Sunday, October 17, 2010

Feeling Like a Food

At the end of last week I had a Show & Tell day with my classes.  Yes, I know that's typically a first grade activity, but it had a purpose in my middle school classes.  Each student had already formulated a theme or focus for the blog he or she is about to start as an assignment for my class.  Their assignment for Show & Tell was to bring in an item that represented their blog ideas.  Several boys brought in football helmets or jerseys from their football lockers.  A few brought in political cartoons.  Many students chose to focus on music by having a "playlist of their life" or a "song of the day" to describe the events of their day.  But one girl, in particular had a Show & Tell item that stood out to me.  She walked into 4th period with.....a coconut.

Now this item had all the more impact, because the student who brought it is so quiet and shy in class.  When I looked at her with a questioning expression on my face, she simply smiled her little smile and sat down in her seat to get ready for class, with her coconut staring at me from her desk on the front row.  What could she possibly be blogging about that can be represented by a coconut?!

We started Show & Tell and began going around the room.  Each student introduced their item and then related it to their writing.  Several students told beautiful explanations or personal connections they had to their item and their chosen blog theme. (Have I mentioned before that, whether or not the kids would admit it, I teach a whole bunch of overachievers?)  About halfway through, it was time for the coconut.  The sweet girl who brought it stood up in front of everyone, and with a big smile on her face, began explaining her blog.

"I plan to blog about what food I feel like everyday," she said.  Okay, this makes a little more sense....except I don't know many people who eat coconuts and I'm confused about how you feel like a coconut unless you just listened to a Jimmy Buffett song or like pina coladas....

Then she got around to explaining the coconut.  She told the class that most days, she feels like a coconut.  Like the coconut, she said, she has a hard outer shell that covers up what is vulnerable on the inside.  The hard outer shell wasn't meanness, she said, just a protection of what she didn't want anyone to know was inside of her.  She could show people the outside and keep up a certain appearance, without ever revealing her true self.  And, she said, it was very difficult for someone to crack into what she kept inside.

So that is how you feel like a coconut.

Well, needless to say, I was floored by this metaphor.  I never would have analyzed the connection she found in the way that she did; it never ceases to amaze me how insightful middle schoolers can be....and people act like it's such a tough age.  The more I've thought about the coconut over the weekend, the more I've realized that I'm just like her.  I am just like that coconut, too.  I cover up all the things that make me vulnerable, put on a smile, and focus on making the best of everyday, without ever showing most people my true thoughts or feelings.  We all do it.  Now, don't get me wrong.  I'm not some damaged soul who fakes happiness everyday just to get by.  I truly am in a wonderful place right now, and I love the activities and people that make up my life.  But I've experienced hurt and loss and betrayal just like everyone else has and will throughout their lifetime.  It just took a 14-year-old perspective for me to figure out that I, too, feel like a food most days.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Joining the String

I feel like I've gotten a little lazy in my blogging....but I'm also not going to tell a lie--the past week has maybe been the very busiest one of the semester so far.  In the past week I have:

  • Uploaded what felt like a million assignments to my online teaching portfolio
  • Switched my closet from spring/summer to fall/winter (YAY!)
  • Finalized a thematic unit to teach to my classes
  • Started a thematic unit of social networking with all my classes
  • Cleaned my house thoroughly
  • Finally took care of 2 1/2 to 3 weeks of laundry 
  • Started a PowerPoint for a curriculum conference presentation
  • Went grocery shopping for the first time in over a month
And most recently

  • Got horribly sick and slept for 18 hours straight on Monday/ truly amazes me what utter exhaustion can do to the human body
However, now that all these tasks, both important and mundane, have been completed, I feel so much better about where I am in life.  I went back to school today after one miserable sick day and felt ready to take on the rest of the semester.

On Friday, I started my big "project" for the semester.  I'm teaching an eight-day unit themed around social networking.  The kids will work with Facebook "status updates," take Tweets and make grammatically correct sentences out of them, and, most importantly, they'll be starting their own blogs.  Their pre-assessment assignment was to write an essay about how social networking affects them and their society.  I was really surprised by the range of answers I received.

Of course, I received what I expected from lots of students--"I'm addicted to Facebook" and "Social networking is my life" were common answers on several essays.  However, I also got several student responses that thoughtfully considered the negative effects that social networking has had on their generation.  One response from a 7th grade boy struck me as both thought provoking and beautifully written.  This is what he wrote:

I feel sort of like I'm in a box.  It's fairly large and translucent, but it's a box nonetheless.  I can see, feel, hear, taste, and smell everything in my box, but that's it.  I don't know if there's anything outside.  When I see everybody else--my sisters, friends, and just about everything else, I look at their long arms, ears, and eyes, and see how deformed they look.  They're all tied together with strings.  Social networking cuts out their tongues and breaks their legs.  They don't talk, don't move.  I may be in a box, but it's airtight and free from contamination.  I'm still human.

This is maybe the most beautiful extended metaphor I've ever heard about social networking.  The abstract thinking that this student portrayed in his writing took my breath away.  But isn't it also so true?  Sometimes I wish I was in a box like him, shut out from the world and it's problems and drama.  When I was sick and slept for 18 hours straight, it was kind of like being in his box.  I got a break from Facebook, the news, and every other personal distraction for almost a whole day, and when I came back I felt like I had missed out on so much.  I'm stuck in the string.  So many of us are.  The wisdom of this week is this: If you're going to be stuck in the string, be the positive part.  Several of my students talked about the negative drama that social networking brings about.  We all need to  take a step back and be the positive part of all our networks, whether they're school, family, friend, or online networks.  Be the change you wish to see in all your worlds this week, and I'll try to do the same.

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Excerpt from 6th Period

Yesterday in 6th period, the class was seriously talkative and unfocused.  It didn't matter what I did, five minutes after I had achieved some semblance of order we were back to talking and moving quickly off-task.  This conversation took place as I was reaching a point of major frustration....

Me: Ok, guys, PLEASE stop talking.  It just breaks my heart when you talk!  You know what?  I'm going to make a big heart with lots of pieces and hang it on the wall.  When you talk, I'm going to go take a piece off and hand it to you so you have to think about how sad it makes me when you don't focus!

It goes quiet for a second, and then....

8th grade boy: So if I talk, you'll give me a piece of your heart?!  I'm never gonna shutup!

Needless to say, my discipline technique was an epic fail.  I think the lesson here is pretty obvious: ALWAYS think before you speak.

More to come tomorrow......

Monday, October 4, 2010


In 2005, Frank Warren started the Post Secret project.  He sent out 3,000 blank postcards and asked their recipients to follow three simple steps:

1. Tell a secret you've never told anyone.
2. Be creative.
3. Mail it back.

The response was explosive.  I had heard about Warren's book when it was first published in 2007, but I saw the book with all the postcards for the first time last week when one of my students brought it in for me.  Reading random strangers' secrets felt forbidden, but it was so cathartic.  Some secrets were funny, some were heartbreaking, and some were heartbreakingly funny.  However, the common theme in all the postcards was that it laid out peoples' flaws.  They all got something off their chests anonymously that they were so scared to share, if it could be connected to them.  I immediately connected.  I can think of several things I have never, and will never tell anyone because I'm SO afraid.  I just know that the minute I shared my secret, someone would judge me.  I mean, I have best friends--dear friends who know intimate details of my life.  But there are just some things I think we all feel sure would shock even our closest confidantes.  Those are the secrets we bury deep inside.  They're the secrets we cover up by finding a million things to keep our minds busy, so we can pretend like it's really not there.

Middle schoolers have those secrets, too.  Middle school and middle adolescence is a time in life when we're the most vulnerable.  We still have to rely on the adults around us, but we want to be adults so badly. It's when we start to make adult decisions and probably feel the repercussions of those adult decisions, both positive and negative.  So I thought it might be good to share Post Secret with my students.  Last Thursday for our bellringer, I shared the book with my classes.  I read them some of the secrets and gave them one requirement--be honest with yourself.  I told them they didn't have to share their secrets with me.  They could rip them up, burn them when they got home, whatever they wanted.

However, I did have several students turn in their secrets anonymously.  And when I say several, I mean the majority.  When I got home from school, I read all the secrets my students shared with me.  I sat down in my living room and read all those secrets with tears pouring down my face.  I can't share their secrets, because it would break their confidence, but I can tell you that you can never read a kid by their cover.  Why did so many of my students want me to read their secrets?  It's the same reason I wrote down my own secrets.  We just need to get it out.  We need to feel like we can get rid of our darkest places.  Sure, they're still there.  The things we've done or the thoughts we hate that we have are still there, but knowing that someone else took part of our pain makes it just a tiny bit better.

I took a little bit of that pain from my kids, and I wish I could take all of it.  So what I learned from this activity is this: Don't be afraid to take a deep breath and just let it all out.  We need to share and grow and move forward, and we can't do that by bottling up the things that hurt us or kill us slowly everyday.  So find a person or a piece of paper or a postcard--whatever you need, and let out a little bit of pain.  It'll make tomorrow seem so much more doable than today.