Slice #26: I am Not the Only One

“You must love the words, the ideas and images and rhythms with all your capacity to love anything at all.” 

— Wallace Stevens

Looking for today’s inspiration, I lose myself in poetry – the busyness of the day dissipates as I allow myself the luxury of lingering. Captivated, I ponder the subtle nuances of meaning each poem possesses to unravel and reflect on its message.

While lingering in, Vaclav Havel’s poem, “It is I Who Must Begin” many lines speak to me, but his words, “I am neither the only one/nor the first/nor the most important one/to have set out upon the road,” burrow into my thoughts.

Education is tough. Our days are spent facilitating learning, fostering mindsets, fielding questions, navigating emotions and attitudes, connecting, and reflecting on pedagogy. Our evenings are filled with creating lessons, reviewing student work, providing feedback, learning, and further reflection. Our mind – spins, our body – tires, yet we persevere with great passion. Why?

Poet, Naomi Shihab Nye states poetry serves as a “bridge, a conversation with the world.” Havel and I conversed about the power of beginning with “I,” but identifying when to shift to “we” as we set out on the road.

Our day begins with “I”. What learning outcomes am I aiming for? How will the lesson I designed best target these outcomes? How will I monitor student progress? How might I support students in their acquisition of knowledge and skills? How will I nurture an efficacious mindset? Have I shown I care? We see ourselves as a separate entity.

As the day progresses, the pronoun swiftly shifts to “you.” What understandings have you gained? What questions might you have, and how might you answer them? How might you apply your learning to new situations?  What strategies might you draw upon to help you solve that problem? How have you helped support others in our community? We see ourselves working in partnership with the students.

Another pronoun slips in during the day, “we.” How might we adjust the lesson to make the learning outcome clearer? How can we help this student gain more confidence? What support structures can we put in place to ensure success? How might we approach this task differently? We see ourselves as a community.

I may be tired, but I am not lost. I am not disheartened. I live in harmony with the community; I am not alone.

Thank you for the conversation Havel – wise words.

It Is I Who Must Begin

It is I who must begin,

Once I begin, once I try—

here and now,

right where I am,

not excusing myself

by saying that things

would be easier elsewhere,

without grand speeches and

ostentatious gestures,

but all the more persistently

—to live in harmony

with the “voice of Being,” as I

understand it within myself

—as soon as I begin that,

I suddenly discover,

to my surprise, that

I am neither the only one,

nor the first,

nor the most important one

to have set out upon the road.

Whether all is really lost

or not depends entirely on

whether or not I am lost.

— Vaclav Havel


SOLSC #12: Sitting at the Table

The McLoughlin Company is well known for Dolly’s Play House: 1884 to 1903

Following a long day of teaching and meetings, I sat down at my desk with a cup of tea and picked up Picnic, Lightning written by former U.S. Poet Laureate, Billy Collins to unwind. Luxuriating in solitude, I stumbled across the poem, “Some Days” which conjured up further reflections on my teaching.

Yesterday, I shared my worries over whether or not I have prepared my students for their forthcoming presentation with the knowledge and skills necessary to achieve and feel successful.

Reviewing my post, I was reminded that I need to give up my tendency to control my classroom environment. Too often, I am this teacher…

“Some days I put the people in their places at the table,/bend their legs at the knees,/if they come with that feature,/and fix them into the tiny wooden chairs.

All afternoon they face one another,/the man in the brown suit,/the woman in the blue dress,/perfectly motionless, perfectly behaved.”

I fool myself into thinking that if students are facing instruction, and if they are behaved, they are indeed learning. Of course, I realize there is much more to teaching than “perfectly motionless, perfectly behaved students.” And really, truth be told, I can relate to the students that are restless in mind and body. I am that student myself, which may be why I demand attention.

Other days, I am a different teacher…

“…I am the one/ who is lifted up by the ribs,/then lowered into the dining room of a dollhouse/to sit with the others at the long table.”

Today, I sat at the table amongst my students. As I listened to them interacting and working on their proposal, reassurance washed over me that they certainly will be ready for the ‘big’ presentation next week.

One student asked my advice on which image I thought would best represent their information and then went on to offer reasons why she thought the second image would be better.

Another student asked if they could choose an alternative way to represent data to help persuade the ‘panel of experts’ of their country’s needs.

Yet another student approached, telling me his group would need to rewrite parts of their proposal because some of the data didn’t support their argument, and would it be okay if they looked for more information. Other groups were asking for feedback or clarification.

As I listened to the conversations around the ‘table’, I was relieved to know students are working their very best to produce a product they can feel proud of.

At the end of his poem, Collins asks his readers…

“…how would you like it/if you never knew from one day to the next if you were going to spend it/striding around like a vivid god,/your shoulders in the clouds,/or sitting down there amidst the wallpaper,/staring straight ahead with your little plastic face?”

I know I prefer to sit at the table with my students.

SOL #1: Real Writing

“Woman writing” Artist: Pablo Picasso. 1934. Style: Surrealism. Period: Neoclassicist & Surrealist Period

Deep into a lesson on writing a response to literature, one of my students called me over during the drafting stage. As she is a thinker and a solid writer, I prepared myself for a provocative question. Eager to engage in intelligent discourse, I leaned in to consider her question.

“When will we get to do real writing?” she asked with sincerity.

My response was one of shock and disbelief. “What do you mean by real writing,” I asked. She then went on to define “real writing” as an opportunity to write about topics that you’re interested in, not simply the ones a teacher assigns. “You know, creative writing,” she explained.

This question’s staying power caused me to reflect on my practices as a teacher. In my quest to prepare students for their future in high school, I had thrown out what they love most about writing – creativity and autonomy. I killed their motivation.

Through much contemplation, soul-searching and reading about the topic of creative writing, I resurrected the writing workshop in my classroom. Honestly, I am ashamed to admit I had let it die.

As a result, students have created blogs with a focus of their choosing. We (myself included) blog every other day, and one day in an eight day cycle will be devoted to writing. Already I have seen a change in motivation.

Today, we start the Two Writing TeachersSlice of Life Classroom Challenge, and look forward to gaining an authentic audience to add to our enthusiasm for writing.

I love that my students make me think. It makes me a better teacher.