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.

Mr. President, they will say you’re weak

No, they will see we’re strong

Your position is so unique

So I’ll use it to move them along

Why do you have to say goodbye?

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

Don’t forget, my dear scholars:


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.


Faking It Too Well

Fake it ’til you make it. That’s what they tell you, and, sometimes, it’s very true. Sometimes, you have to act like you know what you are doing while learning exactly what you are supposed to be doing. That is rather how I feel about teaching. I feel like I am constantly acting like I know exactly what I am doing or supposed to be doing when, all along, I am barely staying afloat.

Studies call this “impostor syndrome” but the truth is that who I am as a teacher often feels very different from who I feel I am “in real life”. Teachers need to have a polish to them, a presence. It leaves my poor introverted soul tired and, maybe, even joyless at times. However, there is no denying that I am good at what I do. I am a good teacher, though maybe not as involved with as many shiny tricks as others who have been doing this longer or have it as more of a passionate calling. Nevertheless, I am organized and knowledgeable, even enthusiastic when I am teaching literature. I’m good at what I do. I have never gotten a bad evaluation from an administrator. I don’t pull punches with my students and push them to do their best and improve on it. I admit when I don’t know or I am wrong. I know how to hold my corner-classroom kingdom. But that me often feels very different from me.

One of my students asked me last week if I am bipolar. My answer was, “No.”

“Are you sure?” he pressed.

“I’m sure,” I replied.

He was a dog with a bone. “Because you’re usually really nice and then you can get all mean.”

“That’s not me being bipolar. That’s me being tired of people’s crap. I’m an introvert. I don’t deal with other people’s crap well.”

Who I am in the classroom takes a force of presence and authority that takes a lot out of me, leaves me weary and wanting to crawl back into a safe little hobbit hole to recover. But recovery time for teachers, as you know, is slim to none. Ditto and double for moms, which honestly makes it a double-whammy. So going back to work is not just a change in how I do life but, once again, a change in how I feel about who I am. It’s an extra twist in my self-vision that I sometimes wish I could untwist and smooth out at the end of the day. Some days are more successful than others, but there are successful ones.

Going back to teaching is the best thing for my family right now, and that is what is important. That is the driving force. It is allowing my daughter to go to preschool and daycare every day to gain social and academic skills that she will so desperately need in the coming years. It is also allowing us to put money aside and save up so that we can start dreaming new dreams again.

I will find a way to reconcile all this change. Right now, though, it’s difficult at times, I will admit. But there is always a way.

Not Perfect. Functional.

On the eve of my next major life change (going back to work after three and a half years of being a stay-at-home mother), I can honestly only liken these moments to the ones after I found out that I was pregnant. It was not a perfect moment; I was in pain from a pulled back and other momentary health issues, frustrated from other life stuff, and exhausted from what would turn out to be my first trimester. It was not an Instagram-video worthy moment full of giggles and squeals and a positive pregnancy test. The joy would come later. For the moment, it was me sitting the doctor’s office, a Kleenex clutched in one hand, two prescriptions in the other, and my doctor having wisely given me a few moments alone for it to sink in. It was not perfect. I was not ready, despite a child being what we had planned on, tried, and hoped for. In my eyes, I was not perfect. In my estimation, I was not ready. But I was functional. And that would have to do for that moment.

When Elizabeth was born, her bedroom was not finished, much to my chagrin. Her wall decorations weren’t done, pictures weren’t hung up, rocking chair wasn’t bought yet. Like me, it was not perfect or “ready” but it was functional. The bassinet, crib, chest of drawers, and changing table were sturdy and would safely hold my infant and her things. The room, while far from finished or ready in my eyes, would serve its purpose. “Finished” came with time. “Functional” served right then.

Right now, I am far from perfect. I am leaving the spaces and child that have been my world these past few years. I am not ready (my girl might be but I am most certainly don’t feel so, ironically enough). My classroom will not be ready; things will not be just as I would have them. I will not be entirely comfortable, or even comfortable at all at first. I don’t even know if this is my intended path. I’d need God’s eyes for that so I will have to have faith and trust what I cannot see.

I am not perfect. I don’t feel ready. But I am functional.


Trusting My God-Gut

Some of you knew about this and some of you didn’t. Two weeks ago, I applied for a position at a local middle school. This was an act that required much prayer, faith, and courage on my part because I didn’t particularly enjoy my previous time in this corporation several years ago. But I felt that I needed to woman up and apply, so I did. They called me for an interview a week later. Amidst lots of prayers and encouragement from friends and family, I interviewed for the position (grades 6-8, tier 3 English/Language Arts intervention) this past Friday, and the principal called back the same day saying that she had called my references (thank you to all those wonderful people, by the by) and wanted to recommend me to the superintendent for the position. I asked for the weekend to be able to speak with my husband about it and if I could give her a call Monday morning. So we took our weekend together and discussed it as we walked about GenCon and prayed about it together. I spent my quiet time/time alone praying and listening with my heart for God’s guidance. Sometimes that guidance comes as a gentle heart nudge, a thumb in my back, an inability to settle with peace on a particular decision, or just a gut feeling that I know I need to go with. Based on our talks, prayers, and that undeniable, unexplainable gut feeling that we have both experienced time and again, Ben and I both agreed that we felt a leading that I should be home with Elizabeth this last year before she heads off to preschool.

No, we will not have a lot of extra money this year as a result, but we have always determined that our home will be built on love first and foremost. Standard of living and quality of life are two different things (I even looked up the definitions this morning to be certain before I said that) and we are concentrating on the latter. We may not have a lot of extra money, will have to be frugal and wise with what we do have, and certain things will have to wait a bit longer, but we have a roof over our heads, food on our table, cars that work, and I will be able to give Elizabeth my love and presence for another year as she and I learn from each other and prepare for her to head off into the world all too quickly.

All that being said, I just got off the phone with the principal at the middle school, a former colleague of mine, and told her that I am so thankful to have been able to interview with them and for her faith in me in wanting to recommend me. I do feel led, however, to be home with Elizabeth this year but, if she has any positions open up in a year or so, that I would definitely appreciate her consideration again.

We are trusting God for continued guidance and leading and that He will help us to have a wonderful year together. We are praying for strength and wisdom as Ben teaches and preaches, giving of his time and energy unendingly to and for others and us. It is also my prayer and hope that, at the end of this year, Elizabeth and I will both be ready to go out into the world and face it head-on with all the fierce, fearless courage of roaring lambs.

Thank you all for your prayers, advice, and love. They mean more to me than I can ever say. And thank you for reading.

Frightening Control

Have you ever had a moment when you are so very angry but you find yourself with an almost marble-esque calm about you? When people say stupid things or ask obvious questions on purpose to be annoying, and you find yourself answering in a low, calm voice and with the patience of a saint, rather than smacking them and calling them the idiot that they are?

I have had that happen several times over the past few months, and it startles me a bit each time. Granted, I teach middle-schoolers AND I’m very pregnant at the moment, a perfect recipe for frayed nerves and a low threshold for stupidity. I think it worries my students a bit when I know and they know that they are purposefully trying to be annoying and waste time, and I answer them in the calmest voice known to man, perhaps with a touch of long-suffering in it, and tell them that we’re moving on, I’ve already answered every question they could think of (they are on their handouts), we don’t deal in “what if’s”, and they brought whatever the discipline situation is on themselves.

Yesterday, I had this particular issue. I have a small class of students are very…talkative is a mild way of putting it. Chaotic is perhaps a more apropos term. I separate out my class, sending the most self-motivated students to the library with To Do lists of the work they were to complete, and kept the remaining students (who honestly probably could not manage themselves enough to work on their own if their lives depended on it) with me. They also received a To Do List, along with discipline procedures and a new seating chart. They were told to read the To Do List, ALL of it. But, of course, they had questions. One young lady kept asking questions about what was going on that day and I kept referring her to her handout, which had all the pertinent information on it, which annoyed her to no end, I’m sure.

Is this was because of how we acted yesterday (when they basically told me to my face that they were not going to behave well unless the dean of students was in the room to watch them; he has been a frequent visitor to our classroom so far this semester).


How long will it be like this?

Until things improve.

This seat is uncomfortable.

You brought the new seating arrangement on yourself.

What if…

I don’t deal in what ifs and you are not being given an option.

The class was informed calmly and honestly that they had left me no choice but this method of high structure and swift discipline. For an 88 minute block, I sat at the front of the classroom and watched them closely, with a list close at hand. Every time they talked out, were out of their seat without permission, were off-task/not working, trying to communicate with other students, etc., they received a demerit and immediately notification of said demerit. And I stuck to it. I had given out 9 demerits to a class of 10 by the end of the day, multiples to some students. Some got the point, closed their mouths, and got to work. Others were fighting it in their own way but I stuck to my guns, again remaining calm and quiet, and that was that.

I admit, I scared myself a little bit, that I fell so easily into the position of jailer. But I remembered that I am doing what is necessary. My administration and the kids’ parents expect a great deal of me and I’ll be hanged if I let the students keep me from doing my job, which I told them to their faces. Plus, I need to watch myself and my stress level. I am two months out from my due date and this is as much to protect me, as it is to help them be productive and get their work done.

So, as I must, I will put on that mask, be the calm, swift jailer, as long as I must in order to make things work. Then maybe…MAYBE…something will click and change. We can always hope.