Where I’m From

A few different people this week have said to me, “Oh you write?! I’d love to write! Wish I could write…” So here’s the money-where-your-mouth-is-moment. This is an assignment I have taught for my entire teaching career because I first completed one in undergrad and loved it. It’s called an “I Am From” or an “I Am” poem. After my own latest version, you will find the assignment and a helpful exercise should you wish to try it yourself. It’s totally accessible, very therapeutic, nostalgic, and can be a good tribute to what makes you unique.


“I Am From” by Amandy 2018


I am from an East Baltimore rowhouse, in the shadow and shouting distance of the old Memorial Stadium,

From the shores of the Baltimore Water Filtration Plant, from the ripples of Lake Montebello.

I’m from the metal awning rack above our front porch that only ever held Christmas lights, from Dad’s front yard farm and knee high by the fourth of July,

From knowing how to swing the back gate just right so it would hit the curb and close on its own. CLINK


I am from the field across the street where our fish Chuckie’s bones have long turned to dust,

From made up games and playing catch, from feeling like really, we had the biggest back yard because this was our field.

I’m from that mockingbird that used to peck at Nike, from seeing that Nike really was an animal–even if we thought he was human–who knew how to handle himself in his own kingdom.

I’m from Mom’s shiny, yellow Baer School jacket and Dad’s omnipresent vest, from tiny Aubrey’s giggle that collided her chin with her neck,

From the costume box in the basement that runeth over with possibilities, from playing Sonny and Cher, Bill Clinton and Deborah Weiner, from wigs and graduation robes and forgotten high heels.

From Duffy’s perpetual trail of drool, from wondering where the tennis ball had gone because his lips were saggy enough to hide it.

I’m from the time that guy asked us to show him where the shopping center was, from telling him “no thanks,” and then being clueless of the gravity of what we’d just done.

I’m from mud pies in the alley and being the client when we played hair, from Skip It, and the prrrrrrrrrr of our rollerblades, and I’m from the glass in my knee when I fell out back.


I’m from MLK Days of Service and feeding ducks in the harbor with stale bread,

From living a life of hometown tourism because Nancy is my mom.

I am from riding bikes to downtown festivals, three helmet heads, one Dad,

From taking the #3 to the Fourth of July, or watching fireworks from our front porch out over the trees at the VA and a straight shot to downtown.

I’m from day trips in Mom’s hatchback Honda, from the seatbelt in the front passenger seat that worked on its own.

I am from that time I spilled hot pink nail polish on the carpet in my room and no one seemed to really care, especially me,

And that stain adorned my floor for years, symbolic of what it’s like to be raised a Doran.


I am from pineapple ham on the stove, raisins and brown sugar and love,

From Dad’s mishmash culinary inventions, from the time Aubrey told him she’d had enough of the curry, from one Michelob Ultra on a Sunday night.

I’m from pork chops and brussels sprouts with rice for Mom, from Entenmann’s cheese Danish, every Sunday reminding each other “at the end of the aisle!”

I come from 60 Minutes reporters crooning in the background from faraway places, from that tick, tick, tick, tick,

From those random moments when we don’t even agree to quiet down and listen to Morley Safer or Steve Kroft or Ed Bradley and when we stop eating to really listen to Andy Rooney–the latest revelation from the life of a small, observant, old man with eyebrows that told their own story.

I come from “Have a great week,” and “Where’s Krames?” in pet voice, then finding that black blob in the dark, two glowing orbs popping out from his little head,

From watching his belly swing side to side as my car approaches and he retreats back to who knows where.


I am from Gram’s old back porch steps, from the smell of craggy concrete in the hottest July has to offer,

I’m from Tide wafting from her laundry shamelessly waving on the clothesline, underpants and all.

From Old Maid and baking cookies and washcloth only baths, from that stiff guest bed and from the horror of catching my own eyes in the closet mirror in the middle of the night.

I am from full-on bosom hugs, from split pea soup with ham delivered in Chinese takeout containers, and her shell spoon rest she’d gotten from Grandmom Josephine.

I am from 91.5 FM filling her dining room, pencils without erasers, and candy in little dishes, from her basement “grocery store”

From our amazement at someone who had backups of everything because “Mars was having a sale.”

I’m from her folded plastic bags, because she cared for every single thing to that level.

From the delicate giraffe figurine Aubrey or I broke as young kids. She kept the pieces in a small porcelain dish in the good living room for the rest of her life.

I’m from abandoning my best hiding spots because Hide-n-Seek made me so nervous I had to pee,

From that roll out bed and the old exercise bike no one used, from the piano I always wanted to play and from the dusty photos it held–really its only job.

I come from that full freezer and several options for ice cream, from the smell of white toast reaching brown as she assembled the perfect sandwich she insisted on making for me.


I am from Dad’s classic rock tapes and family belting on the Pennsylvania Turnpike,

From stops at the same Flying J and wondering how he even knew how to find it in the anonymity of the road.

I’m from Grandpa Doran saying “THE FLYING J” like a 1950s radio host

I come from “It was raining hard in ‘Frisco” and answering all of the “na’s” the Beatles can throw at you at the end of “Hey Jude.”

From hearing the story of how Dad once had to take cover in the walk-in freezer in that mini-mart during a bad storm.

I come from car snacks and reading in the backseat, from long naps and eventually, early morning driving shifts, from tracking mile markers and getting lost in the dotted lines while staying found on the road.


I am from dawn fishing with Uncle John and Dad, from a time when I didn’t need a nap because being awake was just so thrilling,

From tubing and knee boarding and bathing in the lake as a team of cousins to save water in the house because there were just so many of us, from 32 ounce jugs of Kroger brand soap.

I come from mosquito bites and seaweed fear, from goose poop and massive quantities of food for dinner, enough to serve us all plus leftovers.

I’m from Boggle and Bananagrams, every match more epic than the last, from Costco-sized bags of peanut M&Ms and Labatt Blue because that’s how far north we are.

I am from the 45th Parallel, from the smell of gasoline mixed with lake, from the glittery peace of the water before 8 in the morning, from knowing Michigan is way underrated.


I am from photos in matching outfits, from posing in the store window to scare Black Friday shoppers,

I am from a home movie called “No Parking. Tow Away Zone.”

I am from pancake photos and scopes, from sandcrab genocide, and Ocean City afternoon million degree runs.

I’m from Old Bay stinging my hangnails, from crab claws and Natty Boh as a side dish,

From flush and gush in the ocean and using the water to cool a sunburn.

I’m from chick lit and a nap then chick lit then another nap,

From the sand in the layers of my library book, bumpy plastic, and evidence that I was here.

I am from utter relaxation that only comes from a familiar vacation spot. From pretzels and salt water. From a cold can of Coca Cola on the beach.


Now, I am from the children who grow in so many ways, from their offhanded comments that cut so deep or absolutely uplift.

I am from “walkity walk walk walk,” and “ACTUALLY WALK!” I am from doin’ too much and being “in everything.”

I’m from their rambling stories, from their logic that makes more sense than I ever expect,

From the Crochet Club’s energy at the tail end of Wednesdays.

I’m from their strength, the things they’ve been through and how they rise and how you’d never know.

I come from children from whom I’ve learned to draw life instead of letting them drain my own.


Now, I’m from replaying friends’ baby videos, from sharing the deepest things with my adopted sisters.

I am from hugs with squeezes and rocks back and forth, from seeing 39 group texts and knowing no one died–it’s just a story about a boy or a drama or a rally behind one of us who is sad.

From my women as a web of support, from laughter through tears and tears from laughter.

From Book Blub, wine, and real talk, from sitting in a circle of sisterhood, from the pages that unite us being an afterthought almost because US is more.


Now, I’m from 807, yellow behind our holly tree, from recycling on the front porch, like we’re junky but we care about the environment.

I’m from our couch spots and our dining room places, from our unspoken symbiotic style.

I am from that beer can that hit him in the head on the infield, from our first conversation that’s been flowing for a decade,

From the arguments when we were to young to know exactly what we had found, from Chas singing “If This is It” and me silently wondering if it was, it.

I’m from his pacing and the way he prepares rainbow trout with coriander seeds,

From marveling at what horror he befalls on a toothpaste tube when he can plate a meal like a five star chef.

I am from coming home to you, from Saturday morning coffee runs and John Oliver from last Sunday on the couch.

From wiggling to find the right sleeping spots on the airplane, as we fly over some ocean,

From watching you sleep on my shoulder feeling intense jealousy but also intense love.

I’m from waking up in foreign cities and knowing the he has a plan, today will be a great day, and that first we get the coffee then we do the things.


That’s where I’m from.


Your turn:

I Am From Poem

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Here’s some practice…

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Life Hacks from Amandy

Part of me knows that I have no business giving life hacks or advice of any kind to other people because I’m a touch absurd. But that part of me is also amused by the things that I find make life more livable, more cosy, and sometimes more fun. I also really enjoy giving unwarranted advice. And, the past few weeks’ blogs have been heavy lifts so it feels like it’s time for something to lighten up.

1. My most recently invented life hack is for kind of a niche market: how to reattach your rearview mirror for less than $6. You see, at the end of December I decided to retrieve an electronic keyboard I’d lent to Gabby a year and a half ago. It just felt like the day to get it back so I could give it to its owner, my mom. And by give it back, I mean promptly put it in my own basement and wait for my mom to ask for it. Well on this day my typically spacious Corolla was already filled with items from Chris and Gabby’s house so the keyboard and its awkwardly shaped stand were the last additions. I chose the front passenger seat for the stand and used the closing of the door to snuggle it in place.I actually felt a sense of accomplishment that I’d fit everything into my car. And that’s when I heard a loud pop.

I decided to investigate the pop. I opened the door again and found my rearview mirror on the floor of the car and a large chunk of the glass of my windshield absent from its place. For a few days I drove Chas’s car to work and then decided to invent a life hack.

Materials: E6000 cancer-causing glue, scotch tape, ribbon, and hope. I’ve now been driving around with this for just shy of three months. I do have to explain to passengers why my rearview mirror swings back and forth and violently hits the roof of the car on wide turns but I’m used to it now. Sometimes I have to adjust the ribbon to get it back in the right spot (it’s never actually straight). But for the most part, it’s perfectly functional.



I took this when the glue was drying. I don’t use the broom anymore. 


2. Attach a headlamp to a jug of water when camping to create a makeshift lantern.

3. If it ever does become summer and you want to make iced coffee, make coffee ice cubes with leftover coffee and a spare ice cube tray. Use these for your iced coffee and notice the flavorful difference!

4. Podcasts are the perfect accompaniment to any easy and repetitive task. I listen to podcasts significantly more often than Chas would prefer. I will start with the most essential in case you’re a complete newb. Here are some recommendations:

  • Serial: Murder case from Baltimore/Baltimore County from 1999. Includes interviews with all parties potentially involved, including Adnan Syed who sits in prison to this day serving time for the murder of his ex-girlfriend Hae Min Lee. He maintains his innocence. You be the judge.
  • S Town: Story of an extreme eccentric residing in Woodstock, Alabama. “S Town” means “Shit Town.” You learn about John B. MacLemore, his town, and his take on the town, and everything else in the world. Not for those with sensitivities to cursing.
  • This American Life: Need I say more? ❤
  • Up and Vanished: Unsolved murder of a beauty queen/teacher in Georgia in the early 2000s. The host Payne Lindsey sets out to solve the murder of Tara Grinstead. You learn a lot about Georgia and a lot about its folk.
  • Atlanta Monster: Payne Lindsey again. This time he takes up a massive case known as the “Atlanta Child Murders.” Nearly 30 black children were murdered in Atlanta in the early 1980s and although there’s an arrest that’s masked as the end of the case, the person who sits behind bars, Wayne Williams, has actually not been convicted for these murders, but for the murders of two adults–a conviction that remains tenuous at best.
  • Embedded: NPR host Kelly McEvers dives deeply into a news story and covers it for one to five episodes. I recommend the piece about suicide in Greenland and all of her coverage of Trump.
  • Give Me the Deets: This is my friend Erin Drew and her grad school classmate Mary. They take on women’s issues, world issues, Erin’s mom, you name it. Start with “The Vagina Dialogues.” Also, they laugh a lot.
  • Dirty John: Story of a con-artist who “falls in love with” a woman. You learn how he attempted to tear apart her family and how adept he was at his con.
  • Ear Hustle: Tales of life in San Quentin State Prison. The hosts are a radio producer from the outside and a prisoner from the inside. They interview inmates, staff, and generally give a deep look into life at San Quentin.
  •  Two Dope Queens: Hilarious.
  • Soul Force PoliticsNeed something uplifting? This show is hosted by former Maryland gubernatorial candidate, Heather Mizeur. She takes an optimistic view of the world and presents it to you with laughter and a theme song from Melissa Etheridge. I highly recommend the episode with Erricka Bridgeford and the one with Cory Booker.

I know there are so many more that are worth your time and mine. Here’s a start.

Also I like to listen to Podcasts while I bathe. I stick my phone in the toothbrush holder and it creates a speaker-like effect. I find that females’ voices in particular are tough to hear when the water is running.

5. Paint your key tops with nail polish to keep them separate (or just go to Falkenhan’s and get your own cute design).

6. If you live with a significant other and you can’t find something, it’s probably in his/her car.

7. If you need things in bulk that are extremely random, Oriental Trading. Poker chips with your face on them? Look no further. Personalized guitar picks? What color would you like? Googly eyes, Jonas Brothers beverage napkins, mylar balloons shaped like carrots, Easter eggs with ninjas painted on them? Yes, yes, yes, yes! Aubrey and I grew up pouring over the pages of Oriental Trading catalogs. And, I think we’re better for it!


Oriental Trading purchase. Unfortunately, this did not stop my girls from stealing my pencils but it did help me call them out when they did it. (Sidenote: Does my patella look weird? Should I be concerned?)

8. If you’ve always been curious about therapy and how it could help you, you should probably just go to therapy. Everyone could benefit from talking things out. I’ve found that a lot of people are hesitant to take that leap. Is it effort? Stigma? Nervousness? Fear of doing something that’s just for yourself? Whatever it is, face it. Use your first session to discuss why you didn’t go earlier. This is for Baltimore in general: https://therapists.psychologytoday.com/rms/state/MD/Baltimore.html You can just call a few, leave messages, and see who gets back to you. I feel like fate will take it from there.

9. Are you actually still reading this?

10. Chas uses this website to find cheap flights. I believe I should credit Scott’s Cheap Flights to Greg Sclama who is a masterful flight finder. That said, you can sign up yourself or get your own Chas to do it, if you can’t imagine the stress of combing through the emails (me).

11. Wunderlist is a phone app that Chas and I use for all of our lists. We share the account so we can both add to the lists. We have a grocery list, Target list, Home Depot, movies we want to watch, etc. Then when you check something off, it makes a very satisfying PING noise anddd you can view the things you’ve already gotten or accomplished.

12. Okay, here’s a good one. Back pain? Stress? Anger? Exhaustion? Too “busy”? Feeling frumpy? Can’t tune out the “noise”? Yoga, yoga, yoga, yoga, yoga, yoga, yoga. Come see me at Core Power Yoga or at Joe’s Bike Shop. The first week at CPY is unlimited and free for everyone. Yoga at Joe’s is only $5.

13. “I have __________________ and I need to get rid of it (and I live in Baltimore).” Here. Also, VHS tapes. This benefits vets and recycles VHS tapes as well.

14. Goats Yelling Like Humans.

15. Take a picture of paperwork you know you will lose: business cards, invitations, whatever.

16. Apparently dryer sheets are full of horrid chemicals. I found articles on both sides of this debate but here’s one that seems reliable. I use dryer balls instead which are reusable and chemical-free (so they say). They are made of sheep wool and are a cost-effective, environmentally friendly, and perhaps healthier alternative to dryer sheets. You can add essential oils to the dryer balls to freshen the smell of your clothes.

17. Lauren says when you’re waiting for a single bathroom and you know it is occupied, knock anyway so that the occupant knows that someone is waiting. (Also, take note of the response you receive. Sometimes they’re funny.)

Side story that is almost completely irrelevant: One time Chas was in a onesie bathroom next to another onesie. While he was doing his business, someone was knocking on the other door saying, “Ma’am. Ma’am. I need to poop. Ma’am. Ma’am. I need to poop. Ma’am. Ma’am. I need to poop.” Just over and over again. Isn’t that amazing? 

18. The Giant app. I am no Don Whitby and I can’t even keep track of coupons let alone stack them, remember what I am buying, and hand them to the cashier. You can download the Giant app and preload your card with coups! The discounts come off automatically when you swipe your Bonus Card. Sometimes there’s a coupon that just says “$5 or $7 off your entire order.” Don, I know you have more to add to this and to this list. Feel free to hit us up in the comments.

19. The Dollar Store. I am talking the real dollar store, The Dollar Tree. Family Dollar has great bargains but it is not a dollar store. Here are some items you should only buy at The Dollar Tree (or similar alternative): brooms, dustpans, packs (yes, packs) of thank you notes, greeting cards, aluminum foil, Ziploc baggies, small clip-on bird figurines, Comet powdered bleach, wrapping paper (if you don’t care about its integrity), composition notebooks (unless Staples is having its back to school sale, in which case, you can get them there for a quarter), unattractive fake flowers, and fudge graham cookies–shout out to you, Grammom.

20. I drink apple cider vinegar every morning. It’s good for hair, skin, and digestion. I do two ounces of ACV in about double as much warm water. It really has helped my slow stomach.

21. Clean glass surfaces with coffee filters. Learned that one working at Panera!

22. If you feel sad, help someone else feel happy. Here are some ideas for ways to do this in Baltimore (again, me giving my own advice).

23. Go into each day with a smile. If you know that your default is pessimism, start by addressing that with yourself. Question it. Are you pessimistic because bad things have happened to you or do some bad things happen because you expect them to and in turn, welcome them? If you start off your day thinking it will suck, it will. Happiness can be a choice that you make actively every single day. Find tiny joys and the big ones will follow.

Does it feel like I’m your life coach now? If so, well I suppose you could do worse but you could also probably do better, like a person with an actual rearview mirror or a normal patella.

AmandyLaur El Salvador

Not sure why this photo. I just like it. And Lauren (on the right) gave us number 17. #elsalvie2009


A Modest Proposal: Compulsory Teaching



Do you know how challenging it is to be a teacher who has integrity? Do you know what goes into the every single day? Do you have any idea how much time it can take to plan one solid hour of instruction? Do you comprehend how much free time is relinquished in favor of catching up on emails? Or contacting parents? Planning a field trip? Talking a child away from wanting to kill herself? Making a personalized journal for someone who needs that level of love? Cutting through red tape for the sake of an 8th grader? These questions go and go and go and go. Because great teachers are more than teachers. They are mothers, counselors, shoulders, fathers, rocks, support systems, sisters, pin cushions, scape goats, punching bags, translators, bouncers, cat herders, and so so much more.

I’ll warn you that this post is pretty self-aggrandizing. Let me climb on my soap box (no short jokes, thanks). Join me as I tell you about the job that creates all other jobs. There are plenty of things I’m modest about, teaching is not one of them.

In 2010 actor Tony Danza starred in a TV show called “Teach” on A&E. He said that he always wanted to try teaching. He always wanted to give it a go, see how he’d do. He sweated so much through his button down, kids suggested he start wearing more undershirts. In the show and in reality, he only teaches one 10th grade English class  and for only one year. And from what I’ve read, it ate him alive.

Tony, thanks. And we get it. Eight years was my max. It’s hard. I often hear people say, and I always agree, that everyone should have to work in the food service industry at some point. You learn a lot about people, food, humanity, smells, employees, drugs, hygiene, integrity, your own hygiene, rodents, mozzarella sticks, what you aren’t willing to eat, what you will eventually start eating again. And yes, this is so true. We should all have to be a server, counter person, barista, something, at some point. For sure.

But because of how much you can learn and how much it matters for the WHOLE WORLD, I wish that everyone had to work in a school (especially Betsy Devos). You’ll never learn more than you will learn in two months in a classroom, as the person in front of it. That feeling of 20-something sets of eyes staring at you, 20-something screeching voices yelling at one another, 20-something human beings about to be launched right into the real world to lead it or ruin it or terrorize it or own it or love it. There’s nothing like that. Also, if everyone had a stint in school (essentially like Israel’s compulsory military service but certainly minus the guns – FYI you will NOT regret clicking this link), I guarantee funding for education would increase, teachers would receive more respect, some people who really, really do not get it, would start to get it. At least a little bit. Oh how I wish…

So I want to give you a sliver. I want to give you a taste. The title of this blog will not seem to make sense because other than the creativity aspect, you (the general you) will want to do the opposite.

Here’s a lesson I wrote in 2014. I was really proud of it at the time and looking back, I am still really proud of it. I wrote this lesson while teaching The Narrative of the Life of Frederick Douglass. Douglass has mixed thoughts on negro spirituals and I wanted to tap into that aspect of the book while getting my students to interact with some incredible music. This lesson lasted two days for a total of one hour and 45 minutes. This 90 minute chunk easily took me eight hours to plan. Now that wasn’t always the case when I planned something I was really into but it wasn’t that rare.

I give you…a really good lesson plan–minus the plan itself–more the documents and the flow of the lessons. I hope this clarifies what kind of effort is required to make them.

This PowerPoint will guide these lessons.

Start with the drill. Students connect prior knowledge of the Paul Laurence Dunbar poem “We Wear the Mask” and with their knowledge of figurative language and symbolism, already taught this year. Remind students several times that “Yes, you have already read this poem” and “Yes, it was just two days ago.”


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Tasks involved: Find copy of the poem online, copy stanza, match font, use clip art from previous lesson so that students can connect poem lesson with new lesson, consider how to connect the poem with today’s topic of slave songs. Make text box look cute.

Connect poem with Narrative of the Life. Analyze pieces from Narrative to examine Douglass’s perspective on negro spirituals. Discuss Douglass’s conflicting views. Help students find text evidence of this. Highlight. Review. Ensure that students understand. Explain that we will begin looking at the spirituals ourselves, starting tomorrow.
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Have students complete an exit ticket listing Douglass’s negatives and positives of slave songs. Encourage them to use specific evidence from the text. Say the word “specific” at least 43 times per class period.

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Cover background knowledge of figurative language. Tap into what students already know about each term. Then teach them the new terms of allegory and allusion which we have learned before but because of how difficult they are, we will hit these hard again. Use some examples to assist understanding. Cover musical elements of “tempo,” “call and response, and”a capella.” Explain and practice. Teach using the example of “Roll Jordan Roll.” Identify these elements in the song as a whole class. Using rhetorical devices knowledge, apply this to the song to determine the meanings of Jordan and Roll.

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Tasks involved: find a song to use as an example, define terms and locate terms within song, once found. Find emotional video of song. Cry each time you watch it for lesson planning purposes. Determine meanings of “Jordan” and “roll” and decide whether or not students will get it. Decide you’ll take a gamble. Create sheet above (text boxes, clip art, etc.)

Divide students into predetermined groups (spend an hour creating groups that will not result in physical fights). Allow students to access computers to watch a video on the purpose behind negro spirituals via symbaloo. Ask students to complete the chart together to record the purposes behind negro spirituals. Walk around the room as students work and don’t work. Assign songs to each group. Encourage students to then listen to one assigned song per group. Remind students repeatedly to huddle in so that the song is not too loud as to disturb other groups and spawn aforementioned fights.

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Tasks involved: Locate a video on music for enslaved people. View video several times to create appropriate note taking form. Find 4 different negro spirituals that contain these figurative elements. Identify figurative elements and meanings behind each. Find appropriate and accessible links to each. Post to symbaloo. Create sheet above.

Locate lyrics to each of the spirituals. Redo formatting. Define ANY words that may be questioned. Create a sheet for each group to accompany audio version. Accidentally or purposefully become an expert on all four songs. Consider leaving teaching to become a music producer. Decide against it because you’ve already worked really hard on this lesson–gotta see it through.


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Have students locate their drills (some are on the floor, some in desks, some in the trash, some eaten by a goat) flip their drills over, and locate today’s exit ticket. Go over the directions for the exit ticket. Annotate with the group, as needed. Encourage, rub proverbial backs, repeat over and over again, “Yes this is for a grade,” and “Yes this counts,” and “Yes, you have learned this.” Collect when class is over. Spend 90-120 minutes grading three classes’ worth of these the following Sunday.


Tasks required: Find the simplest way to take a Common Core standard and place it into 8th grade language + fit it to this lesson. Add music notes clip art. Regret making a written exit ticket because then you will have to grade them.

Could you do what Tony Danza did? Another guarantee forthcoming. I guarantee that most lawmakers these days, including if not especially, those involved in the Federal Department of Education, wouldn’t last a week in a middle school classroom, let alone a single Sunday-long lesson planning session.

But wouldn’t the world be better if everyone had to try? Would we fund our urban schools better? Would we respect teachers more? Would we understand, really, really understand, that these kids will soon be the adults? Would we get the urgency of education and make it as urgent as public safety?

I am going to climb down off my soapbox now and head into work.

The Things They Should Have Taught Us in School

There are too many problems with the American education system to fit them all in less than an entire book even, so one Amandy blog will not suffice. That said, revising the curriculum a bit to include some essentials that we all missed in school could really benefit society. This came to my mind in yoga teacher training when we discussed the Eight Limbed Path. The Eight Limbed Path is from Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra, the sacred text that guides yoga and helps us to lead a more meaningful and purposeful life. I know most of you are hearing the voice of Charlie Brown’s teacher right now as you read this but I will make it relevant. So, starting with the Eight Limbed Path, I give you:

The Things They Should Have Taught Us in School


This poor little thing on her first day of first grade doesn’t have any idea she’s going to make it to 30 years old completely clueless about the stock market, insurance deductibles, or how to stand up to Comcast.

 1. The first two limbs of the Eight Limbed Path from Yoga Journal are in this font then my translations are underneath in bold green (’tis the season). 

First Limb: Yama

“The first limb, yama, deals with one’s ethical standards and sense of integrity, focusing on our behavior and how we conduct ourselves in life. Yamas are universal practices that relate best to what we know as the Golden Rule, ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.'”

Be who you are but don’t be an ass hole. 

The five yamas are:

Ahimsa: nonviolence

Honor peace in all ways, including how you deal with your own body.

Satya: truthfulness

Be up front. Say what you mean. Do what you say you’ll do. See also.

Asteya: nonstealing

Respect others’ EVERYTHING including their time, the bumpers on their cars, their quiet, their spouses, and everything that doesn’t belong to you. And life is brief. What really belongs to you, anyway?

Brahmacharya: moderation or continence

One brownie is enough. You know it. I know it. We all know it. 

Aparigraha: noncovetousness

Wanting is a waste. Be happy with what you have. Love the one you’re with. 

Second Limb: Niyama

Niyama, the second limb, has to do with self-discipline and spiritual observances. Regularly attending temple or church services, saying grace before meals, developing your own personal meditation practices, or making a habit of taking contemplative walks alone are all examples of niyamas in practice.

Take a damn breath sometimes. Slow down. Put your phone down and give your eyes and brain a break.

Saucha: cleanliness

Bathe as much as your bodily odors require. Also, get your mind out of the gutter.

Santosha: contentment

Every little thing is gonna be all right.

Tapas: heat; fiery strength

Try. Try hard.

Svadhyaya: study of the sacred scriptures and of one’s self

Know who you are, especially before you impose yourself on others. Read, too. 

Isvara pranidhana: surrender

Don’t take yourself too seriously. Let some things go. Sometimes fate decides. 

(back to the original list)

2. What is the stock market? The other day, one of my scholars asked me this question. I looked at her with one of my blankest stares and replied the only way I could, “I don’t know.” Usually when I have to tell one of them I don’t know, I say that we can look it up together but I wouldn’t even know how to do that. 

I have a vague memory of an octogenarian coming into our 8th grade history class with a stack of newspapers. He handed out the stock pages and we did god knows what with them. All I know is that I walked out of that room with either the same amount of confusion or maybe a little more. I think Ms. Gibson was just trying to have a day without teaching us since we’d already finished watching the entirety of Doctor Zhivago (for three-four weeks). 


3. This one comes directly from Aubrey who is learning this now. “Apply to daycare as soon as you get pregnant, if not before.”


4. If we were interested in how something worked, we should have just been encouraged to take it apart, analyze it, and explore its inner-workings (within reasonable limits). What happens when you turn a key in a lock? What does it look like inside there? I think we should have been allowed to dissect a lock, take a look inside, and just understand why keys work. How are they possibly all different? When do they run out of patterns?


5. This is more for the Catholic school kids out there. You do not have to stay the religion you are born into. Religion is a personal choice, so is faith, and even spirituality.


One option of MANY.

6. Take care of your feet and your teeth. Ain’t nobody got time for uncomfortable shoes or premature dental work.


7. Again, from Aubs. You do collaborate when you’re in school. You work together. You talk about teamwork. Maybe you all hold hands and sing “Kumbaya.” You make a poster, create a board game, maybe a PowerPoint if it’s at least 2003 but what they don’t tell you is that your whole adult life is basically one long group project.


What do you mean, “Life is basically one long group project!?”


8. What is a deductible in insurance? Seriously. I have been told this innumerable times, even by my sister who worked in insurance, by Chas who “knows things,” and by my dad who often serves as my coach through adulthood. But still. I’m confused. Maybe it was too late for me to speak the language of insurance because I didn’t learn when I was a kid.


9. Don’t burn bridges. I know morality training is lacking in schools. My school really  tries with this and still, it’s a consistent struggle. But I think if I am targeting what makes a difference from a learning standpoint and an advancement standpoint, kids need to learn from the jump not to burn bridges. 


10. Kids need to learn why voting matters, why community service matters, and why activism matters. This all needs to happen before the end of middle school. 


11. Animosity is rarely worth the energy. Schools need to teach kids how to deal with their emotions–all of them, especially the ones that can harm others and themselves.


12. Although I hate it and actively avoid it, kids do need to learn how to participate in small talk. This includes the eye contact, the follow up questions they don’t care about the answers to, and even when small talk can be advanced to large talk. I am picturing this like a language course–the same way you practice conversation skills in Spanish class. You’d have a room full of 8 and 9 year olds going through the script.

“Hello, Susan, how are you?”

“Oh I’m fine, Bill. How are the kids?”

“Oh you know, everyone’s just so busy!”

“Now, are you still over at LMNOP?”

“Yep, yep [rocks back and forth on heels] still there. It’s good, good.”

[At a slightly higher pitch] “Good, good.”

“Yea, so how about this cold snap?”

“Oh, yea, pretty crazy! They say if ya don’t like the weather in Maryland, just wait 20 minutes.”

[Both obligatorily laugh]

Wow, sorry I might need to think about that one. I almost threw up in my mouth just typing it.


13. I wish kids knew how to be confrontational in a productive way. I think that a lot of pettiness and hard feelings that adults hold onto are due to the fear of confrontation. If kids learn how to face and deal with problems, imagine their productivity as adults!


14. I’d like to request (demand?) “left and right drills” in all kindergarten classrooms. I’m a 30 year old yoga teacher still using jewelry to know which hand and foot I am cuing. 


15. Budgets. Time budgets, money budgets, friend budgets, social media budgets. Kids would be better off if they learned how to split all of this stuff up evenly. 


16. The Internet. Social media. May all that is holy help our children. One lesson would be: if you post or send naked pictures of yourself to one person, he will 99% of the time not be the only recipient. Another: when you bully people on Snapchat, the vice principal often finds out and she has a lot of other things to do aside from detangle your made-up electronic vendetta. See also: don’t burn bridges. 


17. This is going to sound like a joke but I’m not at all kidding. And I saved this one for last on purpose. Kids need to learn how to deal with Comcast. Allow Comcast to stand in for all evil corporations but I dare you to find a worse one. Kids would benefit from the lessons of those tough phone calls. Aubrey could teach this class with her eyes closed.


So for my curriculum revision, I’d start with the Yama and the Niyama and I’d end with the thing that throws all of those spiritual truisms wayyy out the window: problem-solving with Comcast. So maybe our education system is broken, maybe it’ll take generations to fix, more likely it’ll never really be fixed. But can’t we start by adding in a class that teaches kids how to navigate the real world, how to treat people, and what in the world talking heads mean by the Dow Jones and the and the S&P 500? 

Be a Dreamer/Doer like Erricka Bridgeford

“Do what you say you will do,” believe it or not, according to Google, is an attributable quote. Apparently the person who said this first (ha!) is a man named James M. Kouzes. I’m sure he’s a fine gentleman. He’s the author of a series of books about leadership in business. But, I’m yawning even typing that.

It’s almost sad to me that “the royal we” has to attribute something so obvious to a single person. I mean really?

Just do what you say you’re going to do.

Why does anyone need to be told that? And yet, so many do. Dare I say, we all do at least sometimes?

It goes without saying that politicians need to work on this. And for some of the more evil ones (cough, cough DJT, cough, cough), we hope they don’t or can’t do what they say they’re going to do. It is amazing though that we give the most power to the people whose talk-to-action-ratio is so horribly imbalanced. But lucky for you, this blog isn’t about them.

My mom’s favorite idiom/quote/belief is “Actions speak louder than words.” You’ve heard that since you were 5. Guess who it’s attributed to according to Google? Miley Cyrus!

Nah, I’m kidding. Did you really believe that? Anyway, could “actions speak louder” be more true? My mom LIVES it. Like to the point that it’s frustrating because I want her to stop doing so many things and just come to my damn yoga class. But, I’m grateful to have doers for parents because their doing has influenced me somewhat.

Despite this, I’ve always been attracted to the dreamers. To the grandiose vision types. The brainstormers who share their storms aloud. The people who paint you a picture of what could be and paint it so well that you get caught swimming in it and drinking it and feeling it, even though it hardly comes to fruition. These people, as described famously by Jack Keroac:

“The only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything at the same time, the ones who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes ‘Awww!'”

My dad has this trait, somewhat, though he does carry out many of his unique dreams (see also the strawberry patch coffin in my parents’ backyard). I quote Dick Doran circa 1994, “We will be living in a different house by Spring 1996.” Guess where they live 22 years later? Still at good old 1536. So if a dreamer and a doer can coexist within one person, that’s where the magic happens. That’s where the actions speak loudest.

When you hear about someone who is both dreamer and doer, which is what I consider a life-long goal, it’s easy to get behind that person. It’s inspiring, invigorating, and it’s contagious.

The reasons I started writing about this were some events at in my professional life in which someone totally didn’t do what he/she said he/she was going to do; listening to the very Talky McTalkerson mayor of Baltimore speak a few weeks ago with my friend Laurel and some of our kids; and finally, because of a woman from West Baltimore named Erricka Bridgeford.

Though she doesn’t vocally take “credit” for the Baltimore Ceasefire, or from what I have heard from her, she really doesn’t take “credit” for anything, though it seems like she deserves to. Because she’s a dreamer and a doer and not a blabber, talker, boaster. She’s not concerned about being lauded, she’s concerned about results and she’s driven by peace.

Erricka Sage

What started as the Baltimore Ceasefire Weekend also called the Peace Challenge has grown into Baltimore Ceasefire 365. On that first Baltimore Ceasefire weekend in August 2017, there were actually two murders that very weekend. But that was not the end. Not for Bridgeford and not for Baltimore.

The Ceasefire Team–which is really open to anyone who wants to speak about it, spread the news, hang the posters, follow them on Instagram, join their listserv, you name it–arranged additional Baltimore Ceasefire Weekends. From there the movement has grown. Bridgeford says in her TedX Talk, “It’s not just about not being violent, it is about being purposefully peaceful.” She talks about how this applies externally in Baltimore but also inside everyone’s head and heart. I dare you to watch Ted Talk and try not to cry.

In addition to Bridgeford’s dreamer/doer power, she is spiritual without being tied to a specific dogma. She holds an event called “Sacred 7” to shed light on the space where Baltimoreans were murdered. She invites the community (which again, means everyone), goes to the spot at the Sacred Hour of 7 p.m., sits on the ground, sends energy to the fallen and to the murderer. She burns sage and makes the place a sacred place. Now, there are a lot of sacred places in Baltimore because, yea, there are a lot of murders in Baltimore. But. In February, Baltimore went 11 and a half days without a murder. I hear the people who do not live in cities like Baltimore saying mentally or aloud, “Are you kidding me? Is that really a reason to be happy?” Well Lexington Market wasn’t built in a day. And if we don’t celebrate the milestones along the way, we won’t see our growth. So yea, 11 and a half days was a big damn deal for us. But this city has been around for over 300 years and oppression here has been around just as long. So this is where we are. And this is where we start. And we go up from here.

Bridgeford, who was named Marylander of the Year for 2017, talks about the feeling that so many people feel: “I want to do something but I don’t know what to do.” And yea, that’s relatable as an American and as a Baltimorean with a beating heart in 2018. We’re in this moment as a country feeling like our problems are too huge, how can we make change? We’re in this moment as a city feeling like our problems are too huge, how can we make change? I doubt the people reading this article were the target audience for, “Don’t shoot,” but we have voices and power and keyboards to type and windows to hang signs and the power to join this effort.

So when you don’t know what to do about a problem, you find something to do. Bridgeford says,

“Don’t be numb.”

The solution is lying latent in someone’s head. Why not yours? And it might feel crazy, impossible, embarrassing, raw and vulnerable and scary. But, why not you? So finally, and most importantly, to end the way I began, with the words of James M. Kouzes, whoever the hell that is, “Do what you say you will do.”