Tuesday, September 27, 2011


“Let me say before we part, so much of me is made of what I learned from you.  You'll be with me like a handprint on my heart.  And know whatever way our stories end, I know you have re-written mine by being my friend...” ~Elphaba (from Wicked)

Jay Maebori, WA
There is physical pain in saying goodbye for me.  I feel it when my 8th graders graduate or when a student moves away.  But the heaviness that squeezes my heart today after having said goodbye to the other 2011 State Teachers of the Year is nearly suffocating.

Wilma Ortiz, MA
We have met as a cohort four times over the course of this year—in Dallas, where we were prepped for the year; in DC where we were set forth to use our voices; in Alabama where we learned to take risks; and finally, this last trip in New Jersey and New York City where we were able to process our insecurities, confusions, dreams, and futures.

Jennifer Facciolini, NC
The relationships built through these trips have grown to become part of our identities, both professionally and personally. I know what this looks like from the outside. We have, after all, only spent a total of 22 days out of 8 months in one another’s company; it sounds absurdly shallow to say that these are some of my best friends.  But we have been woven together during a time when we are juggling the complexities of new roles and being immersed in experiences at home and nationally that have changed who we are.  Not one of the 55 of us is the same teacher or person we were a year ago.  And in the midst of exciting, turbulent change, we have needed to reach out to those who fully understand, simply because they are experiencing the same.  And I think this is a difficult concept for many of our colleagues, friends, and families to accept. 

Erika Webb, KY
And I understand.  Because how is it possible to fully describe my preciously wild Wilma, who embraces me each time we meet and reaches out to hold my hand during dinner?  Or my steadfast Jennifer who lets me curl up on her bed in my pajamas in the middle of the night, and then says just the right things to ease my mind?  How do I explain that my beautiful Erika’s spirit is so much the same as mine, that the very first time we met, we fell into a conversation like old friends?  There is no way to articulate my comrade Jay’s ability to make me laugh aloud at absurdities, and then moments later delve into a serious discussion about pedagogy, a good novel, or humanity.  And words cannot accurately capture the treasured friendship of my dear Paul, whose honest, forthright conversations have accompanied me on many long meanderings through Alabama heat, city traffic, and riverside trails.
Paul Andersen, MT

These are my people.  And I have fallen in love with them. They have reinvigorated my teaching and challenged my thinking.  They are part of what defines me.  They have left “handprints on my heart.” There are many things that have taken me by surprise this year, but nobody prepared me for the intensity of the friendships I would build, nor the heartache of leaving those people on a warm September morning in Times Square.  
But then I remember,  we were all brought together because we can make amazing things happen—and there’s nothing so amazing about visiting an old friend. We’ll see each other again. It’s what friends do, after all.

Monday, September 19, 2011

A Little Honest Reflection

"And, because there was an honesty about all that was going on, it connected with the people in the street." ~Ben E. King

Confession: I did not want to return to school this year.

 In the days leading up, I agonized over how to stay upbeat and positive in the classroom, how to pretend I cared during endless meetings, and how to invest the time necessary to do a good job. I confided in my husband that I wanted a job that didn't overwhelm me--one that didn't overtake my life. I daydreamed about writing books, public speaking, consulting...anything but the classroom.

Before speaking at three inservices, I broke down to a friend that I felt like a complete fraud. How can I stand in front of what totaled thousands of teachers and inspire them to go out into their field and take on the world, when I didn't feel like I had the strength to do so myself?

And so I resigned to starting my year with a "fake it til you make it" kind of attitude, feeling the word fraud emblazened upon my forehead.

But I didn’t have to fake it.  Because as soon as real live kids walked through those doors, I fell in love with teaching all over again. It is nearly impossible to break away from clich├ęs when you are talking about love, I tell my students when they are writing, and that is how I feel when I talk about teaching.  Teaching is love for me. A breath of fresh air, a drink of cold water, contagious energy…it’s all there.  I was immediately engulfed in their very joy of living.  Did I really contemplate not spending my days with such an amazing creature as the middle school student?

When I arrived home from school one day last week, I joyfully declared to my husband, "You will be happy to know, that I love my job." He smiled at me, wearing that smug, "I told you so" kind of look, and reminded me that he had actually ignored all of my griping. "I knew," he said, "that as soon as you got back in the classroom with the kids you'd be fine. It's who you are--what else could you be but a teacher?"

He's right. The other day I watched some of my students play with a professional musician as part of our Artist In Residence program, and I left the room crying because the joy on their faces spoke so strongly to me. A student wrote about me, "It sounds like Mrs. Miller has a great family, but what I love about her is that she treats us like we're her family too." I have had parents thank me and I have watched students' eyes come alive as they understand a new concept. I have already had to sit and have some really difficult conversations with students that led to productive decisions. I often come home feeling like I have triumphed. I laugh out loud every single day at my job. How many people laugh out loud countless times every single day because of their work?

I love teaching. What else would I do?

But I don't do well with hiding my feelings, and I feel like part of my job is to be honest with fellow teachers. Know that these confessions do not come easily, because I have been criticized heavily for my honesty this year. However, when I step back and look at where the criticism has come from, it has never once come from teachers. The teachers I have worked with over the past year have thanked me for saying what they feel they can't say (although I argue each time that they too can say these things), and have greeted me so kindly with their support. It is those not in the classroom who expect us to defy the forces of human emotion and smile without acknowledgement of the difficulties we face each day.

Sometimes we just need to hear from one another.  We tend to suffer in silence, feeling as though nobody else understands.  But it’s okay to confess.  It’s okay to be real. We just need to remember that there is a reason why we came into teaching—the kids. And we need to forget the other stuff and embrace the learning and life that exists in our classrooms. And be honest about it. Because only with honesty do we find the truth.