Becoming Comfortable with Being Uncomfortable…

Becoming Comfortable with Being Uncomfortable…

Taking risks means being uncomfortable and possibly failing. I’m not really into failing so therefore, I’m not really into taking unnecessary risks.  When my dearest friend invited me to join her in keeping up with this blog, I had a mini heart attack before saying yes. Writing a blog may not seem like a risk, but for me it means I’m putting myself out there. I’m stepping outside of my comfort zone for the internet world to critique every sentence I write.  The problem with taking minimal risks due to fear of failure is that I become comfortable. Being comfortable is great if we are talking about sweatpants and Netflix, but being comfortable in the classroom is not always the best way to reach our students.  Fear of failure results in missing opportunities to improve, to collaborate, to learn, the list goes on and on.  It’s in these risks that lessons are learned and connections are made and most importantly, students become thinkers and leaders. This year has been all about being uncomfortable.

I comfortably taught the same preps for years, using and modifying lessons to try to connect to whatever set of students I had.  Of course I tried new things each year, and I collaborated with other teachers, but I often times took the easy route.  I stuck with what I knew worked and unfortunately at times my lessons were not reaching all of my students. This year however, was a huge change. I leaped out of my comfort zone and there has not been one day in my classroom where I have been comfortable. I was given the opportunity to take over the English II Honors classes, which I was extremely excited about.  To say I was comfortable teaching these high level students,  would be far from the truth.  The truth is that I was terrified. 

I was familiar with this curriculum from having taught non honors English II in the past, but I wanted to make it relevant to today.  I wanted my students to fully understand how these pieces of classic literature connected remain relevant. Without this connection, what’s the point in reading Of Mice and Men  or Fahrenheit 451, or any of the other titles filling our book shelves in the storage room? How do these older texts remain relevant in today’s culture? What can my students learn about themselves and society through reading these classic texts?  With several ideas in my head and Google at my fingertips, I have been able to step far outside of my comfort zone and tackle current issues with my students through the lens of classic literature.  My students and I have navigated unfamiliar waters and we stayed afloat.  While some days may be rocky and some lessons may change mid unit, we have made it and we have learned.

I’m still in the process of designing units for this class,  and it’s with the help of these 15 and 16 year old students that I am now comfortably teaching outside of my comfort zone. Have I had days that were a failure, yes and so have my students, but overall we have not failed. We have persevered

Teaching is unlike most professions, in that we as teachers have to constantly and consistently take risks. If we do not take risks, then we risk our students losing interest and disengaging.  We must strive to be creative and innovative. We must step outside of our comfort zones to teach relevant and engaging lessons. We must get uncomfortable and talk about issues that matter most. That is where we grow and our students grow.  I’m going to continue to challenge myself to really engage with my students, to talk about the hard topics, and to remain relevant in today’s quickly changing world.  My challenge to you is this-get uncomfortable.      

–Sarah Tate

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Doing The Hard Thing More

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My son, Beau, is two weeks away from turning one.  He never took to a pacifier or his thumb, but the bottle is a different story.  At my lowest moments I envision his tears on the first day of Kindergarten aren’t about separating from me, but rather his bottle.  We have been playing the sippy cup game for months and I’ve purchased no less than 23 in an attempt to find one that will appease him.  But apparently I have birthed a master nipple detector, and if it’s not a Stage 3 Dr. Browns he wants nothing to do with it.  For months I would relent to his back-arching screaming protests to the sippy cup by just giving him his bottle.  After all, he’s our last and they’re only a baby once, right?  Right.  But still.  When does the enabling stop?  When is time to do the hard thing more?  I got my answer in the most unexpected of places.

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I recently had the opportunity to attend a coaching institute at Teachers’ College at Columbia University in New York.  In my time there I attended several sessions by the brilliant Mary Ehrenworth, author of The Power of Grammar, Looking to Write and many more, who has a level of brilliance and insight into the student mind and their needs that is unparalleled. In one particular session, Mary spoke to the daunting task that writing can be for many of our students.  And when that writing mountain seems particularly high for a student, more often than not we step back, not up.  We modify the assignments in ways that lower expectations and require students to do less.  And then she asked us this, “How can we ever expect our reluctant or low writers to get better when we ask them to do the hard thing less, not more?”  I didn’t have an answer.  I had just left my site school in Brooklyn, PS 176 Ovington. A school of 1,400 K-5 students where 86% are on free and reduced lunch and 50% do not speak English as their first language.  No matter which student I approached to ask to see their notebook, I was met with the same question, “Would you like to see my first or second one?”  Students who likely come from homes that are not enriched by literature and for many they are not proficient in English.  Yet they still have two notebooks full of writing-thoughts and voice and opinions and ideas to develop and share.  They know writing is the foundation to a literate life, so they do the hard thing more.

As public school educators we are entering uncertain times.  The nomination and appointment of Betsy Devos has left many of us scratching our heads and questioning what the vision of public education is with her at the helm.  We do not know these answers. But we must know this-now is not the time to be complacent,  to enable,  to allow those with more power to dictate ideals that do not align with an equitable education for all.  The fact that Pence had to be the deciding vote shows us that our voices mattered.  That was a historical move, and our voices have to continue to be heard.

I recently read aloud the book, The Terrible Things to several classrooms.  My message was this: it can often seem like Terrible Things are happening all around us.  How do we stand up to the Terrible Things?  When the Terrible Things feel so big, what does meaningful action look like?  Not surprisingly, the students had brilliant answers. Sentiments of solidarity and uniting as one and taking pride in your environment. As one student said, “Each of these make the Terrible Things not seem so big.”  Yes.

Solidarity.  Uniting.  Pride.  Let’s make these words define public education.  Whether it’s Devos, or writing, or sippy cups, let’s vow to one another to do the hard thing more and do it together.

With that, my son is calling, the sippy cup is full, and we are doing this!

Launching Paper and Passion

We are so excited to launch our new blog, Paper and Passion! At Paper and Passion we strive to inspire fellow educators to empower their students through writing. Our goal is to help our readers identify resources, lesson ideas and books that will motivate students to action and inspire voice in their communities.

Meet the fingers pounding away behind each post:

Sarah Tate teaches English to some pretty cool kids at an inner city high school in Springfield, MO. She has been teaching for the past 10 years and earned her MSED in Secondary Education English from Missouri State University in 2009. When Sarah isn’t teaching, or scouring the internet for lesson ideas, she can be caught spending time with her two beautiful daughters, drinking way too much coffee, reading YA Literature, running, or eating sweets. She also has a fantastic husband, a fluffy dog, and a mean cat.

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Melanie Fuemmeler is a K-5 instructional coach in Kansas City, MO.  She is housed in two traditional elementary schools and her district’s alternative school for students K-12.  Her opportunity to work with students and teachers alike fills her teaching soul in ways she could never have imagined when entering this profession.  She has been teaching for 12 years and earned her MA in Educational Technology and a Specialist in Elementary Administration.  Outside the world of education, Melanie enjoys experiencing life through the eyes of her son and daughter, who are at the magical ages of 1 and 2.  She has a permanent fixture on her nightstand that is an impossibly high stack of books she’s committed to reading, no matter how long it takes.  She also loves to run and shake her head at the antics of her two dogs- a 60-pound chocolate lab who thinks he’s a lap dog and a 6-pound Maltipoo that thinks she’s the leader of neighborhood protection unit.

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We are thrilled you have chosen to follow us in the trenches as we navigate all that it means to raise a generation of students empassioned to be change makers in their communities, and therefore the world.  It takes a village.  Welcome to the table.