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.

When I am Forced to Rest


At the end of the day yesterday, an email came through my inbox, informing me and the rest of the staff in our school building that, after the coming week, the local Health Department was taking the precaution of closing all the schools in the county until Easter Monday, April 13. Today, right before lunch, my 3rd-period students came barreling into my classroom, demanding to know if I had read my email. 

“They are closing school starting MONDAY!” they shrieked at me.

I shooed them and their cacophony off to lunch and sat down to read the email, which I hadn’t read because I had been busy doing other things (go figure), for myself. Indeed that is what it said. So, instead of being out of school for three weeks, including Spring Break, we would now be out of school for a month! I panicked for a moment because my eLearning lessons weren’t done. I was only 3 days into the unit I was building. 

Then I read on.

Because our state government has offered schools a waiver of up to 20 out of the required 180 instructional days during the school year, and we would be using 15 days for this closure, that was what we were going with. So there would be NO ELEARNING during this closure. No assignments or lessons would be given to students while they are out for these four weeks.

I couldn’t wrap my mind around it (still cannot, honestly), so all afternoon, I would catch myself saying, “Oh, I need to work on/copy/prepare this for class next week,” and then realize that…I didn’t.

WHAT?!

It threw me time after time, as did the realization that, unless the schedule changed drastically for the end of the year, I wouldn’t have time to teach the unit I was working on before we launched into standardized testing anyway.

I can’t just stop…can I?

I can’t just sit back and set it all aside. I have assignments that need to be graded and entered, a unit that needs to be built, no matter whether I actually get to teach it this year or not, curriculum that needs revamping, AND a 1st-grader who needs a routine and cannot afford to fall behind on her academic skills, in case they do not change the testing schedule.

I can’t just stop…can I?

And yet, in the midst of all of this chaos, a thought floated through my mind. “If you do not rest when your body says it needs, you will be forced to rest when it no longer can.”  Now, I am under zero illusions that all of this has come about because I was not taking the best care of myself. However, the truth indeed is that I have not been resting lately, dear ones. With all the grading for the end of the 3rd nine weeks, I have been working pretty much constantly and only averaging between four and five hours of a sleep a night. Not good at all. 

But I can’t just stop. Can I?

Perhaps now, in more ways than one, yes, I can stop. Perhaps I am being forced to rest. To take in the small moments. Take life day by day and create a new routine. Take the opportunity to slow down.

So, as we enter this time of admitted uncertainty, I want to see the lessons of rest that might be hiding in the corners, waiting for me to calm down enough to see and embrace them. Lessons in how to be good to myself, good to my dear ones, and what lessons and moments of quiet, rest, and hygge await me as spring peeks around the doorjamb.

Red Like Courage


Today, I joined 15,000 other teachers, administrators, counselors, community members, and students who flooded through downtown Indianapolis to fill the grounds of the statehouse. With friends, coworkers, and my dearest love by my side (himself a teacher of thirteen years), I donned my red, cheered, and marched to advocate for better conditions for public education, educators, and, most of all, students. For the 150 students that currently sit in my classroom day in and day out, the one young student who lives in my home and whom I call ‘daughter’, and all the other students who will pass through my classroom and those of other teachers over the years.

I know the narratives that are out there. I know what people often think of teachers. I know what is “expected” of us. I know what I do day in and day out. I know what I pour out and what I give. I know the prayers that I say over my classroom every morning. I know the students I gather into my arms when they come running. I know the hearts I am trying to help soften that souls I am trying to help grow. I know my standards; I know what I am supposed to teach. I also know what I have to teach, what my soul demands and what my vocation–what love–compels me to teach.

So, today I gathered, I showed my face, I used my teacher voice. I SHOWED UP. It was scary; it was encouraging; it was amazing; it was a first; and, if things do not improve, it will not be a last for me. I AM SO HERE FOR THIS! #redfored #youmademeusemyteachervoice #forourstudents

The Courage to Stand Up


I did a thing today. A BIG thing! I put in for a personal day at work. Not just any personal day, however. I was a part of a concentrated effort of teachers in my corporation/union who all put in for personal days on Tuesday, November 19. It was to let our administration know that we all intend to attend and be a part of the Red for Ed Action Day and rally at our statehouse in Indianapolis. We all intend to let our legislators know that we protest that systematic destruction of public education.

I have rarely been one to make a racket, never having been one for public protests or crowds. I have often supported such movements in different ways. But this…this is my career. My day in and day out. These are my students we are talking about and the schools that serve, teach, and attempt to prepare them. So, on 11/19/19. I will screw up my courage, stand with hundreds of fellow educators, and fight for our students and their needs.

Provided by our union president, below is a short list of some of the actions being committed at the state level to public education:

1. The state requiring teachers to serve 15 hours in the business community in order to obtain/renew their teaching license.

2. Attempting to hold schools accountable for what students do AFTER they graduate. 

3. Different rules and accountability measures for private/ charter schools that make the latter “look” better.

4. The racist roots of vouchers that drain money from public schools and  “school’s choice” as the initial reaction to Brown v. Board of Education.

5. A Senate Chairman of the Education Committee who believes voucher money goes straight to parents and doesn’t return to public schools. This same senator did not know how much vouchers saw an increase in a budget he voted for, and the list goes on. 

The Courage to be Not Nice


There are certain things that I just cannot stand but more on that later. I am a nice teacher. At least, I am repeatedly told that I am a nice teacher. Cinnamon-bun Hufflepuff, that’s me. I am a nice teacher.

However, there are days that I am not–nor do I want to be–so nice. As I mentioned before, there are certain things that I just cannot and that I will not stand for. I endeavor to make my classroom a space where all my students can feel safe, welcomed, and at home. I will not stand for anyone violating the safety and sanctity of my space or their classmates within it. I have already had to speak to a particular class as a whole about consent and harassment and the everyday forms they can take. I also had to speak to one student in that class in particular. (The principal and I handled that quite tidily, I like to think.) Now…I have found out about another student in that class who has been blatantly disrespectful to a classmate, so now this must be dealt with.

And, dear Reader…this time…I do not want to be nice.

There is a reason why House Hufflepuff’s sigil is a badger. Badgers can bite through bone, and I plan on biting through this student’s misogynistic behavior. I do not plan to coddle and smile and let this slide. No. Such behavior must be dismantled now or it will get worse and worse as they grow. They need to know that it will not be borne or stood for or pass without consequence, most definitely not by me.

It is not easy to be not nice. I will need courage for it. I will need courage to be righteously angry and to let them see it. Courage to let them know that I will defend the safety of my space and the rights of my students. I will need courage to be, in this instance, not nice.

Yes, here is a reason that Hufflepuff’s sigil is a badger: because nice is different than good.

Preparing for Perhaps


I don’t really know how to begin here. I want something pithy, such as “When The Start Feels Too Much Like a Start”, but, at the same time, it feels like I would be trivializing what I want to talk about. And I’m too tired for trivial. (Case in Point: I started writing this blog post two weeks ago.)

Today marks fourteen days into the new school year, and I am utterly exhausted. It feels as though there never was a break between May and now. I just blinked, that’s all. The students are just about done honeymooning. I’m pouring out energy on top of energy as I have worked to figure out my daughter’s school arrangements, too. I’m already losing control of the cleanliness of the house (and, as I drafted this two weeks ago, I realized that I had forgotten to leave a note for my husband to turn over the laundry when he got up!). Life is busier than ever.

On the first day of students’ return, as I prayed before slipping out of bed to start the day, I found myself requesting something quite unexpected.

“Lord, if you have something else for me, please start preparing me for it.”

Now I say that this is unexpected, not because I haven’t wanted to do something other than teaching, because I have definitely thought about it, but because I honestly am unsure of just what that “something else” would be. I’ve said this since the beginning: teaching was ever the only plan. There was never a Plan B. So, if God does indeed have something else in mind for me, it begs the question of what exactly it could be.

Here are some truths:

  • I am good at teaching. I am. I am knowledgeable, and I do a good job at passing that knowledge along in an understandable way to my students.
  • I cannot remember a Sunday night when I was excited about going to work the next day and only a handful of days in the past nine years that I ever felt so about coming to school. I don’t necessarily joy in it like some teachers do. It takes a lot.
  • I do enjoy emotional education. Those are the lessons and discussions that I find my heart pouring out in: teaching students to be empathetic, show love, have courage, and be kind.

Part of me aches to do something else, something new, but, at the same time, the idea of such change and upheaval is profoundly frightening and stressful. But I will keep on praying this prayer, and I hope that I am not just being a stubborn Jonah.

 

When you are Forced to Single Step


As I pointed out earlier this year, I am not good at taking “just the next step”. My brain is a mess and machination of often-escalating worries, what-ifs, and contingency plans. Recently, however, I was forced—yes, I do mean forced—to take a single step at a time through what was, for me, quite a crisis. Did I like it? No. Did I enjoy being reminded my dearly-beloved husband that I needed to single-step? Not really. Did I even want to take those single steps? No, not really again. I was hoping against hope that it would just resolve itself but, like a myriad of problems in life, it just doesn’t work that way. Did my brain run away with me with the withertos, whyfores, and what-ifs? Oh, my heavens, YES!

But I had no choice. I could only take the next step in the process in order to be sure of anything at that point. I had to take it step by step. Instead of me running 100 steps ahead, I was forced to only take a single step at a time. And, while nerve-wracking, everything turned out fine. In fact, something extra good that I was hoping to accomplish was able to get started out of the whole affair. In the end, I find myself somewhat thankful for it all.

As the summer begins its exit, stage right, all too quickly and I can see the school year bouncing on the balls of its feet in the wings, I am again facing a situation where I will need—probably with copious reminders—to take just the next step. There are many changes that will come with this school year. I will have my largest 8th grade class yet (between 160 and 170 students, and I teach all of them); we have a new principal of our school; and I am implementing curriculum changes that, while I think they will be good, will take some serious getting used to and will likely be far from perfect for this year. Am I nervous? Yes. Am I scared even? Yes. I am nervous and scared at the beginning of every school year. 100+ new faces, 100+ new names to place with them, curriculum to implement, adjust, and differentiate for varying skill levels.

Yes, I am always nervous before school begins. But I can’t take all the steps at once there either, can I? I am forced to take one step at a time. One day at a time. Now that my curriculum is done and approved and I have finished gathering supplies for my classroom, I can focus on my next steps: class syllabus and About Me presentation for the first day of school. One step at a time.

As you move through today, through this weekend and the coming week, don’t be afraid of just the next step. I know it’s maddening. I know it’s nerve-wracking. But it will be okay, dear one. Even when it feels like it may not, it will be. Just take one step at a time. That’s all you can take. It’s all you can do. But it is everything.

one step at a time

Gentleness in the Chaos


The end of the fall semester is fast-approaching (much faster than expected in some ways). Everyone knows what this is like. Everyone knows what the stress and weariness and just general chaos are like. Vacation is drawing nearer but so, too, is the academic gauntlet that must be run in order to reach it. Tests must be studied for (or, in some cases, crammed for the night before), projects must be finished, presentations given, and papers written. The end of an academic semester is hardly the gentlest of times for either teacher or student, speaking as one of said teachers.

As we head into this hectic time, gentleness is paramount and oh so necessary. Gentleness with ourselves as well as with others. You are allowed to be gentle with yourself. (yes, I’m saying this to myself as much as to you, dear one). You are allowed to let yourself get sleep. You are allowed to feed and water yourself liberally. Whether it is end-of-semester or Christmas prep, you are absolutely allowed to keep yourself from running yourself into the ground over the next few weeks.

As the days wend closer to those dreaded final exams, I can see the tension mounting in my students–in the way they hold themselves, in their behavior, in their speech–and I have to be on my guard, reminding myself of the necessity of gentleness. I have a responsibility to my students: to make sure that they are knowledgeable and prepared for the end of the semester and the final exam that awaits them. I want them to be confident in their knowledge, confident enough to hopefully offset any nervousness. However, I know that such a thing is unlikely to happen; nervousness is always part of the equation, even for the most seasoned student. But that unlikelihood will not stop me. Chaotic times need gentleness and kindness even more. In the midst of all the studying and the prep, I will do my best to encourage my students, to remind them that they can do this, that they can succeed.

You can do this, people. Time to HERO UP!

finals-are-here-and-so-are-the-memes-15-photos-26

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.

School Year’s End: Being Gentle with Goodbyes


The school year is almost over. There are three full days of school left after this one, our finals end tomorrow, and grades are due before I leave the building. I am ready for this school year to be done. I am ready to walk out those doors and not have to come back for at least a few weeks (I do have curriculum to write this summer, after all). I am ready to have my time be mostly my own again for a little while (I say mostly because my pre-K girl will be in daycare three days a week during the summer).

I am ready.

But, in the midst of all this readiness, I found a soft thought nudging my mind:

Say goodbye gently.

These junior high students have comprised the majority of my life, concern, and time for the past nine months, and now it is time to say goodbye. Next year, they will be freshmen. I will not see them every day, will not hear their laughs ripple through the halls, hear their franticly-rapid conversations in between periods, call at them to get to class, instruct them on the finer points of grammar, writing, or literary interpretation, or remind them of what it means to “have courage and be kind”.

Underpinning these thoughts, all that’s going through my head is Lin-Manuel Miranda’s “One Last Time” from Hamilton: An American Musical, where George Washington admonishes Alexander Hamilton, despite protest, to help him say goodbye properly to the fledgling American people and to teach the latter how to move on to new leadership. I am feeling the urge and leading to say goodbye to my students gently, to teach them how to say goodbye. 

To this end, I have had them writing letters to their favorite elementary and middle school teachers, to give commendation, encouragement, and thanks to those who have worked so hard to prepare them for the world that they will enter in the fall. My pile has been rather small this year compared to years passed but, honestly, though my pride might twinge a little, I’m mostly okay with it. Other teachers need to know how much they are appreciated by their students; it’s vital for a teacher’s soul, I feel.

To this end, I will do my utmost not to shoo them out of my room when all is said and done but to take my time and say goodbye to as many of them personally as I can, shake hands and even give hugs if they like. I will endeavor to say goodbye gently as my students move from one world to another, from the familiar to the different and, probably, somewhat scary. I want to send them off with as much courage and kindness as I can.

HAMILTON:
Mr. President, they will say you’re weak

WASHINGTON:
No, they will see we’re strong

HAMILTON:
Your position is so unique

WASHINGTON:
So I’ll use it to move them along

HAMILTON:
Why do you have to say goodbye?

WASHINGTON:
If I say goodbye, the nation learns to move on.
It outlives me when I’m gone.

Don’t forget, my dear scholars:

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Art and lettering by @joshuaphillips_ (Instagram)

Featured image by: @katchulaa (Instagram)