All my life
A constant narrator in my head

I always thought the words
Gave me somewhere to go
When I needed to be
Anywhere but here
But when I was 30
I fell into a story
A girl who loved words
Because they helped her to stay

And so I stay
When maybe I should go

Or maybe the words should go
Because I am not sure
There is enough space
For all of them
And me

The problem is
I’ve picked up so many
They’ve replaced the flint and steel
That once sparked in my veins

Now I feel like it’s all I have
Useless bits of phrases and lyrics
That no one can see

In “Accidental Babies” by Damien Rice, there’s a line that asks, “Is he dark enough? Enough to see your light?”

I have spent years hiding from the dark.

I think most people fear the unknown. They don’t want to know what actually lurks in those shadows. What breathes in the navy blue of a crystalline winter night.

I know exactly what stands behind me. I know precisely what writhes beneath the stones I do not lift. I know what is crouching in the corner I will not turn to see.

And I fear it.

But on this darkest evening of the year, I have learned it is not the dark itself I fear, for how many times have I stepped outside long after the world sleeps and lifted my face to the sky without the slightest qualm? …

In one of my favorite books, White Oleander by Janet Fitch, the opening scenes paint a picture of an autumn night in California, the Santa Ana winds blowing in despair.

In Wisconsin, the wind blows hardest when the seasons change.

I don’t know what it’s like to sit on the roof of my house and look at a hazy moon while desert and ocean alike clamor for my attention.

But I do know what it feels like to listen to the wind.

I, for one, have never been afraid of an oncoming storm; rather, I stand outside and watch it approach, lifting my face to clouds of steel and ire while the wind lashes my cheeks. …

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We’re in a world of right now.

It’s hard to imagine anything beyond the next 10 minutes, much less the next 10 days. Everything feels so urgent. We need to mask up right now. We need to know what’s going on with our schools right now. We need to refresh our timelines and know what tomfoolery is happening in the world of old, white men “leading” our country right now.

Of course, there are things that can’t, and shouldn’t, wait. We need to dismantle the systems that continue to uphold white supremacy. We need to arrest the murderers of Breonna Taylor. …

I attended the GMWP Summer Institute in 2018. I was ready for something new. I’m a deeply passionate and restless teacher (and person), never quite content with the status quo, constantly looking to do better, and I had found that my other forays into professional development always had just a little something missing.

I found what I was missing in my classroom that summer. It was nothing tangible, no one thing upon which I could place a finger. Instead, it was a quiet voice amidst the chaos of my stormy mind — my identity as a teacher, audible at last. I had been trying on so many different metaphorical hats and cloaks over the years that I had become a messy conglomeration of other people’s ideas. This caused me to constantly question myself and never quite stand in my truth. I was afraid of standing out. …

I’m a white, cis-gender girl from a small Wisconsin town.

I always considered myself pretty “progressive,” but to be honest, I turned a blind eye to the world’s many issues because those things just didn’t seem to happen where I’m from: a predominantly white, rural community that was always a little behind on the times.

I’ll never forget the moment I began to awaken to the reality around me. It was 2005, and I was in a class at my college called Social Problems. Our professor was talking about educational disparities, and I remember feeling smug about my state. We had good ACT scores; we competed with Minnesota. …

This year, I pledged to go gradeless.

Yet November crept up on me, and I found myself entering quarter grades in the gradebook.

So I took a moment to reflect on my journey these past nine weeks.

First off: I was recruited for a standards-based grading pilot group. So that threw a wrench in my plans. Now, instead of immersing myself in strategies and research that would help shift my culture from grades to learning, I found myself researching how to explain the new scale to my students in a way that wasn’t so scary.

So I spent most of September talking kids off ledges because a two out of three in the gradebook looks like a D. (Thanks, Skyward.) …

Happy early days, my friends in education.

I stepped back into my classroom for the 11th year after another summer of learning and growth. I was armed with new ideas, a thicker suit of armor to protect my sensitive empath soul, and, of course, a heart full of unconditional love. I ditched my plans to go over the syllabus on my first day, choosing instead to have students engage in a series of stations to break up the monotony of their day, giving them a chance to move rather than to sit and get.

One of these stations included a “Meet Me” survey for students to fill out information about themselves. I’ll come back to this in a moment. …

I am scared of standards-based grading.

I spent a week working with some of the best minds in my district on our new proficiency scale. It was a great week. Our discussions were honest, productive, and, at times, vulnerable.

But I worried we were getting hung up on the wrong things; namely, how our new scale would translate to a traditional gradebook.

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I let others worry over crunching numbers, plugging in decimals, sweating over letters that I swear are meaningless. I plugged away at designing assessments and dragging our new proficiency scale around from document to document. I bit my lip when I didn’t want to. Stop, I wanted to say.

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Restoring humanity doesn’t have to be difficult.

I have a reputation in my building; I’m aware of it. I’m too nice. My classes are too easy. I don’t teach the kids anything about the real world.

Okay. You know what? I’ll take being the too nice teacher over the one who sends students home in tears every other night, any day.

But now let’s break down what’s really happening in my classroom.

First of all, despite the perception that I don’t challenge students enough in a real-world sense of the word, since I made it my mission to restore humanity in my classroom, I have seen every single one of my students move forward as readers and writers in measurable ways. I’m talking about kids who went from never reading so much as a letter of a printed page on their own to finishing two or more novels this year, kids who could barely write a paragraph who are now writing multi-page papers without my asking. …


Lisa Biber

Mama. Teacher. Writer. Yogi. Hufflepuff. Wanderer. Empath.

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