Category: quote

To Be A Writer Today Is To Have Lived

Posted on October 18, 2022 by

“We have lived! Our moments are important. This is what it is to be a writer: to be the carrier of details that make up history.”
― Natalie Goldberg, Writing Down the Bones: Freeing the Writer Within

Nearly a year ago, I stopped writing. It wasn’t a conscious decision – no date circled on the calendar determined the last post. I didn’t change my mind about being a writer. I don’t think I was even aware that it would be the last writing I would do.

It just simply stopped.

Instead of writing being what got me through, helped me understand, and kept me grounded in ritual and routine, it changed into worry, tension, rumination, and simply hard work.

Writing is one of those threads of life for me, weaving in and out of decades of journals and essays. Through school assignments, work creations, poetry, social media, blogs, and abandoned book drafts, I can see the ebb of my writing energy is almost predictable with the firsts and lasts. The thought of getting out of my journal and into the public space seizes me and shuts me down.

It took me four decades of writing to publish publicly; now, another decade later on this blog, it’s nearly dried up.

It’s frustrating to feel like I’m moving backward, that the effort, energy, and practice that became routine was so easy to release. The rigor and ritual shifted outside of me, distracting me from the inner voice that knew I could do better.


The last ten years have seen rapid-fire firsts and last, some part of the expected rhythm of life, some more like a sneaker tsunami, catching me off guard and knocking me flat.

It would be easy to pass the blame around like a bad game of gin rummy – I mean, who hasn’t felt the overwhelm of the last few years knock them flat once in a while?

Feeling like everything we knew that was solid suddenly shifted to muck, mess, mud, and madness will do that to us.

In those moments of hopelessness, I panicked when I knew I should stretch the muscles instead of retreat when easing myself back into a place of writing for myself and you would be the right move. I couldn’t follow through, so I stopped.

In these times, maybe that’s just how it is. Perhaps the lure of high hopes merely triggers the descent into a plate of salty french fries, sticky and decadent. Telling ourselves that next month it will be better…next year it has to change. Forgoing new year’s resolutions as bullshit, especially for folks like me who fight perfectionism, the invisible ruler measuring us up against some other sparkly face.

Stories and reflections on life became lists of gratitudes, rigorously challenging me to find a daily five. I forced myself into the softness of my leopard print meditation cushion, resting back on the red pillow. Falling snowflakes in my mind followed me through my days, twinkle lights lit the walls of my writing-room-now-home office. My refuge, my sacred space covered with butterflies, wood, and painted, feathered, and blue-blown glass, was not enough to lure me back to the published page. I lost what it feels like to be a writer.

Butterflies and journaling

I like the idea of a writer ‘living twice’ – once in real-time and again on the page. The idea of living life again through words reminds me time is valuable, fleeting, and glorious. That holding on, carefully cradling words and moments is not bad – it is a writer thing. Carrying the slow person inside me who needs more time is exactly what I need to do right now.

Time to breathe, read, meditate, pet my dog and chat with a friend. Be mindful of time to journal, exercise, eat, and clean the kitchen twice daily.

I need to write and get grounded, starting when it’s time for me – not for some invisible clock ticking inside my heart.


Recently I dreamed I was on an epic journey, an escape from one country to another. I was told it would be hard and dangerous, but if I followed directions I would make it.

Immediately, my glasses malfunctioned, and I had to trust others to lead me. I had to leave everything behind except a diamond hidden in my pocket. Crawling through the tiniest of tunnels, prone and trying not to panic, simply trusting that if I kept going I would come out the other side.

Somehow I did, but the danger was not over.

As I exited into the light, the enemy came and taking a risk, I went down another tunnel alone. This tunnel was much wider and more open, with no light at the end.

I felt the enemy behind me, scraping the soggy ground as I moved forward…into a joyful place.

The writer’s journey

Maybe this is the writer’s journey I’m on. Perhaps the path to writing, to living our moments as they are, as we want to, and remembering there is movement and energy behind us is what life’s rhythms are all about right now.

I don’t know where I am with writing. Looking back through that tunnel feels like another life, a letting go.

At this moment, writing is like carrying that diamond in my pocket. Trusting that all I have is all I need right now. Like lifting the lockdown and giving myself the time and permission to let my mind loose, wander, think, and connect.

To start over again, one word at a time, and see who’s still with me.

Wandering with Cameron

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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Anti-Racist Teaching and Justice

Posted on January 30, 2021 by

“Power at its best is love implementing the demands of justice.
Justice at its best is love correcting everything that stands against love.”
-Martin Luther King, Jr.

It’s tough to think about the damage done during the last presidency. I remember in 2017 being devastated at the election results and then deciding to choose optimism.

That didn’t last long. Watching people I love, and people I don’t know, live in fear, anxiety, and pessimism is heart-wrenching and exhausting. What Trump impacted on our country hit us hard in education; we teach developing humans who watch and listen and sometimes question. We teach everyone who walks through our door, and for the last year, we did it during a pandemic that didn’t have to happen.

Mostly, the kids I taught struggled with understanding why there was so much hate, injustice, and blatant cruelty in America. To kids, it’s much more obvious in some ways – they learn right from wrong, they learn to be kind and share, and when they don’t see that reflected in their world it’s hard to comprehend. And extremely hard to explain to them – especially from one side of a computer screen, not able to look them in the eyes, give them a hug or high five, and reassure them that they and their family will be ok. That people really ARE good at heart.

And now again with a new president, a female woman of color for our vice-president, and a cabinet that looks more like MY America, I am once again optimistic. I feel a bit lighter. A bit more hopeful that we can be better than we ever have been. That we can begin to break down the systemic racism in our country. That we can all be anti-racist.

I’m not naive – I know what we are seeing in the news really IS our America. It’s not the America I want to live in, but it is where we are now. We have work to do – hard work – and educators can – and should – be huge players. Education IS political. We need to teach our children about racism, show them how it has shaped our country, and expose them to how it impacts our world today. We need to confront it, not conform to it. We need to challenge our young thinkers to make sense of what they see and experience and create opportunities for kids to make change happen – one small step at a time.

Are you an anti-racist teacher?

Not sure where to start, or how to keep going? I’ve been thinking that sharing some simple strategies and lessons that have worked in my classroom might just help “implement the demands of justice”. Here you go!

Start with books

Read alouds: My 7th graders LOVE to be read to, both during face to face learning, and even more during the distance learning we’ve been in. I use a combination of picture books and chapter books. I start my back to school read alouds with picture books – I focus on diversity of voice and the themes of empathy and inclusion. Here’s a link to get you started: Back to school read aloud picture book list.

I’ve typically followed the Global Read Aloud suggestions for chapter books in the last few years – last year we loved The Bridge Home by Padma Venkatraman, and this year’s choice, Prairie Lotus by Linda Sue Park was a perfect fit alongside the backdrop of the pandemic and racial justice issues in the U.S. Check out my Wakelet collection to help you build your classroom stack.

Another strategy is to try First Chapter Friday selections – I choose books from all genres with a focus on writers telling stories of marginalized groups in society. I’ve found that using clips of the author reading their work, when available, adds impact – when my students see people that look like them reading their stories, they are inspired to read – and WRITE!

And of course, offering choice – getting kids to learn to love reading means allowing them to have access to a diverse classroom library and agency over what and how they read – any genre, any format. Audio books and graphic novels ARE READING!

Use this link for Pernille Ripp’s Favorite Reads of 2020 – she’s always inspiring and spot on with her recommendations.

Build and maintain positive relationships

Kids need to be able to feel safe and trust that they can express themselves in order to do anti-racist teaching and learning. It starts by listening to your students – what are they passionate about? What’s at the top of their mind?

Ask for reflection and feedback – always. It’s one way kids know you care about them. And be SURE to act on their responses so they feel heard. I love to use this SEL check in form with my students – it’s their ‘do now’ at the start of class and gives me a quick glimpse at how they are, and who needs a deeper check-in.

Teach Empathy and Justice

My first unit of the year is always about empathy. This All Are Welcome HyperDoc allows students to gently understand the concept of empathy and explore how they see it in the world around them. The application of their learning in a collaborative picture book cements the validity of their perspectives while at the same time elevates picture book status in their eyes!

Lisa Highfill offered some Anti-Racist HyperDocs – take a look at Nadia Razi’s  lessons as well as two live shows recorded by the HyperDoc girls on the topic of justice and anti-racist teaching:

Keep learning

Teachers need to be active learners. The world is changing – we cannot rely on outdated textbooks and teaching strategies. Just because we’ve always done it that way doesn’t mean it’s right for right now.

Do your research. Read CURRENT information on anti-racist teaching pedagogy. Read books – biographies, memoirs, non-fiction, poetry, and fiction written by BIPOC. The following are a few resources I find helpful:

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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Illuminate: Finding My Way Gently Into 2021

Posted on January 15, 2021 by

This is the first year I’ve put away Christmas in stages. The last to go, finally, is the mantel. It’s the lights, really that I can’t seem to take down. They illuminate and comfort me during these early grey January mornings.

This year I figured out that I could simultaneously set a timer to light the room at dawn AND dusk – a way to welcome the day and say goodbye to the evening. It was honestly game-changing, something so simple and obvious that truly allowed me to see my way into and out of the day.

To close 2020, I also added a new wreath to brighten the front door, although not many come through it these days. Battery operated white lights on the front trees, and even solar twinkle lights on the bare bushes near the driveway were all my small attempts at lighting up such a dark year. A way to say hello to 2021, wishing for more light, more joy; a way to remember that all hope is not lost.

2020 forced a profound dive into the deepest parts of my self. COVID, wildfires, and distance teaching require an examination of the physical and mental spaces I live in and what I want my world to be and do and show.


I quickly realized it’s light. Light prompted an urgency to explore the binary need to look so intently into everything hiding within to really SEE, and the illumination to slow down and be present to what is already HERE.

It’s been years since we’ve seen the tule fog around here – used to be that kind of mist was commonplace when I was growing up. We learned to drive slowly, to concentrate, to pay attention. Tule fog is deceptive; one minute you can see clearly, the path obvious, and the next you’re sunk into the midst of obscurity.

Just when I noticed I missed it, it’s back. It’s grey, calm, and oddly quiet when I take my morning walk. I’m required to look intently around me to what’s coming into view, attentive to what’s hiding within me that I need to see. Now, the mornings open their opaque arms wide, the sun determinedly popping melon-colored aura behind the trees.

All things are inventions of holiness.

Some more rascally than others. 

-Mary Oliver

These mornings are neither dark nor light, clear nor completely obscured, just intriguing enough to keep searching. Fog-walking forces me to find my way, helps me move forward, or when it becomes too much, sends me home to a cup of tea and a good book.

I naively thought 2021 would be a fresh start, desperate to leave behind the pain of a year that brought us to our knees. Quickly, I’m reminded that it often gets worse before it gets better and that as I walk those foggy streets I have a new day no matter what, a day to just start over and pay attention to the illumination just ahead. And as Mary Oliver said, a reminder that “all things are inventions of holiness”.

The Wren From Carolina

by Mary Oliver

Just now the wren from Carolina buzzed

through the neighbor’s hedge

a line of grace notes I couldn’t even write down

much less sing. 

Now he lifts his chestnut colored throat

and delivers such a cantering praise–

for what?

For the early morning, the taste of the spider, 

for his small cup of life

that he drinks from every day, knowing it will refill.

All things are inventions of holiness.

Some more rascally than others. 

I’m on that list too,

though I don’t know exactly where.

But, every morning, there is my own cup of gladness,

and there’s that wren in the hedge, above me,

with his blazing song.

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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mother and daughter on grass

Choosing Anti-Racist Teaching in 2020

Posted on December 1, 2020 by

When I first became a teacher 30 years ago, I knew my true self wouldn’t be 100% acceptable in mainstream public education. Suddenly I became ‘Miss Mason’, someone who instantly became an adult around children not all that much younger than myself. Definitely not what we would call anti-racist teaching today; that part of my self was shadowed as I set about doing what was expected.

I knew that my days of extremes were over. The jet black hair was artfully shaved and teased. Dark eye-liner, perfectly powdered skin, and personal statements adorning my body were no longer acceptable in my chosen profession.

The days of twenty-something expression of individuality – let alone political beliefs – were shelved. That’s a huge reason why I chose NOT to teach in my hometown; the idea of 24/7 censorship terrified me. I thought anti-racist teaching was impossible.

Slowly, though, I got used to doing what I should do.

Doing what I thought I should do as an English teacher, one mask replaced another. Teaching days became years. It was easy to fall into teaching reading strategies, traditional white male texts, journaling, book reports, reading logs…I was doing a great job teaching the content of English.

Just not so great at being myself.

And I did a good job. Kudos came my way: awards, great relationships with students. Marriage. Motherhood. Maturity. All the parts of life that are supposed to add depth and shape us into who we were meant to be.

mother and daughter on grass

Photo by Daria Obymaha on

Slivers of my real self slipped out occasionally, followed by sleepless nights. You know, the kind of teacher nightmares we have when we think we might have accidentally said something controversial? That anxiety of waiting to be called in, to listen to a parent complaint that teachers shouldn’t be saying those kinds of things in the classroom…

And then…2017

anti-racist teaching

One day in early 2017 one of my young UCD AVID tutors, “L”, pulled me aside and whispered, “I’m really sorry Mrs. Wolfe, but I can’t work here anymore. I have to lay low. I’m DACA, and I can’t do anything that might impact my enrollment here. I’ve got to go back home.”

I remember my shock, my confusion, and my anger as I looked into her eyes. “L” was a few years older than my own daughter, but she was Mexican, first-generation, and mine was white, from college-educated parents.

My daughter wasn’t feeling the need to go into hiding to save her education.

My daughter wasn’t moving back home, giving up her job, her friends, her life because of her ethnicity.

But “L” was. And I realized that staying silent in the classroom wasn’t going to change anything. Avoiding anti-racist teaching wasn’t going to create equity, or help someone else’s daughter or son. Teaching is a political act. Education is a political issue. And no longer was it a question of should I speak my truth – but I must.

“Just do right’

“Just do right”, Maya Angelou told us. But what does ‘doing right’ look like in education when it comes to anti-racist teaching? The last four years have shown America that whites must use their privilege to effect change. We must examine and change what we are teaching our children at home and in the classroom. Teachers must question if they have a job versus a platform for change, or if they teach for the money versus the opportunity to mold minds? 

I must ask myself if I’m afraid of anti-racist teaching. My students aren’t. They say, Why should we be afraid to talk about race? It just is.

So if we must talk and teach about it, why is it so hard to know where to start? And if kids aren’t afraid, why are adults?

Look for the leaders

In the article ‘America’s schools are failing black people: When will education have its own #BlackLivesMatter movement?’ the author S.E. Smith asserts:

Instead of confronting racial and cultural divides, American education only serves to further them. Racial division is an inescapable fact of primary and post-secondary education itself, thanks to huge gaps in education quality that are closely tied to race and socioeconomic status. Some of the nation’s most underperforming schools are in primarily minority areas, reflecting the diminished opportunities for the nation’s children of color. Moreover, students of all races and backgrounds are subject to wildly differing history curricula, with Southern students often instructed that the Civil War was a “War of Northern Aggression.” Those distinctions matter.

Discussion of race in the U.S. varies across the board depending on regional and district policies, the inclinations of an individual school, and a teacher’s personal approach. In a nation where some students learn about the civil rights movement and church burnings in detail, while others complete units in history class where slaves are treated as commodities just like cotton and sugar, race relations are going to be a serious problem.

So what are WE going to do about it?

Is it a question, finally, of should versus must? Is it even a choice?

Choosing must is a scary direction. It’s the place that pushes us outside of ourselves, that opens us up to criticism and ostracism. It leads us to vulnerability, to hurt, to isolation. But not to silence.

Author Elle Luna says, “Must is different. Must is who we are, what we believe, and what we do when we are alone with our truest, most authentic self. It’s that which calls to us most deeply. It’s our convictions, our passions, our deepest held urges, and desires — unavoidable, undeniable, and inexplicable. Unlike Should, Must doesn’t accept compromises.

Must is when we stop conforming to other people’s ideals and start connecting to our own — and this allows us to cultivate our full potential as individuals. To choose Must is to say yes to hard work and constant effort, to say yes to a journey without a road map or guarantees, and in so doing, to say yes to what Joseph Campbell called “the experience of being alive, so that our life experiences on the purely physical plane will have resonance within our innermost being and reality so that we actually feel the rapture of being alive.”

Choosing Must is the greatest thing we can do with our lives.”

Teaching my truth

The greatest thing I can do with my life as an anti-racist teacher is to teach my truth. I can’t hide behind worrying about what might happen when I step out of the shadow of expectation. Kids deserve to talk about racism, to hear their white teacher be honest about what is…and what could be. They deserve to hear the truth.

I must call it out and must be intentional about talking about books by BIPOC. Teachers must prod students’ thinking to make connections between what they read and write and what is…and what has been. We must teach about empathy, and justice, and equity.

I must be me, even when it’s scary – even when it’s easier to be someone else.



Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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Harmony: A Teacher’s Work-Life Balance

Posted on December 29, 2019 by

Finding harmony, or a ‘work-life balance’, is not always so easy. Teachers work in environments where we are on display, constantly being asked to flex one way or another, to group and individualize, to plan, execute, reflect and regroup.

Most of the time it’s doable – we find a rhythm to our classes and our workflow and especially after November harmony just happens.

Until it doesn’t. Usually because of an interruption. Or a disruption.

Or a life event that reminds us that being ‘on’ all day without anywhere to hide, without a place to retreat, leaves us very vulnerable.

As an educator, I feel like this sometimes:

In my part of the world, this is the treat in our fall and winter skies – murmurations of starlings, dancing in and out of formation. Their harmony is mesmerizing, only broken by the intrusion of a predator or a decision to rest.

When my dad died last month, this is what came to mind. A disruption of harmony. An intrusion. A storm of emotions and decisions and realities that threatened my equilibrium and pushed me out of teaching. It’s just impossible to face forward at times like this, looking into 120 sets of eyes that hunger for recognition and caring.

This time, I didn’t have a choice.

I just stopped. I focused on what I could do to make me happy, knowing that if I could recenter and regain a little bit of life harmony, the work harmony would fall into place.

A few days in, I heard a knock at my door ten minutes before class started. I hesitated to answer, afraid of how I would react to any sort of request. Surprisingly, when I pushed open the door a tiny little girl on crutches, blond braids slightly askew, chimed, “Mrs. Wolfe, can I show you something? I wrote my hook last night and I think it’s really good!

How could I say no to that? And as she read aloud the few sentences she’d crafted the night before, I smiled. What we’d been learning in my first period English class stayed with her overnight, urging her to write and create and share…a teacher’s dream.

I set an intention at that moment, seconds before the bell rang, to look for more.

“After a storm comes a calm”

Harmony appeared nearly every day after that. Rather than getting caught up in the needs of everyone else, I looked for tiny glimpses of hope that what we were creating in room A-1 meant something. I stepped back from worrying about being behind, and pushing to finish, and settled into the process. Watching the joy in students’ eyes when they ran over to me during reading time, novel in hand and exclaiming they noticed an example of dialogue written just the way we’d been learning about…or pointing to a character’s thinking and wondering why it was or wasn’t italicized.

I helped them push past perfectionism in their publishing and find a platform that best enhanced their narratives, challenging their creativity and showing them that they, too, are published authors.

As my flexibility increased in the classroom, the joy showered down on me and I feel the harmony easing back in. Teaching is hard if you do it right – just like parenting. It’s much simpler to look the other way; easier to take the path of least resistance. This month is teaching me to honor the ebb and flow of my life and of my classroom. I’m consciously practicing creating harmony in my personal life as well as my profession, and the navigation isn’t always smooth. Life cycles don’t always follow a predictable pattern. Stress builds, minds close, and boundaries grip us tightly.

Like the starlings, I’m learning how to rebalance. Practicing mindfulness so when harmony is disrupted, when an ‘intruder’ shakes up my center and pushes me out of bounds teaches me I can handle it. I can harness my power, listen to my rhythms, and swoop low when I need to.

I know I’ll rise up again.

If you’d like a copy of the narrative writing HyperDoc with lessons we’ve been doing, click here.

If you’ve got some ideas for bringing more harmony into our lives, please reach out – I’m confident there are many of us who could use a bit of help.

Jennifer Wolfe

Jennifer Wolfe, a writer-teacher-mom, is dedicated to finding the extraordinary in the ordinary moments of life by thinking deeply, loving fiercely, and teaching audaciously. Jennifer is a Google Certified Educator, Hyperdoc fanatic, and a voracious reader. Read her stories on her blog, mamawolfe, and grab free copies of her teaching and parenting resources.

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