Irreplaceable You

“We are all replaceable.” The Daily Stoic grabs my attention with this subject line. I may read the email, but those words take me back to November 22, 1963. I had turned 12 on September 15th of the same year, on the day four little girls died in the bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church in Birmingham, Alabama.

When I think about that time in my life and I put it up against a lovely eighth grade girl standing next to me yesterday during an assembly who said, “We can be really bad sometimes, Ms. Emerson,” talking about her and her peers and their treatment of their teachers, I am humbled. The world is a difficult place—always, and the years when we are first coming to terms with that pose huge challenges.

It was a Friday, the day President Kennedy was shot in Dallas. I had stayed home from school, sick with a cold or some other ailment. My father was downstairs, had not gone in to his office for some reason; it was about 10:30 and I had come downstairs.

Dad was sitting in the den with our black and white television turned low as the voice of Walter Cronkite murmured. I heard him call out to my mother, “Marylou,” but she was in the basement, so I came instead. In the grainy footage I could see the car, the toppled President, the panic of those in Dallas surrounding the car in the aftermath of shots.

And I stayed there with my father until Walter Kronkite announced his death to the nation. (I rewatch it now, and it brings me to tears—still.) The event elone would have been enough to rock my 12-year-old world, but this revered newscaster’s break with his traditional bedrock stoic delivery rattled me.

For two years I had worried about nuclear war; this was when the Cold War was hot! I was a child whose parents openly discussed politics before me and encouraged our reading everything. And then there was—of course—that black and white box that brought it into our house in unprecedented ways.

When I asked my father on that day in November what would happen, would everything fall apart now that the President had been assassinated, he turned off the television, faced me and said, “Patricia, don’t worry. No one is irreplaceable.” I know we followed it with conversation and that my mom joined us at some point—I tended to be the high-maintenance, dramatic child of their six—but whatever followed, those words consoled me. They are what remains.

Those words in a subject line this morning still console, but they bring their corollary, too: Everyone is replaceable. We move forward, even from seemingly insurmountable loss.

Moving Forward

It’s a strange thing—to be asked to write an article for an event you have yet to attend, but that is what happened yesterday. Our professional organization’s newsletter, OCTE Chalkboard, has a deadline in advance of the NCTE Convention which begins on Thursday.

I am one of the few people who will be attending. OCTE does not fund teachers for the convention, hoping that districts will step up for those who seize this most inspiring learning opportunity. My former employer in New Jersey was amazingly supportive. I still marvel at my good fortune. She used to tell me that seeing my enthusiasm and the way new insight played out in the classroom was worth every penny. “We want to put lifelong learners in front of our students.”

Based on experience, I have written the blurb that follows:

Perusing the program for this year’s NCTE Convention, “Sueños Pursuing the Light,” an in-person event after two years in an exclusively virtual environment, is akin to receiving that holiday catalogue full of those tempting items that shout, “Celebrate!”

The welcome from program chair María Fránquiz stated, “…we can share the ways our individual and collective pursuit of light…continues to assist us in imagining a new story…new dreams—for ourselves, our students, and our communities.”

Anaheim buzzed with energy from Thursday, November 17th through the special workshop opportunities on Tuesday, November 22nd. From the very first sessions, themes emerged. NCTE manifested its commitment to expanding the range of voices, the breadth of ideas, and the hope of a more equitable and just world through presentations from dedicated, engaged, and highly skilled professionals.

“Oh, to be cloned!” That thought crossed attendees’ minds as the array of learning opportunities made selecting one nearly impossible. Many colleagues who attended together separated to attend concurrent sessions in order to bring even more resources back to their classrooms.

The NCTE Convention proved, once again that working together fosters growing together—and shined a beacon for all to follow.

(While I have no crystal ball, I do have a history of inspiration with NCTE. May all my dreams come true!)


Screenshot, 3/5/22

She was always special, you know those students when you have them, earnest yet joyful, engaged and interested, smart and kind. A colleague of mine once said, “The truth about Brigit, and students like her, is that they really don’t need us; we need them.”And I have never forgotten that. A middle-school miracle among my eighth grade charges, shining on those around her, and making them shine, too.

And that glow of knowing continued growing. In her senior year as a student at a selective high school, she chose to complete her senior project with me. She committed to four days a week, four hours each morning, working with my latest crop of eighth graders on a technology integration project. But she did so much more than that! I was to be her mentor; in fact, the learning was reciprocal.

She became a working member of our teaching team, and the kids loved her. We were participating in the National Writing Project’s collaboration with Google in their “Letters to the President.” The enterprise demanded a lot of preparation and conferring while students worked as writers with a true purpose and audience. Naturally Brigit added to our technology knowledge, but more than that, she engaged with these student writers, and students who once eschewed writing, changed. She nudged them gently toward expertise.

On her final day with us, the project successfully completed and her time with us over, we met on the rug for cake and conversation, a parting “chalk talk,” and she invited them to ask questions. “So are you going to college to be a teacher?”

“Oh, no, ” Brigit replied. “I’m not going to be a teacher.”

Puzzled the young man continued, “Then why did you come here to be with us for your school project?”

“I learned to write in this room. That’s why I came,” she replied without hesitation.

She didn’t look up at me; her eyes remained on the student—it was a matter-of-fact statement, and one that is hardly the truth—but if she had have, she’d have seen a light there that has burned brightly ever since.

This is not my only Brigit story. New stories arise as she, a now-thirty-year old, continues to include me in her life. Today she and her husband(!) and I are hiking during their visit from New Jersey to Oregon. Maybe I’ll have a new chapter to share next Tuesday.

Making It Sacred—Again

When last March ended, I vowed that I would continue to write each Tuesday, to continue my dedication to personal, published writing that the Two Writing Teachers website has shepherded for the last many years; in fact this March will mark the fifteenth year. But, as I was reminded this morning, my resolve dissolved as the trail of Tuesdays lengthened. I was struggling under the weight of a virtual-teaching year that would bring me to tears—teaching murdered sleep.

This year I have no such excuse, only teaching sporadically as a substitute, but my impetus to write is equally spotty. Then I read this post from the Moving Writers community and realize that March will be upon us before I know it, and I need to recommit. So I am.

My morning notebook time usually revolves around the quotidian daily doings that fill the page but won’t make anyone do anything but yawn. I need to find the magic in the moments again, to work at reclaiming that. I do notice that I get excited about writing about my reading, something substantial while not particularly creative, but here’s what else is true and that I’ve noticed over time. When the expectation is there, the words come.

So expectation is in place, and magical moments are all around me: I will make writing sacred—and place it center-stage—this March.