A Santa Monica Status Update

For a little over two months, it’s been all silent on the blog front. Sorry.

It wasn’t for a lack of time. Wasn’t for a lack of topic, either. The longest summer of my life, the move, and the whole graduate school thing should have been ample opportunity to fill this virtual space with entries on end. 

The words just didn’t come. I’m trying again now.

Most of the stuff about my teaching, I’ve talked about before; it’s a topic I’ve given a presentation on, even, albeit in crude, rambly form. The only difference is that I finally took the time to write it down, which is, and will always be my preferred way to express anything at length. I mean, I haven’t actually written about my teaching for a while.

Okay, fine. I write about my teaching on most days in anecdote form, sprinkling those stories, some funny and some not, all over your respective news feeds. What I mean is, it’s been some time since I’ve used my writing — actually writing and delving into depth, in a space like this one — to think through my teaching on a macro level.

But hey. That’s my life in Santa Monica so far. You asked.

————————-

Growth is an inherently funny thing. Just like any set of statistics, the narrative and conclusion drawn depends quite a bit where you decide to start tracking.

That word’s been on my mind a lot lately. Probably due largely to that whole you’re going to be a real teacher next fall thing lurking and all.

If I measured from the moment I decided I was going to be a teacher, then it would be exponential almost by default, seeing as I haven’t made someone cry since those poorly conducted individual personal statement meetings my senior year…of high school. Thank god.

So, there is the question: where to begin? Is it more appropriate to begin with my first real class — a summer of College Writing N2 — which is, amazingly enough, now four years ago? My first semester of tutoring under my mentor Luisa Giulianetti, who’s celebrating her birthday today?

Or from an even smaller slice of time — the one year period in I met, befriended, and began working with my best friend on this planet and the person who is destined to become my life-long partner in this profession?

You can see the problem, right? There are almost too many ways to slice or frame this winding, spiraling narrative of me, my literacy, and my teaching, all of which have been tangled since childhood, wrapped up in each other like some word-woven yin-yang.

The funny thing is, even with the complexity of all of this acknowledged, I’m not entirely sure I’ve grown all that much. I looked back at a journal entry of mine recently, which was supposed to cover my educational philosophy back in sophomore year, and these three rules — copied verbatim here — sat at the heart of it all.

  1. Teach your students to challenge everything; and challenge them. (This comment wasn’t meant then so much in the context of big issues like race, sexuality, gender, or class before. but is now. Those are things I want at least bring to the forefront for everyone who learns from me, even if they aren’t so easily solved.)
  2. Be completely committed to your students’ success. (Or as I usually say now — if a student doesn’t get to where they want to go, it won’t be because I didn’t try hard enough.)
  3. Teach not only for the kids who love your subject, but the ones who hate it, too.

Other beliefs that have woven their way into my teaching since this time, of course: the aforementioned and burgeoning passion to use English as a way into social justice issues, and my interest in leveraging technology as a stepping stone for the modern literate.

But for the most part, I feel very much like the same guy. I do a few things better and a few things differently. Not much else. Same old dork, still amid intense negotiations on how to dress and carry himself, largely unrefined in manner. (The Nikes aren’t going, by the way. Begrudgingly, the hats will, though.)

Meeting the members of my cohort over the last week — a great bunch of people, by the way; this is not at all on them, but me — has only accelerated my self-consciousness (distress?) about having stagnated. Each of them seems so polished and accomplished, with numerous experiences overseas or at this organization, or that one. Almost all of them are older than me, too, making me one of a few proverbial children in the bunch. Never mind that I know so little about being a surviving adult that I may as well actually be one — a few weeks ago was the first time I had ever gone to the bank to get a roll of quarters. I had no idea that was even a thing.

It’s true that this summer has taught me to feel comfortable being myself in the classroom, but the context of that room is now changing dramatically going forward, making that lesson increasingly difficult to hang onto.

Even my title of reference won’t stay the same — today at lunch, I wondered with some colleagues about what we were going to call ourselves. Both of them, being women, felt totally comfortable being referred to by their students as miss. The male equivalent of that, mister, makes me feel like I’m in trouble or something.

(Mister, I have a question.)

(Could you go over that again, Mister?)

(Blech.)

All this has been a lot to juggle, and it’s something I know I’ll keep juggling as I enter into the actual student-teaching/observation phase of this program. But, in the interest of being honest — it’s on my damn blog header, after all — this erratic sense of comfort about my teaching is what has marked this first month in Santa Monica. It’ll probably continue, and this will continue to be the place where I try helplessly to work it all out.

To be fair, there’ve been days when I felt completely capable too, like the opening lecture earlier this week given on critical pedagogy, tracing the progression from Dewey to Friere to Duncan-Andrade. Nothing there felt unfamiliar, or out of grasp, since they were such integral parts of my Berkeley life. Today was another one of those days — I drove alone on the 10 for over an hour to get to my school site (Humanitas Academy of Art and Technology in East LA), which seems like such a small step, but actually ends up being a huge victory just for someone who seems eternally at odds with automobiles.

I guess that’s it so far. More stories will come when everything really gets under way the next week, and I’m going to try to regularly jot things down in some form or another. Creative work…that’s to be seen.

To make a long story short: it’s just a lot of familiar worries right now. Maybe that’s why I never feel like I’ve gotten anywhere. I’m always worried. Same as I ever was.

Other tidbits:

  • Driving KB to campus on Wednesday and not having her scream in fear for her life even once. #progress
  • Promising to cook a meal for myself — with KB and Alyse’s coaching me up — at least once a week. Salmon’s up next on Sunday.
  • Getting to know Alyse — who I didn’t before moving here — and really liking her. She’s probably not going to see this, thankfully. But I do like her.
  • A good chunk of our weeknights as an apartment are spent plopping down in front of the DVR together. Key and Peele, Modern Family, and the occasional Say Yes to the Dress are popular in our household. We’re secretly like, 85.
  • There’ve been people who have genuinely surprised me with their love and care since I left home. If they happen to be reading, and they should know I’m referring to them, thank you very much. For more than you know.
  • EVERYBODY HERE IS ALWAYS TALKING ABOUT FREEWAYS AND TRAFFIC AUGH I DON’T UNDERSTAND
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