Stayin’ alive among all those live wires

04 Dec

Friday, in a good space, just me and the girls, listening to Twenty-One Pilots, as my girls paint with acrylics and I sip a glass of my first ever batch of home made hard cider, on ice. I am shopping for a disco ball. I don’t know why I never bought one a long time ago, but since we’ve just decided to have a party in a few weeks, now is the time. My girls are tickled that I’m enjoying the music so much, hearing the story of the lead singer Tyler Joseph. So much soul in his lyrics, voice and riffs–sounds like a really intense, emotional person who needs his music to survive, which my daughter said was the case, as he struggles with depression and all. Home schooled, grew up in a conservative Christian family who embraced his voice as it emerged in a way he thought might not be approved by them. My daughter said so many people have come away alive from suicidal bouts by listening to this music. Lyrics come close to the pain, name it, and then blast off into hope. That she listens to entire thirty-minute interviews just to hear him talk because he’s so smart. Really great vocal skills too, and the drummer ain’t no ordinary drummer. Her recommendation of a song to check out on the theme of hope: “Holding onto You”

Eldest daughter’s artwork this evening features goofy characters with bulging eyeballs and small sets of eyeballs on their own. She says that making things that don’t have to be good is just more enjoyable as she doesn’t feel tempted to criticize her work. Younger daughter is doing this amazing thing with streaks of a subtle bluish purple across the white canvass that from here look like shadows of tree trunks.

And the kitchen is still a mess, oven fireplace, stove fan and still broken, still tools on the kitchen counter, couch strewn with light can fixtures. But here we are, my daughters sensing the enjoyment I have in this kind of time with them. All that can wait.

Trying not to always talk about my day when I get home, but I’m all filled up with stories. A few days ago I met a friend for coffee (naturally, she had soup and I didn’t order anything). Friends through our boys’ swim teams since they were twelve. She’s been a teacher, many years in kindergarten, and librarian for years, gives it her all, keeps on learning and adding to her wisdom. I let her do all the talking. The Brave Stance, she called what I taught them–see the TED talk, she said, and I did (Your Body Language Shapes Who You Are by Amy Cuddy). She’d teach her students that if they were feeling put down or having a conflict, to do the Brave Stance (standing power pose, also called Wonder Woman stance) and say “”Please be kind; I want us to be friends.” “But I don’t want to be friends with those kinds of people,” one of my students said, when I shared it. I suggested that for them it might be “I want to get along with you.” The “I am ready to handle this” stance along with the strongly conciliatory statement is powerful–they sensed that. Good for kindergartners, and good for all of us, ’cause all of us still have that kindergartner within, I told another student.

Within minutes of sharing this, I got into a conflict with a student who was distracting others with his phone. Fresh from a conversation that strengthened my confidence about cracking down on phone abusers, I told him to PUT IT AWAY or take it to the office. He tensed–I should have known better than to use my “I’m in charge” voice with him, who tends to be oppositional and, I hear, sometimes verbally abusive. I took a breath, stood in the stance, and said, C—-, please be kind, I want us to get along.” He looked at me a moment, then said, “How about I put my phone in my backpack and zip it up.” “That would be fine, thank you,” I replied, and we moved on.

Showed the other classes the next day, hoping that those high cortisol, anxious students really would do the brave stance in their private moments as needed at least, because the science shows that it actually lowers cortisol 15% and increases testosterone significantly. Works for me, at least on the level of confidence and communication, though the kids are onto me, now that I’ve gone over it in all classes, and it makes them smile. In my last class of the day yesterday, the one with no clinically anxious students, zero special ed, but a really strange variety of characters, I just could not get class started, so many of the students were talking and sharing funny (probably inappropriate) online video clips and so on, that I strode out into the middle of the room and used my brave stance and my loud voice an reamed them out. Totally got their attention, said I WAS DOING MY PART TO CREATE A LEARNING SPACE, AND THEY NEEDED TO DO THEIRS, THAT IF THEY WANTED TO SIT THERE AND PAY NO ATTENTION, THAT WAS THEIR CHOICE, BUT IF THEY WERE GOING TO INTERFERE WITH OTHERS’ OPPORTUNITY TO LEARN, THAT WAS NOT OKAY, AND IF I HAD TO I’D KICK OUT HALF A DOZEN PEOPLE IF I HAD TO. I LIKED THEM ALL, I REALLY DID, BUT THINGS HAD TO CHANGE!

Half way through the first sentence, all were paying attention, soon several were smiling, and at the end they actually applauded. The next day, of course, I had the same problem. This time I invited those who were trying to learn to gather closer to where I was facilitating discussion, and told the rest to go back in the corner and have the conversation that was obviously so important to them to have RIGHT NOW, only quieter.

Which worked okay–the five on my left side of the room really were making thoughtful and intelligent contributions, and I guess appreciated being made the priority for once instead of having to wait for the others to get with the program. The key was, is, I think, that now I’m teaching what I want, what I think is important, crucial, actually, rather than trying to follow the other teachers’ past plans or basing things on the availability of cool materials. And they are picking up on my sense of urgency and that i know something about this. They learned about energy flow in natural ecosystems, which is sustainable, at least in the context of somewhat gradual evolution, and now we’re looking at the history of human energy use, which has become unsustainable. I found an online video from the Crash Course series, this one based on the book Children of the Sun by Alfred Crosby, and we captured essential stages and identified the most impactful developments. If we accept Crosby’s skepticism that human societies can’t be convinced to actually decrease their energy use, as David Suzuki urges we do, then we are left with the great challenge of our time: how to develop sustainable energy use patterns, based on that age old principle on which all the other species that have present representatives live: survival. Something relevant to talk about and work on.

It seemed pretty chaotic, that class, especially after the Crash Course video and note taking that had gone so well the previous day. But several students from the left side of the class said they felt they’d accomplished more than usual and that people were more engaged. It’s true that when I invited the loud crew to push their table up closer so I wouldn’t have to shout, if they wanted to take part in the discussion, two of them jumped up and started shoving, startling the other four. Processing now, I feel I have discovered another key: work with the volunteers first, do something cool and let the rest come along if they will. If anyone seriously interferes with what the A-Team is trying to achieve, they will be asked to leave until they can be a better team member. I feel we are at the stage in our relationship that I can ask for that kindness.



4 responses to “Stayin’ alive among all those live wires

  1. jdawgsrunningblog

    December 5, 2015 at 5:59 am

    I also applaud you—intense work you’re doing–again, i find it humbling. Thank you for sharing all this.

    • toesinthedirt

      December 8, 2015 at 5:05 pm

      I keep thinking how good you would be for these kids. They are so hungry for authenticity and mentoring, and have so much to write about, to discover.

      • jdawgsrunningblog

        December 9, 2015 at 5:37 am

        Interesting–and thank you for that—might be willing to make that kind of move down the road–any potential openings in the future?

      • toesinthedirt

        December 12, 2015 at 11:42 pm

        Don’t know yet, but as the school expands into the new building in 2017, I would think so. Enrollment has been stuck at about 100 due to our campus limitations. If interested, you could come to one of the ProDev days on Project Based Learning that we are spearheading (not me, I’m just learning). Pretty neat stuff, and I think very much up your alley.


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