Where Do the Words Come From?

Writing comes from a blank space. There are no multiple choice options,  fill in the blanks, or answer keys. It is invisible until it manifests on paper or the computer. We arrange the words in various orders to convey thoughts. We move them around and shuffle them until they fall into  just the right spots.

words

I have been writing since I could hold a pencil. When I was younger, I didn’t talk much (which will be a surprise to those who know I won’t stop talking now). I remember just wanting to fade into my surroundings when any attention was focused on me. Just let me write!

In second grade, during show and tell (a school tradition that should be banned for good) my teacher asked me to get up in front of the class and tell something that happened over the weekend. I was already in trouble for having a daily “stomach ache” during math. I am convinced that my teacher believed that I got sick at the same time every day. Even if math was at a different time, I would suddenly fall ill. Who knew that skipping second grade math would haunt me for years to come?

I created a story where my brother was lost on a raft on the Chattahoochee River. I said he was wearing my mother’s dress, and we haven’t seen him for three days. I gave sensory details about the sounds of the water. I described the setting of the warm day and the sun beaming down on my brother, as he floated away into oblivion. I was on a roll. I wasn’t even self-conscious about the ‘pixie’ hair cut my mom insisted I get. Another blog. Another time.

I didn’t get to finish my story, because my teacher stopped me and told me to sit down. Later that day, my mom was called in to talk about my ‘storytelling’. I told them that my story was more interesting than what we really did that weekend. From that point on, my words came out of my pencil, not my mouth.

Many teachers have a story like this. A story where their spirits were lifted or bruised. A story where they had trouble with a subject and a teacher either helped them or didn’t notice. We all come to this job with a vision and a hope that we will do something to make a difference in someone’s life. I wanted to make sure that no child was made to feel that her words were unimportant.

The year I was asked to be the literacy coach at my school, I felt that I had an opportunity to give back to all of those teachers and administrators who held me up while making sure I had a safety net on which to fall. And when I did fall (which happened often) they were there without judgement and made me get up. They even overlooked my leprechaun trap gone bad project my first year of teaching. For the rest of the year, I was scraping green paint off the walls near the window where the leprechauns ‘escaped’.

This is my third year as a literacy coach. My first year, I just wanted the teachers to let me into their rooms. Other lit coaches told me suburban legends about how they didn’t visit certain halls, or how teachers had requested that they not come in. YIKES! I went into the job having been inspired by those teachers who kept me afloat my first couple of years of teaching.

My second year, I tried out lessons, implemented county initiatives, and got a global understanding of literacy from the view of the teachers and the students. Of course, there were many days I felt useless, and hoped to just inspire a student to write, or a teacher to teach writing with more confidence than the day before.

This year, I had a rather bumpy start because of some personal setbacks. I had a complete paradigm shift in my understanding of human nature. My suburban village was by my side at a very difficult time, and I am more grateful to them then ever. But, I tried to write, but I couldn’t find the words anymore. They danced around me, and I was unable to pick the right ones. If I couldn’t find my own words, how could I teach others to find theirs? Writing has always been so cathartic to me. This was more than writer’s block, it was a semantic void.

I taught writing in various classrooms last week.  The small people found all the words I was missing. They grabbed them from the air. They found them under their desks. They pulled them from their book bags. The scraped them from the floor. There were plenty to go around.

Not only did my words come back, but so did my spirit. After thirteen years in education, I still love my job. When we let our guard down, and the kids in-we can find all of our words.

K

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Gratitude.

Collective grief is the only way to describe what happened in our school the Monday after the Connecticut school shootings. During car duty, I thought about the parents who kissed their children good-bye that morning. I thought about how those parents didn’t know that they would never see their children again. Without talking, I knew we were all thinking about our own children, and how we couldn’t survive such a tragedy.

The new years come without our permission. We may have unfinished business, or maybe we are still wondering what would happen we had made alternate choices. What could have been different?

When I see a car accident, sometimes I think, That could have been me, if I were here five minutes ago. And usually, I think about what may have delayed me. I wonder about our place in the world, and how many times I will be afforded a coincidental delay. It just isn’t enough to fully appreciate our lives when tragedy happens. But, sometimes we do.

We look for messages in tragedies. There is no message in the Connecticut incident. Sandy Hook Elementary is the new school for the survivors of the shooting last month. I read this quote from the attached article:

Sandy Hook Elementary School parent Vinny Alvarez says he took advantage of an open house at his daughter’s new school to thank a teacher who helped protect her class from a rampaging gunmanSandy Hook

This scenario isn’t something for which we could ever be prepared. How does a teacher shift from teaching, to saving the lives of his or her students? Where did that courage come from? Is it in all of us? I am amazed by the human condition.

We wonder how we got here, and how to prevent such events from happening again. I still think of the faces of the victims. I think about what must have happened that day; I cannot fathom any of it. If the domino had fallen another way, could the outcome have changed?

As the holiday season comes to a screeching halt, and I begrudgingly resume my episodic days, I can only be grateful to have a rut. This year, for me, has been a challenge. My nineteen-year marriage ended, I sent my eldest daughter to college, and I earned another degree. These life events are insignificant when images of that day fill the minds of parents and educators across the country. It didn’t happen to us. But, what if it had?

The moment 2012 came to a close, I felt nothing but gratitude. Gratitude for the ugly parts as well as the momentous occasions. Gratitude for my daughters, my family, my friends, my job, and for a few coincidental delays.

K

Invasion of the Recycling Bins

My environmental science class is slowly altering me, like the pods-I’m slowly being taken over, and there will be another, just like me-reducing, reusing, and recycling. I’ve been aware, and haphazardly tossing my La Croix, snob water, cans into the recycling bins. But, after a few weeks of environmental science, the guilt began to eat at me. Isn’t it always true that our intentions are to save the planet…..later?  I did some research, because that is how I roll before I take on another obsessive habit. Only about 30% of people in the south-east recycle from their homes. More people recycle in the north than they do in the south.

I sit in class with eleven environmentally savvy people. Yes, they are a bit weird, and the idea of watering your lawn with the water from your shower caused an electric stir throughout the room. (My professor suggested that we put a bucket under us as we shower.) Apparently, going green isn’t always convenient, comfortable, or attractive.

He asked us this-“How many of you get rid of your clothes because they are worn out?”

Silence.

Student: “Do you mean if there is a stain on it?”

Professor: “Can you still wear clothing if there is a stain on it”

Student: “Yes, but why would we?”

Professor: “Because it serves the purpose of clothing you.”

I glanced at my new DSW, sparkly wedges. The thrill of the sparkle was cloaked in blackness.

Professor: “What would happen if (those of you who love shoes) were to give up all of your shoes except for one pair that would get you through the season?”

I broke into a cold sweat. My left leg involuntarily shook. Visions of my color-coded closet being emptied made me dizzy. I believe I had the vapors for a moment.

It would have to be like a 12-step program. You can’t go all cold turkey on a shoe obsession for goodness sake!  This idea is not possible, at the moment.

Professor: “How many of you could change your habit of buying new clothes, and only wear clothes from consignment or hand-me-downs.?”

Student: “Sorry, I have to draw the line there. I don’t know what those people did in those clothes.”

Our professor poses these questions to make us think. I began to wonder why I have so many things that I don’t need.

The turning point was our discussion about the book Ishmael. Well, maybe it was this quote that made me perk up one Saturday morning,

“TEACHER seeks pupil. Must have an earnest desire to save the world. Apply in person.” Daniel Quinn-Ishmael.

Every summer, I seek out what will put that first-year-teacher mojo back into my spirit. This just may do it.

The teacher in this story is a gorilla. He is telepathic, and he is able to teach the ‘narrator’ how things came to be. The premise of the book is that there is more than one species on the planet. Sustainability is a collective effort. Get off your butt. Do something. Of course, as I was listening to the discussion, I was sipping from my Dunkin Donuts to-go cup.

Environmentalism is like a flu virus. You get exposed, then 3-5 days later, the effects begin to take over. I have this nightmare, that I’ll be that lady who dries her paper towels, breaks appointments with friends to rinse the plastics,  and keeps the same paper bag for her lunch for three years. I will be shunned, and people will tease me by throwing recyclables into the trash.

It is just that I’ve never met an environmentalist who wasn’t, well….a bit fanatical. I have witnessed, the go greeneries, filtering out the non-recyclables from the recyclables. They are in a frenzy, and we all know never to make eye contact. Because, inevitably, we are the ones who tossed the styrofoam cup into the bin, on our way to some very important place. Now, I appreciate their efforts. There are a few people who try to keep us all on track. No wonder they are manic and angry. They are doing their part, which is way more than many of us are doing.

I had to conduct a data-driven experiment for my final project in environmental science. I wanted to see what would motivate my daughters to recycle more. Yes, there were variables like one stealing from the other’s bins. They both took from my bins, and suckered people to save their recycling. My smaller one, collected beer cans from my neighbor. But, by the end of the month, during the last week-my recycling bins were filled to capacity, and my trash output had decreased. During this time, I became that frenzied recyclist who began following my children when they get up to toss something.

Me: “Where are you going to put that?”

Child caught in the scary mom vortex: “Um…in the…well…um the recycle bin-yes…it is going there.”

Me: “Right answer.” (Insert cackle).

Hopefully, my kids will think about their carbon footprints a little more. I know I will.

This week is the 4th of July. I won’t begin to discuss the firework/atmosphere controversy.

Happy Fourth!

K