It’s That Time Again

On a recent morning, I texted my best friend (who is not a teacher) and told her that it was now the time of year where I had no energy to make plans. I explained that I’m tired and stressed. On that same morning, my facebook “On This Day” feature informed me that last year, I’d announced that while I love my job and my students…my students and I need a break from one another.

Then I began working on my lesson plans for the next week. I opened the file for one of my groups, changed the dates at the top, and saved it for the next week. Then I looked at the lesson sections so I could start writing plans. But then I discovered that I’d already written my Week 34 plans for that group. I just hadn’t adjusted the dates from Week 33 to Week 34, and I’d saved it in the Week 33 file, again.

It’s that time of year. I’m tired. The kids are tired. They want it to be summer. I want to sleep. I’m also getting really passionate about the idea of sleeping in past 5am. The other day, I admitted to a friend of mine that I know that six hours and forty-five minutes of sleep is unhealthy, but somehow I think that I can survive on it.

I’ve started telling myself “You can do anything for [x number of] days.” I don’t count weekends because I can’t handle thinking about it. When kids ask me how many days are left in the school year, I don’t tell them; I tell them either that I don’t know or I’m not sure.

I think that a big part of the problem is that the kids know that the end is nigh. They know that they’re about to get more than two months off. They want a break. They think that they need or deserve a break. They’re like kids before Christmas. They know that something big and exciting is coming. It’s hard to fault them for their excitement.

As a teacher, it’s important to remember that. It’s also important to remember that we love our students. We may not always appreciate their behavior, but we love them. We want what is best for them. There are definitely days when it’s hard to remember that these hyper children are the same kiddos who worked hard in October, but these are our children. We do love them in spite of their shortened attention spans and random (inappropriately timed) commentary about their summer plans.

This time of the year is insanely hard for teachers. Mercifully, we are surrounded by our colleagues who are all equally tired and run-down. We know that the end will come. But we also need patience from those around us…because oh Lord are we tired.


Stop Licking the Table

I’d like to tell you that, as a childless woman, I’ve never said that. I’d also love to tell you that I’ve never stood in front of a room full of children, clicked my heels together, and said “There’s no place like home” three times. I’d love to tell you that every day is perfect and smooth and easy.

But that’d be lying, and this is one post in which I really want to be honest.

It’s National Teacher Appreciation Week, and I’m a teacher. I’m proud to be a teacher. But I also know that my job is hard and my profession undervalued. So…I’m going to tell you a story. It’s my story.

I was three the first time that I played school. I used to haul all of my dolls and stuffed animals into the living room or basement and play school. The piano bench was my desk. The chalkboard was…well, that’d better be obvious.

By the time I got to college, I was looking into nursing as a career. But somehow, I found my way back to that three year old in the living room. I became a teacher. All that I wanted was to be a high school English teacher in a Catholic high school. It was my dream. I was going to teach for a few years, marry some amazing Catholic guy, and become a stay-at-home mom to my five Catholic kids.

I graduated from college, and I got my dream job. I got a job teaching English at a Catholic high school. It was hard. It was stressful. It was amazing. I loved it. I had good students and difficult-to-love students. I had good days and bad days. But I loved my job. I had supportive coworkers. I had good relationships with students. One of the best moments of my career came at the beginning of my second year teaching. A student who’d given me a really hard time my first year came up to me on the first day of my second year and apologized for his behavior the previous year. He told me that he’d been a jerk and he was sorry.

(I almost cried.)

At the end of my second year teaching, I found out that I couldn’t go back to that job. Enrollment had dropped, and I was no longer necessary. I was broken-hearted. I cried a lot. I applied for many, many jobs.

And I ended up working for a year as a long-term sub for three different English language teachers. I fell in love with the world of EL. I started working on a masters degree in the field. I knew that my dreams were changing, and this was the world in which I wanted to spend the rest of my life. The dreams of being a high school English teacher and eventually stay-at-home mom were fading from my mind. I wanted to be a building EL teacher.

But at the end of the school year, I had to find another job. Cue another summer of job searching and worrying and hoping and praying.

Fall began with a job teaching English, religion, and Spanish at a small Catholic school. I didn’t love it. It was hard in a way that nothing else had ever been hard for me. Parents were difficult. Students were hard. I regularly considered getting up, walking out of the classroom, and just leaving forever because I couldn’t handle it. My coworkers did nothing but complain. My boss was unsupportive.

Fed up with the stress and seeming black hole in which I felt I was trapped, I quit my job at the beginning of spring break. I felt like I was losing control of my life and I just couldn’t handle it anymore. Being a teacher was too much, and I didn’t want to do it anymore. My childhood dreams were bashed to pieces. No one had prepared me for what to do when your dreams were a nightmare. No one had prepared me for the day when I’d cry at work or the day when the thought of going to work would make me throw up. No one had prepared me for the day when my job would make me hate my life.

I was burned out.

I wanted out of the profession. According to stats from 2016, 8 percent of teachers leave the profession every year. It’s the stress and lack of remuneration that does them in. One of my current colleagues talks about a former coworker of hers who had to leave teaching because he couldn’t support his family on a teacher’s salary anymore. I was fully prepared to part of that statistic for 2016. I wanted a new job, a job where I’d be less stressed and more supported by the people around me.

I didn’t want to be a teacher anymore.

I found a job outside the profession. I didn’t plan on staying there forever, but it was a place to work, a place to be. I had a steady paycheck and a supportive boss. My boss was a former teacher, and I worked with plenty of people who knew teachers who’d left the field. I learned that it’s better to leave a place in which you’re unhappy than stay there and try to force your dreams to come true.

And then one phone call hauled me back into the world of teaching. Eighteen months earlier, I’d interviewed for a job as a school EL teacher but hadn’t gotten the job due to some certification complications. The school wanted to interview me again. I was less than a year from completing my master’s degree, and they were pretty sure that they could hire me. They could, and they did.

I’m in my second year here, and I love it. Why do I love it? I get to work with great kids. (I’m one of those people who think that EL students are the best kiddos ever.) I have amazing coworkers. My bosses are genuinely good people. Instead of working with people who only complain about the kids, I work with people who work together to help students. Instead of working for someone who is just looking for a chance to throw me under the bus, I work for someone who tries to help me. I get to work for someone who encouraged me to take a day off when I was in a car accident, who found me a more comfortable chair for my back after that accident, and who actively expresses concern about their employees’ well-being.

Teachers aren’t perfect. Education isn’t perfect. It’s hard. It isn’t what I dreamed of when I was three. When I work with a group of students, I’m faced not only by the content at hand but also the concerns that surround these children. Did he eat breakfast? How is her parents’ divorce impacting her? These things impact how a student learns. I have to face not only curriculum but also personal baggage. And the more kiddos I have in a group, the more baggage I face; if that’s true of a teacher who works with small groups, imagine how that feels and looks in a classroom with thirty (or more) students.

I have days where I spend half of my time trying to help students move past whatever’s bothering them. It is really hard to work with a kid who has been up since six or seven in the morning and didn’t eat breakfast that morning. This morning, one of my kids missed his breakfast. It’s unusual for him, but it happened. It is (understandably) really hard to focus when you’re hungry. Most teachers are familiar with the idea that kids who know that they’re are loved at home come to school to learn…and kids who don’t know that they’re loved at home come to school to be loved.

Teachers are important. Our kids are facing a world that is more complex than the one in which I grew up. They need good teachers who will fight for them and who will love them no matter what. They need teachers who will teach them to be both smart and wise.

Teaching can be exhausting. I know that I’m not the only teacher who has run up against frustration or burnout. The hours are rough-and never tell me that summer makes up for it; it doesn’t. The pay is hard; please ask West Virginia, Oklahoma, and Arizona if you doubt me. I love the kids I work with, but good lord, I say so many things that I never thought I’d ever have to say. (Have you ever tried to explain to a sensory seeking child that if he wants to stroke your fingernails he has to use hand sanitizer first?) I’m not looking for sympathy or pity. What I want is respect for my profession. That’s the hardest part. Try doing something that is damn near impossible…and knowing that so many people don’t respect you for it, don’t think that you deserve a fair wage, think that you should be assessed based on test results from one or two mornings in May, and think that they know how to do your job better than you do.

I may get to play with playdough and Legos at work, but that’s rare. Far more often, my job is hugging heartbroken kids, trying to find the right response to things like “my cousin is in a coma” or “my dad has to go to court again tomorrow,” and trying to find ways to work with prepubescent hormones. It’s a hard job. The rewards come in hugs and smiles far more than in paychecks. You live knowing that you may never see the fruit of your work. Most days, you just want to go home knowing that you didn’t waste your time. And yeah, it’d be nice to know that you’re respected.

Coincidence? You decide.

There’s a story that I tell people sometimes, and today I’m going to tell it to you, the blog…the internet.

In early October of 2014, I was looking for a job. I had a job that wasn’t great, and I was looking for something better. On a Friday evening, I was looking at job postings, and I saw what I thought said “ELA Long-Term Sub.” ELA stands for English language arts, and it’s what I wanted to teach. Do a long-term sub job for a middle school English teacher at a school twenty minutes from my house? That sounded better than what I was doing. I applied.

On Monday, the recruiter called me. The job posting had not been for ELA but rather ELL (English Language Learners). I’m pretty sure that the recruiter knew that I’d applied by accident, but she was willing to submit me to be interviewed if I was open to that. I went for it. I interviewed, and I was hired. And thus began a year of long-term sub jobs for ELL teachers.

At the end of my first week in that first ELL job, I loved doing ELL work so much that I started looking for master’s programs in the field. I’d talked about getting a masters in EL/ESL/ELL/TESOL for a while, but now…what the heck? I loved this job. I could see myself doing this for the rest of my life. I submitted my contact info with one university and went outside to do my dismissal duty. That evening, someone from the university called me, I applied the following week, I was admitted, and I started classes in February of 2015.

I told one of my bosses this story last fall. I remember saying that I’d gotten into this whole thing by accident, and she smiled. “This wasn’t an accident. Things like that are never accidents. They happen because they’re supposed to happen.”

Effective July 2, 2017, I’ve finished that degree. I am allowed to throw MEd (Master of Education) after my name. I am an EL teacher. I did what I wanted to do. And I still want to work in this field. I still love this field.

But the question of accident or coincidence or something else stays with me. Prior to that application, I had some concept that this field existed, but I had no clue as to what it really looked like. I had no idea what I was getting into.

I’ve said various times over the past several months that if I’d known what I was getting into I’m not sure that I would have started. There were hard moments. I was challenged, and I didn’t always respond well. Ultimately, I grew, but I had some dark moments on that journey. Do I regret it?

Not a bit. I’ve grown through this process. The challenges have been good for me. I’ve even enjoyed some of them. I didn’t enjoy the week when I worked so hard and pushed myself so hard that I became physically ill and mentally confused. I still don’t like watching videos of myself teaching/talking. But I enjoy teaching. I like the challenge of reading research articles about my field. The application of that research is a mental exercise and not exactly fun in the traditional sense of the word, but it was beneficial, for lack of a better word.

So did I get into this by accident or coincidence? I’d say probably not, but I’ll leave that to history to decide.

Why do we fall?

Lately, I’ve been thinking about failure. Professional failure, personal failure, academic failure…it’s been on my mind. In my professional life, I’ve been watching my students learn, and I’ve been watching how they handle failure. Some of them are afraid of failure. In fact, one kid told me point blank that he cannot fail.

Here’s the thing. I completely disagree with that concept. I think he can fail, and I think that we all NEED to fail. I think that failure is absolutely vital for growth. We have to fail so that we can learn how to bounce back from failure. As Alfred told Bruce Wayne, we have to fall so that we can learn to pick ourselves back up.

Failure provides room for growth. Some of the best things in my life have come as a direct result of my failures. I never would have become an English teacher if I hadn’t failed the OPI. I never would have started pursuing my master’s in TESOL if I hadn’t lost my first job. In the moment, I perceived each of those events as a failure. Those moments hurt. Some of those moments really, really sucked. But then, I had to pick myself up from each of those failures and move forward. I had to reassess my life and move forward.

And I’ve grown from those moments. I’ve discovered how much passion I can have for TESOL. I’ve rediscovered my love of teaching through that experiences. Through both of those moments, I learned how much I love teaching people about things that I am deeply passionate about. My failures have made me stronger. My failures have taught me more about myself.

Yes, these moments have been difficult. Yes, I’ve been hurt. Yes, I’ve had dark nights and struggles. I’ve cried. I’ve yelled at God. I still have difficult moments. I still struggle to understand why I have faced certain difficulties in my life. But I know that God has a plan for me. I know that there are things that he wants for me. I know that he is working in and through those circumstances to make me holy. That doesn’t automatically zap the hurt of failure, but it does give me a glimmer of hope. God wouldn’t have allowed me to encounter those moments if he didn’t intend to do great things with those moments.

And in some ways, I’m grateful for the failures. I’m a stronger person because of them. I’m a better person because of them. I don’t like the failures, but in falling, I’ve learned to pick myself back up again. The falls, the failures-these have helped me to grow. They’ve made me stronger. I wouldn’t be who I am without those falls. Falling made Bruce Wayne into Batman. It makes me a stronger version of myself.

So why do we fall? We fall to rise. We fall so that we can rise to greatness.

Advice for Graduating Seniors

This morning, I was asked to give the school paper one piece of advice for the seniors as they graduate. (In 14 days, when did that happen?) I made myself a list and asked for some recommendations on facebook.  Here’s my list with commentary:

  1. We’re all stories in the end. Just make it a good one, eh? (Doctor Who) I love this quotation. It’s from the fifth series finale, and it serves as a reminder to me (an English teacher, remember) that our legacy on this earth is our stories and the stories that are told about us. We should strive to leave good stories behind us.
  2. Life is pain, ladies and gentlemen. Anyone who says otherwise is selling something. (The Princess Bride) Life is hard. Life is incredibly hard, and you should never believe anyone who tells you otherwise. But it is also incredibly worthwhile.
  3. Avoid the university bookstore. Amazon is your friend. This is pretty easy to understand.
  4. “Be kinder than necessary because everyone you meet is fighting some kind of battle.” (JM Barrie) We don’t know everything that is going on in someone else’s life and we need to be compassionate towards others.
  5. See the good in everyone. No one is perfect. Again, we don’t know what’s happening in others’ lives. We need to be compassionate.
  6. Mumford and Sons, they were right. Where you invest your love, you invest your life. Choose wisely. Your love ends up guiding your life. The people and things that you love become parts of your soul.
  7. Do your best. Never let anyone call you mediocre. I feel like this one is pretty self-explanatory.
  8. Be brave with your life. Don’t let anyone tell you who or what you can be. Do not be afraid. Do what you want to do with your life. Don’t let other people hold you back.
  9. The time to make up your mind about people is never. (The Philadelphia Story) Spend your life learning about the human race.
  10. You’ll never be a first-rate human being until you’ve learned to have some regard for human frailty. (The Philadelphia Story) We need to learn to see the good in others and to respect the fact that we are fallen humans. We need to show compassion and mercy.
  11. No man is a failure who has friends. (It’s a Wonderful Life) Friendship, community-those are two of the greatest accomplishments in the world. If you have friends, true friends, you cannot be a failure.
  12. Learn to love without condition. Talk without bad intention. Give without any reason. And most of all, care for people without any expectation. Treat others the way that you want to be treated. Don’t expect people to be something for you or do something. Just love them as they are. It’s not easy, but hopefully, it will be good.
  13. Do all things with love. Simply put, love always.

A Teacher’s Opinion of Snow Days

Dear Friends, Romans, Facebook friends, Reporters, Countrymen, and Everyone else,
I am well aware that if my school has a snow day tomorrow we will have met the annual limit for the state of Michigan. My students are also well aware of this. They know and I know that if we have more than six snow days this year, then we will either have to add minutes on to other days during the school year or add days on to the school year in June. I know this. The kiddos know this. We don’t want to do this. Please stop rubbing this in our faces.

Here’s the thing. I’m glad that you’re big and strong and when you were a kid you walked uphill both ways even when it was -90 degrees Celsius to get to school. But seriously, go outside. Feel that wind. Look at those roads. Do you really want my eighteen year old students driving on those roads? Do you really want my fourteen year old students standing at bus stops waiting for buses in that wind? See, I don’t want that. I don’t want to go later into June or have extended days. But I also want my kiddos to be safe.

So stop calling us wimps. We’re not thrilled with this and we really won’t be thrilled with it later in the year. I’m not entirely sure that my freshmen are going to finish Romeo and Juliet before April at this rate, and my brilliant third quarter plan for my seniors is in desperate need of revision at this point. But right now, we’re just trying to survive another freaking “arctic storm.” I’ll get the lesson plans sorted out. And hopefully, we will all stay safe and healthy.

(Also, I might miss my kiddos now. But their safety is the most important thing.)

2012 in Review

At the beginning of the year, I set 12 goals for myself for the coming year. I updated y’all on them twice during the year. And now it’s time for the final reckoning. 2012 has been an interesting year for me. It’s been a year of growth and changes. And while it’s been one of the harder years of my life, it might just well win best year ever.

  1. Finish reading Middlemarch. It’s a carryover from last year, but this year I’m going to do it. Sorry, George Eliot, but you will not be on my 2013 list. Someone else will be replacing you. DONE!
  2. Make six shawls this year. I made four pairs of socks last year, and I’m determined to do something awesome this year. To be entirely honest, I don’t know why I’m so fixated on this, but I am. So, six shawls, here I come. (If you’re wondering why I switched from socks to shawls, it’s because I use sock yarn to make shawls, but I like shawls more because they’re accessories you can really show off to everyone…even if they don’t notice.) Done…and I’ll probably have more than six done by the time 2012 ends. Yep; I think the grand total is nine. 
  3. To find a real job-I think this is self-explanatory. Done! Praise the Lord!
  4. Take the GRE…Done, but I don’t think grad school is coming up as quickly as I once thought.
  5. Figure out which schools I want to apply to for grad school…and maybe apply this year? I might put that off another year. It depends on how a few other things play out. As previously stated, this goal is probably being postponed for quite some time…and I’m quite fine with that.
  6. Go to Iowa for a week and see The Hunger Games with Jenn. DONE! And I’m more than willing to tell you how much I loved The Hunger Games. I loved it. I laughed. I cried. It moved me, Bob
  7. Make Katie a sweater for her birthday…I know, I said I was going to do this last year, but I’m really going to do it this year.  She picked a pattern and a yarn today. It’s going to happen. And it’s now been postponed until 2013. I attempted to make her a sweater for her birthday but it died. Then, I was going to make her one for Christmas, but then my life went crazy so that never happened. Maybe next year? 
  8. I want to make myself six sweaters this year. And I want the Ravelympics Ravellenic Games to help me to this goal. (NB: These six sweaters do include the two cardigans I currently have on needle from 2011. They do not include the tunic I am frantically trying to finish right now or the two short sleeved shrugs I’m planning to make in the next week or so.) I did make six sweaters this year. And I’d like to repeat that again this coming year. 
  9. I want to sew more of my own clothes. There’s something that I love about looking at a piece in my wardrobe and knowing that I created it. I value my homemade (both knit and sewn) wardrobe pieces more than I value store-bought stuff. Working on this…still working on it. I have a dress all cut out that I need to sew together and fabric for another dress that needs to be cut out and sewn together. Stay posted for more on this during 2013. 
  10. I want to have an adventure this year. I’m not entirely sure what that means, and based on the amount of uncertainty in my life at this point, I’m fairly certain that some sort of adventure is inevitable. Life is an adventure. The further I’ve gone into 2012, the more I have realized that my life is an adventure and while I never know where I’m going next, I always end up where I’m supposed to be. 
  11. Spent more time praying…and actually finish reading both of Pope Benedict’s Jesus of Nazareth books; I’m thinking that I need to accept that having a cup of coffee with God in the morning or a mug of tea with him in the evening is actually acceptable-and good for me. I’ve finished both books and I loved them. I also now own the third book (The Infancy Narrative) but haven’t actually read it yet. It’s the next book in my “morning devotional queue.”  
  12. Last year, my final goal was to become more patient. This year, I have the same final goal but with a slightly different approach. I want to find some form of meditation that will help me to achieve some sort of peace/patience in my life. The prayer to St. Michael is helping me with this, interestingly enough. It’s helping a lot. 
 And that’s all for 2012. Stay tuned for my 13 goals for 2013. I can’t wait to see what the new year will bring.