We know the scenario: the teacher asks a question. The students raise their hands. There, front and center, waving hand right to left, is me. I know the answer. I have a response for that.
This routine repeated throughout my educational journey. Whether in sixth grade, answering questions about ancient Mesopotamia or Hammurabi’s code, contributing to a class discussion on The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in high school, or interacting during a seminar at university, my participation bordered on obsessive, and my seat remained front and center. If a teacher or professor were to ignore my obvious desire to respond, my posture would shift: I’d begin to slump in my chair, disengage from the flow of discussion, and doodle in the margins of whatever paper lay before me – well, until I could raise my hand again.
I’ve also been on the other side of the raised hand. A major, contributing factor to my becoming a teacher was my love for school. Some people follow their passions. Some people take risks, venturing out into the real world with a hope and a dream and some coin in pocket. I took a route that reflected my need for a sense of security and protection of my self-esteem. School was the thing I had always been good at, so I selected teaching.
From a very early age, much of my healthy ego was developed through my interactions with teachers and my classmates. My passion for learning was fueled by my academic achievements, and those achievements were fueled by my passion. Being a super competitive, overachiever type, school gave me a platform for my intellectual curiosity. This reciprocal relationship made being a student enjoyable for me and with each task assigned, I made the best effort to “autograph my work with excellence,” a phrase often used by my sixth-grade teacher, Ms. Poe. That saying became a mantra for me, and I have repurposed it as a phrase I use with my own students.
The classroom is a place where I always felt my shine, and my childlike eagerness to be an active participant certainly hasn’t dulled with age, except now I find myself being more reactive. A raised hand isn’t always a sign of critical thinking, but rather a signal to enter the conversation, a way of saying, “I’m here, now you better pay me some damn attention.”
Nowadays, finding myself triggered to respond by any number of stimuli is not uncommon, but I raise my hand, so to speak, by picking up the proverbial pen.
My daily life is filled with catalysts for commentary, and I’m still that precocious kid trying to find some way to enter a conversation that either already exists, or should. As a teacher of writing, encouraging my students to find inspiration in their daily lives, for substance and content, is my job, but I embody the practice I expect, writing beside my students, serving as a model of the writing process. Regularly, there are any number of scenarios worthy of my attention, and I seem to have a endless supply of fodder to cultivate thought. Whenever anything seems noteworthy, I think to myself: let me respond to that.
For example, there are innumerable occasions on which I am unprepared, or unable, to write. So many distractions clutter my writerly path. Being a parent accounts for much of my writing content, my small human-in-training serving as chief muse. Raising a toddler requires a lot of reacting, but he’s also the rodeo clown to my bull. Parenting is survival, and I want to document its finest moments for posterity: the tantrums, the laughter, the remarkable shit my son says by which I am caught completely off-guard. I want to talk about that, document it with the discipline of an archivist. Yet, time is a slippery fish.
Teaching adolescents also provides for an endless pond in which to throw a line. Almost daily, there is some tasty tidbit dying to receive some social commentary: the fickleness of teenage love, the “it” dance of the minute, or the memes. So. Many. Memes.
And then, there are adults.
Spending the vast majority of my day interacting with people under the age of 15 makes me hyper-aware of my surroundings, and the snatches of adult conversations often pique my interests. Inevitably, something someone says or does beckons my response, and I constantly find myself scribbling down things, thinking to myself, “I want to respond to that later.” Usually, later never comes. Derailed by one thing or another, all those precious moments for pondering become merely static on a screen.
Sitting in front of my laptop, my purpose becomes clearer. The world is my classroom, and my readers become the teacher, asking endless questions. Here I am, again front and center, waving my hand back and forth, waiting for someone to call on me. When they do, I will have something to contribute, and I know just how I’ll start. I’ll say, “Let me respond to that.”
And, I will.