Friday, August 29, 2014
Saturday, August 9, 2014
Monday, August 4, 2014
A couple of years ago, I faced a teacher milestone. One of my students died, someone I'd visited and emailed and laughed with in the weeks and days before his death, and I was at a loss as to how to deal with the odd, not quite parental, not quite friend-shaped hole. In the days after Andrew's death, I wrote,
When I had children, I understood that I was opening myself up for a world of pain; that's part of the deal we make with the universe when we become parents. However, when I signed my first teacher contract, there was no clause for heartache; no asterisk denoting the fine-print possibilities.
That day, I drew on the presence of the students in front of me to fill up the hole created by the loss of Andrew.
Happily, for each one of those horrible days, there have been so many others that overflow their bounds with happiness. As happens when a teacher's life goes on, there are marriages, births, graduations, and career milestones taking place all the time, it seems. With a decade of students out there in the world, it's bound to happen. I have teacher-grandbabies around the world, and I watch their growth on my Facebook feed like some kind of desperate, doting, distant Nana.
Today, however, is special even among all those other, wonderful days. Today, two of my students are married, and as much as I love them individually, I am doubly enamored of their united form.
I once asked Kira, the female half of this couple, when she first had an inking that Min was more than simply a classmate and friend, and she revealed that it happened in my classroom. I'm paraphrasing, as it's been years since she told me this story, but we were working on a project I love, a visual representation of the storm in King Lear. Kira said she watched Min present his project in all its brilliance and insightful interpretation, and she just knew. Knew he was something special.
Fourteen years later, she still knows, and while I was not able to attend their wedding yesterday, I was there, with them, all day long.
Today, I'm planning the lesson for a class I will teach on Wednesday about writer's toolboxes and what Stephen King calls "business English." My students today are the same age Min and Kira were when they created their Lear projects, and while I have no illusions that about marriages germinating among lessons on parts of speech and sentence structure this Wednesday (I'm not teaching Emma, after all), I do hope something of Kira's epiphany persists in every class I teach.
If I do my job right, and I help each kid see something special and good in themselves, others will see it, too.
I said it once*, and I'll say it again:
The students may change, but the waters remain the same. I'm hip-deep in this river, and I'm staying. No matter what the water brings my way, drawn downstream, to drift out of sight.
Monday, July 7, 2014
The gratuitous display, anyway.
The pride is a constant.
I wrote for a long, long time before receiving any money in exchange for my words. I wrote for my high school newspaper, my law school paper, plenty of newsletters, journals, and, of course, for the private pleasure of my own literary navel-gazing. I wrote in exchange for the thrill of the writing itself as well as the miracle of publication. Sometimes I received complimentary copies, now filed away in my "Jess' writing" box in our basement, but more often, I received nothing more than a heartfelt "great job!" note from my mom.
My first paid writing gig was for Michael O. Leavitt, who some of you may remember as Secretary of Health and Human Services under President George W. Bush. Through an unlikely series of coincidences and a crazy twist of fate, I was invited to help Leavitt write the inaugural speech for his third term as Governor of Utah. We had almost nothing in common - not politics, not religion, not verbal style - but we got along like peas and carrots, and the first time I heard my words emerge from his mouth, I was hooked.
And later, when I got paid? I could hardly believe my good fortune.
I was thirty when I became a paid wordsmith, but my son has me beat, big time. He will receive his first paycheck in exchange for his prose this summer, at the tender age of fifteen.
His review of R.J. Palacio's book Wonder, will appear in the July/August issue of Your Teen magazine (with Michelle Obama on the cover!), and with the generous permission of Susan Borison, founder and editor, I present Ben's half of our adult/teen book review article.
Wednesday, May 28, 2014
Compared with 1993, the peak of U.S. gun homicides, the firearm homicide rate was 49% lower in 2010, and there were fewer deaths, even though the nation’s population grew. The victimization rate for other violent crimes with a firearm—assaults, robberies and sex crimes—was 75% lower in 2011 than in 1993. Violent non-fatal crime victimization overall (with or without a firearm) also is down markedly (72%) over two decades.
Despite the attention to gun violence in recent months, most Americans are unaware that gun crime is markedly lower than it was two decades ago. A new Pew Research Center survey (March 14-17) found that 56% of Americans believe the number of crimes involving a gun is higher than it was 20 years ago; only 12% say it is lower and 26% say it stayed the same. (An additional 6% did not know or did not answer.)
So, takeaway point number one. Chill out, turn off the TV, go back to what you were doing, and remember that the crime rate continues to decline in this country.*
Takeaway point number two: when a teacher notices that something is up with your kid, and gets up her nerve to tell you about it (which is not an easy thing, ask any teacher), LISTEN. Listen with an open mind and know that if she's come to you, she's worried.
That said, PSA over, and here's today's segment on "Navigating the world of troubled children."
Thursday, May 8, 2014
I even got to use one of my new action figures for the piece, and you can read it here.
Monday, April 28, 2014
For the first few months, we were not allowed to talk about it at all.
In the deep midwinter, summer seemed too far away to worry excessively, but we did not bring it up often, just to be safe.
This spring, the boys forms arrived, and as it's my policy that they fill out forms for their own activities, I handed the pile of papers over to them with the obligatory doctor/dentist/insurance information and told them to get started.
An hour or so later, I found them in the playroom, heads together, working on the activity selection forms. Ben detailed each activity for Finnegan, explaining how archery or canoeing or sailing works, and when the water is coldest, and what time of day he'd want to take swimming class.
Finn's anxiety had turned to excitement, so I quietly left the room. My participation was clearly not needed.
In June, it will be time for me to take my own advice, which means I have less than two months to wrap my head around the idea of saying goodbye to my little baby, and leaving him in the hands of strangers for two weeks.
I will do my best to remember the plea of my older son, an arrangement we made when it was time to drop him off to camp at eleven, a plea I wrote about for the Atlantic last year, "Goodbye, and go away, thank you very much."