Thursday, August 21

Oh, School.



My reaction to the first days of school is basically exclamation points and italics.  Of the good variety.  I am deliriously excited about all things school and I think my excitement is grounded in logical reasons and is not an inexplicable reaction to no sleep and birth control.

To begin, my students are so great I suspect there was some sort of foul play during registration but have decided not to ask questions.  I am just going to scoop up my lovely students and carry on.  Thus far there has been a positively delightful vibe in every. single. class.  People of the world, this is a miracle of the highest order!  We've laughed, read, written, discussed.  It's been dreamy.  And I know, I know...there's still time for them to turn on me.  But I'm just going to let my inner optimist have this one.

And, as if having an all-star roster of students wasn't enough, I moved into a brand new classroom that is everything I could have hoped for.  It's functional, airy, literally feet away from a bathroom and drinking fountain, and has massive windows.  I have the corner room and when I saw the bathroom's proximity an illogical part of my thought, the admin know.  About my obnoxious peeing habit.  And then I remembered that they're probably too busy to track the teachers' collective bathroom habits and chalked the location up to good fortune.

This is the part where I realize my luck is getting a bit out of hand.  Because there's more.  Last year some of my students and I tossed around the idea of starting a creative writing club.  That dream stuck with me throughout the summer and I found myself crafting make believe logos and writing prompts, all whilst not being sure whether their interest was legitimate.  But, lo and behold, a herd of my fabulous former students swarmed my classroom during lunch on the first day of school, making sure I was still on board.  Um.  On board with my dream job getting even better?  Check.  Anyway, as it turns out, there's a lot of red tape involved in starting a club.  So, I gathered the paperwork and we had an impromptu meeting today.  Once everyone was settled, I sifted through the forms, mentioning the various things required.  There was a slight pause and a few girls exchanged glances.  "So...we kind of figured this all out last night.  We got together because we were too excited to wait."  Without prodding, they had crafted a name, a logo, possible meeting times and activities; they'd talked to someone about making shirts.

And that's when I realized my secret teacher talent: sitting back and letting awesome students do awesome things.  I literally had to contribute next to nothing, and yet the meeting was beyond productive.

Did I mention that one of my best friends from high school (currently living in Iowa) made a surprise visit during this already phenomenal meeting?  Because that also happened.  And she came bearing peanut butter M&Ms.  I mean, today was weirdly good.

Furthermore, I have six TAs, which is sort of magical (for me, at least.  They're busy realizing being a TA is less glamour, more grunt work).  And, off-topic except for the common theme of awesomeness, there's talk of a faculty powderpuff league.  And, less off-topic, I'm still coaching basketball.

All this is to say, I almost crashed driving home today because I was busy smiling to myself like a goof and choreographing (in my head) a flash mob dance the basketball team could do to We Are Done, which makes zero sense but makes me happy for some reason.

So I think it's safe to say that things are good.

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Tuesday, August 5

The Weeks of Recaptured Sanity


This summer has been a lot of things, most of them beautiful, some of them hard.  I participated in the Central Utah Writing Project, I taught summer school, I coached, I drafted new curriculum- a conglomeration that made me extraordinarily happy and extraordinarily tired and extraordinarily [fill in the blank, I'm sure it works].

All this is to say: until July 18th, I was feeling very er.  Busier, tireder, joyfuler than usual.  My days were amped to a precarious degree and I've learned [over and over] that even good things, without some dilution, can be too much.  I am of the, "sign up for everything and even things not on the list" variety.  I want to do everything and, until I try, wholeheartedly believe I am capable of doing everything.  But the thing about spreading yourself thin is that things you love, and likely need, don't always make the cut.

And so it went until I awoke on July 18th with a resounding nothing scheduled.  And while I usually equate a lack of schedule with a lack of ambition, I found myself gulping in my newfound freedom with relish.  My days had suddenly become malleable.  And so I went about recapturing my sanity.

As it turns out, my sanity hides in spin classes and trips to the grocery store.  It camps out in books and ice chips.  It lounges about in Wyoming.  Sometimes, to my husband's chagrin, it stays up at night pelting Conlin with life-altering questions, such as, "Wait, but...do you like peanut butter?  What about strawberries?  If you had to eat one thing for the rest of your life, what would you eat?"

I found my sanity and with it the ability to breath deeply, eat fruit on the porch, turn pages of a book slowly and then really, really fast.

I have found my sanity just in time to lose it again.

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Saturday, July 19

Home

Note: this is an extended/revised version of my previous piece.  My apologies if this seems redundant or unappealing, but also...as blog owner, it's my prerogative to post junk I feel like posting.  And with that, I give you, "Home."


And there she stood, basked in the light of half-truths and mistrust.  She squinted at him, yearning connection, fearing it more.  She stared at his dirty baseball hat, his loose shirt, his messy hair, and then she was staring past him, her eyes set, face expressionless.  
“You don’t mean that,” sounded too much like, “I can’t love you anymore.”
“It’s all fine,” sounded too much like, “I can’t afford to care.”
“So what now?” meant, “This is the end.”
She continued to stare past him, past her now, waiting for a new life, a cleansing rain, to drench her.

It rained two days later, loud splinters of water covering the trees, the sidewalk, bouncing off benches and umbrellas.  It filled sidewalk cracks and forced worms out of hiding. It poured, it scoured, it enveloped.  And she stood, arms spread, staring up.  Water poured down her pained face, tears and rain blending in their downward journey, her jaw clenched and shaking.  And then her mouth opened and she drank the sky.  

It was a Wednesday night when her phone lit up, reading, "Dad" but meaning, "Stranger."  The air stilled as she stared at the screen. 
And then she answered with practiced indifference.
She sat, biting her lip and pulling at the carpet, as her dad spoke.  Rushed words about things she tried to forget. 
And then he promised to come see her soon.
She exhaled.   And then hung up.
Tossing the phone against her dresser, she let out a shaky cry and whispered he's supposed to love me.
And then she lay on the carpet, fists balled, and wept.  Hours later pre-dawn light gently cradled her awake and told her to move.

Three days later she stood by her favorite tree and let the wind rustle her messy hair.  She turned slowly in a circle, gazing at the sky, the baseball field, the grass.  And then she grabbed the lower tree branches and climbed.  Panting slightly, she swung her body up, until she reached the sitting branch.  The branch that had hugged her softly when her dad left, the branch that had given her a home when nowhere else felt right, the branch that had made her feel less alone.  And now it was the branch that held her while she wondered whether he could be different from her dad.  She sat on the branch, her head resting against the trunk, and tried to smile.
But her smile shook and soon she was crying. 
Between bursts of tears, she choked, "I'm broken."

On a Tuesday morning she weaved through tables at Bailey's Cafe to sit in a corner booth.   She curled her legs under and tried to make herself small.  When her coffee arrived, she ripped sugar packets and swirled the brown liquid, methodically tapping the sides of the cup.  The hot glass warmed her thin fingers and she sighed.
Soon voices, shrill and scoffing, floated to her table.  She looked up and saw a couple, both with white shocks of hair and patterned sweaters, spitting words. 
She watched the exchange desperately, searching for answers, for confirmation. 
One, "If you would just listen to me-"
The other, "All I do is listen!"
And she heard love doesn't work.
She nodded to herself and turned back to her coffee.

She opened the door, weeks later, and smelled lilac.  She gulped in the scent and wondered if this was what healing smelled like.  She walked, barefoot, to the lilac bush pushing through her neighbor’s fence and sat in the damp grass to smell, and feel, and see.  She curled her toes in the grass and dirt and reached an arm forward to touch a protruding leaf, to pinch it between her fingers.  She looked at the different greens on the leaf and thought how they looked like veins.  She placed her palm and outstretched fingers against the fence, pressing damp splinters.  She forced herself to breath.  In, out.  In.  Out.  She closed her eyes.  
And then she said, quietly, “I’m still here.”

It was the next day, as she wandered the farmer's market, picking up cucumbers and weighing fruit, that she saw the couple from Bailey's cafe.  Their hair was still white and their sweaters still patterned, but they were not the same.  The girl set down her nectarine, nervously pushed loose hair behind her ears, and watched. 
As the couple slowly walked through aisles of fruit, the man rested his hand on the small of her back.  The woman smiled and whispered something.  The man laughed, a big laugh, and tipped his head back. 
And the girl stood still, staring.

She walked aimlessly through July, stopping at snow shacks and public parks on her way to nowhere.  She sat on a hot metal bench and let a trail of ants climb over her fingers.  She watched young children in mismatched clothes run and laugh and cry.  She gazed with interest at a small boy with tufts of curly brown hair as he bent to the ground, his hand outstretched.  And the corners of her mouth turned up as she watched him bring a fistful of dirt to his chin.  She let out a single huh when the mom slapped the dirt down.
And then she looked right.  
Two benches away sat a young mother in boxer shorts and a stained gray t-shirt.   She had bags under her eyes and her hair was unkempt.  But her eyes were happy, an extension of her slight smile.  The girl followed the woman’s gaze to a small child, pulling at some grass.  The girl watched the woman watch the child and the smile never faded.
That must be love, she thought.

It was on a Sunday, as the girl was walking barefoot along the hot cement, when she heard him.

He said, “Where have you been?” and it sounded like-
                                                                                    I missed you.
She said, “I’ve been here,” and it sounded like-
                                                                                    I’ve been finding myself.
He said, “I see you, you know,” and it sounded like-
                                                                                    I can love you.
And she said, “I think I see you, too,” and it meant-
                                                                                                Home.


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Wednesday, July 16

Head On Over

Today I'm guest blogging over at Brooke and Jane.  I'll be flaunting my pseudo-domesticity by teaching you how to make Soda Cracker Toffee.  It's a deceivingly simple dessert that tastes better than anything in this world should be allowed to taste.  So head on over and enjoy.



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Tuesday, June 10

Home



And there she stood, basked in the light of half-truths and mistrust.  She squinted at him, yearning connection, fearing it more.  She stared at his dirty baseball hat, his loose shirt, his messy hair, and then she was staring past him, her eyes set, face expressionless.  
“You don’t mean that,” sounded too much like, “I can’t love you anymore.”
“It’s all fine,” sounded too much like, “I can’t afford to care.”
“So what now?” meant, “This is the end.”
She continued to stare past him, past her now, waiting for a new life, a cleansing rain, to drench her.  

It rained two days later, loud splinters of water covering the trees, the sidewalk, bouncing off benches and umbrellas.  It filled sidewalk cracks and forced worms out of hiding. It poured, it scoured, it enveloped.  And she stood, arms spread, staring up.  Water poured down her pained face, tears and rain blending in their downward journey, her jaw clenched and shaking.  And then her mouth opened and she drank the sky.  

She opened the door, weeks later, and smelled lilac.  She gulped in the scent and wondered if this was what healing smelled like.  She walked, barefoot, to the lilac bush pushing through her neighbor’s fence and sat in the damp grass to smell, and feel, and see.  She curled her toes in the grass and dirt and reached an arm forward to touch a protruding leaf, to pinch it between her fingers.  She looked at the different greens on the leaf and thought how they looked like veins.  Could leafs bleed?  She placed her palm and outstretched fingers against the fence, pressing damp splinters.  She forced herself to breath.  In, out.  In.  Out.  She closed her eyes.  
And then she said, quietly, “I’m still here.”

She walked aimlessly through July, stopping at snow shacks and public parks on her way to nowhere.  She sat on a hot metal bench and let a trail of ants climb over her fingers.  She watched young children in mismatched clothes run and laugh and cry.  She gazed with interest at a small boy with tufts of curly brown hair as he bent to the ground, his hand outstretched.  And the corners of her mouth turned up as she watched him bring a fistfull of dirt to his chin.  She let out a single huh when the mom slapped the dirt down.
And then she looked right.  
Two benches away sat a young mother in boxer shorts and a stained gray t-shirt.   She had bags under her eyes and her hair was unkempt.  But her eyes were happy, an extension of her slight smile.  The girl followed the woman’s gaze to a small child, pulling at some grass.  The girl watched the woman watch the child and the smile never faded.
That must be love, she thought.

It was on a Sunday, as the girl was walking barefoot along the hot cement, when she heard him.

He said, “Where have you been?” and it sounded like-
I missed you.
She said, “I’ve been here,” and it sounded like-
I’ve been finding myself.
He said, “I see you, you know,” and it sounded like-
I can love you.
And she said, “I think I see you, too,” and it sounded like-
Home.

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Thursday, May 1

"Don't Interrupt Us!"


Teaching is deeply personal.  To say it is my career seems dry and, frankly, misrepresentative.  I can leave my classroom, but I very rarely feel, "clocked out," as teaching has forced me to view, and feel, the world a little differently.  

And I think one of the best gifts you can receive is a chance to look at the world through a new lens.  It's one of the reasons I love writing and reading literature- when I step away, life is cast in a new light.  Things shift and become whole [er], though the gaps were unapparent before.  

Teaching provokes a range of emotions, from elation to devastation, and everything in between.  And the emotional scale tips back and forth, back and forth all day.  I mourn the students that give up, that dismiss their education, that focus more on negativity than positivity, that mistreat other students, that feel alone.  But I rejoice with the students that realize they're good learners, that reach out to those who are alone, that challenge themselves, that take risks, that smile because they feel that life is good.  

I constantly second-guess myself and often feel wildly inadequate, because the truth is: I will never work a day perfectly in my life.  

But that will be the beautiful challenge of my existence.  And if I can witness more moments like the following, it will have been worth it.

………………………………………………………………………………………………………….

Yesterday I did some power writing with my students.  I gave the class topics loosely related to their book and they wrote as much as they could, as fast as they could, as well as they could for two-minute spurts.  

When my famously loud fourth period began, I was awestruck.  The only sound filling my classroom was the wild scratching of pencils and pens.  [No small miracle, I assure you.]

After my students completed a few rounds, they selected one of their entries to revise.  They then shared their work with their tables.  I heard echoes of, "Whoa…that was really good!" and, "Read that last part again, I want to remember it."  When their voices dwindled, I asked whether anyone wanted to nominate a reader from their group.  Several eager hands shot into the air.  

The first nominee was a shy, sweetly quiet student.  I asked whether he'd be willing to share, and, to my delight, he nodded.

He cleared his throat and smoothed his sheet of paper.  Then, softly, he began reading.  The class sat in quiet rapture- had anyone spoke, the boy's voice would have been enveloped.  Striking, unexpected words spilled out and I watched awe register on his peer's faces.  

But then, only a few lines in, the intercom blared.  Mrs. Gull?  Can you please send Rachel to the-

That's when one of my students bellowed, "DO NOT INTERRUPT US!  WE WERE LISTENING TO A MASTERPIECE!"

…and while I feel deeply sorry for the blameless, unsuspecting secretary, I will forever cherish that moment because the subtle grin on my shy writer's face was the most beautifully endearing thing.

When the intercom quieted, the student finished his reading, and the class erupted: they clapped, snapped their fingers, and whooped in unanimous support of his words.

And I think in that moment he realized something: his words were powerful.  

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Thursday, April 17

In Teacherland


My students made that card for my husband's birthday.  Witty, no?  And while this next comment will probably detract from your overall enjoyment of the card, please note the correct usage of it's and your.  Double win!

And now, for other news.  [Be forewarned, I am foregoing segues]:

:: We hosted a ninth grade night a couple weeks ago.  We set up booths and made flyers describing the various classes and extracurricular activities sophomores could choose.  I manned the Honors English and basketball booth (that way I could tell students they could only be in Honors if they also tried out for basketball.  Some say coercion, I say adept teaching pedagogy) .  Honors students had to pick up their summer homework packets, so I had a constant herd of nervous ninth graders stopping by with their parents.  More often than not, the following exchange occurred:

Parents: "Is honors hard?  Did you take it this year?"
Me: "I...taught it this year?"

And then the parents would apologize profusely, while I reassured them that all was well.  I'd rather look young than unduly old, so no harm done.

:: My students asked me when my birthday was.  I replied vaguely that it was in summer.

One student: "Well, what's your address?"
Me: "I'm not giving you my address."
Student: "Well how else are we going to drop off your birthday cake?"

Ah, bless them.  [Though my address must absolutely remain secret because, frankly, you never know what they'll do.  And I tend to incite over-the-top pranking.]

:: My students are doing literature circles for fourth term [I give them six or so thematic book options and they choose the most appealing and read it in groups].  In their groups, I have them discuss consequences for those who don't read; most choose something treat-related.  However.  One group decided on the following consequence: those who don't read must twerk in front of the class for one minute.

So basically I have to stifle their creative ambitions, or possibly lose my job.  Choices, choices.  I'll let you know what I decide.

:: I cut my hair over spring break- just a few inches, nothing dramatic [regardless, I'm mourning the lost length].  Anyway, one of my students commented on the haircut.  Another student jumped in:

"You cut your hair?  Where?!  How?"  This outburst was accompanied by wild gesticulations at my head.

One of my basketball players responded, "She cut her hair at the bottom.  The bottom part of the hair was cut, duh."

:: One of my students ran into my room the other day and yelled, "Someone thought I was you, I love my life!" and then ran out.  Ego stroking at its best.  [But seriously.  Some of my students are so nice to me I would be obnoxiously self-confident if it weren't for the students, in equal number, who are so whiny to me.  Teacher balance, you know.]

:: Some of my students called me over the other day to get help with an activity.  I crouched next to their desks and pointed at various parts of the assignment, talking them through the steps.  I asked if that helped and they nodded, smiling.  I returned to my desk.  Thirty seconds later they start cracking up and call me back over.

"Sorry about this, but we were pretty distracted by your wedding ring when you came over.  We were basically just staring at your ring and not listening to anything you said.  Can you go over this again?"

:: One of my most adorable, eccentric students finished his standardized test early and picked up his copy of The Help.  He then proceeded to belly-laugh sporadically at the book.  It was such a joy to watch.  He was just bubbling over, absolutely loving the story.  At the end of class, he had 100 pages to go.  Later that day, between classes, he sprinted into my room.  "Did that just really happen?  That ending!  That just really happened?!" I started to respond but he interjected, "Sorry, we don't have time to adequately discuss.  I'll come in tomorrow during lunch.  Bye!"

:: My juniors just finished 1984 and we've been playing what I deemed The Great Game [self-aggrandizing title, so what].  They have to create societies, publish propaganda, take other groups to war, and build world wonders.  I wasn't sure whether they'd really buy in, but my fears were unfounded as they have gotten so into the game that whole societies now loath one another.  Some of the students have gotten downright vicious.  It's kind of like watching video gamers argue about tactics and insult other players' methods.  Battle of the nerds, if you will.  It's both lovely and horrifying to watch.  I'll have to do some love one another activities next to repair student relationships.

And...this turned into a novel, so I'll stop rambling here.  The moral of this post: teaching is a lovely, exhausting, confusing, funny gig.