The Author

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I am a high school English teacher, and mother of two charming little ones of my own. I teach in a high poverty urban charter school, while I live in a typical American suburb that has frequently been rated one of the safest cities in the country. It is a paradox I struggle with constantly, but it is my life.

Monday, March 18, 2013

What "leaning in" looks like for me

To say this past week has been full would be an understatement.  I can hardly believe it has only been a week.
     Last Sunday, Marc and I were passing the baton in this game of tag team parenting that we know so well, literally unpacking Marc's stuff (from winter camp) to pack my stuff (for the charter schools conference).  On a side note, you would think by now we would own at least two decent suitcases, but truth be told, we have one really sturdy one.
     Monday, I had a frantically packed day at work. Not only was I trying to wrap up my sub plans for the week and prepare my students for the high school exit exam they were about to take on Tuesday, I was also, being the tenth grade level lead teacher, coordinating all the nitty gritty details of administrating a test that only 25% of the school takes. This gets complicated and somewhat stressful, to say the least, even when I am on campus, so knowing I was going to be away from campus just upped the importance of getting it all right. To top it all off, there was a department meeting during my prep period.  Unbelievably, my colleague and I still managed to hit the road for San Diego by 4:30.  (Be impressed).
     Fortunately, we got some great advice on the best way to take down during rush hour and actually managed to make it within three hours. We sat in very little bumper to bumper traffic, and since I enjoy the company of the teacher who came with me, I would almost call the drive pleasant. Almost.
    One of my administrators was invited to present at the conference, and he asked me to join him as a co-presenter. I was grateful for the opportunity, since I had been thinking about submitting an application to present, but I had a lot of grad school work due right around when the applications were due, so I never got around to it. Presenting at an educator's conference is actually on my buried list, and has been for quite some time. It is even in the top 50, and I wrote the top 50 all in the first day, right after seeing the first episode of The Buried Life on MTV, back in 2010.
     Well, anyway, he and I stayed up rather late preparing for our presentation. We are both perfectionists, although polar opposites in artistic preference and personality style, which makes for truly interesting collaboration (not being sarcastic here). We literally spent time discussing the angle of photos in the powerpoint slides. (I like to play with the angle button -- I think placing pictures at an angle is stylistically eye catching -- but he prefers them neat and tidy).  We are both flexible enough to compromise and laugh off our differences, so ultimately, the result was a presentation we felt well prepared for, and I think we were proud of the positive feedback.
      The weather in San Diego was absolutely beautiful, and although we spent most of the time inside, I have to say that it really did add to my enjoyment of the conference. I went to some great presentations where I learned a lot, and the keynote speeches by Michelle Rhee and Geoffrey Canada were truly inspiring.  Michelle Rhee made a point that it's okay to not always be liked by everyone. I am a leadership-minded, outspoken individual, and in my career (okay, in my life in general), I have occasionally stepped on toes or turned people off with the things I have said or done. Over the past year, I've done a lot of self-doubting and holding back, frustrated with myself and the mistakes I've made in "teaching like my hair is on fire" (will explain this metaphor later). I will not say that I have no regrets (because that's not true), but Michelle Rhee made me realize that when a passionate woman is willing to put herself out there, she truly can make a difference.  That doesn't mean that there will not be mistakes and that there will not be pain, but, as they say, no pain, no gain. She also reminded me that the stakes are just too high to not occasionally take risks, because every student is someone's little boy or little girl, and every mom wants the best for their children, but not every mom has the same opportunities. Until that is no longer true, we must continue to, as Geoffrey Canada reminded me, refuse to accept failure. He spoke of what most educators unfortunately already know: that children in classrooms all across America continue to fail quietly while teachers try to excuse it away, instead of making each and every failure a crisis.
    When I thought of that word, "crisis," I was reminded of an award winning teacher I once heard about on TV.  He has a book called Teach Like Your Hair's on Fire (which, incidentally, I have not yet read). He explained that he decided to title the book that because he once, in trying to help a student with a science project, accidentally lit his hair on fire, but didn't even notice until the students started screaming. It's a great metaphor, if you really think about it. Saving those students who are quietly failing requires turning every failure into a crisis and without being too afraid to sometimes make mistakes... like accidentally catching your hair on fire.
     And so, slightly worn from long days of walking around the convention center, but invigorated, I returned home Thursday to attend class, pushing towards the prize of my master's degree, which is so close I can almost taste it. Friday, I worked another long, full day, then rushed home to make it to mother son bowling night with Vinny. Watching him and his little friends chuck those balls was just too cute. He's growing up so fast.

       Somehow, in the midst of all the work I am terribly behind on, I found time to read the minutes to the last local school board meeting and email one of the school board members, to sign up for Educators 4 Excellence, and to write a letter to my Congressman.
       Then, Saturday, Marc and I headed out to the Holi festival.

I may never have caught my hair on fire, but I can now say that I have had it covered in powdered colors. I do a unit each year where my students study India, which has, in previous years, involved a Saturday trip to eat lunch in Little India.  When I found out that there would be a Holi festival in Little India this year, I assigned extra credit and encouraged my students to attend.  So, yesterday, I danced bhangra yoga around my students while I sprinkled bright yellow dust over their heads and gave them tips for starting conversations with Indian people to learn more about life in India.

      Today, I promised myself that I would get serious about action research report.  I've been staring at the research and trying to make sense of it all for several weeks now. I have results. I have an idea of what it might look like in writing, but I just need to make it happen. I thought that, if I really devoted my afternoon to it, I could make a serious dent in it.  Sigh.

      My research report is essentially a twenty page paper in which I describe my action research project. It is divided into the following sections:
- Intro to my topic
- Background (review of professional literature about my topic)
- Procedures (what I did, where I did it, the data I collected while doing it, and how I analyzed the data)
- Findings (the results)
- Discussion (what I think the results mean)
- Conclusion

      The intro, background, and some of the procedures were essentially "done" when I did my research proposal a year ago.  Or so I thought...    My plan today was to spend just a little bit of time "polishing" those sections, and then to explain the data analysis and move on to write up the findings. I figured that was a totally do-able amount to get done in one Sunday.

      Boy was I wrong.

      When I really started to look at it all today, it needed much more revision than I realized.  Things in my action research project ended up looking somewhat different than I had initially imagined them, and although the differences between the proposal and the implementation were slight, they were enough to involve loads of revision on the sections that I thought were basically "done."

     Between the time I got home from church today to the time I clicked "save" and closed the file before starting this blog tonight, I spent probably six hours on the darn report today, and all I did was revise. I didn't even get to starting the part I thought I was going to finish today. On the plus side, I feel really good about what I have so far.  On the downside, I know I still have a lot of editing to do -- it is supposed to be a 20 page paper, and I'm already on page 19 with half of the required sections not yet written. Graduate school is significantly harder than I had imagined.

      But I'm fired up and feeling good. Feeling... empowered. Last night, I read this great article in Time magazine by Sheryl Sandberg, an executive at Facebook, "Why I Want Women to Lean In."  She reminds women that "no one has it all. Nor can they. The very concept of having it all flies in the face of the basic laws of economics and common sense. Being a working parent means making adjustments, compromises and sacrifices every day. For most people, sacrifices and hardships are not a choice but a necessity—and tougher than ever because of the expansion of working hours. In 2009, married middle-income parents worked about 8 1⁄2 hours more per week than in 1979. Just as expectations about work hours have risen dramatically, so have expectations of how much time mothers will spend focused on their children. An employed mom today spends about the same amount of time reading to, feeding and playing with her children as a nonemployed mother did in 1975."

      I keep seeing all these Facebook shares telling moms to put down their phones, their computers, their to do lists, and just enjoy their children. I did not ignore my children today. I took them to church. I laughed with them and joked with them while I took them grocery shopping with me. I ate lunch with them. I helped Vinny print new sheet music and find piano tutorial videos on YouTube. I listened to him play the same three songs about 500 times. I took my niece and my daughter on a walk and sang "Bippidi Boppidi Boo" for like half an hour. I had my niece over for a sleepover and gave them a bath together and got them in their jammies and tucked in to bed. 

      I'm not a bad mom because I left for a conference for a few days or because I poured six hours into my computer today. I'm just leaning in towards my future and theirs.

Read more from the Sheryl Sandberg article above at:

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