10,000 hours. That’s how long it takes for a job to become an expertise, but the trouble is I wanted to be an expert on day one. I walked into school ready to create the perfect classroom. My students were going to be diligent and kind, and they were sure as hell going to get the highest scores in 1st grade. I was confident and hopeful. I wrote it down—didn’t that make it destiny?
Years from now, if my students forget how to make a green screen on Final Cut Pro and the definitions in our Typography unit, or how to use specific software to edit their videos, that’s okay. Every day when I walk into the classroom, I make it my personal mission to make every student smile. Through my behavior and leadership in class, I try to promote positivity and embody an energy that brings happiness into the classroom.
Teach For America’s Poet Warriors Project strives to introduce reading and writing poetry to middle school students across the country as a way for kids to express themselves in positive ways. One class, in Connecticut, recently tackled some weighty subjects. Teacher Sam Teets introduced Poet-Warriors to his class as a part of their American Experience unit, and prompted his students to put pen to paper.
“Right now, our focus is on African Americans,” Sam wrote to us. “We’ve been talking about the philosophies of Martin Luther King Jr. and Malcolm X and how their beliefs relate to events that are happening in the United States today.”
As I wind up my first semester of teaching in rural Arkansas, I finally have the chance to step back and examine my life for the past five months. Since relocating from the northeast (where I was born, raised, and attended college), settling in down south has been a challenge, but one for which I am very grateful. This semester has been full of firsts for me, and I have learned from each one.
- This is the first time I have ever lived somewhere other than my comfort zone.
There is nothing less fun than riding on a bus. It is a unifying principle of the universe that riding on a bus, even a nice bus, is unpleasant. Young or old, nerd or jock, student or teacher, riding on a bus is a fate that should be reserved for those who perpetrated a capital crime and no one else.
As I write this post, I am in hour 4.5 of a 6-hour trip from Memphis to Nashville and back, and I can report that the struggle is real. Here four reasons bus rides are my least favorite parts of my job (despite the awesome field trips they bookend):
It is a cool afternoon in September. My stomach aches, my hands are sweaty, and I’m standing at the whiteboard of a local school, apparently to help prep them for PSATs. I shouldn’t be so nervous—I did something like this for two years under more emotionally taxing circumstances. Still, I haven’t been in front of a classroom for nearly the same amount of time, and every fear I had about myself as a teacher starts racing through my head:
What if I can’t do this?
Apologies require the highest level of human capacity: mindful self-reflection and the ability to acknowledge another person’s experience. If that isn’t hard enough, it often requires putting ourselves in a position of vulnerability—often to the person to whom we are apologizing.
That’s why no one has ever woken up in the morning excited because they have to apologize to someone. Of course, it feels better in the long run, and yes, it’s the “right” thing to do, but usually we dread these moments. It’s why we so often come up with reasons not to apologize, like refusing to believe we’re wrong, excusing our behavior, blaming the other person, or thinking nothing we say will make a difference.
Adults often have the best of intentions; however, the way we teach children to apologize is often counterproductive. We often force them to apologize when they don’t mean it or we don’t understand what’s really going on. We demand they apologize, get angry with them when they refuse, and then don’t think to revisit what happened later when they’ve been given a chance to self-reflect. Or, we make them apologize but don’t realize or know what to do when they only apologize to get themselves out of trouble.
But there is a lot on the line: how you as a teacher model and teach giving and accepting apologies matters. If you handle these moments well, you are giving young people a foundation for their ethical development. If you don’t, you miss a critical opportunity to demonstrate your values in action and it decreases your credibility as an ethical authority figure.
Whether we’re looking up from a front porch on a warm June evening or watching from the beach as people dance around, there’s no better time for stargazing than in the summer. This week, we’ve compiled seven Poet Warriors poems about the stars; take a moment to read through them, look up, and step into the summertime dreamings of our students.
Read the full poems: