A Renovation of Self

“What are Brains Know” by Jeffrey Fisher

My mind is rarely quiet. Thoughts crash into one another, ideas ignite then fizzle out, emotions usurp logical reasoning, wonderings meander, ambiguity runs rampant…all of which leave me exhausted – making it impossible to grasp any pure thoughts or clear reasoning amidst the turmoil.

As of late, I find myself struggling to balance what is expected of me with what I expect of me.

While reading an essay in, A Plea for Eros, by Siri Hustvedt, I stumbled upon a passage that reminded me of my quest for professional excellence:

“It is night, and I am lying in bed. Above me I notice a large drill thrust into the wall. No one is holding it; it begins to turn on its own, and as it turns, I see that long, thin cracks are forming in the wall. The cracks get larger and then the wall begins to break open. I am overwhelmed with terror and throw myself against the wall to try to keep the fragments together, to stop the wall from collapsing” (Hustvedt, 2004).

The author behind these words spoke of this dream as an expression of her fear that the ‘thresholds and boundaries’ familiar to her, won’t hold, and ‘things will go to pieces’ (Hustvedt, 2004).  I can certainly relate to this.

Education is a demanding profession, one that requires persistence, patience, and the pursuit of current and steadfast pedagogical practices. This metaphorical representation can be viewed through two lenses: I could view the fissure as the beginning of the end; collapse being inevitable because I can’t meet the demands of our profession, or I could view the fissure as a new beginning; a renovation of self.  As Michelangelo stated, “The best artist has that thought alone which is contained within the marble shell; The sculptor’s hand can only break the spell To free the figures slumbering in the stone.” Such a perspective causes a shift in one’s thinking; chipping away or creating the right fissures can leave behind something of greater beauty. I prefer the second lens.

Over the years, I have felt myself slipping from what I know to be best practices in order to meet the increasing curricular demands. As a result, I have stifled the voices of students in an attempt to make simple the abstract process of writing. In our school’s quest to create the perfect prompt, followed by the perfect planner that lays out the perfect structure, followed by the perfect rubric to evaluate whether the writing is perfect, we lost our writers. Their voices slowly silenced – leaving behind traces of ideas that followed the “rules of writing.” Intellectual risks rarely evident as students played it safe to “get the grade”.

Recently, our school presented us with professional development sessions with Penny Kittle, author of Book Love and Write Beside Them. Kittle’s books and workshops opened my eyes; students have become apathetic in their approach to writing because we have taught them writing happens to them rather than because of them.

As student enthusiasm for writing fizzled, so did mine. My voice on my class blogs became silent as I wrestled with how to help my students become more confident writers. I have spent much time ruminating over why I am not writing this year – convincing myself that it is lack of time. But I now realize, that I am silent because writing is happening to me as well. Kittle’s words have inspired me that it is possible to give students their voice back – and resurrect their passion for writing.

Together, through the Slice of Life Story Challenge, I plan on struggling alongside my students to find our voices and go confidently into the world. Again, my writing mentor, Siri Husvedt, corralled the following words, artfully capturing the seduction of writing, “…essays [writing] are a form of mind travel, of walking toward answers with an acute awareness that I will never come to the end of the road.”

Writing and reading involves a never-ending journey in which we may never find the answers; instead we discover ourselves along the way. A renovation of self.

A new figure waits to be released. I am invested.

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3 thoughts on “A Renovation of Self

  1. I really enjoyed this post and connected with a lot of it, especially the paragraph in which you talk about slipping from best practices to keep up with demands. I, too, have felt that, especially this year. Another line I connected with was “Intellectual risks rarely evident as students played it safe to “get the grade”.” I’m seeing this a lot and I want to get back to helping my students get excited about learning, and not getting an A.

    I’m excited to read more from you!

  2. I love this post and the thoughtfulness and honesty of your musings. Students who think writing happens to them have little to say. Those who have something to say will write. I write new writing prompts every year as the year unfolds. I have to because I don’t know in advance what my students need to say, need to hear. BTW, I’m a big Penny Kittle fan, too.

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