Sunday, June 30, 2013

I. Am. A. Writer.

Can an identity be changed in a week? An attitude, at least? A perspective? If so, mine has. 

Just last week, I started with our local chapter of the National Writing Project. It's called Lake Michigan Writing Project. 

Let's see--Lifelong friends have been made. (Where have they been all my life?)

The Writing Project made us all quite tight--in a week--by sharing things I wouldn't share with people I've known for years. (It turns out, when all are vulnerable [and recipients are supportive]), great learning can happen. Already, I notice the power of the people around me. I'm thinking, 'How did I live without these people in my life?' Really. Lindsey--what an immediate connection between History and ELA. Let's find it. Erica with her great laugh and abilities with technology. Chris (aka, David Malibu) and his awareness that we MUST improve--even after 20+ years in education. Ben and his sense of humor and stinging passion to improve education. And Tracy, the teacher ready to change the world. I'm so thankful for her energy, for her optimism.

All others have been amazing in shaping a unique and engaging community.


Let's see--Quality of skills has risen

Just by listening to other thinkers/educators, I've gotten better at expressing my ideas and just pulling it all together. I've been more clearly able to identify my purposes for writing (self-reflection, family connection, sharing ideas) and my audiences (this group of teachers, my Twitter PLN, the world). Because of this knowledge, my skills have gotten better.

Note: my skills have NOT gotten better from intense grammar study. They have NOT improved from worksheets. Here's a quick overview of the schedule at the workshop. The major component? Reading and Writing.

-The goal for the day (the theme, really)
-Quotes to get us fired up FOR that goal
-Sacred writing decided with choice
-Teaching Demonstration (teachers teaching teachers)
-Log Report (in creative fashion, we go over the previous day's activities)
-Reading/Writing Workshop which includes sharing
-Teaching Demo
-Closing/Launch (Thanks, Lindsey for that!)


Let's see--This leads to something even more important: IDENTITY. 

On Thursday, to end our first week with the Writing Project, we went out into the city with our writing groups and wrote about environments during our Writing Marathon--four hours of straight writing. My group and I bounced from the Grand Rapids Brewing Company to Heartside Park to the farmer's market nearby to the riverside back near campus. Each of these places are populated by many people and our lone instruction from our director before going out on the town was to respond to the people questioning our actions with the simple phrase, "I am a writer."

I had the opportunity to use this phrase at each place--at first feeling uncomfortable. I don't think I've ever said that before. I mean--am I?

I haven't written a book. I don't have much published. I've only been writing my blog for six months. But, by the fourth stop, it changed. 

Through the National Writing Project and, more importantly, because of the affirmation of the people inside of it, I know that what I have to say matters. It might not--and probably will never--matter to all people at one time. 

But it matters to me. 

And that is why I can say with full confidence and conviction that--


Sunday, June 23, 2013

Whatifs Hit Hard--And I LOVE It

You know that poem "Whatif" by Shel Silverstein? If you don't, here it is:


by, Shel Silverstein

    Last night, while I lay thinking here,
    Some Whatifs crawled inside my ear
    And pranced and partied all night long
    And sang their same old Whatif song:
    Whatif I'm dumb in school?
    Whatif they've closed the swimming pol?
    Whatif I get beat up?
    Whatif there's poison in my cup?
    Whatif I start to cry?
    Whatif I get sick and die?
    Whatif I flunk that test?
    Whatif green hair grows on my chest?
    Whatif nobody likes me?
    Whatif a bolt of lightning strikes me?
    Whatif I don't grow tall?
    Whatif my head starts getting smaller?
    Whatif the fish won't bite?
    Whatif the wind tears up my kite?
    Whatif they start a war?
    Whatif my parents get divorced?
    Whatif the bus is late?
    Whatif my teeth don't grow in straight?
    Whatif I tear my pants?
    Whatif I never learn to dance?
    Everything seems swell, and then
    The nighttime Whatifs strike again!
Well, the Whatifs are crawling in my ear. I'm just twelve hours from starting my four-week journey through the National Writing Project and the Whatifs are powerful:

  • Whatif the instructors are tough and not personable?
  • Whatif they give a ton of outside work to go along with my other goals of being an involved dad this summer?
  • Whatif the other students are so much "better" at writing, reading, and understanding than I am?
  • Whatif I can't find my tribe within the bigger group?
  • Whatif I learn that I'm not a writer?
  • Whatif I learn that I am?
The only way for me to rid myself of the Whatifs is NOT to. I accept them as important to my journey. Asking these questions, wondering about them, living with them, and answering them along the way are all part of taking a class. It's the anxiety and fun of being a student. I don't pretend that the Whatifs don't exist; I include them in the possibilities. 

Whatif the National Writing Project changes my life?

Sunday, June 16, 2013

A Father of Thousands

Sometimes, my three daughters get confused when I reference "my kids"--and I'm not talking about them. Then, very quickly, I mention my students' successes or struggles on their current essays and the "my kids" to whom I'm referring becomes much clearer.

That's right--my students.

As I celebrate Father's Day with my own family, I think of the eerie similarities:

  • I push my students to think about others. Through the literature we read, the current news we discuss, the connections we make in the community through our essays, students are forced to think about their place in the world and about the voice they have. (It's the push I give my children when we read Wonder by RJ Palacio.)
  • I get frustrated with them. When they don't take care of the necessary work, I get mad. The work I ask them to do is meant to help them in the long run. It's meant to help them take care of day-to-day tasks. It's meant to make them care for deadlines. (It's the frustration I feel when my children won't clean their rooms.)
  • I encourage them to do things they've never done before. My students won't always know what's good for them unless they are encouraged to push outside of their comfortable box of education. How can they know whether they like Emily Dickinson's style unless they read her? How can they know how their words form meaning in a persuasive essay unless they send it out to the intended audience? A student has to try. I'm there to push. (It's the encouragement I give my children when I suggest they try a new food.)
  • I'm proud of them for the things they do. And I'm proud of them for the things they try to do. When a student writes an essay to the school board and hears back--even if only a couple lines--I'm proud. When a student is motivated to apply for a TEDx conference, I'm proud. When a student learns to like a piece of literature when he least expected it, I'm proud.  (It's the pride I feel when my children learn to ride their bikes.)
So--yes, my students are my kids. I care about them in much the same way. Their success is my success. Their pain is my pain. 

And, more than anything, I care about the kind of people they will be as I help to push them out into the world.

Sunday, June 9, 2013

Six 6-Word Goals for Summer

One of my favorite books this year was Not Quite What I Was Planning edited by Smith Magazine (Here's a link to the page where you can read an excerpt: Not Quite What I Was Planning). In this book, famous (and not so famous) authors, editors, entertainers, and more share their life's experiences in just six words. Of course, they are wonderfully crafted giving the reader a much bigger view of a life than one would ever expect in just those six words.

I was planning tonight's blog on goals for the summer (kind of an "I am too going to work this summer" blog), but I'm just too exhausted from a weekend in Detroit with friends--though that is helping me get to goal #5.

SO--I thought I'd shorten up this post by blending one of my favorite books of the year AND my intended blog post by creating six 6-word goals for summer: Here they are:

1. Reconnect with family who sacrificed time

2. Read a professional development book monthly

3. Promote "Theune Fireside Chats" to students

4. Allow English colleagues to motivate me

5. Be silly with friends, laugh lots

6. Learn from unexpected moments and transform

Sunday, June 2, 2013

To Teaching Candidates & Graduates Everywhere

Today, as I watched each member of the 2013 graduating class from Spring Lake High School walk across the stage and move into adulthood, I couldn't help but think about that adulthood for future teachers. 

Just a couple weeks ago, a former student who is currently in the Air Force and can only gain many credits via online courses, asked for my honest opinion on the field of secondary education. Rightfully so, he's concerned that the job is stagnant and that, when combined with his online courses, his marketability will be low. My response to him and to all students going into education is below.

Keep asking important and tough questions. You're smart to seek out the thoughts from some professionals and I'm just glad that you asked me.
Yes, I think the teaching profession is changing and I DO think school districts (public schools, virtual schools, charter schools and more) are going to make a major mistake of setting a computer in front of a student and call it teaching. They'll do this to save money. Then, they'll realize that it's a big mistake to undervalue the role of the teacher in this situation.
I've learned, in this year of having technology IN my classroom, that the role of the teacher CHANGES, but it doesn't mean less work--not at all. The role changes from the "one in the room who knows the material" to the "motivator, encourager, pusher".
It's an exciting change for teachers: we get to inspire more than teach content.
So, yes, I DO see some slow growth in the profession for a while, but I think the powers that be will see computers, tablets, etc. for what they really are--tools.
As for the online degree you're getting, I think that's only a little hiccup to a MUCH more important theme: will you SHOW the passion it takes?
I think that new teachers will have to show their thoughts, their creations, their goals in different ways and all of that can be done no matter the degree you have. I think it would be smart to create a blog that you can share with future employers to show off your skills.
Plus, it will be ESSENTIAL to share WHY you have that online degree--that you were serving our country when you started thinking about teaching.
Like many other professions, it's important to get to know people within the building where you apply. More than anything (well, not quite--I'll get to that next), you need to be seen, so you can show off your work ethic.
And that gets me to my final point. Nothing stops passion and passion is needed in this profession. IT'S THE BEST JOB IN THE WORLD. So, if you have passion for it, you won't be able to do anything else, making the fact that the profession might slow down and the fact that some of your schooling will result in an online degree, totally and utterly useless. If the passion is there, you can do nothing else.
So, help me world. Help me pass on thoughts to this one young man considering education and to the tens of thousands who graduated and walked across their high school stages. 

What do these students NEED to know?