Words Have Power

The night before the first day of school I had my second brilliant eureka moment concerning this school year. The idea turned into a monologue that set the stage for what will no doubt be my best school year yet.

During our last teacher workday my principal held up a handful of pencils and told us that we would find some in our box the next morning to give to the students. Although those pencils failed to materialize, that comment planted the seed of an idea in my mind.

As I attempted to calm my mind enough to sleep, I started to imagine what I would say to each class after I handed them the pencils. I often daydream like this, perhaps it’s my overactive mind’s way of burning off all the excess thoughts spinning circles up there. What started as a half-formed thought became one of the most amazing moments of my teaching career so far, an experience repeated in each class period.

I introduced myself with a few pictures and then told them that I was about to introduce them to ELA. I walked over to my desk and picked up one of my own mechanical pencils.

“What is this?” I asked.

“A lead pencil,” many of them answered, unsure of where I was going with this.

“It’s pretty ordinary right? I could probably break it if I wanted to but I don’t; I like my pencils. What if I told you this is the most powerful tool in the world?”

When I paused for effect, no one answered. I had them right where I wanted. The feeling was so surreal. That level of engagement, which continued to deepen, nearly overwhelmed me. I have trouble thinking of another time that has ever happened in my classroom before.

I continued.

“This pencil can be wielded to write words and words have power. Take for example, my name. I’m sure that most of you thought it difficult to pronounce when you first read it on your schedule. Who has ever heard of Armenia?”

Unsurprisingly, not a single student had. When I asked if any had ever heard of the Khardashians, it was a far different story.

“Armenia is a small country to the east of Turkey. Remember Constantinople and the Byzantine Empire from social studies last year? Well, back during the time of WWI, Armenia was part of the Ottoman Empire, an empire that was dying. A new group gained power and decided that the way to fix their country was to get rid of everyone who wasn’t Turkish or Muslim.”

I had literal chills at this point when I looked out and saw the connections being made in the minds of my students, connections to history or perhaps even current events.

“Over the next four years between 900,000 and 1.5 million Armenians perished in what is considered to be the first genocide of the 20th century. My great-grandparents came to this country mere years before this started but I grew up knowing this tragic history by heart. My parents divorced when I was 10 so I grew up with my mom’s family, the Armenian side. I didn’t inherit the looks or the name but I wanted so much to identify with my heritage. I went to a lawyer, paid several hundred dollars and then my request went before a judge, all to change my last name. That’s just one word, right?”

“But words have power!” many of them responded.

“Yes! Words have power. That’s what ELA is all about this year, learning how to wield that power responsibly.”

I get chills just remembering that moment, that moment that carried outside of class when another teacher told me that a student had talked about the fact that words have power.

As I step back and reflect on those moments, I realize that this may have been the turning point for me, the point when I became passionate about the weighty prospect of teaching English Language Arts to these amazing kids. This year will, hands down, be the best year yet.

These words have power.

Going Deep

When I first conceived of the idea for this blog, I pictured a place where I would dive in and thoroughly explore the variety of topics that spark my interested. I know that I’m only a month in but so far most of what I have written has stayed much closer to the surface than my original intent.

Why is this the case?

I think this might speak to the reason that I have never followed through with my essay goals before. This goal is not the first time I have vowed to put my thoughts about various issues to paper in a logical, coherent manner.

The simple answer is this, staying on the surface, writing superficial words is easy. It’s human nature to stay on the surface, choose the easy path. I learned a lot in 2016, chiefly that good things often come from the deep, significant work.

I knew that it would be difficult to keep up the once a week posting schedule once the semester got up and running again. That’s why I set this goal for myself to challenge myself, promote growth.

I will make and keep this commitment.

Next week I will be back with a recap of January goals as well as February goals even though it will be about halfway through the month. I was amiss in firmly stating February’s goals and I have noticed that I am a bit aimless without them.

The Rest of the Goals

I am a goals oriented person. I derive immense satisfaction from making lists and then crossing through each line. I become giddy when I set goals and surpass them handily. (I should remember this for those many times I attempt to shoot for the moon.)

Instead of devoting a separate post to each of these other goals since that would push non-goal oriented posts until some time around my birthday in July, I will lump them together in this post. There are a few categories.

Health and Nutrition
This ties directly to running. However, running is not the only thing that affects my overall fitness.

Overall, I want to clean up my diet. I have been trying to work on this for years. I think that I lacked specificity and staying power. So, I am going to focus on one or two habits each month. Hopefully by the end of each month I will have acquired a new healthy habit that will stick for the long term.

For January, I have been (since this post will be published mid month) focusing on drinking at least two full water bottles each day including weekends and limiting myself to two Ghirardelli peppermint bark squares (or four mini squares) each day.

As to the specificity of the latter goal, I have discovered in recent years a distinct weakness for this deliciousness. Once I open one, I have a hard time not opening three or four more. Since I think I should cut back on sugar overall, this is a specific goal that I will have, hopefully, until the end of February since for Christmas I received three bags of the regular sized squares and two of the minis.

As to the water goal, I noticed very early on when I started back teaching that the water I took to school in my water bottle often came right back home with me as well. Regular water drinking became an early casualty of my resumed teaching career. I used to drink three bottles minimum a day during the work week although my weekend water drinking has always been less than stellar. It’s all about building a habit through. I have started making sure to bring my water bottle down to lunch with me. It’s still a bit challenging on days when I have duty and have to roam the cafeteria but one step at a time. I also now try to make sure to drink another bottle after school while I work. If I do not finish before I leave, I try to finish on the way home.

Reading and Writing
These two things have been loves of mine for as long as I can remember. Once I started teaching the first time back in 2009 they started slipping away. Other newer, shinier things attracted my attention. When things reached a tipping point early this semester God used the pressure to show me what gave me true joy. I never thought that I would give up keeping up with an insane number of TV shoes but I have not regretted a thing. Back on topic though.

These two things bring me pure pleasure. Thus, I want to prioritize them. First I will name the goals and then the method I plan to use to achieve them.

I want to read at least a hundred books this year. Those golden years back in 2009 and 2009 when I read over 300 books in a single year may be long in the past but I can still cross that century mark.

This is the plan. First, I want to adopt a habit I learned from my sister’s boyfriend and carry a book with me at all times. I would much rather read a good book when stuck waiting on something (like a meeting to start) than scroll mindlessly through the internet.

Second, I want to set aside fifteen minutes each day, minimum, for reading. Except on very rare occasions, even with the highest work load, fifteen minutes is a reasonably manageable amount of time.

Third, I will read for at least 40 minutes each Saturday and Sunday. I will also do this before I start work so that I don’t get wrapped up in something and run out of time. Priorities. This will also apply to days off and vacation except my international trip on which I will not be taking any books aside from my journal.

Speaking of my journal (and writing)…

I want to journal every day and write at least one blog post a week, two on race weeks. Long term, I hope to get back into fiction writing but for now I am focused on getting the tap repaired and functioning again.

First, I will journal before I settle in to cross stitch at the end of the night. I will also write without any other distractions present like a podcast or TV show. Of course, if I am somewhere other than home, I will do my best in whatever circumstances are present.

Second, I will not time myself. This means I will not, for example, start writing at 8:40pm with the goal of finishing by 9. Instead, as long as the words flow, I will write.

Third, I will keep my composition notebook with me at all times so that passing brilliances can be captured and remembered. I may not be able to expound on all of them but it’s better to have an abundance from which to choose.

Fourth, I will establish a dedicated time on the weekend in which to write a post for the blog. Snow the first weekend of the year has delayed this a little but I need to make this a priority. Ideally, I would like to work up to writing at least two posts, one on Saturday and one on Sunday. Depending on the nature of the post, one of those days may be devoted to research and preparation.

Photography
Although this is not quite as much a passion of mine as reading and writing, it is not far behind. While I would love to have more time for all three, I will take what God has given me.

This goal is simple. I want to resume my habit of daily Instagram posting. Just like so many other things, this one quickly fell by the wayside when I resumed teaching. From mid-September until December 31st, I posted nothing.

Part of how I will achieve this goal will depend simply on making the act of publishing the photo a habit. There are, however, a few things that will help me reach this goal.

First, when I have time, I will edit and name the photos in Flickr so that all i have to do on the day of, is download the photo, post and add the appropriate tags.

Second, when I sort anything into the appropriate Flickr album, I will go ahead and name and edit them.

Third, I will seize every available opportunity to take as many photographs as possible. I had the opportunity to do this back at the beginning of January when South Carolina got one of the most beautiful snowfalls. SO often we get a little bit of snow and a lot of ice. This time we got a lot of snow that held off becoming ice until we had time to tramp around and marvel in the beauty while snapping hundreds of photos, 300 to be exact. This will also be very easy to do with my summer of travel upcoming.

Fourth, I need to learn how to operate my camera better to improve the quality. Either that or I need to research a potential purchase of a better camera. This may not happen in the time frame that I would like but if a magical few extra moments materialize, I will make the most of them.

Teaching
My overall goal is very broad: become a better teacher. The how becomes even more important for a goal like this.

First, I want to stay on top of daily maintenance items like the tardy log and behavior log. Since I now use google classroom for the bellringers, I also plan to get them graded right away each day. I have made peace with the fact that this may mean that I stay later than most other teachers but I will arrive home without schoolwork hanging over my head. That is at trade off that I am willing to make.

Second, I want to fully engage with all of the PD (professional development) sessions that we have no matter what I think about their appropriateness or effectiveness. I might learn just one thing but is one thing that I did not know before. Plus, this presents an excellent forum for increasing my writing volume and my skills because the tool I intend to implement is note-taking. I have used it once this year so far and am surprised at how much I remember from that meeting.

Three, I want to incorporate more reflection on my teaching into my daily practice. I am not sure what that will look like quite yet. This might be something that I need to develop over the summer and implement next year as I undergo the ADEPT evaluation process once more.

Fourth, amongst all my travel next summer, I plan to set aside a chunk of time to do some focused reflection on the previous year and make intentions for the coming year. I will return to this goal sometime in the summer to update/adjust the method.

Although this entry turned out to be longer than I expected, it helped clarify my thinking on a few areas. I hope you will continue to join me as I share my thoughts.