Writing Resources from the Northern Virginia Writing Project

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The Writing Project rules. It has influenced every aspect of my pedagogy.  Every summer for the last four years I’ve been fortunate, lucky, and privileged to be able to spend time with my local affiliate’s Invitational Summer Institute. The ISI is a four week celebration of writing. Teachers spend time giving demonstration lessons, participating in writing groups, and learning the ins and outs of composition.

A colleague of mine recently asked about using This I Believe podcasts in class. Remembering that a teacher gave a demo lesson this last year, I shot him the link. I decided to collect some of the demo lesson write-ups on one page. Hopefully these resources might be of value to teachers!

How Do I Write? Examining Our Writing Process Pt. 1

Cheese and Chocolate – Descriptive Writing

ESOL Bootcamp – Writing with Language Learners

Encouraging and Supporting Writers through Technology

Line and Stanza Breaks in Free Verse Poetry

Progoff Journaling – Personal and Expressive Writing pt. 1

Progoff Journaling – Personal and Expressive Writing pt. 2

Teacher Writing and Publishing

Physicalizing and Brainstorming Strong Verbs

Teaching Persuasive Writing through Op-Ed Genre Study

Writing Extraordinary Profiles of Ordinary People through Profile Genre Study

Working Titles to a T

“If You Really Want to Hear About It: Holden Caulfield and Voice

Student Made Standards Based Rubrics

Integrating Multi-Genre Research Projects with Technology

Thinking Places: A Playful Activity for Personal Narratives

Multimodal Literacy and Poetry with English Language Learners

Writing Notebooks: Playgrounds for Writers

Multigenre Projects and Metacognitive Thinking

Using Primary Resources for Writing Instruction

Found Poems: A Generative Pathway to Meaningful Textual Interactions

Using Improv in the Class to Enhance Openness and Creativity

Using Maps to Tell A Story: Cartography, Visualization, and Research

Visual Literacy: Exploring Stories Within and Beyond the Frame

Writing in ESOL: A Journey

Stretch A Lot – Stretch A Little: Using Hyperbole to Enhance Memoir Writing

Using Writing Conferences to Implement the Writing Process

A Masterclass in Writing Fiction – Pt 1

A Masterclass in Writing Fiction – Pt 2

Beyond Socratic Seminars and Essential Questions: The Importance of Student Generated Questions

Using This I Believe Podcasts to Elevate Student Voice

Bonus! Want to Upgrade Your Theory Game? Check Out These Posts on Composition Pedagogy Theory

Expressivist Composition Pedagogy

Collaborative Writing Pedagogy

Critical Composition Pedagogy

Process Composition Pedagogy

Feminist Composition Pedagogy

Genre Composition Pedagogy

Literature and Composition Pedagogy 

 

 

 

 

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Today I Called A Student Racist

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I called a kid racist today. Or, more specifically, I called a comment he made racist. My 7th grade class was making observations about an image I had projected onto the board. We were using similes and metaphors to describe images when he made the comment.

“Yea, whatever that stuff on the street is, it looks crusty. You know, like Imani’s weave.”[1]

My mind ground to a halt. Nineteen pairs of eyes swiveled towards me, fixing me to the spot. A space of panic opened up inside of me. It was the neural equivalent of a DDoS attack. My brain flooded itself with demands for information. What just happened? How should I react? Was the kid being racist? How close is he with Imani? How is Imani reacting? How is the class reacting? 

The classic “oohhHHHH!” that typically follows classroom roasting was conspicuously absent. Maybe kids sensed the existential unease their teacher was suddenly radiating. Maybe they recognized that the Rick had gone too far. Or, since it was the beginning of first period, maybe they were just too tired to get worked up. But whatever the reason for the silence, I was thankful. I needed those precious seconds of to try and work through my response. 

Earlier that month I had been reading about the various repugnant ways that white society critiqued and attempted to control Black female bodies. With that fresh in my mind, I made the decision to publicly censure the boy. I took a deep breath into my lungs and steeled my diaphragm in order to try and keep my voice steady.

“Rick, that comment was racist and disrespectful to Imani. There is a history of white men making disparaging and racist remarks about the appearance of Black females. Please apologize and do not do it again.”

Silence.

Within thirty seconds the class and I had moved on. During my first planning period I found my school’s diversity coordinator and told her what had happened. I knew I hadn’t handled the situation well and that I needed to debrief with the two students as soon as possible.

I contacted someone from the diversity office for advice on how to discuss what happened with Rick. She recommended speaking with Rick about how his comment was insensitive (instead of racist). She also told me that I didn’t need to go into any of the history about Black bodies and the white male gaze. “Tell Rick it’s insensitive to make fun of Black girls’ hair and that he needs to apologize,” she said.

Rick was already ahead of me. By the time I snagged him during lunch, he had already apologize to Imani over Snapchat, Instagram, and in person. When I asked him why he had made the comment, he told me that he was just trying to be funny. I told him it was insensitive and disrespectful to make fun of Black girls’ hair or appearance. His head bobbed up and down like a hyperactive jack in the box. Afterwards I spoke with Imani. She confirmed Rick’s multiple apologies and insisted that she was okay. “Eh, I’m used to it,” she said.

I knew I hadn’t handled the situation well. In my inadequacy to deal with microaggressions in the classroom, I had called a student out instead of calling him in. For anyone unfamiliar with the difference, this is a good place to start. I find myself consistently unprepared to discuss issues of race in the classroom. In Is Everyone Really Equal? An Introduction to Key Concepts in Social Justice Education authors Robin DiAngelo and Özlem Sensoy address this. They write that

Because Whites choose to live primarily segregated lives within a White dominated society, we receive little or no authentic information about racism and are thus unprepared to think about it critically. (p. 110).

I’m currently battling through my own infantile understanding of racism, intersectionality, and the role of schooling in perpetuating inequality. My ignorance is thick, and the amount I have to learn is staggering, but this is no excuse for inaction.

As a white educator speaking to other white educators, calling students in is a non-negotiable part of our work. Schools are primary sites of socialization for children. And since schools draw from dominant ideologies in order to recreate existing inequalities, it makes sense that microaggressions seem to ooze out of the pores of many students and teachers.

While some students have learned to limit insensitive comments and exaggerated accents when adults are around, many haven’t. And for those who have learned to keep such comments to a minimum when authority figures are present, I would offer that the threat of being publicly shamed is a more powerful motivator than an understanding of oppression and prejudice.

At my school, labeling something or someone as racist has become just as common as kids facetiously calling each other bullies. I’ve contributed to this climate with my own inaction. I’m guilty of using proximity or “the look” or other non-verbals to silence students who make prejudiced and insensitive comments instead of calling them in to discuss the situation. I need to talk to them about why they said it, what their intentions were, and why such comments are harmful. Every single time.

Let me make it clear that this post isn’t about Rick. It’s about my own struggles to snap out of my privileged complacency in order to begin the work of becoming an antiracist educator. For my fellow white educators who battle with feelings of guilt or embarrassment or confusion, let it go. These feelings keep us from throwing ourselves into this work.


[1] I’ve changed the names and identifying details to preserve the privacy of those involved.

Image: CC0

Is Empathy Enough? Social Justice and the Antiracist Classroom

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Can empathy save the world?

Cindy O’Donnell-Allen, author of Tough Talk, Tough Texts: Teaching English to Change the World, argues that it can. Tough Talk explores how teachers can use tough texts to build empathy, challenge students academically and, like the subtitle suggests, change the world. O’Donnell-Allen’s book helps children enact democracy by teaching them to read challenging texts and engage in civil discourse in the classroom.

Tough Talk is a superb classroom resource. It combines critical literacy, discussion protocols, and contemporary research. O’Donnell-Allen highlights empathy as a crucial element to civil discourse inside and outside of the classroom. Empathy becomes a way for students “to view both the characters they read and the classmates with whom they interact more compassionately” (31). This post is not meant to disparage O’Donnell-Allen’s wonderful work but instead to grapple with empathy and think through what happens next.

Framing empathy as a potent force for social justice is not uncommon. Last year, my district embarked on cultural competency training designed to build empathy and improve ‘educational outcomes’ for students of color. Over the course of the year, facilitators from central office led us through various workshops. We responded to YouTube videos, participated in reading groups for classic social justice texts, and interrogated our subject positions as teachers. Who are we, where did we come from, and how do these formative experiences shape our daily interactions with students?

I do not wish to discount this work. Helping our students navigate and appreciate the plurality of life is a worthwhile goal. But is it enough? For the critical pedagogue, instructional methods and political power are intertwined. If we begin with Paulo Freire’s declaration that students must read the world and the word, then the social justice classroom should prepare students to analyze, critique, and ultimately challenge society’s vectors of oppression.

In my middle school English Language Arts class, students have analyzed the diversity of my classroom library. We used a diversity wheel to explore the various ways our identities intersect. A privilege walk helped students make concrete the effects of race, class, and gender on our lived experiences. But when it comes to resisting and overturning our white supremacist capitalist patriarchy, I’m not convinced that empathy is enough.

As students are becoming critical readers and thinkers, O’Donnell-Allen states that “they are also learning to view both the characters they read and the classmates with whom they interact more compassionately” (32). Then the best we can do as educators is to plan meaningful learning experiences, provide feedback, and create a space where this sort of vulnerable learning can occur. I’m reminded of education’s perennial debate over inputs, outputs, and the black box of the mind. Will the input of empathy lead to the output of liberation? Will tough talks and civil discourse create students who are ready to resist? We must be proactive. Our classrooms cannot start and stop with empathy. 

In a brilliant essay on the limits of antiracist empathy, Leigh Patel challenges the primacy of empathy in social justice discourse. She contends that

Empathy does not require realignment of social relations. This is not to say that it cannot be a component of social transformation, but in our current context that conveniently confuses dialogues about diversity with material transformation, dialogue for empathy can all too easily become parking lots for emotionality and white fragility, recentering whiteness and irrationally requiring people of color to bear witness to these emotions. (83)

I have witnessed this emotionality among white students in my classes when we discussed issues of privilege and oppression. In fact, my previous blog post can be read as another indulgent display of white fragility. It’s too easy for me to think that such discussions are enough. That my only duty is help students analyze structures of domination in schooling and society.

As a white educator speaking to other white educators, it’s imperative that we guide our students beyond discussion. This coming year, my focus will be on the second part of praxis: action. Inside the classroom I must orient my pedagogy towards social justice work. Because as Patel explains, such talk “cannot be read as politically comprehensive or inherently facilitative of social change” (83). Talk and analysis must lead to student engagement with society. Otherwise,
we risk falling short of social justice’s ability to transform and liberate.

Hey, Fellow White People, Stop Talking!

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Women of color have publicly rebuked me three times. I didn’t appreciate it when it was happening but now I’m thankful for these experiences. They helped me begin to remove the space suit of privilege that keeps me hermetically sealed from inequity and oppression. This post is for white folks like me. Learn from my ignorance.

I attended my first step show in college. I was astounded and captivated by the rhythm, the discipline, and the air of celebration in the packed auditorium. A woman of color in front of me noticed some of her friends behind me, prompting a delightful outburst of joy and hand signs. (I would later come to learn that hand signs are a part of sorority culture.)

Wanting to join in on the conviviality, and not knowing any better, I locked eyes with some of the women and attempted to replicate the hand gestures. Their faces dropped as they saw what I was trying to do. Stop. This isn’t for you, one of the women behind me said.  My face flushed fire engine red as I pinned my hands to my sides and sat down. Mercifully, I was quickly forgotten as the women went back to enjoying the event and each other’s company. My white shame was overwhelming.

The next day I recounted the story to a friend in an attempt to figure out what happened. What had I done that was so offensive? My friend gave me a quick rundown on the Divine Nine. He said that the rituals and knowledge of African American Greek and fraternal organizations were closed off to me because I wasn’t a member. Fascinated, I pressed him for more. But no matter how hard I pleaded, he refused to yield. This isn’t for you, he echoed. As a privileged white male, this was the first time in my life when I was denied access to knowledge. The situation caused me to reflect on the history of slave masters denying African Americans access to education, rightfully compounding my guilt.

Three years ago I created a Twitter account for professional purposes. One morning a lively discussion about racist curricula and school discipline dominated my feed. I found myself nodding along and cosigning on everything that was being said. Without thinking I charged into the conversation, inserting my unsolicited voice into a space it didn’t belong. Even though I thought I was helping out, I had no business butting in.

With all due respect, one of the discussion participants Tweeted to me, please stay on the sidelines for this. I froze. So great was the embarrassment that I raced to delete my comments, unfollow everyone involved in the conversation, and close my laptop. I slunk down into my chair, saturated with the same white fragility I experienced at the step show. I wasn’t upset at anyone but myself, but I still didn’t “get it.” I must have been misunderstood, I thought. After all, I was just trying to help!

Last summer, determined to “get it right,” I barged into another Twitter conversation about the representation of girls of color in the movie Moana. I had just finished the revelatory Pushout: The Criminalization of Black Girls in Schools by Monique Morris. The conversation was about the hyper-sexualization of girls of color in popular media, a topic Morris explores throughout her book. Spurred on by the privileged notion that I had an inalienable right to participate in every conversation and speak on every topic, I fired off a few pedantic tweets about the book and how it refers to hyper-sexualization as “age compression.” It did not go well. The discussion leader immediately called me out, rightfully excoriating me and demanding that I get off of their timeline. My privilege stood between their words and my own understanding.

Determined to get to the bottom of what was going on, I sought out people of color on Twitter and followed them. Academics, pop culture critics, authors, organizers, students, it didn’t matter. At the time, my goal was to figure out what was going on in order to be able to join discussions without getting called out. It had nothing to do with critical consciousness; I just didn’t want to get shamed.

But the more I followed and listened, the more I started to “get it.” The discussions I was inserting myself into were not mine. I realized how I was treating conversations among people of color as something to be commandeered and dominated for my own gain. As if every public space was simply another venue for me to broadcast my own beliefs, whatever those beliefs may be.

This blog post is written to white people like me. People who need to talk less and listen more. People who need to remove themselves from the center and elevate others. If you’re interested in improving, here are some quick and easy ways to get started.

  1. Be mindful of the social media accounts you follow and rebroadcast. 
  2. Read or watch a quick primer on privilege. It will help.
  3. Talk with the women and people of color in your life. Develop relationships with them and listen to them.
  4. In case you hadn’t heard, online spaces can be extremely toxic and hateful for women and people of color. When you see white people engaging in inappropriate and disrespectful behavior, engage them. There’s no value in ‘feeding the trolls,’ but there’s value in holding each other accountable and assuming that once we know better, we can do better.
  5. Stop talking and listen more!

If you find yourself getting rebuked, take the loss. Lick your wounds, dab your white tears, and move on. Head back into the conversation, but this time just listen. As white folks we must keep each other in check and amplify voices of color. It’s not about us.

A Contained Existence: Ritual, Routine, and My Life on the Grid

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I experience life through a series of shifting grids. Everything about the way I process information suggests right angles, coordinate planes, and compartments. Anytime I meet someone new, I assault them with a barrage of out of context and somewhat inappropriate questions: What music do you listen to? How was your childhood? What’s your relationship with your family? What were you like in high school? What are your favorite shows? My brain yearns to place everything and everyone into various interconnected frameworks. Everyone’s answers also act as a mirror, allowing me to engage in continuous rounds of self-assessment to make sure I stay within one standard deviation of what I consider to be normal.

The tendency to fix everything to a grid permeates every aspect of my life. When I was little kid, I told my mom how I enjoyed tracking syllables with my left hand. I would take sentences and count them off into alternating groups of 3, 4, and 5. The goal was to make the final syllable of every sentence end on a particular finger.

Heavy metal, my favorite genre of music, fits seamlessly into the grid. Every band taking up residence in my brain combines jackhammer force with the precision of quartz chronological movement. “Still Echoes” from Virginia metal band Lamb of God is a perfect example. Listening to the drums, guitars, and vocal patterns feels like spiraling out from the center of Fibonacci’s golden ratio pattern.

For this reason, my jogging playlist always contains a single song on repeat. No surprises and no shuffling. Just the same two minute chunk looped. It takes a certain kind of song to stand up to this obsessive level of routine. The song has to be relentless and consistent in beats per minute. Although I try to mix it up every few months, I keep coming back to the staples: Slayer, At the Gates, Lamb of God, In Flames, and Darkest Hour. The one exception here is Usher whose banger Scream enjoyed a couple summers of looping.

I’ve been listening to the first two minutes of Darkest Hour’s The Sadist Nation during every run for the last five years. It never gets old or loses its edge. Every listen is a fresh marching order, a call for muscle and sinew to propel the body forward. 1’s and 0’s, on’s and off’s, starts and finishes. I can’t stand jazz for this reason. The organic ebb and flow of improvisation, the rhythm changes, the fluidity of it all claws at my need for repetition and symmetry and containment.

Schools are perfect for me. In most schools, everything that happens slots nicely into a grid. Bell schedules, assignment schedules, curricular planning, everything is rationalized and consistent. I love it. Every school day is a perfect assemblage of self-contained rituals. I can tackle anything as long as it’s fixed to some sort of repetitive grid.

Ritual and repetition help me manage my ADHD. They place boundaries around everything. During summer and winter break, I keep to the same schedule. Wake up around 5 and play video games until 9. Then, work on writing until around 11 when I do some form of exercise. My afternoon is lunch, nap, reading, then YouTube until my wife gets home. Every day. Without such a setup I drown.

I’ve always been an all or nothing person. I recently had my wisdom teeth removed, an experience that left me swollen on the couch for days. I didn’t brush my teeth. I collapsed on the bed every night in the clothes I had been wearing all day. My diet consisted of slurping down ice cream, apple sauce, and ex lax whenever I felt like it. After a week of being off the grid, I was able to begin inserting modules of routine back into my schedule. Mercifully, my life is once again fully contained within blocks of reading, writing, exercise, and socially acceptable hygiene practices.

My contained existence brings me joy because it allows me to meet life on my terms.  Within constraint lies my personal freedom.

 

What’s the Point? Theory, History, and Middle School Language Arts

Huff puff America 2000! Huff puff Goals 2000! Huff puff NCLB! Huff puff Race to the Top! 

I used to run through basic education history facts whenever I went out jogging. Timelines, names, and key concepts fought to implant themselves inside my brain as I heaved myself along the idyllic running path outside my home. Like the cartographers in Jorge Louis Borges’ “On Exactitude in Science,” I sought to construct a map that could store and represent everything I knew about education and theory. If I could only keep my facts straight, I figured, everything else would turn out fine.

I’ve traditionally devoted the summer months to catching up on my theory and history reading. Before this summer started, I lined up what I assumed to be the first chunk of books to plow through. As you can see, I was planning to go hard on history with some theory thrown in for good measure.

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Before I cracked open Lawrence Cremin’s The Transformation of the School, I decided to live a little and read Intention: Critical Creativity in the Classroom. The new book was making waves across my various social media feeds, and I wanted to see what all of the fuss was about. The book is split into two halves: the theory behind the lessons and then the lessons themselves. For the first time, I found myself skipping through the theory to get to “the good stuff.” This isn’t me. I’m normally the jerk in the back of the room who insists on parsing out the “why” before launching into the “what” and “how,” a tendency of mine that can wear thin on colleagues.

The self-contained nature of the book’s lessons seemed a perfect fit for Google Keep, an Evernote-esque organization program that lets you store, label, categorize, etc. My memory is atrocious, and I’ve always wanted to see what would happen if I devoted a big chunk of time to organizing everything I know about teaching. So I spent an afternoon taking pictures of the book and categorizing each lesson with various tags. I was so pleased with the end result that I spent the next few days doing the same thing with a few of my favorite teaching books. Before I knew it, I had created over twenty-five different labels and gone through six books. My Google Keep homepage is quickly becoming Borges’ map.

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Now I’m at a crossroads. How do I proceed knowing time is finite and I have much to do? Many of the theory and history books I’ve enjoyed don’t fit well into a Google Keep type interface. Even if they did, would it be worth it to reduce them to snippets? The first book I completed this summer, The Young Composers: Composition’s Beginnings in Nineteenth-Century Schools, is wonderful. But is it useful? How do my students and colleagues benefit from my ability to extemporize on the development of school-age composition instruction from rote learning in the early 1800s to experiential writing topics in the early 1900s? The same question also stands for theory. I spent last summer attempting to teach myself the main theories of composition pedagogy. Do my students really gain anything from a teacher who can speak on the interesting symbiosis between the process movement and the expressionist movement?

In a sense, these questions employ a mechanistic and functionalist view of teacher knowledge: the only things worth doing are those that lead to immediate, sequential, and tangible outcomes for students. On one level I recognize that separating theory and practice enforces a false dichotomy. Theory doesn’t necessarily lead to practice; theory is enacted through practice. For instance, I value social justice. So I implement democratic classroom structures that require students to work collaboratively and explore ‘real world’ questions through literacy, my content area. This feeds back into my personal pedagogy as I reflect on my practice and work with students. The recursion of praxis.

Finally, questions about the relationship between theory and practice have implications for knowledge work and what it means to be a teacher. Last winter, Katie Kraushaar and I collaborated on an article for publication in Voices from the Middle, NCTE’s middle grades journal. We attempted to show why teachers of writing should themselves be writers. Part of the revision process for our article meant researching the question of why teachers of writing tend not to be writers themselves. I learned that this same debate raged during the 1990s in the pages of English Journal. And here I was discovering the topic for the first time twenty years later. I experienced the gulf between what goes down in professional journals and academic conferences and what happens in middle school language arts classrooms.

There is probably no satisfactory answer to the question of “why should I spend time reading theory and history?” Any answer I can come up with bends and refracts as soon as I submit it to a critical gaze. For now, I’ll continue plugging away on Google Keep, reducing books to shards of lessons for safe keeping. Resting safe with the knowledge that regardless of how many theorists I forget or the number of concepts that slip from my grasp in the intervening months, I’ll at least have an awesome collection of lessons come September.

 

 

 

Bumper Cars and Laser Tag: The Last Week of School

It’s the penultimate day of school and I’m staring out my classroom window. This morning, like every morning (unless it’s raining or the temperature drops below 33 degrees), a gaggle of students push and jostle each other around.  One large group of popular kids dominates the corridor leading up to the double doors entrance. The abundant shade and benches make this spot prime real estate. Down a slight hill on both sides of the main strip are “the pits,” small concrete courts bordered by a series of wooden planks. The pits are dominated by boys who alternate between whacking each other with sapling twigs and tossing semi-deflated footballs at each other. Other kids, mostly girls, run messages back and forth between various groups. 

Where would I have been in all of this? Not the popular group. And for sure not down in the pits. I probably would have hung out in one of the peripheral groups, the smaller masses of kids hovering in and just beyond the popular group’s center of gravity. This sort of comparison to my own middle school experience isn’t common, but isn’t unheard of, either.

“Don’t regress. Just because you’re teaching middle schoolers doesn’t mean you become one again.” This is one of the few pieces of advice I remember from my teacher training. It seems foolish, but regression is easier than you might think. 

To celebrate the end of the year, my team is taking a field trip to one of those combination amusement parks/arcades that seem to exist only in industrial parks around the exurbs. After an hour on a bus, my team and I “lead” a throng of middle schoolers into Fun Place/Zone/Land. The building’s atmosphere of recycled body odor and repressed hormones is the kind of smell that’s somehow timeless. 

Without thinking, I latch onto Mr. Carter, my team’s math teacher. The two of us get along well, and I know I can count on him for a steady stream of Dad jokes and enjoyable silliness. He’s “fun” in a way I could never be. We spend fifteen minutes wandering through the epileptic cacophony before settling in at a Terminator arcade game. It’s fun, but I can’t shake the feeling that something is wrong; I’m nervous. Of making a mistake, of not being funny, of saying something clumsy, of being rejected. My nerves twitch from memories of my own childhood. 

After the Terminator eats our money, Mr. Carter asks if I want to play a round of laser tag with him. My response is immediate: No thanks. I was spared any noteworthy humiliation during my teenage years, but I’ve always been awkward, perfectionistic, and “eccentric”. “Okay!” he replies affably. 

As Mr. Carter wanders off into the laser tag area, I sense a galumphing that can only mean teenage boys. I turn around to see Jason and Jorge in front of me. “YO! Mr. Anderson! Come do the bumper cars with us!” 

“Uhm, yea, sure! Let me just check out laser tag with Mr. Carter first,” I reply unsteadily. Unfortunately, he’s scooted off and can no longer provide me with an excuse to decline the invitation. It’s not that I don’t want to, it’s just that interacting with anyone outside of a classroom is unnerving. Within the borders of my classroom and the standard 42 minute class period, I’m unstoppable. My purpose is clear. Outside those boundaries, however, is another story. When it comes to just sort of hanging out, my brain hiccups. I don’t enjoy small talk and I prefer to chat about lessons than weekend plans.

Without a solid reason to decline, I follow Jason, Jorge, and a handful of others to the line. I let Jason explain to me how to operate the cars. Jorge already told me while we waited in the line, but Jason was visibly excited to let me know what to do. Besides, there’s something sweet in these small moments of relationship building.

“How do I get my seatbelt on?” I ask no one in particular as I flail my arms around.

“Mr. Anderson! Look!” Jason replied as he took his own seatbelt off and demonstrated the simple process. “Just lift your arms up and let it fall into place.” I’d already figured it out, but again, moments like this make my heart sing.

The operator turned the cars on and everyone immediately smashed into each other. Cackling, we spent the next five minutes caroming around the course, ricocheting off one another and weaving serpentine paths to set up sneak attacks. There was no malice or latent aggression, just fun. “YO! Mr. Anderson! Look! Spin some wheelies!” Jason shouted to me. I looked over at him and saw him spinning in place with Jorge. I cranked one lever back and pushed the other one forward, causing my bumper car to revolve around and around. In that moment we spun as one, howling together as the rest of the kids continued smashing into each other around the periphery of the track. This continued until the operator ended the ride and we poured out of our bumper cars and gave each other daps.

Jorge and Jason ran off to annoy some girls who had congregated near the photo-booth, leaving me alone and fulfilled. Buoyed by the bumper car success, I hazarded a walk past the laser tag area. “Anderson! Laser tag game. Teachers vs students. You in?” My team leader called out from the arena’s vestibule. After a split second of hesitation, I stopped and turned towards the group of teachers and students gathered together. One of my favorite things about teaching is are the endless opportunities it presents for practice and improvement.

“Come on!” Jason yells, hopping up and down.

“You gonna get CRUSHED!” Jorge hollers, aiming an invisible gun at me and firing off a few rounds.

“Absolutely,” I reply. “Let’s do this.”