Not My Student

I have a student who speaks badly about women, swears when he shouldn’t, and reacts poorly to perceived criticism and the consequences of his actions.

I ask him casually in the hall how his day is going and he keeps walking without even looking in my direction. I sit down next to him in class to check in and I have to say his name half a dozen times before he begrudgingly acknowledges me. I try to have productive, relationship-building conversations, and he actively shuts me out.

Then he grabs some chalk and writes insulting messages on the chalk boards.

And then he gets pissed off and storms out when he gets in trouble.

But he’s still my student.

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Erowenowe

The Death of Magic. This was the subtitle to my story “Erowenowe,” which I had written sometime during November 2014. It was part of my NaNoWriMo anthology: an attempt to write one story a day for one month. It was a burdensome challenge, but this post is not about the writing. It’s about the story. The Death of Magic.

Erowenowe (Erowen for short) was a young maiden chosen for sacrifice to the sun god: The kingdom’s fertility had begun to wane, and the gods, they feared, had stopped listening.

In actuality, they were not wrong: Following the end of the War of Fallen Stars (on which I wrote the beginning in my 2012 NaNoWriMo story, Starfall), the pantheon vowed to never meddle in the affairs of men again (a bit akin to Tolkien, I suppose, but he has always been a key inspirer for me)–and their absence, indeed, preluded the death of magic.

I feel the same sense of waning power as I write this as when I wrote Erowenowe.

Seven years ago today, I began the Writingwolf. It has grown so much in these seven years, and I have grown and evolved alongside (and at times because of) it. And since I joined Teach for America and started my training as a teacher, and then started teaching, the Writingwolf has been written silent: no words, no muffled howl, has escaped its muzzle.

Writing has been, is, and always will be my greatest passion and my biggest dream, but the responsibility of maintaining a blog–one enlivened by my readers for whom consistency and attention is one of the few ways I have to show them my respect and regard–requires more of my time than I am able to commit at present. I’m still learning to lesson plan efficiently. I’m still learning to manage a classroom skillfully. I’m still learning, quite literally, what it means to be a teacher (and I’m in grad school to prove it).

Writing, I’m afraid, has been pushed out of my circle of priorities.

This will not always be the case, but for the next six months, maybe even the next twelve or possibly eighteen until I finish my graduate program, keeping an regularly active blog seems as though it’s one responsibility too many. There is power is holding high expectations; but there is equal danger in clinging to unrealistic expectations.

One of the many unfortunate realities of teaching is that a handful of my kids will not graduate the ninth grade, and when our advisory moves on to the tenth grade next fall, they will not be joining us. For this small handful of students, my task now is not only to help them be as successful in the next six months as possible, but also prepare them to move on to another school or another advisory without me. Of course, I cannot change any person, let alone an adamant and strong-willed ninth grader, and I am certainly not the sole bearer of their future potential, but I feel it is imperative that I bestow upon these boys (by which I mean, help them to develop the qualities they already possess, somewhere inside them) the mindsets and skills that I never had when I was their age.

It took me many setbacks and failures and risky choices that may have had life-changing consequences for me to learn these things, and while it’s very likely that such lasting impressions can only be learned while wading through the fire (that same fate destined for Erowenowe, to be burned in sacrifice for brighter days), I believe I can at least provide them a strong foundation so even if they do not master these skills before they need them, when the time comes, they may remember these lessons and crash a little more softly, burn a little less brightly when they fail and fall and begin to fly again.

I say this because one of the activities I want to facilitate fits perfectly with the theme of this post. I want to come to class one day with a bucket of rocks. I want to ask each student to pick up one rock and hold it as tightly as he can. At first it’ll be easy–it’s just a rock, after all, hardly a few ounces heavy, barely the size of their palms. But as they hold it longer, the muscles in their hands will begin to ache and they’ll begin to feel the fatigue of holding on too tightly. I won’t stop here, nor will they: I’ll ask them instead to pick a second rock and hold it as tightly in their other hand as they can. While their second hand begins to tire, their first hand will begin to scream. And misery is best comforted with company, so I’ll ask them to do one final thing–something I know with certainty each of them can be successful with (under normal circumstances): I’ll ask them to write their names as neatly as possible without releasing the rocks in their hands.

Inevitably, they will, as I would, as you would, fail to perform this simple task.

So then I’ll ask them to set their pencils down (for those who managed to pick them up) and open their hands. Having clenched down upon those rocks for so long, their fingers will creak as they’re slowly peeled away, muscles locked in place protesting to remain, because by now holding on has become the norm, and letting go isn’t easy to do.

But once they’ve let go, once they’ve taken that first step, the blood of life rushes back to their fingertips, bringing with it fresh oxygen to sate the stomachs of every cell, sweeping aside the buildup of lactic acid and carbon dioxide that come naturally, but erode our capabilities. Within a few moments the stress and strain of clinging too tightly will pass, and when they reach for that pencil or pen, their names will flow forth upon the page like rivers of milk and honey raining down from the holiest of holy lands.

It isn’t easy to let go. It isn’t easy to watch the magic wither and die.

But sometimes it’s necessary to open our hands, flex our fingers, and feel again.

Sometimes it’s necessary to succumb to science over the mysteries of magic.

For now, my path has led me away from the Writingwolf, but no matter where my words and wonders take me, I will always be the Writingwolf, and in time my path will bring me back, reborn through my wanders, borne of new words and new stories to share.

Vote! Vote! Vote!

November brings both horror and delight–this one more so than usual on the horror part, but that’s a scary story for another campfire. Today I’m focused on two other things: NaNoWriMo and Midterm Elections.

So this post is a simple request: First, vote. And if you scroll a little further, you can even look up your voter information. Second, send me a writing prompt here.

If you can only do one, VOTE. But at least, I beg you, do one.

On Milk and Money and Matters That Matter

A word.

As a child I detested it. Now as an adult I have come to appreciate it. I may still at times despise it, but I succumb to it nonetheless. In this word there is synthesis. Togetherness. Means and ideals.

I can’t recall any memories of importance, but I can imagine some long lost day in the second or third grade when, before Hebrew school began, my friends and I would ride the wagon down the hill behind our synagogue. Sometimes I didn’t like going down the hill. Sometimes I would much rather sit and talk on the swings.

Sometimes we did both.

At six or seven we could see that both was better.

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The Vacancy of Freedom

When the world didn’t end on Friday, I thought I’d post a revelatory message on Saturday. Instead, I got carried away applying for a scholarship and lost track of time. So, I figured, let’s just read the next lesson of the Pirkei Avot and post it promptly on Sunday. Well, as I decided to finish said application this evening and took something of a nap earlier in the afternoon, time has once more gotten away with me. Regardless, learning is learning no matter what time it happens at (although, arguably, midnight learning is best left for Shavuot).

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The Issues at Hand

Last Thursday, when early voting began in North Carolina, I encouraged everyone to research the issues, to know the candidates, and to go vote. Ironically, I had yet to do any of these things–however, as I returned home this weekend, it was my intent to do all of them. And I am quite pleased to announce that I have, indeed, now done all of them.

But I don’t want to stop there.

Instead, I want to share with you what I believe–where I stand on the issues at hand and the candidates I have placed my faith in to propel us forward. My intent is not to persuade, although certainly I believe I have endorsed those who will lead us to the best state we can be in–nationally and locally–and for that reason persuasion is not a bad thing, but it is not my intent. What I plan to share is my ballot–who I voted for and more importantly why I gave them my endorsements.

Before I continue, I want to be clear about where I’ve gained my facts and the resources that led me to making my decisions: First, I relied on NCVoterGuide.org to provide me with my personal ballot information (available in sample ballot form at NSCBE.gov) and summaries of the candidates. Second, I relied on the candidates’ websites to further aid in making my decisions. If you do not live in North Carolina, at least take the time to read a little bit further about the national candidates I’ve voted for (namely, the president) and then, unless you truly wish to hear my views, I encourage you to stop reading and take the time you would have spent here researching the issues and getting to know the candidates you’ll be voting for. And then, of course, I want you to vote.

Otherwise, what’s the point in writing any of this?

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Where Are We Going, Where Have We Been

Today began early voting in North Carolina. I’ll be voting on Monday, but that’s besides the point: What matter today is that you can now take your voice and make it heard–locally and nationally.

I’ve been debating a long time with myself if I want to “go political” or not. It’s a part of me, and I can’t deny that, and it’s certainly been a part of this blog–none of us can deny that. However, I’ve worried about alienating readers, offending people or making erroneous claims that will hurt me in the end.

I’ve decided today that all of that? It’s stupid. It’s our obligation–yours as much as mine–to “go political,” and given the start of early voting, there’s no better time than now to do it.

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Waking Up to Ruins

I cannot count how many times in the last week I have remarked that I wish I could have slept in longer. I cannot count how many times I’ve heard friends laud their schedules when they don’t have any classes that begin before ten in the morning. And, yes, I have some friends that sleep well into the afternoon–and on some days, I do, too.

It’s all for an obvious reason: Sleep is a good thing.

But maybe it’s not.

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Tasty Little Morsels

This past week has been remarkably productive–and if you can already sense the sarcasm, you’re brilliant. Although this past week hasn’t been without merit, mind you: I’ve drafted a new month of goals, I’ve begun digitizing (and reviewing) my calculus notes, I’ve taken more time to study set theory, and I’ve exercised as much as (if not more than; I lost track a bit) I vowed to do. I’ve also posted on my blog and saw a once-in-a-lifetime celestial event.

What’s notable–or rather, one thing that’s notable–is that I’ve been able to do any of this at all. I have a house that I live in, a car that transports us where we need to go (even if I can’t drive it yet), and a world–or perhaps an area of the world–that allows for such mobility in the first place.

But if you ask people how great life is, they’ve probably got a lot to say–and most of it probably isn’t good. There aren’t any jobs. Eating healthy breaks the bank. The government has its hand in our lives too much–and in other areas, not enough! There’s issues with health care, immigration, taxes, the environment–and there really is no end, and on no issue is there any agreement.

It sort of makes today’s teaching all the more controversial.

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Truth and Recreation

I’ve written a lot lately. In fact, since my last post here I’ve written over 23,000 words–or the equivalent of approximately a month’s worth of posts, if we assume I post about twelve times a month and each of them are slightly less than two thousand words a piece. Then again, this is what I expect during NaNoWriMo: A lot of writing but not a lot of writing here. Or on school papers. I’m so glad they’re not due till December.

Lately I’ve also been hung up on saying “the truth is.” Well the truth is I don’t know why I’ve had this obsession, but I’m almost certain that the two might be related.

It’s what I like to call truth and recreation.

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