Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Why I write. & What writing is for me.

What is writing?

Writing is so much more than jotting down stories and ideas; it introduces, explains, touches, directs, persuades, befriends, informs, motivates, guides, and transports among countless other things.  Additionally, it’s benefits are bestowed on more than just the reader.  Writing presents an unparalleled avenue for me to learn from the deepest wealth of knowledge available; my soul.  Through writing I do depend heavily on the knowledge of others, but most important for me is the inquiry, discovery, and debate that occurs internally.   It is in me the author AND you the audience that written words induce a range of reactions:  denial of opinions, and affirmation of belief; grasping of the never understood, and discovery of the never known;  discarding of previous views, and acquisition of new faith; joy invoked by the fictional, and sadness induced by reality... it’s all experienced by both the writer of the work, and the reader of the work.   

This is a reality that I am not sure many readers fully understand. For me as a writer, the act of getting my thoughts in words is very often part of the process of my learning.  I write about what I want to know and understand more completely.  Incomplete, shapeless constructs are formed in my mind, and as the ideas make their way from my brain and out through my hands they develop into neatly packaged ideas.  The process simply continues, as my recently born (discovered) truth then spawns (leads to) new shapeless constructs which begin their journey to birth.  

Why do I want to be a writer?

If I answered that question based on pure emotion I would say:

I want it because I never feel more like I am tapping into my true self than when I am using text to bring my thoughts to life.  Writing is the vehicle I use to travel my mind, and I always feel more alive during and after the exploration.  Verbal communication is amazing, and I am more than happy to get engaged in a conversation anytime; but for me dialogue is a young, reckless teenager, while completed writing is the developed, polished adult.  The ‘soul’ of each is the same, but ideas that are written have been given the opportunity to 'age,' and therefore achieve a higher level of maturity.

If I answered that question based on logical thought these would be the 3 reasons that explain why I want to write:  

Reason 1 - I want to share what exists in the call center that I have for a brain.

Like a call center it is as if my mind has many lines ringing, and being answered simultaneously.  The ‘conversations’ are loud sometimes, with some being more prominent than others.  When I focus in on one line I am confident in my ability to tackle the problem, evaluate the information, and extract a deeper meaning, which is what I plan to do in my writing.  I feel extraordinarily accomplished and at peace after completing a work that I feel fully expresses my truths, ideas, and feelings on a subject.  While eventually new lines alway ring, I at least temporarily reduced the noise level up there after finishing a piece.  Through writing I have an opportunity to share my truths, which I consider to be insightful, and useful.

(Reasons 2 & 3 are technically 1 reason with two completely different, and individually important meanings for me.)

Reason 2 -  (Freedom #1) I want to do what I want to do.  

Classroom teaching is absolutely amazing.  Managing a group of children while giving instruction is simply a natural gift of mine.  On top of my ability to do it well, I truly love doing it!  If I did unshackle myself from the classroom I would certainly find other ways to directly mentor and help children, but the shackles themselves are often too restrictive in education.  When it comes to standardized testing, support is too strong of a word to use, but I don’t have the typical disdain for them.   Without getting into too much detail I’ll say that I fully understand the need for accountability, and measurement, and I have no fear of it.  The limits and control over what I do does bother me greatly though.  
Writing would free me, and allow me to evaluate my own wants, needs, and desires.  The freedom to decide what I do and do not focus on would greatly improve my happiness, and reduce the amount of frustration I have with my career.  This doesn’t mean that I expect to always write what I find most important or fascinating, but it does mean that the ultimate decision would be mine to make.  I prefer to not be shackled by outside parties who get to decide in detail the subjects of my daily work.

Reason 3 - (Freedom #2) I want to do what I want to do.

In addition to content, the classroom has me shackled to schedules, calendars, and clocks.  I fully understand that a career in writing includes deadlines, meetings, and other requirements that would dictate my schedule.  The difference once again is that I get to make the ultimate decisions.  Additionally, even when I agree to a framework, I for the most part get to decide when and where my work gets done.  This allows me to write, visit family and friends, take trips to the beach, procrastinate, get a workout in, sit and stare at the wall, cook, read, and ANYTHING else that I decide to do when and where I want to do them. This is a freedom I would greatly appreciate.  

I am not hoping to give up teaching, and abandon my love for Education by writing.  I am planning to use it as a medium to teach, while helping to shape the future direction of Education through writing. 

Write Right, Right-now

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Another School Year Down...

I am loving my first week of summer!!!  I am excited about my plans, and I will be sharing them in future postings (which will come much more frequently).  Before turning that page I want to reflect on the past year, and close out the chapter that was my 2012-2013 school year.

The year that almost was not...

My initial purpose for getting into education was to work with teenagers living a life similar to the one I grew up with; the ones who unfortunately have a limited shot at success, in large part because of their substandard education.  My heart still is, and always will be, in urban education and helping poor minorities.  I will surely use the knowledge that I am gaining now to help bring about change in some small way.

Because of my all ready established goals I was reluctant to take my current position, which offered better (though stil too low) pay, much better facilities, and far superior resources.  I knew that my skills and experiences would be useful at a failing school with struggling students and far too often substandard teachers.  I have a deep desire to give back, and I didn't want to abandon 'my people.'   I was also unsure of my ability to relate to the wealthy students and parents that attended the school.  Aside from the difference in environment, I wasn't positive that working with younger kids (7th grade) was the right fit for me.

...but thankfully it was to be.

All of my initial fears vanished as I got to know my new school.  The overall vibe of the school was consistently positive, and my students were amazing.  For as much as we lacked in ability to relate we more than made up for in our ability to explore a different side of life.  The mutual interest continued to propel us throughout the year, and I think it is that interest in each other that made for a great year.

I'm not sure if my students will ever fully grasp that they teach me too, but I learned a lot this past year.  There are far too many lessons to list, but I think the most important thing that I learned is the importance of how things are said, regardless of the meaning and intent behind it.  While my upbringing and the Army has muted my emotions a great deal, I have learned to be more aware of how I say things and to empathize more with how what I say may be taken.  That is not to say that I have abandoned my style, as I believe 'being real' is often a good way to to teach, but I have learned to better select my moments.  Accepting the reality that my intentions are actually less important than other's interpretation was important for me, as I have always vehemently defended the opposite point of view.

I also learned that teaching 7th grade Civics is a perfect fit for me.  It allows me to teach the way that I have always dreamt of teaching; incorporating real world issues, life lessons, and useful skills all year.  Additionally, with Middle School being so important as a transitional stage, I feel that I can make a larger impact on more impressionable kids in 7th grade than I could in High School.  I plan to stay with this subject and grade until I transition to another stage of my career.

More to Come:

Overall I look back at this year as remarkable.  The dynamic will certainly be different with the incoming 7th graders, and even they would agree that they are a more rowdy group,  Regardless, I expect to have an even better 2013-2014, watching my former students finish their transition to high school, and preparing my new students to follow in their footsteps.

One Last Lesson:

Below is a letter that I felt inspired to write to my students prior to beginning Summer break:

6 June 2013
Dear 7th Grade Civics Students,
This has been an amazing year.  I will always remember the first year that I taught Civics at ACES as an amazing experience.  While every student was not jumping for joy while coming in to learn about our government everyday I know that many of you were truly interested in the subject.  Without the questioning, and participation that you brought to the class as students such a great experience would not have been possible; even though you ALWAYS knew how to get me off topic, and did so consistently!  

I am proud of the growth each of you has made as students and young people, and I have faith in all of your abilities.  When I say all of you I literally mean it; even those of you who read this and think that I am talking to someone else more than you.

I know (not think) that all of you are capable of greatness.

The Civics content that we learned is important as you move forward in life and become participating citizens in our great country.  While those things do matter, more important than the knowledge is the skills and values that I tried to teach throughout the year, which will be important as you move forward with your education, and your lives.  I hope at a minimum you learned, and will remember the following 10 lessons:

1. You are capable of anything that you put your mind to.

“There is no man living that can not do more than he thinks he can.”
–Henry Ford

2. Don’t wait for what you think is the best time; just do what you have to do.

“The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago.  The second best time is now.”
-Chinese Proverb

“Things may come to those who wait, but only the things left by those who hustle.”
-Abraham Lincoln

3. Every time you put your name on something give it your best effort.

“Satisfaction lies in the effort, not in the attainment; full effort is full victory.”
-Mahatma Gandhi

4. You only have two real choices, either accept your situation or change it.

“You can’t always change your situation,
but you can always change your attitude”
– Larry Hargraves

5. Happiness is internal.  

“The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.”
–John Milton

6. Excuses are Useless

“It’s no use saying, ‘We are doing our best.’
You have got to succeed in doing what is necessary.”
-Winston Churchill

7. Always look for perspective, and have empathy for others.

"Sometimes you have to put yourself in other people's shoes 
to really understand the hardships of their souls."
-Kellie Elmore 

8. Never apologize for who you are.
“It takes courage to grow up and turn out to be who you really are.”
–E.E. Cummings

9. There are no dumb questions (except those that you did not at least try to answer yourself).

“It's the questions we can't answer that teach us the most. They teach us how to think. 
If you give a man an answer, all he gains is a little fact. 
But give him a question and he'll look for his own answers.”
-Patrick Rothfuss

“Question everything. Learn something. Answer nothing.”

10. Seek Knowledge Or Only Lose

"The only good is knowledge and the only evil is ignorance"
Enjoy Your Summer…….Y’all,

Mr. Tyrkala