Gatekeeping Greatness

I started this school year promising to do things differently than in the past. I am teaching English 30-1 which is the Alberta equivalent of Senior English, I guess. In the past, this course has been primarily test-focused; students spent most of the time learning to take a high-stakes test at the end of the year. The year consists of Critical Analytical essays, reading comprehension, reading Shakespeare (not that it is a bad thing), and minimal opportunity to explore what interests them. Time is such an issue. This year I decided that I wanted the students of room 157 to have the chance to dream with me, to explore what interests them, to approach learning in new ways. And we are. We have started looking at multimodal representation. Students are taking time to explore different ways to respond to text. We are writing about ourselves and exploring essays outside the traditional examples. Ultimately we are exploring learning.

A hand painted response to Jason Reynold’s For Every One

Students have been creating brilliant pieces of work, and all I have had to do was tell them it was ok. This week, students asked me if they could still submit a multimodal response to a book we are reading even though it is not a “required” assignment. They want to write and perform a song inspired by The Great Gatsby. A few weeks ago, another student made a time-lapse video making bread and attempted to make artisanal designs in it to represent her dreams. The bread didn’t work out; however, the true meaning of the work she responded to came through. Dreams don’t always work out as we intend, but that doesn’t mean we give up on them.

The joy that quietly moved through room 157 while students worked on their self explorations of theme was palpable.

This year’s class is not the first that I have explored multimodal work, choice writing, and inquiry. Last year the class that we all affectionately referred to as “The Patchwork” because it was a mix of students from different grade levels and abilities, created masterpieces in both writing and design. They were my inspiration for this year’s journey. Sadly, it seems that so many kids in their shoes would never have had this opportunity because this kind of work is often reserved for the top achievers. There sadly seems to be some bias established that only the best students should have access to freedom to explore. That students who struggle and need help or “intervention” can’t possibly benefit from work that is not the traditionally accepted form. That “enrichment” is reserved for the top students or whatever label you crown them with.

There is gatekeeping in education where students who struggle to succeed in the traditional setting seem to be locked into it until they either give in to it or give up on themselves. The secret that I have discovered is that allowing all students to explore learning together levels the playing field. Last year the Patchwork kids wrote some of the best poetry I have heard; they pursued areas of interest. They also started writing better and reading more. We probably wrote more than the “high achieving” classes. We trusted each other and embraced our strengths lifting each other along the way.

The dreams I have for education are fluid ones. They move with the bumps along the way. But I will keep jumping and hoping things work out because the alternative means I am not serving all my students.

All students deserve a chance to explore and learn and celebrate who they are. Not just as people but also as students and learners on their journey. Shame on those who lack the belief that all students have greatness just waiting to shine.

There is room in Room 157 if you want to join us, heck we just moved to a Theatre.

Learning Alongside Them

Theatre Learning

I spend a lot of time dreaming of changes in education. The more and more those dreams start to slip away I wonder how long I will continue with this work. Teaching is really hard; It has become harder because of the pandemic and the related fall-out. When Covid started, I thought maybe there was a chance we could make some big changes. Sadly education just fell back on what was comfortable. The tests, the data, the reduction of kids to numbers and labels. But I am going to continue dreaming.

I started this year with the dream to reimagine how to teach English. Student focused, Grade-less*, Multi-genre and Multimodal. Leaning on the brilliant words of others to inspire use. I invited my students to dream with me. At first, I think they doubted me. Maybe doubted my commitment to this dream, maybe doubted themselves.

We watched Jason Reynolds perform For Everyone and I asked the student to pull lines that had some kind of impact on them. From there I talked to them about multimodal composition, exploring different ways to represent our thinking. Then I asked them to jump. Just to try it. This week the brilliance that silly tests won’t measure shined bright as assignments started coming

This week I have listened to and read poems, viewed works of art, and been moved by stories of bread. Freedom to dream and think about ways to allow our students to show their whole self is what will fuel this year.

I am choosing to focus on the brilliance that comes from these almost adult humans because I have lost faith that the test driven systems see them at all.

When we jump

Earlier this month I had the honour of sitting in community with shea martin and a few others as shea talked with us about dreaming. I have not really considered the power of dreaming before listening to shea and another brilliant educator, lizzie fortin, a few summers ago. Now I think about it all the time. I dream of better schools, I dream of better opportunities for my students and myself.

Over the last few years Covid has really wreaked havoc on aspects of the education system. A lot of promises to reimagine or change the way things were done were made. Most didn’t happen, however one change, at least for two years, was excellent. No standardized tests. That coupled with a grade-less, learning centred approach really had a positive impact on my students.

Slowly students took chances. The weight of failure removed, kids discovered they were writers, creators, and poets. They created, they explored language. We dove into multimodal composition. These were the Patchwork kids, a class who didn’t know it when we started but realized pretty quick they were joining a dreamer. This little class was a mix of 3 different classes. Schedules and numbers made it necessary but the freedom to explore made us a community. I loved that class and the work that came out of it inspired me to keep chasing after this little dream I have.

This year the tests are back. I have had some folks tell me that I wouldn’t be able to teach the same way. That test preparation needs to take the place of dreaming big. “Do you really think you can get them ready for this?” This being a test. The question caused me to doubt myself for a bit. I still doubt myself. But I never doubt the kids.

We have already started writing, the students are starting to discover who they are as writers and we will proudly walk into a test room ready to write. A student mentioned the other day how much they hate school because it tells you what to do and how to learn but they liked my class because I didn’t. I give them the room to explore.

This week I wanted to introduce the class to multimodal work. We watched Jason Reynolds For Everyone and students collected lines that moved them. Today they started creating blueprints of ideas to share those lines with our classroom community. So many cool ideas.

There is some kind of cool levelling of the playing field when we start to operate outside the standardized approach to education. That freedom to breathe without the expectations of a test sitting on our chest. I know the test is sitting in the shadows but for now we are going to spend some time in the light.

In For Everyone Jason talks about the ember of doubt. He also talks about the dreamer ready to jump. Ready to take that leap despite not knowing the outcome. I have asked myself a lot if my dreams are too big. If the ideas I have for creating an English class that honours the unique brilliance of all my students is something better left to classes without this test waiting in the dark. In the end I have decided with my toes just on the edge, as Jason puts it, that it is better to jump than let that ember of doubt grow and a fire consume this dream.

So we jump.

What Happens When We Lower The Bar

A few years ago I was listening to Kylene Beers speak about student achievement. One point that really stuck with me was around the role we play simply with our expectations. Today as I was talking to my class her words around students rising to the bar we set came back into my mind.

This summer this little narrative that I loathe popped up. Learning Loss became this buzz word. We saw educational companies and publishers lining up with ways to address it and the snake oil salesmen of the education world claiming how they had the answer to this “Learning Loss”. As the year started off I refused to acknowledge “Learning Loss” as anything more than the sales gimmick it was created to be. Preying on those who felt uneasy about how students did during this uncharted journey back and forth between online and in-person learning. See, we really have not had a lot of time to assess if learning was actually lost. A lot of folks assume it was but there isn’t a ton of data beyond opinion (that isn’t data).

See, in Alberta, in the first year of the pandemic our government established that due to the unprecedented nature of the pandemic students would not be held accountable for any learning after we shift to online, also they couldn’t fail. The bar was lowered. Students mostly stopped showing up. With the bar so low that even attendance and work was not required our students happily grabbed it. Last year was much of the same . Interruptions to the end of the year lead to the bar again being lowered. Students happily met these reduced expectations.

Decision makers lowered the bar, students happily obliged and became accustomed to this lowered expectation. Now we are seemingly obsessed with this imagined learning loss when really students just expect that low bar to continue to be offered.

Last week I told my students I expect their best. They are excellence and we need to remind people that when the bar is high they will rise to it because we are meant to be great. They doubt me.

Students did not lose out of learning. The opportunities were there. If anything students lost the faith that we, the adults, thought they could succeed even when the challenge was great. If anything they lost the sense that the adults would be there to support them when things got tough. Because largely many weren’t.

We chose the easier roads. We chose to not explore new ways to assess and measure the beautiful learning that was happening. We chose to isolate ourselves and not explore new ways to teach. We chose not to break the systems of inequity down and imagine better.

We chose, and now, instead of owning our mistakes, our shortcomings, our lowering of the bar, we are labelling the kids as learning lost.

You can do better. Maybe it is time we raise the bar for ourselves.

The Rules

A student sits at his desk responding to an essay we have read, writing his own piece. As I walk up, I see sketches sprinkled among the words. One of a small child, knees pulled to their chest, and head down; shadows shaded all around them the texts that wrapped the image, “I may be an artist, but I am no writer.”

I wondered in that moment before speaking where he got the idea he was not a writer? The words he had on the page, while unconventionally organized, painted a beautiful picture. He was writing about the importance of asymmetry as a metaphor for the importance of a community being made up of unique people. What better example of this uniqueness than a multimodal creation to tell his story? I talked to him about why he felt this way, and he spoke to the “rules” of writing and how he doesn’t follow them so well. It was not the first time I had heard “The Rules” since starting my first attempt at teaching a senior English class.

We started the year with free writing. I got a lot of, “How long does this have to be?” or “Do we write a 5 paragraph essay?” followed by, “Ok so if not what is the structure?”

I think I have said, “Let’s just start with writing” more times than in the entire time I taught Junior High. These rules that generally only exist in academic writing and more so in High School only exist in High School. I tried explaining that outside High School, writing happens without rules. Our paragraphs are not always five sentences, and our essays are not five paragraphs. Our first paragraph does not have to hit the reader over the head with the controlling idea; there can be nuance. Stories are powerful, personal ones more so.

This news has been really uncomfortable for many in the class to accept, which has shocked me. This need for rules and structure, this hesitance to explore the page with their pencil and ideas, has me confused. It is something I was not prepared for, but I welcome the challenge.

We started last week with Nawal Q Casiano’s piece for #31daysIBPOC, which can be found here  . We discussed the moves she made in the article, the lines that stood out, the themes they thought they noticed, and then I asked them to use this beautiful mentor text to guide their writing. Despite their calls for length minimums or how long it had to be, there were some beautiful ideas coming but the rules were getting in the way of finding themselves as writers. We are working on it, and I am grateful for beautiful pieces like Nawal’s that will guide my students to a bit of freedom from the constraints they have been working with previously.

I am not so much of a hippie that I don’t think structure and “rules” have their purpose, but when they put limits on creativity and tell our students that they must live within a box, I struggle. So we will learn, among other things in English 30-1 this year, that we can learn rules of writing while embracing the freedom of creating without them. Discovering and embracing who they are as writers, and we are going to write—a lot.

To the Classes of 2021/2022

As I sat pondering what I wanted to write after the Alberta Summer Literacy Institute the topics of all the speakers kept coming back to me. The thread that brought everything together, at least in the sessions I attended, was the importance of our students knowing themselves, honouring their identity and helping them to see and honour their genius and pursue their joy. With all the ridiculous conversations around Learning Loss and the mountains of advice people seem to have for teachers regardless of not being in the classroom themselves. The other day I saw a tweet from a brilliant educator that really helped me to frame my thinking more.

There are most certainly some folks that just want to dwell on the deficits. They are somehow stuck in some world where learning and expectations should not have shifted while the rest of the world did. I think the second sentence in the author’s first point really hit home the most. Our kids overcame odds that no one in schools right now has, and they did it is amazing ways. So often we see folks talk about resilience and grit until the kids demonstrated it in spades and now decision makers want to move the goal line. Using words like learning loss in front of our kids or even in meetings with other adults disrespects the work of our students, disrespects the work of our parents and disrespects the work of our teachers. So instead, as Dr. Gholdy Muhammad so powerfully reminded me this week, we are going to focus on students GENIUS and JOY. A letter to my students, maybe yours.

Dear Students of 2021/2022,

Some of you have never had a typical school experience, typical elementary, middle or high school but you have been expected to demonstrate learning like you have. You have missed out on experiences, field trips, parties, concerts and sports tournaments. So much has been taken from you and yet you have performed wonderfully. Rather than tell the story of the struggles Covid brought us and the lost opportunities I prefer to focus on your resilience and dedication. This is the story we should be telling.

You individually bring excellence to our classroom and this year while we of course work on skills I want our focus to be that. You and the genius you bring. The unique qualities and abilities that we can celebrate through the work that we do.

There will be voices that try and distract us from this learning journey with their nonsense about “being behind” or “lost learning” please remember they do not know you and do not matter. They are uncomfortable acknowledging that you have continued to grow despite the hurdles. We can’t measure your learning like the years have been typical because they have been far from it. We can measure how you demonstrate your excellence however. We can work on our community and we can build something great together.

Your parents also deserve much thanks and credit for helping us all get through the last few years as we learned to demonstrate our genius and joy amidst the noise.

We will of course address the skills we are assigned to cover, but we will be giving ourselves grace while we do it. We will explore who we are as learners and as people and we will honour that journey. We will not talk about Learning Loss or entertain the idea that somehow these last few years you did not demonstrate your brilliance. I look back on the work we did in a full pandemic year and I know it is not true.

See you all in a few weeks. I am looking forward to getting started.

-Your Teacher

In Closing

I spent the summer reading and learning. I am started a new journey myself and in a few weeks, new courses, new students and new discussions. I am excited. I am choosing to focus on our shared genius. I am choosing to see my students as whole people and not a test score. Shifts and growth that is the plan. Celebrate the Genius and Joy as Dr. Muhammad said. The rest will fall into place.

Reading is not Monolithic.

“Reading is not monolithic.” These are some of the wise words that kicked off a lecture during my Masters course this week by guest lecturer Carol Leroy. I remember writing a paper in University about Louise Rosenblatt and the Transactional Reader-Response Theory. I laughed a few years ago when I stumbled upon it in my old teaching portfolio (the one Universities tell you to have for interviews but NO ONE ever wants), the concept remains to me as one of the simplest ways to view reading, that reading is about interaction. Interaction between the text and themselves, their knowledge, their experiences, their life. An interaction.

When I sit in my classroom and just watch the students reading I see these interactions. When we discuss moments in books I participate in these interactions. Students who still are working at developing their accuracy and fluency are still interacting with their texts and with their classmates around shared reading experiences. Unfortunately there are people that feel that reading must follow one way of instruction. Separating the meaning making from the word recognition. Claiming that without excellence in the latter the former is not possible. I am here to tell you this is just a marketing ploy to sell programs. The notion that students should be reading nonsense words and strictly decodable books and levelled texts does not sound like the room of readers engaged with their texts I mentioned earlier. As my lecture came to an end a final point was made, “limit time spent on phonics in isolation because it will impact student success when we go back to real reading” Real Reading.

Those in the SoR (Science of Reading) community will advocate for phonics and spelling instruction in isolation from K-8, just the other day Orton-Gillingham, a leading voice in the SoR movement tweeted this very point. PHONICS in isolation until 8th Grade. My 8th graders where reading and writing their own poetry, crafting multimodal/multigenre pieces, reading countless novels, sitting in on book clubs. I can’t imagine cutting out any of these things for isolated phonics work. In K-3 sure but beyond that?

In a recent Reading Research Quarterly article Kathryn H. Au and Taffy E. Raphael state, “Inequities in reading proficiency in higher grades, as well as a lack of motivation to read, can easily result when students gain a mistaken impression that reading is simply accurate word calling.” If we spend the majority of our time in the younger grades our students will stop interacting with text because reading stops becoming a living breathing thing. It becomes robotic.

I remember my sister “reading” a King Midas story to us when she was 4. She had largely memorized the story and mistakes that made sense in context certainly happened but she was telling us a story and reading many of the words. She read that book probably a million times until it fell apart. I wonder if any kids choose Cat Sat Mat books to read a million times? Now as a grown up she leads book clubs with friends. She became a reader because people allowed her to read. She was given a choice to interact with texts.

This year I had a student in my class who has always struggled to read, has had all sort of intervention time and yet frustratingly struggles with novels because of accuracy and fluency issues. I shifted to poetry collections by folks like Rudy Francisco and the incredible Nikki Grimes. He devoured them. Finally referring to himself as a reader. Before that with our singular focus on phonics he resented it, refused to interact. Our children are whole people, why on earth do we only focus on their struggles?

IN the end I believe we must look at reading as both code and meaning focused. The idea that it can only be taught one way is reductive. This all or nothing mentality leads to teachers responding less to the needs of their students and more to the demands of a program and that will cause harm. Despite what some “experts” claim kids can and do make meaning from text without perfecting the ability to decode. However if we make them wait for perfection before allowing exploration we will lose them.

Reading is about experiences it is not limited to just a set of skills and strategies.

A Crisis of Faith

“This is what is best for kids”

Seven words that I use to go to often as I planned and taught. When I went to professional development sessions people would say, “research shows” (another favourite) that this is what is best for kids. Every time something new that was best for kids came by we all shifted.

In reality most decisions are not made from the mindset of what is best for kids. What is easiest, what is most cost efficient, what is going to lead to the least discomfort? These are more so the guides to decisions.

Today a well known (in the Edutwitter world) Administrator posted about how thrilled he was that a teacher on his team responded with something like, “I will do anything you think is best for kids”. The comment had me wondering and then doubting how often that truly is what informs our decision making?

In Florida and Texas they are passing laws banning masking in school while a pandemic starts to target children, here in Alberta we already had constraints put on our response to Covid first by a government and then by local pressures dependent on where you lived. Are these decisions in the best interests of our students? Forget about staff for a minute, hundreds of kids potentially carrying a virus that has demonstrated long term and lethal effects with 0 mitigation and safety procedures put in place. Zero.

What could possibly go wrong?

In Alberta we have a government that is working hard to achieve super villain status. Beyond hiring a racist residential school denier to write a Social Studies curriculum we are taking ridiculous steps backwards in English and Math with an ideologically fuelled regressive curriculum.

Is this what is “best for students”

As I am working on my Masters I have been doing more academic reading and specifically focused on Literacy. This current course is focused on Early Literacy. I have been a teacher for 11 years. I worked with younger kids at the beginning of my career and I learn from legitimate experts in the field of literacy every day. The shift our government and in turn school divisions will be taking regarding reading instruction will contribute to what Kelly Gallagher coined as Readicide on a massive scale.

Students are going to be drilled with decoding work, nonsense words and ridiculous decodable books until they hate reading. They will get to higher grades and be proficient word callers who hate reading because comprehension is hard and making meaning is a key point of literacy that is often ignored by folks pushing SoR (Science of Reading). Just the other day Orton-Gillingham posted on Twitter that Language instruction should be focused on spelling and phonics until 8th Grade. This is ridiculous AND is the direction we are heading because after all those with power think it is “what is best for kids”.

Narratives are created and pushed. Evidence is provided to support a singular claim, someone who carries the title of “expert” sells themselves as the only voice who knows and then creates a program to sell people and people sign up because it is “best for kids.” We no longer need evidence we just need those magic words.

Reading is not monolithic- Carol Leroy

When I sit and read with littles or they read to me the joy comes in the story telling. The meaning making, the connections. I don’t think a student has ever told me their favourite school activity was decodable books or reading some nonsense about and Pat the Ant in Matt’s Pants.

Obviously we must work with kids to help them achieve accuracy in their reading but are we to sacrifice joyful literacy to get there? Is teaching kids to hate reading really what is “best for kids”.

I sit here with about a month left of holidays and I am nervous about what this year will look like. Covid certainly is playing a role in that. Having people tell me they are unsure I am the right person to teach the courses I have been assigned is certainly another. Sitting and helplessly watching decisions being made by a government with almost no understanding of actual teaching to be told their wisdom determines it is “best for kids” is another.

Today I am sitting planning to do work that will prepare my students for the world they are heading into. While I am doing that I am prepping for idiotic standardized tests that measure nothing more than test writing abilities. Because they are clearly “what is best for kids”.

I guess we could call today a Crisis in Faith. An uncertainty that decisions made are “what are best for kids”

You deserve it

Well it has been a while since I blogged. This summer has been a healing journey so far that is much needed. I have been able to get the pool set up, tan, read, kayak and spend time with family and friends and we are only in the 4th work so that is a lovely thing. I have also had some time to spend working on school and I am beginning my Masters next week. Lots on the go.

These last few years have been really hard on me professionally. While I have learned and grown individually and formed amazing relationships with educators from around the world I did not feel that these successes have translated to my school life. I think often teachers invest so much of themselves into their work and this last year I realized that I was not putting enough into myself to balance that scale. So going into this next school year the plan is to balance. Focus on my students and classroom AND myself. The extras can be picked up by someone else. I am excited to try new things, learn and build my practice AND put time into me. I think this summer is teaching me the importance of this shift.

In the classroom I am excited to move to more High School classes. I dipped my toes in this year and the kids created some amazing writing and reflections and I am hoping that as I move up to more senior students that the work, the writing and the discussions will be incredible. The coolest part is that these will be the first students I had the chance to teach when I came to my school and I am so excited to see what they can do. We will be going gradeless and that will be new to them, we will be working in Project Based Writing and Multigenre/Multimodal work. While students need to prepare for an awful government exam I am certain that we can do this through creative, purposeful writing exploration rather than robotic practice. Wish us luck.

The Workspace

On a personal level I have really enjoyed the reading and tanning and kayaking and working out. I am excited for things that I am allowing myself to imagine again. I will be presenting at a conference in a few weeks, I am starting a Masters program. I am looking into securing a trademark for a project I want to begin.

I am guilty of allowing others to determine my value and feeling like I need to have smaller dreams because people resent those who dream bigger. I am grateful for the examples of educators I have met that are chasing dreams and helping me see that I am worthy to go after mine.

A quick update and I hope to be a bit more frequent here as I step up my game.

Teacher friends the last few years have been tough just with Covid, add on our own stresses and struggles and this has been a lot. Take the time to care for yourself. There is not shame in choosing you. Your students will benefit and so will you. To those reading going back to school soon, good luck with the year. To the rest try to maximizing the time off you have remaining. Good luck.

Lessons Learned in a Pandemic

I have struggled to put words to the thoughts and feelings over the last year. Professionally it has been a collection of highs and lows, personally it has also been quite the journey. As the school year winds down I have been grateful to see a bit of light at the end of not just the Covid tunnel but also the rollercoaster that has been my thinking. Things have been difficult but I feel like I am walking out of this year with some clarity. So without further ado, a few things I have learned in a pandemic.

1. Kids are resilient, they don’t need motivational videos to tell them how to be. Adults shouldn’t either.

I have been so impressed with the work my students have completed this year. With the uncertainty that covid brought we explored different ways to respond in English class. We looked at the typical ways but also branched out into multi-modal work and explored multiple genres attached to a common theme. My students readily accepted every invitation that I extended to join me in a learning adventure. While of course some things turned out better than others the fun was in the process. Today one of my kids who was away for 6 weeks because of Covid combined with a government school shift to online said, “I was so excited about my project but it has been such a long time I am kind of over it.” I think we are all over it but they keep trying. Our students don’t need to be reminded of the struggles this year has brought. They are living it. They have shown a strength I don’t think many adults always display. Maneuvering the curveballs with a hope things will get better. I am so grateful for my kids this year. They have anchored my sanity and brought so much joy and wonder.

2. Numbers are just limits

One adventure my students joined me on this year was attempting a basically gradeless classroom. Students selected goals to work towards, I provided feedback and we met to discuss how things were going. For some kids this was more of a leap than they were comfortable with at first. For others they thrived. Knowing that grades were not looming over them students took greater risks. They explored genres and different projects that previously they would have avoided for the comfort of a “good grade”. As we wrap up the year students are writing me to discuss their grade in either a letter format or essay. The reflections are so much more meaningful than just a grade. Don’t get me wrong they are happy to have a “good grade” still but it hasn’t been the focus. Students reflected on growth, favourite work and also what they thought was their best work. They talked about the books. They also talked about their dreams for next year and goals they could work on more. So much more information than 85% on a report card. By removing the grades we removed the limits and allowed students to dream, and they did.

3. Raising the Bar and Kids will reach for it, lower it and well…

My students did cool things this year, down the hall they did cool things in that class too. Across the world teachers were providing amazing learning opportunities and kids were rising to the challenge. I have found over the years that kids will rise to a challenge if we have their back. This year was my first year working with High School. I might have tried to do too much, especially during a pandemic, however the kids tried. Not all the results were hit out of the park but students created beautiful work when given the opportunity. One student explored poetry another podcasting. One wrote and recorded original music and I gotta say a few of them were as the kids say “bops”. The best part though was that they have proved doubters wrong all year. My little group that I affectionately call the Patchwork (we are a combination of grades in one class) they trusted me enough to try and I trusted them to create and they did. I am ridiculously proud of the effort they put in.

4. I can no longer allow people to drink from my cup and only certain people can have what spills.

This is more of a personal lesson than classroom related. This year was incredibly hard for me both professionally and personally. I have gone through several bouts of depression, my anxiety has been out of control and imposter syndrome while on the ropes is not yet knocked out. I also decided it was a great idea to go for a handful of new jobs. Let me tell you something, it is not good for any of the above mentioned mental health struggles to not get jobs you feel you are right for. Moving past that has been difficult. I had rested so many of my dreams on those opportunities, so much of my value. A month or so back my friend Dr. Towanda Harris posted her podcast about self care. One comment was that beyond the empty cup analogy was that people needed to stop sharing from their cup. As Dr. Harris and their guest talked she explained that people can’t have what is in your cup, they can have what spills out onto the saucer. I looked at how much of myself I was giving away and how little I was getting back. I was giving away far more than the saucer. Heck I was giving the cup away. It was in that moment I realized I need to focus more on me. I need to worry less about others because I am not doing well. Those dreams I have are still there, taking a different path to get to them but they are there. I don’t even know what that path is. I am starting a Masters and figuring out where I fit. Filling my cup and being careful not to spill.

5. Determine your worth and hold on to it.

This is probably the hardest lesson I have had to learn this year. I started to feel very devalued over the last few years. I don’t say that to elicit sympathy, it is what it is. I allowed my value to be determined by others and in doing so lost value in myself. Tricky how that works. Realizing this was both hurtful and helpful but it has allowed me to refocus on what matters. I am diving into my own professional learning, building myself back up again. I know my worth and will do better to protect that going forward.

Conclusion

This has been a hard year. I appreciate all the “Brent are you ok?” messages. I am not but I have learned how to maneuver this challenge over the years. Mental health and especially mental health in men is not a topic many people talk about. I have always felt like my struggles have made me more empathetic. These year stretched me, it was uncomfortable but like my friend weightlifting we rebuild stronger. Men should not be afraid to share when they are struggling. I have been… or am but I know it will get better. Heck we have almost made it through a Pandemic, I have grown as a teacher and my students kicked but. My value can’t be determined by others. Dreams might only happen in the classroom or even my office but they will happen.

Eventually.

Learning Lost?

There is this myth of learning loss
That this year was unsuccessful
Too many distractions 
Too much stress 
Kids couldn't possibly be successful 

Through all of this noise
They found their way
Bravely navigating the unknown 
Exploring new Challenges 
Daring to Dream