Anna Quindlen has this great philosophy about life, wherein she says something to the extent of “I show up, I listen, I try to laugh.”
I collect a lot of words: jot them down on scraps of paper, inside my planner, the app on my phone, my Moleskine, and try to remember them, but this is one of the few quotes that I have committed to memory. It’s probably because this is my general outlook on life.
This summer, I have been teaching writing again to another phenomenal group of young people, though I’ve had more of them for a summer (which has been perplexing for me because I feel like I just don’t know them like I used to–it’s much more difficult to figure out a kids’ writing quirks when there are +30 as compared to 15. I have even more sympathy and respect for teachers who have that many kids in their classes every day). Because I’ve had a larger class load, I’ve gotten creative about how I interact with kids. I’ve conducted writing conferences at breakfast, talked about integrating quotations over Google Docs and in the hall, given a quick recap of the Birmingham Children’s Crusade over lunch, and stopped to have intense chats between points on campus.
That’s what it means to show up.
Last night, I went to the summer showcase for a writing program because it featured a young man I urged to attend. He’s the type of writer whom you, essentially, get out of his way. We had sophisticated conversations about word choice, about intention, about meaning in ways that I’ve not spoken with many young people about, and that’s because he is curious, earnest and dedicated. (Funny, too, he’s the student who wrote quite adeptly about how he was dissatisfied with our classroom discussions about voice; he found them too reductive when, after all, voice can take a lifetime to develop. Touche. Absolutely correct…)
He was surprised to see me, and broke into a huge grin. As I chatted with his parents in the moments after the reading and before the young writers disbanded to find their families, his mother asked about my summer and thanked me again for suggesting he do the program. The student told me he’s submitted a few articles, rattled off something about words and length and I simply…marveled about how summers help young people to grow, and to be creative and to do powerful, amazing things. (On another note, how can we keep that fire from the summer in the school year?!)
And I’m pleased I was able to show up to let him know I was proud of him.
When I first began teaching, I showed up for everything: after school sessions, book clubs with students, parent events I created, community lectures that I attended with students. My week was on a seven-day cycle. Now, I am selective about my showing up: I get tired, and then I get cranky, and then I realize it’s not fun showing up if I am irritated and thinking about other things.
Thus, I try to pack a number of events into a weekend, say, or an afternoon. I can do a pancake breakfast sponsored by the crew team, see an early afternoon soccer game, hope that there’s a dance performance or a preview of a play, and perhaps squeak in some time to chat with a student who I’ve been hoping to build a stronger relationship with over a high point that I witnessed at one of those events.
There is a power in showing up for kids, and I understand, every time, that there is a power in showing up for them that extends to me. I am never sorry for the time I spent listening, laughing, pushing, stepping back, or just…being in their presence.
I’ll hope to build in those times to see them in other contexts beside the classroom throughout the upcoming school year.
I will show up. I will listen. I will try to laugh.