Becca Wilhite Blog

August 22, 2017

First Day

Filed under: anxiety,emotion,rambles,school — becca @ 6:29 am

It’s happening again — the first day of school. I’ve felt more dread and fear in the last two weeks than ever before in either the four years I have taught or the three years before that when I worked as a sub. Weird. Nothing really has changed (except for all the humans, pretty much), and I still love the job. But weird fears have crept in. Sunday, sitting in church, I told my girl, 16, that I was worried that I’d used up all my cool and maybe this was the year that nobody would like me. Silly, right? But not really.

And I’m trying (always) to be a better teacher. Which means I’m trying new things. And, since I don’t yet know the kids, the possibility of those things going wrong? It’s there.

In general, I don’t live in fear. In general, I am hopeful and excited and eager. (Having said that, let’s be clear: I’m still afraid of everything scary. Like kittens. And paper cuts. And spider webs. But not spiders. And being a disappointment. And basements. And everything else.) But knowing what’s scary doesn’t equal living in fear of those things, or the other things. I don’t generally assume that the negative things will happen.

But there are some days in which the small difficult things become heavy. And sometimes those days stretch out for long times. And that heaviness affects, well, everything.

And so this morning I woke early. I prayed. I studied. I exercised. I did something that made me laugh (which may or may not have involved Ryan O’Neal and Barbra Streisand) and ate healthful food and drank water. I put on my face and did my hair and breathed in and out. I practiced smiling. I spoke to myself like I’d speak to someone I love.

It’s going to be a good day.

December 7, 2016

What do you think you look like?

Filed under: body image,school — becca @ 12:26 pm

In Creative Writing yesterday I asked the kids to do their writer’s notebooks (the part where they write by hand in a paper notebook) about this – what do you think you look like? It’s one of those things that’s super weird to kids, the fact that they’ve never actually seen themselves. They’ve seen photos. They’ve seen reflections. But they don’t actually know what they look like.

Blows their cute little minds.

So I wrote too. Here is my thought:

I know how tall I am (I think) – 5 feet and 6 and a half inches. But I seem a little taller, because I wear teacher shoes. My face looks younger than I am, especially when I’m freshly made up or my face is totally clean. When my makeup is tired, I look more like my age.

I carry 10 (okay, right now, 13) extra pounds. Some days I don’t care. Those are the days that nothing rolls over the waistband of my jeans. Other days I get a teensy bit obsessive about the food I am and am not eating.

I don’t know anything about fashion. Nobody is going to accuse me of being an excellent dresser. I have found a style I like, and I have a few articles of clothing that I love.

I have wrinkles around my eyes and mouth from when I’m smiling and wrinkles between my eyes and above my nose from when I’m scowling. Guess which ones are deeper.

My eyes are pretty, even if they don’t work at all. My teeth are pretty straight, and I’m glad I never needed braces. Here’s a thing I wasn’t prepared for – when a person gets old, her lips kind of lose their color. So lipstick = need.

After we wrote, and I asked them to say what they wanted to say (silence), and I read them this, I talked to them about a moment in their future. I told them this: There will come a day, not too far into the future, when a kid – maybe a niece or nephew, maybe an actual offspring of your very own – will ask you if you had a yearbook. Because you’re brave and fearless, you’ll pull it out. And you’ll find a photo of yourself. And you’ll gasp with wonder. You’ll be absolutely gobsmacked at how beautiful you were. You’ll be stunned. And you’ll be right.

September 22, 2016

Eavesdropping — A Dialog-Writing Exercise

Filed under: kids,lists,research,school,silliness,writing,writing process — becca @ 12:36 pm

So yesterday in my Novel Writing class, I sent the kids into the commons for the last 20  minutes of class, which happens to correspond with the lunch they don’t have. The commons was full of teenage humans. I instructed mine to sit down somewhere and start eavesdropping. They were to write down random lines of dialog that they heard people say. They turned in their 5 favorite lines. I laughed a lot. Their overheard lines were weird. Funny. Awesome.

Today I had them pick their favorite one or two and put them up on the board. I had made columns for them to place the lines in, and after they’d all put up their best lines, I revealed the  topics heading each column. So now there are 5 or more lines of dialog – totally unrelated – under each of the following topics: Song Lyrics, Polygraph Machine, Job Interview, Explain Earth to the Aliens, Break-up, Babysitter Report, Newspaper Interview, and Love Letter. Now they’re furiously writing scenes that use at least one of the lines in whatever category it fell. I love watching them grin while they’re working.

Here are some of the overheard lines:

“It’s more than just a hat.”
“I’ve been drinking your blood and tears.”
“No. He doesn’t want them on because of his bug bites.”
“She’s literally like the spawn of Satan.”
“Babe. He doesn’t like the shirt.”
“Do you want your socks on?”
“I’m the whitest white girl here.”
“I seriously almost hit someone in the parking lot.”
“There was a guy who shipped two whales to Utah and kept them.”
“It’s free real estate.”
“Don’t write that down.”
“There’s a drink called the Hissy Fit?”
“Get out a marker and write YES on the goldfish.”
“He underwent intensive psychotherapy.”
“Something magical is about to happen.”
“Just buy a hose, you freak!”
“My mom was like, ‘Did you put on makeup? You know there’s guy makeup, right?'”

Clever little eavesdroppers. I can’t wait to see what they’ve made from their spoils.

June 8, 2016

It’s Summer, Don’t You Know.

Filed under: gratitude,recommendation,school — becca @ 8:58 am

School has ended for the year. (*Whew*)

It was a great year. Moments were long. Months were short. At the end of every year, I have a tradition (all three years of my professional teaching life – I’m such a hack) of giving a “What Every Boy Needs To Know about Being a Man” speech.

As an English teacher, I have the privilege of teaching about Feminist Literary Theory. Every kid who comes through my classes can tell you that means looking at gender in stories, poetry, plays, and novels and asking “What does the gender of the character have to do with the outcome? With the attitudes of others? With the tone?” Therefore, every kid who heard my “What Every Boy Needs to Know about Being a Man” speech knew that Boy and Man are non-gender-specific. It’s just a great title (which I stole from Secondhand Lions).

Here is the short version of the speech:

Wilhite’s “What Every Boy Needs to Know about Being a Man” Speech, Version 2016

  1. You will not regret the actions that are prompted by kindness.
  2. We teach people how to treat us.
  3. The proper response to a compliment is eye contact and “thank you.”
  4. Everyone is going through something.
  5. Your stories matter.
  6. You have unlimited capacity for excellence.

Those who wanted to took home the preceding notes of the short version. The long version explained the short version. Such as, #1 — you may very well regret the consequences of all kinds of things, but the action? The kindness-based Thing you did? You shouldn’t have reason to regret the Thing.

And #2 — when you smile or growl, respond, react, or stand up for yourself, you’re teaching others how to behave toward you. I’m not always comfortable with that. Some people that I know treat me without any semblance of respect. But I recognize that I allow that to happen.  There’s a lot of power in that understanding.

#3 went on for a while (surprise!), talking about how eye contact is a magnet for connection, and how when we “nahhh” at a compliment, we’re really saying, “you’re wrong,” and nobody every really wants to hear that.

#4 is mysterious and surprising to a whole lot of high school students, but once their eyes are open to the possibility that it’s true, they get a bit more empathetic.

5 is big in my creative writing classes, but also in my English classes — and for everyone. Tell your story. Speak your words.

The last one is a thing I’ve been working on a lot — developing and nurturing growth mindsets. It’s cool. And hard. But I can do things that are hard. (See? I’m already doing it.) Something I say at school (kind of a lot) is “I believe you can succeed in whatever you’re willing to work really hard for.” It’s interesting that some kids “succeed” in school without trying very hard, while others stretch and work and push to be moderate students. I want to redefine success for these “others” — to celebrate the B that came after serious revision and thought and fingers-to-keyboard time.

——

One of my students asked permission to post my list (made cute by her skills) on Pinterest. I smiled and said of course. I didn’t mention that I will never, ever see it there. I’m afraid of Pinterest. It has a tendency to allow me to feel bad about myself. So I stay away. Instead, I surround myself with happy-making things like delicious foods and good books and nice people and the sun and long walks up tall mountains.

And now the summer happens. Busy or lazy, full or quiet, hands on keyboards or turning pages of someone else’s books… I’m happy today.

April 19, 2016

Long, long ago…

Filed under: anxiety,dumb things I do,history,rambles,school — becca @ 12:39 pm

I just had occasion to remember something.

When I was in 7th grade, (can you, reader, already feel the tension mounting? the horror building?) I had a co-ed PE class. (Now? Now can you feel it, reader?)

The end.

Just kidding. But I really did have a 7th grade co-ed PE class. One for which we “dressed out” daily. And there were various and sundry humiliations attached thereto. But I just want to tell you about this one day, this one moment, and the eternal fallout that it caused.

PE class was ending. I don’t remember what we did that day. Don’t remember what we played, but I know it was inside, so not golf or tennis or a mile run (all of which I did very, very badly). The moment was after that part. After going down into the girls’ locker room at Batesville Middle School and changing back into my dress. I don’t remember why exactly I was wearing a dress to school, but there must have been an occasion. I have always pretty much been a jeans-and-sweatshirts kind of girl. This dress, though. I remember it clearly. It had large pastel squares on it, like maybe 6-inch squares of pink and blue and light green and yellow and cream. (Do you remember, reader, that “cream” was totally a color in the mid-to-late eighties?) The dress zipped up the back. I fear it may have had a rounded collar, but that could be a misremember. I know it had a very, very full skirt. Like the kind that even at the mature age of whatever-I-was-in-7th-grade (12, of course), I couldn’t really help myself — I had to twirl. Not in public, necessarily. But for sure at home. It was an excellent twirling dress.

The dress also had a belt, because it was the 80s. The belt was wide and pink and vinyl/plastic. It flattered my 12-year-old waist. Oh, I loved that dress. And so. I wore it to school for whatever the occasion was. And at the end of changing time in PE, I walked back up the steps and into the gym.

7th grade PE was co-ed but divided (occasionally). The girls sat on one side of the gym, and the boys sat on the other. After changing back into our “street clothes,” we took our places on opposite sides of the gym and waited to be excused. I didn’t want to wrinkle my cotton dress, so I stood in front of the bleachers, facing the other girls, maybe talking to one of the Angies, maybe just waiting and listening and totally not twirling. Meanwhile, the boys were slouching on the bleachers opposite.

Could someone have told me? Could the knowledge have descended like a bolt of figurative lightning? Maybe the teacher tapped me on the shoulder. Maybe a creeping sensation caused me to check. I don’t know how I knew, but suddenly, I KNEW.

My skirt was tucked. Up. Into my belt. In the back. And there I stood, already way too body-conscious at 12, with my backside completely THERE. “Facing” the boys.

I could try to describe the humiliation. I could endeavor to explain the horror. I could even delve into the certainty that none of the girls — literally no one from “my” side of the gym — tried to hide me or help me. I remember that I spun (fast) in a half circle. I tugged. I smoothed. I tried to smile. I tried to ignore.

But I never forgot.

To this day, I have a compulsion to check the back of my skirt EVERY time I leave a room. Sit in a chair? Check the skirt. Stand up? Skirt check. Use a bathroom? MUST CHECK THE SKIRT. And, although some may say it makes me nosy, I am always willing to tell/hide/help anyone who is in a Dire Skirt Predicament. Because sisters, reader, need each other. And I will die happy if that particular event never happens to me again.

March 2, 2016

Thoughts on Growing Up, Again and Again.

Filed under: anxiety,dumb things I do,emotion,kids,school — becca @ 12:10 pm

I was always kind of offended by the phrase “terrible twos” – is it really fair to condemn a toddler for acting his age? But I get the problem. I totally do. And I think I know why it is what it is. (*Easy for me to say, my youngest is 12.) Here’s what I think: Two year olds are split almost evenly in two halves – no, not good and evil. “I want to be big,” and “I’m the baby.” Hold me. Let me. Help me. I will do it myself.

Fast forward three years. Many of the same behaviors are exhibited by a kid starting school. A fairly even split between wanting to be independent and wanting to be coddled. In my family, it happens again at eleven or twelve. Coincidentally (?) add in hormone shifts (sweet!) and this manifests itself mostly as moodiness – but work with me here. If you could figure out if the kid wanted to be snuggled or sent on an errand, wouldn’t you kind of have life managed?

What I’m finding now is that it happens again in high school. Here’s my theory: growing up is a series of decisions about how a person wants to be treated. Kid or grown up? I mess this up every single day. I assume my students know more / can do more / are willing to stretch more than they know / can / will. They freak out. “Too much pressure!” Okay, so I’ve been treating them too Big. So I back off. I assume they know nothing and will try nothing, and they rebel. “We’re not idiots!” No. You’re not. You’re in the process of growing up. And Process is the key. (*Sometimes I get it right. Or right-ish. I try.)

If I can keep this in mind, and if I can strike a balance, for a class or a section or a kid, I can help that kid succeed in the moment. Just like when my kids were tiny, and really, really NEEDED to make their choices. If I could give my kid a couple of reasonable options, it was far more likely that the choice of the moment would end happily for both of us. (As opposed to, you know, “What would you like for lunch?” which could end in a variety of terrifying disagreements.)

So I’m searching for that balance. I’m seeking to do it respectfully – to give genuine adultish opportunities for those who are leaning that way, and to be patient about repeating the same directions a thousand times (and answering “why?” questions over and over) when they’re feeling needy. When they’re lucky, kids grow up in increments. They do it over and over, a little at a time. I need to learn to access and respect their place at the moment. And, if I’m being fair, I still have days when I want to get wrapped up in a blanket and snuggled. And plenty of times I have a fit when I think I’m being treated like a dumb kid. This may be a lifelong process, so it would be awesome if I could figure out how to do it right.

August 31, 2015

Really, Dads?

Filed under: anxiety,school — becca @ 9:48 am

** Disclaimer: I LOVE FATHERS. Awesome dads make up most of the population of men I know. This is not meant to bash fatherhood. Dadliness is one of the most amazing attributes I can possibly observe. End Disclaimer. **

I had this friend in High School – we’ll call him Ryan, because that’s his name. He played baseball. He liked it, and he was good at it, and it’s a good thing, because his dad would never have let him quit. Never. His dad was, as far as we could tell in our High School Haze, living his own baseball dreams through his kid. Which, fine.

Today my sophomores gave presentations where they told nine truths and one lie about themselves and FOUR of them in one class talked about doing a sport that they HATE because their dad makes them.

This is what I said.

“!”

and

“?”

and

“Huh?”

Because, really? This was one kid’s lie: “I love playing football,” and I could tell by the strain in his voice that he was lying. I’ve known him for very few days. In fact, he’s spoken aloud very seldom in my presence. But I could TELL.

This is weird, this number (I hope). It represents one out of eight kids in that section. ONE OUT OF EIGHT kids in that class “have to” play a sport that they admittedly dislike. Maybe that’s not weird. Maybe I’m the weird one. Maybe the reason my kids aren’t elite athletes is that I don’t make them play sports they don’t love. Or it could be genetics. Either way, we’re not elite. At all. And I’m okay with that.

So what if my kids hated school? I’d still make them go. What if my kids hated writing? Okay, I hear you. (Some of them claim that they do, but they’re so good at it that I just nod and stand back and gasp in wonder at their blog posts and tweets and Instagram tags.) What if my kids didn’t want to attend church? Yeah, I think I’d make them. Maybe I need to look at high school sports as a form of religious worship. Heaven knows I wouldn’t be alone in that mindset. I grew up in Indiana, remember?

What do you think? Am I missing something? Or is this “I hate this sport” conversation just a step in growing up that hasn’t happened yet?

August 19, 2015

Open Letter to My Little Girl on Starting High School This Week

Filed under: familyness,kids,lists,musings,school — becca @ 5:50 am

You’re doing it. High school. So, natch, I’m doing it – passing out advice. It’s more a list than a letter. Because you’re a busy girl and you’ve got places to go. Here are Things I Know about you starting high school. Ready?

1. Sometimes people are mean.

2. (This is WAY more important than #1) More people will be amazing, kind, and supportive than will be mean. But they might do it more quietly. Look for the amazing. Look for the kind. Point it out (to yourself or to someone else) and it will get louder. Make it louder – make it roar.

3. You are beautiful. This is more a “nice” thing than a “crucial” thing, but it’s something you’ll probably forget, and I don’t want you to forget it.

4. You are good company. People love to be around you.

5. You are capable of doing hard work, and you are capable of succeeding in all your efforts.

6. It was a Very Good Idea to join a team. Join one more. Be part of at least two things. Let those two things be part of you.

7. I pray for you every single day before you get to school. Look around. See those other kids? Someone is praying for them, too, even if it’s only me.

8. Hold on to your confidence. Some days it will get a little raggedy. I can help shine it up for you, but it’s your job to carry it. Always.

9. Never be ashamed of being a nerd.

10. You can have it all. You may not be able to have it all at once, but you can have it.

11. People will look at you. Assume they’re looking because they want to be your friend. This will not always be the case, but it’s okay to be wrong now and then.

12. You won’t regret the things you do that are motivated by kindness and love.

13. You know that we don’t live in a particularly culturally diverse place, but seek out the diversity and celebrate it.

14. You’ll get hurt. (You’ll get better.)

15. Embarrassing things happen. Laughing is first aid for the wounds of embarrassment. It won’t erase the embarrassing thing, but it might save your life.

16. Eye makeup? A little bit goes a long way. You know.

17. Eat breakfast. Eat lunch. Lots of plants. A little protein. Come home and have dinner at the table.

18. Everyone is going through something. Everyone. Imagine that written over every head (kid and adult) in the building and you’ll be more empathetic. It’s always good for us to be more empathetic.

19. It’s Human Teenage Nature to assume the world revolves around you. It’s not accurate, but it’s natural.

20. I will always get excited with you when The Boy asks for your number, or sends you a vague text, or wants you to go to the dance. I will always take your side when The Boy acts like an idiot. But remember the rules. They are your protection.

21. You are stronger than you think you are.

22. Sing something every day. In the shower, in guitar class, somewhere.

23. Keep reading. You have time.

24. I’m right in the middle of the English hall if you need me.

25. There are hundreds (HUNDREDS) of people I love in that building. There is no one I love more than you.

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