New Beginnings

IMG_3384

Miami Beach in June

As June 15th rolled around, I found myself, like all the other teachers in our town, planning the last week of school. Planning all the traditional celebrations, endings, and goodbyes. This was before I found myself on a plane heading south to be with our daughter who had just undergone emergency surgery. Thankfully she is going to be fine.

It is a week later. School has ended. The only goodbye to my kids was a Face Time session we had during computer class. While it was really nice, it wasn’t enough. So to end my thirty years of teaching I didn’t get to say a proper goodbye or have a traditional closure with my kids or the people I worked with. But the closure I had was full of support, love, and understanding. It was full of encouragement that I was in fact exactly where I needed to be. As John Lennon famously said, “Life is what happens when you’re planning other things.”

So here I sit. In a coffee shop in Miami, drinking delicious Cuban coffee, eating a guava bar, listening to (of all things) A Hard Rain’s A-Gonna Fall, and taking a few minutes to reflect on where I am and how I feel. First and foremost I am grateful to be here. There is no other place I would rather be. That is clear. Every time I walk outside I become a little more acclimated to the 90 degree/97% humidity and a little more familiar with my surroundings. The afternoon rain and tall palm trees are nice and so exotic feeling. All the dogs on and off leashes are refreshing. All the different kinds of people speaking the many different languages going about their life together is absolute heaven. And Target is right across the street.

Yesterday we went to a very nice Cuban restaurant with a friend I have not seen since I was pregnant with the daughter I am now here to care for. He was one of my best friends in high school. There is nothing, that sitting with friends, eating delicious food, and having a perfectly made Mohito in a palm tree enclosure, won’t cure.

So here I sit. In a coffee shop in Miami, savoring every moment of it. So how am I? my friends ask. I’m fine. This is how my career is ending and I wouldn’t want it any other way. “You must miss not having your party,” a friend said. No, not really. You see life is what it is. We are where we need to be. My “party” turns out to be the gifts of support and flexibility given to me by the friends I work with. The gift of being able to be here knowing my classroom continued without me. The gift of working with people so kind and selfless that they allow you to get on a plane and fly 1,000 miles away without worrying about what you are leaving behind. That’s my party. That’s my goodbye. And it’s the best party and goodbye a person could want. Thank you to my friends who gave me such a love filled send off.

Over and out from Miami,

Mary

Advertisements

Morton Sees a Sunrise

Screenshot 2018-06-02 at 5.28.38 PM - Edited

Morton Sees a Sunrise

“Life can be hard,” she whispered into Morton’s ear.

Have you ever had a hard day or a bunch of hard days?

Well, Morton knew someone who did.

She grew up on a hillside overlooking beautiful mountains, running through fields and chasing chickens.

She left her hillside for a big city.

She loved the lights. She loved the new and welcoming smells. She loved the people.

Then she heard scary sounds that she never heard before and she was afraid. “Oh my!” Morton said when he heard that. “No one should hear scary sounds.”

She moved to a land of warmth and sunlight. A land of safety.

She loved her new land of blue water and palm trees.

Then one day she met a mutt. No one wanted him. She named that scraggly mutt, Morton.

“Morton,” she said. “Morton you saved my soul.”

Morton licked her face. Morton yipped his love in her ear. Morton peed on her rug.

It rained. It rained for three weeks and Morton never got to see the shine of the sun or feel the warmth it could provide.

Then one morning she woke up. The clouds were gone. The sky was ablaze with color.

She woke Morton. “Morton, come meet the sun!” she said.

They stood on her balcony overlooking the waters that stretched to the east.

Morton looked up. Morton stared. Morton licked her ear.

Morton met his first sunrise.

She realized how much she loved Morton. Morton realized how much he loved her.

They were friends. Everyday there after Morton rose to see the sunrise and lick his new friend’s ear.

 

When Thoughts Come Together

Screenshot 2018-05-06 at 11.00.08 AM - Edited (1).png

Image and quote are taken from a youth justice program in Portland Oregon. Do visit their site and consider supporting their program:  http://www.abicommunity.org/programs/youth_program/about_social_justice_youth_program.html

It’s spring in Maine and it is glorious! Green is my new favorite color. It is everywhere. The leaves are beginning to bud with that once a year yellowish green tint. It’s so fleeting and so welcome. The grass is a brilliant and almost blinding green. The green leaves of daffodils are bright. It always amazes me how every year spring feels like we’re seeing all this for the first time as it’s all so encompassing and wonderful.

As I use this time to slowly clean out my classroom and dig up garden soil to plant onions and greens I find myself thinking about the new direction my life is about to take, the lives of those I have have worked with for the past ten years, and the lives I’m about to work with. With a weird surprise I realize they are connected.

Several weeks ago I went “home” to the state where I grew up for the funeral of my brother’s daughter. It was absolutely heartbreaking. It’s been many, many years since I’ve seen the family I grew up with. To say the least, I was nervous. And yet in a series of a few quick moments I was warmly greeted by each family member and felt the joy of being back. We were all reminded that time is fleeting and life can change in an instant. We know this yet we live life like we can outsmart it.  We were reminded that we can’t.

Days later I went to see a hero of mine, Dr. Cornell West. I’ve been following this man’s work for almost 30 years. He is brilliant, kind, generous, and a deep thinker. He challenges me. He make me think deeply. The friends I went with to see him have decided we are going to read his book, Race Matters, and discuss it. “Calling for a moral and spiritual awakening,” that’s what’s on the book’s cover.  I say it’s time. It’s past time. The moral decay of our country is demonstrated daily, loudly and clearly. I look forward to diving into his words because he speaks and writes eloquently. Each time I encounter his words I enjoy the total absorption I feel. His thoughts and words are deeply thought out, so caring in nature, and consistent in thought.

A few days ago I visited the school where I will be working as a summer and after school care teacher assistant. It’s is beautiful. The playground is on a green lawn and is surrounded by trees. You see cows and horses in the distance. The classrooms are large, open, spacious, and neatly organized. Each beautiful classroom has large windows (that open) at the children’s height and a variety of well taken care of small animals and plants. The food the children eat is healthy and fresh. The teachers organize the learning of each child to match their individual work plans and the children are happy and actively engaged in their work. They work and are encouraged to solve conflicts independently. Their work is done with thought and thoroughness. The staff and children greeted me warmly and made me feel very welcome. The children are mostly white and from homes that care deeply about education.

These experiences have taken over my heart. Not a day goes by that I don’t think about my niece Kelly, her parents and brothers, and the heartache they are enduring. I think about the adults and children I work with and the new ones that will soon take a central place in my heart. As I think about these events, places, and people I also think about Cornel West’s words. The one word that keeps coming to the forefront of my thinking is an old one, justice.  If the past year has taught me anything it has taught me that I am privileged. I’ll be honest in saying that I never thought of myself as this, even more evidence that I am. With that privilege comes responsibility to work for justice.

A few posts back I spoke about being a protector of the children. That has been and must continue to guide the work I do. It’s a large part of my core being. The word, justice, continues to have deep meaning for me especially if I think about it in the terms of children. They are so often voiceless in our world today. Their voices certainly aren’t being heard by the many who run our country or the greedy organizations that fund them. So this word, justice, must guide the work we do as privileged white people who live in places where we have clean drinking water and enough healthy food to eat. If I am going to be honest I must look at what is tugging so strongly at my heart these days…the injustice of our education system, including right here in Maine. As I left the school I am about to work at I found myself close to tears thinking of the kids I’m leaving behind. This is not the first time I have felt this inequity for them. I had very similar emotions when I left a workshop being held at a school in a wealthy white community in southern Maine a few years ago. I again find myself asking, “Why don’t our kids, in our inadequately funded inner city public school, get this type of school, these types of materials, these same playgrounds, access to these same healthy foods? Why?” Injustice is the only answer I can come up with.

After listening to Cornell West, a young and insightful coworker wrote the following words to help her sum up what she had just listened to. These words are a combination of hers and Cornell West. “Justice is love in public, tenderness is love in private. Be tender! It’s not a sign of weakness but strength and vulnerability. Be kind, be kind, be kind. Being kind in the face of anger is often disarming. You never know what that person is going through or why they’re angry – maybe it’s not even about you. What if I’m tired or feeling angry? Justice isn’t easy in an unjust culture, it’s a muscle we must work out. Complaining because it’s hard means I have privilege to not do justice.” What insight from a young insightful woman. Thank you Ms. Emily. Her words gently demand that we look at and listen to the youth who are about to inherit our country. What a mess we are leaving them. Yet, despite the obscene injustices of our nation our wise youth continue to see through it all and attack it with all their might. And I for one am so grateful for them and their courage and determination to do the work to make the glaring wrongs right. 

So where does that leave me? Someone with privilege, in a spot where I unexpectedly see injustice first hand. Certainly no one I work with or am about to work with is purposely making or encouraging this. But yet I see it and I am a part of it. If I am to follow the words and beliefs of the man I so greatly admire, I must speak up. I must address this. I can’t choose which injustice to address especially if one so close to me makes such a glaring appearance. As Emily said, complaining and not addressing means I have privilege others do not have. I find myself looking to the brave youth of Parkland. Children who experienced their friends and siblings being gunned down by a white, young, male terrorist. Really, that is who he is. How can we call him anything else? He created terror in the lives of those who lived it first hand and continues to cause terror in the lives of every family that sends someone they love to school everyday. These young men and woman. Yes, they are now young men and women because of what they have experienced. Their childhoods were stolen. These young men and women from Parkland are showing us elders the way. They are showing  us how to use white privilege to help others less privileged. They first do this by pushing fear aside and naming it. Then they yell it and bring those with less voice right square into their spot light forcing us to see and hear them. What inspiration.

God, grant me the strength, the wisdom, and the courage to change the things I think I cannot change.

Work for justice by working for change and giving voice to the voiceless, especially our children.

Peace,

Mary

The One and Only Ivan…better late than never

Screenshot 2018-03-14 at 8.46.44 AM - Edited

A woman from a local book store once told me that not everyone likes every book and that sometimes we just need to put a book aside and try again later. Well, I have found this to be true quite often.

Several years ago when I heard that The One and Only Ivan had won the Newbery Award I was disappointed. I don’t remember what book I wanted to win but I remember that it wasn’t this one. It was just too darn sad. I even gave the book away. I wanted nothing to do with it. Then this year I read Katherine Applegate’s Home of the Brave and fell in love with her prose and story. I then read Wishtree and fell in love again. I began to wonder if I was too hard on poor Ivan. Then, as things often work out, The One and Only Ivan crossed my path again. It was on sale through Scholastic for $1.00. I reluctantly bought one for each of my students. I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that I figured this book was better than nothing. “At least it’s a book they can have,” I sadly thought.

When the books arrived I held onto them. I didn’t even want to pass them out. Finally the right time appeared and each child got a book. I must admit that there is something pretty special to witness a child who doesn’t have books get a book to keep. This was only the third book this year that I gave to each of my students. I have learned something by this. When you give a child his or her own book, they are much more excited and willing to read it! Note to self. Give kids books.

As a class we began to read, The One and Only Ivan and slowly the magic began. The questions, the conversations, the wonderings were deep, insightful, beautiful, and yes, they were sad. Day after day we shared how sad we thought the story was … but we also agreed that we couldn’t stop reading. We had to find out what happened to Ivan and Ruby. They agreed that the pull on them was weird yet strong and that they wanted to read this sad book.

Before we finished and found out what happened we spent some time in class reflecting on ourselves as readers and writers. Parent teacher conferences were coming up and so end of trimester portfolio reflections had to be made. I enjoy watching kids think, write, and then share their reflections as readers and writers. Reflection is good. It’s good for teachers and it’s good for kids.

As I meandered my way around the room giving guidance and support I stopped by the desk of my most reluctant reader and watched as he wrote. He stopped and without looking up he asked, “Is open minded one word or two?” I told him two and asked him why. He was flustered. He didn’t know how to get what was in his head onto the paper. I encouraged him, “Just tell me what you are thinking and I’ll help you put your thoughts into words you can write on your paper.”

“I just want to be open minded,” he said. Wow, that’s what The One and Only Ivan did for this child.

“Read, read, and keep on reading,” I told him and as I said those words that I realized that I need to get a library of books into his home before summer comes. (More on that idea and action at the end of this post.)

As I finished the book I read through a part of Katherine Applegate’s Newbery Award Acceptance speech that was at the back of the book. It’s moving. Here is a link to that speech. Start at 11 minutes to hear what I feel is the most magical part of her speech, well really that part starts at 13 … https://ww.youtube.com/watch?v=ZaeWvSQw3tY

or if you prefer, here is her speech write up:   https://alair.ala.org/bitstream/handle/11213/7972/2013-newbery-speech.pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y

“Children know all about sadness. We can’t hide it from them. We can only teach them how to cope with its inevitability, and to harness their imaginations in the search for joy and wonder. . . . Nothing, nothing in the world, can do that better than a book. Let’s keep our kid’s love of reading alive.” Catherine Applegate, Newbery Award Acceptance Speech. I found her words as moving as the words she writes in her stories for our children.

Sometimes sad stories awaken something that has long slept deep in our soul. So we must keep on sharing our love of reading with our children, sad or not.

Mary

**Action – If you would like to donate to the creation of a small home library for a bright and reluctant ten year boy please comment to me and I’ll get information to you or send a book to D.H., care of Mary Dunn… Albert S. Hall School, 27 Pleasant Street, Waterville, ME 04901. It doesn’t need to be a new book. Feel free to write an encouraging note inside to him. He needs to know that he is braver than he believes, is stronger than he seems, and is smarter than he thinks (taken from A.A. Milne) and that reading will get him to where he wants to be and open his mind to the unlimited possibilities before him. Thank you so very much. This could change his life, so much for the better.

 

 

 

 

Upstream, Mary Oliver

Screenshot 2018-03-13 at 10.26.04 AM - Edited.png

“Sometimes the desire to be lost again, as long ago, comes over me like a vapor. With growth into adulthood, responsibilities claimed me, so many heavy coats. I didn’t choose them, I don’t fault them, but it took time to reject them. Now in the spring I kneel, I put my face into the packets of violets, the dampness, the freshness, the sense of ever-ness. Something is wrong, I know it, if I don’t keep my attention on eternity. May I be the tiniest nail in the house of the universe, tiny but useful. May I stay forever in the stream. May I look down upon the windflower and the bull thistle and the coreopsis with the greatest respect.

Teach the children. We don’t matter so much, but the children do. Show them daisies and the pale hepatica. Teach them the taste of sassafras and wintergreen. The lives of blue sailors, mallow, sunbursts, the moccasin flowers. And the frisky ones – inkberry, lamb’s-quarters, blueberries. And the aromatic ones -rosemary, oregano. Give them peppermint to put in their pockets as they go to school. Give them the fields and the woods and the possibility of the world salvaged from the lords of profit. Stand them in the stream, head them upstream, rejoice as they learn to love this green space they live in, its sticks and leaves and then the silent, beautiful blossoms.”  Mary Oliver, Upstream

I came home from accepting a new job yesterday and opened this book to the above page. It was perfect. Isn’t it funny how that happens? Events, people, readings, music, cross your path at just the right moment. As I sat there reflecting on this position it became more and more clear that it will be perfect for the next phase of my life and my husband’s life.  I’ll be working with children, taking them outdoors, teaching them science, and art, and nature. There are trees, a garden, a stream. It’s been a long time since I’ve taken young children outdoors into nature. I can’t wait.

I’m excited to return to that. Just the other day a fellow teacher and I were talking about kids needing to be outdoors. “How are they ever going to grow up and protect our planet if they don’t first play on it and love it?” It was a very serious question.

For much of my adult life I have had a north star that has guided me and my work with children, Rachel Carson. I remember reading her words when I was in graduate school for science education. They made me feel incredibly happy. The above passage adds onto those first words by Rachel Carson and I will use them to guide this next phase of my work.

It’s no surprise that I felt lost this year. I knew that. I’ve shared that. But just like the above passage reminds us, spring brings rebirth. Do the unexpected and if you are open, opportunities will present themselves. That is, if you don’t allow the fear of the unknown to win. I have second guessed my decision a million times over the past few months, even nearly rescinding my retirement decision. But I had this belief that the universe would guide me and that I should continue forward. That was the secret, holding onto that belief, not allowing the fear to win. It is so easy to doubt yourself and so much more difficult to believe in yourself. But believe in ourselves we must. Taking risks into the unknown we must do. For that is what a life worth lived is truly about. Hold onto the belief that you are good and that you deserve the surprises of what the universe has in store for you. And then teach our kids to love themselves and the outdoors.

Imagine and then believe! And always, face upstream with a kind heart and a happy smile.

Mary

A Breakfast Waitress, Trump, and Another School Shooting

Screenshot 2018-02-18 at 10.08.09 AM - Edited

                “November Eyes on Main Street” photograph by Jacob Bond Hessler

It was the second morning after yet another school shooting. It’s also a year after a deranged white supremacist sympathizer won the Oval Office. It’s three months after I decided to leave the teaching profession. To say that my mind is spinning would be an  understatement. Along with millions of others across our country and planet, my mind spins.

A friend, a father of a young teacher, wrote about hiring armed men to patrol our schools. Memes appear daily with phrases supporting the notion of arming teachers. This is how we, as a traumatized nation, is trying to make sense of the senseless.

Yesterday I went to breakfast with a friend and coworker. We go every Friday. It is something we look forward to. We discuss all the stuff we deal with all week long. Some of it school stuff, some of it family stuff, some of it political. But yesterday was different. Yesterday was two days after yet another day where children died because of our lax gun laws and the power we have turned over to the National Rifle Association. We cried a bit. We laughed a bit. And we listened to the waitress we’ve become friends with cry for us.

“Please, promise me you won’t be heroes,” she said. That plea resonated with me all day long. Two days later and I’m still hearing her, seeing her and her struggles, and imagining similar looks on the faces of parents across our country who’s children are in our schools either as students or as employees. She told us that her life growing up “wasn’t so good”. That “school was my safe place”. And “oh the poor children today who don’t have that safe place like I did”.  I pictured the faces of children who are in my classroom who I know witness violence in their homes.  I picture those of years past who have experienced the same thing and probably still do. I think about them as they would hug me and say they didn’t want a school vacation that was approaching and my feelings of absolute powerlessness. Sure we can call Human Services. I’ve done it many, many times. I almost always get the same response, “I’ll add this to our file.”

Schools need to be safe places, yet they are not. We worry about violence “out there” coming into our schools. But we also worry about violence that is already in our schools and loudly acted out by children so damaged that they can’t do anything but share their pain with our building and all who are in it.

Many in power are saying school shootings and the killing of children and their teachers is a mental health crisis not a gun crisis. Yet they are the same ones who vote for and enact the present situation in which mental health services for children are extremely difficult to get. There are not enough counselors or social workers in our schools. Not enough teachers or ed techs/para professionals. There is a gross lack of access to counseling for the vulnerable because Medicaid has been cut beyond recognition. These are the same folks who say it’s a mental health issue and not a gun issue. Their actions prove their deceit.

All weekend long I’ve been glued to the news, blogs, Facebook, reading as people try to come to terms with this, as I try to come to terms with this. Like many across the country, I’ve cried a lot this weekend. I keep telling my two grown children not to lose hope. I tell my classroom full of kids the same thing. Yet here I sit, trying desperately to hold onto it. I wonder, if my kids were young, would I send them back to school when our country, addicted to its guns and the power that comes with that, does nothing to make our schools and our children in them safe. I don’t know. Parents work. What options do they have? Give an extra hug and an extra “I love you” before heading out the door each morning? This is the Make America Great Again that we hear and see everywhere?

I have no answers. I’m deeply confused and conflicted. But this morning I read a poem by a man who resonates with me for many reasons. His poem appears in a book about boundaries, Boundaries. Boundaries are something many of us lack when dealing with others. I see it at my work all the time. Not just among children but among adults as well. It’s a tough thing to muster up the correct notion of boundaries. They are also something our government seems hell bent on putting around people to keep America white and privileged. I hope it’s ok with him that I post his beautiful poem here. It helped me today knowing that I am not alone, and I hope it maybe helps you a little bit too.

This poem, November Eyes on Main Street, was written as Richard Blanco, the author, drove down the streets of a favorite town of mine, Belfast, Maine, on the morning after the election of Trump:

November Eyes on Main Street

“I question everything, even

the sun today

as I drive east down Main

Street – radio off-

to Amy’s diner. She bob-

by-pins her hair, smiles

her usual good morning’ but

her eyes askew say

something like: You believe

this? as she wipes

the counter, tosses aside the

Journal Times,

the election headlines as

bitter as my cofffee

that she pours without a

blink.

Written by: Richard Blanco

Hold your kids tight. Use your voice and let your elected officials know how you feel. Tell them to “Make Kids Matter Again”.

Mary

 

 

The Gift of Time and Reflection

IMG_0503

The Magic of Looking Into the Eyes and Heart of a Child

In our district we have something very special. We have a literacy coach who understands kids and teachers. She provides us with uplifting and reinvigorating professional development opportunities. The one I am honored to be a part of this year is called, “Veteran Teachers Work Group”. It’s designed for us teachers who’ve been in the classroom long enough to know what we’re doing but still benefit immensely from new ideas, fresh readings, writing reflections, and sharing a day with each other. It is a day we all look forward to because it’s a day that fills our souls and energizes us to return to the classroom for another month of trying new ideas and with new outlooks. Certainly one goal is to infuse dynamic literacy strategies into our teaching and classroom. But it does so much more than that.

Not only are we lucky enough to read new books that inspire our conversations and direct our decisions of new strategies to try in our classrooms, it also guides our own writers’ workshop. Yes, we veteran teachers have our own mini writers’ workshop, complete with author’s chair sharing. We do this because our gifted literacy coach knows the benefits of empowering teachers to write.

I’m sharing my writing  because I need to, for me. Like many who write, I write when I need to understand confused or conflicted feelings. Writing helps me sort through them. It’s cathartic. So often we use writing as a way to share or communicate information with others. But for me it’s often how I take in and process information. So here’s what I was reflecting on today at our Veteran Teachers writers’ workshop:

As retirement approaches, or should I say “looms” over me, my feelings are a humble mixture of relief, fear, and sadness. As I sit here and reflect on these feelings I am reminded of something that happened yesterday as I watched a child melt down in front of me. A very articulate child was unable to sum up what he was thinking and feeling as he acted out in ways I had not observed before. As I struggled to maintain patience I was struck by an old and familiar feeling. It was like looking into a mirror of so long ago. Thankfully that image quickly vanished as I worked with him to make sense of his feelings. We both struggled to tease out what was getting in his way of feeling content, safe, happy.  As we worked through this I realized that it was a kind patience that helped him breathe, relax, share, and thus recognize and name his worries.

As the months of this last year in teaching fly by, I find myself wondering if I can summon the same patience I had for that child yesterday to use with myself. Can I take the time needed to name and uncover the mixture of feelings I’m experiencing as this time of transition takes center stage in my life.  Again I reflect on yesterday’s interaction and what looked like a childish lack of self control but was actually astute observations about a loved one mixed with a child’s inability to process those observations and feelings. I realized how his strength and bravery, even though a bit misguided at that moment, inspired me to be brave and acknowledge feelings I’ve been trying desperately to deny. I saw in him, at that moment, the importance of the work ahead of me if I am going to gracefully move into this next phase whole and intact. Yet again I am reminded and amazed by the lessons our kids can teach us if we are open and able to hear them and see them. Maybe that’s the loss I realize I will feel the most. The guiding stars that they often are to me in my own personal journey onward. But then I think about sleeping in late, having an extra cup of coffee in the morning, morning walks with my best friend, and it all feels a little better.

May you give yourself the gift of time and take that time to be patient and gentle with yourself.

Mary