Could You Stay?

It’s been quite some time since my last post. Today as I nurse myself back to health from a lingering cold, I figured it might be worth while to try to rid myself of more than just the bacteria wreaking havoc on my immune system. Perhaps I should release some of the stress I’m holding onto as well.

This marks my second year teaching in a new school, grade level, and subject. This year I’m teaching English to 7th graders. The curriculum is set, my room looks welcoming, and we’re off and running. Or at least it appeared that way. However, with each passing day it seems  harder and harder to stay on course. Again. Still.

I’ve been teaching for two decades. I know who I am as a teacher. I’ve learned about myself as an educator by reflecting daily on my teaching practices. I pride myself on the relationships that I build with my students every single year. I reach out to hundreds of teachers on social media to discuss the passion we feel about this profession. I’m constantly trying to understand the ways my students learn and the roads I need to take to ensure that they find real meaning in the lessons I teach so they can apply their understanding to the world. Most importantly, I seek to instill in them, a love of learning/reading. I know who I am as a teacher. My students have always known who I am.

Until now.

Many of my students today do not see me. They don’t hear me. They don’t seem to want to know me, hear me, or care. And because of this, there are days when even I cannot recognize the teacher in me. Instead of showering my students with passionate reviews about a new book I’ve read, I’m showering them with reminders and warnings and consequences to stay on task. To listen to the directions, to get their work done, to pick their heads off their desk, to stop swearing or talking back, etc. I’ve gone from being the passionate teacher, to the very frustrated teacher who walks among her students feeling out of place, sad and quite honestly, an outsider to the world they inhabit. But it’s never for lack of trying. I attend their games, listen to their music, eat lunch with them, attend outdoor ed overnight experiences, talk to their families, find heroes they can relate to, talk slang, learned to dab…in short, I seek constantly to understand their lives, despite their seeming disdain of mine.

Teaching in an urban setting is not for the faint of heart. Many colleagues have tried to offer me advice on building relationships with students. Several have attempted to help with classroom management. Believe me when I tell you how appreciative I am of this support. I approach each day with the belief that something good will occur. I have not given up.

But today what I need is some honest answers. Because there’s a question raging in my heart. Some of you may not understand and/or like the question because you cannot imagine what it’s like to teach in a place where students don’t value an education. Where students don’t read. Where 7th graders are reading at a second grade level, but it’s not a special ed class, it’s a regular class of 25. Where students talk back, swear, and threaten teachers. Where administrators are seen screaming at students only to be laughed at, and ignored. Try picturing this place, or yourself in it. Place yourself – the teacher you know you are, in this place. A place where what makes you – you, is ignored, mocked, and disrespected. Imagine yourself there every day. And answer this question as honestly as you can. What happens when you’re a passionate teacher, but you’re faced with students who are apathetic toward school / learning? Apathetic toward you, the teacher, and all you believe and hold dear about education? Apathetic about classroom rules, expectations and consequences? Do you think you would be able to stay in that place? A place that leaves you stressed and sad? Every. Single. Day. 

Okay, so that was more than one question, but you get the gist. Just curious… do you think you could stay??

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Luck

Throughout most of my life I’ve felt lucky. Lucky to be alive and healthy, lucky for my family and friends, and lucky for my job opportunities. I’d often experience events and wonder why fate, God, or the universe decided to bless me with such good fortune. It was especially notable when I witnessed the opposite  occurring for my older brother. He, it appeared, seemed to walk under a black cloud while I seemed to catch every ray of sunshine. Growing up, it seemed effortless, like serendipity…

  
Lately however, the events in my life have shifted. No longer do those rays of golden sun shine as brightly for me. Job opportunities have dwindled, friends and family are far away, and minor health issues have plagued me. So the question that’s been weighing on my mind is this:

Does a person’s luck run out? 

Some may say that luck has nothing to do with the events in our lives- that we create the life we seek. If we think positively, stay true to our passions, and do good in this world, we shall reap the rewards. And when troubles arise, we need only look for the positive. So the saying goes, when life gives you lemons, make lemonade. Simple. 

I’m a firm believer that things in life happen for a reason. Up until now I’ve always found it easy to follow this mantra because every turn in my life’s journey seemed to lead me to a better place. But what happens when you take a turn on the road and no sunshine guides your feet on that path? You stumble along in darkness wondering where you’re headed, trying to find your way, thinking you should turn back. You tell yourself over and over to keep going, that there has to be a reason that you’re on this particular journey. Where you once walked with confidence and joy, you now tread with fear and doubt. Walking alone in the dark is not familiar to me. I don’t like it. I question my decisions. I long for a hand to reach out to me in the darkness. Some days I want to give up. 

But I don’t.

I’m working harder today than I ever have to find the light again. And believe me I’m searching every single day, because I can no longer leave my fate up to chance. I will fight to find my way out of the darkness, with or without luck on my side. 

 

The F Word

Patience. Optimism. Perserverance. I’ve written about all of these concepts in some form or another lately, but today I’m writing about a very different word. One that’s frowned upon in many of my professional circles. A forbidden word.

The F word.

Frustration. (I know I scared some of you for a second there). Anyone who has ever been unemployed, and had to job search knows the feelings that come with rejection. These feelings are part of the process, and should ultimately help you to become more driven, passionate and focused in regards to finding that perfect job. But today, after receiving yet another rejection notification, I’m not feeling motivated in the least. Instead, I’m tired. I’m angry. I’m sad. It’s left me feeling short on patience and confidence. In a word, I’m frustrated.


“Chin up, something will come along soon.” “Do what makes you happy.” “You are talented- you have so many options.” I’ve heard all the positive anecdotes from family, friends, and colleagues. I’ve sold many  such promises to myself over the past months in the hopes of reinforcing a positive outcome. And every single time I think I’ve finally found the perfect job – one that meshes with my experience and my passion; one that I know I’m perfectly suited for, you guessed it… I receive another rejection. I can only be left to wonder what other applicants put forth, and what I lack. My rejections are followed up with questions asking what I might have improved upon in order to increase my chances of getting hired next time, yet most companies rarely take the time to explicitly answer these requests.

I’m frustrated because no matter how much experience I have, how well read I am, or how many connections I make, the doors keep closing on every opportunity I seek to pursue. It makes me question my beliefs about myself, about who I am as a professional, my worth, my dreams… This process has left me feeling lost. Each time I pull myself back up, I get knocked back down, and can’t help but question why. I’m certainly not the first person to seek  new opportunities within a chosen field, yet my unsuccessful attempts make me wonder if such a move is in the cards for me. These doubts lead to the frustration of which I write about today. I don’t want to remain stuck, trapped, or without options, yet this is exactly how my circumstances have left me feeling.


I know that many of my friends who will read this piece will kindly reach out with words of encouragement. Rest assured that your advice has not fallen on deaf ears. I know I wouldn’t have survived these past months with your constant support, and I wonder daily how I will ever repay you. For those of you who think I’ve complained far too long about the whole relocating/ seeking a job ordeal, I agree. I’m tired of myself. I get it. It’s … frustrating. However, this post was not written as a means to garner pity, or to apologize. It was written simply for this writer to release some raw emotions. Out of frustration.

#OneWord – Peace

My #OneWord for 2016 has to be peace. With the events going on around the world lately, most of us think about peace in the sense of being free from war. While I do wish for peace on Earth, I’m selfishly hoping for my own slice of peace in 2016. I’ve recently written about patience, but I think for me, the New Year will be more about persevering in uncomfortable circumstances, about not giving up, and ultimately finding peace in that decision. 

The journey of my life in recent months has taken me far from the familiar path I once knew. I’ve had to navigate past several obstacles, and I’m still not certain that this new road I’m on is leading me in the proper direction. I fear I may have veered off course. It feels scary to be this lost. However, instead of staying stuck or running back to where I started, I know I need to keep moving forward despite the voices that are telling me to give up. And believe me, the voices are loud. They tempt and goad me when I’m at my weakest. 

So as 2016 commences I’m trying my hardest to push past the negative voices and be at peace with what lies ahead in the new year. I will persevere and keep moving forward no matter how easy it would be to just give up. I have to believe that finding tranquility will lead me back to the life I know I’m meant to live. Honestly, I’m not looking forward to the first few weeks of this new year because I know how difficult things are going to be. I know I’m going to have to dig deeper than ever before to find the quiet. 

  
Lucky for me, I have the constant love and support from family, friends and my PLN to keep me on course.

Happy PEACEFUL New Year

Patience

Being an elementary teacher for the past 17 years has helped me to practice the virtue of patience. Every day in the classroom I’m given multiple opportunities to let go, and let things be. Anyone who is surrounded by children day in and day out knows that to some extent, control is something we’ve got to forfeit in order to truly live in the moment and accept students for who they are. Trying to mold every experience/ activity/ lesson the way we would like it to flow only leads to disappointment or frustration for both the teacher and students. 

I pride myself on being able to assess the children in my charge, and proceed with a lesson by taking cues from them. In reflection I know that some of my worst days are those where I tried too hard to manage the outcome, or when the students output didn’t match my desired expectations. In short, when my patience ran short, things went awry. And as you might guess, some of my best teaching has come when I’ve relenquished that control, and allowed learning to unfold naturally. Patience takes practice. I wish I could say it’s something I’ve mastered, but in the end, is it ever something we can fully master all the time?  I think as teachers, it’s our duty to be mindful of being patient. Believe me, students of all ages know the difference between a teacher with an agenda – someone who just checks items off a list, from a teacher who truly cares about the learning taking place – someone who isn’t afraid to veer off that agenda. In short, kids learn rather quickly whether a teacher practices patience. The culture of the classroom is different. It’s a place where students feel respected and safe. No agenda should take precedence over student engagement and curiosity – which equates to meaningful learning. 
Having patience is certainly one of the hardest things I work on every day with my students. I’m proud of my efforts. I’ve made some extremely great connections with students and parents over the years because of this. 

However I write this post today because I seem to have gotten a bit off track. I haven’t been surrounded by students for quite a few months. Recently my life has taken turns I never could have imagined and yes, I’ve been struggling with practicing patience. It seems it’s harder to let go of that agenda, when it’s the checklist of your own life. These past months I’ve wanted more than ever to control events, to manage all the outcomes. I’ve got my checklist, but can’t quite seem to get the results that match my expectations. In short, I’m running out of patience. And just like what happens in the classroom when I’ve tried to control the outcome, I’m left feeling frustrated. So I’ve got to dig deep.  I know I have the skills to be patient. I’ve been honing them for the past 17 years. If I can bestow the students I’ve served over the years with patience, surely I owe it to myself to do the same.

  

The Black Dot Strategy

Today’s post is a follow up to the discussion with friends from the #bfc530 Twitter chat which takes place each weekday morning. The question of the day was related to what we as teachers do when we know a student is trying their hardest, but continues to act out in class. I offer this as one of the many strategies in my educator’s toolbox. I wish I could brag about being the creator, or at least remember who that person is, but sadly I am unable to claim either.

I would like to preface this piece by stating that one of the most important components of being an educator for me is building relationships. The past 17 years have taught me that creating a sense of community and trust is paramount in order for learning to take place. From the very first days of school it is very important for my students to feel comfortable, and excited about our time together. I often let them know that we are a family, and should begin treating each other as such from the start. We agree upon classroom expectations, and students know that ours is always a classroom where they will be respected, listened to, and loved. 

But every single one of us can attest to the students who push our buttons, and continue to misbehave despite our best efforts to support, engage, and yes, cajole them in the learning process. Last year I had one such student. I will not go into detail about the misbehaviors , nor the energy that I spent trying to reach him. Suffice it to say that I thought about this child well beyond the 180 days that he was in my charge. In fact, I am certain that I will never stop wondering/worrying about his life.

In my quest to find ways to re-direct the acting out, I stumbled upon the “Black Dot” strategy. In a nutshell, take a blank white sheet of paper and a marker to draw a huge square, then place a black dot inside the square. (I used a large 14 x 17 poster sheet). I posted the paper on a bulletin board where everyone could see it. Then I asked the students to tell me what they noticed when they looked at the paper. After some discussion the consensus of the class was that most students’ eyes were drawn to that little black dot. I then directed the students’ attention to the poster and asked them what took up more space, the black dot, or the white surrounding the dot. The obvious answer was that there was definitely more white space. From here I explained that we could relate this to a classroom. That the white space represents the majority of students – the students who stay focused, who want to learn, who are engaged. And you guessed it, the black dot is the student (or students), who misbehave. I asked the students to raise their hand if they had ever been in a class where the teacher focused more on that black dot than the white space. EVERY SINGLE STUDENT RAISED HIS/HER HAND. I made a promise to my class that very day that I would try my hardest to focus on the white space, the majority.

I hope that no one thinks I’m suggesting that this strategy can be used to turn a blind eye on students who misbehave. I am in no way advising teachers to simply allow misconduct. What I am offering is simply one way for a teacher to catch her breath, redirect their attention from the negative to the positive. When I employed it last year, I would simply announce, “I’m deciding to focus on all the white space I see in this classroom right now.” I would point to the poster, smile and continue with the lesson. This little statement made our class happier. My students would smile back and want to prove to me that they were the “white spaces” that I was referring to. It was one small way for any misbehaving student to try to take ownership and get back on track. I would be lying if I said this strategy worked every time, but it did help to reinforce what kinds of behaviors were expected in my classroom. And let’s face it, it makes our job that much easier when we focus on the positives.

Travel Companion

I have a companion who shows up at my doorstep at least two hours prior to any flight I’ve ever taken, accompanies me to the airport, and even sits with me on the plane. As you may have guessed, this companion’s identity is anxiety. The root of this fear- flying of course. Many behavioral therapists will tell you that exposure therapy-repeated exposure to triggers that cause anxiety, is indeed a good way to overcome one’s fears. As someone who suffers extreme flight anxiety, and has done her share of flying, I can attest that repeated exposure does very little to ease these fears. In fact, for me, the experience only serves to make it familiar, not less problematic. Typically the word familiar has positive connotations – if it’s familiar it should be comfortable because we are being exposed to situations, people, or things that we have experience with. So, yes when I fly, I am being exposed to familiar surroundings and feelings. Unfortunately the familiar feelings I have are not positive. Nor do they ever feel easier to handle as the likes of therapists would suggest. With every flight I take along panic, heart palpitations, nausea, butterflies… all the typical symptoms of anxiety. It does not disappear, or decrease the more I am exposed. In fact, I anticipate its arrival each time I travel. Anxiety is not a welcome companion, yet it finds me nonetheless. In fact, I am currently writing this post from the confines of an airplane, and my companion is definitely along for the ride. My heart is pounding, my mind is racing, my stomach is in knots, and I’m desperately trying to focus on the words in this blog. Which leads me to the purpose of this piece…how to manage these fears.
5 ways to cope with the anxiety of flying:

#1 Acknowledge

Every time I fly and I feel sick with worry/ nerves, I remind myself that this is just part of what is normal flying for me. After years of incorrectly thinking I’m sick ( nervous tummy), I now know that when I wake up on a traveling day feeling queasy, anxiety is the root, not some virus or bug. 

#2 Accept

For all the times I have flown in my adult life, this companion has partnered with me. No matter how badly I want to fight it, the feelings remain. And trying to ignore the symptoms has never worked for me. They are fierce in their desire to accompany me (after all, they do ride for free!).These days I merely “welcome” the anxiety aboard. 

#3 Distract

On days like today, when my flight is merely an hour, I have the luxury of knowing that by the time this blog is nearly complete, we will have begun our descent. Having a good book, blog, and/or music slightly helps when panic mode is high. Especially when writing or reading about said anxious feelings. Sounds crazy, but writing about these fears can put them into perspective. (Captain just announced our arrival- wait, already? I’m not finished this post yet!)

#4 Fake It

In order to fit in to the norms of society, I play the part of someone well experienced, and at ease with the rituals of flying (lest I show the inner workings of my phobia and labeled as the crazy lady talking,or worse, crying to herself). I am mindful of my surroundings, and I watch others who are sleeping, reading, or working. I take cues from adults, and sometimes children, who appear so at ease and unphased by the reality of being transported some 30,000 feet into the air. Sitting in close proximity to others who appear as though they could be sitting in their living room, can sometimes spur me to emulate that kind of bravery. Sometimes.

#5 Medication

When/ if all else fails, anxiety medication can help reduce these fears. I was extremely hesitant to include this last coping mechanism, as some of you reading may not view it as a means of coping. For many years I felt the same, and still do to some extent. A therapist once explained to me that if I had a medical disease, such as diabetes for example, that I would take medicine to help my body. Her suggestion was that the medicine I need would help me in a similar fashion. (For those of you with diabetes, please understand that I am in no way comparing a life-threatening disease like diabetes to anxiety. Believe me, I know the realities of anxiety, and that they pose no real threat to the body). However, I do include it here in the hopes of enlightening those of you who never experience this kind of suffering. 

So, if on your next flight you see a blond lady staring at you, she’s not being rude. Give her a small smile of encouragement, and maybe tell her how much you hate to fly.