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Back in Black

Alaina Adams Education, Education Policy, Life in the Classroom, Literacy, Love, Social Issues, Teacher Leadership, Uncategorized

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It has, undoubtedly, been a minute since I’ve posted a blog. Since the presidential election last year, there has been much going on in our world that has given me pause – pause to the point of not being able to compose blogs that aren’t blatant attacks on people and systems that perpetuate ignorance and hate. The emotional energy it takes to navigate how policies impact the 2,800-ish students on the campus where I am a new assistant principal, quite frankly, leaves me exhausted most days. The bits of time I can steal outside of work are spent hugging friends and family who are also navigating how these same policies are impacting the quality of their lives.

Teachers are adept at helping students find hope and learn amidst a sea of change; for those precious moments within the four walls of a classroom, the chaos subsides and the humans within those walls have a safe space to dream, play, plan, and explore. As an administrator, I spend the bulk of my time trying to figure out how to make my entire campus this same kind of safe space. Some days I feel successful and others not so much. When I need inspiration and my own safe space, I disappear into classrooms and just hang out. And, within moments, everything is put back into perspective and all is right in the world.

For example, just this month while hanging out in a classroom, I saw a student (I’ll call him Izzy for anonymity) struggle with a journaling assignment; the assignment involved stream of consciousness writing and the student said he couldn’t write anything because his brain was, “just too full of a lot of different thoughts and feelings.” The teacher (Mr. B) reassured him that, with this kind of writing, all he had to do was just move the pencil and write any words that immediately came to his brain – even if they didn’t make sense. Mr. B reminded Izzy that there was no grading criteria and/or word count and to “just write without thinking too much.” After Mr. B walked away, Izzy stared at the blank paper for another 10 minutes, put his head down, crumpled up the paper, got out a new paper, and wrote two words before the bell rang and he left without saying anything.

Two weeks later, I visited Mr. B and he told me that Izzy’s two words were: “Life sucks.” Mr. B could have written Izzy off as a slacker-9th grade kiddo who just didn’t want to do the work – but he didn’t. When I chuckled and asked how he talked to Izzy about it, Mr. B told me that he didn’t talk to him. Instead, during the next few Monday journaling times, he put the same paper back in front of Izzy and said nothing. He told me that Izzy looked at the paper each time and wrote a few more words. Mr B showed me the current version of the paper and, since my first visit, “life sucks” has turned into, “life sucks because everyone hates me and I hate myself and I miss my mom and my dad is a loser who won’t take me to see the flowers we put on the fence outside of the house where she died in a crash this summer.”

Mr. B says that, next week, he plans to talk to Izzy about how proud he is of his ability to pull words out of is head – no matter how painful. He also plans to find ways to tweak the writing prompts for a few other assignments to help students focus on things that are within their locus of control because, through his weekly journaling activity, he’s seen that many other students have similar struggles. Until that moment, I didn’t realize how much I needed that same accommodation. As an education professional that has a platform to use her voice, I’ve been stuck in a swirling fog of things beyond my locus of control. I know, right? This from the chick who aggressively touts the #teacherarmy badge on everything she does…

I believe in the power of education. I have seen it’s ability to bring positive change into the world and I am a product of the public education system that I have the honor to now work in. Every day, I see hope and love rise to the top of the many swirling fogs, and I see how crucial teachers are in making this happen. But we’re quickly running out of teachers due to so many factors beyond my immediate control…

This month, Mr. B and Izzy taught me to just write. And to keep writing. And to write again even when the words hurt and just don’t want to come out. The result? This blog post. I feel relieved and inspired to have my blogger-mojo back. I realize that this is a super raw post, but it honors Izzy and everything education stands for – and I’m proud of that.

Stay tuned for my next blog. #teacherarmy cometh.

 

 

 

 

 

Dr. Alaina Adams

Phoenix, Arizona

My name is Alaina Adams and I am a Board Certified educator who has taught a variety of English Language Arts classes in middle school, high school, and higher education contexts for the past 12 years. I am currently working as a leader in full-time training in the Phoenix Union High School District and love the new perspective it brings for teacher leadership development in my urban, secondary setting. In addition to working in an administrative capacity, I also coach teachers on my campus, district, and across Arizona as they engage with the National Board Certification process. When not working towards total world domination, I am the mother of a teenage daughter, enjoyer of live music, and am an all-around text-messaging, Twitter-following, and Facebook-posting human being.

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  • Jen Robinson

    Alaina thank you for sharing this blog. It is real and raw – just what needs to be said and read. Some days we have to stop and look at the impact that is real, meeting students where they are at and not giving up on them. My guess is that nearly every class in your school has a story similar to share. Thanks you to Izzy, Mr. B and you for sharing! #teacherarmy

  • http://storiesfromschoolaz.org Amethyst Hinton Sainz

    Your story about Izzy brought tears to my eyes.

    I can totally relate to having a hard time writing because all I want to do some days is just let out a primal scream and kick something. I agree it seems sensible and healthier to focus on what is within our influence.

    What happens to those stifled screams, though? Does the anger and frustration dissipate as we claim what power is ours? How do we validate those feelings of frustration and sadness while making practical decisions about where to put our energy? And if we ask our students to do the same, while we may be attempting to teach them resilience and help them achieve some inner peace, do we run the risk of not honoring or giving them some kind of creative outlet for their emotional reactions to the senselessness in their lives? Do we run the risk of missing opportunities to connect to what really worries them? I certainly don’t have the answers. But you have raised some worthy questions!

    • http://storiesfromschoolaz.org Amethyst Hinton Sainz

      In a way it is the same question posed by Langston Hughes: “Does it dry up, like a raisin in the sun? Or fester like a sore and then run?” Side Note: I find the end to that poem ominous. Although weirdly enough, my students almost always saw it as hopeful, that a dream exploding would be like an athlete exploding, if that makes any sense. :)

  • Leah Clark

    I love this post! Each month I sit down to write a post, my first instinct is to write about the dark and tumultuous time we live in and the struggle to keep my classroom a safe and positive space. I want to lash out and put all my anger and frustration onto the screen. But I can’t. I can’t add to the negativity because it doesn’t help anyone. So I, like you, Mr. B, and Izzy try to find something positive within my locus of control and focus on that. Thank you for your honesty. I think many of us as can relate.

  • Lisa Moberg

    Tears. I went through this last fall; I think as bloggers we are more acutely aware of how the world’s events impact our classrooms and students, thus impacting ourselves as educators and humans. Every time a student lashes out or refuses to work, I wonder, what is going on with them as a young human… never mind academic needs!! Their little souls are hurting, and we need to find ways to let them communicate their emotional needs to help them heal.

  • http://www.leadfromINtheclassroom.com/ Jess Ledbetter

    So powerful! What a story about giving kids time and patience…adults, too. It’s so hard to fully know what’s really going on with someone else.