Genius Freak

In love with the kind, the brilliant, the creative, the brave, the generous, the crazy, and the hopeful

Written in commemoration of the end of a school year, after sharing 2 years with many students first in AP Lang then AP Lit.

The end of years is always hard for me

And joyful.

Hard because endings are not my thing

And because we are approaching

Inevitably

The end of this joyfully intoxicating congregation

The spirit of exploration

Swashed around in inspiration

Taken in and down with honey and august.

 

We landed here together 350 days ago

or so,

nervous, or excited (depending on the lighting)

with a whole lot of time and a realm of possibility

laid out ahead of us.

Now, all but behind us,

An inhale, and an exhale,

and it’s time to move ahead again.

 

Because though we worked a lot,

there is always more to know.

Always more to figure out.

Always more to sketch into to the drawing of our lives.

And in a time when it seems like there is so much

So much

that doesn’t make sense,  

when our screens scream hate and vitriol,

when discord seems the soundtrack of the times,

when teaching people how to guard against victimization

takes precedence over crafting the compassion

and empathy that cultivate kindness,

When courses are charted by fear,

in here,

we inhale and exhale,

and we love.

 

In a course named for a test

We are tested

Can we be AP

And still be we?

Do our voices matter or is it

Just matters of rhetoric?

Building blocks of language

Mapping trails where there was nothing

Seeing what you are capable of becoming

 

I have watched you read the world

And write your way into conversation with it

So it can never shut you down

Leave you out

Make you feel unworthy

Unlovable

Invisible

Never.

You are none of that.

And you are everything.

I see you

Transgress, transcend, transform expectations

Shaping bountiful realities

And  Becoming.

Inhale. And Exhale.

 

I am not a counter of days.

About anything really,

but definitely not school.

Definitely not in the “7 more Mondays” kind of way.

But I am always acutely and urgently aware

that we are running out of days.

So I inhale. And exhale.

Grateful for the inspiration

That has flowed within these walls

Synergy reverberating

In a sort of harmonic resonance.

That leaves a permanent echo

So a trace of you remains.

In here,

Always.

235ers, Like plants

breathe in energy and breathe out genius

And we carry our own light

For photosynthesis.

 

I am not a counter of days

But the fullness of our time has come

And I am grateful in uncounted ways

For all the things that you have done

That filled this room with family.

 

When a place can hold your tears as often as

your Laughter

And has room to let you face your fears,

and after

still feel safe, though challenged

Where you can choose to love –

To live in love –

With courage

And joy

Inhale. Exhale.

You have helped to build a home.

And home is always here.

Always.

Parkland happened on February 14, turning a day of love into a day of anguish. And the tentacles of trauma have extended far beyond the borders of that far away little Florida town and reached into this little one, 1200 miles away.

On February 15 we spent the class period talking and feeling and imagining what we would do if that terrible circumstance arrived at our classroom door. We took an inventory trying to figuring out what we can use as weapons to defend ourselves from an intruder with a gun. It was kind of like that creativity challenge where they ask you how many uses you can think of for a paper clip.

We decided we could use the inspirational word rocks and the wailing wall bricks and the Chromebooks as projectiles to shock some sense into him, or empathy, or just to knock him out. We decided what we would push in front of the door, which tables we would flip to hide behind, whether it would be a good idea to try to get out a second-story window, maybe landing on some floor pillows that we’d toss out before we tossed ourselves.

That was a heavy day in English class, and it wasn’t the only day we had to have that conversation, which we should never have to have.

But on February 16 we played one of our favorite vocabulary review games, there was laughter, and learning, friendly rivalry and fabulous prizes, and it was almost like we weren’t in the after of a school shooting. Almost.

One true thing about school, as teacher or student, is that to make the most of it, you have to pay attention to the now. Of course, I guess that is true about most things in life, but it’s definitely true about school. It’s hard to be in the moment, and in fear at the same time, but another true thing about school is that it’s really hard not to be in the now when you are in a room full of kids.

The fear, and the just-in-case planning, those aren’t about now. They take us out of today and into some imagined future. But the just-in-case planning gives a little bit of power back to us in the face of tragedy and terror unimaginable. It makes it a little easier to be in the now as we move on through the after.

It enrages me that I, that we, have to think about these things–that we can’t just think about learning words to enhance our reading comprehension and learning sentence constructions that can add life to our writing and learning to enjoy, or even create a good story.

But that’s what we are going to do today.

I am so angry

It overruns the bounds of understanding

In salty cascades of anguish

Reminding me that anger

Is the mask that pain wears

When wounds go unhealed.

I watch the screen for hours

Seeing kids who could be mine

Run out hands raised

Forever changed

Stepping over friends

Who will never step again

Into hallways that

Should have been safe.

How can I go to school tomorrow

And talk about this?

How can I

Go to school tomorrow

And not talk about this?

How this? Again.

And again.

And again.

And again.

And again.

And again.

And again.

And again.

And again.

And again.

And again.

And again.

And again.

And again.

And again.

And again.

And again.

And again.

Every teacher has probably had to do it as a requirement for at least one teacher preparation class in college.  But I think it’s a valuable thing for teachers to do  pretty regularly, not just as an academic exercise, but as a way to really think through where you are as a teacher, how you got here, where you are going, and why.

The assignment:
Write a brief statement of your teaching philosophy.
Here’s my most recent stab at it. (Not really, I wrote this about 5 years ago.)

I intentionally set about writing this statement of my humanities teaching philosophy immediately after submitting my lesson plans for the week.  I wanted to make sure this was more than just an exercise in abstractedly putting words to some things I believe about teaching;  I wanted to be able to see evidence that what I believe about teaching is at the heart of what I do in the classroom.  In the upcoming days, my classes and I will perform scenes from Hamlet and A Streetcar Named Desire, explore the ancient Greek roots of drama and tragedy, discuss and debate the ethics and influence of social media, revel in examples of the power of written language, and connect the anthropological perspectives Zora Neale Hurston used as she created Janie and Tea Cake Woods in the beautiful novel Their Eyes Were Watching God with those used by Rutgers anthropologist Helen Fisher in her studies of the science of love.  Regardless of the specific endeavors of any particular class, in room 235, I hope that what my students walk away with every day is another addition to their understanding of the extraordinary range of what it is to be human.  As I see it, all education, formal and informal, is about making sense of the world and our place in it.  Each thing we learn adds some depth or breadth or nuance to our understanding of how the world works, and how we can work our way through it.  Continue reading