This summer! This school year!

Sunday, August 12, 2018

School starts for me this week! (Here is your reminder that most public schools require 180 school days, so if you started earlier than me you most likely also get out earlier. Also if you start school later in September you will also get out later. Chances are we teach the same amount of days. Don’t yell at me. Or if you do yell at me just hug me afterwards, like a soccer coach.)

Guess what? I did hardly ANYTHING from my summer to-do list I posted in June.

I threw no axes.

I took no cheese classes.

My dog is still jumping on people.

And yet, I still feel like I accomplished every-dang-thing I set out to do.

Here’s what I did do:

1. Read the following books:
  • Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng: LOVED. Five stars. I want to go get Everything I Never Told You prontissimo.
  • Calypso by David Sedaris: A BILLION STARS. His best, in my opinion. (If you’re not a fan of weird/dark humor, i.e. if the idea of someone feeding their own tumor to a snapping turtle is not funny to you, skip this one.)

        Still working on Eligible by Curtis Sittenfeld. Whoops.  

2. Made the following recipes from actual cookbooks:

The Black Sabbath from Cookie Love: Four stars but only because it was a ton of steps and I hate dishes. Five stars for taste, though. It's basically chocolate shortbread with peppermint frosting in between, and it was better than any Oreo you could ever imagine.

Rotochick Chicken Noodle Soup from Cravings: Four stars. Five after I added jalapeno juice and lime juice.
Chicken Lettuce Wraps from Cravings: Seven stars. Delicious.
Sweet and Salty Coconut Rice from Cravings: One hundred stars. I want to put this stuff over (or under) everything.
These oatmeal cream pies: One thousand stars. (They were from the Internet, but that’s only because none of my cookbooks had oatmeal cream pies and I needed them.)
Birthday Cake from Momofuku Milk Bar: Four stars. Also because dishes. Also I changed some things including the frosting. Also the torso in the picture is my big brother!

Compost Cookies from Momofuku Milk Bar: N/A stars because I ruined these. The dough was delicious, though.

3. Started a gratitude journal AND a favorite poems journal.
Look at them! Aren’t they cute?! I got them both on sale for twelve cents UNDER a twenty dollar gift card I got to a fancy store. AND WHEN I BOUGHT THEM THE CASHIER INEXPLICABLY GAVE ME A HUGE BAG OF GOURMET GUMMIES FOR FREE. It was a very good day.

4. Made big, vaulting leaps on my Secret Project

5. Spent so much time with the people I love and their babies and dogs

6. Swam in a pool about a hundred times

7. Went to an outdoor symphony

8. Started Grey’s Anatomy and then abandoned it because I realized it was making me think that the slightest pain in my ankle was an embolism or that a tiny razor cut would give me sepsis. #teacherswithanxiety

9. Had a completely delightful SURPRISE BACK-TO-SCHOOL PARTY thrown for me There was margaritas and guacamole and gifts of wine and ibuprofen, reminding me again that there needs to be a Appreciation Day for Non-Teachers Who Appreciate Teachers

And when I wasn’t doing that I worked on curriculum for school, went to two different doctors, got my car registered/inspected/fixed, met with a financial advisor, opened the mail that’s been collecting for six months, and all the other things a lot of people don’t realize happen in a teacher’s summer.

I just need to say it again: I am so, so excited about this school year. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about my journey as a teacher: times as a new teacher I felt like I genuinely could not get out of bed I was so sad, the times I would be convinced I was on an upward slope only to be knocked down again, and those golden moments I’ve experienced throughout my teaching that have pierced my heart with beauty. It hasn’t been a solid line graph getting easier—way more like a scatter plot (math teachers, did I do that right?). I seriously doubt that this gig will ever be “easy,” but I’m so grateful to be in a place and a mindset where I feel effective, valued, and able to take care of myself. If you’re not there now, know that it’s possible. It gets worse sometimes, but the getting worse is always followed by getting better. Always.

Thank you for being on this journey with me, for being my constant reminder that whether teaching feels like it will break my heart or whether it feels like my heart will break open with loveliness, I am not alone.

What did you do this summer? Tell me EVERYTHING.



7 Gorgeous Poems For You to Feed Your Secondary Students

Thursday, June 28, 2018

A friend of mine is an incredible chef. When I visit her, she’s constantly pulling things out of her cabinet or refrigerator for me to sample.

“Here. Take a bite.”

“Smell this.”

“Try this. It’s SIN.”

“What do you taste?”

The stuff she has me try is always phenomenal, and always leaves me wanting more. Herb-marinated homemade feta. Pickled green tomatoes. Vanilla halvah frosting. “Can I just… have the rest of that?” I find myself asking about things I’m fully aware she needs for a recipe.

This has become my favorite way to “teach” poetry. Pulling out samples of my favorite poems and letting them settle on my students’ tongues, just for the sake of sharing something rich and delightful. This is not the only way I teach poetry—we do, of course, have to teach analysis and terms and the classics—but taking a minute or two once a week to share poetry for poetry’s sake does two things:

1) Communicates that poetry has intrinsic value, not just “something you need to pass my class/do well on the state test/SAT” value
2) Is a great way to build relationships in the classroom, through discussion and the mere fact that you’re taking the time to experience beauty with your childlings

Plus, here’s the best part: informally sharing poetry secretly teaches it, too. I find that the more poetry I share with my students “for fun,” the more I catch them in discussions saying things like, “I like that metaphor,” or “This reminds me of that poem we read about freckled things,” or, once, in a comment that almost made my heart stop beating, “I know that isn’t an iamb, but is there a word for a pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables?”

Here are some of my favorites and where you can find them:

This is a really fun poem to discuss with students. Their ideas and interpretations will enchant you: I promise.  There are no wrong answers when you teach poetry this way.
Power line: “What must be voices bob up, then drop, like metal shavings/In molasses.”

Long before social media or video games, teenagers had a tendency to feel disconnected and alone, so I love any opportunity to share a poem about our interconnectedness and the invitation to participate. The last line is so powerful.
Power line: "Surely, even you, at times, have felt the grand array; the swelling presence, and the chorus, crowding out your solo voice."

Mary Oliver: "The Journey" 
I love Mary Oliver’s “Wild Geese” and always share it with my 8th graders, but this is one of her poems that I don’t let students leave my classroom without knowing.
Power line: “One day you finally knew/what you had to do, and/began”

Rupi Kaur: “There Is So Much More To You Than Being Pretty”
Students will love Rupi Kaur, both for her short, meaningful poems and for the whimsical illustrations accompanying them.
Power line: “i am sorry i made it sound as though/something as simple as what you’re born with/is the most you have to be proud of”

I love this poem so much that I can’t decide whether it’s more like cheese, chocolate, or wine—my holy trinity. It’s an important poem, particularly for right now.
Power line: The traveler from Argentina, the mom from California, the lovely woman from Laredo—we were all covered with the same powdered sugar. And smiling. There is no better cookie.”

This poem, which May wrote about Detroit, might be better understood by high school students, but that doesn’t mean middle school students can’t enjoy or be moved by it, too.
Power line: “…but they won’t stop saying/how lovely the ruins,/how ruined the lovely/children must be in that birdless city.” 

Definitely worth listening to out loud in addition to or instead of reading on paper. Also this has the “d” word for those whose students have never heard that word before and whose ears will crumble at its mention.
Power line: “…because there’s nothing more beautiful than the way the ocean refuses to stop kissing the shoreline no matter how many times it is sent away.”

What are the most delicious poems you know?

(And yes, I will be using "gorgeous" to describe inanimate objects like poems or iced coffee or Kleenex Cool Touch from now on. Thank you, Jonathan Van Ness, you gorgeous human.)



Somewhere Between 6 and 7 Things I’m Doing This Summer

Tuesday, June 5, 2018

Hi, hello. Here I am.

I know you thought I’d left you, but I’ve been right here all along.

Doesn’t that sound like lyrics to the next big power ballad? I’ll make a music video for it. It’ll be of me wading in knee-deep water on a tropical beach in Antigua, except 1. I have no money to go to Antigua OR for professional video services and 2. I don’t want you to know who I am just yet, so the music video will really just consist of someone filming me walking and sloshing along the length of my bathtub and singing a song I made up with a bag over my head.

(As you can see, I’ve grown no less weird in our time apart.)

Today is my first day of summer, and summer feels a little different this year. Professionally, 2017-18 was great. I want to adopt all my students and their parents, and I feel like I’m the best teacher I’ve ever been. But the weight of the world outside of my classroom has just been...a lot. Between Harvey and the shooting in Santa Fe and a hundred other disasters near and far, I felt like I was army-crawling to the finish line this year, dragging both legs because this school year had broken them. You know what I mean?


One of my favorite summer traditions as a teacher besides peeing when I want is to make a list of everything I want to accomplish, complete, try, or visit over the summer. However, I haven’t actually made one of these lists in years. Between grad school, switching schools, professional development, moving, my contract job writing for WeAreTeachers, writing four new curricula*, and a large chunk of my close friends getting married, the past three summers have been so brain-stabbingly busy that I haven’t had the time for such frivolities. (Don’t worry, teachers who are parents—I hear your uproarious, condescending laughter about what I think being busy means.)

But this summer, I’m back in the game. Having a list helps redirect me from my natural inclination of how I’d like to spend a free day (sitting in complete darkness either watching a true crime documentary on Netflix or scrolling through articles online about how bad the world is) to more positive, healthy, productive ways of caring for myself, connecting with others, and developing Skills.

These are things I hope to accomplish between professional development, training, a super secret project I’ll tell you about before the end of the year (!), and the 3.5 million weekday appointments/errands I haven’t been able to complete from September 2017 until now:

My Summer To-Do List, 2018

1. Make at least one meal from a cookbook each week. 
I’ve amassed quite a few cookbooks and have made recipes from, oh, I don’t know, .01% of each of them? There’s something so pleasant about using a cookbook instead of your phone—it harkens back to The Old World. No frustration about your phone locking you out every 30 seconds, no spilling batter or sauces on your screen. Just the usual frustration about how to divide 1 and ¾ cup flour in half.

2. Read books. 
Here is my little baby stack!

Calypso because I love David Sedaris, Little Fires Everywhere because I’m late to the party where everyone read it in 2017, Eligible because my friend Alison’s book recommendation game is on fire, and Cravings because Chrissy Teigen is a national treasure. And yes, I AM counting a cookbook as summer reading, thank you for asking. Also note the jasmine plant that I have miraculously not killed. 

3. Learn how to throw an axe. 
No explanation for this one. I just want to.

4. Go to the beach or a lake. 
I like the beach best in the morning and evening because I’m ancient, so maybe I’ll rent a tiny beach house for a weekend. Want to come with me? I promise to bring boozy popsicles and go to bed every night before 10.

5. Invite my aged neighbor to have dinner with me one night. 
I say “aged” instead of “elderly” because she’s fabulous and zesty, words we might use to describe some great cheeses and wine. Plus I suspect she has some wild stories from her past, and I'm here for them.

6. Take a cheese class. 
I just learned that this is a thing, and I’m not sure if it’s a “how to make cheese” class or “learn about the different types of cheese” class, but it doesn’t matter. I’ll be there.

6. Compile my favorite quotes and poems into a journal. 
Right now I have them on a single, giant email thread with myself that I keep replying to, and it’s getting very hard to read with all the >>>>>s. Do you know what I mean by that? It’s only the first day of summer which means I don’t yet the energy to explain any further.

7. Teach my dog to stop jumping on people OR shake. 
One of these is way more ambitious than the other, so I want to have an “out” in case the first is too hard. This is how I approach to-do lists. Also maybe life.

 Just realized I have two number sixes. I’m leaving them.

What is on your summer to-do list? Besides your second jobs to make ends meet and your professional development and your curriculum writing and just in general recovering from a job that people think only lasts from 8-4 Monday through Friday nine months out of the year? Tell me what you're cooking (and which cookbooks you're using), what you're reading, what you're catching up on, what you're binge-streaming. Or just send me pictures of your pets.

I’ve missed you. And summer. It’s going to be a good one.



*Have you ever tried to use someone else’s lesson plans/curriculum? It feels like wearing someone else’s underwear**. I can’t do it.  So I write my own.
**I have not done this often.