25 Pennies

Wed May 15, 2013 somewhere’s around 9:30 or so PM…

So here’s my project.  I have 25 pennies in my pocket.  I will give one penny away whenever I notice myself doing something to either “look good” to “avoid looking bad” to others.


I kinda have a bit of a preconceived idea what sorts of things/times I fall into wanting to please/not displease others, but I am interested to see what the reality is.  Who will get a penny?  When?  Why?  And how long will it take me to get rid of 25 pennies?

Since I likely won’t see any people until tomorrow around 7:00 or so, that is when I shall start my clock.

Thursday May 16, 2013

Day 1–I should have given away one penny this morning, but I didn’t realize it ’till I was talking about my day with a friend whilst walking with a friend this evening.  Well, at least I think I should have lost a penny–which means I should have lost it whether I ultimately made the right call or not, right?

I witnessed a teacher giving her keys to a student and telling him to go unlock her door and do whatever it was they were talking about–put his science fair board in the room or something?  Idk.  But to my understanding giving a student staff keys is a big no-no.  A part of me wanted to ask her if she thought giving keys to a student was a good idea, but I didn’t want to make her mad at me.  And that’s what I got out of it–I avoided potential unpleasantness.  This person has yelled at and belittled me in front of students before and I did not speak up because I didn’t want to risk that happening again–especially not at 7:15 in the morning.  Or 7:10.  Whenever it was.  Would not have ruined  my day exactly, cuz I’m a big girl, but it would have made it less pleasant.  (Aside–the last time she yelled at me I did speak to her about it later.  She apologized sort of, but obviously missed the point and had no understanding of what exactly she had done that had been inappropriate and offensive.  So while I was proud of myself for sticking up for myself, it felt like a giant waste of time–so that’s another thing I got out of it.  I avoided the annoyance of another frustrating and ultimately pointless confrontation.)  And this staff member has been on staff much longer than I have–I still feel like a new kid and I don’t want to rock the boat or challenge more experienced colleagues because… well I’m the new kid.  I don’t feel like I have the right yet.  Sorta like my voice is less valid/important because it is younger and less experienced.  Which is stupid and not based in reality.  But it’s how I feel sometimes.  A lot of the time, actually.  I don’t know if I’m “getting something” out of that so much as it is evidence of those voices in my head that tell me that I am less and not enough and sit down shut up don’t challenge authority.

24 left.

Question–Where is the line between “looking good” and “being good”?  There were a few times today when I questioned whether I was being honest and present in the moment because I hadn’t yet found myself in a situation where I needed to give up a penny yet.  And I kept thinking about the choices I was making, and I found that I was doing what I was doing because I thought it was the right thing to be doing and my students’ opinions had nothing to do with any of it.

So now that I think about it, here’s two more that could have gone either way.  I left school today shortly after the afterschool programs let out, and ran into two of my kiddos who were hanging out waiting for parents or metro busses or whatever.  S and I were in the middle of a conversation when some high school kid neither of us knew interrupted.  It soon became obvious that he a) just wanted to be friendly and nice, and b) had not developed the social skills to realize that prolonging the conversation was not entirely appropriate.  S was obviously uncomfortable because it was totally awkward, and I chose to engage with the high school kid because it was right to be kind and because I wanted to show S how I as an adult handle situations like that.  I also compassionately but firmly ended the conversation after an appropriate amount of small talk had transpired, then I explicitly shared with my kiddo that I thought it was important to be kind, but that it is also okay and important to set boundaries and then we got back to our original conversation.  I did this because I wanted to be a good example for her—to show her how to be compassionate and kind—not because I wanted her to think I was awesome but because I wanted her to consider a new way of handling uncomfortable and potentially awkward situations.  It was just one of those moments.

These are so gross.  Why did they hafta go and mess with my cheetos???  *sigh*

These are so gross. Why did they hafta go and mess with my cheetos??? *sigh*

Around 5:30 a friend invited me to go on a walk and it was such a beautiful day I could not but joyfully accept.  We met at the park and wandered for about two miles just in the neighborhood around here, then ended at school so I could go check out the end of the science fair.  AC, AL and W were all hanging out on the grass outside and I went up to say hi.  We got to talking about hot cheetos and how gross I think they are.  AL said he needed a phone so I let him call his dad from mine.  Then we had a bit of a convo about my experiences with my friend Alex and her family who are also Vietnamese and how much I enjoyed learning about her family’s customs and traditions when I was in high school.  Which led into a really fun conversation about all the ways you can offend someone without meaning to.  I could have been doing this so that my kiddos would like me better and outwardly the entire interactions would have looked exactly the same.  But that’s not where I was coming from.  I was being my authentic and real self, and was consciously fully present in the way that I am when I am being my best most authentic me.

Bringing God into it, I really believe that I have been blessed with this job here at WMS so that I can love on my kiddos like this.  Like it’s part of God’s plan for my life–that I would learn lessons from them, and that they would learn a bit about what it means to be a woman/person of integrity as I am my authentic self before them.  Good days and bad days alike.  So I do seek out interactions like these ones, and many others today in part because I believe it pleases and glorifies God.  But I got it deep inside me a long time ago that “looking good” will not please God, no matter how good that good looks.  Man looks on the outside but God looks on the heart.  So while I was a bit taken aback to see God in the list of persons who get pleased, I get why and I do really appreciate the challenge to examine that part of myself again and see that I’ve not (today at any rate) lost that understanding and acceptance that was so hard to get until it was easy as breathing.

I feel like I’m rambling and no longer writing coherently.  So I’ll shut up.  For now.


my lil prayer

My heart is full.

My heart is filled with gratitude.  When I needed you, you loved me.  I was a stranger, but you fed me, and friended me, and your love for me made us sisters. 

My heart is filled with sorrow.  You shared yours with me and I am glad I now share it with you.  I know that your sorrow in my heart does not lessen the sorrow in yours, but I am grateful for it because I know that it binds our hearts together.

My heart is filled with hope.  I suspect that some of this hope is your hope, but God put it in my heart because He knew that it is leaking out of yours.  This hope is big hope, and under the weight of it I stumble, and fall to my knees.  I look forward to the day when you can hold hope in your heart—but for now I will hold it for you. 


My heart is filled with love for you.  And as big as that love is, it is smaller than a speck of sand compared to how much you are loved by God. 

“And in that day, declares the Lord, you will call me ‘My Husband,’ and no longer will you call me ‘My Baal.’  For I will remove the names of the Baals from her mouth, and they shall be remembered by name no more.  And I will make for them a covenant on that day with the beasts of the field, the birds of the heavens, and the creeping things of the ground.  And I will abolish the bow, the sword, and war from the land, and I will make you lie down in safety.  And I will betroth you to me forever.  I will betroth you to me in righteousness and in justice, in steadfast love and in mercy.  I will betroth you to me in faithfulness.  And you shall know the Lord.

And in that day I will answer, declares the Lord.

I will answer the heavens, and they shall answer the earth, and the earth shall answer the grain, the wine, and the oil, and they shall answer Jezreel and I will sow her for myself in the land.

And I will have mercy on No Mercy, and I will say to Not My People, ‘You are my people’; and he shall say, ‘You are my God.’ “


Man looks on the outside…

…but God looks at the heart.

I went to church a few weeks ago, and they were in the middle of a series looking at “ordinary men (and women) of extraordinary courage.”  The overarching point being that all the folks in the Bible are normal men and women, they simply have the courage to believe God when He says stuff.  [Courage being internal faith acted upon externally in the world.]  For me, the stuff God says is usually about my self-worth, and how it depends not on my accomplishments but on who I am in His eyes.  And when I let the who I am in His eyes be the who I am in my classroom, then things can go all to hell and I know that I’m okay.  I have the courage to fail.  But they don’t normally go all the way to hell.  Just to heck.  Unless I have a sub, in which case 4th period turns into a real monster. 


I spent last Thursday and Friday in Portland at a Sound Grading Practices conference.  It was one of those events where information just flew at my face for 48 hours with what felt like zero breaks—I was late to one session cuz I wanted to get coffee and take care of a personal need—and at the end of it all I admit I was almost in tears because it was just so… much.  (One would think that educators would know better, but I digress…)  Right now two things are really resonating with me.

1.  The 100 feet rule.  Driving from wherever to somewhere else at night, all you can really see and have influence over is the 100 feet illuminated by your headlights.  Sure, I’ve got a roadmap (5 year plan, or whatever) but at a practical level all I can really deal with is 100 feet at a time.  AND THAT IS OKAY.

2.  WWH.  Where am I now?  Where do I need to be?  How do I close the gap?  I use a standards-based grading system, which sounds fancy but really is just about trying to make sure a student’s academic grade is based on their proficiency in the subject being graded.  70% mastery should be 70% in the course, regardless of how nice a kid is, or how much extra credit they are willing to do.  Flip side is that 95% mastery of a subject should be 95% in the course, regardless of how jerky a student is to your face.  One of the tools I want to learn how to use in my classroom is the WWH–and as I’ve chewed on this over the last few days I realized that I think like this all the time.

  • Where am I now?  Depending on which now, I could be anywhere.  Really. 
  • Where am I going?  Jesus.
  • How do I close the gap?  I don’t.  He does.  Duh.

I had a real rough year last year.  My kids had run an experienced teacher out by the beginning of October.  I didn’t get in my classroom until weeks later.  8th graders are tough.  For a while there I was working 12-14 hour days, plus weekends, and feeling like I wasn’t getting anywhere–mostly because I really wasn’t.  We weren’t learning much math, which frustrated me a lot.  Then June happened, they all left for high school and I have a new batch.  Shorter ones, this year, and more afraid of lunch detention.  Still, some of them are real pills.

If I looked at it from the front of my classroom, there are days (like today) when I might feel like an abject and total failure.  Not one of my students got the exit ticket question correct today.  Not even my smart ones.  I raised my voice.  More than once.  I ordered rather than asked.  More than once.  I said bad words in the teachers’ lounge.  Lots of them.  But at the end of the day none of that matters.  The only thing that matters is that I lay it all before Jesus right now, thank Him for the awesome, trust him for the rest, and have the courage to go back again tomorrow and every tomorrow after that.  What my kids need is love—day after day after day after day of love.

My prayer tonight?  That tomorrow’s awesome outweighs the rest.  J


I spent today with my person.  We’d made plans early last week just on general principle, but by the time Saturday came around I really needed her.  Yesterday was a really rough day at school.  This morning I broke up with my boyfriend of (off and on) two years.  Again.  For good this time.   I went to the mall.  I hate the mall, and I hate shopping, and I tried on no fewer than 23 pairs of jeans in three different stores and none of them fit (though I did find some really cute slippers).  That’s a lot of trauma to fit into less than 48 hours.

She braved the why the eff is there traffic it’s 3:00 on a Saturday afternoon traffic, and we walked to one of my favorite pubs.  It was a perfect day in Seattle—cold and clear, and it’s been dry for a while so the leaves were really crunchy.  There exists no better soul balm than crunching leaves, except a great conversation about everything with the one person who gets you.  Also, it was kinda fun to watch Chaz reading in the corner…

An eventful day

I don’t know how long it has been since I’ve updated this.  Way too long, I’m sure.  Prolly around the time I got hired to teach at my current school, which would make it about a year.  And what a year.  Sheesh.

I shouldn’t have stopped writing, though I know why I did.  Self-care and boundaries have never been easy for me.  But I am a verbal processor and process best through writing because I have a pathological need to craft my words to say EXACTLY what I mean.  Which means I need to decide what exactly I am thinking in order to write about it.

Some stuff went down at school today.  Some pretty serious stuff.  Kid(s) could have been seriously hurt, though no one was (thank you Jesus!).  Shelter-in-place bells were going strong almost before the third period tardy bell finished ringing.  I went into automatic mode.  Lock door.  Scoop in any kids who are in the hall (one was, but he went into another closer classroom).  Shades down.  Crowd control–tell kids what I know and what the expectation is for shelter-in-place.  I am not directly responsible for the students in 3rd period because another teacher is using my space; however it is my space and I sort of automatically took control.  The other teacher was free to take attendance and get it entered in the computer and then talk with a student who was crying because she knew a bit about what was going on and was worried about her friend.  I fielded questions and tried to calm fears.  Usually shelter-in-place is used when there is a dangerous situation in the community but the school is not directly targeted, so that’s what I assumed was going on.  Dharma’s lesson plan was to play board games and practice interpersonal skills, so that’s what we did.  I put on some Top Hits on my Spotify, and we were happy as little clams.  I even got some grading done.

It didn’t hit me then.  It didn’t hit me when the letters to parents got delivered to my 6th period class.  We read the letter together.  My on-the-spectrum kid raised his hand for like the first time ever and said, “I’m nervous.”  I asked if anyone else was feeling that way and 28 hands shot up.  So we spent about 15 minutes talking about it.  Eleven and 12 year olds need to be able to express their negative feelings to an adult they trust.   They also still take their cues still from adults, which is nice.  After a goodly round of “What’s going to happen?  Are we going to be okay?  What really happened?  Is that kid going to be okay?” I was able to wrap it up with “We’re okay.  And that kid is getting the help he needs.  And this situation is okay because KIDS told adults what they heard about/saw as soon as they could.  We need to keep taking care of each other. Can we do that?” 29 heads nod. Okay. back to math.

It didn’t hit me at the after school staff meeting when a colleague expressed her own discomfort and worries about all those “what ifs” and “might have beens.”  It didn’t hit me as we discussed the situation at staff happy hour.  It didn’t even hit me when I quite cryptically posted “Well that was an eventful day” on my facebook.

It hit me when a colleague and friend commented “Yah.”


Continue reading


The best part of being a middle school teacher is the fact that lesson planning occasionally devolves into spending an hour watching youtube videos–and it really is in fact a relevant and productive use of my time.

Some of my favorites from today:

Related rates (but I might be able to get a system of linear equations out of it…)  This one is also awesome–and they have smexy accents!

Exponential relationships (or chemical change vs physical change if I taught science)

An alternative to the champagne pyramid problem

Domain and range with a review of linear equations?  Awesome!

Here’s one that is just silly

Quote of the day (yesterday):  Ms Walsh, do you want to feel my shoes?  Why yes, Neema, I would love to feel your brand-new bright purple satiny Chucks.  Swagg!

Critical Mass

I had an interesting idea during yoga:  identify and mentor the students who are “getting it” so they can have the tools they need to really step into the leadership roles I already see them taking in the classroom.

What I hope will happen...

There are some really talented mathematicians in my classes, and I’d like to tap into that resource. I already see them taking positions of leadership in the class. Other students want to sit at their table groups because they know they can get help. They are asking for harder material, and are serious about redeeming this math year and getting ready for high school. I will be inviting them to participate in an innovative and student-driven program that I just made up yesterday in my head during triangle pose.  (Or maybe I was a tree…) I’ll invest one lunch per week mentoring and preparing these students to be leaders in the classroom and then see what they come up with. I’m 100% confident that it will be much better than anything I could come up with on my own. I’ll be targeting students based on their level of mastery as well as the motivation and leadership qualities I’ve seen demonstrated in my classes.

The first Critical Mass Monday will be by invitation, however any student who would like to participate would be welcome after that.
What’s it going to look like?  I don’t know.  But off the top of my head I think I have 28 potential leaders, and there may be some more I haven’t identified yet.  I ran the idea past a few of my 5th period students, and got some pretty enthusiastic feedback, which is really encouraging.  I’ll invite them all to come to a lunch-time brainstorming session on Monday, then see what happens.  If half want to participate, that’s going to be 14 students who are part of the solution, rather than part of the problem.  That can be nothing but awesome.
Why “Critical Mass”? Research has shown (and Ms Bryn has confirmed by her personal experience this year) that in a standards based grading system, where students are assessed exclusively on their mastery of skills and concepts, and receive regular, meaningful feedback throughout the learning process, the class average tends to center right around the B mark, which is Working Independently (and therefore meeting the standard). We’re obviously not there yet, but I believe that once we get enough students at the Working With Support/Working Independently border we’ll build momentum and really start to gel as a learning community. It’s gonna be rad. But it takes having enough students at a WWS/WI level so that the ones that are still Just Starting are in the minority and can get the help they need from myself and from their peers. Too many Just Startings and we can’t really get started.
That is Critical Mass. And I can’t do it alone.