Opportunities, Reflection, and Deciding What’s Next

And suddenly, it’s 2015. The year of the distant future, to which Marty McFly traveled in Back to the Future. Seems like just yesterday I was a big-haired, gum-snapping teenager, watching this film at the movie theater, trying to imagine life in that science fiction-like setting. Yet here we are, having survived the ominous Y2K, but still waiting on the world that “doesn’t need roads.”

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Image credit: Amazon.com

One week into the new year, the sky is a cloudless blue and snow covers the frozen landscape, conjuring images of a Norman Rockwell Christmas card. But looks can be deceiving, and Mother Nature loves to remind us that she’s in charge. The temperature today, factoring in wind chill, is a frigid -20F (-29C), forcing school cancellations, which gives me an unanticipated day off. Even we weather-hardened Chicagoans have our breaking point.

The last time I logged into WordPress was so long ago that it took me a minute to remember my password. I’ve been grievously absent from the blogosphere for nearly two months, but not without good reason.

If you’ve followed this blog for a while, you probably know that by profession I’m an elementary school teacher. You probably also know that a few years ago, I resigned from my job to take a part-time position in the same school, in order to be at home more for my family.

Then last spring, when a good friend and former teaching colleague shared the news that she was expecting her first child, and she wanted me to cover her maternity leave, I immediately agreed to do it. Although I substitute now and then, I’d been away from full-time classroom teaching for three years, and this would be a great opportunity to refresh my professional skills.

The call to start the maternity leave came unexpectedly in mid-November, a full three weeks before my friend’s due date. Even though I’d told myself–and her–that I was prepared to jump in any time as her due date approached, I was still taken completely off guard that morning (as was she, naturally)! I skipped the shower and raced to the classroom to orient myself, knowing I’d have to wing it for much of that first day.

In the weeks since, the class and I have fallen into a comfortable routine; dare I say we’ve become a well-oiled machine. The riding-a-bike analogy is aptly applied in this scenario — you really never forget how to do it — but nonetheless the learning curve has been steep, as so much has changed in the profession in the last three years.

I’ve become reacquainted with everything that goes into being a good teacher: the over-scheduled, exhausting days; the sleepless nights spent worrying about struggling students; the stacks of papers waiting to be graded; the to-do list that never gets any shorter. But there are also the priceless rewards, namely, the simple acknowledgement of a job well-done from students, colleagues, administrators, and parents.

These weeks back in the classroom have been rife with reflection, and it’s help me come to three irrevocable conclusions.

First, despite the day-to-day stress and the ugly politics in which my profession is mired, I come alive when I step into the classroom. Somehow the long list of negatives falls away, and I’m reminded it’s all about the kids. This is what I’m meant to do.

Second, this is the one thing in life I at which I truly excel. I’m a decent wife and mother, an okay writer, a mediocre cook, and a so-so runner, but I’m a good teacher. I can say this with confidence.

Third, as much as I love to write, I will likely never pursue it as a career as I’d once dreamed. I’m not even sure I’ll make the jump from writer to author, and I’m no longer convinced I want to. Writing will always be something I love and look forward to in my spare time, and deep down I think I want to keep it that way.

So where does that leave this blog?

The short answer: I don’t know. Having a web presence doesn’t seem as urgent as it once did, and if I have no intention of pursuing a career in writing, what purpose does a writing blog serve? As many times as I’ve considered disappearing into complete obscurity, I’m reminded of all the wonderful people I’ve connected with over blogging, and how much I’d miss those connections and camaraderie if I never blogged again.

Perhaps a reinvented blogging identity is the answer, but right now I have no idea what that would be.

Finally, as much as I’d love to jump back into the teaching profession, now is not the right time. Doing the job well is all-consuming, and it’s the main reason I resigned in the first place. As a teacher-and-mother, I struggled to find the balance, and too often my job took priority over family life. That’s not the kind of mother I want to be.

So for now the plan is to enjoy the remaining weeks of being at the helm of a classroom, and then return to my part-time job in February. It will be hard to let go of the class, as I’ve come to think of these students as “mine.”

I’ll continue to pop into the many blogs I follow from time to time, but I’ll be pretty scarce until mid-February.

My thanks to Phillip McCollum and JM McDowell, whose recent posts reflect a similar theme to this one. You guys gave me the spark I needed to write this. :)

Categories: General, Writing | Tags: , , | 41 Comments

Plurals: A New Generation

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I’ve always been interested in the concept of generations. Loosely defined by an age range with a distinct set of attitudes and values, each generation is given a name. My parents are among the oldest of the Baby Boomers. I’m a member of Generation X, and some of my younger siblings are considered Millennials.

The age range is meant to be a general guideline. For example, my husband is technically a Baby Boomer based on his birth year, but he identifies with the mindset of Generation X.

Baby Boomers are broadly defined as those born 1946-64.

The Generation X’ers are those born roughly 1965-76.

Millennials are individuals born 1977-96.

And now, the first generation of the 21st century has been named: The Pluralist Generation.

In a fascinating study released by Magid Generational Strategies, the initial characteristics of the Plurals have been outlined:

  • Birth years approximately 1997 – Present
  • The most ethnically diverse generation to date
  • The last generation with a Caucasian majority
  • Plurals exist in the most diverse social circles
  • The attitudes of Plurals are beginning to reflect Generation X parenting styles
  • They are least likely to believe in the American Dream

(source: The First Generation of the Twenty-First Century: An Introduction to the Pluralist Generation)

Maybe I found this report so intriguing because I’m the parent of two Plurals. It’s interesting to see the parameters taking shape while discovering the impact of my generation’s rather pragmatic parenting style.

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Key Gen-X parenting characteristics (p.12 of the study):

  • Teaching children how to be successful, rather than giving them what they need to be successful
  • Protecting through surveillance, rather than involvement
  • Doing what’s best for my child, rather than what’s best for the group
  • Realistic: do what you’re good at, rather than aspiring to do anything
  • Only the best wins, rather than “everybody wins”

What struck me about this study was the positive spin on the Plurals’ outlook, since their general mindset seems so accepting and open-minded. Perhaps it’s an inevitable outcome as the population diversifies and societal attitudes shift.

The future of this newly named generation remains to be seen, but I’m looking forward to following their journey.

What do you think of Generational studies? Are you a Gen-Xer raising a Plural?

Categories: General, Parenting | Tags: , , , , , , | 27 Comments

Planner, Pantser, or Somewhere in Between?

What kind of writer are you?

Do you prefer the structure of outlining, the safety net of mapping out the details before settling in to write your story?

Or are you a more intrepid, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants type? The blank slate writer who sits down at the keyboard and lets the characters take it from there?

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My first novel attempt was pantsing all the way, with only a skeleton of a premise and a couple of characters to guide me. Booting up the laptop each day and wondering where my imagination would take me was a real adventure. That is, until my lack of planning led me to a dead end, where I stalled.

In preparation for Camp NaNoWriMo this past July, I was intent on working out the minutiae of my YA novel beforehand. Within the framework of “write a novel in a month,” this method was ideal. I couldn’t have written 30,000 words in 30 days without a detailed outline. Except I didn’t stick to it, and a minor subplot grew into a rambling, bloated monstrosity.

So now, starting the rewrite of my NaNoWriMo novel, I’ve decided to test the middle ground, somewhere between planning and pantsing. It’s what my author friend Kourtney Heintz likes to call “plantsing.”

The essentials are in place — my protagonist, the arc I want him to follow, and his overall story goals. I’ve laid out the major plot points and how I want his story to end. But beyond that, I’m planning as I go.

Here’s how a typical writing session looks:

  • Start the coffee!
  • Open my Scrivener file and reread what I wrote in the previous session
  • Consider where my protagonist is in his story arc
  • Determine a scene goal that will inch him toward his overall story goals
  • Cook up an obstacle to keep him from reaching it (I love this part)
  • Sketch out the scene with a few bullet points
  • Write the scene

The details come to life when I’m immersed in my character’s POV. If a better idea strikes me while writing the scene, I let myself run with it. And that’s what I’m loving about this hybrid method: it provides the structure I need, while still allowing for discovery along the way. Kind of like the best of both worlds!

What’s your ideal process? Are you a planner, a pantser, or something in between?

Categories: Writing | Tags: , , , , | 59 Comments

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