Thursday, October 31, 2013

Stuff Students Say: October Edition

Oh boy. Halloween has come and gone, finally. Once I make it through tomorrow, Halloween week, nay, Halloween month will officially be over. Don't get me wrong, I appreciate a good spooky picture book and pumpkin craft just as much as the next guy. But I'll move on past the sugar-highed-antsy-in-their-pantsy class of children that comes along with this month. Here are the quotes that came with the chaos:

Why you put your hair behind your ear Ms. Gesch? It so cute when it's flowy!

Student 1, addressing an embarrassed student 2's dry skin: You never heard of cocoa butter before? Oil up your legs or something!

Ms. Gesch me and him we cousins. She know my gramma so that makes us cousins. When you know the others gramma. That's how you know you cousin. 

Before our field trip to the planetarium...
So wait we going right to the lake? So we going swimming, right?

At the planetarium, to the big yellow model of the sun...
THIS the sun? It's not hot though. You lie to us in school because you told me it's hot. 

Student 1: You eat chicken?
Student 2: Yes.
Student 1: Then yo breath be KICKIN'! 

Three times three equals I want more juice.

Me: I'm going to eat at a Spanish restaurant this weekend. They have food like the food in Spain.
Student: I love Spanish restaurants because you get a fortune cookie AND fried chicken!
Me: Are you sure that was a Spanish restaurant?
Student: Oh yeah. 

Me: What are you doing this weekend?
Student: I'm finding the free candy and going out there to get it all. 

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Search

These days I'm steeped in research.

Ever since joining Teach For America and starting this crazy ride of teaching in urban education, I've been bombarded with the research. The research on poverty. The research on racial systemic injustice. The research on boys and girls and who learns better in traditional public schools and who is favored in science class. The research on college readiness exams. The research on being ready for second grade. The research on unlimited varieties in curriculum and why certain ones are better than others. The research on phonics. The research on higher-order thinking. The research on vocabulary acquisition. The research on rewarding kids for success and moving towards intrinsic motivation. The research on character development and social-emotional learning. And a lot more.

In the past two years I've read countless articles, about 10 books, and a lot more blogs on what it means to be in this tough but important work of serving in low-income schools and the children in my community.

And with all that, I've still got so much to learn, so much to know, and so much more to understand.


I still can't wrap my mind around what it is going to take to work with people in my school's communities and others like it in order to have a holistic and healthy renewal of poverty-ridden areas so that children everywhere can grow up to be who they were meant to be; so that places like the West Side of Chicago can be places of hope, fairness, and life. There is so much that goes into an effort like that, and I am made aware every day that it needs to be an all-hands-on-deck approach: no single white girl driving down from Wisconsin is going to change anything unless she is working with all kinds of other people who are working for the same things, teaching her so many things in the process. But.

But. But. In all of the research, in all of the social programs, in all of the new ideas and curricula, there seems to be something missing. Something that I have a hard time articulating, but something that I know in my guts has to be there for anything good to happen or anything new to grow.

Here's what I mean. One Thursday night, during grad class last spring, we had a guest speaker come in to talk about social-emotional learning. She was promoting a curriculum that she has used and helped develop and was now pitching to us young teachers. Don't get me wrong, it was a good curriculum I am sure, complete with group problem-solving and peace-keeping strategies, as well as activities to practice and foster a sense of kindness and community. Her curriculum was, of course, backed by all the research in the world. During her talk, I made a note of some of her quotes that particularly struck a chord with me:

"Teach all the math and reading that you want, but we've gotta change what's going on on the inside if we want any actual change for our students."

"I'm educating my kids for life. I'd lose a few points on those standardized test scores if it meant making time for social-emotional learning."

"This kind of stuff is what matters in marriages and families and workplaces and life."

And as I read those quotes over again, I am struck again with how much I agree. Recently I just finished reading a book called "How Children Succeed," by Paul Tough that I really loved. It spoke to the skills that most successful children have in common. Surprisingly, it's not their high test scores or exemplary IQ. It is their character: their grit, curiosity, social awareness, and integrity. So teachers, leaders, and parents should all be working to teach and develop those skills in our children. And again, I was struck with how much I agree. It was completely research-based, of course, with study after study across multiple disciplines backing his supposition.

But. Again, I felt, for some reason, that all of this is research missing something. The research is, for certain, searching for something. I like the word research and its prefix "re" for the simple fact that it could mean to search again. We know that the word implies that someone is searching systematically for an answer. And all of this research in the educational and social and political world in which I exist is looking for something to answer all of our issues, all of our challenges, and all of our struggles. What is the answer? How do we help people? How do we help kids? Every year or month or even day, it can seem, the newest and latest thing comes out from the newest and latest research. A new answer to our problems. A new solution for the ills of the West Side. And while they are all very positive and even often have results and data to back up their success, there is one side that is left out.

For all of their searching and researching and searching again, I think the scientists, sociologists, and educators are missing something very important about children, and for that matter, about people in general. I wonder if they consider that a child is someone who is more than just a human, physically here with physical needs, and a physical brain that needs to understand how to achieve character and academic growth and adequate test scores so that they can maneuver about their social environment to make their own way forward. I wonder about the idea that a student has a soul, a spiritual side, that needs to be cared for; I wonder about how people expect to "change what's going on on the inside," as that well-meaning guest speaker purported to do. Is it we teachers who really change what's going on on the inside, the deep-down inside? Am I the one with the ultimate ability to heal the spiritual and emotional traumas of my children?

Or is there another answer for which we are searching? Is there another way to which I can point that fills in the missing piece to the puzzle of helping and working with low-income communities? Is there a possibility that the cycles and roundabouts of finding new and good ways to serve kids are missing something in their important search? Every day that I spend with my kids gives me the conviction that there is, indeed, more to it when it comes to children. When it comes to people. When it comes to our world. My kids, to me, are living proof that there is a never-ending depth and mystery to the meaning of what it means to be human, of what it means to have a soul. The research is well-meaning and even effective and helpful. But the search that should be taken up on behalf of my kids' souls must be addressed. It has to be. I guess all of this doesn't mean that I have an answer.

But I might have an idea of where to look for one. The search always leads me there, leads me to the same place, leads me to the very start where my hope and love and faith began. I wonder if the search will ever end. I don't know that it will. But I'm gaining conviction that I know exactly where The Search needs to start.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

The Colah Run

The pronunciation of this post's title is meant to help you pronounce "Color Run" as if you were an old lady from Brooklyn. As in, "Dahhling. I went out layast weekent ta do tha Colah Run. The colahs. They wah gawwgeous." And the reason this post is entitled in such a ridiculous manner is thanks to Melanie Lawrence, who has been speaking back and forth with me in said accent since 2009. She also was the one to text me expressing her deep disappointment in the fact that a post dedicated to this shared event has not yet been published on my blog. The disappointment, of course, was expressed with a high percentage of sass. One might have called it a SASS ATTACK. Little did she know that this post was already ready to be published, but that I had scheduled to put it up today, Sunday the 20th of October. I've since added this paragraph to let Melanie, and the rest of the watching world, know, that WE DID THE COLAH RUN. IT WAS FAAHBYALUSS. AND WE HOPE YAH AWWL SUPAH JAHHLUSS.

The pictures below depict the fab time I had with Mel, Becky, and Gina on a Sunday morning in September. I've been wanting to do a Color Run for forever and these were the perfect three with whom to join in on the fun. I conned Brian into driving us to the race to avoid taxi costs (suckerrr!) and we had a great time jogging around, getting plastered with paint powder, and catching up between the paint stations. Afterward we all went out to eat at Simone's, which is a nearby bar and restaurant that by now should probably just have a permanent seat reserved with my name on it.

photo 1
As far as this run compares to the others I've done in the recent and not-so-recent past, this one by far was the most joyous. I highly recommend it for sorority sisters and girl scout groups to sign up. It isn't, however, the most competitive or physically challenging atmosphere. Most people are walking, even just standing still, right in the middle of the road and running path, just because they're having too much fun talking and catching up and doing this fun activity with their friends. I'd call it more of the "Color Fun" than the "Color Run" but that's a-okay. I'm signing up when they come back to Chicago next year and recruiting all of yous off of the couch and out to join in on the fun!

photo 2
Becky and me. For a cousin picture, of course. 

Wednesday, October 16, 2013


Here's a post to check in with myself, and you guys, to let it be known "where I'm at" in this life of mine. I like to think of these posts as a way to give myself a more well-rounded status update. Here is what I'm loving, reading, watching, anticipating, listening to, planning, working on, and wishing for in October of 2013.

Loving: Fall break. As you can see from the picture above, it is absolutely beautiful in Clearwater, Florida. Hanging out and catching up with Hannah is so fun and so good. I've been able to go in to her school and observe some classrooms to get ideas for my own, have extended periods of time to catch up on finishing my report cards and schoolwork (a lot more to finish yet...), and have an hour here or there to lay out in the sunshine. I love the midwest dearly, but I love taking the trips away. 

Reading: A few books, actually! Look at me go. I've used this break to my advantage in the reading department. I've gone on a Shauna Niequist binge, reading two of her books in three days. I saw her book Bittersweet laying on the coffee table in Hannah's apartment, picked it up, and didn't put it down. Then her roommate asked if I wanted to borrow the other book of hers, called Cold Tangerines and now I'm finishing that as we speak. She has a way of writing that makes me feel like I'm not the only one with swirling thoughts, words, and sentence fragments floating through my brain at any given moment. I've also been reading How Children Succeed by Paul Tough, which has me considering so many important issues when it comes to my children, Chicago, and what it will take for the world to be a place of opportunity for them and not a place of constant heartbreaking disappointment. He champions the development of character in a child as the number one way to help him or her become successful in the future, and backs it with a flood of research. More of my thoughts on his book later. 

Watching: The headlines, dialogue, and circus surrounding this government shutdown. I suppose it's happened before in the 1980's and so I shouldn't be alarmed that the world is ending; we've made it through before. But what it does give me pause to consider is the way that we get along, the way we make decisions, and the way that we speak to one another in this country. Sometimes I feel like I'm in the middle of such a selfish, illogical, and unjust society. What that means, I suppose, is that people need to start standing up for what is right and just and not what is ME. We are such a people obsessed with the idea of ME-ness, myself the first in need of an attitude makeover. 

Anticipating: So much in the YA literature department. I pre-ordered the third book in Veronica Roth's Divergent Series, which releases on October 22!! I plan on devouring that book the second it reaches my hands. Then, Catching Fire comes out that very week in theaters!!! My Katniss alter-ego has been laying dormant waiting for the next movie to be released. I'm so excited!!! There are so many exclamation points!!!! 

Listening to: The Cranberries. I have Linger on repeat right now. I can't explain it, but they speak to me. Sometimes I sing along in my own Celtic accent to feel like I'm really there. I also am listening to a million new bands I have never heard before, thanks to my boyfriend's addiction to music blogs that discover bands so he can say things like, "You've probably never heard of them before, but..." In all seriousness, he has really good taste. So I get the benefit of many cool suggestions. CHVRCHES, Grouplove, and Justin Vernon are my favorite additions he's given to my musical knowledge database. I feel more authentically like a resident of Pilsen with all of this hipster cred I'm getting. 

Planning: A few things: 1) More little get-togethers. No big parties or bachelorette parties to fund and coordinate, but I'm making a bigger effort to have coffe-shop-get-work-done-sessions with TFA friends, monthly dinner dates with my college friends, and visits to my family when I can make them. and I'm also planning 2) My effort at tackling making working out a more consistent and regular part of my life. It was one of my goals before I turned 25 to have a regular fitness routine, and I'm figuring out that plan these days. I don't want only to be working out excitedly when I have a half marathon or 15k looming, I want to be doing those runs and events in the midst of the good stuff I'm doing anyway. I still will sign up for any and every 5k and more that I can find, but you get the point. The gym has been joined and the plans are just starting to take shape. 

Working on: My master's degree. Doing school and work is exhausting. Particularly when the "work" part of that equation takes up much more time than 9-5 each day. By May I'll have my Master's of Arts in Teaching from Dominican University, if all goes well and the funds all go through. It's a weekly grind and routine, doing schoolwork throughout the week and attending long hours of night classes every Thursday in a classroom a half hour away, but I am excited to think about the light at the end of the tunnel, that is coming in the form of a certificate with my name on it, in about 8 months or so. I think I can, I think i can, I think I can...

Wishing: That I could freeze time. I love fall and all these changes we're seeing. I love how I feel at this point in my life right now and right here. I have so many blessings and struggles and bright spots and gray days. The mix of the sublime and the difficult and the mundane and the peaceful in my life right now gives me a sneaking feeing that I'm growing, stretching, and forming more into the person whom I was really meant to be. I love the hustle and bustle and twists and turns of becoming that person. I know that I can't freeze time, and that it will relentlessly bring me forward to much higher highs and even some lower lows, but the satisfaction I feel in this time in my life right now in working and living and dreaming and being is rich and full and good.

How about you? How are you currently living and doing and working? Let's get together and talk about it. 

Monday, October 14, 2013

Press Pause

It is really here. Fall Break.

Those words have such a delicious taste as I type them on my old and on-its-last-legs MacBook. I'm sitting at an outside table at a Pizza-by-the-slice joint on Main Street of a quaint little town called Safety Harbor and this is my view: 


Yes, those are palm trees you are seeing! I'm in Florida visiting the one and only Hannah Joy Schaap for four days while my students and I get a break from school and one another. Hannah is just one of those girls - full of adventure and saturated with independence - and catching up with her is like a gulp of fresh air. This chick takes trips to Kenya, bikes across the country, and moves her whole life from the midwest on her own to become a fabulous first-grade teacher in Florida. She has her own opinions and ideas and follows them. She takes time out of life's routine to enjoy herself. On top of all of that she has such a caring and encouraging and happy and giving heart. She is a year younger than my grade in college, but I look up to her for all of this. So here I am, in the sunshine and so so thankful for this time off. I needed it. 

October, as I'm sure all teachers might tell you, is the perfect time for a week off. We all seem to get in a funk at this time in the school year.  Room 25 and I have completed the first quarter of our school year together and as we are feeling the days start to get shorter and the nights stretch out to get longer, fall beak is just what the doctor ordered. 

I realized in the last month that, although I was busy and my life was full of great things to do, I wasn't always making time for the good things that make me feel centered, balanced, and, frankly, like me. Between Brian's friends and mine, we've had 5 weddings in 4 weeks. The weekends have been devoted to roadtripping and gift buying, and the weekdays devoted to catch-up. I haven't, in the chaos, made the time to write in my journal, write on my blog, read books I like, or read the Bible. Of course, I've had the time. We all have the time. But when I didn't make the time, the time that I had was swallowed up in other little things. I was staying up late to cram, pressing snooze, rushing my mornings, saying yes to everything that I should do, and no the things that I need to do. I think we all do that in different weeks and months and times of our life, and all that we need is a day, a morning, or even a few minutes to hit pause and take stock. 

When I think back to last year's fall break, I was dreading the return to school as soon as the break began. I was worried and anxious and nervous and hated going to work and overwhelmed at this unbalanced life I was leading. I suppose I still have to work on that balance, of course, but I like where I'm at much more this time around. This year, on fall break, I'm doing a little catch-up on school work of course, but I'm looking ahead to the coming quarters of school, changes in seasons of weather, time with people I love, and more open weekends with contentment and even a little excitement. 

Maybe my life won't ever be balanced, but I can try in the middle of it all to find moments to pause and look around. I can try to find those moments of clarity and reorder the priorities again; to tidy up my to-do list by discarding a few should-dos and adding a few more need-to-dos

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Stuff Students Say: September Edition

It's two days late. My b. My b. Enjoy the last 30 days of quoted goodness from Room 25!

Me: Stop sucking your thumb.
Student: But Ms. Gesch I like it because my thumb tastes like a sandwich.

Ms. Gesch you smell sweet. Like pancakes. 

Ain't nobody got time for apple picking.

(On our field trip to the apple orchard, there was an exhibit on bees.) Why they got us all in this  little house with all these bees?! They tryin' to kill me?!

(Referring to how old they thought I was.)
Student 1: She's 20.
Student 2: Naw she's too little to be 20.
Student 1: Okay she's 60 then. 

Student: Did I have a good day today, teacher?  
Me: You were not respectful at all today.
Student: So I had a good day then?!

(Tattling) He called me potato.

Ms. Gesch you got soft hair. Everybody should touch this hair. 

Why do you look like Taylor Swift?

I hope you have a beloved birthday.

(An apology conversation where they confessed their trespasses to one another)
Student 1: Sorry for calling your mom baldheaded.
Student 2: Sorry for calling your mom old.
Student 1: It's okay.
Student 2: Yeah it's okay too.

Ms. Gesch I'm going to bring you something real good tomorrow. Like strawberry cake. With cheese on top.

Watch out for that white lady. 

Student: Where's my mama?
Me: She's coming to pick you up soon I think.
Student: No THERE'S my mama. 
Me: Where?
Student: You right there! YOU my mama!