As I reflect on the seminal events of 2018, I hold my #OneWord2018, fire, dear to me, and feel that it served me well, but it did not start out with strong hopes.
The year began with me finishing my winter break, and with new year voracity, I proclaimed my #OneWord2018 to my #PLN on Twitter with excitement and high hopes, but to my chagrin, a series of events left me wanting to rethink my word. My son wanted to warm the house and build a fire for us while his daddy was at work and we were soaking up the last of our break from school. Realizing we were out of kindling, he decided to put his chopping skills to work, and the hatchet found his hand instead of the wood for kindling. This led us to the urgent care for stitches to ring in the bloody new year. Just a week later, school was back in session, and I needed to get a meal together quickly. The ignitor was out on our grill, so I had to manually light the grill using a lighter, which is not something you want to take too long to do. Distracted by my phone call, I lost track of how long I had spent between turning the propane on and striking the lighter, flames jumped out of the grill several feet, and singed the front of my hair and the sweater that I later had to toss into the trash. My hair was pretty trashed, as well, but I had to remedy that problem in another way, so I donned some bangs for a few months. It seemed I was taking my #OneWord2018 too literally, so I inwardly pledged to keep the rest of my “fire” commitments to an emblematic sense, and I believe I managed to do so!
The year dawned, with Victor Hugo’s words ruminating about my mind, “To learn to read, is to light a fire; every word spelled out is a spark.” To light a fire I did, as students made leaps before my eyes and made the quantum jump from the stuttering stage of pre-phonemic blending to emergent readers in a matter of months, and the fire was almost palpable. In May, I left this fire to be tended by other educators, and passed the torch of early childhood onto my most trusted peers, and prepared to step into a new flame for the upcoming school year, which I quickly learned must be tended to with great care, because the retardants of life were trying to squelch these flames quicker than I could kindle them. I accepted the position of a fifth grade reading teacher, and discovered many a ember, barely still burning, and began to gingerly blow on these flames, trying to arouse the desire to read within students’ hearts who had succumbed to the cold ashes of life as non-readers and forsaken the hopes of literary flames as not for them. Some students, it seemed, had no desire to light a fire to learn, when they were still trying to find the warmth of food, shelter, and belonging. In my zeal to light their fire to learn, I have to help them first learn that they belong and that they matter. I do not hold optimism with ignorance, because I am aware of the daunting challenge before me. Witnessing the pain of this emptiness again and again is a blow to one’s own fire, but messages like this student’s keep my flame burning.
Not all of the fires were dim, thankfully, some students came to me already on fire for learning, and we fed on each other like wildfire. My own fire burned brighter than ever, as I encountered many readers who came to me with flames already burning brightly, and my task was to increase their impenetrable energy.
The flames of teaching have nearly burned out in my own life in years past, but have been burning stronger than ever since I became a connected educator. On days, where every setback brings a cool rush of despair, I know where I can go to fan the flame in me. I am especially thankful for my friends on Twitter and my #PLN, with whom I connect daily on Voxer through #4OCFpln. I met this fiery league of colleagues through a series of book studies, #2MenAndABook, led by Matthew Larson and Ricardo Garcia on Voxer, where a band of educators unite with the common goal of becoming stronger for the students we serve through literary discussions and burning up the status quo. These friends have all found the fuel of connection, and fan my flame daily. If I did not have these connections, I am certain that in my aim to teach with passion, I would lose all of my breath fanning my students’ flames, and my own fire would turn in on itself until ashes to ashes, I would fall down. My fire will burn brightly with me as I embrace 2019 with the tenacity with which I warmly accepted 2018, and the year goes out as we step into 2019, but this fire will not die within me.