I Remember November


I am missing a lot this November. I don’t just mean our normal holiday plans being curtailed because of the pandemic. I missing my November school routine. I am in a new position and school this year, as you know, and I find myself missing the routines and traditions of my previous community.

Right around now, my students and I would have been finishing our drama reading of A Christmas Carol. We would have talked about empathy, kindness, self-isolation, social duty, being a part of the world instead of closing ourselves off from it. We would have put our discussions and my admonitions into action by collecting food for local families to give them a hearty Thanksgiving meal when they might not have the means to do so for themselves, students sitting in our very period having sometimes been the recipients of that generosity. It made an impact for my teenage heroes to know that their schoolmates, classmates, a person sitting next to them could either benefit or go without as a direct result of their action or inaction. It was their chance to be Scrooge, either his old self or the new.

Then, next week, right before Thanksgiving, we would all dress up, pack our lunches, and pile on the buses to head into downtown Indianapolis to watch this story brought to magical life on the stage of Indiana Repertory Theatre. It was the official start of the holiday season for many in our school, that trip to the theatre. I got to take my students, many of whom would not have been able to afford it otherwise, to one of the most beautiful theatres in the state to view professional and young actors alike bring to life characters into whom my own students had breathed over the past few weeks as we read the play aloud.

I miss that this year. I miss tearing up as I broke down Marley’s monologue for students, his regret, his remorse, his wish he had done more but was now powerless to do anything at all. I miss hearing the sniffles scattered throughout my classroom upon Tiny Tim’s death and his family’s grief. I miss clapping my hands on my hips with my best Cockney accent and bantering with the student playing Old Joe as one of the washerwomen pawning Scrooge’s belongings after his grim future death.

I miss talking to my students about love, compassion, gratitude, generosity, starting over, doing better, having courage, and being kind.

“But you can still do that!” voices around me cry.

Ostensibly that may be true, but, right now, in the world and schedules in which we live, it feels as though there is no time. No time to stray down these paths of social-emotional encouragement, wellness, and growth. No time–regardless of what we have been told to the contrary–to set aside the academics and teach my students was is true and good and most important in the world. While intentions may be good in telling us that academics can be set aside, that sure is not the way it feels to me as a teacher. The impetus and imperative to produce grades and results feel as heavy and insistent as ever.

I am trying to tie these important values and character practices in to what we are discussing now in my new classroom, when we connect our readings back to our first quarters’ themes of Values and Justice, courage, integrity, and equity. I am trying. I promise you, I am trying.

But it’s hard. The soil of many souls feels frozen, walled off, and protected in these difficult times. We are facing more illness, more death, and even more separation as the times of coming together draw nearer and nearer. It’s hard.

I miss November.

The Struggle With Moving Staircases


One of the many amazing things that Harry Potter discovers upon his first night at Hogwarts is that the staircases move! Yes, indeed, the staircases throughout Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry move seemingly of their own accord (a trait which appears to have been built into the very walls of that castle). This is stated to be quite disconcerting, not to mention disruptive to important plans, such as getting to class on time. How on earth is one supposed to climb a staircase that is moving?

That is where I am in this moment, Dear Readers: trying to climb a staircase that is constantly moving and thus changing my direction and destination. I do not doubt that your current state of life is much the same. Change is always weird for me but, right now, for this mom and teacher, the shift is downright unsteadying. It is unsettling when a dear one can ask me, “How is school planning going?” twice in the same hour and the answer can be different from one end of the hour to the other, because something somewhere has changed in that short space of time. Something that upsets the whole balance of everything I have hitherto planned or worked on. But this is the new reality of our world, isn’t it? A world of moving staircases, split-second changes, and necessary flexibility, adaptation, and improvisation. As a teacher, my experience with change is constant and never-ending; however, that does not in any way make it an easy thing. Nor, do I realize, is it easy for anyone else, and, I know, Dear Reader, that nothing is easy for you right now either.

You are navigating your own moving staircases of whether or not to send your child back to in-person classes or figuring out childcare or giving heartfelt reassurances if the decision has been taken out of your hands by circumstance. Believe me, I get you. I feel you, Dear Reader. All the staircases are moving on us, and we are being forced to hold on and figure out our way from our new starting point. But it will be okay.

No, it’s definitely not okay right now, I agree. We are not okay right now, absolutely. But it will be okay. We keep heroing on, you and me and everyone else out there. We hold on and hold fast as the staircase moves and then forge a way forward when it stops. The path may be halting, may be very stop-and-start for a while, but we will make it. We will get through it together. Again, while we are not in the same boat or even the same particular storm in some cases, we are still in the same ocean. We are still in this together, no matter how different our circumstances or our struggles. We can still reach out and find someone who hears us, feels us, and understands us and our struggles. We have each other. We are together, no matter how separate we may be.

I am not okay right now. I am unsteady; I am nervous; I am unsure as to what to do next, as the path changes almost daily. But I will keep moving forward. You may not be okay right now, Dear Reader, and that is totally valid. You are not alone in this. But it will be okay. We will be okay. Just as Harry had Ron and Hermione right there with him on the moving staircases of his life, so too will we keep moving forward, Dear Readers. Together.

The Missing Matters


On Thursday, our state superintendent of education announced that schools will remain closed for the rest of the school year. There are other things that go along with that, of course, such as distance learning, plans, etc. But the big takeaway is that now students will not return to the school buildings OFFICIALLY. This is an abrupt and jarring ending for our kids. This is not the way the school year is supposed to go. Speaking as a parents and a teacher, while it is for the best and is the safest course of action, it feels like nothing less than the yanking away of hope.

Hope of being able to hug and play with their friends again.
Hope of being able to suit up for their favorite sport.
Hope of being able to sit in their favorite teacher’s classroom again.
Hope of gathering in their friend-groups and being able to hold hands through all of this.
Hope of preparing for their final dances, field trips, competitions, and performances and the year-long work that has led toward those ends.
Hope of birthdays, band practices, pool parties, movie nights.
Hope of being honored for their hard work at the end of the year, being able to stand up proudly and accept awards that they honestly worked their tails off for.

That hope is gone. There really is no other, nicer way to say it. That hope, in its original shape, is gone. And that is painful for our kids.

I was upset yesterday at the announcement, though the why is harder to articulate. I think part of it was the same upset that we all get when we have to deliver bad news, news that we know cannot be softened nor its truth mitigated. That feeling dragged on me and nagged at me all afternoon and evening. My anxiety was torn between curling up and crying the upset out and sitting down to work on ALL THE THINGS for distance learning, just so I had some modicum of control (I am a teacher after all). I felt like I had to do SOMETHING!

Finally, grabbing a quiet moment with both hands, I sat on the couch in my pjs and recorded a quick 1-min video on my phone before slapping it up on YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook and emailing it out to my students. I just needed to reassure them, needed to tell them that it’s going to be okay. But, even more than that, I needed to tell them that I am sorry.

I am sorry that we won’t get to finish that book together in person.
I am sorry that I won’t get to hear about how you’re moving to a new town over the summer, hug you goodbye, and tell you how proud I am of you and how much I enjoyed having you in my classroom.
I am sorry that you will not get to dress up for the final dance of the year.
I am sorry that we won’t get to do the Reading Counts party with games, the pool, and pizza.
I am sorry that we won’t get to gush over the new Marvel movies that were slated for early May.
I am sorry that I won’t be there to answer your knock and welcome you in to hide over lunch when you are having a bad day.
I am sorry that we cannot be together. I am sorry that you cannot be together.
I am sorry that you won’t get to play, perform, compete, and display your wonderful talents before everyone one more time this year.
I am sorry that you won’t get to do all those amazing things you had planned this spring.
I am sorry that this is how things have turned out.

It was only a minute or so but I wanted my students, my Heroes, to know that it matters. That their missing this portion of their lives right now matters. The missing matters! And that they are allowed to grieve it. It was important to them, important to their people, and losing those opportunities is significant. Even so, it will be okay.

And that is for you, too, Dear Ones. It will be okay. We will get through this. We will figure this out. And it is absolutely okay to feel disappointed, to grieve, and to cry through all of the getting through it, too. I am sorry, Dear ones. I am sorry for the disappointment, the distress, and the fracturing of hope. It will be okay, yes, but it is also hard. And it’s okay to feel that hard and hold on to hope at the same time. We are complex, we can do both things.

We are here. We are separated but still togther. We are still here. Hope is just taking on a new shape now, and we will learn to recognize it. We have not been deserted. We can still find hope, God, peace, and each other. It will be okay, Dear Ones. We will get there. Hold fast! Yibambe! It’s going to be okay.

The End-of-Summer Letdown


I get rather down right about now, as summer vacation draws to an end. And I do mean down. Like really down. I hesitate to use the word ‘depressed’ because that is a deeply painful mental illness that causes a great deal of pain to many. I do not wish to invalidate that experience so I will choose not to use that word to describe my end-of-summer mental state. /endsoapbox

Reminder: I’m a junior high teacher. Honestly, though, most of the time, I don’t feel like a very ‘good’ teacher, a real or ‘true’ teacher. I’m not the teacher who stays at work until midnight every night poring over data and redesigning elaborate lesson plans and units. I’m not the teacher who spends the summer weeks teaching summer school or working in my classroom, teaching workshops, or what have you. In fact, I rarely set foot back in the school building after I leave after the last teacher work day until I have to go back at the end of the summer. I don’t get excited about the beginning of the school year. Rather, it makes me nervous, restless, stressed, and even weepy. I mourn the end of my freedom, the sleeping late, the staying up late after the kiddo goes to bed, the day trips with my family, the movie dates with my husband, evenings around the fire-pit, watching my daughter chase fireflies. Now it’ll be back to early nights, earlier mornings, and routine.

I trudge back to school as heavily as any student. I tend to become withdrawn; I stick to myself, hole up in my classroom, ostensibly to get things done, but it’s also really because I will be dealing with people—lots of them—day in and day out for the next ten months or so. I will have no choice in the matter. There’s also a chance that I will be a “veteran” teacher in the 8th grade this year so that means possibly answering a lot of questions from the other teachers in my hall. So I am hoarding my spoons, trying to build and store them up for the coming school year.

I will be stressed and tired and may be functional at best for a while, but I will do my best. Things will get easier. I will work hard to teach my students what they need to know, about language arts and literature, but especially about what it means to be a good person, to live with integrity, to have courage, and be kind. And I know that it will be as much a continuous lesson for me as it will be for them.