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Category: Morning Minutes (page 1 of 11)

Help: Project 180, Day 15


I have long believed that we teach kids, not content. In fact, though I never do it, I have always wanted to reply when asked what I teach with, “I teach kids.” But I never do. I always say that I teach high school English. In part I worry that people won’t get it, but I also wonder if they would find it flip, find it sarcastic, but nothing could be further from the truth. No flippancy in that remark. I teach kids. English just happens to be the subject matter that occupies much of the space in our work. I teach kids. Yes, I help them grow in the arena of reading, writing, speaking, and thinking, but I also  help them find themselves and their places in their world. And it’s reciprocal, for they, too, help me along my own path as I continue to discover again and again myself and my place.

Yesterday, in an effort to teach my little wonders, I tried to put a notion in their heads. I tried to get them to think differently about asking for help. Sadly, in school, needing help is often perceived as a weakness, as a sign of “dumbness.” This seems especially true for honors kids, for they often have a strongly-fixed mindset in this, and help becomes taboo,–something to be avoided, not embraced. I aim to correct this misguided thinking, especially as we continue to learn about and develop our growth mindsets.

As such, in 211, we have come to put a lot of stock in the idea of “yet,” and the power it brings to progress, the bridge from “I can’t” to “I can.” What I want my kiddos to understand is that “yet” by design necessitates help. Yes, dogged determination and persistent practice are essential elements, but they alone are not always enough to move us beyond our struggles towards “can.” We need help. There is no shame in that. There is wisdom in that. I want my kids to discover that wisdom. Here is a snippet of a conversation from yesterday.

Me: Does learning require questions?

Them: Yes. Of course.

Me: Are you learners?

Them: Yes.

Me: Then you should have questions, right? Should teachers have answers?

Them: Yes and Yes.

Me: Learning something new or working on something that is difficult requires help, yes?

Them: (Nods)

Me: Good. Today’s learning is generally new and certainly difficult, so do what you are supposed to do, ask for help, and I will do what I am supposed to do, give help.

Proud of my attempts to inspire their neediness, I turned them loose on their task, and they…wait for it…didn’t ask for help. Fail. But not really. I know from past experiences that the “no-help” trend is tough to buck, so I will be patient and remain diligent in my deeds to change what’s sadly become standard in too many classrooms: the horror of help. Maybe if I let them know that the number one way to make my day is to ask me for help, they’d ask. Nothing pleases or energizes me more. Maybe if I let them know. Maybe they would do that for me. Maybe.


So on a silly whim yesterday, I got a notion in my head to add some novelty to our work. It requires having seen the movie The Princess Bride to appreciate it perhaps. And, fortunately, most of the kids had, so I believe it worked for them. Anyway, I provided kids with the name tags below to wear as they worked on hooks.



Again, it will likely be lost on those who have not seen the movie. Either way, I was happy that the kids found some fun it. Two of my more theatrical boys even helped me create two video clips of their reciting the lines on their name tags–in perfect character, but unfortunately, the videos wouldn’t load this morning. Sorry Ralphe and Mekhai.

Happy Wednesday, all. And, as ever, thanks for tuning in. It, too, makes my day.



The Reality of Perception: Project 180, Day 9

“The work you do, or do not do, this year will come down to how you perceive practice.”

As I was collecting some practice yesterday, some of my kids were fretting and mildly freaking out over the fact that they had not completed it, so I took the opportunity to reiterate and reinforce the purpose of practice in 211 this year.

Our conversation went something like this.

Me: How would one with a growth mindset perceive practice?

Them: (Generally in chorus) As an opportunity to grow.

Me: Okay. How many of you are in a sport or activity? (Hands raised around the room.) How many of you practice to get better in your particular sport or activity? (Hands stay up.) How many of you believe–even if you are really good at your sport or activity–that there will always be room for improvement? (Hands still up.)

Me: Is practice always fun?

Them: No. (Heads shaking emphatically.)

Me: Does it generally benefit you?

Them: Yes.

Me: Good. Then, it shouldn’t be any different in here, right? Practice should be something that you find value in. It may not always be fun, but it should always be of some benefit, or else you shouldn’t do it. That’s right. I am telling you–AGAIN–that you don’t have to do any practice in here. You will either do it or you won’t. It’s no longer about the grade. Truly. Your A is not going anywhere. It’s about learning; it’s about growing. Really, guys, it’s about how you see it. I want you to see it as a means to grow. I want you to behold it as something that has value. I want you to see it as a gateway to feedback. And, so, to that end, I will work hard on my end to make it such. I have a stake in that. But I cannot control how you see things. You are in control of your perception. You have a stake in your reality. It will be largely what you make it.

And it is there where the conversation generally ended. Of course, I don’t believe it will be the last time we have this discussion, as I seek to explain and they try to understand the “reality of different” in 211.  And that’s okay. Sometimes it is harder to unlearn than learn. And so I will be patient. I will continue to work hard to earn my kids’ trust in what I am trying to do for them. Trust does’t happen overnight. I have to remember it’s only been 8 days. I still have a lot of work to do. But I believe it’s work worth doing.

Today, to better learn their “learning lives,” I will solicit stories from my kids that reveal their mindsets about reading and writing. Our learning QUESTion for the day:

How do our learning stories help us understand our own mindsets?

So, I will ask all to pen their reading and writing stories, the stories behind their current mindsets about the bread and butter skills for our subject area. And for as much as I hope to learn, I hope they learn more as they trace back through their experiences, discovering their paths to their present, their foundations for their future.

Happy Tuesday, all. May your own perceptions deliver your best realities today.


Let the Work Begin: Morning Minutes, August 8, 2016

Morning, all. Well, after a nearly two-month break, it’s time to get back to work. I am so excited to get Project 180 underway this year, but I have lots to do before it begins on August 31. As a first step, I submitted the article below to Edutopia this morning . For my regular readers, it is nothing new, so don’t worry about reading it. It’s just packaged a little differently. I eagerly look forward to reconnecting with everyone this year. Hope your summer has been and continues to be great.

Project 180 is the first step in an effort to transform education by turning it upside down–challenging the status quo and disrupting convention. For the next two years, I will set aside traditional grading practices in my high school English classroom, seeking to improve my students’ experiences by making learning, not grading, the central focus.

For now twenty years, I have been unsettled by and dissatisfied with traditional and conventional grading practices, suspecting that there had to be a better way to approach learning, that grades–in the traditional sense–did little to help and, in many cases, made worse the learning in my classroom. I have dabbled in and experimented with standards-based grading and found it to be a promising alternative to tradition, but I think that–though it is radical in its own right, it is not radical enough to bring about the necessary shift in a system far too settled in the it’s-how-we’ve-always-done-it-rut approach to education. So, in an effort to turn things upside down, I am going to give my students A’s on day one. I am going to take grades out of the equation by giving them what they, their parents, and society have come to believe is the golden stamp of approval in American public education: an A. Then for the next 180 days, I am going to give them an opportunity to learn, to grow, free from the pressure and pretense of grades.

Can students learn without grades? My instincts say yes. But my critics–including the ghosts of my own self-doubt–will suggest otherwise, clinging to the deeply-seated standard of traditional grading as the way, the mark of learning. But two decades in, I am going to listen to my gut and take a monumental risk to learn and grow, and ultimately, hopefully make better the learning experiences in my classroom.

I first flirted with the idea after reading the Zanders’ The Art of Possibility. In one of the chapters, the authors discussed the “practice of giving an A,” an approach where students were given an A at the outset of the year during which they had to live into the A, proving in the end the end that they had earned it.

And though I found it intriguing, it never amounted to more than a casual fling, for I could not fully wrap my head around taking such a crazy path in a traditional, public-school setting. That was ten years ago, but now armed with the confidence–maybe craziness–that change not only must but can happen, I am ready to get this journey underway. We can change practice. We have to change practice. But it will happen neither easily nor expediently. It will take effort. It will take time. I am devoting both.

My original intent was not to gift A’s to all my students. My original plan was to give each student a P for pass, a seemingly simple, harmless way to take traditional grades off the table. However, after discussing the idea with our lead counselor, it became clear that a “P” could be problematic on students’ transcripts when it came to college entrance and/or scholarships. So, wishing to never do harm, I decided to go with A’s for all, which I believe better set the desired course anyway. One, it took traditional grading out of the equation. Two, it was radical enough to call attention to the shortcomings of conventional grading practices. Thus, the stage was set. But how was I going to do it?

Below is a rough sketch of my plan. But before we get there, here is a necessary preface. Students (and parents) will be given full ownership of their learning in my classroom this year. As the lead learner in the room, I will provide opportunities for students to learn and grow in an ELA environment. I will provide direction, feedback, and encouragement, but only they can provide the motivation to learn and grow. They already have their A’s for the year. Now it’s their turn to live into their A’s by making the experience what it should be in the first place, an opportunity to build themselves over the next 180 days, not a year-long sentence to get a grade. They will grow or they won’t. I can only provide the opportunity. They have to own their learning. Here is how I plan to do it.

  1. Actually, there is a possibility of two marks in my classroom. There is a qualification to the A. An A requires the signature of both students and parents on any and all “progress reports” (details below). They do not have to complete the report, but they must sign it. Failure to sign, will result in a “P,” which indicates credit for the course with no effect on GPA.
  2. Our work for the year will center around what I have come to call our 10 “Super-Student Standards,” standards derived from not only the Common Core but also my 20 years in an ELA classroom. I basically approached it with, “these are the things that we will hang our hats on this year, the things that we will learn.”
  3. In addition, I came up with a “Super Student Profile” emphasizing 15 habits/behaviors of learners, things that matter, things I want my students conscious of, things I want parents to know, but things that would never be attached to a grade (in the traditional sense).
  4. “Reporting” will happen frequently. Every day, students will reflect on their learning in their notebooks. Every two weeks, students will complete learning logs: self-assessments on standards and profiles (must be signed by student and parent). Every nine weeks, I will complete a progress report that is created through conferring with each student. The students will either agree with or challenge my assessment. Challenges must be supported by evidence. Nine week progress reports must also be signed by student and parent. Every semester, students will complete a student-led conference, a comprehensive review of their growth (must be signed by student and parent). For practice, I will use our online grading system to report completed practice.
  5. Learning experiences will primarily occur within the context of project-based learning.

There are so many more details to share–many more, too, that I will consider and discover over this two-year project. But for now, I hope this provides a skeleton for my approach.

Why project 180? Well a few things. One, 180 degrees turns things upside down–a necessary step for change. Two, there are 180 days in a school year–this endeavor will be the most difficult thing that I have done in my career, so I will have to take it one day at a time. Plus, I plan to share my journey one day at a time on my blog. Three, because “upside down” is uncomfortable it must be set upright again–another 180 degrees, bringing things full circle, at which point, I hope I have learned to make learning better in my little corner of the world. If you are interested, please join my journey this fall, as I daily post the stories from the adventure.

Crazy? Maybe. Determined? Absolutely. We have to change education.



Handshakes, High-Fives, and Hugs: Morning Minutes, June 10

Goodbye. Hate it. Always have. Makes me sad. This will be my twentieth end-of-the-year goodbye to a group of kids, and despite the numerous times I have done it, it’s never easy.

So, today, I will say goodbye, giving the kids the option of a handshake, a high-five, or a hug. I also  tell them that they will always be “one of Syrie’s kids,” telling them, too, that I don’t really know what that means other than if they need something in the future, they can come to me–as long as it’s not money or a place to live. . .well, maybe lunch money. Beyond that, I got their backs. Always.

This group will always hold a special place in my heart, as they will be the ones who were with me when I came to this crossroad in my career, giving me the means and the courage to take a different road, which I believe in the end will make all the difference.

Thanks for the great year, crew. I will miss you all.

Readers, thank you, too, for all your support and encouragement. I am excited to begin and share my new journey with you next year. Have a great summer. I will check in periodically. Peace.


Got Nothing: Morning Minutes, June 9, 2016

So, been sitting here for some time, and can’t think of anything to write, so I am gonna give myself permission to use this as a trial run for summer break, when I will not post each morning. Tomorrow, the last day of the 2015-2016 school year, will be the final Morning Minutes–forever. Oh, I will post every school morning next year, but it will have a new name, which will most likely be alliterative. But that’s probably not a surprise to anyone. Got all summer to think up something clever.

Anyway, happy Thursday, all. Sorry for the lame post this morning. Well dry. Battery dead. Tank empty. Page blank. Muse missing. Ah, there’s my alliteration.


Running out of Steam: Morning Minutes, June 8, 2016

Morning, all. Tired today. Running out of steam, and believe it or not, I’m running out of words. Need to recharge the ol’ batteries. Need summer.

I know some think that we teachers have the easy life, with summers off, etc. Yes, it is nice to have summers off–really nice, but it is also really necessary. I think one of the things that those outside the profession don’t always understand is the sheer amount of energy that teaching requires. I could not do what I do year round. I could not be “on” round the clock, round the calendar. It just simply takes too much, and it takes a toll, so when June rolls around, we, as the kids, are done. We’re tired. But it’s a good tired, a satisfying tired. It’s what makes it the best job in the world. We love it, and I think the public sometimes mistakes our love as evidence of easy. There is nothing easy about teaching. Ever. But, true, too, nothing worthwhile is ever easy, and nothing is more worthwhile than teaching.

For me it has been a whirlwind year that has brought many changes, the biggest being this blog and the resulting plan to turn things upside down. When this–a challenge from a student–all began, I really had no idea how it would go or where it would lead, but I am so pleased that it turned down the path it did, sending me on an adventure that has yet to really begin. I have a lot of planning to do this summer, which won’t allow for full recharge/recovery, but I am excited to focus fully on Project 180. Sharing updates with you along the way.

As such, though I will not be continuing with Morning Minutes into the summer, I, with some advice from my lovely wife, will post weekly updates. My fear is that I will lose some followers over the summer without the daily posts, but I need a break, and I suspect many of you do, too. My hope is that I can regain a following next fall, especially since if all goes according to plan, I will actually start walking, instead of just talking.

To date, there have been 141 posts, 376 comments, and 17,689 views on my blog. I am not sure how that stacks up in the broader blogosphere, but I am darn proud of the progress we have made in our first six months. “Our” being the key word here, for I could not do this without you all. Thank you so much for the continued support and encouragement you have given me. Our relationship gets me up in the morning–early in the morning, as I daily seek to share some insight and shed some light on the changes that I feel we must make in education. Thank you for keeping me on my toes. Thank you.

Happy Wednesday, all.


Walking the Walk: Morning Minutes, June 7, 2016


Yesterday, it was my turn to deliver my injustice speech. I thought–hoped–that maybe with the craziness of the end of the year the kids would let me off the hook, but that was not the case. So, Sunday morning, I wrote my speech. Our speeches, as many of you know, had to address an injustice. I chose to speak to the injustice of the status quo, using my plan to radically change my grading approach next year as the backdrop, attempting to reveal the “why” behind my crazy.

I delivered my speech four times yesterday. We caught it on film during fourth period, and I posted it on Facebook (link below). I have also included the script–as delivered. The kids made me give a target time, and they insisted on filling out the PVLEGS feedback forms, too. I was pleased with how critical they were of my performance, sharing such things as “gestures seemed forced” or “relax and be more confident.” They also shared some warm and fuzzy sentiments. Some were just tickled that I said the word “ass.” Twice. Kids.

Anyway, wanted to share. Not sure how I feel about the video. Always tough and weird to see and hear myself on tape. Glad it’s behind me. I was more nervous than I thought I would be. But, importantly, I shared that with the kids, so they understood it never really gets easy; we just learn to manage our nerves, but that only comes from experience. I am so glad the kids and I shared this powerful experience. Truly felt it was a triumph for all.

Feeling a little guilty about being a year late on my “give-all-an-A approach,” I awarded a 100% to each kid who delivered a speech (only one didn’t). In truth, it’s the least I could do for these lovely little souls. They have been perfect partners in my tentative experiments this year. Truly, I owe them more than I can give them. They have given me the courage to bend my own trees. I only hope that I have inspired them to bend their own.


Ask Me Why

Ask me. Go on. Ask. Ask me why. Ask me why I do what I do. And I will speak. I will seek to answer what you would know.

But be careful, for “why” is a stick with two ends, a piercing probe sharper by far than the blunt weapon of “what.”

And you, my friends, you are well-acquainted with “what.” True. You picked him up long ago. We dropped him before you as you crossed the threshold of your education.

Of course, “why” was there, too, but he fell in the tall grass when we dropped him, and we let him lie, hoping he remained hidden from view, and you, distracted, did not see.

But for the better we believed, for why is poky and sharp, better for kids not to play, with that which is dangerous. And with that, “what” became enough.

Didn’t it? Every day. Every day, you walk in here. And every day you ask me, “What are we doing?” But you never ask me why.

Is it that you are afraid? Is it that you don’t care? Or is it that we hid it so well that you never learned to dare. Why? Why won’t you ask me why?

Is it simply that you are young? Or, is it more? Maybe it is more… because even the adults in the building seem to find little comfort in the why of things.

No, it’s true. As a staff, we have established norms to follow when we interact with each other.

What? Adults need rules for engagement? Oh, my young friends,  if only you could see a staff meeting.

Indeed, one of our staff norms is, “Seek to understand.” Apparently, “why” was not readily found by us either when we entered our education. Funny that we have to have a rule for digging into the why of things. But why?

Is it that we, too, are afraid? Is it that we, too, do not care? Both, I suspect.

And so, I wonder. I wonder about next year. I wonder if the “What is Syrie doing?” Will also come with the “why?” Will they seek to understand? Can I make them understand?

Friend or Foe, it will not be easy to explain, for it runs counter to the very “what” of our existence in education, but I, discontent and disturbed with that what asked why, and, then, I asked why not?

And that has given me the courage to proceed, to turn upside down that which no longer makes sense in my search to understand. And though it would not suffice, I, when pushed to explain, would prefer to lift from the page a piece from Bradbury, which aptly intimates the very why of my crazy.

“I hate a Roman named Status Quo!’ he said to me.

‘Stuff your eyes with wonder,’ he said,

‘live as if you’d drop dead in ten seconds.

See the world.

It’s more fantastic than any dream made or paid for in factories.

Ask no guarantees, ask for no security, there never was such an animal.

And if there were, it would be related to the great sloth which hangs upside down in a tree all day every day, sleeping its life away.

To hell with that,’ he said,

shake the tree and knock the great sloth down on his ass.

And that is the essence. I wish to knock education on its ass. With great impudence, I wish to land the sloth flat on his back and make him suffer for the lie that he is, for the damage he has done, and for the apathy that he has aroused, kicking him again for good measure, releasing my rage, Banging my staff on the Bridge of Khazad Dum, crying, “YOU SHALL NOT PASS!”

But I will not. I cannot. For the savage in me will win no friends, and so I will simply, humbly share that I wish to learn, patiently and prudently explaining my journey to those who will listen. And that, my friends, is the “why” of my next year.

But, too, I wonder about your next years. I wonder if “what” will be enough.

I wonder if you will be content to hang upside down on the lower, more stable branches of “what,” or if you will seek the higher, more dangerous limbs in the top, daring to bend the tree with your “why’s?”

So, go on. Ask me. Go on, ask. Ask me. Ask the world. Ask why. Be not content with the “what” of things, else you become the sloth of the world.

And while I truly regret that I cannot gift you an “A,” this year, I can instead offer you a word. WhyI wish I could give you more.




Happy Tuesday, all. If anyone’s bored, we could use some help cleaning up the sticky note mess in 219 today.





Last Laugh: Morning Minutes, June 6, 2016

F37B2B3F-9776-401D-BB5C-D63ED3E0AC2B 503CFD88-CE19-4493-82A7-1FFC02672EA4 0EFE6297-883F-456D-82F7-40406CFCE640 FD694A8D-A025-4798-A53C-74982815D7F3 CD7B60DB-79D6-4B6B-B909-916388F96A0A 5A2FD3CA-8D63-4CD8-8AE8-610C3924BCC1

So, early Saturday morning, I stopped by my classroom to grab some papers to grade, and this is what I discovered. Transfixed by the sheer enormity of the task, I panned around the room, laughing and laughing, as I took in the spectacle of 5,400 sticky notes. Yes, they got me. They really got me.

Apparently, right after I left Friday afternoon, 10 sneaky young ladies got access to my room and spent  the next 2.5 hours delivering my “present.” And though they created a colossal mess, they brought joy to an old man’s life, and I’m sure, too, their peers will get great joy out of the fact that I got punk’d when they see the sight today. So, too, will their peers benefit from the inspirational and humorous notes they left on each student desk, made secure with tape. My favorite is below.


Thank you, Anna, Rachel, Megumi, Anya, Maggie, Eva, Lucy, Zab, Addy, and Allissa for bringing the fun. I will remember this and each of you fondly. You win. I will give you the last laugh–the best laugh. Thank you.

Last week! Last Monday!! Today, the kids are making me deliver my speech. Hate when they make me walk the walk. Funny. I’m kinda nervous. Just wrote it yesterday. Didn’t really practice. Now I know how the kids feel. I will share my speech in tomorrow’s post.

Happy last Monday, all.


Giants Among Us: Morning Minutes, June 3, 2016

By now, I am sure you are tired of hearing about the incredible week I’ve experienced in 219. Bad news. I am not done. Good news. The week is over.  So, then, I will quit gushing about my kids after today. Promise…well, unless something happens today that I just have to share tomorrow.

This story began a long time ago and has a long backstory. As such, I will skip most of the prologue and jump into the action, the drama that took place as Kali (short for Akourakali) began high school two years ago. In a rare turn of events, I ended up with a section of ninth-grade language arts, and Kali, whose sister was a former student (there’s the long backstory) ended up in my class. He may, if memory serves, even have transferred in, so he could be in my class. I was happy to have him, and he was happy to have me, and I believe he and I both hoped to develop as strong a relationship as I had had with his sister.

Well, after the first trimester, though I found the kids lovely, I discovered that I really didn’t love the curriculum, and when an opportunity to swap my LA 9 for an LA 11 came up, I took it. Of course, I waited till the last minute to tell my lovelies, offering some official sounding reason for why the administration needed me to teach eleventh grade. But, in short–in truth–I lied. The kids groaned. I was flattered. I told them that I would get them the next year in tenth grade. They understood. We moved on. Well, everyone, but Kali. He stayed after. He was pissed. He called me out.

“So, you’re abandoning us?”

I tried to level with him, rationalizing my decision, thinking that the truth would set us both free. But, in the end, the truth hurt. And Kali, vowed not to talk to me for the rest of the year.  And he kept his vow, minus the few times I tried to engage him in the hall over the year, and he reminded me that I had abandoned him, and he wanted nothing to do with me. Truth’s hurt, I learned, can cut both ways.

Flash forward to this year. In another unanticipated turn of events, I ended up with four sections of LA 10 Honors. The kids, whom I had told could be in my LA 10 class this year, would now have to take honors if that were to happen. A few did; most didn’t. Kali, after the first week transferred in. Surprised but elated–we could now patch things up, I welcomed him, asking him if he was sure about his choice. And he told me he wasn’t sure because he didn’t trust that I wouldn’t abandon him again. Ouch.

So, finally, we began our–full–year together, a year that has been a challenge on many levels. For me, it was a challenge to undo the damage in our relationship. For Kali, the class itself was a challenge as he struggled to keep up with the work, resulting, even, in our having a discussion at semester as to whether or not he should transfer into my one section of regular LA 10. We decided he should stay, and now, due to recent events, we know we made the right decision.

First, though I don’t think I am supposed to share this with the public yet, Kali scored a 4 on the state assessment (the highest level). I was so proud of him and so excited to share his success with him. It was not the last time I would wonder, “Who is this kid?”

Yesterday. Dragging his feet, Kali, made his way to the podium. I had asked him to go earlier in the week, but he hemmed and hawed, and finally, yesterday, he had no choice. He had to go.

The kids have to indicate a target time to me at the beginning of their speeches (They have to be within 15 seconds, short or long to get full points. It makes them practice). Kali, coolly, maybe even confidently, called out 2:20. Good. Short, I thought privately. Better for him and us if he’s not prepared. But Kali wasn’t just prepared; he was brilliant.

In 2:24, the sleeping giant woke and rocked our worlds, calling out the injustice, the fraud in humanity’s empty claim that all lives matter, shedding light on the atrocities that occur daily around the world that never get our attention, that should get our attention if all lives matter. When he finished, we sat in stunned silence, but only for a moment as I shouted emphatically, “WHO ARE YOU?” I continued, telling him I was so pissed at him that I wanted to punch him. For how dare he hide on me, on us, on himself all year long. “WHO ARE YOU, YOUNG MAN?” I shouted again. “WHERE HAVE YOU BEEN?”

Kali is a big kid. Big. But yesterday I truly discovered the size of this young man. He is a giant. And his performance yesterday served as a humble reminder to me that there is a giant in each kid. But we let their giants sleep. We have to wake the giants. Giants aren’t meant to sleep. Giants are meant to stomp around and make some noise.

As he handed me his speech, I grabbed him and gave the giant a hug, a hug that I had needed for a long time. Later, he stopped by because he’d heard that I had been talking about him to my other classes. “You proud of me, Sy?” Yeah, Kali, I am proud of you, immensely proud of you.

Happy Friday, all.




Ridin’ the Pine: Morning Minutes, June 2, 2016

“A teacher is one who makes himself progressively unnecessary.”

–Thomas Carruthers

A simple truth. One that I did not always understand. One that I did not always accept. Tough to wrap one’s mind around the idea that he doesn’t really matter. Especially, this one, for he has never comfortably worn the humble hat. He has thought–or at least once thought–that he was necessary, absolutely necessary. But as one learns, one grows, and now this one, realizes more than ever that the best moments in 219 do not happen when he’s the quarterback; rather, they happen when he’s on the bench, a seat that’s gotten more comfortable of late, a seat that for the last two days has been the perfect perch for the incredible game that’s been played out by a group of all stars.

Truly. The kids have performed beyond my wildest expectations. And it has had NOTHING to do with me. Oh, I lent a hand here and there, giving feedback when sought, giving some big-picture direction, giving some encouragement along the way, but in truth what the kids have produced and now delivered was on them–all on them. As I mentioned earlier, I really only provided two things in this process: choice and audience. I gave some general guidelines and soft deadlines, but I prescribed no process. It occurred organically, first by accident and later by design. And now I realize that I had made myself progressively unnecessary, and that made all the difference because when I wasn’t there to call each and every play from the huddle, the kids had to take over and “win” the game on their own.

What’s cool about now looking back is that each kid–given the freedom–discovered his/her own process. And while I am still a little uncomfortable revealing that for many I had barely any input at all, I realize that that discomfort is only growth. Yesterday, Sarah delivered an exceptional piece on her own personal discovery of the justice of gender fluidity and how it has helped her through the agonizing age of adolescence. I didn’t even really know what Sarah’s speech was about until she opened her mouth yesterday. It was incredible and I had nothing to do with it. It feels like I am admitting to malpractice, maybe negligence, but she succeeded without me.

This is not to suggest that I simply let my kids wander around aimlessly for the past four months. I just let them wander enough to discover when they needed me. And some have needed me a great deal, as I have conferenced with them and helped them through multiple revisions of their speeches, but it has been different for each kid. Eva, I believe, probably wrote her sixth–maybe seventh–separate speech last night because each of the previous–though I have suggested they are great–has not quite been “the one” for her. So I let her wander some more. I hope she discovered gold last night. Ben, wrote an oh-my-gosh-the-emotion-is-palpable piece on the injustice of divorce, sharing his own heartbreaking story to an audience that he designated as people who would likely marry some day, warning them of the responsibility of their vows, especially if they had children. I only gave Ben a nudge. He succeeded without me. And the list goes on, a list of growing evidence that I am merely a minor player after all. And that’s okay. My spot on the bench is warm.

Happy Thursday, all.


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