Where I'm From: a back to school assignment from Mrs. Dorr



For many years August meant Mrs. Dorr was resurrected from the crystal blue waters of the mountain lake: the garden grime scrubbed from her fingernails, her sun-bleached hair tamed and her cutoffs replaced with a modest dress. Her callused heels hidden in cute, new Danskos. The stacks of novels and writing curriculum were tucked into her messenger bag. August meant back to teaching school.



I'm asked often if I miss teaching. The answer is complicated because while I truly loved teaching high school kids, I am so content and thankful for the pace of life these days. I'm excited to allow the journey to lead me elsewhere. I've learned to embrace a life of change and to look forward to where an open door may lead even though at times I feel I'm the duck who looks calm above the water and really I'm just paddling for dear life!


This August, my girls are attending a new school. Plus, Elaina enters the turbulent world of middle school. As you may imagine, big emotions are running wild around my house. We've had a lot of conversations about courage and remembering who we are. It caused me to reflect on a writing assignment I gave my students a few years back. I'll share it with you below, and I hope you'll give it a shot.



Here's the thing: change is inevitable. We see it in the seasons. As mothers, in the shape and size of our children. Change often leads to progress and improvement. Other times, change comes with heartache. It is universal to the human experience, and yet as I work through it with my kids this week I'm reminded, often, these changes in our lives wreck havoc on our identity. I see my kids working through that- navigating who they are in a unknown environment amidst unfamiliar peers. I experience this too, as I continue to transition from a successful career in education into uncharted waters (did you hear I'm writing a cookbook?!).


During a recent visited with a teacher friend I was reminded of those kind men and women who've spent the past month turning a sterile, white room into a haven for learning. The careful crafting of lessons and activities. The thinking behind seating and wall colors. So much work and effort. I know my friend works hard to create a space that is welcoming. She wants her students to know they belong in her classroom; that they are a part of something outside themselves. We need this: to know we belong and have a place. Good teachers know the importance of connecting their students in the space. The same is true at home. Confidence results from knowing who you are and where you belong. With confidence, nothing is impossible.




Too often we preach another message to our kids. Define your own life. Be what you want. You can be anything. These aren't wrong ideas, per say. I want my kids to dream big and forge their own path. But let's start out a with an anchor to hold us secure! Let the rope out a little at a time, you know what I'm saying? As the late, great Casey Kasem used to say, "Keep your feet on the ground and keep reaching for the stars."


Life adrift of our experiences and family lacks authenticity - it just isn't the whole picture of who we are. Sure, many of us want to forget the hard parts of our lives. I get that. But here's the thing: we all have struggles. No life is without heartache. Embrace what you've been through rather than ignoring it. We admire the heroic stories of rising above our circumstances because we all experience tough circumstances. Don't let those moments shake who you are, your worth and value. Your story is important and is bigger than just yourself.


My grandpa exemplified this idea. A child of the Great-Depression, he was the youngest of ten, and was so poor he went barefoot to his mother's funeral. When he was orphaned at the age of nine, but he went on to be an optimistic, hard-working and successful man. He was my hero, and knowing his story gave me confidence that I was made out of the same gritty fabric. If he could, I could too.



So how do we teach kids (and ourselves) to remember who we are? We we have to think about it. Meta-cognition is the ten-dollar word for this. This "assignment" hopes to achieve that for you. I can share my version of this poem last in case you want to read it too.


Assignment: Write your own Where I'm From poem. No grades. Please feel inspired to think about your identity and heritage - your roots. Have fun with it. Think about precise language choices and sensory details -words are powerful and you want words that evoke strong emotion.Embrace your whole experience. Feel free to modify as you want from the template - it is just a guide. I'd love to hear if you try it!


The original poem is from George Ella Lyon.

I am from clothespins,

from Clorox and carbon-tetrachloride.

I am from the dirt under the back porch.

(Black, glistening

it tasted like beets.)

I am from the forsythia bush,

the Dutch elm

whose long gone limbs I remember

as if they were my own.


I am from fudge and eyeglasses,

from Imogene and Alafair.

I'm from the know-it -alls

and the pass -it -ons,

from perk up and pipe down.

I'm from He restoreth my soul

with cottonball lamb

and ten verses I can say myself.


I'm from Artemus and Billie's Branch,

fried corn and strong coffee.

From the finger my grandfather lost

to the auger

the eye my father shut to keep his sight.

Under my bed was a dress box

spilling old pictures.

a sift of lost faces to drift beneath my dreams.

I am from those moments

-- snapped before I budded --

leaf-fall from the family tree.



Now, it's your turn!


The WHERE I'M FROM Template

I am from _______ (specific ordinary item), from _______ (product name or homemade food) and _______.

I am from the _______ (home description... adjective, adjective, sensory detail).

I am from the _______ (plant, flower, natural item), the _______ (plant, flower, natural detail)

I am from _______ (family tradition) and _______ (family trait), from_______ (name of family member) and _______ (another family name) and _______ (family name).

I am from the_______ (family idiom) and _______ (family rule).

From_______ (something you were told as a child) and 1_____ (another).

I am from __________(representation of religion, or lack of it - like a favorite hymn or song). Further description.

I'm from _______ (place of birth and family ancestry), _______ (two food items representing your family).

From the _______ (specific family story about a specific person and detail), the _______ (another detail, and the _______ (another detail about another family member).

I am from _______ (location of family pictures, mementos, archives and several more lines indicating their worth).





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