Author & Teacher

Another Year…

With only a few hours to go in the month, I need to post a blog to keep my Twelve in ’17 – one post per month – promise to myself.

I’ve written two pieces for the blog this month, and have posted neither. One seemed too silly and simple, and the other was a fear- and panic-filled screed.

So I don’t really have much to say, as I race from one end of the anxiety spectrum to the other, but I will say that more than ever, my obsession with “voice” has become paramount. My voice. My students’ voices. Friends. The world.

I marched in the Women’s March this month. I donated. I tweeted and texted and freaked out and calmed others’ freak outs. I taught. I raised my voice.

I listened. I read.

A lot.

I chose to have my students read The Diary of Anne Frank as their novel study this year. With all that’s happening in the world, I thought it was important to face history head on – and history seems to be following all the necessary steps for a big comeback.

Other than a few idiotic and inflammatory responses, the general reaction of my students – to Hitler, and to Trump – seems to be confusion. Why? How can people be so cruel?

I never thought that teaching World War II novels (I’m teaching another, lighter one (how is this possible?) to my grade 7s) would be this wrenching.

And yet. I’m so grateful to talk with my students about these things. And we’ve talked so much.

Today I posted an Anne Frank webquest, and let the students know that there was a link to pictures of the Holocaust – concentration and death camps. The photos. The details – 800 000 sets of women’s clothing. 14 000 pounds of hair.

I don’t want them to avoid it, or look away. But at the same time I want to protect them from the barrel-bottom of human behaviour. Except, here we are. Again. Pay attention.

I’m trying to get them to talk. To use their voices. “If you see something, say something” means so much more than pointing out those lone suitcases at airports, or backpacks at marathons. If someone is being mean, or racist, or misogynistic, or homophobic – say something. Call people out.

I sat in a PD session last week where the presenter talked about the importance of a student finding his or her voice through journaling. That a teacher should present the material, the building blocks, and the student should build a journal through words and images and quotes that reflect themselves and their experience. Sometimes it’s hard to let them find their way when such horrible things are happening so fast.

I try to remember that my own voice was shouted down for a long time. I went silent for months as I recharged and re-oriented. I am usually very careful to keep my personal feelings out of things at school, but when I re-calibrated after coming out of my nightmare fog, I realized that a teacher’s voice should be heard, while at the same time guide students to where to find their own answers.

I could go on about voice, and my writing, and the healing that had to happen to even want to write again, but it all seems paltry compared to the macro events on the world stage, and the relatively minor events in my classroom. So let’s just leave my issues here for now, okay?

I need continue to be patient with my students and help them speak from the inside out, and not constrain them within borders and boundaries I set.

In talking with them, not at them, they’re teaching me, too.


Show, don’t tell. Advice that works on the page and in the classroom.

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