Tag Archives: School

Back to School

Every new school year begins with an orientation and for the fourth year in a row, I’m attending a new staff orientation for a few days leading up to actual orientation. This is somewhat frustrating because I’m not new to the school where I’m working now; I was here two years ago and came back after a number of discussions with teachers and administrators who I had previously worked with. It’s definitely nice to meet the new hires and I’m looking forward to meeting everyone hired the year I was gone. My friends are gradually returning to Singapore after the summer holidays and reuniting with them has been the best part of my time here so far.

And so far, everyone has wanted to know what my plans are. That was the most common question before I left, too. To be honest, I don’t have any plans. (And I’m a planner, so this is hard for me.) Most of the plans I’ve made in my adult life have not gone as intended, which leaves me reluctant to make more for the time being.

What I do have, however, are goals for this school year, goals about how I want to teach my courses and what I want students to get out of them. I want students to leave my classes as individuals empowered to affect change that will create a better world for all. A lofty goal, but one that I think is important to keep in mind as we delve into curriculum planning over the next couple weeks.

I had a conversation with a colleague a couple months ago in which we discussed how school would look if we started the year with the following question:

What’s something you don’t understand and would like to?

To answer this question, students first have to admit ignorance. They have to admit, acknowledge, and accept that there are things they don’t understand. And they have to share that with others, which requires trust, vulnerability, and self-awareness. All of that can be scary, but also goes a long way in community and relationship building, which I believe are key tenets of how schools should operate.

I hope that the framing of this question implies that I, as the teacher, embrace the fact that there are things students do not understand and that I want them to grow in their understanding of the world around them. Furthermore, I hope it gives students permission to choose an area on which to focus. There’s a difference between knowing you don’t understand something and having no desire to understand it, and knowing you don’t understand something but want to understand it.

I want my students to take ownership of their own learning. I want them to know that I have goals for them that extend beyond the classroom and hope that they have similar goals for themselves, as well.

It has been my experience that the best learning, in any capacity, comes from conversation and discussion with those around me, so I hope this question provokes a conversation. Asking students to admit ignorance seems to require the teacher to do the same. We’re all learning. We’re all looking for answers to things we don’t understand. It’s a process. It’s a journey.

And it’s so much fun.

This question excites me because, when thinking about my own answer, it forces me to synthesize everything I do understand and from there, determine what I don’t. And then for me, it’s straight to Amazon for book recommendations, which I regularly share with my students when various questions come up in class.

But it doesn’t have to be Amazon, and I hope my students will figure that out, too. We live in an age where information is everywhere and there are so many ways to access that information once we’re curious enough. Learning how to learn is perhaps the most important part of being a student because learning is how we continue to grow as people. I hope to help my students do that.

 

“Who lives, who dies, who tells your story?”

This is our last week of school and it’s hard. Saying goodbye is difficult and it’s not something I’m good at. I hold on for too long. I reach out for too long. I grow nostalgic before it’s even time to say goodbye and I let myself feel all the things I’ll miss before it’s time to miss them.

I’ve said goodbye enough times to know which stories will stick, which memories will make me smile and which will strike a chord that hurts a little bit. I’m lucky to have taught students who ask real questions, seek out real answers, and report back what they’ve learned. I’m lucky to have worked with truly good people who welcomed me with open arms and saved me from my darkest thoughts. I will miss them all.

This year was my sixth year in the classroom and the first year I considered seeking out avenues outside the classroom to satisfy my need to make an impact on the world. I’ve got a few more things I want to do in the classroom and we’ll see after that.

This is also the first year I let myself entertain the possibility of all kinds of change because this is year that nothing went as planned.

So I’m saying goodbye to good people, a good place, and the path I was following when I co-signed a lease for a New York City apartment a year ago. I’m thinking about the life I want to live going forward so that I can be satisfied when I look back in 100 years or so. What will I have done? What will I be proud of? What will I wish I’d known?

As my therapist says, “What does your 95-year-old self say to your current self?”

I needed this year because I needed time alone to think, to take a step back, and to make the decisions that make the most sense to me rather than the decisions that I thought others wanted me to make. I needed this year to prove to myself that I am capable of making those decisions and don’t need to rely on the opinions of others. Being happy is okay. Making changes to be happy is also okay. Putting oneself first is okay, too.

My 95-year-old self wants to look around and know that she’s touched lives in positive ways. She wants to see family and friends who are global citizens, who believe in the possibility of improvement for all, who work to help those around them realize a better, more peaceful, sustainable world. She wants to have taught students who are good people, who help others, and who harness their interests and skills to have a positive, meaningful, lasting impact on the world around them. She wants the people around her to know that they are loved, supported, and affirmed as members of a community. She wants nature alive and well, ecosystems thriving. My 95-year-old self wants clean air and clean energy; she wants peace, prosperity, and good health for all.

So what does this mean for me as I am now?

It means that I will continue to learn, read, write, and communicate my aspirations and ideas. It means that I will continue to educate because I believe that the next generation of leaders needs more than they are getting in schools today and I want to give that to them. It means that I am looking to surround myself with people who believe that we can build a world that is better, more peaceful, and environmentally sustainable as compared with today’s world. I want to be around people who push me to ask questions, find answers, and be the best person that I can be.

Change does not happen overnight and it does not happen without allies. Change requires teams with a shared vision and I want to be part of a team making a real impact. That’s what I’m working towards.

“Who lives, who dies, who tells your story?” –Hamilton

I hope to live my story and I hope to find people who want to live it with me. If that’s you, post a comment below or send me a message through the contact page. I can’t wait to meet you.

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(Dis)connection

I’ve been at a loss for words lately. I’ve been doing a lot of writing but abandoning drafts half formed, a lot of thinking but letting the thoughts go before uncovering them, playing with them, sharing them. I finished three (or was it four?) books this week, hoping their words would color the ideas I can’t seem to articulate.

A total sense of detachment from my own thoughts is strange. It’s like I’m watching myself try to figure out what I want to say and how I want to say it, staring out the windows of this café, half-noticing the people walking across the street. My own thoughts float lazily back to me, reminders that they’re there if I want to find them, introduce them to each other, engage with whatever is tugging at the back of my mind.

I’m an observer to my own mind. I’m lucid dreaming while awake.

On the surface, I’m preoccupied with a field trip, modified school schedules, papers to grade, end-of-year projects to implement. I can’t stop reading about healthcare and I can’t shake a deep sense of insecurity that I can’t quite place.

Oddly, however, discounting the healthcare travesty for the moment, it’s been a truly wonderful week. School was busy and productive and I laughed a lot. There was also a lot of socializing, which, while typical of my life in general, has not been typical of my life in New York. As usual when things happen, everything is happening all at once.

And that leaves me nostalgic.

I’m moving again over the summer (details on that after three more pieces of paper are finalized and signed) and that means starting over. When I know I’m about to say goodbye, I grow reluctant to do it. I grow more forgiving of the irritations and inconveniences I encounter, and begin to see them as endearing idiosyncrasies rather than sources of frustrations. I become aware of opportunities I haven’t taken, people I haven’t truly gotten to know, foods I haven’t tried, neighborhoods I haven’t explored, music I haven’t heard, sights I haven’t seen. As I make preparations to move for the fourth time in as many years, I begin to drag my feet, making mental (and sometimes physical) notes of what I’ll miss.

It’s never easy to leave.

And sometimes, it’s equally difficult to go.

I’ve learned that there’s a difference between leaving and going. The former means packing a life into boxes, hugging the people who have gone from being strangers to being friends, leaving the keys on the table, and waving goodbye. It’s a deliberate decision to stop turning back. It’s an exhale, a sigh, a conclusion. The latter is the first step forward, checking the time and setting the GPS, or handing over a passport to gate agents. It’s about deciding to take a chance, a gamble, a deep inhale. In going somewhere new, you’re supposed to be ready for anything. Otherwise, why go?

I didn’t do any of that when I moved to New York. I turned around in Singapore’s Changi Airport one more time after clearing passport control, and that was when I knew I was heading down a road leading to a very different future than the one I hadn’t admitted I was hoping for.

My mind has been spinning at night, which is apparent when I wake up before my alarm, when I look at my watch at the end of a run, when my dreams are fragments of conversations not had. I’m floating in between a life I might have had and a life I hope to have. Maybe you just weren’t ready, a friend suggested yesterday. I think she’s right.

What if I’m never ready? What if, now that I know what I’m looking for (including, not limited to, and largely involving authentic connection and collaboration with those around me) and what I want to do (change the world), none of it ever comes to fruition?

That’s the big step forward I mentioned earlier. It’s admitting what I’m looking for and want to do and committing to that. It’s dedicating my actions, relationships, and career to those things rather than trying to figure out what those things are. And it’s daunting because failure, readjustment, modification, and heartbreak are all likely along the road ahead.

But so are success, achievement, happiness, and love.

Because that’s what living means. As it has been. As it will be.

There’s no stopping in place because places don’t stop. There’s no turning back time because time can’t turn. There are no crystal balls, nothing foretold, foreknown, or predetermined. There are roads, as Dante and Frost said, and some roads are less traveled.

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