Walking from my car towards the CCB Building at Nassau Community College, on a bright, sunny, warm Saturday morning, I marveled at the fact that it has been almost 20 years that I’ve been coming to this campus for Long Island Writing Project events. This morning’s meeting marked the first time we would be in person as a site since the pandemic hit in March 2020. We’ve been zooming to stay connected and continue sharing ideas and writing together, but I felt especially happy to have the opportunity to be in person this morning. Socially distanced and with masks, it still felt good to gather together for a workshop facilitated by renowned educator and slam poet Taylor Mali.
As I got closer to the building, my mind started listing all the things I had to get done for work this weekend and all the obligations I had for my family and house. With so much to do, was it really wise to carve out this time to reconnect with my Long Island Writing Project friends and take part in this workshop?
Yes, a resounding yes!
A lot has changed in the twenty years I’ve been a teacher. When I came to the LIWP after my first year of teaching, I was single and fresh out of college. My life was dedicated to teaching but I felt like a hamster on a wheel- never really getting anywhere. I would arrive at work hours before the day began and stay hours past dismissal. I would bring work home at night after putting in a full day’s work. I had very little balance in my life at that time. I wasn’t doing much to take care of myself in any way: there was no soul nourishing going on back then.
Twenty years later, life is busier than ever. Now married with two children who are in elementary school, I can no longer arrive at work hours early and most days I need to leave right after dismissal. When I get home, I need to help my children with their homework, take them to their various activities, make everyone dinner, supervise showers and bedtime…..and try to fit in some of that work I used to do when I had countless hours to fill. This year, we added a puppy to the mix and so now there are walks and fetch and taking care of another little being who is depending on me.
The difference between the me then and the me now is I understand the need to nourish my teacher soul. To be the very best teacher possible for my students, I need to have joy in my life. I need friendships and beauty and time to read and write. I’ve learned that being a teacher could fill every hour of every day if you let it, but it’s time better spent to recharge in ways that help ignite your passion for being a teacher.
For me, the Long Island Writing Project has always been a place that restores my spirit. Surrounded by fellow educators who love students and words and helping students find the words….I’ve had so many enriching experiences with this group. On Saturday, September 18th, we came together again for a workshop led by Taylor Mali. While I could have stayed home and checked items off on my never-ending “to-do” list, the hours I spent at the workshop gave me a needed boost of laughter, time to write and time to think. Taylor Mali performed several poems (including these ones I loved- How Falling In Love is Like Owning a Dog and Undivided Attention), regaled us with the stories behind the poems and provided opportunities for us to write and share. He showed us his Metaphor Dice and we each had a chance to roll them and try out our own poem based on the metaphor. The Metaphor Dice combine abstract nouns, adjectives and concrete nouns. After rolling several different times, I found a metaphor that struck me: “The truth is a handed-down blessing.”
I used that line to inspire the following poem:
The truth is a handed-down blessing,
Which is to say,
I know deep inside
I am loved, lovable and worthy
No matter what is hurled at me
The truth is a shield around me
Protecting me from daggers of lies
Passed down from courageous women
Passed down from honorable men
The truth sets me free
The truth is a handed-down blessing.
Twenty years has gone by since I began teaching and while I’ve taught my share of lessons, I’ve also learned many along the way. Carving time out to nourish my teacher soul is essential. Fresh air, sunshine, rest, hydration, reading for fun, writing for purposes outside of lesson plans, newsletters and emails…these things are essential to me. Making time to talk to friends. Seeking out professional growth. Connecting with other educators. These, too, help me to grow and keep evolving.
These times are so hard. Teaching in 2021 is challenging to say the very least. We’ve got to take care of ourselves. We’ve got to find ways to nourish our souls. On Saturday, September 18th, Taylor Mali and the Long Island Writing Project gave me that boost of inspiration and joy which I will carry back with me into my classroom come Monday.
How are you taking time to nourish your teacher soul?