lessons learned from middle schoolers

This summer, I was blessed to work with middle schoolers as a tour leader with school groups heading to Washington D.C.. I was nervous about this age group — Would they like me? Would they make fun of me? Would they turn me into a meme? I was so nervous…. but after my first tour, I knew that this age group had something profoundly wonderful. A perfect mix of childlike innocence and teenage sass.

I would typically drive all day or the previous day and greet the group in the dark of night. We’d drive through the night to arrive before the airport opened. We’d get situated and get to the gate (sometimes, just in the knick of time) and be on our way to the nation’s capital.

After just four short (and very, very long) days with 7 different groups of amazing individuals, I learned hundreds of lessons and shared many laughs, tears, Pinstripes cookies, and sweaty steps throughout D.C..

I learned so many things this summer. In no particular order, here’s some wonderful things I learned from many wonderful students who won my heart.


Seize the opportunity. • Sometimes, you have to roll with the unexpected. Sometimes, the unexpected actually turns out better than you ever would have planned for.

“I’m going to miss you when we all go back home to Wisconsin, but I will always remember this trip because of you.”

Abbie

Your attitude is contagious. • The students would always ask me, “How are you so excited this early in the morning?” and I would reply that there were so many things to be excited about in the day. Later, when I’d be dragging after walking 15,000+ steps, their excitement to see the Lincoln Memorial as the sun set (even on my seventh time this summer) made me forget about my achy legs and tired eyes.

Kindness makes you memorable. • I don’t remember the names of the students who made me want to pull my hair out. I do, however, remember the names of the students whose kindness and love impacted me.

“You were o.k”

unknown student in anonymous note

Monkey see, monkey do. • There was one particular group of parents and adults that left an impact me as someone who aspires to be a mother someday. These parents and adults were from a community where they didn’t necessarily know one another, but on the trip they were close-knit, loving, and inclusive of one another throughout the experience. It was beautiful to then see their sons and daughters doing the same, following the example set by their parents.

Be yourself & love yourself. • I will never forget when a student purchased a pride flag and twirled around with a smile that no one could take away. If a middle school student can happily live their truth in a world that may not be kind about it, I surely can too.

“You are such a girl boss and seeing a confident woman like you is very comforting.”

Nadia

You may be different, but that doesn’t mean you can’t be friends. • This was a present theme — unlikely pairs that appeared on my tours, yet made the trip so much better for one another. Don’t judge a book by its cover, because it may turn out to be your absolute favorite.

The world is wide and we are small — we should encourage one another to explore. • I had many students who had their first experience on an airplane on the way to Washington, D.C. with me this summer. I felt privileged to be a part of their journey at such a pivotal moment, hopefully creating a love of travel in them the way I have had the same love ignited in me. It was extraordinary to see the way the students take care of one another, laugh together, and hold each others’ hands while taking off and landing.

Appreciate the people who invest in you. • At the end of each tour, I’d offer many thanks to my students and remind them to thank the MVPs both with us and at home for making the trip possible for them. I believe this stands as a good reminder for us all to understand that others make investments in us and a thank you goes a long way.

A quiet person can be amazing if you allow them space to be. • One of my students comes to mind when discussing this lesson. He was a quiet student, very close with his dad on the trip. I knew I wanted to be his friend and open his shell. It all started with a nickname and kind smiles, and ended with an award at the end of the week and big smiles that melted my heart. He reminded me that while everyone isn’t like me, they still can surprise you with their warmth that happens even without words.

“I will never forget about you. You really touched my heart.”

Emma

Giving is a learned behavior. • As any of my students could tell you by the end of our four days together, my favorite memorial in Washington D.C. is the Vietnam Women’s Memorial – sometimes referred to as the Nurses’ Memorial. Often, young women place hairties at the feet of these women (nicknamed Hope, Faith, and Charity) to honor their sacrifice and women in service. The girls did so nearly instinctually — giving is a learned behavior in their lives, even if it may seem like just a little ponytail. (All things left behind at the Vietnam Memorials are collected and will likely someday be put on display in a Museum.)

“I wish I had more women like you in my life. In just these four days you have showed me what a real woman looks like and how she acts. You made me want to live my life in a more positive way.”

Sophia

Life may not be easy, but respect will get you places. • On one of my tours, I mistakenly thought an adult that accompanied a student was his grandmother. She forgave me for my mistake, she stated that she was the boy’s aunt. She then told me of his rough childhood and home life and the fact that a few years prior she had taken full custody of him to give him a stable and loving home. This student was one of the most thoughtful and respectful boys I had all summer. I will always remember him.

Work really, really hard for what you want. • There was a student on my tour who had worked her tail off for nearly two years to afford the trip of a lifetime to our nation’s capital. She proudly wore a sweatshirt on the trip — a sweatshirt her employer had gifted her just before the trip because they understood that her time and dedication was paying for this trip and wanted to give her a little something extra. She was a terrified flyer and was very ready to get home by the end of the four days… but I have a feeling that it’s a trip she won’t forget. I won’t forget her and her dedication to making sure she got what she wanted.

Don’t stand for something unless you know what it means. • While this summer had amazing highlights, you can also learn lessons from the moments that hurt your heart a little bit. It was hard for me to see young, impressionable minds symbolically standing for something that they don’t even have the capacity to understand fully. It is a reminder for us all to be informed in order to have educated and fully developed opinions.

Your smile can light up a room. • One particular student comes to mind… when he smiled, we all smiled.

“I love how much you show your true self and make us all feel worthy.”

Paige

Sometimes, you just need a hug. • I’m a hugger to begin with — but sometimes, words just can’t even begin to say what a hug can mean. Hug it out.

Memories are worth more than money. • I didn’t make a whole lot of cash this summer. What I did make felt like it disappeared quickly with personal travel and school expenses. However, the memories I made this summer will last a lifetime and I’m so grateful for the opportunity to make these students smile, share important pieces of American history with them, and have a plethora of dance parties and bus karaoke. (Some days, I miss this summer a lot and I watch all of these videos!!!!)

“Bust down.”

Rylan

You make a bigger impact than you realize. • I could recount tons of stories here. Text messages, photo captions, a birthday card, handwritten notes, a postcard… my students showed me love in ways that made me laugh and ways that made me cry. I really never thought about how this job would open a door for me to impact young people and be impacted by them at the same time — but it absolutely did. I could quote their words and speak of the gifts I was given, but it’s better to just say that I have the utmost gratitude for each of my students, their parents and adults, and the teachers that made my summer trips possible.

“You have made a difference.”

Katie

If you ever have the chance, hang out with a middle schooler.

You may just learn a few things along the way.

I know I did, and I am a better woman because of my experiences this summer.

“You weren’t just our tour leader, you are our friend.”

Colson

No words could be enough — but I’m a graduate student now, so it’s back to the homework grind. I just needed to make sure to document these thoughts before the summer fades.

always,

Alex

P.S. If you went to D.C. this summer with me & you’re reading this — I love you, and I hope you loved your trip with me.

the commencement speech I never gave

I graduated on Saturday.

At my beloved alma mater, I was a finalist for commencement speaker.

I wasn’t selected, but I had a good mindset going in: I have done all I can. I no longer feared the failure, I knew that it was going to be exactly how it was supposed to be.

Turns out I wasn’t meant to be commencement speaker… and that’s okay. I got to enjoy my last several weeks of college, and I didn’t have to stress over not crying on stage in front of a couple thousand people.

However, I still feel this words on my heart. So here’s a “rendition” of sorts of the commence speech I never gave… and to my fellow seniors, we did it!

My name is Alexandra Farber, and I am fully aware that my classmates are all students who have accomplished great things, inspired many, and impacted our community…. and now, a small town girl from Britton, South Dakota will share a few words.

A classmate once said to me, “Our experiences at SDSU are so different,” when I was discussing the variety of meetings and activities on my schedule for the day. This couldn’t be more true. My experience involved the Students’ Association, CAPERS, State A Thon, Step Team, Intramurals, Honor Societies, Undergraduate Research, and so much more. Even though our experiences are vastly different, I wanted to find a way to relate to all the members of the SDSU class of 2019.

My thoughts kept circling back to one word: FAILURE.

I know, probably not the word you were expecting! I asked several classmates, fellow seniors, to enlighten me in my speech-writing process and narrow down their four-year experience into just one word. There was a variety of answers: growth, discovery, opportunities, excitement, friendship, love, and community… just to name a few!

While I am sure many of these terms relate to your college years, my mind kept floating back to a conference I attended last fall. There, I was introduced to the idea of a “Failure Memoir,” where we reflect back on our experiences in terms of all the ways in which we have already failed.

So here’s the thing… Our lives are the way they are today because we have failed. If I hadn’t failed, I probably would be an excellent pianist or an Olympic swimmer. Both of these, I failed in middle school. Now, I can no longer read music or swim a couple laps without getting winded.

In our collegiate experiences, we have all failed. I failed to star in an SDSU production, I failed to become lifelong friends with every person along the way, I failed assignments, I fail to wash the dishes in a timely manner (sorry, roommates!), and so far, I failed to keep off the freshman 15, find my the love of my life… I’ve failed to accomplish all that I hoped to do as a bright-eyed freshman when I lugged my room and my life into Honors Hall room 210, and today I’m sure I will fail in my valiant attempt not to cry as I hug my parents.

Failure is hard. and it hurts. Failure makes us question ourselves and the world around us.

Failure has taught me so many lessons. Failure has made me strong. Failure has shaped me into the woman I am. The idea of the failure memoir is to allow ourselves to realize that we have already failed. It somehow makes any future failure seem less daunting. Even though I know I will fail time and time again, I know that this success today is just one of many that await us.

As I began to write my own Failure memoir, I came to realize it was a resume of what I didn’t achieve. Our memories are selective. Our brains push aside the failures. In 5, 10, or 50 years we will not remember that extremely difficult economics exam or the group project that cost us a night of sleep, the speech that made our voices quiver, the time we slipped on the ice, a lost intramural championship, or forgot, once again, to wash the dishes. Our failures may not be our best memories, but they hold the best lessons.

What will we remember? We will remember this moment. We’ll remember the people who reminded us that while we fail, we are not failures. We’ll remember the passion-fueled paper or project that reminded us why we selected our programs. We will remember the 4 Hobo Day celebrations, our beloved clubs and organizations, internships that kick-started our careers. We will remember our residence halls, our first time on the 9 dance floor, and, because we’re the class of 2019, we’ll remember things like the Frost parking lot, and the use of Doner auditorium. We will remember accomplishing goals after we believed we could not. We will remember thriving off of coffee and pizza. We will remember screaming GO JACKS at the top of our lungs. We’ll remember mentors and professors who helped us to fall in love with our future professions. We will remember this place and the monumental impact it has had on our lives.

So as we leave here today and go on to face the world around us, I hope you are unafraid to fail. Because, the growth, discovery, opportunities, excitement, friendship, love, and community we have experienced here are the products of our failures. I hope you remember that your failures will not define you, but instead they will enlighten you and reinforce your purpose in this world. I hope you will remember that your successes, alongside your failures, brought you here, and that, as we all know, right here is a pretty great place to be.

Today, my friends, we have succeeded.

This is what we will remember.

Oh, and we’ll always remember: GO JACKS.

I love that this blog gives me a space to share some of my creativity, thoughts that I have (because I’m terrible at journaling), and connect with others.

This one’s for my classmates.

We’ve failed… but in the end, we’ve all succeeded in amazing ways, too.

So… I’m proud of you, congratulations, and go jacks.

always,

Alex

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the breakfast club: dance 231

My dance professor ended our final class period by saying… “In my twenty years of teaching many classes, I can say that this one has been my favorite and really mean it because of all of you. I have dubbed this group “The Breakfast Club.” Laughter and cheers exploded in the studio. 

Our Breakfast Club: 9 college students of different ages, backgrounds, and dance experience who came together for a 2-credit dance technique class…. a class that I’m sure none of us will ever forget. 

tappin’ away 

I’m honestly so sad to be writing this blog, because it means that the semester is over. I can’t even think of the right words to describe how this class has impacted me, but the sentiments that my professor left as feedback on my final reflection summarize my vibe pretty well: 

Your positive attitude toward the class, my teaching, and the content played a large role in your learning. It was fun to watch your confidence and skill improve over the semester. It was also refreshing to watch you be empowered as you worked through relationship issues. You seem like a very different person today than the one who walked into the studio in August.

-Mel 

I cried reading those words. 

As a senior, it’s easy to think back on collegiate experiences and feel pangs of regret. “I should’ve done this, I wish I had never done this, If I could do it again I’d do this…” all of these are common thoughts. My version? I wish I had become a dance minor.  As I finish this semester, however, I no longer view this as a regret. I truly believe that I was meant to take this dance class in this season of my life. It has benefitted me so greatly both mentally and physically as my life has done a 180º turn in the past year. As life was changing and I was changing, this class was a beautiful reminder that dance will always be there for me. I smile as I reflect back on my time spent in the studio this semester.

Some of my favorite moments of the semester have been the beginning of the class period where Mel asked us how we’re doing. This question isn’t the surface level “How are you?” where everyone responds, “Oh, I’m good!” We all wore our hearts on our sleeves… even if it happened by stating what item of furniture we felt like that day. On more than one occasion, I felt like a doormat when I entered the classroom and left feeling like the comfy recliner. Tears were shed in our class… but none were because of what was happening inside the studio. The studio was a safe haven from the craziness of college and life. The studio was where our Tuesday and Thursday mornings began, quite often with a smile. This is what I will remember most. 

a group of us also took part in the Christmas Celebration!

As I look back on the goals that I set at the beginning of the semester, I am proud to say that I feel proud of what I have accomplished. My first goal was to increase love /appreciation for my own body. I have given myself so much love this semester. (yaaasss!) Beyond the studio, I’ve spent hours at the gym, I’ve practiced more positive self-talk, I have spent time in reflection. I have become active on social media in encouraging others, especially women, to love themselves, be encouraging to others, and live their truth. In the studio, I gave my all… my FitBit happily tracking my morning dance sessions as a workout. While I didn’t always succeed at keeping my emotions out of the studio (thanks for the hugs, Mel), dance helped me to channel many emotions. 

My second goal was to improve my technical skills / embrace a new learning style. This was so much easier than I anticipated. I have learned new terminology, frameworks, and steps and put them into action. My mind has opened to new pedagogy both for dance and collegiate instruction. The word I would use to describe Mel (Dr. Hauschild-Mork) would be transformative. I hope to implement what I learned from her in my own classroom next year. I felt challenged by the content, but in the way that every person who enjoys learning wants to be stretched… just beyond the comfort zone. I feel like a much stronger dancer due to not only the refreshing of old techniques but the addition of new techniques, terminology, and dance history. It was equally as wonderful to see this growth in my classmates, especially those who had not danced in this kind of setting before. I felt so giddy watching them nail a move or step… perhaps even more so when they didn’t quite nail the step but gave it their all and had a smile on their face. That’s what it’s all about. 

Me being ridiculous, Matty laughing… the usual 

In this class, while we all formed a great friendship (so much so that we asked to be randomly assigned to groups for the final project), we also formed awesome relations with our randomly assigned ‘dance buddies’ from the first week. I was lucky enough to be paired with two lovely ladies because our class had an uneven number. During our final exam time, we shared a thank you note and small, homemade gift with each of our dance buddies. I will cherish the words of thanks that my dance buddies wrote me: 

“Alex, you’re probably one of my favorite people to get feedback from. Your positivity tempers my tendency to hear feedback as huge negatives I take personally. I want to thank you for your supportive disposition and constant encouragement that is felt in all you say and do.” 

– a dance buddy 

Oh miss Alex, thank you for your words of encouragement throughout this dance course. It had been a long time since I had danced in this way and I came in feeling very nervous. You made me feel like I was doing a good job and that my body looked beautiful while doing the moves. You are a strong woman, Alex. You will dance on to do great things.” 

– a dance buddy 

…like, wow. I was blown away by their kind words and even more touched by the hint of sparkle in each of their eyes as I read these words out loud. What truly beautiful souls filled the dance studio this semester. I don’t always feel positive; I don’t always feel strong. I aim to be an encourager in what I say and do and I know that I sometimes fail… but these two amazing ladies made me feel like a million bucks by sharing their experiences with my encouragement. I feel like God is showing me my divine purpose more and more every day and he did so even within the dance studio this semester. I left a mark on these two ladies, and they left their mark on me. I am so grateful for the friendships made in this class… I could add many more examples. 

my final choreo group 🙂 

One last thing that I am thankful for as I end this semester was the opportunity to see Haley each and every Tuesday and Thursday. We planned this accordingly so that we could take this class together during her first semester as a jackrabbit. After four years of friendship from afar, driving Haley to dance class, listening to worship music with her, and reflecting on our days has been such a highlight of my semester. Haley often reminds me of myself. I refer to her as my “little sister.” I have expressed to her that I am so happy that she can continue to learn from Mel and advance her dance career here at State. Through Haley, I will live my “what if.”  

my friend, my sister

The fact that I have accomplished my goals, made friendships, danced my heart out, and learned so much more than the Cincinnati step just furthers the idea that I was meant to take this class during this season of my life. I will always look back on this class as one of the most impactful classes for me here at SDSU and as a constant reminder to never stop dancing (and to never forget the breakfast club.)

To my breakfast club pals: I love you all and you’re wonderful. Thank you so much for creating the environment we shared this semester. The class was amazing, Melissa’s pedagogy is transformative… but the class could never be the same without each and every one of you. 

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“fix me,” a note to my educators

Today, my classmate came to class and expressed some back pain to my dance professor. The tone of her voice lent me to believe that it’s been a long week. Well.. I feel ya, sister. She said something along the line of “my back has been spasming, and I was just hoping you could, y’know… fix me?”

We all laughed, but I found myself pondering her words throughout the class. This statement is more understandable if you know our dance professor. Quite frankly, she’s amazing. Her pedagogy is transformative; her interactions with students are truly inspiring. Her background knowledge of body mechanics and dance therapy are astounding and wonderful in a stressful semester of college… well, any semester. I couldn’t be more grateful to be learning from her and growing as a human and a dancer this semester in her class (I could write a whole blog about that.)

As someone who is praying a lot about becoming an educator, I find myself thinking back on the great teachers of my life….

  • my (favorite) second grade teacher who I later student-taught for and learned so much from about caring for young learners
  • my high school science teacher who was the only one to ask me about my accident despite the fact that I wasn’t great at science and talked too much in her classes
  • my high school math teacher who pushed me and challenged me every step of the way and let me know that a ‘B’ would not ruin my life (this made me a better learner, even though I stink at math… and I’m still a perfectionist, but working on it.)
  • my first college professor who saw me struggling to find my fit just one month into college and told me she believed in me. She has continued to be by my side through it all… even allowing me to teach beside her for a semester.
  • a professor who took a chance on me to work with her on a project that became my nerdy research pet project…a professor who later asked to “please go through my Europe photos” and have a life update in her office after a summer apart.
  • my dance professor who has completely changed the way I view pedagogy and active learning, who continually shows me she cares with and without words.

All of these educators come to mind as I prepare to apply for graduate school. The lessons I have learned from those educators are what make me feel capable to teach freshmen next year.

I have found the common thread: a great educator is someone who not only cares about what I’m learning in the classroom, but someone who cares about who I am outside of the classroom.

So, today, as I round out week three of the #mytruthiestlife challenge by Lisa Hayim (@thewellnecessities) I am grateful for teachers who have opened my eyes, asked me questions, challenged me, seen potential in me when I didn’t see it in myself, allowed me to cry or laugh or smile, inspired me, and who have truly been there when the only words I could utter were “fix me.”

Educators, you rock. 

Always,

Alex