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The Things I Carry 2017

I carry my CCSD identification badge and the tracking device contained therein. I carry my keys, guaranteed entrance to most doors in our school, except those most in need of opening.

I carry the burden of expectation, the anxiety borne of the worst kind of perfectionism–the feeling that you are forever letting other people down. I carry the endless list of questions: Am I a good teacher? Am I good enough to make this meaningful? If I cannot make it meaningful to students, does it matter that it matters to me? Have I picked the wrong job in the wrong era? Should I have said something to that student? Should I have said something different? Does that student who makes no eye contact want me to say hello, is she just introverted, or does she hate me? What have I done to give her reason to hate me? What has this world done to her to give her reason to hate me? What has hate done to make her fear this world?

I carry pain in my back, the dormant remnants of an optical nerve sheath meningioma behind my left eye socket, the worrisome twinges of aging.

I carry the gnawing pangs of hunger throughout the school day. Sometimes for food, always for meaning.

I carry my conscience, the vestiges of Catholic guilt, my sense of professional decorum. I carry a tie around my neck, a visible symbol of the weight of my father’s influence.

I carry pens and notecards, physical reminders that digital technology will not save us. I carry my laptop, acknowledging our digital overlords. I carry the permanently on-call feeling technology in education has bestowed upon educators and students alike, a world where it has never been easier to learn but never harder to find time to process any learning.

I carry you and your learning and your humanity and your needs and your dreams and your fears. And I carry the growing awareness that no one can carry all our society now expects teachers and students to carry.

I carry my frustrations that we have lost sight of empathy and learning and replaced them with grades, class rank, and the repugnant smudge of standardized test scores. And then we express surprise at how our nation has filled in the oval.

I carry the words of the poet Luci Tapahonso:

“an undercurrent of fear,

  an outpouring of love,

  a whispered chant of loneliness.”

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"America" student poems

Here are some efforts from my English 11 students, using Whitman and, in one case, Hughes as models.

Macie B


I see America singing, the varied carols I see,
Those of teenagers, each one singing theirs as it should be emotional and strong,
The attention seeking, singing hers as she spreads another rumor,
The athlete singing his as his final season comes to an unfortunate end,
The alcoholic college kids singing what appears to be a jumbled mess as they attend another party,
The quiet one singing as she sits at home, more outgoing behind a screen than ever before,
The spoiled one’s song, bragging morning, noon, and night even though she’s home alone again,
The irritated singing of a student, hard at work, trying to meet the high expectations set,
Each singing what belongs to them and no one else,
The day what belongs to the day- at night the wandering thoughts of those trying to find themselves,
Singing with open minds their strong melodious songs.


Hannah P

I am. American

The younger generation
I sit at a smaller table
for I am not old enough
I stay quiet
I wish
even wait

but I know
because I am American
my time will come 
I’ll be one of them
Laughing along
Cherishing memories

I am the generation 
I choose to make a stand 
the time is now
no more waiting

Change has come
and I am one of them


Cheyenne V


I hear America singing, the variety of music in my ears,
Those of doctors, each one proud of the work they’ve done, as it should be they are one of the most respected, 
The phones ringing as people spend hours watching their phones,
The minimum wage workers crying as they make ready for their paycheck-to-paycheck lifestyle,
The people of Facebook quickly turning into the Tweeters of Twitter,
The teenagers spreading their talk of swag and basic white girls in the morning, or at noon intermission or at sundown,
The rich and poor giving and spending what they don’t have, living a life pretending to be what they are not.
Each singing what belongs to him or her and to none else,
The days go by one at a time- at night the party of teens, friends, and family.
I hear America singing.


Blake T

I hear America’s voice, the diverse chorus of injustice,
That of the mechanic, whose face stains with oil, and whose song sings of a sorrowful tone,

The carpenter, whose song is bound by rules and regulations, 
The construction worker, singing of long unforgiving hours and a back thats seen the stresses of manual labor,

The marine, whose family sings a song for their return, 
The fisherman, who fights the waves of anguish, whose tone is a rugged one,

The factory worker, the resonance of their voices crying of change,
The worker of retail, whose feet sing songs of distress and ache for relief,

The farmer whose song starts at dawn, and whose days are constant, and whose nights are restless, 

The single mother, whose song sings of welfare and worry, 

I too hear the songs, songs that hope for a better tomorrow and whose singing is vastly ignored,
So we shall sing louder, we will be heard, we will sing the song of change, and for a better future for all,
Our songs need to be heard.


Derrie R

I hear America dreaming, the diverse thoughts I hear,

those of tech-knows, each dreaming his new devices, 

the dancer dreaming about her breathtaking number, 
the teacher dreaming his future lessons,
the farmer dreaming what he loves, the farmhand dreaming of crops and livestock,
the chef dreaming her upcoming restaurant,
the actuary dreaming of various calculations, 
the librarian dreaming books on books on books,
the nurse dreaming for a cure, 
the teenager dreaming freedom.
Each dreaming what should or one day could be theirs.
Dreaming with open minds and full hearts.


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Thoughts on libraries and loss

I was a weird little kid—anxious and socially awkward, I felt more comfortable with books than I did people. Once, in elementary school, when the power went out, I asked the teacher if I could move my desk over by the window so I could continue reading. Yes, I was that kid.

My elementary librarian shepherded my reading, and it is only now as an adult and a reading teacher that I realize the extent of her gift to me. I hung out in the school library not only because I loved books, but also because it often felt like a safer place to me than hallways or commons or playgrounds.

I also haunted the public library, both the town’s original Carnegie Library and then later the “new” library a few blocks away. (One can currently best describe the aesthetic of our town’s library as “70’s Fluorescent,” so you can see why I put “new” in scare quotes.) Whether reading all the Hercule Poirot mysteries by Agatha Christie, spending a summer reading as many biographies as I could, trying books out just because their covers looked “cool” or because I had some vague sense that they were supposed to be important, or just browsing the stacks, the library was my Rushmore. (I realize this reference will make no sense to those of you who have not watched the film Rushmore, but if you are one of those people, stop reading right now and watch the film.)

And now I find myself back in my hometown, teaching at the public high school, and lamenting the future of libraries. Libraries in general, but my libraries in particular. My high school, due to budget cuts, has eliminated the shared middle school/high school librarian position for this year. So in the seven years since my return, my high school has gone from a full-time librarian to a part-time librarian to no librarian at all this year. There is talk of turning the library into a “digital hub.” Not entirely sure what that means, but I imagine it involves zeros and ones. Mostly zeros.

In addition, our town has been trying for nearly a decade to build a new library, only to find fatal resistance to every option put forth.  The latest debate was particularly contentious, with the opposition claiming vociferously that print is dead, so why do we need a new library? We all have our devices now, after all (rhetorical and otherwise).

It is not the thought of electronic devices replacing physical books that worries me (I expect most readers will incorporate both reading on screens and reading in print as part of their reading lives, much as we already have); it is the thought that we should all be left to our own devices. The changing nature of what a public library should be does not change the foundational arguments about why libraries matter. The technological determinists forget these foundational arguments, arguments best stated recently by Ann Patchett in her afterword to The Public Library: A Photographic Essay, by Robert Dawson.

“If you are fortunate enough to be able to buy your books, and you have your own computer with which to conduct research, and you’re not in search of a story hour for your children, then don’t forget about the members of your community who are like you but perhaps lack your resources—the ones who love to read, who long to learn, who need a place to go and sit and think. Make sure that in your good fortune you remember to support their quest for a better life. That’s what a library promises us, after all: a better life. And that’s what libraries have delivered.”

I am fortunate enough to buy my own books, both for myself and often for my classroom library. And I do have my own computer with which to conduct research. But most of all I do remember what it was like to need a place to go and sit and think. Not a digital space—an actual place.


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a juxtaposition

"Since an ineluctable part of being a human self is suffering, part of what we humans come to art for is an experience of suffering, necessarily a vicarious experience, more like a "generalization" of suffering. Does this make sense? We all suffer alone in the real world; true empathy's impossible. But if a piece of fiction can allow us imaginatively to identify with a character's pain, we might then also more easily conceive of others identifying with our own. This is nourishing, redemptive; we become less alone inside. It might just be that simple."

                          David Foster Wallace

"...as you grow up in this world you realize people don’t really give a s*** about what you feel or think."

                          David Coleman (one of the architects of the Common Core)

Which ethos do you want to drive how and why we teach language arts?

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thoughts on soccer and teaching

Just after the United States was eliminated by Belgium in the World Cup, journalist Brian Phillips tweeted this to his followers, but especially to those who were new to the game:

I favorited the tweet, not only because it so powerfully describes being a fan of soccer (or of sports in general, yes, but soccer is crueler than other sports) but also because you can replace "soccer" with "teaching" and it still holds true. So to paraphrase Mr. Phillips:

This is what teaching is like. It kills you, and you die, and sometimes it's beautiful, and then you do it again the next day.

Like soccer, teaching is more often than not an exercise in frustration. I am always bamused ("bamused" is a combination of "bitter" and "amused," the "hangry" of the mind) when people watching soccer say "Why don't they score more?" Because it's much more difficult than it looks, and even though these men/women are good at it, they still struggle. Because the opponents, the weather, the pitch conditions, and physics conspire against them. Because all your good can come undone in a moment and the ball is now in the back of your net. And you die.

Sometimes the weight of your pass is improbably perfect, and the object in motion and the people in motion arrive at the destination at precisely the same time, and everyone rises in anticipation of that elusive goal. And it's beautiful.

And so it is for teaching. Sometimes you leave school feeling as though you have won the World Cup, having scored a Mario Götze-like goal in the dying embers of extra time. And it's beautiful. Shakira is nowhere to be seen, but it's still beautiful. Other times you leave school feeling like you blasted your penalty kick into the fifth row, having let down an entire nation. And it kills you, and you die. 

But either way, you do it again the next day.

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