Monday, June 27, 2016

Bat Mitzvah Redo 2016

12 is a terrible age to have a bat mitzvah. I don't know if it's true for others, but when I was that age I felt like my skin didn't fit, I was uncomfortable in front of a group and I didn't have the slightest idea who I even was or how I fit into Judaism.

But now I'm an adult, and I feel so much better about myself, about being Jewish, about everything. Over the years I've followed my own path experimenting with becoming more and more committed, first through gravitating to very observant communities, and later by holding onto my observance but simultaneously discovering progressive and sometimes egalitarian communities in which I could actively become much more of a participant.

So a few years ago as I began to learn how to lein and lead services in my partnership minyan, Minyan Tiferet, I had the idea that maybe I would try again and have a bat mitzvah-type celebration. Doing this would give me an opportunity to actively and maturely demonstrate my relationship to Judaism and to the community by doing the sorts of rituals that are normally done in a bar or bat mitzvah service.

So around October of last year I finally began learning to lein this past week's parsha Be'ha'ah'lotkha.

Sunday, May 29, 2016

High School SAT scores

Oh spring. It comes with so much promise and then becomes such a time over multitasking that it's very hard to stay on track with any projects started before Pesach.

Well, today on this Memorial day weekend I returned to my Marie Kondo work for the first really good chunk of time in a while. I'm up to the stage of getting rid of papers, and our office floor has been covered for months now with all of my files, letters, papers etc. from old school work, to bills, to drafts of my writing, letters and more.
This is just a sampling.
There is more, so much more!

It's been very slow going. While I've put in a few minutes here and there I feel like I have an emotionally easy enough time sorting through old medical things or bills, but when it comes to the more personal things I'm not sure what to do. Today I opened a bag of old letters from all different people in my life. All of them -- all of them -- felt painful in some way. I suppose at least in part it's because these letters are from my college years when I was scared about the future, unsure of where I was going, that these are hard to look at. I read a few, then couldn't take it anymore, but decided at least for now to to keep them. These are part of my history and I haven't decided yet whether I need to let this history go, or if I need the story available to be retold. Just don't know.

Then I found a file of my old SAT scores, report cards etc. I went to show some of it to U. Maybe it's partly because I was sharing it that I had the reaction that I did. I flipped through page after page of reports from teachers I had, both those I liked and those I didn't like, and classes that I was good at and classes that were hard. Sure, the ones I liked best had the drop down comment, "talented", but there were comments too about incomplete work, not following directions, poor test scores even on a take-home test and finally I just started to cry. Reading these little slips I started to feel the crushing pressure of all these adults judging me according to what they wanted from me and they were things that didn't show who I was. The only reports that felt safe were from band class and writing class. But physics, math, even Spanish and AP English, I wasn't what they wanted to be.

Since becoming a teacher I have always reflected back on myself as having been a pretty good student. I wasn't labeled with a disability. I didn't misbehave (much). Yes, I was stubborn, but usually the teachers I think of fondly thought past that. So it's taken an act of imagination to see what it might be like for children that really really struggle in school.

Now, though, I see that I was being judged and that so many people saw me not living to my potential or, maybe more accurately, not living up to theirs. In this report card writing season I'm now seeing my own relationships with students in a new light. The judgement we put on them is very very powerful.

The good news for myself is that as I've gone through my files I've found some good things too. I love my letters of recommendation, cards from people I know love me and results of some of my most recent work in adulthood. What a relief to be an adult now and too feel OK with whom I am and what I do. What a relief to not having to be figuring out who I am from scratch anymore.

So the professional question to leave this with... how can we as teachers and parents make our children and students feel appreciated the way I do from those good letters and not crushed with the judgement I felt in my report cards. 

Saturday, April 09, 2016

Yeshivat Noam Dinner 2016!

Rabbi Hagler on far left, President Nachman Paul on far right.
Yehudit and I are teacher nominees.
Schachter and Herman families for Guest of Honor and Community Service awards.

Nearly a month ago now, on March 16th, was the Yeshivat Noam dinner in which I was honored. I'm still reeling from the experience. I don't know what to say about it other than that this has been an utterly awe-inspiring decade for me personally. U. and I came to Noam 11 years ago with a cat, a moving truck and I with a little teaching experience. Now we've established this life here with our family. I'm so proud to have become teacher enough to have received this honor. This blog post won't say very  much, but will be my repository for pictures and videos from the dinner. 

Naomi has appearances at 9:17 and 11:04 of the second video.

Sunday, February 14, 2016

Quick Kondo update

Looks like when I'm all done with the books (still not there yet) I'll be for sure saying goodbye to more than 200 books. Maybe around 300.

That's a lot of weight to be lifted and space to be discovered.

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Continuing Kondo

By Kondo, I mean of course Marie Kondo's plan for my house to feel magical.

Purging enormous piles of books today.

One of the trickier areas... I have lots of textbooks from teaching. I look at them and see the enormous wealth of knowledge contained, many of which might be very useful. The fact is, though, that I never open them. It's not doing any good on the shelf, and the idea of me re-reading them is unrealistic. Bye books.

Sunday, January 10, 2016

Too Scattered

My last post was about my love of writing and how much I am getting into it.

I've kind of fallen off the wagon again. I am just so overwhelmed with so many things I want to do and on top of that am so surrounded by STUFF that I can't clear my head.

So now I have just finished reading that book that everyone is reading too, The Life-Changing Art Of Tidying Up. Ideally I suppose I would have just read it and then waited to get started on her process when I have more time. However, I don't think I'll ever have more time. Further, I can't concentrate right now because of how much there is all around me.

Part of what I mean by this is not just my usual daily clutter. A few weeks ago U. installed lovely new petite corner shelves to take the place of some bulky ones we'd had in the living room. So all the books came out. Those books are now piled on my office floor along with others I've been rounding up for this "pick out only the books that really spark joy" session that will start as soon as I've finished the clothing round that Kondo recommends starting with.

Last week I tackled my closet and dresser for three hours. Those two locations are now the calmest in our private living space. I still have a pile of scarves and shoes to get through... if I can just get the time.

Friday, December 25, 2015

Writing Fire

I did it. I spent almost every day of November writing for at least 15 minutes every day. The one day I missed, I made up the next day with double time.

Most of what I wrote was towards the goal of revising the novel I drafted in 2013 during Camp Nanowrimo. I had taken a year off from that process during 2014-2015 and have been gung-ho to return since my WAC (writersandcritters) writers' retreat in spring of 2015.

So I was feeling great at the end of November, proud of my stick-to-it-ness and thinking if I kept up the pace I could get through the entire draft again by summer.

Then the first Saturday night of December I sat down at my desk and I felt my heart start to race and my stomach to clench. This was ridiculous. To finish a novel with any quality at all at 15 minutes a day? For one thing, I also need to parent, stick to my goals of regular yoga and meditation, other short writing projects that I feel driven to write, another project due in July (to be discussed later - related to my 40th birthday), a healthy amount of exercise and, uh cleaning and, oh wait, yeah, I also teach 30 hours a week not mentioning prep. time, tutoring and my additional role this year as a mentor for new teachers in my grade.

Even 15 minutes every day is too stressful.

To do it with depth is ridiculous.

So I tried a new take. First of all, I took a break from the novel. WAC expects me to submit two writing samples and four critiques of other people's samples every month. However, they take two weeks off at the end of December. So with the freedom of nothing due, I sat down last Friday and wrote... just wrote, by hand, in a notebook that no one will see but me. I write by hand rarely because it's less efficient when I'm ready to submit something, but now I had fallen out of love with writing and I needed to get back in. To love a person it really helps to actually be in the same room with them and not remove yourself with a screen.

(I'm not even going into what I've learned as a special education teacher about the different neurological process of forming letters and words by hand instead of by typing.)

That Shabbat instead of reading a novel I flipped through Writing Down The Bones by Natalie Goldberg for the first time in years, and began rereading cover to cover from my favorite writing book, Bird By Bird by Anne Lamott.

I wrote again Saturday night, and then again Sunday morning, finishing one draft that I hope to look at and maybe revise, but maybe I won't as I don't know yet what's there.

A writer friend said we are defined by the things we do every day... so to say you are a writer you must write every day. However, I'm a teacher too, and don't show up to work on weekends. I certainly don't want to be the kind of person who romantically claims to be a... a writer... and never writes anything, but even when I can't write, I know that ultimately I will have to write. I just have to. So even if I quit for days, weeks, even months at a time, I will come back to it.

I will not necessarily come back to other things I've thought I was: bicyclist, basket maker, musician. I like to bike and make baskets and play music, but they are not in my blood. I only dabble. I don't ask or need them to be part of my identity.

So right now I'm trying to compartmentalize my week a bit. Instead of spending a little of every day on all of the things I love, I'm trying to group some things and weekday activities and some as weekend. It's not as easy as it sounds. My physical and mental health depend on daily yoga and meditation, and the weekend gets very full with everything else that can't happen during the work week, like laundry. However, I think I really can spend some more real time on writing on the weekend, at least for now. Some other things will suffer, no doubt, but right now this isn't negotiable. I have to do this. If I can pour my writing more into Friday through Sunday, I think I can do it better. If some of it is for show and some of it is not, I'm entering writing headspace again. If I can maybe jot down something during the week that writer's see, then I'm tapping it too.

One final note, halfway through my writing this blog post I had to take a break to go to a friends' birthday party. Someone at the party remarked that she used to have hobbies but just haven't time in this stage in her life.

I started to feel a little guilty, that I can do this and she "can't." And I'm not judging anyone else's choices, but I just need to be clear. Writers have to write, however they do it, even if it means having a messier house or leaving parties earlier or getting up extra early or even only devoting certain weeks of the year to their craft. We just have to. How other desperate writers make this happen is their business.

This is how I'm handling it right now.