Teacher Talk Tuesday


My aim for Teacher Talk Tuesday is to share some knowledge from my three decades of experience. This is for everyone, though! If you’re a teacher, I hope it helps, and if you’re not a teacher, you certainly had some! 

My first message: It’s OK to let students know when there is something difficult going on in your life that’s appropriate to share, or when you are exceptionally cranky or stressed. Obviously, these would be older kids, those that can handle seeing an important adult be honest about their feelings. 

This is mainly advice for those who usually feel good in the classroom. For me, outside stress disappears when I’m teaching: I’m too into what I’m doing. But sometimes I just have to admit that I’m bringing some burdens with me that nothing will diminish. And in these times, I know that it will be harder to deal with typical daily stresses. I know I might not be myself in front of them. Maybe I’ll be sharp with them when they’re used to me being kind. 

The real point is that it protects them from my bad day. It’s good for them to know my reactions may be different. They need to know that I’m under a lot of pressure. I’m not afraid to ask them to step up, to have their best day, because I’m struggling to have a good one. 

Like I said, once in a while. If you are always stressed, by no means should you follow this advice. Keep up your veneer of confidence and don’t overshare! 

Losing Control

From my book Tao of Thoreau. Order it from the sidebar!

This is good advice for me at the beginning of the school year. Staying calm and remembering that all of these stresses are indeed transient is difficult right now. I am trying to remember that obstacles are also opportunities and frustrations are lessons. I can let them bog me down or believe these challenges will make me grow.

Being a teacher on 9/11

Very few classrooms had televisions in 2001. We all crowded into those that did, students and teachers mixing together. Bells were ignored: though we didn’t know exactly what was happening, there was nothing else to focus on except the tragedy unfolding before us.

Though we had learned from the Oklahoma City bombing not to jump to conclusions about who was behind this, foreign terrorists were an obvious possibility. That’s when these moments really hit me. If that was the source, then we were about to go to war. There would be no alternative, just by using history as a guide.

This is where it went from surreal and horrifying to real and frightening. Looking around the room, it hit me that some of my students would be in uniforms in a far away land. That however many deaths would happen on 9/11 would not end with that day. That the sounds of the towers falling would echo into the future, and that this tragedy was just beginning.

I had to step out of the room. Feeling faint, I leaned my forehead against the cool wall and breathed until I could face those terrible images again, and what it meant for the future of all of us, but especially my students.

1st day of school

Today is my 27th first day of school. I’d like to say I remember every one but I don’t. It’s easy to understand why: the first day is usually going over the rules and policies. You don’t really know the kids yet so there aren’t many memorable moments.

One does stand out. I was going over my grading policies when a student stood up, walked to the back of the class and sucker punched a kid in the head! I didn’t even know his name when I was yelling at him to stop.

It turns out the kid he hit had been bullying him all summer. I just wish he hadn’t decided to use my class to get even!

Self of Steam

A student once wrote that she had 

“Low self-of-steam.” 

Even as I circled it in red 

and wrote the right words 

I felt like correcting it was wrong, 

and a vision emerged. 

I see this self-of-steam 

as a different version of her 

and her words not a mistake 

but a revelation. 

She is describing herself, amorphous, 

a vapor caught between window panes. 

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