As teachers, we ask students all the time to try new things. Things they aren’t comfortable with. Things they have never done. Things outside of the realm of safe and known. Yet we, choose not to do things that push us out of our comfort zone. How can I be a writing teacher if I don’t know what it means to be a writer? How will I know what it means to be a writer if I don’t write? How will I help students know how to tackle the blank page if I never force myself to face it–and defeat it? Writing is a skill. Skills develop with practice. Skills develop over time. I can’t try something once and call it “done” or pronounce myself an expert. I have to keep working on it. Day after day. Month after month. Year after year. And every time I sit in front of the blank page and defeat it, every time I allow my fingers to dance over the keys and thoughts to flow, I am have more experience I can share with my writers. That is why I write.
Back in the spring, when the air was cool, and the sun was warm, I planted a garden. Then summer happened. If you have never had the pleasure of summering in Missouri, you need to try it. It will make you appreciate where you live! The weatherman rates the heat index for us each night on the 10:00 News for the following day. Since June had hit, we had been stuck in “The Air Is My Ocean” category. And then, the rains came. (Rain seems like a mild word. Perhaps torrential downpours is a better fit.) A week of unrelenting, will-it-ever-stop rain. Scott and I joked about building an ark. Thankfully, we didn’t need the ark, and now we are back to suffocating when we step outside.
I decided it was time to check on my garden again. I thrilled to find a zucchini. Last year I had planted seeds and had beautiful flowers but no zucchini to munch. I was dying to share this triumph. I went straight to my desk, shoved aside the book I was reading, and positioned my prize for the Facebook photo I was certain would light up my feed. The world needed to celebrate this zucchini! My dutiful friends, sweet, kind and obviously bored, started clicking the Like button. All of sudden, PING! I had a comment.
My friend, Wendy, had seen my picture and commented:
“He was growing while you were reading with Post-its and a highlighter! So, so you! I had to laugh when I saw that in the background!”
This comment made me smile. I miss Wendy. We went through Reading Recovery training so many years ago, back before we were blessed with stretch marks. (Wendy probably still doesn’t have stretch marks. I’m sure I received her share of the blessing with mine.) If you want to be bonded to someone, go through Reading Recovery training with them. That will do it! But I realized why her comment touched me. Yes, I miss Wendy, she lives in South Carolina now. But her comment touched me because it is proof that she knows me. She doesn’t just “know” me. She knows the deeper part of me. She knows who I am, how I think, how I act. She knows me so well, she knows how I read.
It reminded me of when I was lucky enough to have my own classroom. I would spend so much of my time saying, “I see you, Dakota. You can build a tower that is as tall as you. I see you, Tiffany. You shared your crayons with Quinesha.” Our community was built on being known, being seen. I need to do a better job of slowing down and seeing those around me in my current life–my husband, my sons, my friends. Rosie makes sure she is seen! I have the scratches to prove it. We all have a deep, insatiable need to be seen, to be known. Perhaps if we all spent more time seeing each other, the world would be a bit friendlier because of it.
I rubbed my sweaty palms together and took a deep breath. The office was small and cramped. “I need this job,” I thought to myself. “You are almost done. Keep it up.”
“Do you consider yourself a goal-oriented person?” Stacey asked me.
“Uhhh…I don’t think so. I mean, I just do what I am supposed to do,” I answered.
Fast forward about four months.
“Erin, glad you’re here today. We are having a competition. Coats are on clearance. You need to sell 20 coats during your shift today,” Stacey said with a smile.
Fast forward six hours.
“Geez, how many coats have you sold? You haven’t even finished your shift yet,” Stacey asked.
“Forty-six,” I replied with a grin. “I sold 5 coats to one lady.”
“Erin, the next time somebody asks you if you are a goal-oriented person, do yourself and them a favor and say, “YES!” Stacey laughed.
That memory will forever be etched in my brain. Before that experience, I never considered myself a goal-oriented person. Now I make goals all the time. The problem with my goal making is sometimes -Ha! most of the time- I set the bar really high for myself. I believe it is good to set the bar high, but there are times when my bar setting results in unrealistic expectations.
I have a hard time focusing on the little steps. The good choices. The right behaviors that get me closer to my goal. Instead, I become focused and obsessive, beating myself up for the one bad choice in the sea of good. When I don’t meet my unrealistic goal, I become frustrated, discouraged, and want to quit.
Today I am trying to celebrate the little steps I made this week to my current goal. I am focusing on the good choices I made. I am choosing to accept the choices that weren’t so great and not get stuck dwelling on them. It’s hard. It doesn’t feel acceptable, or fair, to do this, but I’m going to choose to celebrate anyway. Change is hard. Life change is super hard. Grace is good. Small steps are wonderful. Small steps are worth celebrating.
Thanks, Ruth, for giving me a place to celebrate. Will you join us?
I don’t normally review books, but I have to share this book!
I had the pleasure of meeting Steve Peha at the Write to Learn Conference this past February. If you are not already aware of his website www.ttms.org you need to check it out when you finish reading this post. Or, pop over to this Amazon link (https://www.amazon.com/Be-Better-Writer-School-Anyone/dp/0997283106/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1467245391&sr=8-1&keywords=Steve+Peha), buy this book, and then check out his website.
One of my absolute favorite features of this book are the charts Steve and Margot use to begin each chapter: “10 Things You Must Know Even If You Don’t Read This Chapter”. These charts are priceless! They provide you a quick synopsis of what you really need to focus on in your writing as it relates to that topic. But whatever you do, don’t just read the charts and say you are finished. Read the book! There is SO much information packed into each and every chapter. As I read, student after student came to mind. I wish I had the book in my hands when I first started teaching. It would have made a difference for so many of the writers I have taught.
This book is full of strategies, hints, ideas, tools, techniques, and great advice for any writer. It is an absolute MUST READ for any educator who wants to add more to their writing toolkit to share with students. Thank you, Steve and Margot, for making writing and teaching writing to others doable. I can’t wait for a new school year to begin so I can put this book into action!
I opened the door to let Rosie out and noticed the broken pieces of styrofoam scattered across the driveway. It looks like we were the hosts of the Raccoon Party last night. Ugh. I walked over and started picking up the bits of trash, balancing them in my hands. The rays of the sun caught a piece of cellophane. “A wrapper?” I wondered. “Where did that come from?” Then I remembered Sonic puts the red and white disk mints in every bag. Sonic was our dinner at 9:30 last night. (I know. Great parenting. It’s summer. Don’t judge too harshly.)
The cellophane was empty. I looked around for the mint. No mint. Hmm…interesting.
I continued picking up trash. I found two more cellophane mint wrappers. Still no mints.
Today I celebrate that the raccoons that make their home next door under my neighbors porch have fresh breath. I thought you would enjoy celebrating that with me.
Thanks, Ruth for creating a place for us to celebrate all of life’s moments!
Did they know we were going to be driving that route today?
Did they know as they readied themselves for their errands and tasks they would stop along the side of the road to let us pass?
Did they know, when they saw us, they would flash their lights to us as we passed?
Did they know they would open the door of their cars and stand in respect as we drove by?
Did they know?
Did they know the man they were honoring was the one who took me to the park on that hot summer day and had to carry me home when the metal side was too hot to slide down?
Did they know the man they were honoring would make me homemade ice cream every summer? I would wait for him to say it was time to test and we would each take a spoon and scrape it against the beater, filling it with sweet vanilla cream.
Did they know the man they were honoring loved to tell stories? He could spin a yarn with the best of them. The best ones were the ones he told of him and his brothers growing up on the family farm in Arkansas and the trouble they created.
Did they know the man they were honoring loved to play Skipbo and Pitch, had traveled the world, and had loved his family well for ninety-six years?
Did they know?
Did they know that when I saw them, stopping their day, getting out of their cars to stand in respect, that my tears could no longer be held back? They spilled onto my cheeks and spotted my shirt. Their standing touched my heart and created a longing so strong for the man in the white hearse we were following that my breath caught and hitched.
Mile after mile.
Leaving me remembering and missing.
She had to go out.
She let me know.
I should celebrate that.
But when I got up to take her out,
My foot didn’t reach quite high enough over the metal pen and it came crashing down on top of it.
I hobbled out, with dog in tow,
So she could “get busy”.
Instead, she chose to play with her leash and the leaves and the sticks and the bushes while my feet became soaked by the rain-laden grass.
Now we sit, outside.
It is a nice morning for working outside.
She is frolicking in the yard,
I am sitting on the deck.
The chair appeared dry before I sat down.
Thank you for taking the time to read and comment on my slices this year. I can’t believe March is over. I’ve enjoyed getting to know you through your writing.