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This is a stupid story.
I’m telling it for several reasons: One, I’m a little burned out on teaching strategies and education research. I’m preparing to take a month off from blogging and sharing this story seems like a good way to go out. I’ll get back to all the really important stuff soon, but for now I’m just going to tell a little story about a moment in my teaching career that has always stuck with me, and has probably also stuck with the students who sat in my classroom that day.
I’m also telling it because it might be worth more than a quick laugh. I think at least two valuable lessons about teaching might be buried inside it, so after I tell the story, I’m going to see what nuggets of wisdom I can extract from it.
Finally, I’m telling it because it’s inappropriate. A few weeks ago, a reader emailed me to inform me that she was going to stop sharing my articles with her pre-service teachers until I got more serious about referencing real research in my posts, instead of the fluff I’m basing them on now.
That email made me take a good hard look at my body of work, and I realized it’s been a while since I wrote something truly fluffy, something that didn’t even pretend to be research-based. I decided I was long overdue for some fluff.
The world is full of serious academics who have devoted years to learning how to conduct, consume, and disseminate high-quality research. I’m grateful to these people for the work they do, and I try to help them get the word out about what they’re learning.
But I am not one of them. I hope I’ve never given the impression that I’m trying to pass myself off as belonging in their ranks. I am something else, someone who tries to stand in the space between the serious academics and the people on the ground, grinding out the teaching work day after day. I’m trying to build bridges in that space. My building materials are practical advice, the wisdom of academics and practicing teachers, and clear, simple language. And—in equal measure—slang and humor and cussing and stories, some of them stories of times when I made bad decisions and wasn’t a good role model.
So here’s one of those stories.
It was an honors class, seventh graders. “Gifted and talented” language arts. They were pretty well-behaved kids. They took themselves and their work as seriously as 13-year-olds could. Not that the class was all business; they goofed around some, didn’t always do everything right, socialized and freaked out and complained just like any kid that age. But in general, an easy group to work with.
One day they had a test to take. This was around February or March, by which time I had gotten to know them pretty well and we had a routine down. I have zero memory of what the test was over; that’s not important.
Just picture them all sitting in their desks. About 30 of them. Lined up in rows, pencils sharpened, tests handed out, and we were about four minutes into it, so by that point everyone was fully settled. I’d sat back down at my desk, which faced them from the front corner of the room, and I was starting to go through some sort of paperwork or grading or whatever. My heart rate had settled into a nice slow rhythm, my breathing was nice and steady, and I was just enjoying one of those rare, peaceful moments when all of my students were, all at once, quiet and busy. Doing what they were supposed to do.
The calm was so strong that it pulled me away from what I was planning to do and instead I watched them while they worked, gripping their pencils, some biting the edges of their lips ever so slightly, a few glancing at the ceiling while they considered their answers. Some had their feet up on the book racks of the desks in front of them. Others bounced a leg or wiggled a pencil.
At these moments, when there was no attitude, no questions I’d already answered four times, no complaints about the day’s activity, I was able to just look at them and love them. Love them for showing up, for sitting in those desks willingly and going along with whatever I had planned without giving me a fight. It was a level of trust we’d all arrived at, an unspoken agreement that they would come here and let me teach them stuff, and they’d try their best to do their work well.
It was at these times that I stopped seeing them as a giant blob of creatures whose sole mission was to give me more work and aggravation, and I could just appreciate them as precious, individual people. Back then I didn’t have kids of my own, but now I recognize this feeling as the same as when my kids were napping, when all the craziness of trying to parent them slowed all the way down and I could just take in their pure essence.
So I was having one of those moments. You with me so far?
I could have just enjoyed it. I could have simply taken a deep, cleansing breath, noted the presence of bliss, and carried on with my grading.
But something came over me. I don’t know what it was, but suddenly I kind of wanted to mess with them. To surprise them, I guess. I don’t know. Call it crazy or call it a moment of raging immaturity; I was just overcome with a desire to make a really loud fart noise right in the middle of all that beautiful peace and quiet.
So that’s what I did.
I looked out over them, pressed my lips together, and —–.
The next few seconds were a thing of beauty. All thirty of them jerked their heads up at once and stared at me, mouths wide open, incredulous. And for just a moment the air was still while they tried to process what the heck had just happened. I looked back at them, paused for a second, then burst out laughing. Then they did the same. And there we were, hysterical.
After that it was complete mayhem. We laughed for about two solid minutes without any breaks. Then the hysterics turned into chatter, with the kids telling me they couldn’t believe I did that, asking me why, and comparing reactions with one another, retelling the events that had literally just taken place.
Finally, the room calmed down and I told them to get back to their tests. Turns out it wasn’t going to be that easy. Just when things got almost quiet enough, someone would snort really softly, it would set off a chain reaction of giggles, and we’d all be in a heap again. Finally, after about ten minutes, they all got back to their tests. More small waves of laughter rose up, but we were able to suppress them. A few times one of them would look up at me, shake their head as if to say, “You’re frickin’ nuts, you know that?”, and then go back to their test.
Once class was over, other students approached me—kids from other classes—to confirm the story and see if I was going to do the same thing in their class, too, but I said no. It would be too expected, I said. The element of surprise was gone.
The next day and a few more times throughout the year, we would re-live the moment again: Someone would remember it, they’d ask me to retell the story, to imitate the way they looked right after I made the sound, and we’d all crack up all over again.
That’s pretty much it.
Now. Here are the two things I learned:
First, I learned the hard lesson that if I am the one who disrupts class, it’s going to be a thousand times harder to get my kids back on track than if one of them did it. Way, waaaay harder. That moment was hilarious; it’s one of my favorite teaching memories. But it’s no way to run a class. If I’m trying to set a tone of seriousness in my room, if I actually get them all on the same page for once and I manage to create an environment in which they can fully concentrate, I’m an idiot if I go and mess that up. I also completely destroy my own credibility when the time comes to redirect behavior; I can’t very well reprimand someone for making obnoxious body noises if I literally just did it myself.
So this is not something I would advise anyone to do.
BUT—and this is lesson number two—sometimes it’s totally worth it to do something ridiculous, especially if you’re doing it for the sake of bringing joy into people’s lives, and to your own life, for even just a few minutes.
And this is where I want to tell one more story, a story that might seem unrelated. For me, there’s a connecting thread that I’ll try to explain.
Content warning: This next section contains mentions of self-harm.
In 2012 I went online in search of an old friend of mine named Debra, who had been one of my teaching methods instructors when I was an undergrad at Penn State in the early 90’s. Deb was my favorite college professor, not because of what she’d taught me about teaching English, but because of who she was. She made us laugh, told us things about her life, invited us to dinner at her apartment, shared honest, unpolished truths with us, things that were not just about being a teacher but also about being a wife, a woman, a friend, a decent, fully alive human being. She was only at Penn State for a few years while working on her master’s degree; the rest of the time she lived in New York City, which I thought was incredibly glamorous.
After graduation Deb invited me to visit her in Manhattan, where I spent a fantastic weekend walking through her Chelsea neighborhood, eating in diners, going to the movies, watching her teach at Stuyvesant High School, and just generally being in her orbit for 48 hours. We wrote letters over the years and she’d recommend books, send bits of poetry, share small slices of her life. Eventually we lost touch, but when I became a teacher I felt her influence the strongest, felt myself channeling her honesty, her sense of humor, her sense of fun. She definitely would have approved of me making that fart sound, if for no other reason than to see the looks on the kids’ faces.
When I looked for Debra online in 2012, what I found was an obituary. She had committed suicide the year before. She’d written “Thank you everyone” on the board in her classroom, left her keys on her desk, drove home, swallowed a bunch of pills, then walked into the creek behind her California home. She was 53.
To say I was shocked would be an understatement. Not only was she someone who lived with creativity and gusto—a woman described by people who knew her as a whirlwind, a most delightfully original person, smart, theatrical, bawdy, very funny and a little reckless—but she also didn’t take crap. She put up with no one’s B.S. So it’s hard, and more than a little devastating, to imagine the level of depression she must have been experiencing to give up the fight and actually succumb to it.
Knowing that Debra’s time on this earth had ended in such a tragic way made her life even more precious to me. It made everyone’s life more precious to me. We really have no idea what other people are struggling with, the pain and loneliness and despair that might be making life unbearable. We may never know until it’s too late.
But we have right now. Every day we have a right now: We gather in groups inside buildings and classrooms and we get to decide what to do with that time. It’s an incredible privilege, a huge opportunity. As educators we are so much more than delivery systems for information. When we come together with our students every day, we are doing so much more than teaching them about stuff. We’re also being together.
One of the things that makes humans so unique, so different from other species, is our ability to experience joy. And one of the best manifestations of joy is laughter. The kind of laughter that surprises us and bonds us and melts our anxiety. Laughter that takes us away from the have-to’s and must-do’s and reminds us that there’s a lot more to life than being productive and accomplishing things. Laughter that makes us feel, for a few minutes anyway, that we’re not alone.
Making that stupid fart sound is not even the most inappropriate thing I did in class that year. I saved one more for the last day of school. Maybe someday, if I find I’m running short on fluff, I’ll tell you about it.
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Your blog is something I look forward to each week! THANK YOU for the powerful reminders in this post.
“We really have no idea what other people are struggling with” has been the theme of my school year so far. I have learned things about my students and colleagues that have blown my mind and made my heart ache for them. To think that they come to school every day and put on their game face…Thank you for this bit of fluff. It was just what I needed.
One of the most valuable things I learned at a workshop, from a now dear friend, is that we need to be a little bit goofy; to show kids that we are human just as they are. Thanks for sharing your story!
I look forward to reading your blog posts. As a new teacher they provide me with guidance, inspiration and moments of laughter. The classroom should be a place where we can be ourselves. Be goofy at times and show our students that we are human. For some of these kids, a lot of mine for sure, we are the person they enjoy seeing every day or they can talk to.
Keep doing what you are doing.
One of the reasons I took a sabbatical this year (besides focusing on my own three children) was to reflect on what I loved and hated about our profession. And being silly, telling stories and taking field trips were my favorite times. Work was secondary for me because I taught students who had a lot of school anxiety and put enough pressure on themselves about grades. And the longer I taught (11 years) the less I cared about grades and the more I cared about them. I even did a no grades classroom for 1 quarter. (I had announced my sabbatical so admin had given up on me ;)) It was glorious to only care about improvement and stories and people. I realized trying to care about the job (grading, meetings, accountability, professional development—although I enjoy that, schedules, paper pushing) while also caring about the students I served burned me out. If and when I go back, I would cut myself more slack on the fun stuff I do in the classroom. I always felt less of a teacher because the human connection piece mattered so much to me. But, it’s probably the reason kids came back to visit every year. And maybe that connection is the most important part of being a teacher. Thank you for this story.
I 100% that connection is the most important part of being a teacher. Without it, the material you have to teach just won’t reach the students like it should. With a connection, they feel seen and appreciated.
I’ll admit, I never looked at whether your research was “real” or “fluff.” All I know is that what you provided was from teachers in the field, and the ideas were truly inspiring. I also hope you know that I enjoy your articles, podcasts, and referrals. Thank you for your valuable resources.
I think you would agree that your experience and your narrative is not fluff when you place it into the context of case studies, ethnographies, and phenomenologies. There is a richness and aesthetic appeal which has the capacity to transform hearts and minds. Thank you for your narrative, and thank you for the noise or “noises” you make.
Your blog and your articles provide a wealth of information to everyone who truly wants to enhance education. I look forward to reading your articles and am even taking the online course you created. Thank you for doing what you do and sharing your research and knowledge! I look forward to hearing from you again in a month. Take care!
Thank you for sharing. I struggle a lot with how serious to be in class. I struggle a lot with standing in front of my 5th hour which seems to resent me.
It’s good for me to read this.
I love this story! We are on trimesters at my school , so our final exams are happening right now. I have seniors for Humanities Literature, and they’ve been working on a scene analysis for Paris is Burning as their final project -everything leading up to this has been emotionally heavy reading. As a joke, I told my 2nd hour that I hoped they were ready for an exam on ALL of the reading for the trimester, and one girl just started laughing manically with a look of “omgfml” plastered on her face. We laughed together (about half the class once they figured out what was happening) for at least three solid minutes in solidarity of feeling overwhelmed and how ridiculous, but not unimaginable, a change like that for the final would be. Yes, we should take our subjects seriously, but never ourselves.
I hope you have a restful break!
I love your work! It does just what you intend … it bridges the gap between the serious researchers and those of us in the classroom trying to keep it real. I especially love today’s story. It made me laugh and cry at the same time. It reminded me why I enjoy teaching middle school so much — I have an opportunity to touch my students’ lives in so many important ways. What an honor, a privilege, and an awesome responsibility. Keep up the great work!!!
Thank you for sharing this. I truly mean that – about both stories. Sometimes, we have to just be regular old humans and do something a bit silly or unexpected. It’s good for the soul! And laughter is a huge reliever of stress, giver of endorphins, and creator of bonds. I say “Huzzah!” to some really good fluff!
On a more serious note, first, I must express my sadness and sympathies at the loss of such an influential friend and mentor. While time has passed since she committed suicide, grief doesn’t just disappear. Especially with such unexpected type of loss… It is a poignant reminder that we cannot know what battles anyone faces, but it also keeps us mindful that small points of connection (like fart noises during a test) may help someone through a rough spot or encourage them to reach out for support. Thank you for all you do – the fluff and the serious stuff both:)
Thank you for this. I do my best to live by these words in my professional life as an educator: Remember Joy. Stay the Course. There are so many joy crushing elements of public education these days and when these get me down, I remind myself I´m working with small humans who deserve joyful moments at school. Thanks for knowing that this truth is just as important as any research-based instructional strategies.
Academics? Schmacademics. Thanks, Jennifer, for that funny and moving post. You’ve made me both laugh out loud and also cry. It’s Sunday before a hard Monday and it’s helped me a lot. Please come back soon.
Thank you for this post! I love all your posts, but this one hit my heart. I run a very tight ship.. a tough 10th grade English class. My kids work hard, hate me and love me and think I’m insane. We write 10 page literary research papers, I don’t accept late work, we have hard random quizzes aaaaaand we do the cha-cha slide, push up contests and funny face games. Sometimes I dress up in weird outfits to teach my class (like the wise sage in a hooded robe for our heroes journey unit). You’re right— these are the true moments of teaching. It teaches them something invaluable— that you’re a human like them. That you’re weird too. Don’t we need so much more of that in world, especially with adolescents, especially now?!
Thank you so much!
All the love,
Great “fluff” that was hilarious, moving and a great reminder of how fun and important being able to share our own “art of teaching” is with students/people. This piece made me laugh out loud, reflect on my classroom relationships and mourn/appreciate your friend Debra for what she brought to your world, as well as remind me of those in my life who did the same. I seldom post replies, but was compelled by your motivation for writing it and to commend you on your talent for “telling your story” in a way that easily made me visualize. Fluff is comforting.
[Stands up and claps.]
1. My condolences on the loss of your mentor and friend. Your friend should have had more days, but from what you shared made a lot out of the ones she had. We live everyday and die once. Live your days to the fullest. Enjoy your break.
2. Teachers are human. Teachers are also professional. If a doctor made a fart sound to make my daughter laugh and feel more comfortable, I wouldn’t think any less of her/him, but would be grateful for the connection. I agree with the power of laughter.
(A person who still laughs at fart jokes AND a science teacher that shares about teaching science, STEM/STEAM, and inquiry learning.)
I just love that you shared these stories. As a teacher, that has moved from teaching elementary to teaching junior high, I have found myself feeling extremely disappointed with attitudes and, quite frankly, actions of my older students. Add to that, the incredible pressure we feel as teachers to meet the insane amount of expectations demanded of us; that, in reality seem to just take away from us actually teaching. In a perfect world, we’d get to walk in and just do our jobs. But the world is not perfect. It’s nuts!!! My favorite times in teaching are when I can truly be myself with my students. Let them see that I’m just a real person- just like them. Albeit, inappropriate at times (as you mentioned); those are the times when relationships with my students can be molded; it’s when they truly know I care. So, thank you for sharing. I have many strong beliefs about education and how sometimes it feels like it is heading more toward demise than positivity. I’m glad to know I can keep with it, and through all the clamorous routine; maybe, just maybe- make a kids day. Thank you!
Love your story. I am sure your students will remember some of your lessons but they will definitely remember the fart. In that moment you all connected at a different level and that’s just beautiful.
I like doing stuff like that. I know managing the classroom is important but we all some time have to shake it off and laugh. Thanks for sharing.
What a perfect story! Those kiddos will remember that fart sound and that joy in the best way forever. Thank you for sharing.
I love and learn so much from all of the blogs you write. Thank you for standing in that place between serious-researchy-academia and gritty-in-the-classroom-real-life. But this may be my favorite thing you’ve ever written. Thank you for sharing that moment of laughter and joy. Thank you for sharing Debra. Thank you for sharing your lessons. Take some good time away and come back soon. We need you.
Jennifer, Your weekly articles are a highlight of my weekend! What you do is very appreciated by many of us who struggle “in the trenches”. You’ve been there and know what we need and yearn for – practical, useful advice that can be immediately implemented. We need someone willing to decipher that educational research from those sitting in the ivory towers and help translate it “so what does this mean for the teachers out there facing these issues, children, problems, conditions, etc. every day of their career?” I teach in a title 1 middle school in a district that is struggling financially. I have classes with kids who read at high school level in the same class as kids who read at 2nd grade level, thanks to the infinite stupidity of those “ivory tower” idiots. We teachers need a voice of reason and understanding out there to help us navigate what are impossible expectations. So I want to thank you very much for all the time you invest in helping us out. I think you and your articles are awesome!
This might be my most favorite post ever! I literally had tears in my eyes reading it. When it comes right down to it, these are the kinds of moments that build connections with our students that have the potential to last a lifetime. Reminds me of the time I told my 4th graders to get their “math shit” out (I meant to say math sheet). They laughed and laughed and were still laughing about it at the end of the year. Thank you for sharing EVERYTHING with us…the “fluff,” 😉 the serious stuff, the teaching tips and practices, and your heart. I’m sorry about your professor’s tragic death. You certainly honor her spirit and soul weekly with this blog.
Yes, we are here to dispense joy juice! When did it get so serious? After 40 years in teaching, I found this article to be so refreshing!
Would so enjoy talking with you!!
In celebration of the Royal wedding in 2011 (William and Kate), I opened my hermetically-sealed wedding dress from 1982 featuring Lady Diana sleeves. My veil covered up what I couldn’t zip; my bridesmaid-students and I laughed through every class. My three sons were mortified. We should take our content seriously, but enjoy the ride with teenagers.
I love that story! I greatly enjoy messing with my 7th graders; I do it all the time. Open your books to page 23. Read silently p23 – 576. (Wait for it). Mr. C, the book only has 240 pages. I know, I’m messing with you! Mess with them they enjoy it and you will too!!!
Thank you so much for this post! This is a hard year for educators and there is far to much “stuffy” and not enough “fluffy”. Research is awesome, but stories about finding joy in our work is even more awesome. My heart breaks for Deb and all those who love her. I see depression in some of the beautiful people I work with who are far too intense right now in their very difficult work. Maybe we need something akin to a fart noise in faculty meeting next time! Enjoy a break. We will look forward to your column when you return!
Thank you for the work you do. Enjoy your break off blogging. Rest and have fun. I really do appreciate your posts. You keep it real!
I appreciate and look forward to your blogs. I am always looking for new ideas and ways to improve. I love to make my kids laugh in the classroom but I always feel guilty for not having a more serious atmosphere. Thanks for sharing this, it made me laugh! Thanks for this fluff, it was one of the most valuable blogs for me!
I love this.
Funny story and completely touching-thank you!
YES! THANK YOU!
Jennifer, thank you for your dedication to helping educators be the best teachers possible. I look forward to your posts each week. I am a better teacher because of your wisdom.
I admire the gracious way you handled the negativity of the one follower. I hope you don’t give it too much mental energy.
Enjoy your time off!
Thank you so much for that. We always need to find ways to take ourselves less seriously. I am a volunteer medical clown in hospitals here, so I know. I appreciated your goofiness. As a suicide survivor, myself, I also appreciated your story about Deborah. And I especially appreciated your words: “Every day we have a right now”. Enjoy your hiatus and your holidays – and always share the fluff.
Your take on teaching is so refreshing, stripped-down and real. I wish more administrators had this practical understanding and didn’t take themselves and others so damn serious all the time. Thanks!
Thank you for this. Loved it and also just lost a beautiful person in my life to suicide that shocked me. Good reminder to share love, give love, and be grateful. Great way to start Thanksgiving Week! 🦃🦃🦃
Didn’t know you were a Penn Stater! I was there from 93-97. Education major. I’m now wondering about this woman you mentioned. Her name sounds familiar. I’m so sorry to hear what happened to her. Depression is a terrible monster. I had a couple professors that I loved there. Dan Marshall was my advisor. Another neat human. I love this post. Farting is one of thiose things that helps determine if a person is one of “your people” or not. Will they laugh or be disgusted? Perhaps this is why I teach children. They always laugh:)
Hi Kim! I was there from 89-93. I think Deb was there maybe 91-93?
Love the fluff; love the serious stuff. Keep it coming. 🙂
This was the best blog entry ever. And a wonderful reminder why I value the weekly e-mails from you, Jennifer. And good grief, research? I wonder what is up with that. Sometimes I think that those who can’t teach do research. And the teachers who research: they indulge in content, not in dry, dull, non-anecdotal data. Thank you for this great reminder of why teaching and schools are/should be human, first and foremost.
I love everything about this post– thank you, thank you! This is why I resist the migration to teaching more online college courses. Because there is something precious about being together in a room, holding space. Thanks for all you do here.
Oh! I can totally relate to both that feeling of love and adoration when my students are all engaged and focused, as well as that desire to surprise them. I love this post for so many reasons! Thank you.
I loved this post, both for the laugh I had at your “inappropriate” farting noise in class and for the implications of what it means not to take ourselves so seriously all the time (here’s a nod to the email you received). I laughed because I’ve been known to rile up my students for no reason other than to get us all to have a good laugh. The value of a good laugh can never be underestimated. Also, as I read and think about the importance of joy in learning and how that helps all of us feel a little less lonely, we need to infuse our classrooms with happiness, even if it may be deemed silly by others. I think this is important to remember.
Love it. I’m a 17 yr. veteran 8th grade English teacher turned Dean of Students. I felt like I was reading my own story. I can completely sense the focus, the giggles, and the struggle to find composure afterward. As a dean, I find it fun to weave in “poop” or “fart” into faculty meetings, catches people’s attention and lightens some too heavy moods. About 12 years ago I started sitting in on interviews. I proposed then and am still fighting to have the first question be: Do you think farts are funny? I mean, come on…we teach middle school! I don’t even need to hear their answer; the candidate’s facial expression will tell me all I need to know about their future success in “the middle”. Fluff/researched your posts always hit the mark for me. I’m thankful to be connected to this cult.
That interview question has me absolutely dying. If someone were to ask me that in an interview I would be all, “HIRE ME NOW.”
We know the best research is in the classroom, with the students. Your advice and stories are much appreciated, and our ELA department loves your posts. All teachers, especially middle school teachers, need to have some fluff to remind Ss, and ourselves, just not to take things SO seriously. Thank you, Jen, for all that you do:)
Thank you for not being an academic. Thank you for helping us use what they learn about teaching. And thank you for writing in English and not in Journal.
You are awesome! Thanks for all you do. Keep it coming, fluff and all!
Thank you for this post! You have confirmed in a beautiful way something I’ve always believed and tried to live by-that among all of the responsibilities we have as teachers, one of the most important is to be sure we bring joy to the lives of others. Establishing that connection makes everything else meaningful. Happy Thanksgiving!
The title was the catch. I wanted to listen to the podcast to hear what happened. I laughed and cried. I am at an age to retire but just love the feeling of touching my high school student’s lives. (I hope for the good 😃) Keep the podcasts coming!
You are such a source of inspiration! My teaching has greatly improved since I found your website and started reading your articles. I recommend your site to all my colleagues and everyone loves it. I am certain you are not going to take that person’s comment (B.S.) into consideration.
Today, I am amused but also deeply moved by your stories. Thanks for writing about this and for all the hard work you do to share your knowledge and wisdom.
I hope you enjoy this well-deserved holiday and recharge batteries for 2020.
Thank you once again.
Wonderful post!! 🙌 This is why I keep coming back for more!! You always have a way of putting things in perspective!!
The beauty of your blog is that you offer a level-headed, highly reflective perspective about the real world of teaching. So often the statistics and research that provide the “proof” behind the methodology forget that teachers are interacting with young human beings. Your insights, suggestions and ideas offer new and veteran teachers alike a chance to see their practice from the lens of a thoughtful virtual-colleague. If anyone wants the research behind the practice, there are plenty of avenues for them to explore. Your blog offers a grounded and masterful opportunity to consider our practices in the classroom in a new light. It is an invaluable resource!
Thank you, too for your “fluff” story. It is important for educators to realize that, although our profession is very serious, complex and demanding, the first and foremost goal should be making positive, lasting connections with our students. The chance to share a real, heartfelt, memorable laugh with your students is precious and rare. Seize the opportunity and create a bond that may last long after the student leaves your classroom!
I truly appreciate all of what you give to us. As a professor, I well know that often dry and complicated research findings have to be translated to those on the ground in classrooms. You do that exceptionally well.
Love, love, loved it. I totally got the line about loving them in that moment the way you do your sleeping child.
You bonded with your kids in that moment. They will remember that at every reunion. Guaranteed. “Remember the time Ms. Gonzales made that fart sound? “
I’m so sorry about your mentor. She was my age now. At her death. After teaching for 30 years, I can understand if she wasn’t getting the support she needed in her school. The daily drudgery can really bring you down. This is why building relationships with students and faculty is so important. Now, I do relationships first and everything else after.
I enjoy your fluff. I think you try to balance your posts with research, and you usually have the researcher on. If you post sources in resources, that’s good enough for me.
Please don’t become one of those. You fit a niche we need. You do YOU!
Thanks for everything,
This story is everything. You move us from laughter to tears–and that is the very beauty of life. Thank you for sharing your story so bravely and with candor. Some of the best moments of teaching are the purest and rawest–they are not planned or expected. This was a moment you shared with your students, your kids, and I’m certain it’s one you and your students will never forget. They may forget the lessons you taught, but they will never forget YOU. And by the way, for all the haters out there, it’s not “fluff,” it’s the stuff connections and relationships are made of.
P.S. I will be sharing!
Wow, Jennifer, just wow. I’ve read and re-read and saved and shared and pondered many, many of your posts over the years but this is the stuff of legacy. I sincerely hope you have found a way to share this post with Debra’s family. I know from personal experience after friends and colleagues of my dad – some of whom I didn’t know and others I hadn’t even heard him mention – shared stories that were funny, humorous and impactful after his death. It was a salve like no other.
I am so thankful for Cult of Pedagogy and the way you approach your craft! You provide practical information that I can use with my preservice classes at the collegiate level, but you were just as applicable when I was teaching in a high school English classroom.
I have shared your ideas with others and tweaked many of them to fit into my eclectic style of teaching. You offer just enough research that I can take the information and wade through the academic muck, if I so choose, but I find that most of the ideas are ready to implement based on the information in the blog.
In a world filled with too much silly fluff or too much academic stuff, your approach is a perfect melding of the two.
If I wanted more fluff or stuff, I know where to look. Don’t change your approach. You gain readers every time you share a post. Blessings!
Thank you for sharing! All your posts are well worth reading!
Thank you so much for this post! I really appreciate what you do and how your writing is so relatable and useful for us teachers!
Thank you for being human and thank you for the chuckle. Your posts always seem to reach out to me at the right times.
Jennifer, this is by far your best post! I feel for those pre-service teachers if all they are fed is theory. Humanity must be foremost in our line of business. If we don’t place that first, then what is the point of the rest of the job? More than ever, kids need US. Keep on being who you are. Enjoy your time off.
This story caught me off guard today. I did not know Debra personally, but she taught some of my former students from middle school, and it was from them that I learned what happened. Your story and hers remind me that we are not teaching a subject, we are teaching people, and if we are teaching people, we must show up in a human way and allow for those times of joy or sadness to be expressed. Thank you for that reminder!
Oh my gosh Natasha. I was wondering if and when someone who knew Debra personally or indirectly would find this, and it happened sooner than I expected. Thank you for sharing this.
THANK. YOU! I can relate so well to this statement… “I am something else, someone who tries to stand in the space between the serious academics and the people on the ground, grinding out the teaching work day after day. I’m trying to build bridges in that space.”
Like you, I had boots on the ground and worked several years in public education (science and math at the high school level), and whereas your journey has taken you into building those bridges through social media, my journey has led me the last 12 years to work with pre-service math and science teachers at the university level… I pour into them … yes, all the research-based best practices and pedagogical content knowledge mapped to experiences… actual experiences in which they develop their voice, their autonomy, and their ownership in the process of growing into a teacher… but I also pour into each and every one of them as HUMAN BEINGS… and if they take anything away from my courses and my coaching, it’s that the most critical and fundamental attribute of being an effective teacher is to value and build relationships with your students as you help them become better human beings…
If I have said it once, I have said it 1,000 times in a variety of ways…the content (what you teach) and the pedagogy (how you teach) simply creates the vehicle you use to travel on a journey (albeit for a short time) WITH them (your “kids”)… weaving into their lives things far more important than quadratic equations or Newton’s Laws.. things like goodness and love and respect and empathy… my college students can tell you that I have said on more than one occasion that in spite of being a really “good” teacher (I am humble, but this is the ‘word on the street’ LOL), that if I were to gather my best and brightest students from my first 5 or 10 years of teaching high school science and math and give them a quiz, I know realistically that the grades would be dismal… because “what” I taught them about sines and cosines or pulsars or quarks was not nearly as important as “what” I taught them… about life and how to treat others and how to persevere… etc, etc.
So… gosh… I know this was a long “reply,” but I just wanted to let you know how I can so relate to you, and this post, and what your calling is… I definitely feel a connection! (And I find it ironic that you and I live in the same geographical location… how fun it would be to chat over coffee sometime)
Thank you for doing the work, building the bridges, giving me and so many others such excellent resources and grounded perspectives on what we love to do… teaching in its most purest and beautiful form!
Thanks so much for sharing this, Melissa. I’m thrilled to know someone with your passion is working with pre-service teachers! (p.s. When I refer to my years teaching pre-service teachers, it is where you are right now. Coffee would be great!)
Thank you so much for the ‘fluff’.
I read your blogs most weeks and as I wade through year 12 final exams here in Australia, I needed to be reminded that there are people behind these papers….what I might think is an absurd answer has a reason behind it…that they may have struggled to even get to school.
I led a workshop with a colleague to a select group of seniors. Their reflections and feedback told us, weeks later, that what they enjoyed the most was that the teachers had fun and made jokes and laughed their way through the workshop. It wasn’t polished. It wasn’t a lecture. It was a chat between humans.
Since then, I’ve welcomed laughter into my classroom – not with fart noises – but that might be my next thing!
Sometimes as educators we forget why we got into the profession in the first place.
You nailed it! Life is full of stories and lessons from them. These are the only blogs I read fully. Otherwise it’s usually a waste of my time. Just saying…
OMG… I love your emails.
Please don’t keep us waiting. Share about the end of the school year! Please. Right away.
Thanks for “fluff”…it’s just what I needed today. What a simple, loving reminder that our lives are a mere breath, and we must savor the moments with others in joy.
Thank you for sharing this. I love to have fun with my students, to show that we’re all in this together!
And for the reminder that we never know what someone else is going through, so to handle our relationships with care.
What a wonderful episode! I personally love sharing your work with colleagues, including beginning teachers, because you do bridge the gap between academia and the ‘coal face’.
Whenever I deliver professional development I want people to leave with a strategy or idea they can action the next day in the classroom and give them a place to look for further information- your podcasts do this beautifully.
Thank you for a very eloquent, funny and wonderfully civilised f you.
I teach 8th grade English at a very high achieving school. I often question myself and how much my students are learning and accomplishing each day. It’s really tough when I have parents and even students questioning how much they are learning too. I’ve felt guilty and wondered if I was doing a good enough job. I give my students lots of opportunities to talk and connect with me and each other. We tell a lot of stories. We also play a lot of games. I teach Drama too so I have a lot of fun activities up my sleeve. I’m always looking for the newest trend in education to bring to my classroom. I love experimenting with new ways of teaching, hence why I love your blog so much:) But, all the experimentation, games and laughter sometimes detract from the content. However, I’ve always felt this deep conviction that relationships with my students are what matter most, even over the content. Thank you for writing this and confirming that yes, laughing, having fun and relationships are vital in our profession. Let’s all stop being so serious all the time, sheesh. You are wonderful Jenn!
Well that person is an idiot, because you are the best. You spoke at my husband’s district at the beginning of the year and I’m so mad I didn’t sneak in to meet you. Never change.
I really look forward to, and appreciate your posts every week.
Your personal voice and experiences make your well researched posts more enjoyable for me. Reading strictly academic write ups is tiresome. The human touch makes your work a lot more digestible.
Hope your month off is meaningful and rejuvenating.
Thanks for all you do for the education community!
Your blog energizes me as a teacher educator! I am so grateful for the time and energy you put into it. I love how accessible it is… how courageous and real you are as you investigate important topics.
I hope that you never lose sight of how important it is to so many of us out there. So take a good break, but don’t stop! I absolutely adore your blog! My favorite teaching blog out there… thank you for everything
What academics often don’t understand that is as soon as they are initiated into academia, only their colleagues can understand them. They are taught to write in very inaccessible ways. They NEED people like you to make the meat of their research accessible to practitioners.
So thank you. You are the translator that allows all that research to actually be put into use. You make it practical and usable.
This is one I’m printing out an sharing with my daughter. a teacher of ELA 8th graders and my niece, a third grade teacher. They will so appreciate this and loooove it. I was also a teacher of the gifted 7th graders and your story really resonated with me. I loved all the goofiness, and seriousness of that group.
I’ll take your FLUFF anytime:)
Your posts motivate me to try new things, to see see things in a new light, to be a better teacher and person. Drown out the noise and the naysayers. Your posts are nourishment for so many. T H A N K Y O U for all you do for our teaching community. Enjoy your much deserved break.
Loved this ‘fluff.’ It’s always nice to remember that being an educator is about so much more than just academics.
There are tons of edu blogs and podcasts out there these days but I quote yours most often! I love the balance between real life and academic content. I’m 16 years into teaching but I love learning and improving my craft; thanks for all you do to help with that!
Thank you for translating the research into practical information, and for always making it enjoyable to read. Please continue to share the fluff, so I can laugh along with you…you are a blessing.
You have no idea how perfect this topic was for me this week, as we received the horrific news that we lost one of our students the very morning I received your post. Oh how true all of your words are. In my humble opinion, absolutely none of this is mere “fluff.” Thank you, from the bottom of my heavy and tired teacher heart.
Oh, this makes my heart heavy to hear. I’m so sorry. Thanks for sharing – it means a lot.
Thank you so much for sharing this story. I am one of those teachers who can’t resist being silly sometimes. Occasionally, I pay the price of a little chaos but I’m okay with it. That said, I feel self-conscious about it when I think of how other teachers see me. I know that being yourself and showing kids you are human is important in connecting with them. Thank you for sharing how a little silliness brought you closer to your students.
Also, you are amazing and even your “fluff” is valuable.
Ahhh! The humanity!
Your story reminds me of how my brain is working in my classes (I teach High school), I once tolled my students that in my mind I hear sound effects when I am teaching, this made them laugh but it also made them feel comfortable in my class. I truly enjoy how you explained that laughter is very important. Awesome story!
I have been both the fart-sound-making teacher, and the tired one who wanted to walk into a large body of water. Simultaneously.
This blog post was so well-written I’m still thinking about it. It is a true gift to be able to take your readers straight from tears of laughter to tears of sadness. Thank you.
Thanks for the FLUFF! This is exactly the kind of stuff preserve teachers need to hear. I garentee they will learn more from the Fluff in life than anything they are learning in their college classroom. You have inspired me on so many occasions and I believe you are amazing!
I have had this email sitting in my inbox until now. I somehow felt that it would be a good read, and it was. I got my teaching degree at Penn State in the ’90s as well. I could totally relate to you with meeting someone (several someones) that changed my thinking and way of seeing the world.
I think this is a great reminder of how if our students see us as flawed and human we can reach them even more than we ever thought. I really enjoy all of your ideas and writing topics. This one just touched me a bit more.
Thank you, and Happy Holidays!
These responses have been so great! I work for Jenn and just wanted you to know that she is seeing them, it’s just that she doesn’t have time to respond to everything individually, including the many responses she’s gotten in private emails. Jenn is enjoying reading all the comments and is so glad the post and all its “fluff” has resonated with you. Thanks so much for your feedback!
Unexpectedly, but not surprisingly, this episode (I listened via podcast) made me tear up so much…far before you mentioned anything about Debra, your methods instructor. The way you described how you looked at your class lovingly, simply appreciating their presence and their person, how your students had responded to the incident, how every now and then one of them would look up and smile to make a comment about your crazy antic(s), how kids from other periods would trickle in during the day to confirm the story…. All this brought back so many memories of having these kinds of moments with my students: special, quirky, out of the ordinary moments that only we shared as a class…and of just being with my students day after day, witnessing their growth and struggles and joys and downs and sense of humor and life. After being in the classroom with middle schoolers for 12 years, I have now been out for about three…and even though I left because I was approaching burnout (it was important for me to leave while I still loved the job) and while I still get to work with a small group of students for part of the time, I so dearly miss those times in the classroom…and wonder if I have it in me or whether it is fitting for me to go back to teach full time someday. Anyway, I guess this is a really long-winded way of saying thank you for writing this post…and for sharing your thoughts and experiences with us through your blog.
I love this! Thank you so much for sharing and making me laugh out loud so unexpectedly. It was such a timely reminder not to take myself,my classes and life so seriously and focus more on the human connections.
Thank you. We should never forget the element of humanity in education. We aren’t teaching content we’re teaching kids and they are hilarious! If we can’t find the comedy in what we do every day then a break is necessary. Thanks for your ideas.
Thank you for your stories. It is important to remember to take time to enjoy life in all parts of life. Teaching should be fun, it’s why we chose this career path. This podcast reminded me that it should remain fun. It is easy to get caught up in the day to day humdrum of it all, we should be sure to have fun. Laughter is what helps us to connect to the world around us, so we should laugh, smile, and find joy in our lives.
Great story, thankyou. It worries me only slightly that it sounds like you are reading the story. Other than that it is always good to hear anecdotes.
Thank you Kim, we are happy to hear that you enjoyed the story.