Even if Only for One Night, Everyone Deserves a Fairy Tale

Good or bad, I am a teacher.  While the world has set opinions about what I do for a living and who I impact and on what level, I know the value and the worth of what I do.  While many days don’t work out the way that I plan for them to, I am able to go to bed at night knowing that someone was impacted, or at least comforted or included, by the fact that I was in my rightful place in the tiny world I command.

Many days I feel blessed by the presence of those around me.  My students are AMAZING human beings.  It is my privilege to lead them, or to be led by them.  They have their issues—what teen doesn’t– but through it all, they come back swinging.  They are resilient.  They are compassionate.  They are strong.

While there may be many posts about the stress, struggle, and grind of my daily job, this is not one of them.  This is a note of praise.  As I sit, watching my first block class test, I am amazed and grateful for the small community I work in, for the way many of our parents have raised their kids, and for the blessing of a truly awesome senior class.

I am AWED by them.

Today is Monday.  By all accounts, most Mondays are filled with grumbles (often from me), yawns (from all of us), and requests that we not do anything difficult (from them).  Through the course of the semester I hear their pleas often, and I ignore them in hopes that we will find our groove as we wade through the words of Chaucer and Shakespeare, trudge through more lessons on how to write with intelligence and purpose, and strive to understand the correlation between peoples and their written word throughout history.  This Monday is no different for many of them… but for me, I am moved to write so that the world knows of the kind hearts and considerate spirits that surround me.

On this Monday, I admit that teenagers are often self-indulgent.  Often they are sarcastic and crass.  But they have also been given a bad rap.  My seniors show me what I wish my graduating class had been.  They show me how much has changed in the decade and a half since I sat in their place.  They show me how the world has become so much more understanding and inclusive.  This Monday, they show me that we are all the same…

And this revelation all started at prom.

While most girls are concerned about their hair, their nails, and (OH MY GOODNESS!) their dress, and the boys want to look suave in their rented garb while driving their freshly washed cars and jacked-up trucks (I do live in rural Virginia after all), this year there were some other thoughts along the way.  There was a lot of deliberation among some about who their dates should be, some stress between patents and teens about possibly non-traditional choices, and some gossip about who was going with who, despite the fact that they had recently been spotted with someone else.  But there were also three couples who quietly came to the dance in a way that was both normal and extraordinary at the same time.  There was little said about them, but their presence may have changed the way I look at them forever.

We all know what the prom court typically looks like.  Filled with the most beautiful or most popular, they are the ones who are expected to win.  Often they inspire admiration, or jealousy, and often there is a quiet battle waged in hushed tones, or blasted across social media, about who should be crowned on prom night and who should not.  A few years ago, our school changed it up a bit and decided that the teachers would submit the nominations; the student body would narrow the list and vote in the reigning couples.  It took a few years for the kids to fully jump aboard this new trend, but this year they fully embraced it.  They took pride in it, and they used it to make sure that some amazing young ladies, who are often set apart from the student body because of their educational needs, had the times of their lives.

How I wish I could show them to you, because they were exceptional in their beauty and their joy.  While they may often go unnoticed, on Saturday they took center stage.  Ironically, they all wore red- a color that I have never had the self-confidence to wear.  It is the experiences that they were given that makes me love our kids for their spirit and their hearts.

Young lady number one, because I am at a loss for a creative way to distinguish these amazing young women without blowing their cover, has taken self-contained SPED classes throughout her days in our school system and is also plagued by significant health problems.  She was nominated and named as one of the candidates for prom queen.  While in some situations this would seem like a recipe for disaster, our students were behind her and worried that she would not be able to attend.  They voted for her, they hoped for her, and they cheered for her as she took the stage.  Her brother, always at her side to protect her while making sure she had the prom experience that every girl desires (complete with date-in-tux and not adult-aid-in-tow), gave her distance as she stood before the crowd.  While she did not win, she was radiant.

Young lady number two, who smiles constantly but has difficulty communicating, has also spent most of her educational career apart from the masses, but she is friends with all.  Her grin is infectious!  Looking every bit the princess, she was called to stand at the front with all the nominees.  As her name was announced as Junior class Princess, there were squeals and cheers of delight.  As the prince escorted her to the dance floor, the cheers continued.  The prince danced with her as she beamed.  The king shared a fist-bump, and halfway through the dance, the queen grouped them all together for a four person group mingle to the fast paced music that was played but the d.j.  Our princess smiled continuously and had the time of her life.

Perhaps it is young lady number four that makes me the most proud.  It was not until this sleepy Monday morning that I saw pictures of her in her glory and realized that one of the nominees for king had asked her, his life-long friend, to accompany him as his plus-one.  They dined together with friends, danced together, and had formal pictures taken together and with their friends.  While he did not win a crown on Saturday, he won my gratitude and respect.  He could have chosen a more popular date, but he made a young lady who often goes unnoticed and takes many of her classes in small groups feel like a princess among the masses.

These are our kids.

They have been raised well.  They are considerate, compassionate, and kind.  They see beyond disabilities and look for opportunities to make others feel included.

While some days may be a struggle, not a day goes by that I am not proud of where I teach and who I teach.  They understand that small things are sometimes the most important.  And they know that everyone deserves to have their fairy tale, at least for a little while.

They are my heros.

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A Realistic Glimpse at the Reality of Teaching Real Students

Several months ago, a friend from high school shared a video of several teens who made a public statement of what they would like, deserve, and should be taught.  They were well spoken, honest, and forthright… and the teacher-part of my heart broke for them, got angry for myself and at the situation, and became frustrated because there is no easy solution.

I responded to her with these words:

        I’m torn. I see them, I hear them, and I believe them. I feel their frustration, and much of it is mine, but I’m also one of the ones teaching them some of these lessons. I don’t know how to fix the problem, much like I don’t know how to fix the problems that exist within my own classroom, where earning an 8% on the latest test is seen as acceptable among peers and I am the one who is expected to put in more effort to ensure student success… They [the girls in the video] are fearless, and I feel powerless.

Being an amazing woman, my friend replied, assured me of my worth, and in the first conversation we had really had in years lead me to respond with the following:

        Thanks for the words of encouragement. The video hit on a day that I was already feeling low. I am finishing a semester with some of the most unmotivated seniors I have ever seen. They are nothing like we were, and so the caliber of many of my lessons is far below where it should be.

        The most amazing feeling is when they get it, really get it. Last week, my honors kids got it. We were reading “The Highwayman,” and as I finished the room was silent. Not the silence of confusion or sleep or way too many things consumed the night before, but the silence of understanding, and awe, and sorrow. They got it… and then they went to their second period classes and were replaced by my eight percenters, who honestly don’t give a damn. And a part of me died.

        The video you shared grabbed that part, and I cried. I want to be like our great teachers were, and some days I am! Then there are the days where I struggle to get them to care at all. I’m stuck between what great education is and should be and having to justify why I have students who expect to play college ball but can’t even crawl their way through my class- all while knowing there is an even greater message to be taught.

She again replied with words that every teacher needs to hear.  She assured me that I was doing what needed to be done.  My students are receiving what I am offering them.  They may chose not to act on it, but it will impact them in some way, at some time.

Our conversation was so simple, so heartfelt, and so real that it prompted us to say things that may have never been said otherwise.  We talked about teaching and motherhood and feeling like we are failing at what we both love to do.

And I was inspired.

Maybe others need to hear that I feel frustrated a great deal of the time.  Perhaps they feel frustrated, too.

So, here’s to us who teach where our words are not often heard.  Here’s to us whose students love us, or hate us, or somewhere in between.  Here’s to us who give of ourselves and the lessons we craft, for teaching truly is a craft, a gift, and a skill.

And here’s to Devon, for helping me to remember that, to see my self worth, and to remember that my words are of value.  Here’s the blog I promised all those months ago.

Anticipating the First Day Back/Away (Or… Proof that I Suffer from Mom/Teacher Syndrome)

Today is a perfect lesson in the oxymoron that is my life.  While I have not updated my followers, I have spent the past months creating, growing, and meeting the unexpected miracle that is number four.  (More on that later, I promise.)  But for now, on to today’s post.

I have been away from work for eight weeks.  In that time, I have experienced an eventful hospital stay (including the amazing birth of a beautiful human being, frightening blood loss and painful procedures to make it stop, and a 5:00 am fire alarm), come home with a newborn in a snow storm (high stress for me), had oral surgery, and potty trained twins (most of the way).  An entire online class has been taken (final exam due Wednesday), my teacher book has been worked on, and the grades my long term sent me were always entered in a timely manner. I have cleaned out all of the cupboards in my kitchen and straightened the closets, vacuumed several times a day, and cleaned up continuous messes made by the previously mentioned potty-training twins.  I have sorted and packed up eleven Rubbermade totes of out-grown clothes and multiple boxes of too-small shoes, which I have toted to the shed (also straightened by yours truly in the past few weeks).

There have been countless appointments, forms, applications, and phone calls completed in this time.  Most difficult for me is the fact that I’ve been alone most days from sun up to sun down (or later) due to a husband who works so hard to help provide for us and had very little interaction with adults or the outside world.  I am a social person!  My children make for interesting company, to say the least.  To say I am ready to return to work tomorrow is an understatement.

But…

Tomorrow I will not be able to snuggle my tiny, warm baby or receive random kisses from my twins.  I will have to call or text to know how their day is going.  I won’t be the one to care for them if there is an accident or they get upset.  I will not be able to run to my first grader at the drop of a hat if something happens at school.  I will have to leave them in capable hands that are not my own, and though I trust the one who will be caring for them, it will not be me.

Tomorrow I will leave my house with a smile of gratitude to be going to something less exhausting and tears for all I am leaving behind.  (I may also be yelling something akin to “Free at last!” while sobbing and hiccuping.)

Y’all, please pray for me.

Twas the Night Before Finals

‘Twas the night before finals; I was stuck at my table.
not a student was studying, even though they were able.
My printer was buzzing, there’s no ink to spare,
for I’ve waited too long and am pulling my hair.

My exam must be edited, for typos abound,
and my kids have been threatened: If they make a sound…
This Mama is tired, there never is rest,
and the bed will be calling if I just finish this test.

The scantrons are placed on the desk in my room.
I’m daydreaming of students whose minds are in bloom.
The pencils are sharpened, and all is in place,
If now this one teacher could just finish this race.

At the end of each school year, I must admit,
I’m filled with the urge to throw hands up and quit.
Just a few days more patience and dealing with creatures.
I can do this, I won’t scream- For I am the teacher!