3 months into 40

40 candles_600It’s December 22 and I’m 3 months into 40. Today I’m feeling my age but in a good way. When I was 20, 40 seemed eons away. I just couldn’t fathom it. As the world keeps turning and the candles keep burning, each year gets seems to come faster. Perhaps that’s why I don’t feel like I’m aging or maybe aging is something different for me than it was then.

When I gaze at my reflection, I see the same person. It’s not until I look at photographs that I see the subtle differences that confirm I have, in fact, aged. Each visit to the doctor confirms the aging as well. My gynecologist scheduled my first mammogram and incidentally it was today. What a smash fest! My girls were pulled, prodded, and pressed between cold plastic during that “photo shoot” until they gave the camera what it wanted.

During my annual eye exam, the doctor asked me if I’ve experienced any changes in my vision since, “I see you turned 40 this year.” I wanted to say, “It’s been all of 3 months.” But I said, “Nope, I can still read really small text up close.” I have been near sighted and needed glasses since childhood. My vision hasn’t worsened with age…yet.

Turning 40 has bestowed many gifts. I know myself better than I have in the past. I enjoy people and socializing but my own company is just fine. Marriage has given me wings. I pride myself on doing the best, but I have nothing to prove to anyone but myself.  I take no one for granted. Having a best friend or a lot of friends is overrated. The best giving is when you get nothing in return. Writing and/or reading a good story is bliss. Working through a struggle instead of escaping makes life meaningful. Sometimes the smartest thing you can say is, “I don’t know.”

It is true that American culture is obsessed with youth, but in the right context, this is the best time to get older. I’m only 3 months in, but 40 is wonderful.

 

 

Reading E.B. White’s Charlotte’s Web

With every reading, I see some new truth.

“Never hurry and never worry,” said Charlotte.

Iron and other metallic needs

I signed my husband and I up to give blood on Friday. Our appointments were thirty minutes a part. Once I was stuck, pierced like Snow White, the iron reader came up low for me. I needed 10 more points to make the cut. The nurse stuck me once again, this time in the other hand. This time my iron was higher, but alas, not high enough.

I was disappointed, but determined to enjoy the time. While my husband continued through the process, I drifted over to the recovery table comforted by the greeter that I could try again in January when they were back. I kept the conversation going where the topics meandered and flowed around school, teaching, giving blood platelets, the last time we had given blood, and the greeter’s volunteer experience.

Finally my husband was done and by then another guy wearing a UGA shirt was as well. I knew the conversation would soon turn to football and the recently departed (from UGA) Coach Richt. When we left, we took pictures in the nicely decorated City Hall, inside and out.

Upon returning home, we collected the teenager and dove into thick traffic in search of more Christmas tree lights.

I will try to give blood again. I’ve been successful in the past. Since then, I’ve loaded up on spinach, chickpeas, and Farina.

Anticipation

  

December 1, 2015

Despite my teeth gnashing and occasional wailing, I am a teacher at heart. I enjoy building anticipation in my students. My excitement about anything spreads like wildfire. I am a builder of excitement and anticipation which is a big part of advent. We wait for the coming of Christ, the baby Jesus, O Emmanuel, God with us. 

Our hearts beat a little quicker. We smile a bit wider. We look forward to good eating, fellowship, and gifts, receiving and giving. Unfortunately, for most of us, this is a time of hustle and bustle where we are filled with a lot of cares. 

It’s easy to get bogged down in the details and things that have to get done. We quickly lose the excitement anticipation brings and instead the entire season becomes a burden. There is a better way. 

I try to take each day, hour, and moment as it comes instead of harping on the past or worrying about the future. The twin to anticipation becomes experiece. The Christ child comes to bring salvation and abundant life. Advent commemorates these gifts that are better together. 

Beta Reader: Open for Service

Do you need a beta reader? If you are, I am the one. If you are a newish writer, don’t try to go it alone. Words are magical such that when they ooze out of you and on to the page, they change and morph. I’m not merely speaking of the banal job of editing, but also of the process of fashioning your piece into the best it can be. In my own experience, I’ve tried to do it alone. Don’t do it. You need champions who will read, critique, and question.

Contact me. I’m waiting…

Disenchanted Melody

I am a teacher who has become infected with an increasing sense of disenchantment. Each of my 3 years as a homeroom has been wrought with struggle. By this 4th year, I am beat down, which is so unlike me, always up for a challenge. I am in a constant state of self-encouragement to get me through the week, “You can do this.” “Friday is coming.” I have invested a tremendous amount of time, money, and emotional energy into the pursuit of teaching. It is disappointing to feel within me a growing desire to transition.

What do I love about teaching?

  • The content is what drives me. I enjoy approaching a subject, mathematics, science, social studies, and using literacy to delve deeply into the knowledge. With voracity and delight, I enjoy learning and exploring in community, exchanging ideas, constructive argument, and analysis.
  • The order and structure grounds me. A classroom and the larger school is part of a system that demands order. From the alphabetized class lists, neatly labeled materials, and the rows and stacks of desks and chairs, a school cannot thrive without orderly systems and procedures.
  • The autonomy (most of the time). The research suggests that the teacher is the most important determinant of student success. Sometimes this leads to daily autonomy.  For the most part, the teacher is able to create a classroom community aligned with her own teaching personality with limited meddling from administration. Of course this is not absolute as the teacher has to adopt the teaching models espoused by the school and modify based on student needs. Overall, though, the teacher “rules the roost” and creates the work environment they and their students inhabit daily.
  • Creatively igniting a passion for learning in the students. Seeing students become excited about the content and learning gives me great gratification and joy. I can indulge in and invite them to indulge in multi-model means of expression: singing, writing, dancing, and technology.
  • The two month summer vacation and other holidays off. This is a great perk. Most people don’t know that teachers are required to engage in continuous professional development so the summer is not constant lounging poolside. Given the stress of teaching, it would be difficult to imagine teaching without these breaks.
  • The mission driven nature of the job. One of my gifts is helping others. Teaching is nation building as we form the minds of our future citizens. Teaching is unequivocally people centered. We meet students at their areas of need, academically, socially, and emotionally.
  • The salary and benefits are good.

What disenchants me about teaching?

  • The perpetually expanding demands and requirements placed on teachers with little or no tangible support. Every year. there is some new instructional practice or teaching framework that teachers are required to adopt with minimal training. Often the training is on the job without adequate opportunities to learn the new strategy/practice and incorporate it into the daily routine alongside the plethora of other required duties. A few of the new and subsequently repackaged practices are: The Workshop Model, CAFE, Daily 5, Depth of Knowledge, Word Study, Greek and Latin Roots, Formative Instructional Practices, Number Talks, Calendar Math, Inquiry Circles, Conferencing, Formative Assessment, 6 Writing Traits, Literature Circles, Word Walls, Cooperative Learning Groups…I’m not disputing the efficacy of any of these practices. It is overwhelming to implement them while new ones are introduced and some are forgotten.  With the advent of least restrictive environment, teachers, are expected to deliver instruction to each student according to their individual needs whether they are general or special education. These needs might include accommodations for a learning disability, behavior/social/emotional problem, limited language proficiency, medical issue, and any other thing the child might need. There are support teachers and paraprofessionals who are assigned to assist the classroom teacher; however, barriers often push the responsibility back on the teacher or lessen the effectiveness of the support they are supposed to give. These barriers include a lack of on the job collaboration between the teachers. Often the support teachers show up and jump in as needed. Their presence would be much more effective if the teachers had time to collaborate beforehand. Additionally, the support teachers are often pulled from their regular schedules to provide assistance in other areas so they are often not there to deliver the instruction. In these cases, teachers have to be creative in providing the accommodations for these students and all students.
  • Necessary Multitasking & Breakneck Speed. Managing a classroom full of students requires superhuman feats of multitasking. I am in the Autumn of my multitasking, my dendritic leaves are falling. I often make mistakes. I forget things. I am scatterbrained. This is due in large part to the required time multitasking and lack of time to think and process. When there are so many calls on your time and attention, slow purposeful thinking is too expensive. The scope of all the content we have to present ( I dare not say cover) in the small amount of instructional time provided makes teaching a daunting task. It doesn’t allow for the fun aspects of teaching and learning: experiments, projects, hands-on learning, creativity. In school we learn that we need to create lessons for every type of learning. It takes more time. Collaborative learning takes time. This is precious time you don’t have.
  • The long arduous process to get a student into special education. I understand the reasons for having a multi-step process for qualifying students for special education. Too many of African American children were shuttled into special education due to the racial and cultural biases of teacher. But now the pendulum has swung in the other direction. The process is so long and paperwork driven that teachers are dissuaded from pursuing it unless in extreme cases. Students who are below grade level are pushed along with no hope of catching up. The students with serious behavioral problems who disrupt learning create a particularly stressful environment for students and teachers.
  • The inordinate focus on standardized test scores. Test scores have become the marker of effective teaching in education. This is unfair and disheartening for teachers like me who have a high level of students below grade level in all areas and suffering with behavioral and emotional problems. A contingent of my class receives 45 minutes of instruction from a special education teacher. I never get a chance to collaborate with them. Those who are in special education for reading and writing are in general education for Science & Social Studies. These two subjects are heavy on reading. When it’s time to take the test, I have to read it to them.
  • The emotional & idiosyncratic demands. This is where I confused my love of content with my love of teaching children. I do enjoy teaching children in the teaching moment. I don’t enjoy the job of a homeroom teacher, being with the students all the time. I cringe at how it sounds, but it is true. I would rather pop in for a lesson or activity and then leave, have concentrated time with students instead of the everyday, all day presence of a homeroom teacher. I enjoy getting to know them, but am frustrated by their individual idiosyncrasies.  Most of it is developmental, I know: their need for constant attention, bent for tattling, spaciness, laziness, failure to write their name, forgetfulness, inability to use a stapler after repeated lessons, lying to parents…I could go on. I would have less disenchantment if I had more time away from them. I would much rather support other teachers like those support teachers I describe above who pop in and out. WOW, this is revealing.

Considering that every year has been a struggle for me, I wonder if one year without struggle would change my tune? I don’t know. I want to stay in education. Is the answer to teach older kids? Adults? I’m not sure. I do know I’ll have to figure it out by next year.

A Joyful Heart

Reluctant obedience or sheer willpower will never last the distance. Only a joyful heart can walk the long and difficult road.

  from Dare to Journey with Henri Nouwen by Charles Ringa

The above quotation is the last two sentences of a devotional I read this week. It pierced my heart, opening it up to receive the beautiful epiphany I needed for the journey, my journey. I must have a joyful heart to survive and thrive in my vocation.

I am on a journey, a long, difficult one. Are my adjectives correct? Is this journey both long and difficult? I could argue for the accuracy of both. The journey I speak of is my professional, vocational journey. I am an elementary school teacher. Though I’ve been in this profession since 2009 and officially since 2011, I am still a novice teacher.This is my first year beginning at the start of the year. The other years I began after the school year started, or I was in a different capacity other than a homeroom teacher. During this time, I have learned a great deal. Yet, I have a so much more to learn.

My journey is long. I work many physical hours and a triple amount of mental hours thinking about my teaching practice, my students, or my perceived shortcomings. It seems as if the work of teaching is never complete. My hours put the “lifelong” into the “lifelong learning.” I’ve cut back some out of self-preservation, but each week brings new challenges. The requirements continue to mount without the proper assistance.

My journey is difficult. Each student has his or her own unique behavioral and academic strengths and weaknesses. In my case, students require additional services they are not getting for various reasons. As a result, it is my responsibility to meet those needs. In the process, I feel scattered. I want to go deep in my teaching, but often I have to sacrifice depth for breadth. In the face of these challenges, I walk away feeling ineffective and defeated. Often, I’ve felt like a silo.

What I describe seems negative and dreary. It is, but it is because I am making it that way. For success, attitude is as important as ability. This has been my mantra. However, I still walk away with a negative attitude. What I need is a joyful heart to last the distance. I like to feel successful. I get joy from helping others, being a leader. I’ve often felt too tired and overwhelmed to really help anyone or feel like a viable part of my grade level. When you are drowning, you have to save yourself first, right?

After meditating on the devotional, I realized the joyful heart providing the sustenance for my journey has to come out of a daily intention of joy. I can create my own mental reality, thereby affecting all around me. There is much to be joyful about each day. My students are lights along my path.

Toothbrush

Days are long.

Nights are hasty.

Time is scarce. 

Joy must be sought where it can be found.

Tingly paste

Deft bristles

Gritty friction. 

Up and down.

Back and forth. 

I love to stroke back there

Removing all traces not gagging

I’m calm.

When that place out there twirls and spins on its tilted axis

I’m akimbo! 

I reach for my brush and paste.

I bask in this small task that isn’t a task at all. All I am and all I have to give is a good brushing. 

Freedom

Much too often, I forget that I am free. I surrender my freedom to forces outside myself and stew in the miasma of my perceived situation. I focus inward and create a “woe is me” silo. In this state, I become helpless and fearful. These twins manifest as negativity and fatalism. Essentially, I become someone else. 

There’s only been one time in my life when this state lasted for more than a day or so. I’m casting this off because as I am settling into my vocation I’m becoming more and more forgetful. “STOP IT!” I say to myself. 

I am free and unbounded. Daily blessed to shape young minds, thereby shaping the very matter and course of the future. I have words and the ability to craft them into stories that others read and enjoy. I am called on to help others craft stories. I’m loved and adored in Spirit and in Truth. 

The challenge, the task is to remember that this freedom is mine, unbroken and unfiltered. Accomplishing this will surely bring that fulfillment I seek. It will overflow and break the bonds of others around me.

Sisyphus Must Die

Imagine your back yard is filled with various colored buttons, red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet. One of your tasks is to sort the buttons by color back into plastic bags and line them in your yard in equal rows and columns. There are 490,000 buttons. You have 5 days to do this. Additionally, you need to dig holes in the dirt with a spoon to bury any white buttons you find.

As you get to work, it starts to rain and you are tasked with filling small glass cups with the falling raindrops, but they cannot overflow. Now you need to make sure each glass has a button inside it. Someone is supposed to help you with this task daily, but that person may or may not show. Every hour, someone appears and adds 50 additional buttons. 

This is an exaggerated metaphor, but essentially it describes my life as a teacher. I’m not whining. I’m reflecting and accepting my fate. My Sisyphean task is breathtaking. The most important thing is for me to show up daily. Hmm these are my reflections for now.

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