Saturday, April 28, 2018

The Hardest Part is Over

"Let it go
Let it roll right off your shoulder
Don't you know
The hardest part is over.
Let it in
Let your clarity define you
In the end
We will only just remember how it 
Rob Thomas, "Little Wonders" 

Yesterday I received a polite, formal rejection letter informing me that I was not selected for an educational opportunity I applied for. After over two months of waiting, I discovered that something I had put a great deal of time, effort, and thought into did not pan out. Although I genuinely saw this opportunity as a long-shot for me and I was expecting that I would not be selected, I still found myself disheartened. Sad. 

The sting of disappointment will linger with me for a while.

A large part of my school day involves working in an alternative educational setting. I am surrounded by teenagers who have not experienced a lot of success, especially in school. These are often students who move through high school without much of a voice or recognition of their accomplishments. This year has been eye-opening, and I continue to learn how to best support my students and advocate for them. I have had many gentle conversations with my students about struggle, and how to still show up as your best self and move forward, even when experiencing significant obstacles.

This is not a huge struggle for me, but it still hurts. I constantly encourage my students to practice gratitude. So, in following my own advice, below is my list of gratitude regarding this experience:
  • Three of my colleagues spent precious time crafting generous recommendation letters for me. I reread them yesterday. It mattered to me.
  • I had to write three essays for this application. In the process, I thought deeply about my beliefs of myself as a learner and as a teacher. In articulating my beliefs I was reminded of the teacher I strive to be.
  • I gained more insight in the essay-writing process and tried new ways to organize my writing, including the use of kernel essays. Because of this work I am a better teacher of writers. 
  • I have friends and family who support me, even when I experience setbacks. Thank you Abbie and Krista and Lisa.
  • I was initially scared to apply for this opportunity because of the risk of rejection. I did it anyway. A few years ago I would have talked myself out of applying, mostly because of fear. If I hadn't, I would have always wondered if it would have been possible. Now I know.   

This is certainly not the first time I have experienced rejection or disappointment. It won't be my last. 
Late last night my friend Krista sent me this quote by Theodore Roosevelt. It's one I want to remember and serve as encouragement to not let setbacks prevent me from moving forward:

"It is not the critic who counts; not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles, or where the doer of deeds could have done them better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming; but one who does actually strive to do the deeds; who knows great enthusiasm, the great devotions; who spends himself in a worthy cause; who at the best knows in the end the triumph of high achievement, and who at the worst, if he fails, at least fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who would neither know victory nor defeat."  

Perhaps the hardest part is over. I don't have to wonder about acceptance anymore. In the scheme of things, this is not that a big of a deal, even if I am feeling disappointed right now. Disappointment is a part of life. It is inevitable and this feeling won't last. 

I can celebrate what I learned, apply it, and keep moving forward.  

Friday, April 27, 2018

Dear Jason Reynolds

¨Dreams aren’t reserved for the creatives.”
from For Everyone by Jason Reynolds

Dear Jason Reynolds:

Thank you for your letter, even though it has taken you years to write. We all need more reminders of how to be courageous.
"This is for the courageous, and everyone who wants to be."
Back cover of For Everyone
For Everyone was the book that I needed to read this week. It stared me down from the New Picks bookshelf at the public library Sunday afternoon. “Check me out! Take me home!” It beckoned.

I yearned to read something so honest and comforting, especially when I was, once again, recently met with disappointment, letting my loud and self-loathing inner critic get the best of me.

Thank you, especially for this:
"This letter is for us all,
to remind us
that we are many.
that we are right
for trying.
That purpose is real.
That making it is possible."
Page 85

And this:
"If you're like me,
you've struggled trying
to stomp out
the flame of doubt
and fear,
the warmth and comfort
always enticing
and familiar
though venemous
and life extinguishing."
Page 58
I cannot wait to share your wisdom with my high school students, especially the ones who haven't experienced a lot of success yet. They need this.

And meanwhile, I will carry your words.


Another Dreamer

Tuesday, April 24, 2018

SOL Tuesday: Writers Living in the Real World

I have been relishing reading Jane Yolen's words from Take Joy: A Book for Writers (The Writer Books, 2003). Recently I came across this passage: 

"I realize writers must live in the real world. That means cakes, letters, bills, clogged toilets. That means reading other people's books, watching TV, doing crossword puzzles, chatting on the phone. That means taking children to school, to the orthodontist, to choir practice, to basketball games. That means working till 3, till 5, till 8, till midnight. That means vacuuming the living room of cat hairs, dog hairs, husband's hairs. That means running to the grocery store, the paint store, the shoe store. That means going to the doctor, the hair salon.

Besides, without life, what is there to write about?" 

I often think about this. That is, how do I lead a writerly life when there is always so much life going on? I don't have the luxury of spending hours working on writing-at least not the kind of time that I would like to devote to writing. Yet Jane Yolen reminds me that most writers "must live in the real world," just like me...driving my children to music lessons, checking assignment notebooks, making dinner, walking dogs, co-leading Girl Scouts, unending to-do list is endless. 

For me, my most productive writing time is early in the morning, well before anyone else in my house is awake. My goal is always to write three pages a day, using Morning Pages. As I have written about before, my writer's notebook is filled with lists of gratitude, Heart Maps, and Haiku - mostly about the most mundane parts of my daily life. 

Writing helps me appreciate life around me. It helps me change my perspective. 

Poetry Everywhere (T&W Books, 2005) describes a Lune as a poem that includes three words in the first line, five words in the second line, and three lines in the last line. It is similar to Haiku poem except it is simply counting words instead of syllables. I wrote a Lune poem about my writing routine:  

Before sunlight streams-
Pen to paper. My daily routine:
Uninterrupted writing time. 

Friday, April 20, 2018

Uncommon Prayers

Katherine Bomer's The Journey is Everything introduced me to writer Brian Doyle. Tragically, Brian Doyle died of a brain tumor in 2017, yet I continue to savor his words. 

One of my favorite Brian Doyle books is An Uncommon Prayer: 100 Celebrations of the Miracle and Muddle of the Ordinary. This book, full of celebration of the "ordinary," is a collection of prayers. To me, it reads like a treasury of rich list poems. 
An example of part of one of Brian Doyle's prayers

Although my journey of faith has not always been smooth, I have always returned to prayer. Even before I was in a daily writing routine, I often wrote prayers in my writer's notebook. 

Somehow, penning a prayer makes the thoughts behind it feel more meaningful. Sacred. 

I found emulating Brian Doyle's prayers to be easier than I thought and satisfying. Last month I wrote an ode to my writer's notebook, but I thought that it would also be fitting to write prayer of thanksgiving in honor of my writer's notebook and writing below: 

Prayer in Thanksgiving of my Writer's Notebook and Writing
Listen, I know I could not have have made it through the last year and a half without writing. Every. Single. Day. Because it was the simplicity of my Paper Mate Flair pen, a hard cover blank book from CVS, and a quiet spot. Writing instrument. Paper. Time. Repeat. This routine enveloped me. It did not strain my budget, and so each day I was compelled to visit my notebook. I celebrate the release writing provides me. I pray that I am not the only one who finds healing through writing, giving me clarity when my mind is swollen with enormous questions and my heart cries out in pain. I pray that I can continue to have this precious time when I can pour out tangled emotions - so often these are the words I find that I cannot speak out loud yet. I ask You to help me sustain my daily writing practice. And so: amen.   


This past week at school included state standardized testing for our freshmen and sophomores. As I reflected on proctoring to a freshmen group this week, I wrote another prayer:

Prayer for Freshmen Taking State Mandated Standardized Tests
Even though I suspect my students are as annoyed as I am. Even though I assume many of these students do not feel this assessment is worthy of their time. Even though I am aware that this test heightened the anxiety for many students, while some did not worry about the end result. Even though I know these scores do not define who each student is or what each individual is capable of producing. Even though I know their results are just a snapshot. How my group of freshmen showed up each day without complaint, even when I took away cell phones and could not allow them to do anything but sit when they finished each section. How these adolescents did not give me grief as their proctor, knowing that I did not have a choice. Even as I noticed a few of their faces, devoid of emotion. Some in deep concentration. Some in frustration. Some in apathy. And yet, a few freshmen thanked me and bid me a good day as the final session of testing concluded. For these group of students and the conclusion of this task, I am grateful. And so: amen. 

This week's testing schedule

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

SOL Tuesday: Kimo Poetry

Elisabeth Ellington from The Dirigible Plum, introduced me to a form of poetry called Kimo. Writer's Digest explains the Israeli Kimo poem as a variation of Haiku. Like Haiku, it uses three lines without rhyming. However, it uses ten syllables in the first line, seven syllables in the second line, and six syllables in the third line. I found this syllable challenge to be inviting. 

As I mentioned in this post, we recently had a stunning April snowstorm. It was a record-breaking blizzard, shutting down our city for a few days. Although my children spent a significant amount of time playing in the snow, when they were inside they brought out their Playmobil toys, creating little cities, intricate dialog, and emotion. I was delighted to see their imagination flourish. As I wrote in my writer's notebook mid-Monday morning, my kids played with Playmobil a few feet away, inspiring me to try a Kimo poem:

Indoor Play

Blizzard encouraged indoor sibling play: 
Playmobil cities emerge,
Tales animate our home. 


I also wrote another Kimo poem, this one about school. Currently, I am involved in some upcoming programing changes in my high school, directly impacting a course I will teach next year. Although I strongly believe that these changes are necessary for student growth (and something I strongly advocated for), I am reminded that change is not easy. 

Program changes prompt discussion, questions.
Unknown challenges ahead.
My anxiety looms. 

Saturday, April 14, 2018

So Much Depends Upon an April Snowstorm

Today I celebrate familiar poems that whisper in my mind as I write. 

In a nod to "The Red Wheelbarrow" by William Carlos Williams, National Poetry Month, and the current snowstorm that has kept our family burrowed deep inside our home this weekend, I penned this poem: 

April Snowstorm

so much depends

an April snowstorm
ushered in with hail,

billowing winds, 
slick snow-covered streets. 

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

SOL Tuesday: Classroom Culture

As a new-to-the-building (and content and grade level) high school teacher this year, I’ve thought a lot about the culture of my classroom. I used to think that taking the time to build a positive classroom culture was only required at the beginning of the year through a few get-to-know-you activities and strong classroom management, but I have come to realize that building a positive classroom culture is much more than that. It must be ongoing. Intentional. Purposeful.

In thinking about what I have been doing this year to build and strengthen a positive culture, I decided to synthesize my thoughts using the format of a Skinny Poem:  

Building classroom culture takes time.
Take time building classroom culture.


Ultimately, I want my classroom to be a safe space where each student feels respected, heard, and valued as a person and a learner. I believe that students will not be in a position to effectively learn if he or she does not feel respected, heard, or valued.

What do you do to build and strengthen a positive classroom culture?

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

SOL Tuesday: Crumbs

Since April is National Poetry Month, for Tuesday's Slice of Life I decided to share a poem I wrote thinking about my grandma, who is 94 years young next week. I wrote this free verse poem about in June of 2016, but I haven't shared it publicly before: 


Every day is a good day if you have it,
Sounds like something that Grandma Geanne would say.
At nearly the age of 92
She drops these pieces of wisdom
In soft, casual conversation-
Quickly, easy to miss
If you’re not paying attention.

Over buttered graham crackers and milky tea she comments,
In almost a whisper:
“Find a crumb of joy
Every day.
No matter how small.
My dear Trina, when life seems dismal,
It will keep you going.”
She steals a glimpse of Grandpa Art’s
Faded memorial bulletin, still carefully tacked to the
Square cork board near the telephone.  
Her slender, frail hand brushes mine.
And her phrase lingers
As towheaded, chunky hands dunk cookies in fragile porcelain doll cups
Filled with Land o'Lakes milk
From a tiny white wooden table and two painted chairs-
Crafted in 1949 by Great Grandpa Olin for Mom.
(The very same table and chairs I used as a small child.)
Toddler cousins exchange giggles,
With milky mustaches and sticky, chocolate smudged hands.
Grandma clasps her hands to her mouth,
Folded almost as a prayer,
In adoration of her great granddaughters.

Those crumbs-
The bits I neglect often.
Find that joy, Trina.
After all, so many things depend on perspective.

Slice of Life Challenge #21 Day 31: Easter Preparations

For the month of March, each day I am writing and posting  a slice of my life , hosted by Two Writing Teachers.  Slice of Life Challenge #21...