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.

Unknown

Advertisements

On Teaching…sigh.

I’ve really struggled with writing this post.  There are so many things I want to say about this and I have no idea how to even organize my thoughts.

This year has been one of great turmoil for me.  I’ve done so many things that I thought I couldn’t do, from leaving a toxic marriage to cutting ties with toxic people.  I even changed schools, moving from the only public city school I’ve know to a new school on the other side of town.  While the other stuff has been hard, this may be the decision I struggled most with, and the one I am still the most unsure about.

I wanted to leave my old school because it was a hard environment to work in.  Cattiness among co-workers, kids running rampant in the hall, a lot of protocol but no actual plans, a lack of communication between everyone, and a severe lack of under-appreciation made for a very hostile work environment.  When I switched schools I thought things would be better.  I thought I would like my job more.  I thought I would find the love of teaching that I lost somewhere along the way.

I didn’t.

Instead I realized how broken the system really is, at least in Baltimore City Public Schools, and how tired I really am of it.  Of all of it.

Simply put, I don’t know if teaching is for me anymore. I’m 37 and I’m tired of feeling this way every single day. I’m tired of counting down the days and always living for Friday.  I’m tired of just making it through…or simply thinking “If I can just get through (this week, this day, testing, staff meeting, observation, etc.) everything will be ok.”

I’m tired of having people breathing down my throat when 5 year olds can’t read, telling me to take my planning time to give more intervention.  Give more repetition.  Give more homework.  Work harder. Drill…drill…drill.  THEY. ARE. FIVE.  Let them rest.  Let them play.  Give them the opportunities to learn, but let them find their own way.  Max left Kindergarten hardly reading anything and now in third grade he is on a fifth grade reading level.  And it has nothing to do with me.  At 5 he simply wasn’t ready.  At 6 he was.  And because I didn’t push him and didn’t freak out and because his teacher was awesome and did the same thing he loves school and he loves to read.  Yes, by all means, if students need services and testing please get them early on.  But sometimes kids just need TIME and that’s Ok.

I’m tired of all academics all the time.  In grad school we learn that kids need play.  Studies all over the world show us that kids need play.  Do we do it?  NO.  Do you know why kids don’t know how to play anymore?  Or why they don’t know how to talk to another student?  Or why the only way they know how to play is to fight?  Because we don’t get time to teach them otherwise.  We need to teach them how to socialize, solve problems, work out different situations, be a friend, play games, how to be kind and respectful to every, explore, pretend, etc. and in kindergarten these days we are so focused on academics that the important stuff like socialization and problem solving get pushed under the rug.  There is no doubt in my mind that this is one of the contributors to rising school violence.

Do you want to know why kids these days don’t respect their teachers?  Because a lot of times, their parents don’t.  To parents I’m seen as a babysitter or a necessary evil.  I usually have great relationships with my parents, but I know I’ve had some that I’m sure think that I work for them. I’ve had parents bust into my classroom yelling at me, yelling at other students, disrupting the universe and then people wonder why the kid doesn’t listen to their teacher.  Out of the 7 teachers Max has had, I’ve liked two of them and “strongly disliked” the rest.  Could he tell you which ones I didn’t like?  No.  Did I always stick up for my kid?  Yes.  Was I ever disrespectful to one of his teachers? No.  And you know what?  He never has been either.

I’m tired of giant class sizes.  30 kindergarteners with one teacher is too many, and I’ve seen classes with so many more than that.  You want me to have everyone reading on grade level?  You want everyone proficient in math?  But you also want to give me so many kids that I don’t have time to effectively work with each student…so my scores go down, my raise goes down, my “effectiveness” goes down, and somehow it’s all my fault.  Doesn’t quite seem fair to me.

I’m tired of not having time for my own kids because I am too busy testing, grading, lesson planning, collecting data, filling out reports, filling out referrals, staying for meetings, joining committees, plus taking classes to stay certified as well as earn a raise.  Along with that I’m tired of having less money for my own family because I’m spending it on my classroom.  No one brought snack?  I’ll provide it.  No one brings schools supplies?  I’ll provide it.  I need a housekeeping and blocks center, but there’s no toys and equipment.  I need cords to run the smart board, but there are no extras in the building.  My poor kids are constantly looking for toys I’ve taken into the classroom simply because I couldn’t afford to run out and buy another thing.

Lastly, but mostly, I’m tired of feeling completely unappreciated.  Administration…I’m coming for you.  For the love of God…say THANK YOU.  Tell me I’m doing a good job.  Find one good thing to say about me and my classroom.  And say it to ME!  I’m not expecting this every single day, but every once in a while can’t hurt.  Oh…so you don’t think I’m doing a good job?  Tell me constructively and help me make it better.  The same way I am supposed to do these things with my students.

I love my students, each and every year, even the tough ones (sometimes they are actually my favorite ones), but I’m so tired of faking enthusiasm every single day.  I read a post somewhere the other day that said “Kids deserve an excited adult”.  Maybe they do, but I don’t think that’s me anymore.  I’m doing this because I’m good at it, I have great benefits, and my pay really isn’t that bad.  But my drive is gone.  My optimism is gone.  My excitement is gone.

But in all seriousness I don’t know what else I’d do.  I just wish I had time to be able to figure it out.

teacher_life_grande

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.

imgres-1

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?

teacher humor

 

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.

images

The unbalance between teaching and parenting

“Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.” ~James Baldwin

Every day as a teacher (a kindergarten teacher in a fairly unsafe area of Baltimore, to be exact) there are so many things I wish I could tell the parents of my students.  While I am teaching, I always think that I know better and wish that I could impart my amazing parental wisdom on the parents of my students.  I want to tell them to let their kindergarteners be more autonomous.  Don’t walk them to the classroom.  Let them put away their own stuff.  Don’t hover.  Step back.  Listen to them, but don’t believe everything they say.  Let them be who they are.  And many times, if I have a good relationship with them, I do say these things.

But flash forward to today.  It is my first day of maternity leave and one of the few chances I have ever had to take my child to school.  We live in a “nice” neighborhood.  My kids go to “nice” public schools.  Nothing at all like where I teach.  I feel like I have absolutely nothing to worry about.  And yet, when I had to drop my kindergartener off in the carpool line today, and watch him walk the less than 100 feet to the front of the building, blind panic set in.  He had to turn a corner where I wouldn’t see him.  There are literally 12 teachers at their morning posts.  And all I can think is “what if?”  What if he trips and no one is there to help him? What if someone in line teases him and he gets sad?  What if he gets distracted, doesn’t follow directions, and therefor gets in trouble?  It took every ounce of restraint I had not to park the car and walk to the front of the building to check on him…to wait and hold his hand for the two minutes he was going to be in line before entering the school building.  To give him one more kiss and hug so he knows someone on this planet thinks he’s amazing.

I went to school for child development.  I teach small children how to read and write and complete math problems every day.  I try to instill in them a sense of purpose, a sense of kindness, and the ability to stand up for themselves and the things they know to be right.  I am with them for 7 hours a day, 180 days a year.  And I see how able and capable they are and what wonderful little people and citizens they have become.  I let them run and grow and engage without hovering over them all day.

And yet, that is what I do to my own child.  I hover.  ALL. THE. TIME. Maybe it stems from bad early school experiences for him.  Maybe it stems from him being slightly weird or awkward.  Maybe it stems from me being slightly weird and awkward as a child or not having very close relationships with my parents.  I don’t know.  But what I do know is that I am constantly yelling at my husband for hovering and I do the same thing.  At the park.  At home.  In public.  I know what I should be doing.  I know I should stand back and let him just be “him”.  And yet I don’t.

Within the next few days, baby 3 will be joining us.  There will be less time and attention for my other little ones and I keep having this panicking feeling that I didn’t teach them enough on how to be independent.  On learning to engage with other children.  On what to do if someone teases you.  On how to stick up for yourself.  I worry and worry and worry constantly that I hovered too much and tried to control too much.

And maybe, just maybe, it’s time for me to let go…so they can just be.

IMG_8257