Educating Esme (or Me)

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I recently began reading the novel, Educating Esme, for one of my classes, and well because first year teaching seems to be one of those fight club secrets you aren’t allowed to know about until you get that degree in your hand, I thought any advice would help me not go into the classroom completely blind. What I got out of this experience that is Esme Raji Codell’s first year of teaching is completely different than what I expected. She does things in an unorthodox way, not only in the classroom, but out of it as well. She blurs the line between what is morally acceptable and what is absolutely beyond being labeled as a “rookie mistake”. In one part of the novel, she decides to look after two of the children in her classroom and take them into her home since her mother said they were going to be taken out of an abusive situation. Granted, while I admire her bravery for taking in these kids, it is still completely unorthodox, illegal and against school policy. There is a way to follow correct protocol and protect the kids all while keeping your job. Not everything has to be made into a play for power or made into a point of who is right, which Madame Esme seems to do a lot.

Although, there was definitely a positive I can take away from the novel. I loved the way she implemented smart, important curriculum into her classroom, that not only helped the children get engaged in the lesson, but made them excited and eager to learn. She did this especially well when she discussed her book club method in regards of teaching Literature. She broke the kids up into 5 groups of 8 and gave each child within a group a specific job – whether it be the person who takes notes on the discussions, the person who leads the discussions, or the person who takes notes on vocabulary, every child gets involved and participates in class. Then the children go at their own pace, give a presentation to the class and are tested individually before the books are then rotated. I love this because the children are then involved, all feel as though they have an important role and something to contribute, and they get exposed to a variety of different genres and novels.

Overall, I found this book extremely witty, innovative and such a great read. It shows the power of teaching literacy in a smart inventive way to make children want to learn and is something I hope to embrace in my own classroom. (Minus the morally ambiguous tactics).

Today’s Words of Wisdom

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So I recently just stumbled upon this on my Tumblr dashboard and I know I know Tumblr is the alternative underground, but something about this struck me. There is something so simple yet so loaded about the commentary. It really made me think about whether or not if I am easily figured out by others or if I come off as closed or standoffish, an enigma if you will. I feel like being a writer at times makes you closed off from the world, just in the way that we need to observe it to find some sort of inspiration. I hope I don’t close myself off, because even though I enjoy observing my surroundings, I too find inspiration in conversations and passing words with others. I mean it might have worked for Fitzgerald, but always for me.

So my readers I want to leave you with this – although it can be fun to be an enigma, it can be lonely at times. Know that it is okay to wear your heart on your sleeve, so long as you are willing to protect it.

Why I Write…

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Since the beginning of time, we as humans have always had this innate desire to feel a connection. Connection – in the sense of having others relate to what we are feeling emotionally, physically or mentally; or in the sense of having a relationship with others, sparking inspiration and wonder in the world around us –  even inviting people into our own secret world.

Recently, I have become obsessed with the contemporary author John Green; more specifically, with his globally recognized work, The Fault in Our Stars. Yet, in the beginning, this oh-so-cliché romance novel turned movie seemed so unappealing to me, even as my peers would go on about how “changed” they had felt from the novel, and how they “would never feel the same way again!” Of course, my curiosity then got the best of me, and I eventually gave into all of the hype. Needless to say, I’m glad I did. Not because of the charming quirkiness that the love interest Augustus Waters had, or even the dry wittiness with which the main character Hazel Grace Lancaster narrated the story (although I did in fact find some resemblance with my own dark humor). It wasn’t even because of the actual story itself. It was because of the love that these two characters had for one another. This is what changed me. How I wanted to have a love that could change my hard, sarcastic exterior and let out my softer, vulnerable self. Green allowed readers to feel this love with the characters, which is why so many people could relate to it in some way or another.

What does a New York Times Bestseller have to do with why we has a culture write? What I mean is that people write because we have a desire to feel, reflect and connect, and writing allows us to vocalize that desire into the words which we could never truly express with speech.

Take Shakespeare, for example. Here is a brilliant man who wrote some of the most iconic works of all time, and has shaped literature to what it is today. Yet, it wasn’t until I was a senior in high school that I realized what the essence of understanding Shakespeare was.  Quoting Julius Caesar, “The fault dear Brutus, lies not within our stars, but within ourselves” allowed me to listen to what Shakespeare was trying to say, how we are in control of our own destinies and no other outside force is culpable except for ourselves. Shakespeare demonstrates that implicit in why we read is the same basic yearning and drive for why we write: in this case, to share our own self-discovery with others, and hopefully, to help them discover something about their own selves.

Here is why we write: We write our own self discoveries and emotions onto paper, only to want and have others rediscover this about themselves. Most importantly, we write to help us understand the circumstances of our own predicament, one that everyone else is in – life.

So if this is why we write, then this must be why I write: when I write, I want to be able to have an effect on people – I want them to feel something – whether it is something small like writing a letter to a friend and seeing them react to my words or a paper being taken into consideration for a Pulitzer Prize, (a girl can dream) I know words – good words – can have an effect on people and the world. I want my words to make a dent on the world. This belief, this idea I hold dear, is a trait and ideal that I want to instill in my future students. They too, can make an impact with their beautiful and unique thoughts.

Where I Write

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“Either write something worth reading or do something worth writing”

– Benjamin Franklin

Since I have been in college, one of the best things I find my inspiration to write in is in the world around me. People watching, observing my surroundings, and listening to the sounds around me, I love to take inspiration from even the littlest thing, and make a story from it. I thrive in a chaotic environment I have found. I put in my headphones and listen to a calming station and zone into my headspace, becoming laser focus on the scenes before me. My favorite place to do this is in the Fairfield Bookstore Starbucks. I do my little ritual – putting in my headphones and zoning into my headspace, and watch the scene before me. whether it be a grandma and her grandchildren drinking a pink colored smoothie, a fifth grade clique planning their next sleepover or a student reading quietly to themselves, I try to find something to at least think about and mull over for a story.

And when I am not planning a story, I just love to sit here in the Starbucks with the great open windows and study – especially on rainy days like the one pictured, with the drops slicked onto the windows, the wind blowing and the water crashing under the tires of cars.

Surviving the Classroom and Other Concerns

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I have been in classrooms for as long as I could remember. My mom was a middle school English teacher, so naturally some of my earliest memories were sitting at her desk and “grading” papers, writing “lessons” on her chalkboard to an empty classroom, but in my mind was full of prospective learners. I have always found comfort in a classroom, as if it were a second home to me. It just felt natural.

Flash Forward to the present. I am standing knees deep in 2-6 year old children, running around the classroom – crying, fighting and shouting for my attention. What I have learned since observing at the Learning Center is that being in a small classroom is like going to combat – you need to be ready for anything, because you can be flanked from the side, behind and occasionally have an aerial attack (that’s right – they may be small but these children love to jump on top of you). That was when I made my first executive decision as an educator – I’m officially teaching high school.

Besides becoming a High School English Teacher, that is the only decision I am sure of. Working in the classroom, and observing these teachers (whose credentials are suspect at best) brings up many concerns for me and what I how I will be as an educator:

  1. Can I do this?
  2. What if they don’t like me?
  3. What if I forever screw my students up?
  4. What if I am not good enough?

I know, these children are small – I want to teach high school but the same concerns still apply.

And just when I least expected it – I got some answers (well some alleviated stress) for my concerns. I went to visit my high school, maybe to convince myself out of the one decision I made or maybe to get a better sense of what I am getting myself into, and stumbled upon my English teacher Mrs. Wild who is part of the reason I decided to go on this Journey. After speaking with her, I realized why I wanted to go into teaching in the first place – because I wanted to inspire students the way she inspired me.

Receiving this Facebook Message from her truly solidified that:

You’ll never understand how much I needed to see you today. Thanks for being one of those students who makes ME keep going! I’m so very proud of you, and happy that you are heading in the direction of education. You’ll be that one to make a difference in the lives of your students! Much love and many thanks!

This reader, is why I want to teach. To make a difference, to inspire creativity and thinking, and to help students realize something about themselves they may not know before.

I may not have all of the answers now (hey I’m still a student myself!) but I at least have the determination and concrete belief in what I want to do for the rest of my life.

So Thanks Mrs. Wild, for once again helping me realize something about myself and for giving me a little bit of sense on how to begin to survive a classroom.