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Monday, January 04, 2010

Sojourner Truth

Montmartre"Every day a writer must cope with a deep-seated paranoia:

I have nothing to say, I've said it all before, I'm a fake and a hypocrite, I write in cliches...When I speak before audiences, I feel as if I have just emerged from a cave to face bright lights and microphones."

Phillip Yancy, Grace Notes, Kindle Location 93
(note: I'm sorry, I do not as yet know how to quote a Kindle location. ;-))

The power of writing. When I read this introduction to Grace Notes, a complilation of Christian super-star writer Phillip Yancy's last 30 years of writing, I had to lay down on the couch and put my arm over my forehead as I stared at the ceiling. How could he know how I felt?

Looking back to December 9, 2005 (my first blog post on the power of Wiki Wiki Teaching) and the over 1500 blog posts, really I had gotten almost afraid. Afraid I had nothing "new" to offer. After all,although the tools change - surely Tech Crunch and Gizmodo are the real "news breakers." Although sometimes I may teach you something you haven't heard of, often last year I'd think of something that hit me, and realize - well, I wrote about that at such and such a time.

But then, I think of the times I "preach" the messages of staying away from drugs and making wise decisions - the speech I ALWAYS give students around prom time (See "Sometimes a Teacher's Gotta Preach.") I know I've said it before, but sometimes, I've gotta say it again.

Here, on this blog - it is partially about technology but in a huge way it is about good teaching, and reaching every child - it is about the journey. I'm not an academician, a high level administrator, or consultant traveling the world. Although I do get out to speak, my 20-30 speeches a year wouldn't really even "officially" put me on the speakers circuit. I feel like a journeyman.

Here is a woman who found the profession she loved (teaching) relatively late in life. She has three kids (two with LD's), friends around the world, a total technology dissector, and she's part of something bigger than herself - this fundamental change that is happening in education where these sojourners in teaching can work together directly. We encourage each other, laugh together, and cry when we leave messages on the page of one of our friends who has passed on.

Yancey goes on to say in his introduction:

"I often have the impression that the words I write have more lasting value than my life." Grace Notes location 146.

The power of a well written word is that it can encourage someone from a distance, in that hidden place that even an orthroscope cannot view. The place between our marrow and veins where change happens. Where we decide that we can pick ourselves up off the couch and return to class with a good attitude. Where we can cry into our pillow so our husband won't hear us (we're afraid he'll make us quit teaching if he knows THAT person is after us again.) But then -- we say, "hey, the nobility of reaching this young mind and helping shape their very future... this is the most noble cause I've seen and I'm going to get back up, shake off and go back to it."

In my old February 2006 blog post, Keep Sight of Your Noble Calling Teacher I shared a quote from an old English book, entitled The Wonderful Window:

A London clerk worked in a drab office in the rundown part of the city in an office overlooking the slums. As he observed the surroundings, he determined he would not let his outlook on life be dictated by the dreariness and hopelessness that surrounded him.

This clerk bought a beautiful, colorful Oriental window that had been painted with an inspiring scene. This was a large white banner with a strong knight protecting his city from a dangerous, fierce dragon. There were castles, towers, green parks, and beautiful homes on wide streets.

The clerk installed this window on a high wall in his office.

When he became disheartened, he no longer looked at the dismal scene below but focused above on the knight on the banner. He felt he was working for that knight on the banner as he tediously tried to make everything balance. He had a noble purpose to keep the city strong, beautiful, and prosperous and safe from the dragons that wanted to besmirch the city's beauty.

He refused to allow his circumstances to determine his outlook on life!
Words can also be a window. How Dale Carnegie reaches through the years and out of the grave into my soul as I read and reread How to Win Friends and Influence People and How to Stop Worrying and Start Living. Those books are timeless. And to think that Carnegie had wanted to be a writer of fiction! He took two years in Europe to write a book of fiction to which every publisher laughed at him in the face. Thank goodness that they did and he became a nonfiction writer! He helps me daily! In fact, as I totally went into one of the biggest bouts of worry of my life after the car wreck my son and I had in December (which was not our fault but my son would have died if I had not paid attention) (See a Piece of Mind: The Dangers of Distracted Driving for more.)

Dale Carnegie may have passed away, but he lives on in those two powerful books to which I cling to second only to my Bible! I need those words of encouragement.

Look at the timeless words of Thoreau in his classic Walden. Though he died in the 1800's sometimes when I read his words, I have to re-look up his bio to make sure he isn't still alive and writing about today! Listen to this:

"Most men, even in this comparatively free country, through mere ignorance and mistake, are so occupied with the factitious cares and superfluously coarse labors of life that its finer fruits cannot be plucked by them...He has no time to be anything but a machine."
Henry David Thoreau, Walden : An Annotated Edition, location 63 (look for the free version on in the Kindle store!)

or how about how man is

"not being immortal nor divide, but the slave and prisoner of his own opinion of himself, a fame won by his own deeds. Public opinion is a weak tyrant compared with our own private opinion. What a man thinks of himself, that it is which determines or rather indicates his fate...the mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation."
Henry David Thoreau, Walden, location 85

What? How can these men write such things? Things that tear at my being with the entrails of my very neurons spilling out onto the paper? Such beautiful words.

Oh, how I love to teach. I love it with all I am. And yet, I find myself turning towards what I wish I had time to write so many times during the day. I envy how writers who have good relations with their publishers talk of the partnership and wonder if such a fate should be mine.

But even moreso, I hang upon the emails I've gotten from many of you. One day, I remember posting a blog post that was just my very heart upon the page and within moments, I had an email in my inbox from a woman sitting in a coffee shop in Virginia who said she had tears streaming down her cheeks because she was about to quit teaching and decided not to. It just helped her to realize that she wasn't alone and this is the career she loves.

But as I pen these words I come back to the arrogance... the very hypocrisy to actually think that I could pen some words that might help someone out there. There are so many people out there who are simply amazing writers - what would I think to add another to them? The writer of Ecclesiastes bemoaned how many books continue to be written.

But that is what we writers do. Writers, authors, bloggers and to some extent, Tweeters. That is what we do. We have a romance with the words upon a page - toying with them like my teenage daughter spins her freshly hot curled hair between her fingers, trying to find the perfect position. Just the place.

Oh, it is such a thrill to be part of this profession of writing. For indeed, I am a teacher - a sojourner with you other teachers out here. Really, I get tired of saying "I" and talk about my classroom. Do my words somehow impart some false sense of perfection to the reader?

I had a boy that I couldn't reach last semester. There was nothing I could do. I wept as I put his grade in the system. Everything I am and have as a teacher is to reach every child... to never quit... to love them and most of all to leave them better than the first day they walked in my room. However, let not the words of this blog somehow convince any reader that somehow I'm the Tinkerbell of teaching. Tinkerbell's pixie dust made people fly but that was pretend! Right now my room is full of dust from putting another 512MB of RAM in those things trying to make the five year old computers last just another year! And that dust isn't golden, my friends!

Even looking above at the last paragraph, I cringe. Oh, to wish I had more to share than just me and my heart. And yet, here I am back here with you... I'm the Cool Cat Teacher, my students named me. I love them and as best as I can I want to share and encourage and help you.

I want to write but more than that to inspire. If you, my friends, can have a happier day and realize the nobility of teaching!

The Flood of Cleaning of the Augean Mess of Education
See, right now, we are all suffering from a flood.

In Hercules' fifth labor, he had to clean out the Augean stables. These stables, to put in nicely were rank, sordid and disgusting. Years of neglect and the thousands of animals driven into the stables every night had made a huge mess.

To put it another way, "A lot of small ignored piles of poop turned into a big old heaping mound of mess!" And that, my friends, is where much of the educational system sits today. It wasn't the fault of the animals - they were doing what animals do. It wasn't the fault of the caretakers - the procedures hadn't been put in place to handle it. But now, everyone wants the stables of education cleaned up and they want it NOW!

Hercules exists only in myths. And after having cleaned out my hugely messy kitchen - a task which took four solid days (after taking everything out of every cabinet) - the only way to clean up messes is with a lot of work and intentional sorting, reviewing, and reorganization to fit the current needs you have. Teaching is toxic in today's world and it is being complicated by those looking for a quick fix and Herculean results in a day.

And yet, there are better ways. Ways that involve involving students in massive global project based learning or even just in-class projects with differentiated instruction and other tools that change everything.

Today in the faculty meeting a long time teacher said that she had finally come to the conclusion that the deepest learning from her kids were the projects - the THINGS they did. That is what they learned and where they remembered.

So, as I ponder and share this prayer with you of wanting to be more for you but also for myself. For truly, writing is a very solitary experience. Right now, my family is in the den watching some current iteration of the Terminator movie series and in the sub 20 degree weather, I'm down here in the office listening to the dishwasher dry the dishes and the dryer buzzer go off with some really cold fingers!

But there is more to life than writing well and oh, I want to write well - but if one cannot live well, is the writing worth it?

A Look Into Tolstoy's private Hell

I consider this story I just read in Dale Carnegie's How to Stop Worrying and Start Living about Leo Tolstoy, who, from 1890-1910 was revered as one of the greatest authors in existence. Admirers would go to his home just to see his face! People would write down his words in their notebooks like they were interviewing the Messiah. But what people didn't realize is that Tolstoy was living in what he self described as a "lunatic asylum."

What started off as a dear tender love with a rather jealous woman and moved towards Tolstoy keeping a private diary in which he documented and blamed his wife for the absurdities and dysfunction of their home. She found the diary! (Ah, Tolstoy didn't know much about women, did he - imagine her nagging and him grabbing a secret book and starting to write - he was asking for it, wasn't he?)

So, then she tore out the pages and made a diary of her own in which he was the accursed villan. She wrote a novel. The title: Whose Fault?

Are you kidding? Dale Carnegie goes on to say in kindle location 1990 of the book:

"One of those reasons [for having such a horrible home] was their burning desire to impress you and me. Yes, we are the posterity whose opinion they were so worried about! Do we give a hoot in Hades about which one was to blame? No, we are too concerned with our own problems to waste a minute thinking about the Tolstoy's... fifty years of living in a veriatable hell, just because neither of them had enough sense to say: 'Stop!'"

So, there is more than writing. If you're a blogger of any type, particularly if you're a journeyman, a sojourner seeking to write and share truth, remember that there is so much more than writing to life; and that words, although they have the ability to bring joy and encouragement to others... also have the ability to ruin lives, reputations, tumble you into lawsuits,and turn your home into a "lunatic asylum."

I guess this all comes back to the real live Sojourner Truth when she said:

"I am glad to see that men are getting their rights, but I want women to get theirs, and while the water is stirring I will step into the pool.”"

The water is stirring for teachers and students around the world with a new kind of emancipation. While the 2000's brought sweeping changes to the record and music industry the 2010's I believe are destined to be the decade of the evolution of publishing. And you can't see publishing evolve without seeing schools evolve! We will evolve and it will either be through our own movement towards change or being pushed towards the cliff by unknowing mugs following the seeming recipe of the moment for student learning.

So, here is my own paraphrased challenge to you.

I'm glad to see that adults are having access to learning any place anywhere anytime and that they can use free learning tools, but I want K12 students to have their own learning rennaisance, and while the water is stirring I and my students will step into the pool.

How about you?

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