The Grateful List for 2018

It’s no secret that the United States is going through a divisive, difficult time.  Human rights issues I keep thinking we should be long past are flaring up everywhere. People’s very identity is being questioned, challenged, denied. The divide between the rich and the poor is unspeakably wide, fomenting tragedy after tragedy. And old, medieval-era hatreds are sadly, not dead.

So what, then am I thankful for this Thanksgiving? The usual. People.
I’m grateful that Ruth Bader Ginsburg is back to work the day after she cracks ribs.
I’m grateful that my husband teaches, reaches, and defends Dreamers and other vulnerable students.
I’m grateful that my kids go to a diverse school where they are asked to engage real world problems and read a wide variety of texts—that their friends include Muslims and non-binary kids and immigrants and that they respect one anothers’ differences while learning to build bridges, not walls.
I’m grateful for young voters.
I’m grateful for artists—for painters and songwriters and musicians and storytellers—for everyone who makes us see new beauties and question old patterns.
I’m grateful for my cousin Carole, who passed away this fall, but who leaves behind a legacy of hard work improving literacy in her third grade classes, and for my aunt and uncle, her parents, who spent part of their retirement decorating her classroom, stocking her library, and reading at storytime—filling gaps in funding and staffing with service that so many classrooms in the US need.
I’m grateful for the firefighters, first responders, emergency crews, and neighbors who come together during disasters like the horrific wildfires California has endured this month. For the Auburn Girls Volleyball team, who lifted up the Paradise team, raising money, providing new uniforms and equipment but also food and companionship and solace.
I’m grateful for my family. Though I feel deeply for so many, my own life is marked by luck and serendipity and undeniable privilege. I’m grateful to be able to raise my kids as I like—in comfort and in love—and to have a partner who partners. When the world feels chaotic, they sort me and support me. My daughter reads me well and administers hugs when needed. My son tells stories and plays games to bring people together. My husband makes me laugh every single day.

I’m grateful for my colleagues and my students, who strive every day toward improving the world. And I’m grateful for the opportunity to be able each day to try and do a little more.

I wish you a full belly and a full heart this Thanksgiving, friends. And maybe a little time just to sit and be.

(These pictures are from one of my favorite photographers, Tiina Tormanen, and from Tove Jansson’s Moomintroll books. Viva Finland.)

Living · Teaching

A Post for Teacher Appreciation Week: In Praise of Teachers

I didn’t plan on these two weeks going together, but I like that they do. This week is Teacher Appreciation Week, so my Facebook memories are full of notes about my favorite teachers from my childhood and my kids’ childhood. Ok, I’ll bite. Last week I was singing praise for students, but of course, it’s all connected.

I was a pretty good student. I liked learning stuff. I wanted to be smart. But I didn’t want to be too smart. I didn’t want to be The Smart Girl. First, I knew they didn’t have many friends, and second, I really didn’t think I was Smart, not with a capital S. I kept high grades, but not straight A’s. (If Mom-Alison knew Kid-Alison, we’d have a talk, by the way, but we didn’t, not for years.)

Third grade was a banner year. It was the only year until grad school, probably, that I got straight As all year long. And the reason was Mrs. Jeanne Mayer.
Mrs. Mayer made us buy a composition book. We brought it in every day, and we copied down the Riddle of the Day and the answer to yesterday’s riddle upside down underneath it. This was brilliant. I learned to write clearly; she explained that we’d want to keep it, so we should do our best. Eight-year old me bought that, hook, line, and sinker. In fact, I still have it. I doubt she meant us to keep it that long.

As a mom I learned what a big deal 3rd grade was. It’s the last real primary year, the bridge to “upper grades,” and a crunch year, making sure kids have mastered their multiplication tables and have “learned to read” (so they can “read to learn” in 4-6). As a child, I felt none of this.I thought 3rd grade was a blast.

We learned cursive that year, and this was the most painless practice I ever did. They were dorky jokes, but I loved it. I looked forward to hearing the answer the next day. It started our day, so we always started out laughing, and I learned school was fun.
That was huge.
I got straight A’s that year because I couldn’t bear to do less than that for her. There was a group of us who got to go out for pizza at the end of the year with the vice principal, so I wasn’t the smart girl; I was one of several.
But that wasn’t the carrot for me. I did it for Mrs Mayer.
She was kind and funny and smart and wanted us to learn how to be good people as well as good students, and in her class those overlapped considerably. From that point on, I loved school, and I kept loving school.
When I went to grad school, it wasn’t because I had a Brilliant Plan in place; it was because I couldn’t bear to stop taking classes. When I decided on a career, I found one that took that in to account—as an educator, part of my job is to keep learning, and it was the only way I could figure to get paid to keep going to class. And in a very real way, I owe the flicking of that switch in my brain to Jeanne Mayer.
So here’s to teachers! For the hard work they do shaping humans, flicking switches, lighting fires in minds and hearts. Happy Teacher Appreciation Week. Hug a teacher, y’all.
(And there’s a “Reflections” shot of me as a third-grader. The 70s were hard on all of us.)