growth vs. fixed mindsets

Our faculty summer reading assignment is Mindset: The New Psychology of Success by Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D.

It’s the first of my summer list that I’ve read. I started here because it was a pretty easy read, and it was a good way to get rid of all the slush in my brain from grading final exams and reading for classwork.

Honestly, I think it’s a book that could be read in pieces as needed. It was extremely repetitive and the anecdotes were more tiring that explanatory.

There were two positives that I drew from the book, though.

The first was that I really understood what my parents did in raising me to be a learner. I don’t know if they consciously set out to do it or if they just did what seemed natural to them, but the entire section on how to raise growth-minded children could have been a picture of my parents. I did fairly well in school, but every time my parents were told “how smart” their daughter was, they had the same response. “Thank you, but she also works incredibly hard.” Or “thank you, but she also really enjoys challenges.” Or my favorite, “thank you, but she also has a lot of fun with [insert any subject but science].” And those things have always stuck with me. I’m definitely not afraid to try because to them and, by transfer, to me the successes became the hard work, the challenge and the fun rather than the grade.

The second part that I loved was the section about being a growth-minded teacher:

How can growth-minded teachers be so selfless, devoting untold hours to the worst students? Are they just saints? Is it reasonable to expect that everyone can become a saint? The answer is that they’re not entirely selfless. They love to learn. And teaching is a wonderful way to learn. About people and how they tick. About what you teach. About yourself. About life.

Exactly. I’ve always found teaching to be somewhat of a selfish endeavor. Most times I feel I learn more than I ever teach, and I love it. I have basically made a career of experimentation and risks and endless learning. Who could really ask for more?

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mutuality

My school had the great fortune of having Fr. Greg Boyle, SJ, of Homeboy Industries as the commencement speaker for this year’s graduation ceremony. Most of his address to the graduates issued a challenge to see the world in terms of a call to kinship.

But he also told a story of Cesar Chavez, who was asked by a reporter, “These farm workers, they really love you, don’t they?”

According to Boyle’s story, Chavez responded, “the feeling is mutual.”

That was the single most important part of his address for me personally. Not three days before, I was sitting in an office with three co-workers when a student walked in to give me a goodbye hug (for the summer). When the student left, one of my fellow teachers said to me, “Your students just really love you. It’s just so apparent to everyone.”

There were nods all around the room, and I became flustered. I never know what to say to something like that. It has occurred at each of the schools I’ve worked in. I don’t really know why. I am by far not the “coolest” teacher. The pacing and assignments in my class are what I will admit–not to my students, of course–a little nuts. Yet, it happens again and again. Sometimes it’s met with resentment from the adults around me. Sometimes it’s met with actual admiration (although, I still think underserved). But all of the time, I never know what to say.

Until now.

It’s mutual.

Summer Reading

Without even planning, my summer reading list developed quickly this year. This is my mandatory reading for work and some are books that I have read in the past. I decided–along with a teacher who will be teaching one section of the same course–to completely change the book list. So, that gives me 12 weeks of some pretty interesting reading to come!

Professional Development:

Mindset by Carol S. Dweck, Ph.D. This one was assigned to all teachers, but it’s one that I’m actually quite interested in because of the psychology aspect. At the end of the day, I love to learn about the way people learn, particularly what motivates them.

inGenius by Tina Seelig. This one was assigned to teachers who teach an art course. As a creative writing teacher, this lumps me into that category. As with the other, I’m looking forward to learning about becoming more creative myself and taking that into the classroom.

Other Work Books:

The Book Thief by Markus Zusak. This is one of those books that I would definitely read on my own if I had all the time in the world, so I’m a little excited that it was picked as an “all school” book. It gives me a good reason to read something for “fun” that I probably wouldn’t get around to otherwise.

The rest of the books for work comprise my reading list next year, and I’ve read them before. I’ve never taught any of them in a classroom, so I’m excited to re-read them with the intention of teaching. It definitely changes the way I read and what I pay attention to as I read.

  • Lord of the Flies by William Golding
  • The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison
  • Song of Solomon by Toni Morrison
  • Dreams of My Father by Barack Obama
  • Othello by William Shakespeare
  • The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
  • Wait Till Next Year by Doris Kearns Goodwin

The decision was to overtly teaching self-realization this year, which led to the addition of the Morrison selections, Obama and Goodwin. At the same time, our discussion centered around the idea that there is a world outside of the school and neighborhood in which we teach.

I have to admit that it was extraordinarily hard for me to keep my opinions to myself this year when students stated that racism doesn’t exist anymore, women are completely equal to men and that poverty is something “in other countries”. So, I’m very excited to explore some deeper themes and discuss what the human experience for more people who my students actually interact with.

 

on purpose & gratitude

This is my second year teaching at a school. It’s also the fifth school that I’ve worked at–not always as a teacher. There have been struggles with each and every job. Most of the struggles internal. For me, teaching is not just what I do. It’s who I am.

I’m a teacher. As much as I am a sister. And a daughter. And a writer.

And with all of those things, I have to do it right. Some of this means I have to do it on my terms, but a lot of it means that I need purpose.

And that’s been the greatest struggle for me in my current school. Admittedly, I was only there part-time last year at 10 hours per week. This year’s part-time status had my hours jump to about 30, but I still struggled. And this all came to a breaking point on a student retreat in which I broke down in front of the adult I was paired with for a reflection.

I just don’t know what my purpose here is.

More than any place I’ve been, I didn’t feel that my students wanted a teacher. They want grades. They want to pile up APs. They could care less what I have to say about being a citizen, a person, a friend. They don’t want lessons on expressing themselves or commanding their own voices. They just want to memorize and get an A.

In my first full-time teaching job, my mentor told me that my students would likely forget the subject I taught, but they would never forget what I taught them about being a person. And I’ve held onto that because I really believe it to be true.

The only thing that really matters to me is that my students learn to think for themselves, act with integrity and work to make the world a better place than it is. Yes, I harp about their writing skills and put them through a brutal semester-long curriculum in writing, but it’s not really about the writing. It’s about the discipline, the accomplishment, and the thought process behind it all.

Just as I had resigned myself to another a year of not understanding, the clues started to come in slowly.

Handing in a 14-page term paper, a student said, “I’ve never felt so accomplished in my life.” I didn’t know how to respond.

But the best was my course evaluations. Everyone warned me not to read them because the students would use them as a way to “get back at me”, but I had to merge the responses. And I realized that although I may not have seen it, my teaching was working. I was thrilled that in addition to “essay” and “writing”, the most common responses were “improved”, “learned”, “confident”, and “helped.”

And then I walked into my classroom on the last day and was greeted with a surprise white board full of thank yous, including this one:

Makes the ending of the year just a little bit easier.

reading & writing

No writing. No reading.

At least that’s how it feels. Teaching high school English really means that those are all I do. I’m constantly reading. Constantly writing. I logged 10 hours of those two activities on Monday alone.

Yet, it feels like I’m not reading or writing a thing.

I did manage to squeeze in Paulo Coelho’s new novel, Aleph. But I’ve been carrying around a copy of Moneyball for at least two months now. I have read it in pieces. 15 minutes at a time. Twice a week. Waiting for cross-country practice to start. I’m dying to read The Art of Pitching, which sits on my nightstand, or any of the other books sitting there, waiting patiently to be read.

Instead, my brain is filled with novels I teach. Short stories I filter through. Texts on writing. Texts on reading. Research. Methodology.

And writing? Goodness. The sheer amount of words that have come out of me in the last three days in remarkable. A student sat today with her mouth open and said she didn’t understand how the words just come so easily. But I haven’t written in this blog in … a month? I’m not even sure.

I suppose I should be greatful that I am able to teach what I truly love. But every now and then, it would be nice to have large amounts of uninterrupted time to read and write whatever I please.

I hope that one day you care enough about something to light yourself on fire.

I passed a student in the hallway today who had told me in class that she didn’t understand the point of protesting. Specifically, she didn’t understand why a person would light himself on fire to protest napalm.

And for the longest time (up until today), I was kind of upset. A little annoyed. A little sad.

As I passed her, I realized why. I thought that if I was around to see her graduate high school that would be my wish to her: I hope that one day you care enough about something to light yourself on fire.

This comes on the heels of a week where I was told that sometimes I will have to make sacrifices for my work.

I have never been so offended in my life. Obviously, this came from someone who does not know me or what I have been doing since I graduated from college. But either way, it is still a very inappropriate comment.

I hardly lit myself on fire.

But I did give the best of what I had. I gave energy when I knew I would have the most of it–my early twenties. I gave my education and intelligence when both were freshest–right after college and during graduate school. And I gave my devotion before I could become completely jaded.

Worst of all, I gave as I was taught to give. From the best of what I have. Not from the leftovers.

No, I never lit myself on fire. But I definitely hurt myself. I definitely sacrificed. And at the end of the day, I am quite pleased with what I have done. I am happy with the legacy I think I have created.

But mostly, I’m proud of myself for knowing what was important to me—what my “issue” in this world is—and for giving until I could quite literally give no more.

the other side

I made it.

It was supposed to be 6 months, but it turned to 8. I promised I wouldn’t push it past January, but the opportunity was much too great for a clean slate. I finished 40-hour a week contract work and moderating a high school yearbook all yesterday. Funny how both had the same deadline.

I finished at 2 a.m. on Thursday morning for my contract work deadline. (Day 97 in a row without a full day off—today is the first!) I looked out the window of my bedroom and stared at the dark street. I could see the bus stop ad where we stopped that one morning. I think it was around 4 a.m. And we broke into hysterical laughter about the ad for Dos Equis and that “guy.” I told you about the interview I heard where the actor said he was about to quit his dream of acting when he got that first commercial for Dos Equis.

And you couldn’t stop laughing because you said he held onto that dream until he was on the cusp of death.

So, we promised right there. This was the pinky swear night.

No giving up until we’re on the cusp of death.

In your absence I have found my bliss. It is part writing. But it’s mostly creating. It’s a little teaching. It’s freedom–like I guessed when you first asked me. I’ve worked hard days, long days, lots of them. But I work on my own terms–except for teaching 2 hours a day. And I love, love, love it.

I would do every moment of the past 97 days all over again.

I’m proud of myself–which is not common. And I can feel your energy. I know somewhere–you’ve found it, too.

love.