Today, We Work.

screenshot-2016-11-10-09-46-04Friends, yesterday we held space. Today, we work.

I got an email from a teacher I used to coach who works in the south. His class is about a 50/50 split in which presidential candidate they and their families supported. The pro-DT half told him they are not racist or sexist and they hate that about the president-elect, but they are pro-gun rights and anti-choice, so he had to be their guy. What should he do, he asks? How does he acknowledge their rights and beliefs and still address that we are in a real problem with regard to how people are already beginning to treat one another on Day 1? I don’t know if I said enough. I don’t know if I said the right things. But this is what I said and this is what I believe and this is what I will fight for until every child in my reach and beyond is treated with respect for who they are. Because that is what we do. #theteachertribe

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You are in a tough place, friend, and I really appreciate you both being so thoughtful and taking the time to reach out.

A disclaimer, I’m red hot about this issue right now. Yesterday I was sad, today I am mad. Here’s why.

I’m born and bred Bay Area, California; pro-choice and pro-gun control is weaved into my DNA. And, if there was a pro-choice, pro-gun control candidate running for office that said and did the kind of things our president elect has done and said it would not phase me to vote for the other person. To me, basic decency and humanity and the freedom for people to be who they are without worry comes way above anything else, even things that are part of what I believe at my core.

The families who voted for Trump aren’t necessarily racist or sexist or xenophobic. But what they are is complicit. Complicit in the act of putting people, children, in harm’s way. Here’s what I mean: go on to Facebook and look up Shaun King. He is posting post after post of people’s experience with Day 1 of a President Elect Trump. This twitter feed is another place to look https://twitter.com/i/moments/796417517157830656

And this is just a drop in the bucket.

So, no, they aren’t the ones saying all this. They aren’t the ones targeting or harassing or spewing hatred or inciting violence. And, you know that prose we all use when we teach the Holocaust, “First they came for the…then they came for the…then they came for me and there was no one left to speak up for me?” That’s what we’re seeing here. And as long as we allow our privilege to say, “Shit, man, this sucks, but let’s just get on with things and let this go,” then we make it ok for a man who has been called to appear in a pre-trial motion next month for raping a teenager. Women in double digits coming forward talking about how they’ve been assaulted by him. Hundreds of wage workers left destitute because he didn’t pay his bills. This man will be choosing FBI directors and EPA regulators and Supreme Court Justices. And everyone who voted for him will be complicit for the fall out. Just as they are complicit in what children are facing in schools and beyond every day because the adults in this country have made it ok. Truth be told, even those who didn’t vote for him will be complicit if they stay silent. And by they, I mean me too.

Now, how do you have this conversation with kids, you ask? This is the part where you have to take the idea of complacency and bystanders and present it to kids (and your colleagues) in a way that doesn’t make them run away and tell their parents you are insulting them, but does make them think. Think about what we tolerate because “it isn’t happening to me.” We can’t love our country if we don’t love our countrymen, AND our country women, says Senator Cory Booker. And I couldn’t agree more. And loving them means putting that belief in the greater good of humanity above any other policy or political belief. Every. Single. Time.

You have a task in front of you that is daunting as it is important. You are a warrior, friend, and I’m so proud of you for digging deep and stepping into the conversation. You won’t resolve anything but you will offer another very, very important perspective that will seed in their brains and, God willing, grow over time. That is all you can expect from yourself. But do not think that is a small thing. In fact, it is everything.

Big love to you,
Nicole

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The Curve Ball

Screen Shot 2013-10-04 at 3.48.44 PMI’ve made it clear to the universe and my family and friends that this will be my last year teaching in a traditional classroom in a traditional high school. Something else awaits and, while I know not yet what it is, I know that something exists. Something that does not deplete this introvert’s energy so completely, something that does not weigh on this soft heart so heavily, something that, after 19 years of teaching high school, will offer me a new and exciting professional challenge and will allow me to use my gifts in a way that serves me as much as it serves others. It’s out there and I trust it’s bought a ticket to get to me and it will be here sooner rather than later.

And yet.

I walked to the computer lab from my classroom today, all the way down one hall, through and down the breezeway, and all the way down another hall.  The whole way there I was greeted with smiles and hugs and high-fives and kindness. Doors were held open, papers I dropped were picked up, offers were made to carry my bag. This relentless warmth from students past and present, sent my way for particular reason other than they saw me walking down the hall, filled my chest with breath and made my eyes wet with tears.

I met my third period at the computer lab where the big topic of conversation was the SAT’s most will be taking tomorrow morning. So many worried about such a high-stakes test, more so than the average set of seniors because these kids are almost all first-generation college students who see higher education as the way out of the struggle most of them live as a daily way of life. Their grades are great, their extra-curriculars are strong, their habits—considering they are still teenagers—are mostly solid. The only thing standing in the way between them and their dream school is this one test and they are scared to death.

So I did the only thing I knew how to do in a situation such as this. We set the study of leading economic indicators aside and we had a Life Skill Moment.

“Here’s what I know,” I said. “You are all wonderful, smart, capable young adults who will go on to make this world one I want to grow old in. My SAT scores were low and I didn’t get into the big impressive schools I wanted to get into as a result. You know what? I ended up exactly where I was meant to go. Exactly. I got an outstanding education at a beautiful school, made life-long friends, met the man who became my husband, and have gone on to live the American dream many of you so desperately want.

“Letting one stupid-ass test get between you and that dream is one stupid-ass choice. It’s one test on one day in your whole entire life. If it goes well, great; if it doesn’t, it doesn’t matter. Any school that is going to turn you away because of how you scored on one test is no school you want to attend anyway.”

They looked at me, eyes wide.

“Did she just say ‘stupid-ass’?” one student whispered.

“I think she did,” replied another.

Eyes wider. Mouths opened. And then the clapping. And then the cheering. It reverberated down the hall so loudly that another teacher came into see if we were ok.

Yeah, we’re ok, I mouthed and nodded. We’re actually great.

Who leaves this? Who walks away from kids who are so anxious to show you their love and appreciation? What kind of “something” could possibly give me more reward than this thing?

And yet.

Next to parenting, this is the hardest work that exists in the world. To be a teacher, a great teacher, it takes the deepest and most honorable kind of intention and thoughtfulness—on levels both academic and human—not to speak of the hours both at home and at school.

I’ve been doing this work all of my adult life. Teaching is just what I do. It’s as natural and close to my heart as mothering. I don’t know how there can possibly be another job that is better suited to who I am and what I do.

I also don’t know that there is another job that is least suited to who I am and how I do it.

It seems there is no easy answer. It seems that just when I think I have it figured out, God throws me the curve ball called “Are You Sure?”

I am sure.

And yet…

Possibility

18010_10200914911824886_228413022_nCertainty is a part of my DNA, the perfect mix of a childhood nurturing and God-given nature, both relishing the known, the concrete, the for certain. I love it so much that I seek it out whenever possible, always choosing what has specifics I can get my head around, good or bad, versus what is unknown, unpredictable, the uncertain.

Snug as a proverbial bug in a rug, I nestled into certainty as a child and there I’ve stayed. It’s cozy. And there’s very little I value more than cozy.

I happen to have also been called to a profession that, at least in the state of California, comes with a huge amount of certainty. Get through the insanity that is the first few years of teaching with better than average results and you’ve got yourself a job for life. I would have to do something pretty terrible to lose this job. That’s not a dig on teachers or on the unions that protect them, that’s just fact.

Ironically, in the last five years–despite given my intense propensity toward certainty–I’ve become a person who jumps impulsively into projects I do not understand but trust implicitly. Because I am certain of my family and my finances, that security gives me the courage to remain undaunted by enormous feats that call to me. Assess the certainty of the safety net, jump, then get details later.

For example, I was frustrated about how schools weren’t teaching our kids practical research skills, so I wrote a book about it. I couldn’t sell it to a publishing house, so I published it myself. I don’t have an agent and I don’t have a book contract, but I’ve outlined three more books that I’m sure are awesome. I don’t have connections in the movie industry and yet I know there is a fantastic movie in the yet-to-be published memoir I’ve written. I write two newsletters and I have a website along with two Facebook pages. It’s almost like I’m all official or something.

Similarly, I have come to know that, for whatever reason I have yet to understand, I must parlay the last 18 years of working with teenagers into now working with their teachers, so I’ve created workshops to start that process. No paying clients yet, just me, doing an incredible amount of work for no real reason other than I feel I should, all in a time when my state is cash-strapped and school-coffers are like echo chambers. I don’t know, someday some one will be ready to take teacher professional development seriously again and when they’re ready, I’ll be too.

Who does that?

I do. The same person who craves certainty also craves creativity. Desperately. And somehow, again the perfect mix of childhood nurturing and God-given nature, I have the confidence –the audacity—to assume that my gifts are needed in the world and I’ll be damned if I’m going to keep them cooped up in my heart. If the world isn’t ready for me, no matter because I know my time will come and when it does, I’ll be ready.

That’s for certain.

And yet…

When I consider the prospect of walking away from the certainty of my job, I find myself plunged into an almost depressive state of the paralyzing blues, especially unusual considering my propensity toward anxiety. What do these blues mean? Did I really do all of this work preparing myself for what’s next only to say, nope, never mind, too uncertain?

I went to lunch with a friend today and she called the place I am currently residing (that state, the one I call Blue) a “gateway moment.” The choice I make is a gateway toward something new and exciting, only I know that when I walk through it the gate will slam shut on what I’ve known all of my adult life. As it clangs and bounces back and forth until it finally settles, I will have to make another choice: stay on course and move forward, or retreat. Before the clang-clang-clanging stops I can reach back with a hand to catch the gate, just in time to return to certainty.

In years past which path to choose would have never been a question. But something in me has shifted as of late and it has me thinking crazy things. Just yesterday I was guest lecturing in a teacher education class (more work for no known reason) and the conversation landed on how important it was for students to follow the rules. In fact, this new teacher said, there is no greater thing we can teach kids than how to follow directions.

“Wait,” I interrupted impulsively, “We’re all social studies teachers here, right?”

Nods around the room.

“This country was not created by people who follow the rules! We cannot stifle creativity and progress and innovation by teaching kids that, above all else, they must follow directions!”

Another young teacher, a laid-back looking guy in jeans and a t-shirt who sat in the back row when he came in, I’m guessing, to spend more time online than listening to me said, “That’s what I’m saying!” He, however, was the lone maverick. The rest of them, who sat in the front like the school-loving eager students they are, looked shell-shocked. Who was this woman saying kids needed to do more than follow directions?

No one, I’m sure, was more surprised about what I said than me.

I am a consummate rule-follower. I am mortified to disappoint people. Even a hint of disappointment in the eyes of someone I’m speaking to can set me on edge for hours. In my most insecure moments I might even call myself a name associated with someone who would sell herself for the approval of others. I do everything everyone tells me if for no other reason than they told me, and I just publicly questioned a perfectly well-intentioned new teacher about why he was so adamant that kids follow directions?

Something is loose in my skull. The certainty nut, the one that’s held me together all these years, it’s come loose and I’m doing and saying things I wouldn’t have done or said before. In all of this preparation for what’s next I unknowingly bought into something I never thought possible.

Possibility. 

Possibility is what’s possible, not what is. Possibility is what could be, not what will be. From my seat in certainty, snug as a proverbial bug in a rug, I built this train of possibility, piece by little piece, for no other reason than I felt called to do so. Now I’m on that train without even realizing I bought a ticket.

That God, He is a sneaky, sneaky little character.

So I’m Not Alone?

I recently came across this hilarious and oh-so-true take on the 5 Stages of Death and Dying, only in this case, it’s the 5 Stages of Grading. I don’t know one teacher who adores the drudgery of grading; in fact when I ask teachers what they like least, “Grading” is often the answer (along with a heavy sigh and often a handful of excuses.)

Excuse no more, my friends, because today I’ve discovered, we’re not alone. The hilarity of this post makes it feel almost — almost — ok that I have five sets of my own grading to do during this deceptively termed thing we like to call “vacation.”

the five stages of grading

Be Sure to Ask the Right People

Across the country, education reform is the big buzz these days. Adults gather together to figure out just what is happening to our nation’s schools and work diligently to create changes that will infuse our school system with opportunities for achievement.

The problem is, very few of these adults actually work in schools. Further, none of these adults sit on the other side of those desks and are subject to all this new and different (mostly repurposed) reform.

Shouldn’t we be asking students what they need instead of deciding for ourselves?

Check out this article at the Huffington Post; turns out, at least in one area, California may be getting it right.