Morning Pages 4/27; A Loss of Creativity in Schooling

It is well known that the STEM concentrations are prioritized far more than the arts. It is a question of whether or not I feel as though advocacy for the arts is lacking in schooling nowadays, and the answer is yes. It has been lacking for many years and continues to decline every year. Our society seems obsessed with the sciences as the only way of progress that the arts are often forgot and pushed aside. It is the arts that keep us creative, however. They are what continue to inspire us — to push us toward the new, the creative, and the innovative. Neither should exist without the other, as we will always need the sciences for factual progression, while the arts are there for creative progression. Both are necessary.

Schools often sacrifice creativity to follow common core standards and rubric culture. You cannot expect creativity to live within the restricting structure of rubrics and common core. That goes against the core nature of what creativity is. Creativity pushes boundaries, strays far outside the box, and the emphasis on rules and ridged structure is severely hindering to its process.

In my own experiences in high school, I saw the direct neglect of the arts. While math and science classes were continually getting new textbooks every two years, English and art classrooms were still using materials from over ten years ago. I was consistently pushed to take advanced science and math courses instead of those associated with the humanities because they would “push me in the right direction.” Even from these final years of my required education, I was taught that the STEM concentrations were to be immensely valued above the arts and humanities.

There needs to be someone who is willing to advocate for the importance of the arts and humanities before schooling phases them out through a lack of funding and a lack of attendance. The humanities remind us to value inspiration and creativity. Our society cannot live on pure fact. We will always need something there for expression. It is in our nature to want to express what we are feeling; facts are not able to convey emotion, but the arts can. By removing funding and attention from the arts, we are directly hindering students. They need a place where they can express who they are — where they are allowed to feel rather than prove.

We as humans are neither completely based and centered around facts, nor are we completely grounded in creativity and feeling. There needs to be a mixture of both. Advocacy on behalf of the arts is needed. Let our voices be heard.

Morning Pages 4/20; Anxiety in Teaching: Am I Good Enough?

Any change in the near future gives me a fair amount of anxiety. This included my future job. As much as I may spout about my confidence or excitement to teach, I can say it also worries me like crazy. My biggest anxiety comes back to my fear of failure. I don’t want to completely bomb my first year because it isn’t just about getting a bad evaluation; it comes down to the fact that I would be failing my students as well. I just hope that I am successful enough in my first years that my kids will gain something from me. If they don’t that says something about me. Which would explain my other large worry about going into the education profession: what if I wasn’t meant to be a teacher after all? What if everything I have studied thus far was purposeless? That would leave me feeling incredibly lost.

I feel that I will struggle the most in becoming comfortable in front of a large group of people that are expecting me to educate  them all. It is incredibly stressful to feel as though people are looking to you as an expert. Admittedly, I’m sure that I’ll be able to teach general English, as I have read To Kill A Mockingbird and Romeo and Juliet enough, but that isn’t really the most important piece of teaching. Yes, I need kids to show improvement and comprehension, but I want them to take more away from it than that. I feel that my struggle to become comfortable may negatively impact them. That scares the hell out of me.

I think the easiest way I can get over this is by talking to my aunt who is a teacher. She has several years of experience beneath her belt as well so I’m sure that she would be able to ease some of my apprehensions. Also, when I do my student teaching, I can lean on the teacher I am working with to gain some insight and advice to the profession. That will allow me to work through the biggest bumps of all my worries, as it will be my first true experience educating, and hopefully, I will be able to go into my true job more confident. I think the only other way to deal with these stress and worries is to put a great amount of faith in to myself. I know that I am capable of this job and all that it requires of me. If I wasn’t, I would have already dropped the major.

I know that I am capable, and even writing like this has helped me work through some of my largest anxieties. I won’t know until I step into that classroom on my first day how things will go, but I know that I am capable and competent. I will succeed, even if it’s a rocky start.

 

Morning Pages: 4/18; How Can I Use my Voice?

As I have discussed thus far, I have come across the question of how young teachers are meant to use their voices in a way that is both beneficial to them and to their schooling. I think it comes down to passion more than anything and the drive to cause action. You have to be motivated enough to want to cause change in the system you become a part of. Moreover, you have to understand how important your voice is, even if it feels like you’re one small piece in a sea of millions.

When thinking of how I can act as a leader within my own community or future communities, I think of becoming a part of a group that will allow me to send my voice farther out than I can alone. As an educator, I will be surrounded by like-minded individuals that can act as a support system for me. This sense of support can allow me to begin the process of joining/starting a movement. With enough voices, any message will gain the attention it deserves (be it good or bad really depends on what you are trying to say).

Beyond that, I also understand that my voice has limits. The world we live in has never been one that allows change easily. I understand that what I am trying to change or what I am attempting to say may face serious opposition at times. The key thing is to not get discouraged. My voice is stronger than I will ever assume it to be and when I band together with other voices, perhaps the voices of this new generation of teachers, we will be able to stand tall against the oppositions placed against us. We can make change happen. Anything is possible when you learn how to use your voice to advocate and lead people toward change.

I am strong. My voice is powerful. We have the capability to change what no longer works. I will go out and do.

My Badge and its Relation to ME: Morning Pages; 3/28

I chose to become a teacher in order to help my students. This isn’t a career for personal gain or monetary funds. This is for children. As a former high schooler, I understand how important it was for me to have a teacher there for me in the moments when I needed it the most. This is why the ‘teacher as ally’ badge is so important to me.

I wouldn’t have made it to where I am today without the teachers that acted as my own ally when I was still in high school. They acted as my mentors and I wasn’t even aware of the impact they had on my life. Still, without them, I would have been lost, aimlessly wandering the world, wondering why the hell I was so pissed off at everything. These teachers changed me for the better by supporting me at a time in my life when I was on a very literal tipping point. I could have gone to college, pissed off, to study something that I knew would make me money, stay mad at my dad, accept my mothers warped relationships, and never understand where I fit in. Thankfully, those teachers came into my life and talked me down of the mental edge I was leaning over. I was so lost. There had never been a moment in my life more confusing as my high school career. I was lucky enough to have teachers there that genuinely cared about me as a person.

This is what I want for my own students. This is why this badge is important to me as a future educator. I want to be there for kids on those same mental ledges—to be the one that can talk them back down. If I can make one kid open their eyes, become a little more understanding and less angry—to make them feel like they do belong in this world—I will have done my job. This badge is going to help me teach me what an ally is. This is the first step to allow me to help my students when they need it the most. This badge will ground my own definition of what an ally is; it will help me be the teacher that can pull aside a student and really ask them what’s going on in their lives. I want to be that teacher that they can come to. I don’t care if the kids think of me as ‘the cool teacher’ or not.

Instead, I want the small group of kids I impact to speak to others: “Go see Ms. Simmonds.”

This is what is important to me as a future educator. This is what makes this badge so important to me. I will be the teacher that can pull kids off to the side and will have students that are eager to speak to me. Of course, I won’t be able to do this for all of them, but if there is just one kid, one just like I was, that will come to me, I’ll be happy.

The Big Wait; Morning Pages: 3/23

I’ve found myself in a school that is made up of 30,000+ people. This coming from a girl would went to the smallest high school in Jefferson County and whose graduating class had no more than 300 hundred kids. This is larger than many small schools, of course, but many of my friends from elementary and middle school found their ways to schools well over 3,000 kids. I came here knowing I was going to blend in, that I was going to be just a blur in the mass of people her, and I wanted that. I didn’t want anyone to know me, or to have tabs on my current or past struggles as a human.

Still, I have these feelings that I made the wrong choice. In high school, it was easy to meet people, because you were always seeing the same faces over and over again. I knew everyone in my class by a first name basis. It didn’t mean we were close, but at least we knew one another. Here, I rarely see the same people two days in a row. In fact, I don’t. And that makes meeting people a lot harder than I thought it would be. My friends from high school all made their way to small schools, so they don’t understand what I mean when I say, “It’s really hard to meet people on campus.”

Up rise the cries of, “JOIN A CLUB, ALEX!”

I have tried. There are clubs out there that I am interested in, but my schedule hasn’t allowed for my participation in them. Believe me, next year I’m going to fight tooth and nail to join those clubs. Maybe then I’ll make more friends.

The thing is, I was never a kid with millions of friends, not even in high school. I had three or four close friends and that’s how I got through my life. I have the same number of people that I am close to up here, but I don’t see them nearly as frequently as I did with my high school friends. I’m lucky if we are able to hang out once a week much of the time. Yes, I talk to kids in my classes as well. I’m not a socially awkward potato, for the most part anyways. It’s not the same though. We don’t hang out outside of class. I should try more, I’m sure, but I can’t help but wonder if that’s the way to fix my problems.

I wonder constantly if I made the right decision coming to Colorado State University. I’m in love with the town itself and the campus, but I can tell you the social aspect of being at a school this size is really difficult. At first I new I didn’t want people to know who I was. Believe me, that is what I received. Now, I’m not sure if that’s what I really want anymore. I have yet to meet someone I connect as deeply with as I did with my high school friends. I still communicate with most of them, which stands in as an example of how close we were; an example of how much they mean to me.

I want that same feeling in my current school. I want that companionship.

Let’s hope that I’ll find it.

Rules to Flow as a Writer; Morning Pages: 2/23

Oh man, how do I even begin to try and explain my rules for working toward ‘flow’ as a writer? You may think: Well Alex, just write them out. It can’t be that difficult for you. I can tell you that you are terrifically wrong. Why? Because I don’t have rules. At least not ones that are set in stone. That would entail that I’m super proactive about writing, and while I enjoy it immensely, that would be a lie.

Really I follow the phrase: “Shut up and get on with it” more than having a set of rules to get me started. Much of the time, I get hit with the desire to write above all else, or I’m walking around outside and I imagine my characters walking beside me. When I begin to think of how they would react in my own personal situations, that is usually when I am struck with the desire to write. This is problematic because it doesn’t happen all the time, and when it does, it doesn’t mean that it’s going to make me write, or produce good writing. I suppose if I’m going to make myself want to write, more for a scholarly purpose than anything, I like to give myself a quiet space to work, generally my bedroom. I’ll make sure I have music on in the background and that the only light in my room is either natural daylight or soft Christmas lights. It is much more about my environment than it is about the drive to write, really. Once I’m in the right place to start writing it usually comes naturally, but it does determine how easy or difficult it is to write depending on the content I am writing about.

Once I begin to write, I really try and focus on producing my best work, depending on what it is I am meant to be working on. It may be difficult, but I constantly remind myself that I can produce something good. I suppose if I’m attempting to define a rule that I use to help myself flow as a writer, it would be that—constant encouragement. I have to remind myself that while it may  not be the best work I can produce, it’s better than not writing at all. That’s what editing is for, right?

Writing isn’t easy, and it is especially difficult when I struggle to feel confident in my work, but it’s a continual journey rather than a final polished piece. I don’t have rules, and I wouldn’t expect other writers to have them either. Writing is too much of a free idea to have rules. Why should I try and confine it?

 

A Letter to Me; Morning Pages 2/21

Dear me,

I want to mention that you’re really stuck right now. Like REALLY stuck. I mean you’re stuck to the point that you feel like your feet are in concrete and there is no way to move forward. But that’s okay. I think it’s part of the process (or at least I genuinely hope that it is). Maybe I should focus on what I’m writing right now, as far as this project goes, instead of focusing on how stuck you are. Really you haven’t started writing anything down, but you have been brainstorming, jotting little notes on scraps of paper when you can find them or when you actually feel a progression of ideas. That may not seem like much, but it is something. That’s how the writing process has always worked for you, so it’s obvious that you  aren’t doing nothing.

So you’re at the start of your process and I know you may be throwing you hands up in the air, or pulling at your own hair screaming, “WHEN WILL I GET THIS DONE???”, but that isn’t what’s important. What’s important is knowing that you’ve begun and that you aren’t sitting around doing absolutely nothing, though I’m sure it feels that way. You’re lacking motivation to actually write this stuff down. On a computer. Beyond those basic scraps of paper. I think your biggest problem is that you need help in starting. This doesn’t surprise me at all. It’s how you have always been when it comes to writing anything—even the stuff you do during your free time—the stuff you do for fun. So of course a school project is going to make you feel like you’re in an immovable pile of sludge. Overcoming your own wariness to write is the biggest step in this progress. This has always been your biggest problem and this project is no different. I know once you start there will be no stopping you from moving forward and getting through the rest of this project.

Hell, think of it more as a fun piece you’re writing rather than a school project, because really, it is much better than any school project that you’ve had to do in the past. This kills those dumb five paragraph essays you had to write in high school up to now. Yeah, you may not know how to do it as well as those, but I can say that you will be able to produce something good. You always do. You know you’re a good writer (you kind of need to be with the major you’ve chosen, right?).

Don’t doubt yourself so much  and just start writing.

Sincerely,

The only positive side of you 😉

Morning Pages, 2/9; Not Yet

The power of “not yet” has been shown to aid students in progress and effort rather than assigning a big, ugly ‘F’ to their work if it doesn’t meet standards. The same can be said about who I am as a teacher-writer. I have often struggled with new areas and genres of writing because I know that what I start with isn’t my best work and it often doesn’t receive the grades I hold myself to. That’s the problem—I’m trying to get an ‘A’ rather than attempting to open my mind and understand that what I do won’t be perfect the first time. I find myself often attempting to master a genre overnight, and when I can’t, I feel myself shutting down.

The terms “growth mindset” and “fixed mindset” are deeply rooted in my history as a writer as well. In the writing I do outside of an academic setting, much of it is similar, generally in style and genre, instead of new and challenging. It is my fixed mindset that keeps me within these constraints, as I rarely go outside of my comfort zone in the fear and frustration that I may fail. Unless I am pushed by a class to embrace something new, I remain in my comfortable bubble of what is familiar to me and what I am able to do well. Even when I am pushed into something new, I often forget to take on a growth mindset and I find myself frustrated and struggling to improve myself. It is my focus on the grade that holds me back from the potential to grow and prove to myself that I can embrace something that was once foreign to me.

However, as important as it is to encourage children to grow and understand that it is okay to be in a place that hasn’t fully encapsulated what is necessary to pass, I don’t think that we should be completely throwing grades and scores into the wind. Yes, we must encourage students to embrace a problem and understand that what we do isn’t always going to come to us naturally at first, but grades do matter. It is our way of assessing a students progress and ultimately, assessment matters.

Overall, it is important to balance encouragement with assessment, and understanding how intertwined they really are.

Morning Pages, 2/7; First Readers

What is a trusted “first reader”? The term seems to vague and flexible; every persons writing style varies and therefore requires a different kind of “first reader”. For me, I need a person that is open to various genres, topics, and writing styles, but will challenge me, offer me new ideas, and insist that I put my best work forward. While criticism may be tough to take at some points during the writing process, when coming from the right person it can be extremely beneficial for me as a writer and for my readers. I want to be putting out my best work and I’m able to achieve this through the right kind of “first reader.”

If I’m trying to pin down one person to fulfill this role, it would be another person my age, as I am often writing to an audience of my own peers, specifically when I am in the academic setting. I have a specific friend that helps me with my longer stories I write outside of my classes. She acts as an outside reader who can point out areas that are unnecessary for the piece or areas that I could focus more on to improve the point I am trying to get across or strengthen an image of a certain character in my work. Even if I am writing to a younger audience of readers, someone my age can point to areas that need less detail to keep my readers engaged and offer up suggestions to make sure my piece flows well without large interruptions or awkward pauses. Even though I don’t have a specific name for this someone, the characteristics I have listed above would give me what I seek in a “first reader.”

If I am to fulfill this role for others, my biggest goal would be to keep an open mind and to understand exactly who the author is writing to so I can rework my goals for criticism and suggestions. Ideally, I have to be attentive and flexible to the needs of other writers just as I need others to be understanding of my own needs.

We are all different and this leaves us with varying writing styles, topics, and ideas. A “first reader” will keep an open mind about what their corresponding authors need from them. They will strive to meet these needs and expect the same out of their own “first readers.”

Morning Pages 2/2; Weeble Wobble

The teacher as a writer pose is one that is often overlooked by many English teachers. It is assumed that all that must be taught in writing is where to use a coma, when to you a semicolon, and how to write a basic five paragraph essay. While these are important skills for students to learn in school, there is much more for them to learn about writing. There are countless genres, even within the rhetorical branch of writing, that are overlooked by secondary educators often leaving students at a disadvantage. It is my job as a future educator to learn about this pose and instruct my students on many aspects of writing.

The pose is a difficult one to take because it isn’t well known. There isn’t much history or instruction on how you are meant to assume it. The area I feel I will wobble the most is understanding how crucial having a writing identity is to an equitable education for my students. Even though I’d like to say I think outside of the box, much of my own ideas for writing assignments, particularly assignments that assess student’s progress, relate back to the standard five paragraph essay. While it is important for my student to know how to construct an essay like this, it may not be a true identity they can grasp onto. Not every student is the same, therefore, I can not expect all of my students to identify with rhetorical writing. If I make this assumption I will be taking away the equity from my students and that will be an extreme fault on my own part. This is an area I will wobble in.

Regardless of how I wobble, because I will, I plan on getting through it as best as I can. I will remain confident in my teaching and bring in multiple genres of writing into my classroom. Instead of assigning an argumentative essay for every book we read, I may have students jump into the mind of the main character and write a memoir of their life using evidence from the text. or I may chose to have my students write an alternate ending to a book. There are many ways to go about broadening my scope as a teacher and I feel comfortable knowing that I will be able to get through it with my students.