This week I am on a rare trip: my in-laws took me and my husband to Hawaii. My husband and I went on our honeymoon 26+ years ago to Maui, and haven’t had a trip since. We’ve been to visit relatives in California and Texas, but for big, magical trips, this is it. I have more to say about this trip, and I know I wrote a poem in my sleep about monk seals, and hope I can capture it from the ethereal realms.
I am worried about my students this week. My husband told me not to, but I am. Friday we had a emotional day. It wasn’t planned. It just was. Perhaps I was feeling the pressure of my current principal and her observations. I haven’t been brave enough to check the PIVOT system to read her evaluation notes from Thursday. We’re working on communication.
So between Thursday and Friday, spring break came in hot and with tears. We all needed a break.
Thursday I planned skits for both TKAM and THUG. First period scholars did a breathtaking job: I put them in groups of 3-4, random count—off and then quick readjustments. They were flexible and marvelous, and except for one girl, didn’t complain about the group they ended up in; and, even the one girl did one of the best performances as the “Tree With A Knothole” and used her hoodie pockets for gum and toys. They rocked it. Not only did they do an amazing job with the TKAM skit strips, they came ALIVE with THUG—we developed a quick list of scenes from the book/movie and the performances were epic. Angie Thomas: thank you. Thank you. Thank you.
Fast forward to 5/6th period. My principal came in during 5th and we were trying something new, for them, the Interview a Photograph writing from my NWP/PSWP days (Kim Norton/Holly Stein). The second period scholars (who are the same as first period) did great. Fifth period, not so much. And this is the first time in six…seven years (?) that students didn’t thrive during this writing. I don’t know why, but I was frustrated. The kids in that room struggle getting out of their own way. And being observed two days before break made me a little nervous, too, I think, because the inner voice of teacher doubt crept in to an activity I know is tried and true. Would my principal see it? The other day she hadn’t heard of CERs and said no one else had heard of them either, so it’s hard to have conversations and share when there isn’t a common academic language.
We moved toward sixth, and I asked her to stay so she could see the kids perform the skits. Again, 1/2 periods share common students, and so do 5/6, with the exception of a few kids. Sixth tried, and what was interesting is for the loudest, brashest, and quite frankly bluntest group, when it came to performances sudden and accute stage fright.
At least my principal stayed, and I hope that she saw what I did: that students were trying. They were engaged. And that I care for them deeply.
When we moved to Friday, I shared some simple writing prompts I saw on @jarredamato’s twitter feed:
The truth is…
Due to a funky Friday schedule, I saw my sixth period students first thing in the morning. And I shared a few thoughts. A few angry thoughts, and frustrated thoughts, and worried thoughts. I told them to be aware of their surroundings, to notice when a principal is in the room, and I know how much pressure they’re under. One of my most interesting students spontaneously shared a soliloquy that my only regret is that I didn’t capture it on film. He spoke truth, big truth.
And first period students wrote. I told them they didn’t have to share. I respected their privacy as writers.
And in the next moment, five to six students ripped out their pages and handed them to me to read out loud.
I can’t share what they wrote. We were all in tears. Pages of pain, grief, loss, fear, inadequacy, and shame. Our children are in pain.
Final wish: the truth is, principals are feeling the pressure of districts, districts are terrified of Devos, and teachers are terrified of principals and all that fear points at children.
We are going to have to be stronger than ever, louder than before, and keep fighting for what is right for our children. How? Speak the truth. It’s all we’ve got.