On Writing

Today is the National Day on Writing, so I thought I’d share some words I put together while writing with my students this week.

I write because, most of the time, it’s easier for me than speaking. I can carefully consider each word and craft exactly what I want to say without having to repeat myself and without fear of being misunderstood. Writing frees my brain of the thoughts that consume so much space and energy. When I put it on paper, I can separate myself from the problem and release the pain.

When I was 19, I was having a difficult time dealing with the 10 year anniversary of my father’s death. I had so many unanswered questions, and I was angry with him for abandoning us. I wrote a letter–I assume it said everything I was thinking, but I don’t really remember. After I finished it, I sealed it in an envelope, drove to a small lake on the north side of town, and set the letter on fire, watching the feathery ashes drop into the murky water. That action released me. The anger and rage dissipated from my soul like the smoke from the scorched paper. Burning the letter didn’t erase all of my memories and questions, but there was something symbolic about it that put me at ease and allowed me to move beyond despair. I felt lighter and liberated.

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Ruminations on Roosevelt

“I am a part of everything that I have read.” – Theodore Roosevelt

I asked my students to respond to this quote this week. And the more I think about it, the more I tend to wonder if it should be restated. What if it said “Everything that I have read is a part of me”?

When I reminisce on the books and stories I hold most dear (To Kill a Mockingbird,  Antigone, and A Man Called Ove to name just a few), it’s easy to pick out the fragments of those pieces that have stuck with me long after the last page. Injustice in the world always recalls Atticus fighting for Tom Robinson. Stories of women like Malala speaking out in patriarchal countries always evoke Antigone openly defying the laws of Thebes. And moments of compassion and understanding always remind me of Ove begrudgingly caring for a stray cat. Every cover I open, page I turn, tear I shed leaves another sliver like a tiny splinter in my soul. My entire being is simply an amalgam of each and every character I’ve met and situation I’ve encountered. Am I human because I read, or does reading make me human?

Words while Waiting

mind spins–there is no peace in not knowing
throat tightens–questions perch on my tonsils like birds of prey
heart aches–faith falters when the answers don’t appear
stomach churns–dread and fear kneaded like clay into a ball of anger
hands clench–how do you hold out hope when time drags on

(edited to add this photo)

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Rhetoric in Action

This is the speech I delivered at the Irving City Council meeting tonight regarding the budget that’s currently in the works. 

I started volunteering with Irving Animal Services in 2010 when the new Irving Animal Care Campus opened. As a volunteer, I assist with adoptions and help train new volunteers. I was appointed to the Animal Services Advisory Committee in 2012, and I currently serve as chairperson. I’m here tonight to advocate for an increase in the animal services budget for fiscal year 2017-2018.

In the first 6 months of FY 2016-2017, IAS boasted a live release rate of 90% despite taking in over 400 animals per month on average. Thanks to the amazing shelter staff and field officers, IAS is 2nd in the area in animal save rate, just behind Plano. This means that the vast majority of animals coming into the shelter are returned to their owners, adopted, or rescued than are euthanized. While we’re leading the pack in helping animals, we are way behind in funding this cause. Irving is near the bottom of the funding list, spending just $7 per capita, where our neighbors Grand Prairie and Richardson spend around $8 and $9 per resident, respectively. If our vision truly is to “aspire to be a city prepared and educated to assure a safe, healthy, and caring environment for its people and animals,” then we need to do more to ensure that, and that means including the proposed supplements in the new budget. I can’t help but be amazed by how effective this staff is and wonder how much more awesome they could be if they were provided more resources.

The proposed addition of new staff and reclassification of current staff would be worthwhile in advancing the “no-kill” standard that the city desires to achieve. IAS’s mission is to “promote and protect the health, safety, and welfare of Irving residents and animals.” Adding an outreach coordinator would go a long way in supporting this mission through maintaining relations with rescue groups and fosters and communicating low-cost opportunities and other resources to residents. Reclassifying current staff would reinforce just how valuable we consider their contributions to the shelter to be.

Please consider this information as you finalize your work on the new budget and do your best to allocate as much as possible in new funds to Irving Animal Services. The staff and animals deserve it!

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Baxter is dreaming of helping the animals at the shelter!

Seeds for Your Garden

As Teacher of the Year, I was asked to speak at Senior Pinning, a ceremony for the graduating class to receive a pin from an influential person in their lives. Here’s my speech!

Thank you for the honor of speaking to you tonight! I’d like to take a moment to remind you to keep reading because books hold the all of the directions in this journey through life.

Some of the most important lessons are learned through the experiences of others in books. From “The Tortoise and the Hare,” we learn that slow and steady wins the race. From To Kill a Mockingbird, we learn not to be judgmental. And from Macbeth, we learn to take all advice with a grain of salt.

We carry these messages with us like tiny seeds of knowledge in the very corner of our brains, and we recall them when we’re faced with a challenge. We remember the tortoise plodding along the path when we’re struggling through a particularly difficult task. We remember Scout standing on Boo Radley’s front porch when we encounter new people from different circumstances. And yes, we even remember crazy Lady Macbeth when someone suggests something that will permanently corrupt our souls. We use these lessons to navigate each and every twist and turn along the road.

In The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho, the old king tells the main character a story about a shopkeeper who sent his son to the wisest man in the world to discover the secret to happiness. The wise man allows the boy to explore his palace and hands him a spoon with two drops of oil in it to carry as he goes, cautioning him not to spill any of the oil. After some time, the boy returns with a full spoon to the wise man who asks him if he noticed the decor or the gardens. The boy admits he did not, so the wise man tells him to take the tour again. The boy picks up the spoon and sets out to see the palace once more, being sure to admire the Persian rugs and the beautiful flowers. When he returns this time, he tells the wise man all of the things he admired, but along the way, all of the oil spilled from the spoon. The wise man says, “The secret of happiness is to see all of the marvels of the world, and never to forget the drops of oil on the spoon.”

So there’s another seed to add to your garden–remember to find a balance. Celebrate every victory, and be kind. Go travel the world, and call home often. Do great works, and don’t forget to read.

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Grow and be great!

Random Musings on 13 Reasons Why

I read 13 Reasons Why by Jay Asher a few years ago. At the time, I appreciated it for the enmeshed perspectives of Hannah and Clay and the partly-realistic portrayal of high school life in a small town. For a book that deals with suicide, I remembered it as having a rather hopeful ending, even after Hannah seemingly shreds anyone she felt played a role in her demise.

Then I watched the Netflix series 13 Reasons Why. (I binge-watched the entire thing over a long weekend–probably not the best decision I’ve ever made.) I had mostly avoided any reviews and critiques of the series because I had already read the book, so I knew the basic gist of each episode. Well, I thought I knew. Of course, the creators took a wealth of creative license in developing the screen version. Hannah’s and Clay’s parents and secondary characters like Alex and Jessica are far more fleshed out as we witness their perspectives of the before and after. Each new episode felt darker than the last, and I found myself feeling really sad for Hannah and for Clay and for Mrs. Bradley. By the time I finished the last episode, I was beginning to understand the backlash that was building. Just a simple google of “13 Reasons Why” will return multiple articles lambasting the program as irresponsible and dangerous. And I don’t necessarily disagree. That discussion would probably be better served in a separate post.

So I decided to reread the book. Lucky for me, my classroom copy actually came back! (Thanks, Danny!) I dropped it in my bag and reintroduced myself to the Hannah and Clay I had first met. I found myself checking off a list of differences: Clay walks around the city in the book, and he rides a bike in the series; Hannah’s parents own a shoe store in the book, and they own a drug store in the series; and Hannah’s suicide in the book is not as graphic as it is in the series. The clearest difference for me, though, was Hannah’s attitude. She recognizes that “No matter what [she’s] said so far, no matter who [she’s] spoken of, it all comes back to…[Hannah]” (Asher 253). And while she doesn’t say it outright, she’s clearly clinically depressed. The series doesn’t go far enough in exploring these ideas, though, and I think that’s where it misses the mark.

The message in both is still the same, “Everything…affects everything” (202). Every action has a consequence, and every effect has a cause. The difference is in how we respond in those situations. We are in control of our own reactions to the way someone treats us. We have the power to choose to speak up when we see something wrong. And when we recognize those strengths, we reclaim our responsibility to ourselves.

I Support Public Education

It’s been a wild few weeks! Since my last post, I’ve spent a lot of time reflecting on my career as a teacher. This resulted in a series of seven essays that I submitted as a candidate for my district’s teacher of the year. I’ve also spent a lot of time defending my profession as I tweeted my senators and various others to express my opposition to the confirmation of Betsy DeVos as secretary of education. While both tasks were frustrating, one was far more rewarding.

I’ve seen this floating around on Facebook recently, so I thought I’d share my path through the public school system.

I am the product of public education. 

Longfellow Elementary School (Coffeyville, KS)

Roosevelt Junior High School (Coffeyville, KS)

Field Kindley High School (Coffeyville, KS)

Coffeyville Community College, AA (Coffeyville, KS)

Pittsburg State University, BSEd. in English (Pittsburg, KS)

I am a public educator and have been since 1999.

Field Kindley High School (Coffeyville, KS)

Hebron High School (Carrollton, TX)

Every teacher and professor I’ve met along the way has played a crucial role in my life. I wrote about many of them in the essays I mentioned before. Maybe I’ll turn those into blog posts!

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