Another letter from my educational mentor.

Dear Katie,

Well, of course I love this wonderful project–it’s pure Katie and overflowing with energy and verve and in-your-face reality.  You have a book or two in you, for sure, and I for one can’t wait until you start cranking them out.  I agree with your wondering about whether or not teaching is your final destination:  the life of an English teacher may, in the end, prove a little too restrictive in requirements for your wandering soul–you may look for a life more “out in the souk”, and I would not disagree.  Although, if you do decide to stay with classroom teaching, I can see you finding (creating?) a placement for yourself that would be exciting and sustainable over many many years–it’ll be fun to follow!

Your story of the gypsies and the watermelon was breathtaking.  I can’t imagine myself having that kind of bravery in an unknown culture, and that’s what makes the story so compelling–taking gifts to those who don’t know how to accept them is sort of at the heart of that letter I wrote to you and your response to it:  “Will I be able to feel satisfied in stopping at that point with their vulnerable expression or will I always feel this tug to respond with more of myself to match their honesty? This is my greatest fear in teaching in a public high school.”  That’s what you’re going to learn and figure out as you go: how to negotiate the waters and how to seek out and observe those who’ve gone before you and made it okay.  I remember a child in the elementary school whose problems at home were legion, and the child was always heartbreaking in his search for affection.  As he grew a little older, the insistent requests for hugs from his favorite teachers became more uncomfortable and just wrong-seeming, so I took the question to our behavioral specialist who showed me how to physically move into a “side-hug” that I could control without seeming to reject him.  I was amazed by how this simple technique changed so much in my relationship and attitude with this child, and I felt truly empowered by a technique that I was probably the very last one to learn!  My point is that  lot of answering to the questions you pose will come in simple (or not-so-simple) techniques that others can pass on to you or that you’ll develop for yourself:  it’s not always the wild wild West out there, I promise.  And of course, you’ll make mistakes and learn from them–no worries there..

You are the next Harry Wong!!  I love that essay, and I would like to see you turn it into something publishable–I’ll help, if you like.  I’d be all like “Tone it down a little, Katie” and you’d be all “NOOOOO! That’s the way it is!” and we might have some fun.

I loved the Twitter examples.  I look for schools to start doing so much more with social media than just trying to figure out how to block it.  You will be a great resource for any school district that hires you, and (as always) I urge you to continue educating yourself on all those areas of concern:  student privacy, parental consent, mutual vulnerability :).

The project guidelines gave a lot of leeway for references and citations, but there were still some expectations for such anchors, and it’s always good to show that you’re tying your work into the larger body of scholarship and how your contribution links up–that’s a part of the definition of academic scholarship.  I should probably bump a point or two for that, but I’m not going to:  you know it’s the kind of thing that is an area for growth in your writing, so just take this as one more reminder for next time, next paper, next project.

I am honored by your respect for my words and your kind responses to them. You teach me far more than I’ve taught you, I’m sure, and that’s probably the most wonderful part of teaching: to quote Katie Baker, “You stop caring so much about your lesson plans and fall in love with their strong hearts.”

I hope you’re enjoying a wonderful holiday with some good rest and lots of joy. Your presence was a constant pleasure in class this semester, and I will miss you so much next semester – maybe our class could Skype with you and some of your students one evening? Or Google Hangout – I’m going to get it installed on my classroom computer to avoid disappointment. Or maybe we could do a field trip out to visit your class, at any rate, please stay in touch!


Dr. W.

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