Sweet sweet sweet sweet sweet tea

Susie Asado.

I am trying to teach poetry to twelve Grade 10 students who, for the most part, are not especially interested. They are very clear about their lack of interest. This year, as I did last year, I am trying to convince them that poetry is about playing with language, and that playing with language is worthwhile because it’s fun and it helps you say things the way you want to say them.

In case you are wondering, they are not interested.

This semester we are struggling. I have done all the things – the interesting intro, the playful, the different, the cool.

We’ve had a spoken word poet and a hip hop artist visit our class. We’ve imitated, tried various forms, talked, created crazy alliteration. We’ve read dead guys, living poets, and instapoets, and we’ve had visits from a spoken word poet and a hip hop artist.

But in case you are wondering, my class is not especially interested.

Now that I’m really sitting down to think about it, the unit is sort of working, but I’m not gonna lie, it’s sort of not. In fact, this year I have been tempted to give up. Day after day, I come in enthusiastic and prepared. Day after day, one girl reads a book under the table, one boy pulls out his phone and two girls whisper giggle at every transition. Four of twelve is a lot of visibly uninterested kids. Others are angling to convince me that compliance = engagement. I’m not buying what they’re selling, but that’s only fair because they’re not buying what I’m selling either.

As I write, I’m realizing that I’ve been assuming that their behaviour is designed to tell me that – in case I didn’t know – they are *not* interested, but they may actually be even more nervous than students in previous years. This lack of interest may be a disguise for some serious fear. After all, I am asking a lot of them, and the most visibly uninterested are also kids who stand to lose a lot by engaging. One thinks of herself as a writer, but she’s very unwilling to edit or consider any direction for her freewriting. (She also has a habit of abandoning books 3/4 of the way through.) One has told me that he will “probably” be interested in reading when he gets older because that’s what happened to his mom; writing doesn’t figure into his self-image. Two are reading and writing at a level significantly lower than Grade 10. (But they are reading! Hooray!) And I’ve got three exchange students who speak very little English. (But they are trying and they are learning. Hooray!) And some non-attenders (who mostly make it to English right now. Hooray!)

I wonder if when I say “play” they hear “I’m actually going to give you grades for all of this and I’m just pretending this is fun”? Wouldn’t be the first time. But they’ve met their match: I will not give up. Honestly, I pretty much never give up. I’ve got more persistence than is realistic by any stretch of the imagination.

And I want to think about today when we took Gwendolyn Brooks’ “We Real Cool” and Gertrude Stein’s “Susie Asado” as our mentor texts. The students were pretty interested in “We Real Cool”. They liked the enjambment, the alliteration, the assonance. (They especially like the word “ASSonance.” They always do.) They were able to talk about the way the sounds were “awesome” and “on purpose.” I think they felt competent in their understanding.

“Susie Asado” was a different story. They pretty much sat, dumbfounded, in front of it. I said, “What do you notice about this poem?” and no one spoke. SIGH. I waited. Finally, one of them risked the truth: “This poem doesn’t make any sense.” No kidding. We talked about the sounds of words. We tried to imagine what on earth Gertrude Stein was doing and why anyone thought this was worth publishing. I made my naysayers put away books and phones. We listened. We talked about onomatopoeia. We watched flamenco dancing (because Gertrude Stein said that “Susie Asado” was an attempt to render the sounds of flamenco, particularly of one flamenco dancer. If you believe Gertrude Stein.) We talked about what things we know that have distinct but changing sounds – my mom driving behind a bad driver, a beach, a storm. And then we tried to write our own sound poem.

Ok, that’s a lie. Then I told the students to try to write a sound poem, and 9 out of 11 (because one was absent) stared at a blank page for five minutes. My ask was really really hard. So I suggested that maybe I should write in front of them and they could help me out. That was the ticket. And this is as far as we got. We are trying to record the sound of the hallway just before the bell rings and then as it fills with students…

Sugar sugar hover hope
Wake cake kick stick fake
Shuffle shelf shake fake yell

We did not get very far, but together we got further than anyone did alone. So tomorrow we’ll try again. Keep your fingers crossed for us. Heck, just keep your fingers crossed for me!

Sweet sweet sweet sweet sweet tea
Susie Asado

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Stuck in the middle

Stroke, stroke, breathe. Stroke, stroke, breathe. My legs burn as I push myself to kick a little harder; my fingertips slide into the water as I try to rotate my arms just a little faster. I aim for the wall, swimming hard all the way in.

About a month ago, I joined a swim team. My kids both swim, and I discovered that the team offered an adult practice at the same time, so I signed up too. Now, I say “team”, but let’s be clear that it’s mostly practice with a coach. I am pretty sure there are no races. At least, I hope there are no races because right now I am slow.

I swam competitively through high school, but the last time I was in the water with a coach was 28 years ago. And it turns out that having a coach is daunting. He creates sets, decides what we’re working on and determines how fast we should go. Last night he insisted I could swim “on the :30” – translation: that I could swim fast enough and rest long enough to start again every 30 seconds. I told him exactly how crazy that was, but he was adamant, and I was pleased and proud when I touched the wall on the last lap having hit the 30 every time. On the other hand, two weeks ago we swam nothing but backstroke, and I took a break when an old shoulder injury flared up. The coach was fine with both results.

On this team, I am precisely in the middle. I am either the slowest swimmer in the fast lane or the fastest in the slow lane. Week after week, I have to choose my lane. And week after week, I hem and haw then pick the fast lane, where I find myself touching the wall just as the first swimmer – significantly faster than I am – starts the next set. I gasp for breath, curse the system that allows the fastest athletes the most rest, and push off from the wall again.

I wonder why I keep choosing this. Am I getting faster? I can’t tell. I feel constantly less-than; I am continually trying to keep up. I’m embarrassed to say that sometimes I have to check my jealous thoughts about the faster swimmers, as if somehow they are to blame for their speed, as if they are less nice because I am less fast. Other times I catch my thoughts drifting to self-doubt: should I be here? Should I move to the other lane? What am I learning? Surely if I swim in the other lane I can work more on my technique? If I just move to the slower lane, I’ll improve my stroke, right?

But it’s not that easy. When I swim in the slower lane, I am also out of place, noticeably faster than the other swimmers. I find myself passing people, and I know that I am not pushing myself as much as I could. I am not, in fact, working on my technique. In the slow lane, I slack a little.

What I want is a middle lane, but there are only two tracks. I have to choose. My choice is to swim up. For me, right now, struggling to keep up is preferable to cruising.

Which makes me think about my students – not the ones struggling to read or the ones who I worry won’t make it to graduation – no, as I swim, I think about the students who have chosen the slow lane. I think about C and about J, both strong readers and writers whom I suspect could succeed in the higher track “Academic” English course but who have chosen the “Applied” course. Often I push them: “try this (slightly harder) novel”, “add another detail to that paragraph,” “I bet you could write that essay.” I want them to keep their options open, to reach higher, to see where they could go. Until this swim team, I was confident that I was doing them a service.

But swimming has reminded me that the faster lane is a lot of hard work and there are plenty of good reasons to slow down.  If I were dealing with an injury or using swimming as down time, or even if I just needed a break, then I would choose the slower lane. There are joys in the slow lane, too, joys in taking your time, in being where you are, not where you might be. I think of C, unhappy in Academic English last year, and I realize that she is happy right now. She reads what she wants, and she has plenty of time for creative writing. When she speaks, others listen. She’s a leader in our class. Perhaps my role is not so much to push her to a different level but rather to make sure that she develops in the lane she has chosen.

It all comes back to why I chose a team this year rather than free swim: the coach. In some ways, the coach sees my potential more clearly than I do – he was right to insist that I could swim that fast set – but he also trusts me to know what I can and cannot do – I was right to take a break when my shoulder ached. This is the balance I want in my classes. For C and J and all of my students, I want to hold onto the vision of their potential while I honour the choices they make (for reasons they may not disclose to me and that they may not even know). There is no middle lane, so we’re all going to need to practice.

 

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Homework

My older son just finished a big school project. He had to research and write a biography of his hero – in French. For reasons beyond my comprehension, he chose George Washington Carver, someone he had never heard of before and whose accomplishments he can barely describe in English, much less French. “Crop rotation” anyone? He is also writing a Halloween story in English and reading a book for a Literature Circle. And he’s supposed to read in French for 30 minutes a day AND he has weekly French worksheets which he regularly does the night before they are due.

My younger child’s teacher photocopies sheets and puts them into a red duotang (one of those 3-pronged folders for all you Americans out there) then sends home things to be learned or reviewed every week. Also, he is supposed to read in French every night. And there are other kinds of homework: the other day, for example, the teacher asked the kids to bring in shoeboxes for a diorama. My child told me not to bother sending one in because “there are loads of kids who will bring more than one.” I was not allowed to explain his decision in a note to the teacher. The 8-year-old told me he would “take care of it.”

Now, I don’t know how other teachers fare with this stuff, but I am the WORST about my children’s homework. For the love of all that is holy, I read way too much about pedagogy to be anywhere nearby when the kids pull their assignments out of their backpack. Their teachers are lovely thoughtful people at various stages of their careers. Their expectations are not completely outlandish, and the workload really isn’t over the top. Well, the older one was a *little* overwhelmed this week, but I’ll admit that he rarely does a full half hour of reading in French and it’s not like he began his project early… and, there, I’ve already started.

I’m an American who speaks French for Heaven’s sake. Worse, I’m an American who is qualified to teach English and French in Canada – and my children are doing immersion French. Oh, and I’m a card-carrying member of the helicopter parenting generation – right down to my attempts not to be a helicopter parent. Homework gets complicated.

This year, we decided that it was time for the kids to make their own lunches and do their own homework. Lunches = no problem. Homework = well… the grade 3 teacher wants us to sign off on a chart that says that our son has done his work at least four nights a week. And I know that it’s good pedagogy to get parents involved in what’s going on in the classroom. And it’s not like my kids prattle on about school (I literally relied on the girls down the street to tell me everything until, tragically, this year they are not in my children’s classes), so homework can be a good window into the classroom. Right?

But then we lost the damn duotang. Actually, to be fair to me, I don’t think it’s in our house, so “we” didn’t lose anything. Sadly, the red duotang is also not in the classroom. Nor is the “personal dictionary” or some mysterious orange duotang, and I’m pretty sure those suckers never came home. I’ve read the teacher’s notes home and, sure, the message is in the subtext, but it’s clear that he thinks we lost these things. I don’t dare tell him that I’ve never seen the orange duotang, but I kind of want to send him a picture of our organized after-school system. Then again, maybe I don’t… I mean, I’m doing the best I can, but things around here can get a little hairy between 5 and 7:30. We’re, um, mostly organized. And I have torn the house apart; that red duotang is not here. I’ll tell you what: I know my third-grader, and I will not be at all surprised if these items reappear magically at the end of the school year. In the meantime, until his busy teacher gets around to replacing it, we have no sheet to sign. My child is delighted.

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And the fifth-grader, oh the poor child. It’s gotten to the point where he sometimes bursts into tears upon merely hearing the word “homework.” This would be distressing if he ever ever ever actually did any homework without significant “prompting”. And by “prompting” I mean “threats.” And, as I threaten him, I remember that this is the year he’s responsible for his own homework, so my brain starts up…

“Just let him not do it and see what happens,” hisses 1970s-Amanda-mom.

“What will his teacher think of you if he comes with yet another half-done, crumpled, food-stained worksheet?” fusses the 2010 version of me as a mother.

“Those worksheets are completely inappropriate and in no way promote learning anyway,” counters teacher-Amanda.

“Google translate is the devil,” sneaks in French-teacher Amanda. “Also, check that he didn’t forget any of the accents.”

“You were just like that, and you turned out fine,” the voice of my very own mother echoes in my head, thus confirming that things have really gotten out of control.

Meanwhile, my 10-year-old has snuck in another 20 minutes of screen time and calmed down enough to be able to summon up a fresh round of tears when I remind him that he really does have to do his homework.

So tonight, it was a real victory when he finished a project in French about a man he had never heard of three weeks ago who did something important that he can’t really understand but whom he claims, for the purposes of this project, is his hero. I tried to help him choose a hero (without commenting on how the project was presented), and I didn’t say anything negative as he hand wrote his first draft (because the teacher didn’t want them to type the first draft but required a typed final copy). I didn’t point out that there was no feedback on the draft. I will admit that I typed some of it from his rough draft because he’s 10 and watching him plink keys one finger at a time makes me crazy, but I didn’t make any corrections for him, and I only sort of helped with the French spell check. Also, I let him cry more than once. When he finished, I congratulated him on all the work he did and asked if he felt proud. He did.

I felt proud, too. Because I didn’t email the teacher one single time to tell her what I thought about the assignment. That’s got to count for something, right?

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Tick off

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When the phone rang I was in the middle of giving the “ten-minutes-till-bedtime” warning. But since it was her, I picked up. Because you can tell a real friend hello and goodbye in mere seconds if you need to. Because she doesn’t usually call at almost bedtime. Because I always like to hear what she has to say.

Well, I *usually* like to hear what she has to say. But maybe not when she says, “Hi, um, can you check your texts? I sent you some pictures.” Because, though none of my students appear to believe this, nothing good ever comes from an urgent request to look at pictures on your phone.

Sure enough, I checked my phone and yelped, “That’s a tick! Why are you sending me pictures of ticks?”

As it turns out, the tick had decided to take up residence near her daughter’s armpit.

“Um, that tick is already embedded,” I observed helpfully. Unsurprisingly, they knew that. They had actually called to see if I knew how to get it out. In theory, the answer was yes; in practice the answer was not yet

Since nobody wants to pull a tick out of their child on their own – at least not the first time – and since apparently not yet is better than not ever, they hopped in the car and headed over to my place. Meanwhile, I cleverly googled “how to remove a tick” (pro-tip: pretty much everything except “pull it out with tweezers” is an old wives’ tale) and then called my father.

Now, before you judge me for making an international phone call to a 73-year-old man to talk about a relatively common and seriously tiny creature, I should mention that my dad is an infectious disease doctor. Ok, and I should also mention that I was really just calling for moral support because he and my stepmother basically live in the woods, and I am decidedly a city girl. They have tick experience. Dad told me to pull the tick out with tweezers, but he added some extra things like “watch for fever for the next ten days” to make me feel like the call was worthwhile.

When my friend arrived, we left my boys downstairs, supposedly making their lunches but really listening carefully at the bottom of the stairs to hear if there was any screaming. My friend, her daughter and I headed up to the bathroom with the good lighting to look at the tick.

It was a tick, alright. It  was also very contentedly settled in under the 10-year-old’s arm. With more bravado than bravery, I held the tweezers, her mom held her hand, and I pulled the tick out. That was it.

This result seemed all-too-easy for such a dramatic situation, so we fretted for a while about whether or not we’d gotten the whole tick. Our concerns mostly led us to poke the poor child’s tick bite repeatedly with the (sanitized) tip of a safety pin. She was surprisingly patient with our ministrations, possibly because she was convinced that if we left any of the tick behind undefined but horrible things would happen, possibly because she guessed that her friends were downstairs listening for screams.

Finally, we declared her tick-free, swabbed just about everything we could reach with rubbing alcohol (because that’s what the website said to do), and headed back downstairs. The boys pretended that they had spent the whole time packing their lunches, the girl grabbed the dinner she had brought along (we had rudely interrupted with our concerns about her potentially imminent death-by-tick), and her mom put the bottle with the tiny tick corpse into her pocket – “just in case it has Lyme disease,” she said, though I’m not sure how having the tick body will help. We hugged, they left, and just like that the drama was over.

New definition of friendship: will remove a tick from your child’s body, during dinner and/or at bedtime.

I do believe… I do. I do.

11454297503_e27946e4ff_h“The word ‘believe’ is rooted in an old English word meaning to hold dear, esteem, trust; it has the same origins as the word ‘love.’ To ‘believe’ is not to agree with particular ideas or concepts, but it is make a commitment of the heart.” – Rev. Bryant Oskvig

 

Last year, I overheard a colleague complain that “everyone” has autism these days. My first reaction was disgust – how could they!? – but my second was compassion. After all, haven’t we all had times when we didn’t believe?

I was teaching 7th grade math. Math! Of all things. And middle school. I had wanted to teach either 3rd grade or high school English – middle school was on my “never will I ever” list. But here I was, in an oddly-shaped room with creaky wooden floors in an old house in downtown Washington, D.C. The school had as much  personality as its location and the students, well, they matched their surroundings.

To be fair, the teachers were equally unconventional. I was one of the few teachers with any formal education credentials, and all of us were impossibly young and unmistakably dedicated to teaching well. We used to joke that we should just put beds in our offices and move in: it would save us the charade of having a life. I was trying to learn the craft of teaching, but 7th grade math in a quirky little school was a far cry from anything I had studied or practiced in grad school. So I was reading a lot about teaching and doing a whole lot of thinking on my feet.

My classroom was full of squirrelly 12-year-olds, and I was full of crazy ideas. We kept math journals, created math skits, and learned statistics with M&Ms. My fellow teachers and I shared successes and failures daily. We dissected education trends and talked about various ideas for hands-on learning. And we complained. Not a lot, but plenty. Often we complained about how “all the kids” had “some diagnosis” that prevented us from using our fancy, researched techniques.

One of our favorite targets was ADHD (though it was ADD at the time). We were virtually all single 20-somethings, but that didn’t stop us from harrumphing about “kids these days” and speaking knowledgeably about parenting trends and over-medication. I can’t speak for my colleagues, but I firmly believed that ADHD was a fad and that most medication was just to settle down normally active children.

In my classroom, students sat in a semi-circle. That is, when they sat. Memory tells me that “a bunch” of them were boys, but I can’t vouch for that. I can say that they lacked a certain focus every day after lunch. They were sweaty, talking, moving, tapping, crazy creatures who occasionally learned some math almost as if by accident. And then there was Alex.

Alex was in constant motion. He talked a mile a minute and had incredible eyelashes that framed big hazel eyes. He could make me laugh in about half a second, and I was pretty sure that he actually wanted to learn math. That said, he had physically fallen out of his desk more than once… Oh, and he “supposedly” had ADHD. He was pretty much always in some sort of trouble.

For a while, I had tried putting students who misbehaved into the center of the semi-circle. Only belatedly did I realize that a) I was shaming them, and b) many of the boys took complete advantage of having all eyes on them. I needed a new plan. One of my books suggested a “three-strikes and you’re out” policy. I went with it.

I’ve forgotten the lesson that day, but I know it was a fun one. I know this for sure because Alex really wanted to take part. He was leaning forward in his desk, straining and stretching, tilting the whole thing at alarming angles. He had mentioned that he hadn’t taken his meds that morning, but since I didn’t really believe he had ADHD, I didn’t take much notice. I gave him his first warning about 5 minutes into class.

He looked chagrined. “Sorry. I just can’t focus.”

I gave my best stern look, “Well, give it a little more effort.”

He did. I could see he was trying to watch only me. But he just couldn’t. He was trying to watch everyone in the whole class at exactly the same time. Sure enough, minutes later I gave him his second warning and sent him to cool down in the hallway.

He came back in quickly. He was so excited to be in the room. He sat on his hands. He held his beautiful eyes wide open. He squirmed and he wiggled. And he fell out of his desk. Somehow, this time, I knew it had been an accident. But the whole class was laughing, and I had this three strikes policy.

“Alex,” I said, “you have to go to the office.”

“I know,” he replied, and his little head hung low. His whole skinny little body was the picture of despair. “But I was trying to be good.”

My heart broke as I asked the question: “But were you good?”

“No,” he said, so softly I could barely hear him. He looked up through his long lashes as tears started to fall. And he went to the office.

Because, you see, he had ADHD. And he hadn’t taken his medication. So he couldn’t focus, and the whole exciting classroom was one giant distraction for him. I knew it in that moment as surely as I knew anything.

I wanted to shout after him, “Wait! No! I was wrong! I believe!” But I didn’t. And since I wasn’t the only non-believing teacher, that wasn’t his only trip to the office. Happily, we had an incredibly kind principal and a deeply connected community. I taught Alex again, and I was privileged to watch him grow up. Today, I see him on Facebook and I marvel at the compassion he has for his own students. He was an outdoor education instructor and now he teaches science. He seems to be a fantastic teacher, but I could be a little biased.

And I believe. I believe in ADHD and autism and so much more. I worry sometimes about labels, and I know that these things are complicated. But mostly, I look at the children who come into my room and I think, “I believe you. I believe in you.” And I wish for my non-believing colleagues a moment that helps them believe, too.

 

Let’s talk about the tornado

The first student to arrive had her earbuds in, but the volume was low enough for her to hear my question: “What happened to you during the tornado?” Without hesitating, she took her earbuds out and started talking.

She was still talking when the next student came in. I was listening while writing advance organizers on the board. Soon, the second student started sharing her stories from the chaotic weekend. “It was really scary!” As I watched the energy between the two girls, I went back to the top of the plan for the day and put a question mark next to the first planned activity, “Read.”

The next students arrived as a group, found seats around the circle and joined right in. “My mother saw it from her window!”
“We didn’t have power for TWO DAYS!”
Everyone saw that video!”

By the time the last student arrived, wheeling his chair up to the spot we save for him, we were deep in conversation. My students, sometimes reluctant to discuss anything, were sharing story after story. After a few minutes of free-for-all, someone suggested we should make sure to hear from everyone. Around the circle we went. Next I asked them to share something hard or not-so-good that happened. Finally, I asked about things that were unexpectedly good as a result of the tornado.

Our class was lucky: neither of the two tornadoes that touched down in Ottawa on Friday caused serious harm to them or their families. Nevertheless, one of electrical substations that provides power to Ottawa sustained a direct hit, so the whole city has been affected in one way or another. We were even off of school yesterday, the first time school has been cancelled in the 11 years I’ve taught here. We were close enough to danger to heighten the students’ attention but no one had experienced trauma, and I took total advantage of it.

Our class has been reading news stories daily as a way to increase the context we have for reading in general. We talk about the stories and study how they are written. We gather vocabulary words and learn how to ask questions. Slowly, we’re learning to write news articles. We’ve got a list of what makes something a news article, and that has become our success criteria. This unit takes a few weeks, but it’s worth it. My students will need this exact skill for standardized testing this year, and writing the news helps them understand perspective taking, narrative voice and sticking to one story. Some will even begin to take audience into account as they write, which is always fun.

Today, we talked about how the story of the tornadoes unfolded in the news, from the first emergency alert to the discussion of the aftermath (new vocab word!) in today’s paper. We looked at some pictures and thought about why the papers might have chosen to publish these images and whether or not they reflected our experience. Finally, everyone chose an image and wrote a news story about the tornadoes.

The students were completely engaged – success criteria in front of them (oh, how I love those lists!), pencils moving, keys tapping. Some bit their lips as they thought, two asked each other to check something, and most wrote until I stopped them… with just enough time left in class to reveal the shocking follow-up on a story we’ve been following. (The police arrested a second woman!) When the bell rang, we were all pretty energized.

I left the classroom musing about what made this day work so well. We never did get to our 20 minutes of reading – and I’m usually pretty insistent on that – but giving the students time and space to talk, think, and write about the thing that was actually on their mind made today’s class stand out. 

These kids have things to say. Today is a reminder that my job is to help them say it.

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Level 1

“Place your hands firmly against the wall, middle fingers pointing up, fingers well spread. Place your feet under your hips. Find your distance. Using the pressure of your hands on the wall, turn the inside of your forearms downward while at the same time spinning your triceps in. Open your elbows.

“Now, maintaining that action, stretch back through your hips. Elongate your spine and make your back straight.”

Suddenly the teacher’s voice changes. The zen is gone; it’s time to get serious: “Ok. Hold that. I’m coming around with a stick to let you feel how straight your back is – or isn’t.”

I hold and breathe. In and out. In and out. Spin here, stretch there, stay straight, hold…

I have been practicing yoga for 15 years or so. There have been times that I couldn’t get myself to classes regularly but still practiced at home (hello, year in France) , and others where I couldn’t even practice at home regularly (I’m looking at you, baby #2), but I still count about 15 years.

I love yoga. I find both peace and challenge in my classes, some space that I can’t create when I’m not stretching my body and concentrating on my breath. Yoga is one of my mainstays.

And yet, second semester last year, I just couldn’t do it anymore. I was tired and stressed out and my body ached. These are all the reasons a person SHOULD go to yoga, but I ended up not going, and I was the worse for it.  this year I decided to recommit. I hired a girl down the street to pick the kids up after school on Wednesdays and enlisted my husband to get home a little earlier.

Excited, I went online to sign up for my class. The scheduled loaded and I was suddenly paralyzed: My class is level 2/3 at 7:30, but at 5:45 there was a level 1 class.

Yoga teachers often talk about going back to the basics, about how there really is no level 2 or 3. There are just the poses, our body and our breath. Teachers remind us that even an experienced practitioner can learn from a level 1 class. After all, despite appearances, the challenge in yoga is mostly internal. Still, level 1 after 15 years? What would I learn? Was I just looking for the easy way out? I stared at the schedule for a long moment, and I signed up for level 1.

The first two classes have been both freeing and challenging. Even the simplest of instructions have nuances, and now I hear the teacher’s instructions anew. Concentrating on the foundation of poses I’ve been doing for years is helping me make changes that I never dared to in my other classes. I don’t cut corners to get into complex poses because I’m busy working on all the tiny complexities of the basic poses. Plus, in level 1, cheating shows. My teacher might not comment on a lifted heel when every other bit of me is twisted into a new space, but there’s nowhere to hide when I’m working on Uttihita Trikonasa (Triangle Pose) or Virabhadrasana 2 (Warrior 2). 

Level 1 means I’m letting go of expectations about what I should or shouldn’t be able to do and accepting what my body can actually do. It means admitting that there are things I’ve been faking for years. It means practicing concentrating on myself and not others. (I stink at this, in case you’re wondering). As it turns out, level 1 is hard. 

So I breathe in, I breathe out, and I grow. And I’m ready for the next class.3d17d-screen2bshot2b2014-12-152bat2b7-37-262bpm