The Scaries

I think maybe I’m having a mid life crisis.  I’m only 37, so I sincerely hope not.  Since I don’t really know when midlife is, maybe I’m just always in crisis.  That sounds a bit more like it.

Happiness in some life aspects seems to be taking its toll and I’m struggling lately.  While my “relationship” with my ex is always in turmoil, my other key relationships seem to be working rather nicely.  It took me a long time to actually feel confident in my life with Joe.  Seeing as both of us were with other people when we decided to be together, the constant wondering if he’d rather be back with her was always in my mind.  Now, not so much.  I’ve accepted the fact that he wants to be with me and with that acceptance it feels like a giant weight has been lifted.

Additionally, my relationships with my kids has never been better.  While I wish I could see them every day, I do get them for 5 days a week so I know I am lucky.  When they are with me there’s not a lot of emotional breakdowns.  There’s the age appropriate ones of course, but no more of the tantrums and fits where I would contemplate calling a priest for an exorcism.  Without all of the hostility and toxic air that Mike and I would spew around the house, they are thriving and I love having this daily reminder that I did the right thing even though it was incredibly hard.

But now, in the absence of these major life instances to worry about, I actually feel a loss.   One might think that now that I have these things worked out, it’s time to reflect on other items that may have been plaguing me but that I’ve brushed aside.  Yes, this is probably true, but I feel like it’s more than that.  It’s almost as if I’m scared of happiness.  That I look at myself being content and happy and immediately begin to wait for the other shoe to drop.  I begin to worry about not being worried about something so I find something to worry about (the ever present vicious cycle). I think that’s why lately I have been so focused and seemingly unhappy in my career.

For me, the Sunday scaries seem to be a thing of the past…because now they begin on Friday night.  I spend my entire weekend with the idea and unhappiness of going back to work on Monday looming in my mind.  AND. I. HATE. IT. I find new causes and excitements each day.  I get excited about buying in bulk and reducing my plastic usage.  I get excited about making muffins with a new recipe.  I even get excited about starting a new book.  But I can’t get excited about going to work.

Don’t get me wrong, when I get there it really isn’t that bad.  I love my students.  I love feeling like I’m making a difference, at least in the life of one child but ever since I switched schools my enthusiasm for teaching at all has gone lower and lower with each passing day.  Yes, I always felt stressed about teaching and my job…but in a way that everyone does.  This year is different.  I feel like an outsider in this school, locked away in my own little corner, almost as if no one expects me to stay so no one makes the effort.  Everything seems so competitive, almost as if you can only do well if you are doing better than someone else.  It’s completely exhausting.

At Collington I was never really a favorite.  I did my job and I did it well and for that I fell under the radar (not extremely motived to do everything in the school, but also not drowning).  I knew the families and they knew me.  And I had people.  There’s something about working in a school in an atmosphere like that one.  You need people.  You are not going to make it without people.  You band together because you know they get it.  I don’t have people at my new school and that makes it rather lonely.  That, topped with a complete lack of any praise EVER makes it a hard environment to work in day in a day out.

So I stress.  And I stew.  And I worry.  I deliberate.  I panic…literally.  And then I tell myself every single morning as I walk out that door that if it gets to be too much, I can quit.  Or I quietly remind myself that I only have a certain amount of days left of this year and next year is sure to be better.  And these two things seem to be all that is getting me through.

I don’t know why I allow myself to be consumed with the stress of this job ALL THE TIME.  I have to stop.  I spend roughly 7.5 hours there each day. That translates to 35.5 hours at work.  That’s it.  Barely a blip on the 168 hours that are in a week.  And yet I spend the rest of those hours worried about work!  And the saddest part of all?  I’m a 37 year old woman and I keep worrying about if I’m doing a good job.  That’s it. No one tells me I’m not.  But no one tells me I am.

This is ridiculous. I have to be more present in the moment with my kids.  I have to focus more on the good things than stress that is ever present.  I have to stop letting 35.5 hours dictate the rest of my time.

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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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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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