To pull back a curtain, I’ll let you know that I wrote a generic blog post a few months back to keep around in the event I was stressed or in a pinch the week I was scheduled to post a blog post. It is good to be prepared with a back up in case… Life happens, you know?
The irony of the post, as I opened it up to dust it off and publish it, is that it is exactly what I needed to read this week. The post is about embracing your favorite parts of our job, and it also is a display of a lesson where I remind students that they will get past hard times. Approaching Spring Break a few weeks ago, I felt like I was try so hard to keep my head above water and just make it to break. When the break came, I took some much-needed relaxation time. But, upon my return the workload had not just disappeared. So I sit at my school desk today overwhelmed and stressed. So this Pollyanna of a post was a great read for me today, and I hope it elicits some great comments with many of you chiming in with your favorite lessons that are outside the norm as well!
I spent my twenties on an odyssey— moving across the country for college, island hopping in The Caribbean, backpacking through Europe, and consuming every medium of art I could along the way. I internalized many positive lessons and mantras as my journey eventually brought me home to Arizona. Upon this homecoming, I’ve never been more confident in my individuality and self-worth.
As teachers, there are paramount concepts we should teach the next generation—and it should not shock you that I do not mean comma placement.
We all know about state standards and common core tenants. Of course, I have a district-provided curriculum, and yes, my peers and I pick specific lessons and texts to teach. But I argue that my unique passion and authenticity are what impact the students the most.
These lessons came from many sources, and one of impact unfolded on stage: The overwhelming theme in Cabaret is never apologize for who you are; being yourself is not a crime. The musical illustrates that sexuality, religion, race (or even mundane choices like green nail polish) should be immune to judgement. Every human is entitled to their own reality, and to decide if they enjoy a pineapple or not. No other person can demonize another for their truth. Indeed, “people are people.”
Picking up a bestseller for laughs also gave me an easy to recall mantra: The effervescent and endlessly witty Mindy Kaling titled her memoir Why Not Me? The titular lesson she asserts is that just because a woman like her has never done something, does not preclude her own success. Perhaps, the only thing that had ever stopped an Indian-American woman from being the TV executive was her own self-doubt. This doubt may be the only barrier before endless possibilities. “Eliminate the doubt and allow your destiny to unfold”–Me, attempting to paraphrase an entire chapter of Kaling’s book.
These life-altering lessons were from my own curiosity and passion for art consumption – not from Steinbeck or text books, I assure you.
So, in my classroom, we study Maya Angelou’s “Still I Rise.” The poem blends traits for which Angelou is most proud, as well as the things others condemn, to declare herself above critique. It is not enough for my students to analyze the poem. I do not ask my students to write about her work…I ask them to write their own “imitation poems”—their own declarations. They control their own narratives, rise above criticism, and assert their most positive attributions.
My students also study the 800 BC Text The Odyssey over four weeks. They HATE it. The language is old, and the hero is a misogynistic jerk.
I’d wager the two class periods where my students write about rising above their haters does more to nudge them on their first step of their own Hero’s Journey than the entirety of Homer’s epic poem.
What lessons, big or small do you all love? Are there times you know your kids feel “perfectly marvelous,” like in Cabaret?
Do you have any days when you know your kids leave thinking “Why Not Me?”
Share your best memories and plans below in the comments!