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.

Fifteen Years and Counting

Yesterday marked the fifteen year anniversary of my high school graduation. As I sit here in my own classroom, now devoid of students awaiting Saturday’s graduation festivities, I realize two things:

  1. I’m officially old. Not Jurassic Park old (though it did come out when I was in eighth grade), but older than I’ve ever been before.
  2. I am so much better now than I could have imagined.

So it is with a nostalgic heart and a smile that I dedicate this, an account of my growth since I marched into that iconic theater in my purple gown so many years ago.

I am real.
Bigger than I was in high school, I would love to be somewhere between the size I was then and the size I am now. What matters the most, however, is that I am not totally defined by looking the way I think I should look. I am not skipping meals or eating like a sparrow to keep someone else happy. I am not convinced I am fat while my stomach is smaller than I ever thought it was. I am a real woman. Curvy, bumpy, and natural. And I’m almost ok with that.

I am intelligent.
In high school, I thought intelligence was defined by the classes I took and what my grades were. Now, more than a decade later, it is not the degree I hold that determines my intelligence; truth be told, I have learned far more from my life experiences than I did in high school and college combined. I’m still a work in progress, but the world around me makes more sense. And it scares the hell out of me. No longer trapped in the microcosm of high school, I know what lurks in the shadows. And in the sunlight. I know more than I ever thought needed to be learned.

I am valuable.
My worth goes far beyond what I could have understood fifteen years ago. My paychecks may never be grandiose, but there are aspects of my world that would cease to exist if I wasn’t there to take care of them. No one can ever be me. They may be good, or important, or often even more competent than me, but they will never be me.

I am genuine.
High school was a blur of trying to be liked and trying to belong. Things were said or left unsaid for the benefit of my peers. Now, I am what you see. Though I still often second guess myself, I am who I am. I will not lie or deceive to hide from the truth. Even if it is not a truth you want to hear. Or that I want to hear. Life if better when lived up front.

I am a fighter.
High school was a time of conformity. Now, I fight for the things that are important. I fight for my students, for they deserve more than they are sometimes given. They also deserve to be taught to fight for themselves, to prove their worth, and to value the knowledge that is given to them. I fight for my children because they are precious to me. They deserve the world, but they also must value it. I will fight for them until my last breath.

I am a mother.
This is, by far, the most important. My world was rocked when Maddie was born. She and her sisters are my greatest accomplishment. My days are lived for them. They are the reason that I know my worth. It is impossible to feel the love they give me and not feel both blessed and humbled. And so very important.

I am so much more now than I ever was then, but I still remember where I came from.

Here’s to the class of ’99. May we be strong, may we be wise, and may we leave this world a far better place than we found it.

“Hello… Yeah, It’s been a While. Not much, How ‘Bout You” (AKA- I Need Your Help)

As a child in the ‘80s, I remember the above lyrics as background music to life in the town house I lived in for four years.  Mom liked the light stuff; Dad would have had something a little more Rock-n-Roll on the dinosaur sized stereo/record player.  I don’t remember who sang it, and I could look it up in a blink thanks to modern technology, but sometimes I like things to remain nostalgic.  (Bonus points, however, to anyone else who remembers hearing it on the radio.)  Needless to say, when I thought of a posting directed at an audience of those I may or may not have met, these lyrics sprang to mind and became the title for my inquiry.

As today would have it, extenuating circumstances have kept me away from work… think of it as teacher hookie.  I have an amazing idea in mind for my next post, but no time to write it as today (since I’m here anyhow) MUST be dedicated to grading.  (See above real life picture of what plagues me.)  After all, the seniors do need to know if they will graduate in two weeks or not.

In true teacher style, I have set a timer for myself… I must work for X-amount of time before I can get back to writing.  So here’s your assignment:

While I write this blog for myself (therapy) and my children (They may read it in the future… who knows?), I do really enjoy interacting with an audience.  Most of you are family and friends, and I do hope that you are enjoying a glimpse into my erratic brain!  Some of you, I am pleased to say, are people I have never met.  The fact that you are willing to read this must mean that I’m doing something well.  Hello to all!

Now the homework  I have so many ideas, and I need to know where to start.  (A blog I read yesterday aslo encouraged asking readers what they would like to see.)  Tell me what I should write about next.  Between my kids, my job, and strange memories from the past, hopefully there is something you would like to see me pontificate about.  If you don’t have a request, please do me the favor of “liking” anything you enjoy and providing tons of feedback.  Follow me if you would like.  I, like my students, thrive on positive reinforcement!  I also, someday, would like to turn blogging in to something bigger, so your constructive criticism is appreciated as well.  Feel free to leave all comments in the comment box.  Help me to be a better writer, and in return, I will try to give you all the worthless knowledge and humor I have to offer.

Thanks for the help… I will see you again soon.  You may now return to your regularly scheduled lives.

Finding a Boy in a Tree May Just Change Your Life

Thinking back, there were things that I was allowed to do that would scare the crap out of me now. Being a parent myself, I understand why children can’t roam unattended, but days were different then, and apparently there was a network of moms, unannounced to their kids, who worked together to keep an eye on our location. As I grew up, I truly do remember days when the lightning bugs came out before we went in. Our moms were somewhere in the background by that time in the evening, but all I remember was the fun created by a random game in someone’s yard.

For the life of me I can’t remember how I managed this freedom, or how I escaped the back yard without an armed escort, but I’m so thankful for whatever trick I employed that lead me to the woods behind our yard when I was only four years-old. The memories are fuzzy, but I know that was where I met the slightest of children, blonde and pixie like. Staring up into the heavens, she stood looking at her brother, but I am sure she was placed there for me to find.

As an adult, I now know that finding a male in the top of a tree is cause for alarm. Then, however, it seemed just as amusing to me as it did to her. I don’t know why he chose to climb a tree behind my house, it was nowhere close to theirs, but I do feel that it was kismet that we met, almost thirty years ago, and I know my life would not be the same today if he had chosen any other tree.

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That was the summer of 1984.

As fate would have it, our moms also grew to enjoy their time together, which made it so much easier for the three of us to spend countless hours. I still have the layout of their home ingrained in my memory for it feels like I spent as much time there as I did in my own home. Her family was my family. School, Girl Scouts, camp… we did it all together. She and her brother even sat in the hall with me when my brother, eight years younger than I, was born.

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Then the Coast Guard called, and they had to leave…

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Off to Florida went my best friend, with the rest of her family and my heart. A year later we moved, and that’s where the story gets really amazing. At the age of eight, I lost all of my friends and had to start over in a new school, but one of them remained despite being separated by four states. Phone calls and letters, newspaper clipping and pictures, somehow we were still a part of each other’s lives.

Then they moved to Michigan, where apparently it snows at least eight months out of every twelve, and still she stayed in touch. Somehow we grew up together, even though we really didn’t.

She was back for my high school graduation, stood as my Maid of Honor at my wedding, and has come after the birth of my children. She is the sister my parents didn’t give me, and for that and much more I am ever so grateful.

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Her family is my family, her parents an extension of my own.

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As for that boy in the tree so many years ago, I continue to give him thanks. Had it not been for him, I would not have met her.

I would not have received the text yesterday: “Box #1 sent out today.” You see, that means something more to me than it probably does to most people. It means her stuff is on the way… and so is she. There’s no turning back now.

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Look out world… Auntie Gina is coming!!