It is a holiday week. I do not have to go into work. However, that doesn’t mean I am not working. If you are reading this and you are not a teacher, please read and believe me when I tell you: teachers NEVER take a day off. Even today I am planning lessons and thinking about things I want to do for my students. I am actually annoyed with myself that I am about to do some more work for school when I could do something else. I am about to have a Bath…a quiet all by myself bubble bath. While I am doing it I will be reading for work. It is my compromise. No such thing as a day off.
I am a Parent. I am a Teacher. These things are so intertwined. I am thinking about my children 24/7/365. All of my children. I know I am not alone. I am aware that I think, talk, and advocate for my biological children all the time. You can’t know me without knowing that…it is what it is. When you meet me, you meet my kids too. Maybe never face to face, but they inform my every decision, my every choice.
When I am out there in the world living life, I’m also always thinking about my students, past, present, and future. What is amazing is the moments I am hanging with another teacher who is doing the exact same thing for their children. I see you. I hear you. I love you. Keep doing you! I see you in the supermarket. I see those extra bunches of bananas or apples you are going to take to school. I see those packs and packs of knit “one size fits all” gloves you toss into your cart. I hear you planning ahead – your schedule, your bulletin board, your budgets. I hear you talk about them all as if they are your own. I see those painful smiles – those “I wish I could do more” looks as you buy tissues, paper, pencils, socks, deodorant, books, balloons, granola bars, coats and shoes. I love you for it.
I am also realizing that all teachers have challenges and goals, no matter their school system’s support level. Recently I got a little snarky with my mom. She was chatting with me on the phone and casually mentioned she wondered if my daughter’s teacher needed new supplies. I was thrown off and she reminded me that the initial letter home to Kindergarten parents (that I was coerced to copy for her very involved grandparent) stated that each child needed to bring in the large list of classroom supplies at the beginning of the year and possible replenish mid-year. I found myself getting nasty with my mom and told her to send supplies directly to her teacher at the school. I took a breath and said I was sorry. I was irritable because I was feeling overwhelmed. I felt overwhelmed because I was not wanting to buy the supplies for my daughter’s classroom myself because what little surplus money we have for that kind of thing was going to go for my work classroom. Then I felt guilty because I was putting my school children before my own, or so I thought. It can be a tough situation. In the end, I let my mom spend money on her granddaughter’s room and I spent money on my students.
At my school, we don’t really ask or require parents to send in supplies. Many of the families don’t have the money and to create a list to send home can create tension, excuses, and shame. I don’t teach in one room. Every period is a new group of kids in a new room. It can be tough to create a home-like environment. I know that many of my colleagues spend a lot of our paychecks making sure every room we teach in has chalk, dry erase markers, tissues, pens, pencils, folders, binders, sharpeners, staplers, cleaning supplies, paper, and sometimes food. I bring in house plants. When I think about this, I want to get annoyed with my daughter’s teacher for being greedy. Then I remember it’s not her I am upset with – its the system. The societal lack of concern for education and environment in this country. I am happy that my daughter’s teacher wants create the best environment in which she can learn. I am fortunate that she feels she can ask for supplies and invest her personal money on other things. I have seen her classroom and there is NO WAY everything in there was covered by a school budget. Plus, this lady emails us CONSTANTLY. It’s great. She updates us with photos, lesson plan ideas and progress. She oozes love for my kiddo, she gives her time and effort always.
This is such a tender issue and a tender time for Educators. We are constantly evaluated, threatened, lied to, confused, redirected, competing, and spread too thin. But we keep giving. We give. All day. Every day. We give. We won’t stop. We can’t stop.
Yesterday, I was at a Professional Development – on a Saturday. I was surrounded by a ton of other teachers donating their “day off” to brainstorm more ways we can give. Never a day off for teachers. We give. I was seated across the table from another teacher. She was writing in her notes and I smiled. I saw stuffed into her notebook some cool learning sticker things. She saw me looking and said that she found them in the store on her way to the PD. She thought they would help one of her English Language Learner students. She showed them to me but the whole time I could see that dream like thought inside her head where she envisions her student, her child, learning and happy. She gives.
This is what it is all about I guess. Right now we are amidst a political earthquake and the fate of Public Education is trembling and crumbling in the hands of a person who knows nothing, cares very little and won’t give…to our children. Please, if you read this, find a teacher or a school and give. It’s not hard and it feels really good. Sponsor a student team or club. Share your time and knowledge with those kids. Go outside your comfort zone and neighborhood. Meet new people and make lasting connections. Invest in our future. Get involved. Be the community our children, all children need. Don’t think too much about it – give of yourself. Then find new ways, new minds, new opportunities.
Then give some more. You will be rewarded in ways you cannot believe or comprehend.
I have a lot of ideas percolating through my mind and I am not certain I am able to have a specific well written response to these ideas at this time. Yet, I acknowledge that my teaching and personal life are a bit tumultuous and I must commit to getting some of these ideas out in order to make sense of it all later.
So much change has happened in the past month, every one around me is a bit shell shocked. Usually I feel like I am the only one in a haze, but I seem to have a lot of company in my WTF cloud. I have to admit that in the beginning this blog was therapeutic in a way. I began it to find a way to release some of my experiences and let go of the baggage I was carrying around as a teacher in this system. However, very quickly I was scared. I was scared to let anyone know I was writing. I was scared to have anyone read this, and even worse, figure out it is me. I needed to write about some of the things I experience in my travels through Education, but immediately knew it was dangerous.
Dangerous for many reasons. First of all, I want to share stories of my insane day, yet I want to protect the privacy of my students. I don’t want to disrespect them, but it is so necessary for teachers to have a venting outlet of what we experience. Because honestly, no one else gets it. I want to make sense of the pedagogy, administrative choices or lack of both. I want to reflect on my own practice in a safe and productive manner. I want to reflect on the choices of others and my take away from their ideas without publicly “outing” my colleagues. I want to laugh. I want to be angry. I want to be a part of the change we need and support what is working. I also want to shout out the atrocities I see and eradicate them from my children’s path.
Unfortunately the daunting task of facing the dangers above in a respectful and private manner have left me sitting here, not writing. SO, I think it is time I push myself a wee bit out of the old comfort zone again and get to task. I have decided I am going to write more worry less. I am going to get active in whatever way possible each day. For I come from a place of love, respect and dedication to my students and those that feel the same. How can that be wrong?!
Onward. Shall we?
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Recently a Guidance Counselor wanted to thank me for some things I had done for one of my students. She sat me down and said that thanks to me and another teacher, the trajectory of this child’s life had changed for the better. As she was telling me this, I knew it was true, but also didn’t see anything I had done as out of the ordinary. I had made a connection, listened, set boundaries and goals, held him to high standards and coached him through some mistakes. It is essentially what I do everyday, what many of my colleagues do every day.
I started to respond and brush it off – or at least down play my role in all of it and she cut me off. She said that my interest and commitment to what is right provided this kid with a new option, a new glimpse at himself for the future and it is about time I gave myself a pat on the back because that is exactly what she was going to do. I thought about it for a moment. I said thank you. She thanked me and we moved on to something else.
This moment stuck with me though. I really let my heart and mind marinate on her words. It got me to thinking, as teachers in a broken system, we are beat down and trudging through a tunnel of shortcomings, failing to meet benchmarks and looking at where we need to have/provide/do more. What would happen if I took even five minutes of my day to look at it all through the lens of achievement and success? What would happen if I took even the smallest moments of accomplishment and made them the star of my thoughts?
So I did it.
I spent five minutes reflecting on my contributions to a student’s success. Very quickly five minutes was up and I was feeling great. I was smiling and encouraged and motivated. Five minutes of fabulous. Then I started to think, isn’t it a good thing to recognize in yourself and others the positive contributions we make? Why is it that teachers especially are being forced to focus on the work not yet conquered when flipping your mind to the celebrations of achievement encourage you to do MORE?
Since this chat with the guidance counselor, I have increased my dedicated celebration time to 15 minutes. This may sound silly but while at work, I am forcing myself to take at least 15 minutes and see all my work through a celebration lens. It is amazing.
Today I celebrated helping a new Senior student get involved with the Band. He was a transfer student and very shy. I knew he could play many instruments from a connection I made with him at the beginning of the school year. So when he was doing poorly in an AP Chem class ( he didn’t even need to take) I suggested that if his parents take him out of the class, they get him a music class or allow him to have a jam session lunch with one of our music teachers. I had already cleared it with the music teacher. The parents thought about it and eventually took him out the class. Today, I had the pleasure of walking through the Auditorium to see him warming up for a concert and preparing to play at the January Graduation ceremonies. He smiled from ear to ear and waved to me like an excited little kid. It lit up my heart and I reminded myself, I helped make this moment. It felt great and makes me want to make more moments like it.
So why not…why not take five, fifteen, or fifty minutes each day to refocus and re-frame your day on the contributions you’ve made to happiness? It is soul preserving goodness and is helping me be a better teacher and person, fifteen minutes at a time. I encourage anyone reading this to try it. Right now even. Pat yourself on the back for helping someone have a better day. Well done, you.
I am getting some things together before class and I received a text message from one of my Seniors. He is not coming in to school today. He is reviewing with me all the people he has contacted and will contact to notify of this situation. This is huge because he has had almost five, yes, five high school years of crap attendance and no accountability. I have been all over him about the need to change this particular character trait. It is working. He is currently phoning the school to leave voicemails for his Phys. Ed and other teachers to inform them that he has some stomach issues and cannot make it. Progress.
This week back, this New Year return to school has been busy and a little sobering. It seems like so many of my students…more than I can recall have lost the desire to learn. They entered school in September with little hope or motivation. Now that we have had 10 days off and many of them are preparing to graduate or move on, well, it is so obvious that they won’t. In one week I have sat in on five conversations with different Seniors where their Guidance Counselor had to tell them their plans for graduating are derailed. Five kids realised this week alone that they will have to go to summer school OR go to a night school program. Sad. Sad because most of them didn’t care. Or at least I should say they did not give them impression they cared nor did they investigate any option of rescue.
What is happening here? Why do they seem so indifferent? What is out there for them that feels comforting enough that a High School Diploma isn’t necessary? Or is it that what is out there is so depressing that this is a drop in the Ocean?
I need to meditate on this and well get an action plan. This felt horrible in each meeting and my quick reflection is really highlighting the need for some Hope.
That is something that I have been chewing on all semester. I have so many students who have told me to my face that they have no hope. Those words! Most of this was around the election time. But still. No Hope?! Many of them do not dream or think of their place in the world for their future. They are drifting along and waiting for someone to propel them into something or to expire. Ugh. this is sad. We need a Hope Induction. Suggestions appreciated.
We have under a lot of change, stress, confusion at school – typical. But we have a new leader at the Helm. At first this person was temporary and now maybe not so much. Our new leader is implementing changes that could be positive depending on your POV.
Very recently, a good friend and colleague was in the whirlwind of some of these power shifts. Her classroom and daily routines were to be upturned and new members of staff would be involved in the running of her classrooms and life. At first it was scary and I think she was dreading what was on the horizon. She asked me for advice. I thought and thought and then realised something. If these new and old people finally want to step forward to help…let them. Don’t decide how bad it will be before they have begun. I told her to Be Open to it. Then at least if it doesn’t work, she can say and prove she tried to be a team player. I told her to step to the side and only protect/fight if necessary. But rather be a positive beacon of support and calm that others can gravitate to and feel calm. Perhaps this is good advice for many of us on this imminent change of Power.
We can try pour best to be open, supportive but diligently protective of what is right and just.
It is holiday season. In my school that usually coincides with escalation in anxiety, behavior problems and attendance issues. I am always scanning and worried about kids not having warm jackets, gloves, hats or clothes. It is a delicate dance we do to not offend or embarrass our students while also trying to offer assistance. I keep bags of extra t-shirts sweaters and hats in a locker. I knit scarves and hats to give away. I worry. I watch. I pray.
Then the other day I saw this poem. Yes a poem scratched into a table in our library. When I showed it to a colleague, she said you know it’s real hunger, it got them to their soul. We took a deep breath and then as if by coordinated magic, we got down to business. Trying to find another way to get food to more places the kids hang out so as to feed a hungry child without having to identify them as “hungry”. See, many students, almost all, in my school qualify for a free lunch. However, not all of them choose to go to the lunchroom. Also, some kids’ whose parents make enough money and don’t qualify for the food, well, they don’t necessarily give their kids money to eat either. In short, we have a lot of hungry kids. Kids that won’t tell you they are hungry or don’t know how to get help. We try to have food delivered from the cafeteria to certain offices or classrooms so we can get food to more children. We need to get food to those kids feeling the pain without identifying them. I know we will have fruit or cereal available near where this kid wrote and I pray he or she can fill up on nourishment and let go of some anger.
The poem reads:
Food, Hungre and Angry
I could go
food but the
hunger will fill
me with pain
I’ll let my anger on you.
Tomorrow will be my first day back to work. I am a little nervous. I hate that I missed the wind up. The meetings and the chance to get things in order. However, it has been really good for me to sit at home and try to get healthier. It has caused me to rethink some of my goals and expectations of myself.
I am assigned two self-contained writing classes. I have made the decision to turn these into Creative Writing classes. I am not asking permission or asking for curriculum. I am doing what I want because I ALWAYS try to do right by the kids. It will be fun. It will be a lot of work but a labour of love.
I have to spend the next few days getting to know my new students and their needs so we can make the best use of some artistic endeavours. I have found that giving anyone a chance to use art to express and work through challenges produces the best results.
It is almost surreal. I am at home on the first day of school. This was a difficult choice. In the middle of August, I got sick. A bad cold or sinus issue that eventually became pneumonia. Thankfully I caught the Pneumonia in time that I didn’t end in the hospital or dead.I have never had pneumonia and I can tell you as an asthmatic – it is HORRIBLE. I was in the Doctor’s office on Friday when he sent me across the street to the hospital for x-rays and blood cultures. Today is Tuesday and it is supposed to be my first day back to school. I didn’t want to miss. I had planned on going in. I had told my husband and family that I would go in for a half day. That was the plan. There are no students today so I figured it would be OK. However, this morning, I could barely move. I am so exhausted and it is really difficult to breathe. So I gave in and agreed to stay home.
I actually like first days. I like the meetings and the hopeful plans. Its still a day where there is a glimmer of greatness to be had. I sent emails and text messages to my AP and other teachers. My husband is disgusted that I have still yet to hear back from anyone on administration…I can’t get disgusted because it will just set me up for a whole school year of disgust. This is who they are. I have heard from colleagues and they have been scampering around to get me any important info I need. Teachers are great. that is ALWAYS true.
So my husband had to leave and I have a few hours before my daughter gets off the bus. I decided to start planning and get some writing done. Planning because – YES we don’t have a scooby-doo of what classes we are teaching until today. It is ridiculous. I have to spend my summer trying to pseudo plan and hope for the best.
On a whim I requested two writing classes. I have done 8 years of ICT and I felt like I needed a break. I am a Special Education license and a theatre license. My plan was to get some self contained writing classes and turn them into theatre classes. Playwriting, Storytelling and self discovery. I am gobsmacked that I actually got what I asked for – that has NEVER happened. Now I REALLY wish I had all summer to plan. That shit would be done and ready to roll. I can do this though. It is officially a labour of Love. I am pumped. I can breathe well and can hardly move but inside there are fireworks.
I decided today that I am going to chronicle this year, this journey. It all starts here. Home on my deck. It all starts with Pneumonia.