Notified

I get a notification on my laptop you are writing in our shared note.

I can see you typing in real time.

Every so often, you delete a word

                        Then the cursor

            moves backwards

                        then forward again,

                                    not because you were unsure of

                                    what you wanted to say,

                                    but because a new word says it

                                    with more precision. 

Like a laser, trying to cauterize the heart using words 

to stop the bleeding, 

to start the healing.

             There is so much to heal;

             there is so much to write.

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Welcome, November

The vibrant leaves fall.
In just a few days, they will be an indistinguishable brown
And so dry
That their veins become like bones.

When the neighborhood kids
Ride their bikes through the piles
of once-vibrant leaves,
I hear the crunching of bones
As the kids scream for joy.

Bandaids and Joy

When we get a minor cut, we might apply some antibiotic ointment and put on a bandaid. We care for the wound by replacing the band aid and checking for infection. Those are reasonable actions that help us heal. Once the cut heals, it’s reasonable to take off the band aid.

Have you ever been tempted to leave the band aid on once the cut fully heals? No? I mean, the band aid could serve as a layer of protection just in case you cut yourself in that spot again, right? So why not? I guess we only proactively guard ourselves with things like helmets, seat belts, knee pads, or safety gloves when we feel like the risk of getting hurt meets a certain threshold. In other words, we armor up when we feel vulnerable (thanks Brené).

If I continued to wear bandaids in every place I had ever cut myself, not only would I look atrocious, it would affect the sensitivity of what I could feel. Every one of my fingers would be wrapped. Playing piano would be difficult, and petting a dog wouldn’t feel the same. Yes, it would be safer, but at some point, muted joy is its own danger.

Productivity storm

A few weeks ago I left a large navy blue umbrella in the back of a lecture hall on campus. When I realized it, I decided not to go back and get it. I didn’t have much time, had other umbrellas, and figured a soaking wet undergraduate had already accepted the abandoned umbrella as a sign of God’s provision.

Today I arrived at work with two large umbrellas in the trunk of my car. When I realized I might need one, I decided not to go back for it. I didn’t have much time, had a rain coat, and figured being soaking wet might be something I was willing to accept today. And isn’t rain also God’s provision?

I threw my hood over my head and slopped across the parking lot and into my office. What will I accomplish if an umbrella already felt like too much work?

A love letter to a baked potato

Dear Spud,

I am not sure if I first loved you, or you first loved me, but it doesn’t matter now. Why we fell in love is so far from the reasons we are still in love. Your perfectly baked, sea salt skin hasn’t ceased to be a delight, but it just matters far less now. What matters now is that I am convinced you are for me and not against me.

Never ever, not once, have you upset my fussy and increasingly unpredictable gastrointestinal system. You stand out among all foods as my stalwart food companion. I love you, Spud, and I’m sorry I have often taken your consistency for granted so many times in my 41 years.

We have eaten so many meals together and I never tire of your company. I hope we have many more meals together, although in time, I hope you start to bring some friends to dinner. I’m starting to think that you might be getting sick of me. Hearing me talk about all the foods I wish I were eating in addition to you cannot be easy. You’ve stuck with me like no other.

On Sundays, when I wrap you in your foil blanket, you remind me to tuck in the edges, just like you like it. I put you in the oven, but I don’t make you go alone. Today you were in such good company there was steam and hissing and much rejoicing among all of you. When you were finished baking, the whole house smelled like love.

xo,

Leslie

Care and Decision Making for Teachers: A Fledgling Theory

My colleague Ollie Dreon recently blogged about care as teachers’ superpower and kryptonite. The two of us work together often, and one theme in our conversations over the years has been how and to what degree we show care for our students and ourselves in complicated and nuanced teaching situations. His post got me thinking about care again, and about a fledgling theory I have, and I’d love your feedback on it.*

Striking a healthy balance between caring for students and caring for ourselves as teachers can be a real struggle, especially for those of us who view teaching primarily as a relational activity. I am going to use “Will I accept late work?” as an illustration of a teaching decision I need to make while considering how to care for students and myself. But first, the fledgling theory in Venn diagram form.

I have found an active tension among three factors when I need to make a decision: my philosophy of teaching and learning, my responsibility to prepare my students to meet competencies and expectations of the profession they are about to enter, and my own well-being. I usually arrive at my best decisions about whether and how to care for my students and me when I consider each of these in relationship to one another.

Will I accept late work? Let me consider this through each of the three factors.

Philosophy of Teaching and Learning: Yes, I will accept late work, because I know that learning doesn’t happen according to a timetable and due dates are largely arbitrary in a college setting. I know that some students want to sit with ideas longer before responding, writing the paper, or creating the artwork. Some ideas have to gestate. I also know students encounter real life setbacks and emergencies that may be legitimate excuses for late work and I want to model the ethic of care Ollie described in his post.

Preparation for the Profession: No, I will not accept late work, because my students’ ability to meet deadlines will matter when they are teachers. I want to prepare them by being transparent and clear about professional expectations of our field. While some deadlines in their work will be flexible, a failure to complete the state-mandated professional development hours by the deadline will result in them losing their teaching license. Outside of an emergency situation, it isn’t acceptable to show up to a parent/teacher conference having done no preparation, or to arrive late for an art show opening you are hosting that 300 guests have shown up to see.

My Well-Being: I can accept late work if I will have time to give feedback on the work later than when I planned to do so. Otherwise, the student’s late work might mean me staying up later than I should, or spending more time on my computer instead of with my family in the evening. If giving the student an extension requires me to renegotiate my own time/boundaries, I should not accept the work.

You can see the tension, yes? I have run many teaching decisions through these three factors. It’s not a perfect theory, and the decisions that have resulted aren’t perfect either. What this theory does is force me to articulate what caring for myself looks like in each situation, and to situate it into the decision making process. This theory also illustrates the constant negotiations teachers make, and why it’s so easy for teachers to take caring for themselves out of the equation just to make the decision simpler. (I’m guilty of that, too).

Teachers make so many decisions, and each of our factors are different. Today I hope we (teachers) give ourselves grace for all of the lackluster decisions we’ve made, and find a centeredness and courage to keep our well being as a non-negotiable factor in the decisions we make in the days to come.

*I once thought I’d submit these ideas, contextualized by a bunch of other theories, to a more scholarly outlet than my blog. But I’m a full professor now, and this blog comes without me needing to respond to the infamous Reviewer 2 who will tell me I didn’t cite Deluze and Guattari (or themselves) enough. Plus, how I make scholarly decisions as a full professor is something I haven’t mapped out in a neat Venn diagram. So have at it, internet reviewers/friends! I need your feedback.

Apologizing to Students

Tonight I sent an apology to the students in a class I teach. I emailed them in hopes that they 1) forgive me 2) call me out if it happens again and 3) feel like our classroom is a safe space to get things wrong. Fingers crossed.

Hi everyone!

Today in class I spoke incorrectly, and realized it as I was thinking about class tonight on my evening walk. Please allow me a chance to try again.

As I was explaining my concerns about this image, I relayed my discomfort with the idea that children were supposed to identify someone with short hair (and big toothy smile) as “boy.” I said something about the hair being insufficient for representing gender and when I switched to describing observable biological differences – you probably DON’T forget that I said penis in class – I kept using the term gender when I should have used sex. These are very different things and my misuse of the term may have unintentionally offended you. I’m sorry for misusing the term. 

The way our social understandings of sex, gender and sexuality have changed in my lifetime are significant and I really appreciate how your generation continues to teach mine the ways in which our earlier understandings and language aren’t sufficient for moving forward. Thanks for giving me grace as I make mistakes with this language. My intention is never to offend or hurt you. If you feel comfortable doing so, feel free to call me out (in class or after!) if you catch me using language that is inaccurate or unacceptable for another reason. I value the opportunity to learn from you about this and many other things as we spend time together this semester.

Leslie

P.S. If you’re wondering the context for our class discussion, it was this TED talk in which Cindy Foley gives a similar example and asks the question, “How can something so nebulous be so concrete?”

Why Am I Still Doing This?

My 19th year of teaching begins tomorrow. I know school is about to start because I’m having back to school dreams/nightmares and my hair is falling out. Last night I had an argument with a university administrator in my dreams.

Right now I’m sitting on a chair in the corner of my living room, hoping the t-shirt I’m wearing keeps my vision for this work in check today. The day’s “teaching” work includes uploading a lot of things to a course management system, testing links, and other technologically-mediated, soul-crushing activities.

In the last few weeks, I’ve been asking myself if I want to continue teaching. Millions of educators have been asking themselves this question, for very good reasons, and many have left. I’ve chosen to stay. There are many practical reasons (a paycheck and benefits), but there are other jobs that offer that too. The practical reasons are important but I’ve realized, they are not ultimately what keep me in it.

Here are a few reasons why I’ve decided to stay (at least for now!):

I love living life on a school schedule. I like the chance to end and to begin again. I appreciate that in this field, few of the annoying things last and all of the great things stay (relationships, mainly). I like that the rhythm of the school year involves time for both work and less work (I’m not sure I’d call it “rest” exactly).

Teaching is dynamic. Even if I teach the same courses year after year, I don’t teach the same students year after year. And, as a result, I don’t teach the courses in the same way. There are a million variables and navigating those is intellectually stimulating.

Related to this, there is no “right.” I will never arrive. It will never be perfect. The cycle of constant reflection and revision is the labor of love in teaching.

Teaching is sacred work. Maybe when I have the opportunity to think about this work in retrospect, I’ll understand why. But for now, there are whispers of the sacredness of this work that are unmistakeable and significant.

So many of the relationships that started in my classroom grow into life-giving friendships and collaborations. I work with pre-service art teachers who take jobs in local schools. Then those former students offer to host current students for field work, and invite me to collaborate on projects. They present at local conferences and I get to learn from them. They text me hilarious updates from their classrooms, invite me to their major life event celebrations, and ask to meet up to talk through situations they’re navigating. Doing this job in the midst of a community of former students that I now call friends keeps me in it on the hard days.

There are jobs that are far easier than this one. There is so much “noise” in public education. There are so many issues students bring to the classroom, so few good leaders, and so much public scrutiny. I understand and support those of my colleagues who have chosen to leave.

For this year, I’m staying, and it felt important to remind myself why. Even the technologically-mediated, soul-crushing parts of teaching are an act of love. When I am face to face with students tomorrow, I’ll be glad I made this choice to stay, and they’ll be thankful the links work.

Reply Recital

What?
What on earth?
You have got to be kidding me?  

I find this to be very disappointing.
I am disappointed.
I am deeply discouraged and disappointed.  
That is disappointing news.
This is incredibly unwelcome news.  

Seriously how much does this cost?  
You gotta shake your head.
Of course, we were not asked for our input.
I would be curious to learn more about management’s thinking here.

What a slap on the face to you guys and the rest of us. 
I am sure I am not the only one saddened by the decision.
Hope is gone.  
☹ 

Outstanding work;
Your outstanding work
Made a huge difference.
You welcomed us,
Personally and professionally,
Investing in people in place.
Many of us have seen the enormous investment you made. 
You found ways to fill the gaps 
We had and will now have again. 
I grieve the loss of this work.

I appreciate everything you have done.  
I appreciate all of the work you have done.
Your work was appreciated.

Thank you for your time and efforts.
Thank you so much!! 
Thank you both for your past efforts on this. 
Thank you so very much for all that you did.

Very sorry to hear.
Sorry to hear this.
Sorry to hear this.

Sigh.

Syllabus Camp

I just got back from syllabus camp, which is an event I totally made up. I first realized the value of going away for a few days with the goal of preparing for an upcoming semester in January when my friend Jen and I made a short trip to the beach right before the spring semester started. So this summer, I planned a more intentional syllabus camp.

I have to re-figure out life as an academic mom about every two years. My kids keep growing up, their needs change, my needs change, and how I manage my responsibilities as a mom and my responsibilities at work shift as a result.

One of the ways I am managing those responsibilities in this season of life is syllabus camp. Syllabus camp is a few days away with long blocks of time to work, a place to take walks or be on the water when I need a break, and someone to keep me company outside of the planned long work sessions.

This year syllabus camp was an AirBnb 10 miles from my house. Paying to stay somewhere so close to home might seem ridiculous, but there were two clear benefits: it was exactly in the middle of where my syllabus camp mate Jess and I live, which maximized our work time by minimizing travel time, and it was in a familiar town and we knew nearby trails, places to eat, and where to buy the items we forgot to pack (underwear and toothbrushes are essential even at syllabus camp).

I am not sure why this is more productive than spending a few long days in my actual office on a deserted university campus, but it is. No regrets, five stars, will do again. Here are some behind the scenes from Syllabus Camp Summer 2022.