Teaching, Unbound

EdTech Conference Thoughts

Teachers with tech tools are like nifflers with shiny things. We see them and we have to have them. Kept to a manageable minimum, tech tools are innocuous, but like our beastly counterpart, we keep stuffing them into our pouches until they’re spilling out and tripping up our best practices in the classroom.

I used to be a niffler, and to some extent, I still am. I love tech tools: the bells and whistles and lights shining in my eyes like Christmas lights or fireworks. I get wrapped up in the buzz of “What’s new? What’s hot? What’s now?”. But something happened to me about 4 years ago. I failed as a teacher. I failed as an instructional coach, and I failed as a human being. None of the tools I had collected saved me from that failure

Without going into the soul-bearing aspects of that failure, I came out on the other side understanding that if I were going to be recognized for anything it would need to be as a consummate educator dedicated to best practices and to the advocacy of equitable access for students. I came out on the other side understanding it’s not the tech tool that will get me there, no matter how “cutting edge” I stayed or how many tools I sprayed and prayed would stick. What would get me there is reflecting on my practice and understanding that in education we have to move beyond implementation to transformation.

The same analogy can be applied to almost any educational program, book, philosophy, and Golden Gate Bridge people try to sell you. We shove them into our pockets and down our students’ throats without first considering whether what we’re doing will help students, especially disenfranchised students and students of color. I think in education we’ve become so desperate for something, anything, to work that instead of acknowledging the issues and addressing the problems, we put little pink plastic band-aids on them. When those band-aids inevitably fail, we wonder why they didn’t cure the hurt, and we blame someone else and find another shiny thing to hold up the dam. Instead, what we really need to do is blame ourselves and take a good long look at the reflection staring back at us from the water escaping.

All of this is a roundabout way of saying… At some point, we need a Newt Scamander to watch out for us and occasionally shake us free of all that baggage and bring us back to our senses. It’s okay to enjoy tech tools. But it’s not okay to forget that it’s not about the tool. It’s about you and the young people sitting in your schools. Don’t sacrifice reflecting on and pushing for best practices for the sake of the next best thing.

Be a Newt Scamander for yourself so you can be a Dumbledore for your students.

Photo by Rami Al-zayat on Unsplash

Musings

Internal Editor

Where do I even begin with what needs to be said? Fingers pressed to my forehead, I contemplate all the words I know are inside of me and try to figure out how to edit them before they make their way onto the page. Or once they do make it onto the page I hit the “delete” key until what is left is nothing like what needs to be said.

Here’s the thing: I want to be a writer. Here’s the problem: My internal editor says I’m crap. And I believe her.

From stream-of-consciousness to word association, I’ve tried all the ways to turn my brain off and turn the writing on, but it’s never just… easy. Listen – I know writing isn’t easy. It takes time to hone your craft. It takes getting told “no” ninety-nine times before you’re told “yes”. It takes finding honest readers who will tell you your writing is crap and then give you suggestions on how to fix it. However, it would be nice to even get words on the page, to begin with, to get to those stages. Even now as I write this, I’m thinking of all the things I need to do before bedtime rolls around and I have to get ready to go to work tomorrow. Therein lies part of my problem.

I make a living as an English teacher. I spend most of my day teaching others how to write and how to read. As glamorous as that might sound, I get little time to further teach myself how to write and how to read, not the least of which do any of that for fun. And before you start in about “weekends” and “holidays” and “summers”, let me just straight up tell you: All that “time off” I spend thinking about YOUR kids and how I’m going to be a better teacher for YOUR kids. Lest this digresses into a rant, I’ll move on.

Prior to, oh, ten minutes ago, when I edited myself to write “I make a living as an English teacher”, I would claim “I am a teacher”. It may not seem like it, but there is a big difference in the way these two sentences are worded. The first implies my occupation is a temporary one, a stop on the way to something more. While the second implies that my identity is formed by being a teacher. Don’t get me wrong, I love teaching, but I think it’s high-time I am seen as something more by myself, by my students, by my administrators, and by society.

In a “take a left at the light, go down two blocks, cross the bridge, and take the first right at the mailbox shaped like a duck” way, that’s really what I’m trying to get at. My internal editor both keeps me from being a writer and keeps me locked into a job where I am finding less-and-less reasons to stay. This started out as musings on how we inhibit our ability to actualize what we want in life (e.g..: be a writer) and ended up something on the way to realizing what part of the problem may be (i.e.: the unhealthy and impossible tasks placed on being a teacher in the 21st-century).

It’s nothing profound, according to my internal editor, but at least it’s a start.

Featured Image by Mathew Schwartz on Unsplash

Poetry, Unbound

Pariah

Low caste by birth –
right side of the tracks
but wrong side of the dollar.
It didn’t seem to bother
anyone else in my family,
but for me,
it was my scarlet letter.

Instead of an A for Adultery
(though I could have worn plenty of them
for all the desperate giving up of myself
to boys I let convince me it was
the only way I would be worth something),
I wore a shabby P:
P for precocious
P for promiscuous
P for plebian

Words were exquisite tools of torture
used to flay my insides
while leaving my outside unmarred.
And so I learned how to wield them
as finely as any assassin
with a rapier tongue.

It makes sense then,
that a childhood
full of portentous naiveté,
would lead to an adulthood spent
in self-flagellation and
pouring of salt in wounds
because as much as I still gave up of myself
to people I wanted to wholeheartedly love me,
(regardless of the various letters I wore
emblazoned and branded into my skin)
I could not stop my acid tongue from
dissolving those ties that bind:
charitable vitriol spewed and
consumed until any relationship
was sundered.

But we can’t change the past.
I can’t erase the crimson lines of
having experienced and seen too much
boil my marrow until I was hollow.
Admittedly, I invited that pain.
I believed in it.
I wallowed in it.
I relished the pristine torture,
the incineration of the gut,
that would set me aflame
with acrimonious retribution.

And now,
that I’ve been
excavated of all I thought I was,
I’ve finally realized
I can accept
your judgements and
not believe them.
I can accept your scorn
and not let it burn
another letter into my identity.

Low caste by choice –
right side of experience;
right side of acceptance.
I am the pariah
who no longer fears
the roll of the die.
And you should be afraid.

Featured Image: Unsplash – “Temps de Flors” by Biel Morro (CC0 Public Domain) 

Prose, Unbound

Life of the Hereafter Party

Tom slowly closed and opened his eyes to clear his mind.  He surveyed his surroundings as he smoothed his left hand down the lapel of his suit jacket before he checked his wrist for the time.  Despite the stillness that hung in the air, a chill seeped into him. The hazy shine of fluorescents glared out through the blanketed night and caught in Tom’s peripheral vision.  The bus had long since left, and he needed somewhere to warm up while he waited for the next. With no other options in sight, Tom stepped out from under the awning of the bus stop and into the street where his black oxfords made a slimy click in the puddled water on his way to Nether’s World Diner.

As he neared the diner, he saw the place was packed and heard the tinny pulses of LMFAO’s “Party Rock Anthem” bleating out of the jukebox.  Tom ran his fingers through his hair brushing out the drops of water that had condensed there from his walk across the street and opened the door.  He prepared himself for the din of voices to overtake him, but all he heard was the scraping of cutlery on ceramic bleeding into the jangled instrumentation of Aqua’s “Barbie Girl” as it switched places with the previous song.  Tom looked around with skepticism but decided no one was talking because the food was that good.

“Please Seat Yourself” hung squarely on the hostess podium, but Tom couldn’t find an open seat anywhere.  He craned his head to take a look at the place. No one looked at him as he took a gander at his fellow patrons.  Families sat at booths along the windows, parties of 2 sat at the tables running along the interior of the restaurant, and those dining alone sat at the counter  It seemed impossibly large, but there at the end of the counter, he saw a seat for a single occupant. Tom cleared his throat, squared his shoulders, and sauntered off to claim his seat.

“Hey there Tom, what’ll it be?” the waitress at the counter clicked between chews of gum.  Her sable ringlets bounced and big doe eyes sparkled between chews.

“Well, I must be in Heaven if an angel like you has the omniscience to know my name,” Tom flirted.  “How about a cup of coffee to help warm me up for starters and a slice of pie to sweeten to deal?”

“I’m no angel.  Your name is right there on your jacket, darlin’, and we’re out of coffee,” the woman said, a crocodile smile lingering on her lips.

Tom glanced down to see the stark white “Hello, My Name is Tom” slapped onto the lapel of his jacket.  He didn’t remember that being there, but he hadn’t checked a mirror since he woke up on the bus and stepped out into the dingy night.  Another traveler must’ve thought it clever to put one on him to help others help him in case he needed a friendly face. In the long run, it didn’t matter.  It’s always good to hear one’s name being called.

“Good observation,” he smiled back, “I’ll take a glass of sweet tea.”

“Sorry again, love.  As you can see we’re pretty busy,” his new friendly face said as she motioned about the diner, “The pie we can do but about all we have left is some tap water.”

“That’s fine,” Tom replied, disappointment turning down the corners of his eyes.

The waitress nodded and turned to check on other customers before walking back to fill his drink order.  Carly Rae Jepsen’s syrupy sythensizations of “Call Me Maybe” schmoozed their way through into Tom’s ears.  He hated to love this song with its repetition and its banality and it’s adolescent eagerness and idiocy wrapped up sugar sweet sickness, but he couldn’t help but sing along every time the course came on.

“Hey I just met you, and this is crazy, but here’s my number, so call me maybe. And all the other boys try to chase me, but here’s my number, so call me maybe,” Tom hummed quietly and drummed his fingers on the counter, a boyish smile playing about his lips.  He spied the waitress pushing through the double doors carrying a small tray. Their eyes and smiles briefly met before she sat his order down.

Tom was still drumming the last cords of “Call Me Maybe” when he addressed the waitress, “Thank you, ma’am.  By the way, I didn’t get your name.”

“The name’s Purgatory,” she grinned back, “but most people just call me Tory.”

Tory set the water glass down and slid the pie across to him, “You know, you’re pretty happy for a dead guy.”

The alarm bells that had been drowned out by grating sounds of pop music as the smell of rotten fruit hit him.

“Hope you like durian pie,” Purgatory purred.  “You’ll be here for a while, and it’s about the only food we’ve left in the place.”  She winked and headed for the empty table that just opened up.

Tom tried to catch the eyes of the couple that just walked through the door, a young man in a letterman jacket and a girl who couldn’t be more than 17, but Rebecca Black’s anti-charismatic auto-tuned vocals in “Friday” drowned his plea.  Instead, a scraping sound of cutlery against ceramic filled the silence. He looked down and lifted the fork to his mouth.

Featured Image: Unsplash – “Open 24 Hours Sign” by FancyCrave (CC0 Public Domain)

Three Line Tales, Unbound

Edge of Reason

Like Hermes cast down from Olympus, the three boys sped surefooted through an overgrown field. Swaying dandelions and meadow thistle charted their traverse across the expanse like a compass. The true north of their hearts was a wild unknown teetering at the field’s edge where depths of darkness waited with a hungry embrace.

Featured Image: Unsplash – “Boys will be boys.” by Jordan Whitt (CC0 Public Domain)

Poetry, Unbound

Beneath Fairy Lights

Beneath fairy lights she sits
contemplating her next steps
like a grandmaster strategist
surveying the field of battle;
one wrong move could mean
sacrificing her queen
to destruction and damnation.

The cool breeze
of an April night time sky
kisses her skin
and envelopes her
with the memory of a life
she has tried to forget.
The stars do not shine for her,
and there is no running
from their absence.

The silent moments between
the breathing of the wind
are pregnant with promise.
In the distance,
as in herself,
a storm brews.

In response to Daily Prompt: Glimmer
Featured Image: Pixabay – “Twinkling Lights” by PublicDomainPictures (CCO Public Domain)