Riding the Wave

Waves_in_pacifica_1As teachers, we all need a mental happy place.  A place where we can close our eyes and take a quick mental vacation.  If you see me behind my
desk with my eyes closed for a second, I’m probably at the ocean.   Wiggling my toes in warm sand.  Sun warming my face and my soul.  And since it’s mental vacation – I have a fruity drink with a little umbrella that is served in tiki-inspired glassware.  And yes – I do have a good book.

It’s safe on the beach.  Not much to hurt me there – but that’s not where my kids are.  My kids are in the ocean.  In. The. Ocean.  It’s dangerous in the ocean, I’m not overly fond of the waves.   However, since that’s where my kids are, then that’s where I need to be too.

The waves do come.  Fortunately for me, I was given great advice by someone once.  First she said always keep your eye on the waves so that they don’t catch you by surprise.  Then she told me that when a wave comes you have 3 choices.  If you’re feeling scared, just hold your nose and dive under it.  Avoid it and stay below the surface.  It’s not glamorous, but it keeps you safe.   If you’re feeling confident and energetic – jump up and rise above it. Float along the top and you’ll land in exactly the same spot – letting it all pass beneath you.  You might even be able to keep your hair dry.

But if you really want an adventure – ride the wave and see where it takes you!  Let go, relax, and make the wave work to your advantage.  Have fun – it can be exhilarating.  Surfers surf for a reason!

But when you fight the wave or try to stand unmoving – you’re going to get knocked down. There is no fighting a wave – it will always win. It will exhaust you. It will beat you down into the ocean floor.  It is a force of nature and it will drown you.

The thing is – when I was given this advice, it had nothing to do with going to the beach and everything about life.

We as teachers have to be in the Ocean.  That is where our kiddos are.  We don’t have the luxury of sitting calmly on the beach watching safely with our toes (and heads) in the sand.  We have to be out in the water, eyes alert ready for the next wave and preparing ourselves as to how to handle it.  There are undoubtedly fights worth fighting, the storms that we have to brace ourselves against and fight – the tidal surges and tsunamis that threaten what we hold dear.  Fight those! With all your might.  But I’m just talking about the day to day everyday waves that chip away at us.

Everyday is a new challenge.  A new wave.  The question is – what are you going to do with it?   Because whether you get knocked down or not is up to you.



Depart from the Text

Growing up, I loved the Sunday Funnies.  And I really loved Bloom County.  Bill the Cat never failed to crack me up (Ack Ack Thbbft).  And I was obsessed with Opus.  For those that don’t know – it was Opus the penguin, Bill the Cat (was probably on something illegal), and a cast of other point of view characters.  They discussed and reflected on current events and pop culture in their own off beat way and I think the real allure was that It made me feel smart because I was old enough to get the jokes.

And somewhere, post college, I got “Good Night Opus.”  A picture book that has Granny reading Opus Goodnight Moon (a routine I became all too familiar with myself).  And the gist (the gist is something I’ve been finding a lot of here lately in my classroom) was that Opus didn’t want to follow the tired old routine.  He wanted to be creative and say good night to Lincoln and Tooth Fairy and get carried away by his imagination, which he gleefully did,  much to the chagrin of his nanny. Despite her warnings, he departed the text.

As an 8th grade English teacher, I used to read this to my students at the start of the year. I told them that this was going to be the year to take risks, to see how far they can take their writing and thinking.   It was our class mission statement (and this was before mission statements were cool.)   And I still read it to my 3rd graders at some point.

But at some point I forgot to take my own advice.  To depart from my own text.

Every day I ask kids to put themselves out there, to take risks by sharing and putting their ideas out there, even if it’s just for me to read.  Yet I’m not doing that myself.   So, I’m going to start blogging.  I was inspired by a recent unconferance that I attended – EdCamp Maryland, and specifically by a bloggers John Harper (https://jonharper70.wordpress.com/) and Brian Cook (https://briancookeducator.wordpress.com/).  Thank you gentleman for inspiring me to step outside my comfort zone.  And thank you Susan Verdi (https://thebookisinyourcourt.wordpress.com/) as well!

When I thought about what to title my blog I immediately thought of Opus departing the text and wanted to be as bold and giddy as him.

I also found it ironic that with CCSS, so much of my time is spent on telling kids to “refer to the text”  “what does the text say” “is the answer from your head or from the text.”  Seems kind of backwards.

So how to reconcile the two?  How to stay in the text, and depart it at the same time.  Kids need to do both.  Opus could not have departed from the text had there not been one to depart from to begin with.  He needed to understand the nature and content of Goodnight Moon to take his own path with it.  He had to have known the story so intimately that he could then make it his own.  He wasn’t just departing the text and leaving it behind, he was building on the foundation of it.   He was expanding it.  He was pushing the boundaries of what was.  (Pretty deep for a penguin).  And this applies to reading, writing, math – all content areas.

I hope to use this blog as a place where I can share my reflections, ideas, and tools I use to achieve my goal of keeping students grounded in the standards but with the creativity of mind and confidence to visit the milky way, Abraham Lincoln, and the tooth fairy.