Hello, 27

What are we sure of? Happiness isn’t a town on a map
or an early arrival, or a job well done, but good work
ongoing.

-Mary Oliver in “Work, Sometimes”

As I write this post, I am sitting in my room on an unseasonably chilly September-Barcelona evening. I have a steaming cup of tea nearby, candles lit throughout the room, and the scent of a paolo santo stick lingers in the air. It is the eve before my 27th birthday, and I am taking a moment to pause and take stock of the transition I’m living in.

The first two weeks of school have been exciting and challenging and amazing and overwhelming all at once.  As I write this, I have a mildly sore throat and a bit of a drippy nose- no doubt from the combination of exhaustion, the interaction with hundreds of new people, and exposure to viruses from all over the world.

Since school started, I feel like I’ve been functioning either at 100% or 0%. Either I am navigating new relationships, both at work and in my social life, or I am at home, under the covers, eating popcorn and watching Netflix, alone.

It’s a bit disorienting, these extremes; however, this is exactly where I am in the transition process.  I am constantly surrounded by people, but I don’t know anyone well yet.  I have budding friendships, tentatively-building trust, and the base laid for classroom relationships, yet, after two weeks, nothing could possibly be anymore than it is right now.

When I woke up this morning, I stayed curled up in bed, and reached for the book nearest my nightstand.  My hand grasped New and Selected Poems: Volume Two by Mary Oliver.  My first notable thought when reading this book was I really need to gather more books about Spain, because reading poetry about the U.S. makes me homesick.

My second notable thought came when I stumbled across the following lines in Oliver’s poem “Work, Sometimes:”

What are we sure of? Happiness isn’t a town on a map
or an early arrival, or a job well done, but good work
ongoing.

Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about what it means to find happiness here.  In this new place, I’ve been alternately energized and exhausted, on-top-of-my game and completely overwhelmed, connected with the people around me and feeling lonely.

Tomorrow, at 1:52pm Barcelona time, I turn 27.

It’s my first birthday in a foreign country.  My first birthday at my new job.  My first birthday I’ve had to plan for myself in a while (shout out to Mel), and my first birthday I’ll be celebrating with friends from all over the world.

So tomorrow, when I wake up and remember it’s my birthday, I will be filled with nervousness and excitement and apprehension for my job and the day ahead.  And I will take a deep breath, and remember, the groundwork is laid.

I have my projects I am passionate about- teaching humanities, supporting ELL students, carving out time for yoga and swimming, learning Spanish, making friends.

It’s okay if I am curled up watching Netflix alone a little more than I would like to be right now.

The good work is in process and progress will come.

Hello, 27.  I look forward to meeting you tomorrow.

 

 

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Tiny Triumps

Over the past week, I’ve had a few small moments worth celebrating in my Spanish Learning adventure:

  1.  I understood a joke my yoga teacher made in class, and was among the first to giggle. A win for mindfully listening to the teacher and catching the humor. 
  2. I dreamt in Spanish. Okay, to be fair, I had a dream where I said one sentence in Spanish. I asked a person “¿Que idiomas hablas tu?” which translates to “What languages do you speak?” I’m not even sure they answered in Spanish. But still. One sentence more than I’ve ever dreamed before!
  3. I was able to translate a short conversation for a friend. While in Ibiza, the bouncer wouldn’t let us into a club. I understood and translated the explanation: my friend wasn’t allowed to have his bag.  

Am I approaching conversational? Not really. 

Am I making progress? Yes. Measurably!

Other budding events include:

  • eating lunch with the Spanish teachers at school (they are patient and incredible, and talk and practice with me)
  • understanding random snippets of peope’s conversations on the subway and at the gym (eavesdropping on a foreign language takes talent)
  • gearing up for Spanish class to start again in two weeks

¡Tengo mucho aprender! Pero para ahora, estoy feliz. 

The Beginning of School: A Summary

Wins:

  • I found my pool.  It is near my school, has seven beautiful 25 meter lap lanes, huge gorgeous windows that let in tons of natural light, and an entire area dedicated to hot tubs, water massages, and saunas.  Bonus: I learned hot tubs are a great place to practice my Spanish.
  • On my walk home from school, I discovered a hole-in-the-wall pastry shop that sells fresh bread, quinoa cookies, and the most amazing sesame & anise seed crackers. Fantastic and dangerous.
  • My students are hilarious, amazing, and insightful.  To get to know each other, we wrote “Where I’m From” poems.*  Hearing stories from kids with vastly different backgrounds and nationalities was utterly cool.  When we did an author’s chair, my eighth grade students made connections that surprised and intrigued them. They noticed small details and personal moments written by their classmates felt universal. 

Losses:

  • Tonight, as we sat down to dinner, my roommate found black bird poop on our kitchen table. And on our kitchen counter.  Those beautiful floor-to-ceiling windows-doors we have?  Yes, turns out we need to close them when we leave for work.  It looks like the pigeons have been enjoying our apartment even more than we have.
  • I lost a really nice water bottle that I splurged and spent 40€ on.  “Why did you spend 40€ on a water bottle, Lauren?” you ask. Because I was sick of using plastic water bottles, and this one was a backpacking water bottle that looked really cool and seemed perfect for everyday use and use in the mountains.  Guess where it never made it.  You got it, the mountains.

Notable Moment:

When introducing the out-of-class reading expectations for my eighth grade Humanities course, my students asked, “Does reading in a foreign language count?” 

This question was entirely wonderful and – considering the student demographics and my position as a Humanities and ELL Teacher – rather ridiculously caught me off-guard.  Reading in multiple languages was never something I had considered for a large group of students before. 

After thinking about it, we decided that our reading time requirement (two hours per week outside of class) needs to be in English. We are studying and working to improve our English reading and writing, after all. However, we all agreed that all the reading we do is important part of our literary lives, so for our 40 Book Challenge, books in any language count and should be recorded.

Looking Ahead

Moving forward, I’m interested to see the other amazing questions, challenges, and unanticipated situations that arise in class. This is exactly the perspective I am hoping to gain while I am here.


*These were based on the poem “Where I’m From” by George Ella Lyon.  I first experienced using “Where I’m From” Poems as a beginning-of-the-semester activity in Hip-Hop Ed, a multicultural education course taught by Prof. Gloria Ladson-Billings at UW-Madison.

To learn more about Prof. Ladson-Billings work, check out her blog, Black & Smart, her book, Dreamkeepers: Successful Teachers of African American Children, or one of her many academic articles, ranging from Culturally Relevant Teaching to the Education Debt.

Under Construction

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It is the
   First-day-of-School Eve

Lessons are planned
Seated charts are composed

And yet there are still
      a
        million
     things to do

But as I sit down
   one last time tonight to think about
   tomorrow

I remember, one thing matters:

The Kids.

I get one chance to meet my students
   for the first time

One chance to welcome my classes
   and lay the first-day groundwork

One chance
   to start this crazy learning adventure
   together

So the fact that the books aren’t sorted
   Materials haven’t arrived
   Technology isn’t set-up

Doesn’t matter.

The Kids do.


While attempting to sort out my classroom library, I discovered the book Chasing Utopia: A Hybrid by Nikki Giovanni. I saw Giovanni speak at UW-Madison a few years ago, and her quick wit, sharp voice, and spunky demeanor have stayed with me. I immediately tucked the book into my backpack for a weekend read. The text is a collection of essays and poems. Reading Giovanni’s work inspired me to write in verse. 

Readiness Mindset

It was Friday.  My colleagues and I sat down to a lunch of fresh paella and melon in our principal’s office, to debrief our weeks at the Teacher’s College Writing Institute.   After sharing our take-aways, our principal shared his.

¨The way Mary chooses her words so thoughtfully is powerful,¨he said. ¨She draws students in and inspires them to write.  That type of word choice, it takes time and care, but it is so, so worth it.¨

We had spent the morning with Mary Ehrenworth, one of the leaders of the Teachers College Reading and Writing Project.  With Mary, we studied what teachers could learn from coaches.  The way we speak to students, compared to the way coaches speak with students, stuck with me.

As Mary analyzed, so often, coaches give one quick compliment, and move right into the feedback.  Their feedback is timely, direct, and during the work their athlete is doing. She pointed out, coaches choose one thing to focus on with their athlete.  One thing.  The thing that will make the biggest difference in the athlete’s performance. Not a million things.  Not nit-picky things.  Not the easiest thing.  The one thing that is really, truly, worth working on.

This got me thinking, how often do I talk to my students this way?  How often do I spend too much time on compliments, on fluff, before moving into the true heart of the work?

This year, I want to give my students tougher feedback in conferences.  When I speak with them, first, I want to give them a compliment, an authentic comment about what I notice that is going well in their work.  And then, an honest piece of feedback.  One that comes from a place of knowing they can and want to do the work.  One that is supported and followed up with by tools, materials, and examples to help students meet their goal.

But even more than improving student conferences and feedback, I want to give feedback to myself in this way.  If I can talk to myself like this, if I can grow my practice using a coaching framework, a readiness framework, my words will naturally extend to my students.

As a teacher, what can I solidly say I am doing well?  And, what can I identify as the one way I want to grow?  What is the one thing I can do better that will make the biggest impact on my students’ writing this year?  What is the one thing I am most ready for next?

As a writing teacher, I am clear when teaching the teaching point.  I get to the heart of the lesson and stay focused.  Now, I am ready to work on my own writing more.

My take-away from Mary was, ¨Don’t take the kids’ writing home.  Take your writing home.¨

I need to develop a repertoire of my own writing, with the intended audience of my eighth grade students, that I can use and tailor and modify to authentically demonstrate the teaching point of the day.  Just as through reading, it is the content that builds community in writing.  We connect over shared text, and in writing, we have the opportunity to share our stories.  To take risks.  To find our voice.  And through this, we have material to grow in our craft.

Alright.  I have the goal: work on my writing for lessons.  I will report back on my progress.

The Writing is the Thing

“You do it because the doing of it is the thing. The doing is the thing. The talking and worrying and thinking is not the thing.”

-Amy Poehler, Yes Please

As I gear up to start the school year and teach a new grade level, the daunting task of figuring out the eighth grade Writing Workshop curriculum is on my mind. Sorting through this, I keep thinking back to Mary Ehrenworth’s words.  During the Teachers College Training I attended this summer, she told a story of some of the teachers she coached. She recounted:

After spending a summer preparing, these brilliant, brilliant teachers- some of the best I have worked with- came back to school with manicured power-points, the Teaching Point, Mid-Workshop Teach, and Share perfectly displayed for the students. And I said, ‘What are you doing?!  That’s not how we teach writing! That’s not how it works.’

My jaw dropped. It’s not?

The hours I spent preparing Writing Workshop Mini-Lessons, arranging the Teaching Points, finding the perfect image to accompany each slide…. it was all for naught??

Mary continued to tell a story of when Dough Engelbart, an Internet pioneer, came to speak at a Teachers College (TC) training.  She said the folks at TC  had gone all-out to be prepared with tech.  They had all the bells and whistles at-the-ready to equip him with anything he possibly could have needed.

Instead, all he requested was chart paper, an easel, and a marker.

Mary said she was taken aback.  She relayed when Doug was asked why he didn’t need more, he responded, ¨We invented technology to increase communication between thousands of miles.  I would never put it between you and me in this room.¨

Is that what I was doing?  Putting technology between me and the kids?  Building a barrier?

¨We invented technology to increase communication between thousands of miles.  I would never put it between you and me in this room.¨

-Doug Engelbart

Decidedly, yes.  That is what I have been doing.  Because while I have spent hours and hours making perfect power points, what I have missed out on, is the real work of doing the writing.

This harkens back a quote by Amy Poehler that I think of often.  In her book Yes Please, during which she spends quite a bit of time complaining about how difficult it is to write, Amy declares, ¨You do it because the doing of it is the thing. The doing is the thing. The talking and worrying and thinking is not the thing.”

The making of the power points is not the thing. The writing is the thing.

The kids don’t need to be told the teaching points, they need to see the teaching points authentically demonstrated before them.  They don’t solely need to read and analyze mentor texts, they need to see mentor texts being written in front of them.

As their teacher, it is my job to demonstrate this for them.

So, as I prepare for the year ahead, gone will be the perfectly organized power points.  Instead, rather than spending my time on making slide shows, I am going to spend time on writing.

For this is where the real learning will take place.

Reflecting on it,  this type of preparing- doing the writing itself- sounds way better than making power points anyway.


To read more about my experience at the Teachers College Training, read here and here.

Social Justice is in the Small Things

“Social justice is not just joining marches and protesting. It’s all the small ways we treat each other.”

-Mary Ehrenworth

We’re mid-session the first day of the Teacher’s College Institute.  Teachers are crowded around tables in the library of the American School of Barcelona, simultaneously nervous, excited, captivated and jet-lagged.  Mary Ehrenworth, the instructor, has drawn us in with her stories, modeled specific areas of the workshop, and now, she tells us to get into writing partners.

There is a flurry of commotion as teachers look across their tables to pair up.  Before Mary even finishes uttering the words, my table mates and I have done the math.  There are six of us.  Three pairs of two.  We make look at each other, making a visual contract: a pair on either end and a pair in the middle.  I’m in the pair in the middle.

We finish, looking up at Mary.  We are pleased with ourselves for having made our pairs so quickly.  However, Mary quickly shatters our feeling of self-importance.

“Whenever you give students talk time, it is important to give them feedback on their work,¨Mary says. ¨So here’s feedback on yours: Social justice is not just joining marches and protesting. It’s all the small ways we treat each other.  How many of you looked beyond you and your partner to help others at your table?  How many of you looked beyond your table to see if other people needed partners?  This is where we have room to grow.”

That’s when it hit me.  In my reflections from this past year, I felt that I developed a strong relationship with most of my students.  However, in the last few weeks of school, I realized that they had not developed strong relationships with each other.

A collaborative mindset, is what Mary called it.  ¨Sink or swim together¨ are the words Prof. Gloria Ladson-Billings writes in Dream Keepers.  Building trust between students and developing a sense-of-self as a classroom is how I’m thinking about it as I am reflecting and planning for this upcoming year.

I moved to Barcelona two days ago. I will be starting at the American School of Barcelona in fall, as an eighth grade Humanities and English Language Learner (ELL) teacher.  For now, I moved here early to attend the first International Teacher’s College Writing Institute.

I showed up on Saturday full of hopes and fears and dreams, and a keen awareness that I currently do not speak Spanish. Upon my arrival, my soon-to-be roommate,  who I did not know before moving here, cleared her schedule to welcome me.   She is from Tunsia, and has been studying here in Barcelona since April.  While she is new to the city herself, she took time to show me the neighborhood, taught me how to rent locks and carts at the grocery store, and helped me navigate the tram.  She ate with me, laughed with me, and shared her story with me.

Social justice is in the small things.

How will I foster a sense of social justice in my classroom this year?  How will we include the student who is ostracized, the one everyone prefers not to work with?  How will we push each other to grow?  How can we realized that the greatest form of respect in school is building up each other’s learning?

I’ll start with Mary’s words: “We don’t leave anybody behind.¨

Every students deserves to be here.  They deserve to belong, and they deserve to fit in.