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.