Tag Archives: Students

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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On Living

Yesterday I thought I saw a former student walking towards me on 14th Street. I felt a grin spread across my face and nearly called out to say hello. And then I remembered.

That student passed away earlier this year. She was shot.

The stranger came closer and I realized they hardly resembled each other. I turned my head away. No one looks too long in New York.


Early last week my mum called to tell me that a dear friend of my sister’s had died. Drug overdose.

I was on the train home when she called and I had nothing to say. After staring out the window in silence for a few stops without seeing any of the stations, I called a friend and asked for help. He told me, There’s nothing to say.


On Friday, I had a conversation with a student, a rabbi’s son, about what happens when God isn’t there or isn’t listening. This child is suffering and doesn’t know why God can’t hear him. He suggested that maybe God has grown too old, too frail, and is now incapable of doing all that God used to do to intervene in the lives of everyday people and propel the world towards a higher plan. My student mentioned that he thought people who believe in God are less likely to commit suicide than people who don’t. Why? I asked. Because even if you can’t live for yourself, you can live for God, he explained. Statistically, I think he’s right, but I said a few words about mental health and the importance of medication for fixing a sick brain, just like medication fixes a sick body. You mean depression? he asked. I nodded. Yeah, he said, I know about that.

My student asked what I thought about a God who doesn’t listen, and I told him I no longer believe in anything I can’t prove. What about air? he asked. You can’t prove that you breathe air. I cupped my hand in front of my mouth, took an audible breath, and blew into it. Yes, I said, I can.

I asked my student how it felt to think that God really isn’t listening, really isn’t anywhere, and really can’t do anything at all. He wasn’t ready to go there. That’s okay. In times of suffering, it’s helpful to think that someone or something is watching and cares.

This I know because I’ve been there.


What makes you good at what you do? my therapist asked once.

I don’t like the self-promotion part of having a career.

I think that kids just want to be treated like people. I think a lot of adults lose sight of that and I try really hard not to.


Last summer, I read an article on one of my favorite blogs about The Course of Love by Alain de Botton. Shortly thereafter, I read the novel and recommended it to everyone who asked for a good book. I’ve yet to see a more moving portrayal about what it means to live and to love.

The article contains a quote that has been saved on my GoogleKeep ever since. de Botton says,

My view of human nature is that all of us are just holding it together in various ways – and that’s okay, and we just need to go easy with one another, knowing that we’re all these incredibly fragile beings.

That’s what I’ve been reminded of this week. That we’re all fragile, that life is fragile. That we’re all holding ourselves together to get from one day to the next and that allowing others to simply be, to breathe freely and deeply, is perhaps the greatest act of compassion we can perform for one another. An act in which we merely stand by the sides of those we love, holding their hands when they need it and letting them go when they don’t.

We are all these incredibly fragile beings. This acknowledgment should give us permission to err, to be forgiven, and to grow, both together and apart, as friends, partners, lovers, and just as people.

We are all doing the best that we can. Knowing this means going easy with one another, as de Botton suggests. Understanding and accepting others for who and what they are then comes from a place of genuine care and concern for well-being. It means meeting individuals where they are, not where we think they should be.


You act like there’s no one left
Alive in the whole city
Well maybe the end is upon you
And what then?
Here, repeat after me
It goes, I won’t stop loving
I won’t stop loving
You don’t have to be perfect
You don’t have to play well
You don’t have to fix everything
All by yourself
Now don’t laugh ’cause I just might be
The soft curve in your hardline

-“Hardliners,” Holcombe Waller

Whoever you are, whatever you need, I will go easy on you. You’re safe here.