I’m Back…After an Unexpected Hiatus

Posted on August 11, 2016

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I’m back. I’ve been on hiatus from this blog, grieving the losses of my mother and a former student, who died in March and February, respectively. These are different kinds of grief, but similar in their myriad triggers in daily life. Since I like to be up-to-date on the news, this summer hasn’t been short on triggers for grief, either. So I’ve been taking time for self-care: gardening, reading, biking, walking, visiting friends, playing music, and my new-old pastime, roller skating. I’ve been taking time and space to just BE. I have often thought of blogging, but every time I tried, I’d be swamped by grief and could write only for myself as an audience. I am relieved and excited to be able to raise my voice here again. I don’t want to put a lot of pressure on myself, but I’m going to try post weekly-even it it’s only an anecdote or observation. Here’s my comeback post.

It’s August. A time of lesson planning, resource gathering, classroom organizing. The much-misunderstood “teacher’s summer off” is a time of reflection, reorganization, and preparation. “What went well last year? What flopped? How do I incorporate things I’ve learned recently? What can I do to make this year the best ever?” are the thoughts that run through my mind every summer, every day. And new this year, “How do I implement a new curriculum? What will change? What will stay the same?”

I’ve spent a lot of time on professional development this summer. I was accepted into the National Writing Project’s College Ready Program Summer Institute, and I spent several days deepening my understanding of how to better teach argument and familiarizing myself with the tools that are available through National Writing Project. In addition to our time together this summer, the CRWP institute member will continue throughout the school year to share what happens when we implement our new strategies and to help each other grow in a supportive environment, teacher to teacher.

It was my pleasure to meet and mentor two new members of the Eastern Michigan Writing Project Summer Institute as they begin to wade in the waters of Teacher Research. One thing I love about EMWP is the diversity of content that is represented in the participants. One of my mentees is a high school English teacher; one is a college instructor working with graduate students on writing about Public Health. I am excited about their research projects, and I look forward to continuing to work with them, throughout the year, as this, too, offers continuity meetings throughout the year so that teachers have support as they grow in this new aspect of their work. Because of careful selection by EMWP directors who screen applicants, the group is a collective with knowledge and expertise that are both deep and wide. It’s an incredible, rich learning community.

I thoroughly enjoyed making a presentation on Teacher Leadership for the EMWP Summer Institute. I talked about how teacher leadership isn’t a position or a title, but a stance from which I advocate for human rights, civil rights, and excellent education–every day, in many ways–for my students. I cannot express what it means to me to give a presentation and have a beginning teacher tell me, “I was so inspired by your talk today.” To be of use to others is the best medicine for my grief. Bill Tucker, EMWP Institute Director, said, “This is a such a good example of the power of teaching.” Teaching can be incredibly powerful when we are open to and ready for the amazing opportunities, minute by minute, to lead–through what we teach AND what and how we model for our students in our daily interactions with students, parents, colleagues, administrators, and community members.

Another powerful professional development project I participated in this summer was as a returning teacher advocate in Cathy Fleischer’s Everyday Advocacy workshop for teachers. It was the third summer of this workshop, and teachers from around the country met at EMU for three intense days to envision, research and initiate an action plan to bring about positive change in their local communities, in climate, policy, curriculum, protocol, pedagogy, etc. By the end of the workshop, participants walk away with an action plan, a profound sense of appreciation for all the amazing work that is being done by colleagues around the nation, and a sense of pride for our contributions to that work. As with the EMWP Summer Institute, my role was in mentoring/supporting participants who were new to Teacher Advocacy and in sharing my own experiences with the group. I was inspired by the talk given by Andy Buchsbaum, a lawyer and long-time legal advocate for sustainable environmental policy and Vice President for Conservation Action at the National Wildlife Federation and the interim Executive Director of the NWF Action Fund, the national political arm of NWF. He offered insight into how an advocate can be more successful by strategically selecting decision-makers, defining success, and taking a long view. Andy’s long career illustrates a truth of advocacy work: the work is never done.

In addition to the above-mentioned professional development, I’ve also spent a few days at a Writer’s Retreat and a day of working on Teacher Research at EMU. As I reflect on how I’ve spent my summer, I notice that I’ve spent a LOT of time working, and I wonder if I’ve properly taken the time I need to heal, but I feel nourished, encouraged, and awake. For me, doing the work is therapeutic. The work gives me a place to channel the love I feel but can no longer give to my beloved dead. My beloved dead remind me of my mortality and urge me to make the most of the time. What better immortality project than touching the future, by teaching?

As I prepare for Opening Day, I’ve been thinking about the grieving process and the importance of integration as a part of healing. I’ve been wondering how to honor my beloved dead in the coming school year. Here’s what I think: my mom, Vera Rozella Vogan Eddy, 1930-2016, loved to READ. She devoured books. If you go to the Grass Lake Branch of the Jackson District Library, you can open hundreds of books and see her name on the card in the front flap of the book. She voraciously read whatever she wanted to read, and I think that if she were a student, she would be excited that our district will be providing time for independent reading, K-12, with the adoption of a new curriculum. For my mom, reading was FUN, and I want my students to enjoy reading rather than seeing it as a chore.

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Thinking about how to honor my former student, Saje Nieto (1996-2016), is easy. He was the president of the Gay-Straight Alliance at AHS, and he worked every single day to make our community safer and more accepting of not only LGBTQ people, but of anyone who was being denied human or civil rights, who was being bullied, harassed, ignored, or otherwise hurt. Saje was someone who was an ally and an advocate for many, and I carry my memories of him with me as I continue the work of being an ally and advocate for my students. By collaborating with others at AHS and in the community, we were able to protect student rights in terms of graduation gown choice and restroom access last year. Going forward, I will be ready to assist students whose rights are not being protected; I will honor Saje by being the best ally I can be.

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I feel very fortunate that just three months before Saje died, I took a course at Oakland University called Mindfulness for Educators, taught by Dr. Caryn Wells. Doing so caused me to undertake a research project where I used mindful breathing practices in my classes. Although I’ve practiced meditation since my twenties, doing it several times a day for class really helped me stay centered and grounded. Having started practicing several times per day during the school year, it became routine for me, and the increased practice has been very helpful in dealing with the unpredictable waves of grief that can hit any place, any time. As a wave of grief arises, it reminds me to breathe, and I’ve been able to sit with my grief until it grows small on the horizon. Mindfulness practice has been a tremendous help in processing the difficult emotions of grief. Here again, I find that the therapy is in the work. Might I be a bit of a work-aholic? There are worse vices.

I’m glad to be blogging again. I’m glad to raise my voice again.

I’m making my way through the grieving process. I’m working it out.

Thanks for reading.

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