Give The Flowers.

Good afternoon beautiful people!

First off, you know what they say about the best-laid plans, right? Right?! Well that was me, last week. Had ideas for not one–but TWO posts. Set up an IG poll to decide which one to do first and everything. Then life got busy, and not only did I lose the chance to write on my normal schedule, I don’t even remember what prompted one of the titles that I had listed. Y’all forgive me–I need to start writing stuff down #notaprofessional

Image result for not a professional meme Anywho. I remember what prompted the other title, so here we go!

Recently, my eighth graders have been engaging in a process known as Passage Portfolio Presentations. Our school follows a curriculum known as EL, or Expeditionary Learning, and one common thread that runs among these schools is creating a space for students to share what they’ve learned in a way that is public and meaningful. At our school, that means that before eighth graders can move to the ninth grade, they must present both sixth and eighth grade work and talk about their work then, their work now, and how they both connect to how they’ll work in high school. This is a very big deal. Their Transitions teachers start preparing with them around February, completing reflections weekly for each subject and selecting work to represent those two subjects. The level of commitment and engagement varies, because some take the process seriously and others do not, but what (should) emerge(s) is a portfolio of work and reflective thinking that these kids basically defend–to family, administration, faculty–and to ensure an unbiased audience—complete strangers.

I’ve sat in 8 of these presentations so far, and though I thought I’d be an emotional wreck, I was actually far too amazed by them and nervous FOR them to cry. These kids are leaving me in 11 school days (hopefully–some of them are playing fast and loose with this promotion thing), and to compare what I see in front of me–these professionally dressed, articulate, composed and self aware eighth graders–with the rowdy, unpredictable, schoolwork-averse sixth graders that they were (and honestly still behave like sometimes) blows all the vestiges of my mind.

But this blog post isn’t about reflections, or passages, or panelists, per se…though it did come to mind sitting in one.

One of the last PPPs that I sat in was for my crew member A. This is her below, with identifying features concealed, since one can’t be too sure about you internet folks, sometimes:

IMG_3854 A little about A: She is a consistently excellent student. She is driven, focused, does her work, (mostly) stays far away from the drama and silliness that can be middle school aged girls, is goal oriented, and has a beautiful smile. She is in my Crew, and sometimes I think that I haven’t done the best by her that I could…and I regret that.

You may wonder why I feel that way. I am a darn good Crew leader–consistent, generous, available. It is something that I am pretty proud of, because Lord knows it ain’t easy. So why would I think that I have psuedo-failed A? It is because a lot of my Crew members require a…heavier touch…than A does. Being consistently excellent, I don’t need to confer with her teachers about her work nearly as often to make sure that it is being done, and being done correctly. Being consistently excellent, I don’t have to use up all my good daytime minutes (joke) to call her mother and beg, plead, wail, gnash my teeth, bargain, bribe or lowkey threaten her to connect with me and gather her child up. Being consistently excellent, I don’t have to hear her name ad infinitum over my walkie talkie or see it in my inbox because she has gotten into yet another altercation of her own creation with another kid. Being consistently excellent, A does her work–her lowest grade right now is a 3.2 on a 4.0 scale. That’s her LOWEST. She rolls with a great group of similarly focused girls. She has her sights set on the competitive high school that she got into. I never stopped to think about whether she truly feels like she has a school mom like some of the others do until recently. My sappy reflectiveness as this process ends has me overthinking a bit and wondering if she ever felt let down when I popped my head into one of her classes–but not to see her, but to G-check another Crew member who I’d just received a behavior write-up for minutes beforehand. I wonder if she ever felt discarded when I did grade check ins on Fridays and didn’t even bother to look hers up, knowing instinctively that they’d be solid? I certainly hope not. 

That was never my intent, but I know full well the slight resentment that comes from doing well for so long that people assume that you always will, and don’t stop to pluck and give you the flowers that you DESERVE for doing the damn thing (yeah, I said it. Fight me.) Who don’t even stop running and tugging the recalcitrant long enough to believe you when you say that being excellent is an exhausting job sometimes, and frankly you are sick of it…but you won’t stop because it is what is expected. Who understand you when you say that you still need your flowers, even if it’s the fourth bouquet this week, because it will always be easier to sit on your porch than it will be to go out at sunrise and harvest what you’ve planted. We sow and water and sweat and harvest ultimately because we wanna eat, but the process is often arduous. Like I told her after her presentation during the questions-comments-compliments portion: “excellent people need to be told that they are excellent”.

Sean Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, talks about giving people their flowers while they are here to appreciate them–flowers being, of course, the love/appreciation/gratitude/respect that people need to keep going. God’s Word, in 2 Samuel 2, in Ephesians 1, in 1 Corinthians 1 and more, consistently speaks of being grateful for people. At my old school, we used a socio-emotional curriculum known as Responsive Classroom, and one of my favorite of their tenets says that children flourish in a space where there is belonging, significance, and fun. (Some versions also add relevance, which I love as well). It is simple really–a kid who comes to school and feels like they are a part of the tapestry, who feels like they and what they bring to the table are vital to the success of the whole, and who has space to let their hair down and goof off will do well. But isn’t that the case for all of us? At work, at church, in our social circle, in school, wherever; we need to belong, we need to feel significant, and we need to enjoy it even on the hard days.

A deserves her flowers. She always has, and she always will. But sometimes, we (and by we, I mean me as well) get so caught up with all of the other things that need our attention that we forget to appreciate the goodness of the people in front of us.

A, I am going to spend the next 11 school days (or more, if you return after the promotion ceremony) giving you your flowers. I hope that you know just how much you bring me joy. I hope that my confidence in your success oozes from my every interaction with you. I hope that you know how 3 years of knowing you has prompted me to not only call out the excellence that I see in other behind the scenes superstars, but also to demand that recognition for myself. You see, I am excellent and deserve my flowers as well.

Thank you, beautiful. With all the gratitude in the world,

StephTheScribe.

 

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Planted.

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Hey beautiful people,

I have spent a lot of time on pages and in whispers talking about the exercise in beautiful heartbreak that teaching can be. Don’t let the Pinterest boards and Youtube videos fool you–it isn’t always pockets full of posies. Teaching is sometimes funky classrooms, 76 personalized handshakes (DAB!) and fun activities, true…just today, I ran “de-escalation stations” with my sixth graders and it was fun to watch them explore stress relief activities such as making their own bath salts and doing a basic 7 minute yoga routine. Teaching IS this. But teaching (at least for me) is also looming deadlines, absent assistance, frustration and what feels like abundant lack–of resources, of good news, and of progress. Sounds sanctimonious, but I sometimes feel like I am running solo on a treadmill and I cannot catch up to save my life. I look at acquaintances that teach in other districts where the biggest headache is parents lingering in the carpool line, and though I’ve committed (at least this phase of) my life to urban education, I flirt with the idea of a richer district, less jaded kids, etc. Then, I feel like an ogre. Its tight, but it’s truthful.

On days like this, however, I remember something that this woman named Didi said to me yearssss ago. I don’t remember the context, but she said something like “your words are divinely structured to bring peace and joy to people around you.” That’s literally one of the nicest things anyone has ever said about me–and it’s also a charge to make sure that what comes out of my mouth builds up and doesn’t tear down. Teaching brings with it some “cuss applicable moments”, as Steve Harvey would say–I’d be lying if I said that every word out of my mouth is “joy to the world”…but as Steve also said “God ain’t done with me yet.”

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I don’t always feel planted–like I am divinely structured, firmly rooted in the thing I am supposed to be doing. Earlier this week, I sat in front of my Crew and ground out angry tears because they weren’t meeting expectations–it’s enough to make you question yourself sometimes. But today, I felt planted, twice. And when I feel God move, I have to share.

  1. A child at work had a medical emergency today, and it left a bunch of children feeling quite rattled and scared. I bent down to talk to a child who was in tears, and I heard another kid above me say “guys can we pray, because I’m worried!” Thus began a round robin of who was actually going to pray, since one kid turned into five…and finally one girl said “Ms. O, you pray, because we don’t know how.” Another said, “yeah, ’cause all I do is say grace!” So the five of us held hands and shoulders and we prayed for the young lady in the ambulance on the way to the hospital. My students know my beliefs, but I am careful not to dwell on them at school, lest I activate the church v state cries, but I’ve had students ask me to pray quietly with them before a test and now this–the fact that they know that they can ask this and I will respond means the world to me. Planted.
  2. A few teachers were sitting in my homeroom this afternoon, and we were talking-laughing-playing music–kinda lesson planning, etc. A friend FaceTimed me, so I alternated between talking to her, listening to my coworkers, sashaying in my seat to the tune of my music and answering emails. Suddenly, the one across from me said “I love your joy. You are so happy.” (or something like that)… It was so out of the blue and I was so taken by surprise that I pointed at myself and she affirmed that she was speaking to me. The funny thing is, I wasn’t doing anything in particular, but she saw something and called it out of me–it’s been bouncing around my head all evening. I can be joyful FOR others even when I don’t realize that I am. Planted.

The Bible says this about being planted–

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season, and its leaf does not wither. In all that he does, he prospers. Psalm 1:1-3

I take this to mean that being planted doesn’t always feel great–there is digging and waiting and pruning involved, after all, but when you are planted in the right place and nourished by the right things, you will see rewards when rewards are meant to be seen. If the soil were completely wrong, then nothing would grow. That doesn’t mean that I’m supposed to stay in the same pot forever, but I have to trust that that Living Water hydrates even my dry seasons.

Basically, I bloom different.

Today, be thankful for being planted where you are–in the professions, the friendships, the places where you are. Search for the meaning. And recognize the divine structuring when you see it 🙂

 

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The Words They Need

If you have ever studied anything having to do with education, be it the policy, philosophy, or pedagogy of it all, you may be familiar with the term “the ten thousand word gap”. If not, let me enlighten you: the 10,000 word gap is the amount of words that children from wealthier, more established families understand when compared to children from less stable, more impoverished households. Some of this is experience based—why would a child from a poor home in Baltimore or Detroit or Chicago have the schema to know the meaning of “jacuzzi” or where Aspen, Colorado is on a map? More of it is because the offspring of parents who work 12 and 15 hour days, balance work and school and are struggling to keep the lights on aren’t usually having the kinds of rich conversations involving rhetoric and reason that you can have when your soul ain’t exhausted.

I hate to break it to you, but the 10,000 word gap doesn’t even scratch the surface anymore. From The Atlantic:

”for more than three years, they sampled the actual number of words spoken to young children from forty- two families at three different socioeconomic levels: (1) welfare homes, (2) working-class homes, and (3) professionals’ homes. Then they tallied them up. The differences were astounding. Children in professionals’ homes were exposed to an average of more than fifteen hundred more spoken words per hour than children in welfare homes. Over one year, that amounted to a difference of nearly 8 million words, which, by age four, amounted to a total gap of 32 million words. They also found a substantial gap in tone and in the complexity of words being used.”

THIRTY TWO MILLION WORDS. How does this not break your heart? I decided to write a letter to the young girls I work with with my take on the word gap.


Dear Queen,

This has been a really rough week for us  Heck, it’s been a rough month—the year was supposed to fly by after Spring break, but instead it has trudged, weighed down by your antsy silliness and my frustration, your lack of integrity and my frustration, my frustration and your…frustration. Here we are though, with 6 more weeks until I set you free. Some of you swear you aren’t returning, which I, a veteran of your parent’s hasty promises yet unkept, will believe only when I don’t see you in August.

You’ve been driving me crazy lately because, after all, it is May, and I feel like I am having to use the precious amount  of words per minute  that I get with you haranguing instead of encouraging and nagging instead of supporting. I don’t like that. PLEASE understand that I hate that just as much as you do.  I want to close your word gap singlehandedly with all that you are missing, and that’s such a lofty goal that I walk away exhausted. 

You, my dear, have a word gap. Here is what you hear regularly. 

No – This is the word that takes away your permissions, shuts down your imagination, stunts your growth and blocks your escape route. Often, it is a response to a decision that you’ve made. No, you can’t eat in the lunchroom because you won’t sit down. No, you can’t have your cell phone in class because despite all the good that could be done with it, all you’d do is make Musicsal.ly videos all the livelong day. No, you can’t play outside because I need you to come home in one piece. No, you can’t go with your friends because I don’t get paid until next week. On and on and on.

Stop – Stop switching. Stop being fast. Stop looking at these boys (never mind the fact that these boys are looking at you and should hold equal responsibility). Stop being so loud. Stop getting smart. Stop cursing. Stop running. Stop being too much and too little and too late and not enough. 

Never – You will never get off of this block. Never be more than this. Never be better that me or your mom or your dad or your guardian. Never win. Never try. You will never get into the school of your choice acting like that. You will never pass. Never  grow. Never change. Who you are is why you’ll always be. 

Here are the words that I want to fill your gap with:

Yes – Yes, you can complete that assignment  You can get it back with a grade you were expecting and submit it again because once you know better, you do better. Yes, you can demand to be treasured and cared for. Yes, you deserve goodness and light. Yes, you can have a hug. Yes, the world is conspiring for your well being. Yes, you are made of the same universe as stardust and high tide and the Aurora Borealis and you are twice as magical as any of these.

Go Confidently in the direction of your dreams. Go pursue that thing that scares you. Go hug that person that you had beef with and fixed, but the atmosphere still feels a little beefy. Go take that class. Go sing that song. Whatever you do, just GO. 

Passport – You loved making food from around the world. You loved trying my Spanish snacks last month and have been harassing me for a new country even with my protestations that I don’t know when the next box comes. I wish for you to hope on a plane and go somewhere where you don’t speak the language. I want you to feel small at the base of the ocean. To taste your humanity at the top of a hike . To be confidently lost in the wilderness is an excellent allegory for your life. 

Freedom – Freedom from your phone. Freedom from expectations. Freedom from an oppressive regime that paints targets in tears and legislation on the backs of your brothers. Freedom from sadness. Freedom from shame. Freedom from the inner city. Freedom from worry. I want you to have a taste of total liberation and get so hooked on it that you chafe under anything that restrains you. 

Home – Home is anywhere and anything that brings you comfort. Maybe that is here in Baltimore. Maybe that’s a beach in Bali. Maybe it’s a classroom in a district that supports your inquisitiveness. Maybe it’s where the lights are always on and there is ample food and a warm embrace from someone who REALLY wants to hear about your day. Maybe it’s her. Maybe it’s him. Maybe it’s a forehead kiss or a chicken box from someone that studied your love language and wants to make it happen. I found my home in spoken word and cuddles with friends and in Jesus and maybe even in him, but my home isnt’t necessarily yours. Find where you are rooted. 

Love – I don’t want you to get to 25 before you know what Love is and I don’t want you to be 30 before you demand it for yourself. Love is high standards and high pitched laughter and trips to the movies and watching you march and stupid inside jokes. Love is also coming back to work with you a mere 24 hours after you told me to get the f*** out of your face and gave me your arse to kiss…and harboring no resentment. Love is giving you 1000 chances to break my heart into fragments with the gaps in your  heart because chance # 999 May be the one that clicks. Everybody in the world isn’t equipped to love you this way. Respect the effort. 

I would be here all day if I continued typing the words that I want to fill your gap with—but these will have to do for now. If I am lucky, you’ll leave me in June fully able to define these words. In the words of Kendrick—-we gon’ be alright. Let’s just continue to add new words ok? You can always use my pen. 

 

Love you always,

Ms. O.

A Teacher Left Yesterday (Poem)

A teacher left yesterday.

She left a note in sprawling cursive on the board

Saying “you are great girls, but life happens”

Code for: this isn’t what I signed up for

Code for: the hell i’m going through ain’t worth the dividends.

 

When you found out, you cheered

Quickly shushed and having the grace to look remorseful

You said “i mean, she was too soft”.

 

Why do we have to be hard to get your attention?

Preparing for battle, helmet against the

Thoughts that tell us we suck at this, that we make no difference.

Breastplate guarding from the arrows of disrespect and disdain?

 

This is one long metaphor about contributions from self to our own inequality/

 

Bad enough that the building leaks, that mice reside within its walls

That antiquated tampon machines painted shut still chillin’ in the bathrooms

As heralds to how long these walls have stood.

Bad enough that bars crisscross windows from the outside and half of

The windows house bolts to keep the bad guys out.

 

These are the things we can’t control

The rolls of dice, the unfortunate of luck

“The price on the menu of attending a city school”.

 

But what of the typeset on the bathroom stall?

BICTH written in robotic text?

What of the throwing of hands and the insults disguised as greetings?

What of the taking pride in making people cry?

What of the mistreatment of those stalwart and crazy in love enough to teach you?

 

You are inhabitants of a world where your zip code and your melanin gives others

Reason to hate you

At the very least, reason to assume they know you

You MUST be handled roughly. It is all you know. You don’t have feelings.

In the classrooms down the street they are referred to as “friends”,

In singsongy voices full of pride and sugar

In here, your friends call you dummy without flinching.

Those with a birds eye view think that you are savage, as are your friends,

As is your family. You are step above beast.

We tell dogs to heel. We order you to sit.

Believe me when I say it shouldn’t have to be like this.

Who looked at you and decided that you are incapable of reason?

That you don’t deserve logic? That you are beyond love?

Worse yet, when did you start to believe it too?

 

When someone doesn’t believe that they can handle your fire, let them go.

But mourn a little bit at the flower that didn’t get to grow.

Get a little angry that people go in and out of your life like

Plastic horses on a carousel. At your age, unfortunately loss feels familiar.

But do not rejoice. Accept, but do not congratulate.

You are worth so much more than ephemeral and sometimes.