#BeKind21 Day 3 – Putting Myself in Middle School Shoes

Once upon a time, though not terribly long ago in my adult life, I dismissed literary fiction as a fluffy waste of time. Why read it anyway? It doesn’t tell you or teach you much of anything. Until the science (and my obsessive reading of the New York Times) told me a different story – reading literature actually increases empathy. And so I returned to the fiction I loved as a child and that I had rejected in my cynical twenties.

After a summer with my preschoolers and a fair bit of getting to be a thirty six year old woman, I spent Labor Day reconnecting with the middle schoolers I teach through the power of literature. I had picked up The Skin I’m In from the library earlier in the week because it’s a book that many students in our school would read later this year, and I happened to have a copy of Blubber that I grabbed on my way out to door to an 120 minute ride to New Hampshire and back. I finished both yesterday – staying up until midnight on the last pages of Blubber.

These retro reads (1998 and 1974 respectively) were certainly not a warm recollection of young womanhood but rather a prominent pinch of nostalgia (read: pain from an old wound). While The Skin I’m In and Blubber differ very much in their settings (urban vs. suburban) and the race of their protagonists (black as opposed to white and Asian), the theme is identical – A bully is someone who controls another person and requires that he or she in doing harm to others).

For a teacher, these books beg the question:

Will I be an out-of-touch denialist Mrs. Minish (Blubber) or a seeking-to-understand Miss Saunders (The Skin I’m In)? The obvious answer is a Miss Saunders, but Mrs. Minish teaches some valuable what-not-to-do lessons to the teacher-reader.

The lessons in empathy offered up in these two young adult novels are essential in tapping into the experiences of young women in middle school, but perhaps the greatest lesson for a teacher comes from Miss Saunders’  more experienced teacher-buddy Tai:

“You are a great teacher, with good ideas. The kids will like you no matter what you look like. But it’s your need to be perfect that will ruin you here.”

That is profound advice for any teacher to avoid burnout. The more you forgive yourself, the longer you will stay in it – caring for and loving our students, developing the expertise they need –  rather than worrying about our own imperfections and misgivings.


Back-To-School Radical Kindness with the Born This Way Foundation’s 21 Days to Be Kind

This September, I am working on practicing radical kindness through the Born This Way Foundation‘s 21 Days to Be Kind initiative. As a parent and educator, at this extremely busy time of year, I believe that deliberate and strategic kindness with support my inner self, my family, my students, my colleagues, and my community through this time of transition.

My hope is to improve my ease with myself and the way I treat others. Because of my misjudgments, impulsivities, and wrongs that make me downright human. Because I can get so caught up in schedules, chores, should-haves, paperwork, social media, gossip, I am committing to 21 Days to Be Kind to focus on what truly matters – the way I treat myself and others.

A lot of my focus this Labor Day weekend is on self-care – this is setting the stage for the upcoming and potentially very stressful week. I am counting down until Thursday – the first day of school – when I need to bring my biggest smile and maximum energy to greet all of our students and get them off to a great start.

September 1 – Run

Running is my ultimate stress release and the one non-work non-family all-by-myself commitment I make three times per week. My husband and I are training for separate half marathons this fall – and I am doing my first full marathon in February.  It has benefitted our relationship so much – we have fewer arguments and a hobby to discuss and geek out on. I love making my playlists. My current one is music from the 60’s that I loved as a child – the Monkees, the Beatles, Jefferson Airplane, The Fifth Dimension. On Saturday, along my 9.5 mile run, I smiled at strangers and greeted them with good morning. It felt good to get so many smiles back. Literally – smiles for miles. I was also treated to Fujiko Nakaya’s Fog X FLO sculpture at Jamaica Pond.

September 2 – Healthy Food 

Today I made a meal plan and got groceries. It makes me feel really good to be organized with a refrigerator full of healthy food and a plan of how to use it.

I became a vegetarian in December after reading Tracy McQuirter’s By Any Greens Necessary. As I ruminated on the practice of non-violence, I decided that being vegetarian was one choice I could make to slow unnecessary cruelty – to animals but also to the people who work in the dangerous meatpacking industry. I ate a lot of vegan junk food in the beginning, but now I am learning how to make better choices. I like to get cookbooks from the library to get inspiration and ideas. My family is currently enjoying recipes from Phaidon’s Vegan cookbook as well as from Eat Greens and Super Easy Vegan Slow Cooker.

This plan is especially important this week – school starts on Thursday, and the next few days will be jam packed with preparations.