Welcome to My House

It’s my 15th year of teaching. Since the end of August I’ve been working with my new class — ages 13 and 14, remember (their minds blown by the magic and mayhem of middle school) and it’s been a lovely year so far.

But they are middle schoolers- that delightful mix of adult and child, villain and hero — both all at once, and neither, exactly. Alas, hilarity has ensued, as it does.

And it’s a good thing, too, because there are four days until holiday break and I’m holding fast to all my lines drawn in the sand.

“Mrs Hamlin, can I go the bathroom?”

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Middle school remains the craziest, kookiest, most tacos-with-your morning-coffee place.  But I’m saying: thank GOD. It’s keeping me on the edge of my seat, which is, therefore, keeping my mind off other stuff.

Here are three conversations that occurred recently in good ol’ room 68. I’m sorry there are only three because there are so many more and yet if I don’t write them down, they don’t stick in my brain. They are, however, gold, frankincense and myrrh — from me to you. Enjoy.

Student: “Mrs Hamlin do you know where you live?”

Me: (with a slight squint, because you never know if the question is real) Yes. I do know where I live. 

Student: That’s a good thing.

Me: (nodding slowly) It is.

Student, who never looks up from writing, says: In case you want to go home. Like, ever.

Me: (eyes wide) Right. Just in case. 

No one else even looks up from what they’re doing…

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Student: “Mrs. Hamlin do I have to write five paragraphs for this five paragraph essay?”

Me: blank stare

Student: “Just wondering if you’re serious about that.”

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Student: “Holy, Jesus.”

Me: Unless you’re praying, I don’t want to hear that language in here.

Student: “Totally praying! See?” (Starts doing a bizarre version of some choreographed dance, then singing, like Flo Rida) “Welcome to god’s house. Jesus take control now. You don’t need to bow down. You just have to go all out!”

Other student side-eyeing me, then says: “Let us pray.”

Yes. Yes. Very churchy this guy. Amen.

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So there you have it. Life in the 8th grade with never a dull moment. Welcome to my house. And Happy Holidays, ya’ll.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Gaining Clarity

It’s been a difficult couple of weeks. There’s nothing like shocking news to draw you out of your own reverie, that beautiful, treacherous bubble.

I have a friend and colleague who found her beloved spouse of 34 years, in the middle of the night, outside, after a violent, fatal accident bush hogging their snowmobile trail on their land. I attended his service, and hugged my friend as she told me that she can’t close her eyes without replaying that horrible scene over and over again in her mind. There is nothing I can do but hug her tight, and listen.

My son has a friend, a young man we’ve known his whole life, whose mother died last week. It’s a club to which no one ever wants to belong, and here he is at age 17 facing life without her. It stuns the heart, and the mind, and that little voice in your head that tells you everything will be okay. I’ve noticed the silence where the voice usually singsongs away.

Everything is not okay.

There was the election, which didn’t go the way I’d hoped. It did go the way I thought it would, however; I wasn’t among the surprised. Horrified and terrified is more like it, and the decision our countrypeople made – at first – left me afraid of that thing I’ve always been afraid of: the unknown.

Until I realized an important distinction between Donald Trump and other things that keep me awake at night. Simply this: he is not the unknown. Mr. Trump has been crystal clear as to who he is, what he’s willing to say and do, and what he’s capable of. Which is to say he’s a man who will do whatever is necessary to win, to remain wealthy to the abject destruction of others, to hold power over anyone and everyone. I could go on, but any of you who hasn’t been living on a ship in the Antarctic knows details to support this statement.

Yes, other politicians are also capable of lying, cheating, manipulating – but never have I felt so shallow a chasm between the politician and the man or woman: his rhetoric IS his message. When he makes fun of a disabled reporter: that’s him putting up on a billboard that people who are other-abled are less than. (There are dozens of other examples and because this is a blog, not an essay, I won’t delve in.) But he hasn’t hidden who he is: he was elected on it.  I’m not afraid of what I don’t know. I’m afraid of what I do.

I’m a teacher. As such, I teach kindness, acceptance, problem-solving, respectful discord and honest conversation as ways to get along in the world. When I witness words or actions that threaten everyone’s right to exist in a safe space, it’s imperative I do something about it. When students don’t hold up their end of the bargain, they face consequences. We now have a president elect who has risen to his present position on the opposite tenets of everything I stand for as an educator (and as a parent, AND AS A HUMAN BEING for that matter.) And the consequence? He’s been elected to the highest office in the world.

What am I supposed to do with this?

We would survive a Republican in office, of course. I have voted for Republicans in the past. This is not about Republican vs. Democrat at this point. What we can’t survive is a person who sees every challenge to his way of thinking as an attack on his power. Who surrounds himself with people even more vehement in their desire to narrow the definition of “acceptable” for the rest of us. I do not, nor will I ever, stand on the side of an oppressor. But I’m afraid there will be people who can, and who will. This is how history shows us things go very, very wrong. When good people stand by and do nothing.

I listened intently when people, a year ago, were demanding change. I leaned in when they explained that the ways of Washington can’t fly – that our country wouldn’t survive much longer with an ever-growing debt, an ever-shrinking middle class, enormous favor given to the wealthy and to corporations who rape our resources. I heard them, and back then I truly hoped a contender for President would come forward who would be a game changer, someone who would shake things up and make them better for everyone. I would have voted for that person.

That guy is not Donald Trump.  How his empty words (literally: the man SAYS nothing) got him so far is confounding. He isn’t going to change anything meaningful that benefits us all. He’s going to change things that affect us all to benefit himself and those who think just like him. That’s what’s coming.

Like I said, it’s been a rough couple of weeks. This is the first time I’ve been able to put some words to the overwhelming emotion of being smacked upside the intellect several times in just a few short days.

What comes next? Still unclear.

 

This Just In

 

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TOKYO

I thought I’d write and let you know: I’m going to Tokyo and Aomori, Japan, in April 2017 – an amazing opportunity for me, and one for which I’m exceedingly grateful.  I’ll be co-chaperoning a trip from Camden Rockport Middle School with my friend and colleague Ian McKenzie, taking ten 8th graders on a most amazing adventure.

So much to research. So much to do. So much to keep my mind bustling at 3am when I should be sleeping. The excitement of traveling does that to me.  To be fair, everything does that to me these days, that awake at 3am thing, but this, THIS will be a real doozy of a mind-ogling thing to enjoy being awake for.

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AOMORI

First, we’ll spend two days in Tokyo.  Then, we’ll hop a train to Aomori, several hours north of the big city.  There, we’ll stay with host families, visit our sister school, and go on quieter adventures such as bowling, eating out and seeing local sites. The real adventure is the full immersion into the language, culture and heritage of this elegant country.  I can hardly wait.

The exchange itself (Japanese students from Aomori for American students from Camden) has been going on for a decade. That’s no small feat in this educational and financial climate. It’s a trip that this little seaside town prioritizes. I’m proud and honored to be a part of it.

Four months before we do our traveling, in January 2017, as we do every January, we’ll host Japanese students here.  We’ll keep them ridiculously busy, fitting in all the grandest, culturally rich experiences we can (along with reticent activities like ice skating, too) – and when we’re there they’ll do the same.  It’s a stunning show of global communication, education, acceptance and love. It’s one of my favorite things about my school.

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View of Aomori from Aomori Bay

Guy and Garrett went to Japan in 2012.  They went to Fukuoka and Hiroshima, in southern Japan – an entirely different focus and experience: the equivalent of visiting Texas and comparing it to Maine.

How about any of you?  Have you been to Tokyo and/or Aomori?  What can you tell me?