A storyteller is passionately interested in human beings and their endless conflicts with their fates…. Dudley Nichols
On Mondays I teach math activities to small groups of children in an after school program. Yesterday is rainy and attendance is down for the lesson on measurement. The lesson begins by marking each child’s height on a growth chart.
A girl who is repeating first grade and a home schooled kindergarten boy are the only ones in the first group. We each have rulers and with a bit of practice learn how to line the ruler up against the object to be measured. How long is this pencil? Is this book the same length on all four sides? Who has the bigger shoe? When we measure the 4′ fish tank with a tape measure, I hold one end and the little boy holds the other. The girl is to read the number, but she has no clue. The kindergartener helps her. My job is to make suggestions and monitor their skills.
The second group consists of the first grade brother of the kindergartener and a second grade boy. The second grader, a bit disruptive in most group settings, is completely engaged as he measures everything in the room. The first grader needs more encouragement from me.
A fifth grade girl and sixth grade boy are in the third group. The sixth grader has just begun middle school and his new maturity shows. He patiently works with the girl as she struggles to figure the area and perimeter of the door. I just watch and affirm.
The last group consists of twins, eighth grade boys who are enrolled in an online school, and another home schooled sixth grader diagnosed with Asberger’s. This combination is trickier. The twins compete with each other and the sixth grader is hard to engage. But each in his own way found something in the room that was 20″. ( The best answer is the diagonal of a hanging picture) Once again my job is to watch and affirm, even with the sixth grader, who in his own time and way participates.
I, as teacher and writer, am finding my place in the story.
Man’s mind, stretched by a new idea, never goes back to its original dimensions. Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr.
Have you ever had one of those days where you find yourself in settings you thought familiar, only to wonder where am I? What’s going on? How did I get here? Who am I now?
Yesterday was like that for me. What I thought I knew was being challenged. Perhaps yesterday’s quote should have been Meister Eckhart’s words, “Be willing to be a beginner every single morning.” That was the mantra running through my head.
The surreal day began with a book club meeting (see yesterday’s post, We the People). Writing about it helped put it in perspective. But later in the day while teaching “how to write an effective lesson plan” to my interns, I was constantly questioning how effective my own lesson really was. Where am I? What’s going on? How did I get here? Who am I now?
Then last night in a circle of friends at writer’s group I felt detached. Alex told me I seemed pretty normal. I guess I was assessing what normal is for me. Where am I? What’s going on? How did I get here? Who am I now?
Being in the world with the observation skills honed from writing practice is challenging. Yesterday’s quote, “Even in the mud and scum of things, something always, always sings,” was the new idea I am being stretched with. And it took a night’s rest to just get to this place. Wherever this is.
The whole idea of compassion is based on a keen awareness of the interdependence of all these living beings, which are all part of one another, and all involved in one another
Yesterday in the cancer center’s waiting room I felt deep connection with the patients and their families dealing with the reality of this disease. It made me anxious. Breathe, Laura. Center yourself. Be a calm presence.
Then after visiting a high school remedial English class my thoughts as an observing teacher left me with many challenging questions. What are we assuming about these students? What are we really teaching here? How do we inspire curiosity and cooperativeness? What is success?
In the new secondary intern seminar last night I watched teachers acting much like their students. A kind of just going-through-the-motions behavior. What am I assuming about these students? What am I really teaching here? How do I inspire curiosity and cooperativeness? What is success?
This morning I visit a second grade class and this afternoon I teach in a after school program.
Thomas Merton’s quote is so much more than words.
Those who wish to sing will always find a song. Celtic Proverb
Muffins for the 8:15 am Monday Jazzercise class.
Last night’s end-of-the-summer show from art camp.
My first classroom visit for the semester–an overage, remedial English class in an alternative school setting.
Bags of positive energy to leave with each intern when I visit.
Day 11 of my year of writing dangerously
If you want to build a ship, don’t drum up people together to collect wood and don’t assign them tasks and work, but rather teach them to long for the endless immensity of the sea. Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
Here we go again. Another new school year. Another two classes of novice teachers. Four years ago when I first began teaching these intern seminars I could barely breathe when I thought of the responsibility. How would I stuff these teachers full of everything they needed to be successful?
So, what has changed, Laura?
I’m a little more experienced now. I have an idea portfolio of what can work…and what can’t.
Sounds like YOU were a beginning teacher.
Yeah, I guess so. I wasn’t sure how to use my thirty years of teaching experience to prepare others for such a commitment.
How did you begin?
I pulled memories of my first years in the classroom and what I wish I had known.
And that worked?
Well, it was a beginning. One of the things I wish I had known was how to handle my fears and concerns about what I thought I needed to know. So I asked these teachers. It is, after all, a seminar. The classroom experience for many of us hasn’t encouraged such discussions. We struggled with the assumed delineation of authority and compliance, of right and wrong. In the safety of our classroom we practiced sharing. We worked in small hands-on inquiry groups and had open-ended brainstorming sessions. We learned that higher order thinking skills is more than words; it’s also the excitement of discovery.
You know how to stuff the teachers with everything they need to be successful now?
Nah, that’s impossible. I just hope together we will encourage the quest.
When the student is ready, the teacher will appear. Buddhist proverb
It’s no surprise my mind is on teaching today. I’m rereading Siddhartha for book club tonight. I will be leading the discussion and I want to be prepared. The university where I facilitate alternative education certification seminars begins its fall semester next week. Yesterday I received details about the GED writing workshops that I will be responsible for in October.
I was a public school teacher for 30 years before retiring in 2001. I wanted to be a writer, to write about my teaching experiences. I was ready to put all those years of teaching language arts into practice. But just as I was becoming comfortable in my “new” life as a writer, my only child died. Suicide. Why? Where did he go? What did I do to bring this on? What could I have done differently? Questions I was only able to ask my notebook.
“Physician, heal thyself” (Luke 4:23) became “Teacher, instruct thyself.” There was so much I needed to understand.
And I discovered the closer I became to the experience of death, the more I knew I wasn’t ready to let go of life. I needed to reconnect with the world I was once a part of. To leave the safety of my “inner teacher” that was rapidly becoming isolationism. I could find other ways to learn. I could find teachers wherever I was.
And that is where I am… and ready for the new school year.