One Hard Thing


Screen Shot 2016-04-19 at 9.42.21 PMSo add Angela Lee Duckworth to the list that includes Amy Chua, Michelle Rhee, and Bich Minh Nguyen: The list of Asian women who make me wonder if I make the most of my time. As I listened to Duckworth, a psychologist, on the podcast, Hidden Brain with Shankar Vedantam, Duckworth mentioned that each member of her family selects “one hard thing” that requires deliberate focus and sticks it out to the end of a season–no quitting in the middle.

Was it coding? Is yoga too easy? Reading? Cooking vegan? Have I given up on writing? Sorting through your life can be humbling.

Last week, Zadie Smith, came to our small town and asked, “Why Write?” She eloquently repurposed George Orwell’s “Why I Write?” to question popular understanding of creativity and offer refusal as another part of the response. A friend and I both found these words to characterize Smith which hinted at a tired phrase because it felt over the top–but wasn’t, “fierce intellect.”

While reading up on Smith, I noticed she is one degree of separation from another writer I admire, Louise Erdich, whom Smith recently presented with an award.

solI’m reading Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried, and am struck by the craft. I was afraid to read this book, because of . . . well, Viet Nam. But much like an initial bias against vegan-ism or classic movies like The Third Man, unfamiliarity with concepts in the popular zeitgeist, can go either way–invite you into the club or cast you as an outsider. My outsider status confirmed when I finally saw Les Miserables on Broadway and Citizen Kane on Netflix. Too distant. Too Late? However, an insider status prevailed elsewhere: Pride and Prejudice and vegan cooking–among others.

So in an attempt to break the silence, I’m returning hopefully to a Slice of Life. It as my One Hard Thing–on Tuesdays.

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As someone who is notorious for becoming captured–only that implies someone else is doing the capturing–who entangles herself in television shows, I have fallen prey–there I go again–become addicted to another one. Mr. Robot.

If you have not seen this show nor are interested in hearing someone explore their fascination with this medium, this blog post is not for you. I wish it were not for me. This post is less about how clever and provocative–riveting–the show is, because you can read about that elsewhere. It is more about what it means to come to terms with an addiction.

Another show that had lured me into chasing reviews, interviews, online discussions and art that heavily influenced the creators, includes The WireI’m pretty vulnerable to multidimensional characters and gritty settings. But who isn’t?

So I must confront the question, is my addiction specific or humiliatingly, general? Like Starbucks. Like the replacement sexist stereotype of cats as companions for single women. On that side note, the people I know who express their affection for cats the most are notably an ex-marine who has been in several committed relationships and couples. However, I also am aware of single ladies who own and love cats.

How much are we allowed to appreciate a show? What is the appropriate amount of attention we are allowed to indulge after being gripped by it. On a snow day, I have had time to spend time with Reddit. I’m adding Fight Club to the delightful no school day schedule.

What is my suboxone or treatment for opiate addiction? Work reading? Writing a blog post? Finishing some coding lessons? Exploring electrical circuit activities for an upcoming exploratory class? Literally find ways to do community work to support others going through detox?

Unanswered questions remain.


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frog under my bag

solAs I was leaving school, I lifted my bag and found a small frog under it.

I have an interior office. It’s carpeted. There are no windows, because it’s an interior space. Painted cement blocks on 4 walls. The outside doors are around the corner. They are double doors with one of those damp spaces in between where children wait for their parents in inclement weather.

A frog out of context is like a bird out of context. Freaky!

I went out to ask the evening custodian, a high schooler with earbuds and a strapped on vacuum backpack to please take the frog outside. I was late for an evening meeting. I felt silly asking this young man.

He seemed unaware I was speaking to him at first. With the vacuum on his back. The earbuds in his ears.

When he finally realized I might be speaking to him, he removed his earbuds. Perplexed. I wasn’t quite sure if he understood I was for real about the frog.

Last year, while living in Indonesia, the only seasonal marker was rainy season. One day I walked outside and found a dead frog, drowned, on the beautifully bricked walkway out of Banyanville, my neighborhood. This frog was not moving so I wasn’t sure it was dead at first. Upon further inspection, I found it covered with feasting bugs.

The fresh line between life and death is disturbing. Raw.

With that visceral memory, I shuddered. Not wanting to be the cause of this frog’s death. But also shivering at our lives intersecting.

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45 Minutes to Open and Close a Thumbdrive

solIn a borrowed classroom because ours was being used for testing.

With a class that pops out of focus without routine and structure.

Delivering a tech lesson requested by the homeroom teacher.

On 5 year old computers cast off from a sister school that was now using MacBook Airs.

Twenty fifth graders take 45 minutes to open and close a thumb drive.

To be fair, some students drifted in from the library–the original relocation location.

The students who have arrived early begin keyboarding. Quietly.

Everyone present. Time to insert the USB.

Open Computer. Locate the removable drive. Look for USB Brand. It will be different than the one you see on the screen.

Loading times vary from 5 to 55 seconds.

My expectations yo-yo. When to let go and when to pull back?

My blood pressure rises and falls in staccato silences between observations of “how patient” some people are being while others’ noises are “not helpful.”

As the clock jumps toward the end of the period, I have the horrible realization that the USB needs also to be ejected properly.

Or material might be lost. Damaged. Erased.

Locate the task bar. The ejection icon. Offer a solution if the “disk was still in use.”

Applaud those who have closed their applications completely before attempting to eject.

Finally. Safety. Safe to remove disk.

Rrrrrrring. End of hour.

Remove thumb drive.

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how I cultivate a list of current heroes

I was reading an article about in Time magazine on the couch at my parents’ house where my parents were also reading in their lazy-boy chairs. The writer was describing the founder, Ben Rattray‘s, intonations in a certain way. The writer’s impression was that Ben’s sentences end with an almost endearing rising intonation, rendering declarative sentences interrogative. I had to see for myself.

I fired up YouTube on my iPhone and found the following clip. It’s like being your own newscaster and going to the video segment:

I disagree with the author. Ben sounds more sure of himself. However, his sincerity is certainly genuine. It was as if I was observing Rattray and through the lens of an amazing Time writer, but then was able to go backstage and form my own “second-hand” opinions, that felt oddly “first-hand.”

Meanwhile, my parents patiently continued to read. Ignoring the sounds coming from my iPhone.

Last year, I took off school to hear Jessica Jackley, founder of, speak at my college. This clip is not from that event, but captures the essence of what I heard:

Hearing her speak in person, made me realize that personal and professional change have the potential for global implications. Plus, I liked her PowerPoint style: white background, a single photo or 6 word max of san serif black text.

She reminded me of Wendy Kopp, founder of Teach for America (TFA). Someone, incidentally, I read about in Time magazine, and then later met in person when I joined TFA. In both cases, what I was drawn to most was that they began addressing global issues from a place of personal reflection. Translating abstract to concrete.

Wendy Kopp refers to Michelle Rhee, founder of and former Chancellor of the DC public schools, in the above video. I support Michelle’s kicka– approach to education reform, but since she’s willing to take on the beast she cuts closer to the bone. She not afraid to get messy. Here she explains her involvement with Teach for America:

Finally, this list would not be complete without a shout-out to Cory Booker, mayor of Newark. This video speaks for itself:

What is most powerful is that none of these people (and many others out there) seek the mantle of hero, but earn it through hard work. Unaware of their superhero suits. Seeking new horizons.

From my parents’ couch to the world. I continue to seek heroes.

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feeling fractured

I’ve lost count of how many blogs I’ve started, and not really abandoned, but sort of lost track of. But I do know that I recently started 2 new blogs in response to the fact that blogs are for specific audiences. This blog is more like a personal journal of rambling thoughts. Whereas, now that I’m moving away to a tropical country on the other side of the world, people have been asking if I’m planning to keep a blog. I do keep a blog (this one, obviously) but I don’t disclose that since I know they’re asking for a fun scrapbook-ish account of my transition and exotic experiences. I’m in awe of people who can keep their life on a breezy conversational plane. I feel like my posts scream “overshare!!”

So in an attempt to address the challenge of giving a small public what they’ve requested, I launched JakartaJackie (the name makes me cringe since it has sort of a rapper lyric, “Jackie in the house!!” quality). I hope to chronicle with honesty, but the lighter side of honesty, and humor my journey from a contented West Michiganian to a hot, sweaty mosquito-ridden Jakartan. My hope is that when I get homesick and my feelings go dark, what will rescue them is a sense of humor that is fit to print.

Another blog I WordPressed into existence is called, school / grade tbd in an attempt to join the amazing blogosphere of teachers who share lessons. I don’t want to be just a taker, I want also to be a giver. Not the spooky kind of giver–this reference is for readers of young adult fiction, but the kind that shares. At the same time, I have always felt like a crazy mad scientist in the classroom with messy experiments that the students and I conduct with multiple variables. So when it comes time to sharing the lessons, I feel the process of trying to nail down what made it work or not work is sometimes complicated–the actual process being the main focus. Or is that a bullsh** way of saying that I’m covering up for a lack of confidence? Or that my inspirations that usually occur at 3 a.m. or in the shower, are difficult to recreate since they have a slapdash quality. Which I rationalize is what life is about so . . . there’s that element that enhances the lesson as well. I hope. A final reason that I don’t share is that I’m a huge adapter and out-right thief of other people’s ideas so I don’t want to seem like a plagiarizer. hmmm . . . In any case, I’d love to join the conversation of amazing teacher ideas with whatever I can contribute.

The following list represents different tiers or pockets of teacher resources that I return to again and again:

  • Pinterest: Clever, adorable Martha-Stewart-style lessons
  • Teachers Pay Teachers: Stuff that works with varying degrees of quality, but at least you’re paying a colleague somewhere in the world, rather than a cog in the major industrial complex of education
  • Projects by Jen: Lots of great ways to collaborate with other classrooms virtually (How does she find the time?)
  • ChartChums: ideas that work from 2 dedicated teachers who you wonder how they have time to share, but convince you that it’s possible for you too
  • two apples a day: the reason for my stalker fan status of Jee Young is evident here

Finally, all of this new blogging has caused me to wonder what is the specific audience for the “friends without id” eclectic blog? I’m not quite sure. I’m hoping it’s a community of friends who are gracious with the meandering first draft quality of posts that may be later polished for a more specific audience elsewhere.

I tentatively post the link to a LiveJournal site I used to keep to record fan-girlish thoughts on music, t.v. shows and movies that I found riveting for a time. Sorry, I just realized many of the posts are marked “private.” I’m shaking my own head as to what would cause some of the posts to be more private than others and what is the point of marking something “private” on a blog?!!

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a personal learning network (pln) story

a personal learning network (pln) story
I do not like them! I do not like PLNs, I do not like them Sam I Am!
A quiet epiphany this year has been that although educational “best practice” (like PLNs and keeping up with professional blogs) can feel unattainable and therefore a reminder of failure, when you find that certain virtual colleague that you can trust for her candidness, well . . . that’s a different story. It’s more of an inspiration. Less a professional obligation than a friendly distant colleague. 

Two Apples a Day has been that for me. I mention it at the risk of sounding like I’m fully and digitally connected. No, I happened to stumble on this site . . . I’ve forgotten how.  It’s pure gold! Really applicable. Heart-felt without being overbearing. A teacher’s dream–the good kind–something you can use in your classroom TOMORROW. Out of the box. The ideas just work.

I will try one in a box. I will try one with a fox.

Evidence: As a take on Jee Young’s recent post about making a collage with kids as a thoughtful reading response, my students responded with a collage to “Leah’s Pony” by Elizabeth Friedrich. This is a story of a young girl living during the Dust Bowl era who considers selling her prized pony to help save her family’s farm. The students considered the “author’s message” with evidence from text then illustrated their thinking by depicting what they would be willing to give up for another person.

Emmett's Pony

Emmett's Pony

Alissa's Pony

Alissa's Pony Alissa has a real horse and so this story was even dearer to her

Spoiler Alert: Leah, indeed, sells her pony to purchase her father’s tractor at auction. She then receives the pony back from the man she sold it to with a note indicating that it was too small for him to ride and too big for his grandchildren to ride.

I shared that my “pony” is giving up time, sleep, $$$ for books for my students. Ultimately, my “pony” would be having my students write in 15 years to say that they were doing a job that they loved.

favorite read-alouds
This list keeps growing. 

Here are some of my favorite read alouds as a teacher:

Chapter books:

  • Charlotte’s Web
  • The Mouse and the Motorcycle
  • The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle
  • A Single Shard
  • Any book by Mildred D. Taylor

Picture books:

  • Fireboat
  • The Man Who Walked Between the Towers
  • The Lotus Seed
  • Summer Sands
  • My Freedom Trip
  • The Royal Bee
  • The Empty Pot
  • My Lucky Day
  • Weird Friends
  • Any book by Steve Jenkins!!

writing: show not tell
Here’s an idea from a colleague in real life who suggested that students may need some visual reminders to add lots of feeling in their writing. This is a portion of the emotion chart we composed together.

our emotions

our emotions

We have discussed how much more effective it is to show how you are skeptical, rather than writing, “She’s skeptical.” What would she be doing or saying to let you know that she feels this way? “She put her hand on her chin and looked out of the corner of her eyes.”

collaborating with unseen writers
Here’s a story that our class composed with other 3rd graders across the country. Sadly, the last teacher to sign up forgot to submit the ending and title. Feel free to compose your own:

Write your Story

We did.

World Read Aloud Day: Another great idea from Jee Young
Check out our correspondence with the author, Leslie Bulion. Her poetry books are AMAZING!


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