Eleven years ago when I graduated from NAU after student teaching, I was given one of the most versatile gifts, reflective gifts I have ever received.
Twenty-four colored pencils.
These colored pencils have seen me through moving classrooms and sites, switching seating arrangements and job titles, achieving National Board and Master Teacher, and navigating the murky waters of No Child Left Behind and College and Career Readiness. Always where I could see them, these colored pencils have been a touchstone and have served as a way of quick reflection, even when I’m in a rush out the door.
My purple pencil fell off in transport down from Flagstaff and has laid at the foot of the shadowbox since. Who around me may be feeling left out? How have I worked to include them?
My eye is continuously drawn to the yellow. Who or what is receiving my time and energy right now? Am I seeing it or them for who they are or who I want them to be?
The white pencil tends to blend into the background often. Who or what isn’t getting my time and energy right now? Are they avoiding me, or am I avoiding them?
That same white pencil is cracking, on the verge of breaking all the way through. Whose scars are visible? Whose are invisible? Who or what is almost at their breaking point?
There’s a slew of browns and greys; I have always struggled to differentiate between them at first glance. What assumptions am I making about situations and people around me?
Teal has always been my favorite color. How are my biases manifesting themselves? Am I aware of how these biases are affecting my actions and beliefs?
All are mostly sharp; all could be taken out of the box and used at a moment’s notice. How am I being of use to those around me? Where is my utility being wasted?
I’d love to say that I have a formal way of reflecting, but in the madness that is Maycember (the stress of May combined with the stress December too), I make it a point to glance at these colored pencils at least once before leaving for the day. Even if it’s just a moment or two, the pencils center me and my practice.
One of the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards Core Propositions is that Teachers think systematically about their practice and learn from experience. More specifically, it asks that we “make difficult choices that test their professional judgment.” These colored pencils force me to make and examine my daily practice in a way that promotes equity and professional growth.
There were three of us who had these colored pencils at one time. One is a rockstar AP English teacher in Illinois. Another is an English Language Arts Content Specialist for her district. All of us are ‘boy moms.’ I’d like to say we kept in touch, but we didn’t.
I have no idea how these once-classmates of mine ‘see’ their pencils, but I am so grateful for the ability to see that our pencils grant me.