Rewriting History, Repeating the Future

College Board Caves To Conservative Pressure, Changes AP U.S. History Curriculum

I woke up to this headline on a friend’s Facebook and shared the story right away. I knew my friends who are teachers and readers would want to see it, too. Another friend of mine commented with disbelief. “Is this satire?” she wrote, followed by a few WTFs. That’s a reasonable reaction to the discovery that the RNC and other influential conservative politicians have effectively replaced AP US History with the teaching of the theory of American exceptionalism. That statement may seem dramatic, but I don’t think it so when the same ideologies have led to this: “Texas also recently changed its state academic guidelines, which means its new textbooks won’t mention the Ku Klux Klan or Jim Crow laws.” When I first heard about that decision in Texas, I expressed my alarm, and many of my fellow New Yorkers just shook their heads in that “what are ya gonna do?” way. One quipped, “Well, I hear you don’t mess with Texas.” The general attitude was that this was crazy, but it was an isolated, small crazy. However, as ThinkProgress points out in this article, “Texas is a very influential textbook market, and publishers tend to look to Texas when deciding content for the textbooks they publish.” The impact of these decisions has a far wider reach than we like to acknowledge. These aren’t bizarre revisions to our nation’s past that affect remote communities. High schools across the country offer AP courses, and the presence of these classes is often seen as a marker for a school’s prestige and quality. In other words:

…stunting students with warped, sugar-coated notions of social and political history will only foster more divisiveness. Affluent, whiter schools tend to have a wider array of AP coursework than others. Indoctrinating these students with inaccurate portrayals of a historiographically flawless United States will cement an already extant unwillingness to understand or identify with groups that are still dealing with the reverberations of systemic disenfranchisement today. (Flanigan, “All the Ways the New AP US History Standards Gloss Over the Country’s Racist Past”)

When I wrote this post about my experiences with Facing History following the death of Michael Brown, I gave voice to a long-standing, ever-present tension within me about my responsibility and role as a teacher. Teaching history is not merely a job; it’s a responsibility. Even when that history is hard to look at, or unflattering, or painful, we are responsible for teaching it honestly to those who did not live it. We can’t be afraid to do that. Unfortunately, that seems to be exactly where these policies come from: fear.

I was talking to a friend recently about how differently the US teaches its history from Germany. Germany has some dark history, but everything I’ve read about it shows a consistent effort to confront that past with students so that things change. It’s looking fear in the face, turning on the lights and revealing the monster instead of running from it and letting it grow huge. Back in 1995, Alan Cowell, for the New York Times, wrote about a history class in Germany. Cowell observes: “They are taught that the Nazis came to power on the wings of economic collapse and humiliation at Germany’s defeat in the First World War. They are taught about Hitler’s race laws. They are taught that their forebears killed six million Jews. But they also learn that this was history, with a European and a German context, not personal guilt.” This approach to teaching history does not shame or harm students, but instead puts them in positions of power; in this setting, students can see that their choices matter, and that their perspective gives them an advantage over their forebears. History through this lens is authentic and vital, the key to changing the world and making a difference.

Critics of the changes to the AP US History curriculum guidelines do not seem to hold these values: empowering students, improving American society, truth. ThinkProgress reports: “Some of the main criticisms of the guidelines, conservatives voiced, were less emphasis on the founding fathers and more emphasis on slavery. The guidelines also included earlier American history that included violence against Native Americans and mentioned the growing influence of social conservatives.“ To protest the inclusion of these realities indicates a clear political agenda, and in disguising it as patriotism they pervert patriotism; they send the message that we can only be proud of our nation by hiding its true past and lying to our children.

This insistence on fragility and the demands that history be blurred and revised to protect the feelings of students is both misguided and deeply harmful. It’s pervasive, though, and effective, because it feeds directly into the culture of fear. “In September of last year, Ben Carson, a pediatric neurosurgeon who is now running for president, said ‘most people’ who take the course would be ‘ready to sign up for ISIS.’” Confronting our past and giving voice to those whose stories have historically been silenced is not about finger-wagging, shaming, or demanding apology. It’s about examining how and why genocide, slavery, and institutionalized racism happened in our country, because only doing this will empower young people to make choices that break the persistent patterns surrounding them. It’s about making sure we understand that what we have to be ashamed of is that 40,000 people think that their discomfort gives them the right to erase history, rather than a reason to write a better future.

About a year ago, a Reddit user asked German-educated members of the online community to share what it was like to learn about World War Two in their country. The anecdotes shared are interesting and inspiring, but I was particularly struck by one user’s takeaway.

It’s not the past that should define us, but how we deal with it. Most countries brush their past aside. Deny their mistakes. Their crimes. They ignore it. Place blame on the others. Refuse to learn from it. Germans don’t do that. And that should make us proud. Patriotism should always have its limits. You can be a patriot without denying your [country’s] past and its crimes.

I can’t say it better than that.

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My People: Sustaining a Teaching Life by Staying Connected With My Tribe

With a nudge from Donna JT Smith, I’m jumping back into Two Writing Teachers’ Slice-of-Life Challenge!

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We’re in the last week of the NYC Writing Project Invitational Summer Institute. I can’t believe we’ve gotten here so quickly.

This is my 6th year involved with the NYCWP & my 2nd year co-facilitating the ISI. Every summer is a gift. Every summer I say, “This is the best group we’ve had!” I can’t help it; every summer, it’s the truth.

These past few weeks, many of our Fellows have thanked me, for workshops, for the opportunity to be here, for my contributions to potlucks. One of our participants got me right in the feels when he thanked me for helping him connect with other teachers like him, his people.

I’ve been turning that over in my head since then, because this past school year was one of those years. I came to the end so ragged & drained that even the thought of the magical, restorative, wondrous ISI seemed daunting. But after a few hours with this summer’s amazing group of teachers, I realized that I’d forgotten one of the most important things I’ve learned about teaching when times get tough: I need my people.

When that Fellow thanked me for helping him find his people, I told him that we can get through a lot by knowing there are people like us, with us, along the way. That was a reminder for myself, a truth I need to carry with me & hold dear as I ride waves of school reform that threatens my students, as I clench my jaw through meetings with close-minded colleagues. You have people, I can remind myself. They’ve got your back.

Every summer with the NYCWP ISI is a gift. This summer has reminded me of my people, & reconnected me with who they are.

My people believe in stories, their power, the privilege of hearing & sharing them, their wisdom, their pricelessness.

My people know they are never done, and they remind me of the joy in that never. My people know that never comes with always, & never done means always learning, always open to the wonders ahead.

My people hold their brilliance in their hands, ready to share & exchange & collect.

My people heal with humor & open ears, with emphatic nods & exuberant faces. My people know that listening is active & their whole bodies attune.

My people are teachers & writers & readers, storytellers & sharers. They are thought-provokers, who challenge assumptions not to antagonize but to agitate the mind, because an active mind is a mind ready to learn. They are welcoming & warm & full of wonder. They know when to advise & when to just let the tension hang in the air while they hmmm. They know it’s not about having al the answers, but asking all the questions. They delve into the mess & honor its value. They treasure, they collect, they celebrate. These are my people, & just knowing that they are out there keeps me going.

Beyond the T-Chart

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“I’m going to give you a little dude,” I announced, holding up a handful of paper rectangles. On each is the empty outline of a cartoonish body.

“Now, be kind to this little dude. Don’t draw on his face, or crumple him up, or poke him with your pencil.” In every class, this gets a chuckle.

“This little dude is Junior. He’s going to live in your notebook.”

Handing out everyone’s little dudes there were a few jokes – fake rips, little dude fights between tablemates – but all of my students were taking care of their outlines. They placed them in the center of their notebook pages, quickly taking the two pieces of tape I tore off before moving on to the next student. Some students adjusted the orientation a few times, looking for the best spot before committing to the tape.

“Does everyone’s Junior have a home?” I asked. Most of each class chorused, “Yes,” with some notebooks flipped to show me their secured little dudes. Some students were still labeling him; “Junior,” they wrote, then waited, not drawing on his face.

“What are we focusing on today? Remind me?”

“Internalexternalconflict!” someone called out, every class.

Junior’s internal conflicts – his personal struggles, the problems he carries around inside him throughout this novel – we wrote inside of the outline. External conflicts we arranged around him, drawing arrows that press into him from all sides. Students offered conflicts and suggested where they belong, then defended their positions. There were great (multi-lingual) arguments happening, more like negotiations:

“Poverty is internal because it makes him feel so bad about himself.”

“But I think it’s external, because he was born into this poor family and this culture, so it comes from outside of him.”

“Yeah, so his low self-esteem is internal, but poverty is external.”

“Can we put them next to each other?”

In most classes, I did little more than write. I placed my “marker” on the SmartBoard and said, “Ok, here? What am I writing here? Do we all agree? Where else could it go?” My most energetic class had me dragging chunks of text around the figure on the board, pulling out his insides and swapping them around until we created a Junior they could recognize.

I had them 2nd period, usually their most zombie-like time slot, and their raised hands punched the air with enthusiasm that made me nervous for possible concussions.

My coworker’s son is in 3rd grade. He just made a mobile for his book report. My coworker smiled when he recounted his son’s excitement over making the mobile. Just a coat-hanger, some paper, some string and tape, he told me. So much better than a book report.

What we really had to do on Little Dude Day was review. For a lot of reasons, we didn’t end where I had hoped we would before the winter break, and we were coming back in the beginning of the middle of The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian. Before we jumped back in, we needed to recap. I’ve been trying to decompartmentalize literary elements with my students, who come to me with the idea that plot goes here and characterization here and never the twain shall meet. I want to help them see the connectedness of all those pieces, the overlap and interdependence.

They showed me some beginning understanding of that as we wrote in and around our Juniors – “This conflict is why he is like the way he is,” one student said, after the poverty and low self-esteem connection was established.

“Tell me more about that,” I responded, because it is my mission to make everyone roll his or her eyes at me.

Eye-roll, sigh. “He draws the cartoons and says really crazy stuff because he’s not really happy, right?” I will spare you my torturous replies, though this student was not so lucky.

My number one advice for teaching high school English has become, “Be corny.” Sometimes, I say I don’t know what it is about corny, but I do know; corny is fun. So much of high school is not fun, increasingly so these days. I have seen many teachers do a similar lesson on internal and external conflict, using a T-chart. T-charts are the wrong kind of corny. It should go without saying that fun is effective, even in small doses. It is more memorable, more meaningful. And it is easy. It added about 6 minutes to my prep to print out enough little dudes for my four classes. (I had a student cut the pages in half. In my more efficient classes, they managed the tape without me.) The room was alive, as tired as we all felt coming off a week-plus vacation. Their noise was productive and sparkling, their silences thoughtful.

In one class, a student said the bullying Junior faces (external, they decided) makes him feel very lonely.
“Is lonely a conflict for him? Where should it go?”

They paused, some waiting, some thinking. One of my students was looking down at her little Junior, frowning. She mouthed, “Lonely,” and put her hand over her chest before looking up to tell me, “Internal. Inside.”

“Yeah, inside,” said the student next to her, touching her own sternum. “Right there.”

Submit: 3 Reasons Why Teachers Should Form Writing Groups

I’ve been fortunate enough to be involved with the NYCWP Invitational Summer Institute for the past five years, and exceptionally lucky in taking on the role of co-facilitator this past July. Without fail, as out wonderful month of writing, reflecting, and pot-lucking draws to a close, several participants ask me how they can maintain some of that summer magic once back in the real world of teaching and grading, with no time to devote to writing and sharing. A few years ago, I had heard from a handful of summer participants who had continued to meet as a writing group, and while I thought this was an adorable and brilliant idea, which I recommended to participants from then on, I never pursued a writing group of my own. Until this year. For the past few months, I have been participating in a cozy writing group with two other Writing Project alum, and though it is consistently challenging, it is also one of the best things I have done for myself as a writer and as a teacher. The reasons are innumerable, so here I’ll focus on just three.

1. Deadlines are the best/worst.
Unless you have gone back to graduate school since becoming a teacher (or finishing your master’s during your first two years, holla fellows!), most of your deadlines have been self-imposed for awhile now. I say “most” because there are curriculum maps and evaluation reflections and other administrator- or district-mandated deadlines, but in terms of writing, non-students generally only need answer to themselves. Writing group reintroduced writing deadlines, which come with this familiar soreness that I really did not miss but I know is good for me.
Worst first: deadlines are miserable. When we agree to them, they always feel manageable. A week, sometimes two, is plenty of time. Sometimes I tell myself I’ll put in a bit of time each day to rough out a draft or polish the corners of a revision; sometimes, I plan to set aside an evening at a coffee shop (/my living room with a mason jar of wine). More often than not, the plan falls apart. Either the time I think I have gets redistributed to cover other responsibilities, or I glower at blank pages or solid walls of first drafts and make zero progress. Occasionally, I am too exhausted to do more than feebly push open my laptop and stare at my email before falling asleep on the keyboard. Stress, doubt, cursing the clock, procrastination – all the major food groups of my productivity in college come back to me now.
Best next: I forgot all of this. I forgot the way it feels to have someone expecting a piece of writing by a certain date, regardless of my other obligations or distractions. I forgot the paralysis a deadline brings to my writing process. When my students are assigned writing, either in our class or another, I’m more equipped to support them. I understand that deadlines should be close enough to feel urgent but far enough away to allow for time management. I build in checkpoints and conferences that make space for all that freaking out that I know they’re doing.
Bonus perk: I think I’m getting better! Our most recent submission date does not evidence this, but in general, I’ve found it easier to work with our deadlines. A little bit. Sometimes. Progress?

2. Meaningful feedback must be meaningful to the writer.
Providing feedback for writers is hard, because there are so many different kinds of feedback you can offer. Most of the ELA teachers I know have gone through similar, repetitive cycles around feedback: we begin by crossing out and circling and making notes in the margins around every error, then we try to work a little smarter and focus only on a few types of errors. We make checklists, incorporate peer editing, some of us stop writing on the student work all together and use sticky notes instead. We try retelling, asking questions only, referring students back to class readings with our fingers crossed. Few teachers I know settle on one method, and I think the biggest challenge around providing feedback is that different writers want different feedback. Some writers want a draft dripping in red (or whatever color your chosen grading ink), while others respond best to retelling and questioning. Participating in a writing group is helping me realize the importance of thinking about the kind of feedback I need. Submitting a piece with the hopes that I’ll get ideas on building up tension or expanding a character, but receiving only feedback on the word choice, is beyond discouraging. It’s distracting and frustrating, and leaves me less likely to look at that piece again. But the regular process of engaging in a group has encouraged me to think about and articulate the kind of feedback I need, and to think about how I can help students have more voice in the responses I give.

3. “Finished” is a relative term.
Sometimes, I’m just done. I’ve taken a piece as far as I can possibly take it, changed perspectives, rerouted the opening scene twice, polished every line, vetted every word. Sometimes, I’ve done half that, but all the same, it’s enough. I can’t bear to look at that piece ever again, regardless of the thoughtful feedback and encouraging words I’ve received. As a writer, I now have choices: I can force myself to slog through a revision, or I can put the piece to rest and move on to something else. And as a writer, having those choices keeps me writing. If I decide not to push a revision, I open myself to more writing opportunities, and I often find myself returning to that exhausted piece after a break, a fresh take having come to me in its absence. As a student, I rarely had these choices. Doneness was decided by my teachers, for the most part, and it was based on their needs – the grades needed to be in, or they needed me to demonstrate mastery of the unit skills. As a teacher, I want these choices to be clear and accessible to my students. Penny Kittle writes beautifully on the challenges and importance of creating space for student choice in the vital Write Beside Them, and participating in a writing group has only clarified the need for my students to have more control over their writing process in the classroom. Like me, they need the freedom and the language to say, “I’m done with this for now,” if I have any hopes of them building an authentic writing life.

I know you don’t have time. I know you have nothing to write about. I know there are deadlines and meetings and grading, and that you have a family, and that you are tired. But giving yourself time to write, just a few minutes each day, is infinitely rewarding. You’ll do some of your best learning through writing. I believe this. I see it in my students, in the NYCWP summer participants, in myself. Combining that with a writing group, and giving myself accountability and structure and a community of support, is informing my teaching in hands-on, real ways. And if nothing else, it’s a great excuse for some monthly me-time!

Have you tried participating in a writing group? What challenges have you faced, or do you foresee? What have been the payouts? Share in the comments!

Dragonish Tendencies: Community and Collaboration

I had every intention of posting during July, I promise, but I found myself in the unusual position of writing too much. July marked the 35th New York City Writing Project Invitational Summer Institute, and in addition to celebrating that and my 5th year anniversary being involved with NYCWP, it was also my first summer as co-facilitator of the ISI. I feel so honored, grateful, and just plain lucky to be a part of such an invigorating community, and this summer was even more amazing than I’ve come to expect of the ISI. We spent an intense and wonderful month writing and sharing and writing and writing, and even though I was making lists and nurturing seeds in my notebook all month, I never got around to blogging. Boyfriend and I headed straight to Mexico the day after the ISI wrapped (I highly recommend immediate vacations to stave off the post-ISI blues; much harder to wake up bummed that I won’t see my WP peoples when I’m waking up in freakin’ Mexico) so I actually have some time to post. Don’t worry, I’m still enjoying my vacation!

Way back in the beginning of July, one of our brilliant summer fellows said that she used to think of teachers as dragons: isolated, guarding their classroom caves. I turned this image over in my brain for days, thinking about teacher-creatures curled protectively around their hoarded treasure of knowledge, and I am glad that this is not a picture that matches me as an educator. I love the idea of being a dragon because of wings and firebreath and general awesomeness, but I am not a jealous hoarder of knowledge. I always want to share my classroom, discuss books or theory, or talk about new ways I could approach routine practices. I relate almost every topic of conversation, current event, or environmental observation to teaching and education, which I’m sure makes me a fascinating dinner guest. Often, I force myself to take a break from my enthusiastic activity on the NYC Writing Project Listserv, an email group that connects me to hundreds of NYCWP educators. Reclusive cave-dweller, guarding my treasure? Not so much.

But, maybe a little. While I share eagerly and comfortably in my own outside communities, I can’t say I do the same within my school. I have been a teacher in 3 different high schools in the Bronx, and outside of a small group of teachers in the first 2 of those schools, I haven’t really shared what I do and why I do it.

Mostly, I haven’t felt safe. As a teacher, I invest time throughout the year in making our classrooms safe spaces for sharing, because we can be mean to each other. Even when it’s not our intention, our reactions to the opinions and words of others can shut people down, embarrass them, incite their anger. If I don’t make time for us to know and trust each other, we won’t consider how our words will affect out community. The building and strengthening of classroom community isn’t a time-filler or a detraction from our curriculum; it is a vital piece of that curriculum, embedded in everything we do. But teacher and staff meetings – “professional development,” allegedly – have not, for me, felt like a place to discuss this practice. I have sat through too many meetings about data and standards and realigning performance tasks, in which teachers and administrators become defensive and judgmental, to risk revealing the priceless gems I’m sitting on.

I understand why we are defensive. There’s a lot of finger-pointing in education, a lot of blame. I’ve written about it before, as have many, many others. More will come, be sure. I think teachers often (rightly) feel the need to justify what happens in their classrooms, assure themselves and any potential doubters that they are not the reasons for undesirable data or whatever we are being blamed for at the moment – world hunger, global warming, bad haircuts, etc. I want to be grateful for having the time to meet with my coworkers, especially as it is now a protected and required piece of time in our workday. Collaboration and sharing resources should be easier than ever before. We should be helping each other thrive. But, for so many of the teachers I talk to, these team times range from venting sessions to time spent counting minutes and trying not to lash out at colleagues. Our dragonish tendencies rear up; we put on our thickest skin and hunker down on our piles of gold, sending up smoke signals that say,” Keep back. Dragon.”

The problem of dragonish tendencies is that isolation and defensiveness make us worse teachers. Most of us don’t challenge our held notions by ourselves. Without conversation and sharing to expose us to new ideas, we stay cozy in our caves. Those walls come to contain the world, and venturing beyond goes from unnecessary to unthinkable. My teacher communities, which are comprised of my friends from grad school, NYCWP, fellow attendees of NCTE, and teachers I have met in line while shopping, help me develop as a teacher. They push me, they challenge me, they give me new ideas. They also help me acknowledge and celebrate my own practice; I don’t need to justify my own work by belittling someone else’s, because I have a community that shows me how to appreciate what I do.

I speak to so many teachers who do not engage in their own professional development, because their idea of PD has been sullied by the mandated, administrator-led meetings that demand data review, dissection of standards, or readings of lists off of Power Point sllides. This is not PD. Professional development is not the round-robin reading of a handout. Professional development should do all of those things described above – connect you to a community that helps you appreciate and interrogate your practice, expose you to new ways of seeing and thinking, and create a space for you to imagine, discuss, and plan how to do things you haven’t done before. Fortunately, even if your administration is not professionally developing you, you are not bound to their PD.

Taking charge of your own professional development is easy, really. Here are three simple things you can try, today.

1. Start a teacher book club. That might sound intense, but all you need is one other teacher and a book you have been wanting to read. You can set your own deadlines and expectations, you decide what to discuss and when to check in, you can even help each other plan how/when/where you’re going to read before your discussions.

2. Get on Twitter. I know, you don’t understand all that “@” and “#” business, and you’re never going to keep track of another password, and what you have to say goes well beyond 140 characters and texting language. I know it can just be scary and weird and you don’t think you have time to spend setting it all up and figuring it all out. The good news is, Twitter doesn’t want a lot of your time. It wants a few minutes, while you wait in line at the grocery. It will invite you to spend an hour hanging out, whenever is convenient for you. You don’t even have to tweet anything. Just come see what’s happening. Set up your account, and choose one or two brilliant people to follow: @KyleneBeers for all your literacy needs, @NCTE or another organization that supports your content area, @EdTech for information around using technology in the classroom. Or, check out a blogger or colleague that you like: you can follow me @priscillawhocan and see the inspirational, thoughtful pedagogues I’ve built my PLN (personal learning network) around. In addition to regular Twitter activity, educational minds will engage in Tweet Chats, fun but fast-paced group conversations around given issues. You can find out more about Tweet Chats (and Twitter in general) at CybraryMan‘s page, and by looking through this Storify record of NYCWP’s first Tweet Chat this past July.

3. Find a teacher community. If you’re craving face to face interaction with some like-minded teachers, or new-to-you minds, seek out an existing community. Meetup.com and Facebook are often used to arrange events, and you can find educator get-togethers with some light searching (you can even start with Google). Of course, nothing beats looking up your local NWP site and reaching out. Most sites offer conferences, workshops, and gatherings, as well as providing an online community through Google+ or a listserv.

I know there is never enough time, as Peter Greene of Curmudgucation says more beautifully than I ever could. Thinking about incorporating time for PD into your life seems impossible, because what can you give up? Nothing. Don’t give up time that you value. Don’t think of including meaningful, professional dialogue in your routine as something that requires you to sacrifice. Taking charge of your own professional development is a gift to yourself and your practice. Knowing that you have a PLN or community to turn to makes those mandated afternoon meetings all the more bearable; it can even help you find the voice to push those meetings in a more useful direction. Dragons have a lot going for them – built-in weaponry, tons of treasure, virtually no enemies aside from knights hoping to prove themselves – but you know it’s lonely in those damp caves. So get out in the air, find your flock, and terrorize the countryside of Useless PD!

Who or what is your PLN? How do you keep developing as a teacher? Share in the comments! As always, I love to hear from you. 

Book Review: On the Come Up

On the Come Up: A Novel, Based on a True Story, by Hannah Weyer, 320 pages, adult fiction, 4.5 stars, recommended for high school

In short… This wonderful coming-of-age novel, based on the life of actress Anna Simpson, takes readers through the life of a teenager growing up in the projects of Far Rockaway. Through the main character of AnnMarie, readers journey through the foster care system, the projects, teen pregnancy, public school in New York City, dysfunctional relationships of all sorts, the making of an independent film, young motherhood, and more. Hannah Weyer manages to take on the ever-complicated life of this character without appearing to juggle chainsaws, which is impressive in and of itself. Even better is the realism of this story; despite the hardships and trauma of AnnMarie’s life, despite the surprising break an indie film offers, the novel follows a character making a normal life after the flash in the pan has dimmed. Put this in your high school independent reading library, add it to a literature circle unit for students to discuss in groups, or add it to your units on coming-of-age. Paired with To Kill a Mockingbird: the comparisons students could draw between Scout and AnnMarie, the examination of gender in these two societies, the value and influence of setting, and so on! Click more for a detailed review!

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Sharing Is Scary (But Do It Anyway)

My friend Marina posted on Facebook yesterday, “August is like Sunday.” I love that line; it’s like grouchy poetry. And it’s true – July flies so quickly, and suddenly it’s August, and the first day of school is pretty much tomorrow. But I’m pumped. I’ve spent July working with the New York City Writing Project’s Summer Invitational, 16 intense days with 24 incredible, dedicated, brilliant educators, all delving into ourselves as teachers and students and writers and people. Yesterday, as we wrapped up, I couldn’t believe how quickly the month had gone, but I find myself touching down into August with excitement. I’ll be at a new school in September, which means planning new curriculum, learning new routines and spaces, and most importantly, meeting new students. This summer with the Writing Project, I have been reminded of the wonderful things that are possible when you form a community, based on trust and honesty and support. I am so excited to teach, so excited for my students and I to share with one another and build a community that will support our success. Sharing can be scary – I know many teachers who refuse to share their own lives in their classrooms, citing boundaries and the need to stay focused on the pacing calendar or the standards. These things are important, particularly boundaries; overshare absolutely exists. But I think sharing myself and my world with students, even the scary parts, is one of the most important things I can do as a teacher.

Some of the scary stuff is hard to share because of how emotional it makes us, how close it is to our hearts. Often, when something makes us sad, or scared, or angry, our impulse is to shut it out of our classrooms. But sometimes, I think we need to bring those issues inside and share with our students what we are dealing with or reacting to, and why.

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