Their faces shriveled up like little raisins, puckered with panic and surprise. Even though the 7th graders kept their angst non-verbal (ah, they're growing up!), the mere mention of the deadline for their first research paper was obviously producing epic inward groaning. That's when we had to have our talk, and I'm about to have the same talk with you. The truth is, I need this advice as much as anyone reading this right now: you don't have to stop being afraid, but stop letting that fear stop you.
I get why they're scared. We've been building up this essay for months to try and ensure they won't be That Kid. You know That Kid (maybe you were That Kid?): the one who doesn't read the project sheet, does all his or her "research" by playing Crystal Gemz Stackathon on Facebook, and "writes" his or her whole paper the night before by copying and pasting it off of Wikipedia. No teacher wants to read That Kid's research paper. So we instill a healthy dose of respect for the project. The thing is, my students are already work-conscious. In fact, a few of them are perfectionists. For those kids, that healthy dose of respect quickly turns to anxiety. What if they don't get the hang of the research paper? What if it's too hard for them after all? What if they can't think of what to say? They lose sight of the truth: in terms of day-to-day work, this project is just like any other that we do. We start it together. We do mini-lessons about each relevant skill. We have workdays in class where I confer with them. They might have a 30- to 45-minute portion to do at home each night based on what we started in class. We adjust our schedule based on our class needs. They email with questions and I answer them. The truth is, this is just another 7th grade assignment. The only thing different is the impression of newness ("we've never done a research paper before"). The unknown creates fear.
Fear in itself is not bad. There's no reason to try to extinguish rational fear. The fear of falling keeps us from getting too close to the edge of a cliff. The fear of hurting someone we love might remind us to watch our words and actions. The fear of failing a test might prompt us to study. Or actually do our homework and work on our research paper. Ahem. For some of my students, though -- those select few -- the fear feels like more of a foreboding mountain to climb than the beginning of an inspirational adrenaline rush. They stand at the base with tangled rope and freezing hands, feeling alone and unprepared. The fear obscures all the work we've done to bring them to this point and all the footholds set out before them.
Have you been there? I'm there right now in some ways. God brought me to this moment for a reason, but which path do I choose now? How do I begin the big things I want to accomplish? I'll tell you (and myself) what I tell my students: don't forget the big picture -- check in with it now and then to make sure you're on track -- but start with baby steps. You can't see how to get to the top of the mountain, but if you break it down into just what you have to do first, maybe that task will feel more manageable to you and you'll sit down to untangle your ropes. After that, maybe you'll focus on tying your knots. After that, maybe you'll be ready to take one step up the slope.
Each step builds momentum. Each word written on your document is one piece placed in the puzzle of mastery. And in a few days, before you realize it, you'll be standing on the summit -- or, in their case, holding their first finished research paper in their hands.
* * *One of the many, many baby steps I'm taking in my life right now is to start cooking dinner more often. And I have discovered, like so many of you, that roasted veggies are about the best things ever. Toss 'em in some olive oil with kosher salt and freshly ground pepper (and depending on the day, maybe some chili flakes and/or lemon juice and/or other goodies) and bake 'em until their crispy. One of my new favorite ways to eat roasted veggies is dipping them into this easy, tasty Garlic-Lemon Aioli. I love it on everything, and it takes about 20 seconds to whip together while the veggies are in the oven. Enjoy! What big project are you afraid to tackle? What baby step could you take today? One year ago: Super Bowl Munchies from Willow Bird Baking Two years ago: Three Delicious Ways to Celebrate World Nutella Day Three years ago: Strawberry Walnut Ricotta Muffins
Recipe by: Willow Bird Baking Yield:
This side dish can be whipped up in 20 minutes total, and it's so delicious! Make sure your asparagus are not overlapping or touching too much as they bake, because you want them nice and crispy.
Ingredients: 1 bunch asparagus with dead ends trimmed off 1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste 3/4 cup mayonnaise (pick your favorite brand, but obviously, you should use Hellmann's) 1 teaspoon minced garlic 1 tablespoon lemon juice
Directions: Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Toss trimmed asparagus with olive oil and spread out on two baking sheets. Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook for about 20 minutes, tossing once, or until roasted and crisp. Keep an eye on them, because asparagus with different thickness than the thin ones I used could take more/less time. Serve asparagus hot with garlic-lemon aioli for dipping.
Recipe by: Willow Bird Baking Yield: 2 servings
Roasting carrots brings out their gorgeous natural sweetness. Just like with asparagus and other veggies, make sure your carrots are not overlapping or touching too much as they bake, because you want them nice and crispy.
Ingredients: about a pound carrots with tops trimmed off (I don't peel mine -- just scrub them clean) 1 1/2 tablespoon olive oil kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Directions: Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Toss trimmed carrots with olive oil and spread out on a baking sheets (try not to overlap the carrots or have them touching too much -- you want 'em to get crispy!) Sprinkle with salt and pepper. Cook for about 30-35 minutes, tossing once, or until roasted and crisp. Keep an eye on them, because carrots with different thickness than the ones I used could take more/less time. Serve carrots hot with garlic-lemon aioli for dipping.
Recipe by: Adapted from Giada DiLaurentis Yield: 3/4 cup aioli
I usually serve this aioli as a dip for sweet potato fries, but I've recently discovered it's delicious with all vegetables. It's livened up my roasted veggie nights considerably!
Ingredients: 3/4 cup mayonnaise (pick your favorite brand, but obviously, you should use Hellmann's) 1 teaspoon minced garlic 1 tablespoon lemon juice
Directions: Mix mayonnaise, garlic, and lemon juice in a small bowl. Refrigerate until ready to use. Feel free to garnish with any fresh herbs you like -- basil or thyme would be nice. Serve with warm roasted asparagus, carrots, or sweet potato fries.