The Get Up Kids years

A friend of mine passed away a few weeks ago.  I guess, in this respect, I use the term “friend” lightly.  We were friends in our teens and twenties but have since only kept up the way adults our age seem to – through Facebook, Instagram and the occasional twitter update.

We were all especially close during those pivotal late teen and early 20’s years, marked by college, part time jobs, and finding ourselves, all of which mixed together in some inexplicable fashion, creating people, who at least for me, make me cringe when I look back.

We rode the bus together from 6thgrade (7th, really, because he was a year younger) until late high school when we either got cars or caught rides with friends who would drive way out of the way to pick us up, simply for the extra driving time.

In true Cassie fashion, I knew him mostly through his brother, who I had a giant crush on for most of my teen and early 20 years.  I can say that now, right?  Now that I’m 37, have three kids, have waded my way through marriage, three kids, separation, and new relationships.  It’s ok to admit that I had a crush on this person.  Who am I kidding, we all knew it.

When I first heard he passed away (through Facebook, as you do), I couldn’t believe what I was reading. The standard thoughts floated through my head, he was so full of life, he passed away so young, how is this happening? Then my thoughts floated towards his brother, the person I grew up closer to, the person who had now lost a sibling, something I can never imagine.

And then, of course, as egotists do, my thoughts turned towards myself, and those years we were all together almost daily, a random group of us, living with each other in a variety of configurations, until we all grew up, got married, and went our separate ways.

My late teens and early 20’s for me were chock full of so many huge events that when I think back on them, they tend to blur until I can barely tell what was reality and what I may have made up in my head.  My real first kiss (by someone mentioned in this diatribe, no doubt), my parents finally divorcing, transferring colleges like it was my full time job, being diagnosed with bipolar disorder, meeting my husband at 21, picking up and moving away once I graduated.

But really, it was those two apartments; the one on walker avenue and the one in Evergreen, that truly defined my 20’s for me.  Where we basically lived in a huddled bunch.  Even though some of us didn’t even live there, we were all together enough for it to not make any difference.  Each only lasted a year, but honestly they felt like so much longer.

It’s during these years, and the ones directly proceeding it, that I can remember the little things, the little moments that made my late teens and early 20’s what they were.  I remember the arguments about new wave pop artists like the psychedelic furs at the Valley View apartment for hours at a time. Learning about new bands and new music, songs that if I heard them now bring me back to road trips and car rides in a Subaru Justy.  Me and my best friend J, sitting at Starbucks for days at a time, discovering frappachinos, because one of us had a crush on the very cute barista (note: it was not me). Seeing bands I never would have seen, (hello Dashboard Confessional, when he was just guy, with a guitar and stool, at an all-ages show in a church).  That one Mineral song that seemed to play on repeat for days (or months, or years…I can’t remember).

Ever since “growing up” I’ve tried to forget these years.  Maybe forget is a harsh word.  I’ve tried to put them away, locked up nicely and decorated with a little bow, so I could pull out the happy memories when I needed them, leaving the memories of the mess of a person that I was far behind.  But maybe now, even just for a little while, I’ll sit back and let myself remember it all, the experiences (both good and bad), the music that shaped these years, and most of all the people, those who during those times, I could not imagine my life without.

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Nostalgia

Nostalgia is a funny thing.  I usually try and shy away from it as it tends to make me sad.  I sugar coat the past at times, putting the shiny crystal sheen on things making me think I had it better when, in actuality, I probably didn’t. Charleston, kid free times, college – all things I think back on fondly, wishing I was still there in those moments, never really remembering the times that weren’t so good.

Today, though, was different.

I’ve been contemplating the idea of accepting my guaranteed entry to the NYC marathon since I dropped out last year.  I told myself that maybe this was the year I would *actually* do it if I could just take the first step and get out the door to exercise.  Today made three days in a row and I’m pretty damn proud of myself for that.

Today is cold.  And snowy.  But I managed to get the workout clothes on and out the front door to run/walk/jog/slide for 30 minutes.

As I began navigating the neighbor streets where I now live, the neighborhood streets where I lived years ago when I first began running, the nostalgia was overpowering.  This is where it all began…my love for running.  The shiny beacon in an otherwise tumultuous time in my life where I could barely stay afloat.  And then out of the blue “Summertime Sadness” by Lana Del Rey came on and my heart stopped.

This could be the fall of 2013 when I first started running.  That song took me right back to those moments so many years ago.  The early mornings and sore legs.  The darkness of running pre-dawn.  The excitement I felt when I ran down certain streets and crested certain hills and the annoyance I felt with others.

Not only did I fall in love with running on these streets and sidewalks, for the first time I actually fell in love with myself.

This girl.

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And this one.

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The girl who completed her first Runner’s World Run Streak.

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And her first half marathon.

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The girl who was happiest and had the biggest smile when completely covered in sweat.

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This wasn’t the same kind of nostalgia that I was used to.  It wasn’t so much remembering what I had as discovering what I can absolutely have again.

With this short 30 minutes this morning I began to realize that maybe I never lost my love of running or even myself.  Maybe it’s always been here.  In this neighborhood.  On these streets, waiting for me to return.  Because this is where I belong.

Drowning on Dry Land

It’s 8:37 and I’ve officially sat down for the first time today (if you don’t count the commute to and from work, which I don’t).  After leaving the house at 7:00 am and returning home at 4:30 I proceeded to all the mom things I do every day: make dinner, pack lunches, play, read, check folders, baths and showers, bed time, etc. etc. etc.

And now, at 8:37, after working a full day with East Baltimore 3rd graders, and coming home to my second (and most important full time job), I’m finally sitting down.

What am I doing, you ask?  Surely, I must be watching TV.  Or cuddled up with my favorite book.  Or simply going to bed early because I’m so freaking tired.

No.  Not any of those.

I’m working again.  Back to job number one.  Though I’m now in my pajamas, sitting on the couch, the work is still piling up.

Tonight’s agenda:

  • grading 60 math packets,
  • inputting the grades of 60 math packets (10 worksheets x 60 kids = 600 grades)
  • writing a letter to parents about our Fall Festival
  • creating a team meeting agenda
  • creating this week’s math quiz (which will later need to be graded)
  • creating a new seating chart because the green and red groups cannot seem to stop talking.  EVER.

And so on and so on and so on. And that’s just one day.  There will be a different agenda tomorrow.

I’m tired.  And beat.  And literally over it.  No matter how much work I do during the day, I’m never done.  I never get the glimpse of being caught up.  And it’s not the stupid stuff like bulletin boards and birthday charts.  Yes, those things matter, but only to a small extent.  The stuff I’m talking about are the non-negotiables: things that are expected of me in this line of work and I have no choice if I complete them or not.

This is my 7th year.  You’d think my now I would have figured out the trick.  I’m tenured.  And seasoned.  And experienced.  But I still feel like I have no idea what I’m doing.  I still haven’t learned how to get everything done.  I still haven’t figured out how to NOT spend a million dollars a year on classroom supplies.  I still haven’t figured out how to actually ENJOY my job on a daily basis.  Smile…yes.  Be present…yes.  Enjoy…no.

Maybe one day soon I’ll figure it out.  Maybe this is the year I learn how to stay afloat.

And as I reach down to pick up the first piece of grading, Charlie wakes up and beings throwing things out of her crib and talking loudly.

It’s going to be a long night.

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Abandon all hope, ye who enter the teaching profession

“In the middle of the journey of our life I found myself within a dark woods where the straight way was lost.” ~Dante Alighieri – Inferno

Most teachers I know believe that this was their calling.  They wanted to work with society’s youngest and most impressionable.  They wanted to “make a difference” and “change the world”.  The wanted to inspire and mold the next generation; the generation that would undoubtedly take over when they eventually perspired.

This was not me.  I never wanted to be a teacher.

I started college as a pre-med student, wanting to be a surgeon first, then a medical research scientist.  Once I discovered that chemistry and I would never be friends, I changed my major (to be honest, there were about 50 in-between) and picked up a dual degree in psychology and sociology.  I was going to go to graduate school and do research about the world; why it was broken, and what I could do to fix it.  Or I’d work at a non-profit.  Or join the Peace Corps.  Eventually I would probably teach, but to the “big kids” and the grown-ups who had a choice about taking my class.

But, as life has a way of showing us, it didn’t work out that way.  My senior year of college brought forth: a disastrous internship at the Baltimore ACLU, the GRE’s, 9 grad school applications sent out (1 acceptance), and a part time job working at the pre-school on campus.  It was there, working in the pre-K/kindergarten class, where I discovered my love of the little people; the tiny scholars who would one day change the world.  I discovered beginning writing, circle time, centers, recess and story time. I discovered a lovely world full of hope and amazingness.

And I also discovered something I was actually good at.  I remember the exact day, sitting on the carpet with my “friends” and realizing that this is what I wanted to do…forever.  I immediately found graduate schools education, got my M.Ed. in early childhood education, got certified, and embarked on my life path. I was ready to change the world, one five year old at a time.

Fast forward to 6 years post grad school.  I am no longer a teacher.  Yes, I work at a public school in Baltimore.  Yes, I am in a classroom. But I am no longer a teacher.

I am a data analyst.

I am a paper pusher.

I am a photo copier.

I am a lesson planner.

But I am not a teacher.

I was hired to be a teacher, but I very rarely get to do my job.

Beginning writing is now forced handwriting.  Circle time and morning meeting (character and community building parts of the day) only happen if we can keep it under 10 minutes.  Centers are nonexistent because I’m usually either still teaching my pre-prescribed scripted lessons from the district (yet still have to write multi-page lesson plans) or I am testing and the rest of the class has to do busy work.  Recess?  What’s that?  We barely have time to look out the window to check the weather for our weather graph let alone go outside and PLAY.

The other part of my day I get to be a bouncer and break up fights, stomp on sassy attitudes, and continually call and text parents of disrespectful students.  Why?  Because their ENTIRE day is one big structured minute after another and they get NO time to act their age.  We can barely take a bathroom break without it interrupting too much instruction.  And even then I could bet you that most of them don’t actually have to use it: they simply just want to get up and walk around for a minute and just be.  But I have to get through it all.  Whether they can do it or not.  Whether we’re ready or not.  Because if not, I’m the failure.  Not them.  Not the system.  Not the district.  Me.

If I’m going to be completely honest, I think this may be the year I decide to not be a “teacher” anymore.  It’s just too much and I can’t keep up with all the “extra” non-teaching things I have to do on a daily basis.  I’ve said before that there is no way I can be an effective parent and an effective teacher and I whole heartedly believe that because by the time I get home after working a 8+ hour day I still have to make dinner, pack lunches, and spend quality time with three of my own little people.  By the time I finally sit down at 9 pm to do the 2-3 hours of nightly work that I have before going back to school tomorrow, I AM DONE.

So something gets dropped.  We eat pizza instead of a healthy meal.  I put on a movie so I can work.  I just don’t get the school stuff done and I look bad.  And once I’m caught up, the vicious cycle starts over and over and over again.

There are lovely moments, don’t get me wrong.  But that’s what they are – moments.  Fleeting glimpses of what teaching used to be.  Smiles and math manipulatives and bright-eyed understanding.  And it’s always just enough to get me to think maybe it’s not so bad.  Maybe I can keep doing this.  Maybe I’m over reacting.

But then I check my email.  Or get a text from an administrator about something I forgot to do.  And I realize there is no winning.  Not for me, or my colleagues, or the students.  There’s simply getting by.  And I know this isn’t enough.

Are we ever going to be able to just TEACH?

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Today was a good day

Today was actually a good day.  It’s hard to pinpoint what made it a good day, it just was.  And the funniest part?  School actually contributed to my good mood (somewhat).

The morning started out like any other with the millions of children (I have 34) coming into the classroom for breakfast.  We did our thing like always; we ate breakfast, changed to our leveled reading classes and continued about our morning.  Nothing remarkable, nothing mood altering, just typical Wednesday.  For the most part, everyone worked hard, everyone was respectful, and everyone walked out with a little bit more understanding of why character traits are important in a narrative.

Then it was time to change back to our homeroom classes.  This is usually a busy and loud time of day where I just feel like screaming “SIT DOWN AND BE QUIET FOR 5 MINUTES!” I stepped in the hall to talk to another teacher about a student when I slipped on something and went down hard.  There were a quite a few students in the hall, but it was pretty anticlimactic.   It didn’t hurt (though I have a giant bruise now).  But what happened next did.

Someone laughed.  And not just someone.  A child.  An 8 year old laughed at me.  And then I cried.  I wasn’t crying because I fell, I was crying because an 8 year old was mean to me.  Yes.  I am 34 years old.  Yes, this kind of disrespect happens at my school daily.  Yes, I realize that kid’s opinion of me means nothing, but in that moment, my feelings were hurt.  By a child.

But then a funny thing happened.  My entire class crowded around me.  Through the chorus of “what’s wrong” and the many, many hugs I was able to tell them I fell and that while I wasn’t hurt, my feelings were hurt by another student.  And they were upset.  They were upset that someone would hurt me, even if it was just my feelings.

And in that moment I felt truly loved by these little people, in a way I don’t think most teachers get to feel, at least not in my school.  In the 11 weeks that I’ve been with my 35 little friends I’ve questioned how much of a difference I’ve actually made in their lives.  Some days I feel like we’re getting somewhere, but most days I want to throw up my hands and walk out.  The fights, petty bickering, and whining and arguing get to me on a daily basis (Seriously, why can’t you just keep your hands to yourself?!?!?!  How is that so hard?????)

But not today.  I heard their concern.  I saw their love.  And for the first time I thought maybe I can do this for the next 100 days.  Maybe we actually are getting somewhere.  Maybe we actually are going to be OK.

My Ode to Collington

“It may be that the satisfaction I need depends on my going away, so that when I’ve gone and come back, I’ll find it at home.” ~Rumi

I was only at Collington Square Elementary for two weeks before contacting the local teacher union about transferring to a different school.  This wasn’t what I signed up for, I constantly told myself.  I had completed my student teaching at a technology magnet school in the “county”.  My first few years of teaching were spent at a well-to-do private school on an island in South Carolina.  My teacher education, while at a nationally renowned teaching university, had not prepared me for any of this; for the public schools of East Baltimore.

As I drove up the streets to the school for my teaching interview, the boarded up buildings should have been my first clue that I was completely out of my comfort zone; that I was completely out of my element.   My second clue should have come from the fact that I was hired immediately after a 1o minute interview.  At the time I thought it was because I was “that good”.  Now I know it was most likely because they were desperate.

I knew this would be a challenge, but I didn’t care.  I was an idealistic sociology and education major and I was ready to change the world.  I’ve always liked a good challenge and I was ready to embrace this one with open arms.

We heard teachers talk at the new teacher institute about things that were happening at Collington.  They talked about fights, disrespectful students, children who didn’t have shoes, incarcerated parents, an uncaring and absent administration.  I still thought I could handle this.

But on the first day, I realized how wrong I was.  I grew up poor, but this was POOR, in all capital letters.  I wanted nothing more than to run out of the building and never look back.  I wanted to find a cushy job in a place where I didn’t always have to feel like an outsider.  Those of us that were new banded together like a club, while those that were “seasoned” merely put up with us expecting that many of us would not last.  I was in way over my head.  I was promised support.  I was promised supplies.  I was promised a safe environment.  And while the school may have failed to provide me with any of these things, I was provided with so much more.

I have gained a kind of confidence that can only come from being in the trenches of a war.  True, my classroom is made up of the tiny friends of the school and we don’t have the same struggles the older classes have, but we do have our own.  I’ve learned how to solve my own problems and know full well that no one is going to solve them for me.  I’ve learned how to make something out of nothing.  I’ve learned how to scour back to school ads for the best deals in supplies, because I’m the one who provides them for all 25 of my students throughout the year.  I’ve learned how to negotiate for so many things.  I’ve learned how to ask for what I want, even though I know I won’t get it.  I now know how to not feel so intimidated, or at least how to hide it.  I’ve lost the feeling that I always had, the feeling that I needed everyone to like me all the time.  That’s not my job.  My job is to teach, inspire, encourage, create, and mold…and at Collington, I’ve learned that I’m damn good at it.

Every year I have the choice to leave and every year I make the choice to stay. I tell myself that it’s because I’m too tired or too lazy to find another job.  And maybe that’s part of it.  But really, I think I WANT to stay.  Because at the end of the day, Collington is home and the people I work with are my family.  Whether it’s the cousin I only see at random family gatherings or the sister I spend most of my days with, we are all a part of each other’s lives whether we want to be or not.

For the most part, we have each other’s backs and no mater what, we are always going to do our best to make each other shine.  We have to.  Because when it comes down to it, all we have is each other.  It’s time to embrace that, to hold hand, walk forward, and do what we can to create the change we want need to see.

In the five years I’ve been at Collington the school hasn’t changed.  We still have the parent issues, and student issues, and administration issues.  The school hasn’t changed, but I have.  And I’m ready to put that change to good use next year.

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Teach your children well

“So just look at them and sigh and know they love you.” ~ Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young

I had a different post I was going to write about tonight.  I was going to post about the fact that today my kindergartener came home on “yellow” because he couldn’t focus at writing time.  I was going to post about how my four year old thinks no one loves him anymore (in his words) because sometimes we are busy with the new baby.  I was going to post about how  Mike had class tonight so it was just me and the three kids and with the above mentioned factors and Charlie going through a growth spurt and for the first time in three weeks I started to think that maybe I couldn’t do this…

I was going to post about all these things and how they made me feel like a failure as a parent.  Then, as I log into social media for the five minutes I have to breathe, I see the destruction that is Baltimore.  I see the peaceful protests being marred by the loiters and the rioters.  I see stores being burned to the ground and people being hauled off in ambulances.  I see a newly constructed senior center being engulfed in flames less than two blocks from the school where I teach and I wonder if MY 25 kindergarteners are all right.  All of this is hitting way too close to home and I feel the tightness in my chest start to rise.

And with that I realize that in the grand scheme of things being on “yellow” for one day is not the end of the world.  And in 10 minutes Oliver will come to me for a hug and kiss and validation and be back to his normal self.  And Charlie will finish her growth spurt and go back to my happy, adorable baby.  And that none of this is catastrophic because we are all loved, and safe and ALIVE.  All I want at this moment is to keep them home, little, and protected with me for as long as I can.  I want to teach them about these moments while shielding their eyes and hearts from them at the same time.

This is exactly what I think as I turn off Twitter, rush upstairs, and hug all my babies a little tighter.  Because right now, we are OK.

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