As of today 709, 222 people have participated. I thought this would be a wonderful way for students to respond to Anne's story.
Listening to her made me realize that this didn't have to just be for young students. I decided to place my own leaf containing the haiku I had written about Anne. And that haiku led to another one:
I also learned about The Sapling Project. When it became obvious that Anne's tree could not be saved, The Anne Frank House began gathering chestnuts from the tree. These chestnuts were germinated, and the seedlings sent to various organizations around the world. The American Anne Frank Center in New York received 11 saplings that were distributed to places throughout the United States. One sapling was given to Sonoma State University not far from where I live. That tree became a part of the University's Holocaust and Genocide Program. Since discovering this, I plan to visit the tree soon.
Emma Thompson said that Anne Frank's "would haves are our real possibilities." I believe Anne would have liked that phrase. For myself, I think reading Anne's words again has made me see that teaching and writing is not only about making my own possibilities come true but also helping others as well.
If you have never read Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl, I urge you to do so. If you have already been touched by her story as I have, perhaps you will write a message on a leaf.
Just what is it that makes human beings feel the need to celebrate cycles, reflect on our past and wonder about our future? I guess it is one of the things that makes us humans. Since I am not a philosopher, psychologist or minister, I'll leave the whys to someone else. Suffice to say that today I have joined the millions of us around the world who feel the need to do a little reckoning of our lives on this day.
Today my inbox has been filled with blogs from others doing just what I am doing right now. And the problem is that all our musings and reflections are of little use to anyone except ourselves. With the burgeoning of blogs and online sharing of every sort, we often reveal too much too many times. I don't want to fall into that category so I'll just say this:
It's been a strange year for me. I changed jobs after 23 years, and am no longer a classroom teacher. I didn't use my passport once, the first time in over a decade that I didn't travel somewhere internationally. And there have been other strangenesses that are too personal to reveal here.
While much of the year has left me shaken, there is one accomplishment of which I am particularly proud: my daily haiku writing. Over the past 365 days, I have written 365 haiku. I will admit I missed three days (one of them was my birthday for which I can be forgiven), but did make up for those by doing double haiku afterwards. Most of my hundreds of haiku were just plain horrible as far as poetry goes, but some I think actually can be called poems.
As we talked about all the things that you tell someone you barely know but find you really like, we reminisced about some of our experiences at the retreat such as the intense group discussions, meditation sessions and walking the labyrinth. Women had talked over and over about spirituality and religion and the soul – all concepts that make me very uncomfortable. I told Tania all the reasons why I am not a spiritual person, that in fact I even hate the word “spiritual.” But then I had to admit that my carry-on bag was heavier than it should be because it was full of rocks and pebbles that I had collected on my walks around Ghost Ranch. That I had compulsively taken photographs of the same mountains over and over at different times of the day to record every moment of my journey.
Those rocks and photographs were destined to join the shells and pieces of coral, pine cones and sage bundles, the icons and Virgin Mary’s, the tin milagros and Buddha’s that I had strewn about my house. From every place I go – and I am an obsessive traveler – I take a little piece of something to remind me of how I felt in that place or the person who gave it to me. I had to confess that I loved creating altars of all sorts – but that I was not spiritual in any way.
I also admitted that I had never wanted to write a blog because I didn’t think there were any of my thoughts that I needed to inflict upon the world, but Tania thought I should take photos of my altars and blog about them. Unsettled but intrigued, I couldn’t forget that conversation. I had to admit that something had happened at that retreat among those mountains that I didn't understand but couldn't ignore. So, because all that week I had been guided by the “spirit” of Georgia O’Keefe and the inspiration of those creative women, I did what Tania said I should do.