Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Best Week Ever: Teacher Edition

There might have been better single moments--getting hired, some outstanding rehearsals--in my teaching career, but there has NEVER been a better week.

MONDAY--I've just started being an active presenter on education and I love it. On Monday, I had the opportunity to speak to a group of student teachers about my experiences transitioning the class into one that provides an authentic audience to my students. This group of student teachers made for an excellent audience. I loved their energy; I loved their idealism. And one of the things I hoped to get across in my presentation was that, even after eleven years of teaching, that doesn't go away.

TUESDAY--This past summer, I had an idea. In my attempt to reach real audiences (along with my deep passion for giving back to the community), I decided to make something better of the MLA-style research paper: we'd write them on behalf of local non-profit organizations. Those organizations can use my students' work in any way they choose. To up the ante, I asked our local community foundation if they would find donors to sponsor an in-class competition, so that we could be responsible for giving money to the organizations after a class vote. The fact that they agreed to my crazy idea is just a testament to our community and its willingness to give when opportunities present themselves. This Tuesday, I rolled out the WORDS HAVE POWER essay contest to my students and their eyes got wide. It didn't take much for them to start working hard.

WEDNESDAY--Running the community book club (see previous posts) has been an honor for me. I've had incredible conversations with both friends and strangers. As the book club comes to a close (though the initiatives and the real work on elevating empathy is just beginning), one of the highlights was welcoming author Emily Bazelon to our community for a luncheon with about fifty book club members. Long story short, Ms. Bazelon missed the connection in Chicago and could not make it in time. Instead of canceling the event, we changed the event. Emily was kind enough to join us for ten minutes via phone and then we broke into small groups to discuss three things: how was the book? what does bullying look like in our community? what are some possible solutions? We broke up the students who were in attendance and those teens really made the significant detour a very good path. The conversations were engaging and revealing.

Then, as scheduled, Ms. Bazelon gave her lecture on the Grand Rapids Community College campus. (She got into town a few hours later than scheduled, but in plenty of time to make the lecture.) The lecture itself was very impressive. I found it most encouraging when Emily showed a slide showing that real care on an issue can help that issue (think drunk driving numbers going down and seat belt wearer numbers going up). It tells me that a real focus on this issue can and will improve this issue.

Next (and this part is purely selfish), I was able to grab a bite to eat with Ms. Bazelon: one-on-one. Much of my last four months has been studying her book and thinking about her solutions and how they connect to our community. So, to have this opportunity to exchange thoughts, ideas, and stories was nothing short of a career highlight for me. If you don't know Emily Bazelon as journalist/writer, seek her out. She is smart, talented, humorous--all of that. While I wish I had an audio recording of our meal for the whole book club to hear, I will simply hold on to that moment tenderly and share it as much as possible.

THURSDAY--The school day, itself, was pretty spectacular. We worked on research techniques and composed letters to the directors of our local non-profits. We were making connections in our community. More than that, however, I had the privilege to take three young women out to dinner and then to my alma mater, Hope College to hear a reading from Domingo Martinez. The reading was great, for sure, but the time spent with these students in this way was even more special. It was a great introduction to what reading/writing can be.

FRIDAY--When the bell rang after another fine day of vocabulary study and research, I was able to connect with those I love the most: my family. We ate and then danced together to our favorite songs at our girls' elementary fundraiser.

A perfect ending to a perfect week.