14 years and counting

Today marks 14 years of wedded bliss marriage for Dave and I. In all honesty, there were many times in our relationship I didn’t think we’d make it. But I am grateful that here we are, together. When I think about the “how,” I am drawn to the insights of expectation, communication, adventure, and independence.

  • Expectation. If “comparison is the thief of joy,” then expectation is the nuclear bomb decimating a marital landscape. Early on in our marriage, we spent the majority of our time together trying to fit into some preconceived mold of a godly marriage. Me: domestic goddess, children maker, quiet and humble, meek and submissive, the puppy dog following the master. Dave: manly man, leader extraordinaire and money maker, choice taker and future determiner, calculating and decisive. (I may be exaggerating, but sadly not by much.) It doesn’t work…because it was not who we were. It is not who we are. And living an inauthentic life alone is difficult enough, much less with another person also faking it. We have learned that the minute “should” enters into the conversation (“we should be doing x; we should have y; we should look like z”), trouble breweth.
  • Adventure. We left the midwest for a lifestyle that drew us…a life of adventure. From naps during afternoon thunderstorms to reading lazily in porch swings to traveling near and far to climbing mountains to yoga to petting wolves to brewery tours to nights in a tent to feet in a stream to identifying wildflowers and birds to shared goals of running in all 50 states. We adventure big. We adventure small. We adventure together.
  • Independence. We also adventure independently. I have traveled to Puebla and London. Dave backpacks alone in a wilderness. Dave plays his guitar. I write. Despite the plethora of shared interests between my best friend and I, what keeps us interesting is our individual commitments to our private selves.
  • Communication. Dave and I make a lot of mistakes and have some issues with which we perpetually contend. However, what I am most grateful for is that we talk about them. All of them. All of the time. Nothing is off the conversation table. We openly and freely and deeply talk about politics, sex, finances, fears, regrets, work, what-ifs, frustrations, pet peeves, attractions, dirty jokes and divine mysteries. And above all else, this has saved us. It is the key to identifying and working through expectations. It is the key to fighting fairly. It is the key to moving forward. It is the key to feeling safe and connected. It is the key to adventures together and apart. Communication. Is. Everything.

To Dave, the one I get to live this glorious life with, happy anniversary. I love you.

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on energy: weapons of mass destruction

I recognize that the minute the word energy enters a conversation, visceral reactions will rise: images of granola-eating-gurus, feelings of heebie jeebies, and slippery concepts like “consciousness” and “law of attraction” and “universe.”

I used to be that person.

Maybe I still I am that person.

But…as I find myself changing the way I view myself and the world around me and the God above (?) me, I cannot help but come back to that word: energy.

I have always believed in the power of language, but that confidence is grounded in the inadequacies of language to fully capture that which matters. When I say I love Dave, that word doesn’t capture the beautiful complexity inherent in our 14 years of marriage. When I used the term Daddy, that did not fully capture all my dad was as a man, husband, and father. And this disconnect between term and essence is all over our current headlines: how can tiny little pronouns like he or she really capture all that is in a full person?

And how much more so with God. How can God be bound by gender? How can God be bound by place? How can God be bound by belief? How can God be neatly wrapped up in letters and bow-tied with punctuation?

He can’t. She can’t. It can’t. I Am can’t.

I Am won’t.

And this is why I come back to energy. In science I learn it. In yoga I feel it. I life I live it.

God is the Epicenter and Origin and Destination of Energy.

And this profound thought intensifies with the knowledge that I am created likewise. There is a weight to what energy I put into the world. There is gravity to what energy we put into the world.

Which brings me to Orlando.

Reflected in the mirrored pieces of our shattered humanity, I recognize that Orlando did not occur because of guns or ISIS or insanity.

Rather the energy of hate compounded into senseless tragedy.  At Pulse nightclub, it was catastrophic. 49 lives lost on the bloody altar of hate. Ripples of mourning and loss and sorrow extend infinitely beyond that number.

But the energy of hate that led to that wasn’t singular. The hate between political parties. The hate among forms of Christianity. The hate between genders. The hate among sexual preferences. From gun owners to gun shunners, Southern “bless their hearts” to pulpit declarations of “for the Lord.”

Body-shaming. Mother-shaming. Zoo-shaming. Teacher-shaming. Sex-shaming.

Hate is rampant in our culture. And the worst part of it is that so many of us are self-justified in our hate.

I think about the little seeds of hate in my heart:

  • Lack of grace and patience for people not like me.
  • Bitterness and anger against those that have hurt me this year.
  • The refusal to boldly declare “I forgive you” to Dave’s apologies.
  • My acute anti-Trump, anti-Republican position.
  • My snap judgments of people, criticisms drenched in arrogance.
  • Internal eye-rolling at parents who let their kids out of their sight or annoying tourists on their phones.

Would I ever take a gun into a nightclub and decimate lives worthy of love?

No.

But aren’t my little seeds of hate invisible bullets of energy that slowly corrode peace?

Yes.

When I heard about Orlando, we were enjoying all the sunny delights of Cancun. But even there, I could not stop thinking about the short book of 1 John:

Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. Whoever loves his brother abides in the light…Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer…love is from God…God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him…If anyone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen…

Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer.

Not literally. At least not for everyone. But hate is an energy that threatens life and light and peace and hope and unity.

Hate turns “my brother” into “the other.” And living in a world of “the other” frees up warrant to hurt with weapons of mass destruction: energy. And as with the law of inertia, once energy is moving towards negativity, it will continue to do so.

Right into a nightclub of innocent victims.

And so I come back to this idea of making peace, not just praying for peace. What I do in the privacy of my own heart and home affects not only those nearest to me, but also the world. With what energy am I engaging? How do I close down my own mind’s gun shop, stacked with invisible bullets of hate?

Hate stops with me and my energy adjustments.

Love starts with me and my energy contributions.

Can you imagine a world full of individuals who did not just tweet condolences, but changed mindsets? A world bound by conversation instead of criticism? A world networked by threads of questions rather than accusations? A world rooted in common ground rather than straddling fault lines? A world of “and” instead of “versus”?

Hate stops with you and your energy adjustments.

Love starts with you and your energy contributions.


 

 

 

 

present. thankful.

bc90113e29ef351de769933bf5fbbb79Early in the lonely darkness, I wake this morning with a heavy heart; how can the absence of Something, Someone weigh so much? As in yoga, I will not fight this pain’s strain; I will lean into it. I will stay present in the sorrow, to the grief. And even in this, I will give thanks. Yes because it’s a holiday, but also because it’s a holy way.

  1. Though I don’t understand it fully nor embrace it completely, grace is more powerful than condemnation, compassion truer than judgment. The Divine, at the deepest core and at the wildest edges, is Love. For this, I thank God.
  2.  I live in a cozy house in the mountains, on a wildlife corridor–a glory this suburban flat-lander only imagined in daydreams. This house, once another’s outdated debt, has been made our beautiful home by my husband’s raw talent. For this, I thank God.
  3. I live and laugh with my best friend, a man of generosity, grace, strength, humility, adventure, athleticism, authenticity, wildness, industrialism, honor, spirituality, intelligence…love. For this, I thank God.
  4. I had a special relationship with my Dad. From playgrounds to cardinals to Frank Sinatra and Yanni to walks to movies, our spirits were woven together. Yesterday in the car, just like him, I whistled along and sang off-tune to a Christmas song. In his absence, he was with me in that car, in that moment. For this, I thank God.
  5. I had a special connection with my Mom. Our stories were written from the same words. When those stories are told now, in her absence, it is not only me–it is my husband. As we threw out bacon grease this week, we looked at each other knowingly, remembering and resurrecting Mom’s conniption fit at such a waste. His relationship with my Mom was a rare and precious gift, now a majestic river bird hovering above and between our love. For this, I thank God.
  6. Though my parents are gone, the utterance of “Mom” and “Dad” still floats up from my heart to glide across my lips. Dave’s parents hold a special place in my life–far greater than the empty label of in-laws. For this, I thank God.
  7. I go to work every day alongside people who fight for social justice. I teach students who teach me. I gift the power of words through stories that matter. My job is a ministry of empowerment for which I am equipped. For this, I thank God.
  8. My sister gets me. We are cut from the same cloth. Reunited by grief, our friendship’s foundation has solidified. For this, I thank God.
  9. I have friends of the soul variety. Tammy, who has been beside me and inside my spirit since I was 14. Laina, who when I am with, listening to her stories, makes me feel like I’m with my Mom. Libbi, who gifts me with the call to presence. These are but one small glint of a massive web of glittering connections spun around me. For this, I thank God.
  10. My body is strong and capable. My legs can take me to the hidden heights of the Rocky Mountains; my spine can bend and bow into peaceful poses of meditation; my lungs can fuel me through 13.1 miserably momentous miles. For this, I thank God.

Like beads on a Mala, I count my blessings. There are far more than this list; there are far more than I recognize with my eyes or name with my voice. For this, for the unseen and the unnamed, I thank God.

the puzzle of a positive learning environment: 10 pieces (glue included)

The adage goes something like this:

Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me.

For the purpose of this post, I’m going to play with that concept a bit:

Ask me a question once and I don’t have an answer–shame on you. Ask me the same question twice and I still don’t have an answer–shame on me.

Part of our district’s teacher evaluation system is how we build the learning environment for our students. I am grateful that I tend to score effective to distinguished in these categories. Once I was asked the question by my observer: how do you do it? If you’ve followed my blog at all, you know how much I care for my students; they’re like my own kids they are my kids and I strive to make my classroom feel like home. This is the why, but not the how, and honestly the reflection hasn’t gone much deeper than that; after all, teachers in our society–me included–very rarely focus on what we do well. For one, I don’t want to be considered as arrogant, or a braggart. Two, we are bombarded with messages that we are not good enough–both intrinsically and extrinsically. But just recently, another observer asked me the same question: how do you do it? After some digesting of the repeated question, I realized there is power in deconstructing how I do it, in naming the pieces–yes for others, but also for me.

So how do I put together a positive learning environment? Here are my puzzle pieces…

  1. Take your job seriously, but not yourself. The job of a teacher matters. It is a weighty responsibility to empower students with the tools to create a better future for themselves. And every day I approach my work in deference to that gravity. I plan intentionally, attending to the expectations of external standards while attuning to the needs of my students. I grade rigorously, ensuring that my AP classroom in the hood could give any privileged AP class a run for its [abundance of] money. I teach vigorously, always focused on a target with both explicit and implicit learning goals. I treat time like it’s a precious commodity in the classroom–and it is, because for so many of my students who are behind, I’m trying to teach them senior curriculum while simultaneously catching them up. I remain grounded in the present of my students’ abilities, all the while looking ahead and creating conditions that prepare them for college. However…all this does not mean I am a stoic. In fact, I would argue the opposite. I am just as passionate about humor as I am humanities. So I sing, rap, dance, burp, cry, cuss, dance, hug, joke, and laugh the deep belly echoes of bliss with my students. I make fun of myself. I intentionally use comic relief like the Old Bard himself… albeit not with that much finesse. Much of this self-deprecation lies in the art of code-switching-a skill my students also have to master. Sometimes I speak street, sometimes I speak in lyrics, sometimes I speak Spanish, and sometimes I speak academia…but always I speak with purpose.
  2. Expect nothing less than the best from students. For all my eight years in education, I have worked with underprivileged, at-risk youth. But really, I have worked with the underdogs of society. All an underdog needs is someone to believe in him/her–even when that’s missing intrinsically. And I do believe in every single one of my students. I believe in them so much I will not let poverty, emerging bilingual skills, or systematic oppression lower my standards for them. I. will. not. All their lives they have been told that they are behind and can’t do what other students can. I will not send that message. My students will read and write and listen and speak at collegiate levels. They will behave like responsible contributors in a community of learners. They will turn in work that makes their brains hurt. They will risk and fail. And I will stalk them until they try again, so they feel the victory of a hard-fought success. In the words of one of my former students: “Every time I walked into your classroom, I knew I was going to be productive because you wouldn’t let me do otherwise.”
  3. Be humble. I apologize to my students about once a week, at least. Sometimes I bomb a lesson. Sometimes I forget to make copies. Sometimes I mess up a grade. Sometimes I lose my patience. Sometimes I’m low in energy. Sometimes I’m unprepared. Sometimes I make hurtful assumptions. But always, I apologize. I do not project an image of perfection to my students. I reflect on how I’m trying to grow as an educator, the mistakes I make and how I’m trying to fix them, and the challenges I’m fighting. In this, I become a part of our community, instead of the one above it.
  4. Teach people, not stereotypes or statistics. From day one in my classroom, I get to know my students as human beings. I give them a survey about who they are. I ask for their music preferences. I tell them about myself. Then, I follow up with them–how’d the game go? how’s your aunt? are you feeling better? I recognize that my students are a series of stories, and to be written into that story, I need to know the plot and the characters and the setting. Though I expect nothing less than the best from my students, I also need to know what is their worst, and why it is happening. Ultimately this comes down to one key skill: questioning. I do not make assumptions (because when I do, I get in trouble). Instead, I question students about the why so that together we can work through the how.
  5. Teach stories (and skills) that matter to people in way that attracts people. Because I teach people, I teach stories that matter. In The Book Thief, we see that friendship allows us to endure any suffering; in The Bluest Eye, we see that our choices have lasting impact on others; in The Things They Carry, we see that stories are salvation. And that’s just semester one! We spend so much time in collaborative discussion because how people present themselves at interviews matters. We spend so much time revising our writing because the people who can articulate themselves are more likely to get what they want. We spend so much time analyzing, because people who know that all messages ultimately try to manipulate them have power. This does not mean I ignore standardized testing and expectations; it means that as the teacher, it is my job to interpret and convey those in a way that matters to people, and not just to the data gods. Part of that responsibility is the call to make learning fun, innovative, exciting, and interesting. In the words of a one of my former students: “Mrs D’s class wasn’t a class. It was the time of day where my mind was challenged and stretched into new ways of thinking.”
  6. Explain the why. Sometimes it’d be nice, and easier, and less time-intensive to just say “because I told you so.” But I, as a human being and learner, always want to know the why behind what I’m doing in meetings or in PD or in life. And so I approach my students with the same dignity. I work hard to explain our tasks in terms of skills needed for the world. I plan assignments and assessments that never constitute busy work, because my students deserve better. 
  7. Read the field and respond accordingly. Some days, when the majority of my students do not do their homework, I stop what we’re doing and have them reflect. Perhaps it becomes a teachable moment about time organization. Some days, when the mood in my classroom seems off, I stop what we’re doing and have them reflect. Perhaps it becomes a teachable moment about stress management. Some days, when I can’t get my kiddos to shut up and engage with the work, I stop what we’re doing and have them reflect. Perhaps it becomes at teachable moment about values and responsibility. You see the pattern. I pay attention to my students, I ask them to be meta-cognitive, and then we find solutions. In addition to sending the message that their hearts and souls matter just as much as their brains, I hope these reflective skills transfer to their lives beyond the classroom.
  8. Build in social-emotional learning. I teach the standards because they matter. I teach stories because they matter. I teach meta-cognition because it matters. But I also teach social-emotional skills because they matter..the most. A classroom without a sense of community does not allow for deep and meaningful learning–especially for emerging bilinguals (Google “affective filter”). Social-emotional learning is the solid and hidden foundation upon which classroom management is laid, from which stories and stories of learning rise gloriously into the sky. The first weeks of our class are spent on community building. It is essential that we all know each others’ names, feel safe to take risks, as well as feel responsibility to hold each other accountable. We do circles about issues in their lives. We tell our stories. We do cheesy community builders. We make commitments. In the words of a former student: “Your personality and way of coping with us and our weird generation created such a great environment that I always enjoyed walking into your classroom, mentally prepared to learn.”
  9. Ensure all voices contribute, and all voices matter. It is essential in my class for ALL students to share. And it is essential for all students’ voices to be honored. To create this, I often do not give my own opinions during discussions. I also often do not respond to students’ comments. This creates a place where I am not the center of the conversation, but another voice in it. This also empowers students to find their voice and use their voice–in my classroom, but most importantly in the world. In the words of a former student: “No voice was left unheard and we always had safe environment to be ourselves.”
  10. Synchronicity. The stars have aligned so that I could teach. I feel blessed that God has made me with a unique skill set so that I could be a teacher. I view my job as a ministry of care and empowerment. When I go to work, I feel a divine synchronicity. I know this might not be the case for all teachers…and so I come back to the idea of “loving what you do and doing what you love.” Such an internal motivation for teaching is obvious to students…especially those who have seen teachers come and go. When they  know I want to be there, it’s more likely they’ll want to be there.
by Rabia

by Rabia

The final piece is more than a piece; it is the glue that holds everything together: love. I love my students. I treat them as my own. I speak to them from a place of love; I teach them from a place of love; I laugh with them from a place of love; I listen to them from a place of love; I build our learning environment from a place of love. And when I mess up, which I do, I am grateful that “love covers a multitude of sins.”


 

For all my teacher-blogging friends, I’d love for you to blog about your own puzzle pieces for creating a positive learning environment. Link to mine, and send me your link so I can include yours!

my valentine

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Irregardless of Hallmark’s imposition and/or your take on a commercial holiday, today is a day to celebrate love. Isn’t every day? So today, I celebrate my valentine, Dave.

His day consisted of what his life does: selflessly and generously taking care of other people.

He is surprising his mom for her birthday (also today) by showing up at her door in Illinois tomorrow morning for a quick weekend visit.

Before he left our home, he picked up. He also spent the day working on my computer, trying to fix the turtle-speed Internet which has been driving me up the wall (and let’s face it, thereby him).

photoHe made sure to SPOIL me with these earrings. And those earrings. And also that other pair of earrings. Yep, three pairs from Holly Yashi–a company I am. obsessed. with.

And he came down to my school today to mock interview a student who is a finalist for the Daniel’s Fund. This student holds a very special place in my heart, and because Dave is who he is, also in his heart. In loving me, he loves my life, my job, my students. So he spent part of his Valentine’s day on a cold, hard chair talking with a senior in high school about how he wants to rise out of poverty to change his community.

And for all my teacher friends, you just know there is nothing sexier and more endearing than a man who loves up on your students.

How blessed am I. Thank you Cupid. Thank you God.

Thank you Dave.

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