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.

 

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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!

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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)

When I am Graceless


There comes a point in just about every evening when a switch is flipped within me. A moment when I go from gentle, loving, patient, ever-bearing Mommy to a weary, prickly, cranky woman who wants nothing more than for her child to go the eff to sleep and for a lion’s portion of quiet to reign in my house again for the little time that I have left before my body requires me to sleep before  getting up and doing it all over again. In those moments, I have to admit to being largely graceless.

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Nope, Not My Problem!


I do not deal well with other people’s unpreparedness. I have spent my entire day, week even, sorting out irresponsibilities that students of mine have turned into their own personal emergencies and are now trying to make mine as well. Today was the end of the quarter and field trip due date so I have been flooded with and spent my day sorting permission slips, novel quizzes, cash, and checks from people who have had literally months to take care of this business beforehand. And then I opened up my email on my phone a little while ago to check another account, but it opened to my work one. Was the franticness over?

Not by a long shot. I just had a student email me (it is 9:33pm on a Friday evening, mind you) in a frantic state because of an assignment that he did not complete, and a pretty hefty one at that, and therefore the 0% dropped his grade substantially. The due date was today and he has a laundry list of excuses as to why he didn’t complete this assignment. I considered being sweet and forgiving and “Oh, no…it’s okay, we can get it done on Monday.” Then I decided, “No.” I asked him why, as often as I spoke about this assignment in class over the past nine weeks, didn’t he speak to me about his difficulties with completing the assignment earlier in the quarter? It’s the weekend, there’s nothing to be done about it now, but he’s responsible for getting it taken care of on Monday morning. Have a good weekend.

Sometimes I just cannot be Ms. Nice Teacher. I will not allow your irresponsibility to become my emergency and cause me any more stress than I already have to deal with.

I wonder if I had forgotten about this part of teaching?

I am exhausted, I am still twitchy from an overwhelming week, a stressful day, and even the wine isn’t helping my mood much. So this is me leaning into my vulnerability, my annoyance, and my weariness before a weekend of grading. Much like the poor fellow below, I’m ready for a break.

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