Letter From A Sick Teacher

So I caught a little virus.

It was a bit worse than previous colds I’d had. This one brought along a couple friends, 72-hour Fever and Total Body Aches, and I was forced to take two days off from work.

This is not easy for me to do, to take time away from my students. When I taught English, I could leave reading or writing assignments and grammar exercises and call it good. But in my electives world, it’s a bit tougher to be gone.

Not only was I too weak to go to school or do any schoolwork, I could not even stay awake through the next film in my movie project, “The Great Ziegfeld.” So you get to wait another week for a movie review.

This virus lingered for a good week; even yesterday I could barely accomplish the few tasks I deemed necessary for a successful week, and when my editor-in-chief asked me if I could read stories so she could publish them, I responded “Are they time sensitive stories, or can they wait until tomorrow?”

If you’re not familiar with the Action for Happiness project, every month they produce a calendar of ways people can be a little happier. This month is self-care September.

This is a well-timed experiment for me, as I was forced to do next to nothing for seven straight days–a reminder that if I don’t take care of myself, I am absolutely of no good to anyone around me.

I loved this tweet from a fellow educator:

Screen Shot 2018-09-04 at 7.09.59 PM

Dear teachers and students, can we all follow this advice this year, and can we all give each other a bit of a break when we notice people on the edge? Then maybe we will stop wearing exhaustion and stress as badges of honor, stop compbragging (complaining yet bragging at the same time) about how much time we spend at work, and start living slightly better lives.

 

 

 

Changing Worries.

Things I was worried about prior to teaching, July 2000

  • Class size
  • Classroom management and getting the kids to respect me
  • Keeping up with all the grading
  • Not having a set curriculum for the two senior English classes I was assigned
  • Making friends with my colleagues
  • Reading all the books I needed to teach my students

Things I am worried about prior to teaching, July 2018

Granted, part of the difference in these two lists is I’m no longer naive about teaching and all it encompasses. However, part of the difference is intense political and societal upheaval, especially in the past 15 years.

In a matter of weeks, teachers across the country will head back into their classrooms. Some teachers are already there. Some teachers are preparing from homes and vacations right now. Despite the ill-advised jokes about how much teachers love summers, so many of us really consider it a year-round job.

This upcoming school year in Omaha, district superintendents from across the city have pledged to embark on a #bekind initiative. I am pretty sure the intent is to make sure kids are kind to each other, a cause I believe in. But I hope we can extend it the the adults.

Parents, be kind to your child’s teachers. Teachers, be kind to your students’ parents. Administrators, be kind to your staff. Staff, be kind to your administrators. And if teachers haven’t already figured this out, be kind to your support staff–the paras and custodians and secretaries, for they shall move mountains for you and shower grace upon you when you don’t deserve it.

And probably most important, teachers, let’s be kind to each other. Look at that list of what worries me. Some of those things might worry you too. Click on a link or three–these worries are not unfounded. We could probably stand to shower each other with a little more grace.

This work is not for the faint of heart. I left at least ten more worries off that list, and you might notice that not a single worry is related to the actual art of teaching my curriculum.

The work we do as teachers, administrators, support staff, students, and parents is more important than ever. Education as a core value seems to be declining–especially when that education happens at a public school. But as the author of this linked article writes:

Our public-education system is about much more than personal achievement; it is about preparing people to work together to advance not just themselves but society.

I hope the 2018-2019 school year sees a little more kindness, sure. But I also hope it sees all involved stakeholders working together to improve our society.

A Small, Unnoticed Beauty.

Today I took my Desktop Publishing classes outside for “Photo Friday.” This is a recurring plan I have, these Photo Fridays, where I give them a theme and remind them of photo composition rules and let them loose. Then we come back to the classroom, they make minor edits to their best photo, and we look at all of them as a class.

It was a gorgeous day, so today’s theme was “Take a photo of a small, unnoticed beauty.”

Most of the photos were of leaves beginning to bud on tree branches, flowers peeking out from bushes, messages written in chalk on the cement in the courtyard, or dandelions sprouting in sidewalk cracks or through bright red mulch.

But then there was this photo.

IMG_1621

And I am not a fan of this photo. I look at it and see a lot of flaws. When this photo popped up the big screen, the class giggled, and the student who took it said something about me and beauty that I can’t remember now, but sometimes I can’t tell when kids are being serious and when they are being sneakily mean.

But with this particular student, I am choosing to believe she was serious. I may not look my most traditionally beautiful in this photo, but I hope what she sees in this photo is a teacher who advocates for her, a teacher who worries about her, a teacher who believes in her.

And if that’s what she sees in this photo, then I think she nailed the assignment.

We Interrupt These Six Word Stories…

This school year, I’ve composed a six word story about each day. While at school, I am on the lookout for the funny, the inspiring, the poignant. Some days I have too many six word stories to choose from. Some days, there’s nothing.

And then there are the days when the six word stories I could compose would invite speculation or questions. Today was one of those days. The only things I could think to write must exist in my personal journal, and most likely will live only in my memories and perhaps an occasional conversation.

It didn’t help that I woke up sad, so some of today’s events just augmented that sadness. I started to panic a little because spring break has started, and breaks are notoriously difficult for me.

And then this post popped up in my Facebook memories.

I can’t quite articulate how much work it is to keep my depression in line. Work I often do not want to do.

Here’s a scene: at 3:00 p.m. today, I’m sitting in our office with Stueve, and students are milling in and out of our office, grabbing equipment and asking questions. I know I should eat my yogurt and granola, because I know I should go to Jazzercise at 4. But I don’t want to do any of those things. And I say it out loud, I don’t want to eat my yogurt and I don’t want to go to Jazzercise.

I want Cheetos and Ding Dongs and an 8-hour escape to Stars Hollow.

And the student sitting in a chair in our office said, “You should eat your yogurt and you should go to Jazzercise because you know you’ll feel better if you do.”

She’s right. I know I’ll feel even marginally better if I do. So I eat my yogurt and I go to Jazzercise, and I feel marginally better.

It’s the first night of spring break, and here’s what I know: writing will help, and scheduling time with friends will help, and working a little will help, and watching movies will help and of course, yogurt and Jazzercise will help make sure the next ten days won’t send me into a spiral.

So here’s today’s six word story: Some days, you do what’s necessary. #EvenWhenYouDontWantTo.

 

 

Oh, Teenagers.

In recent weeks, I have read and heard a myriad of complaints about today’s high school kids. I am weary of the broad brush used to paint these individuals.

I’ve been teaching high school now for 17 years, and every year, I defend the kids I teach more and more. And while I readily admit there’s some kids that have tested every nerve, I have a news flash for you:

The adults in public education have made me want to quit way more often than the kids.

Teens are impetuous?

So are adults.

Teens are self-absorbed?

So are adults.

Teens are easily manipulated?

So are adults.

Teens are disrespectful?

So are adults.

Teens are reckless?

So are adults.

Come at me with all of your examples of teens who are just The Worst, and not only will I counter with teens who are just The Best, but I’ll also provide examples of adults exhibiting the same behavior you’re complaining about.

It is unacceptable to point to the younger generation of your choice as the source for societal problems. It is past time we start harnessing their passion, ingenuity, and skills to make the world better, instead of scrutinizing their methods as impractical, based on the sole reason of  “that’s not how we do things.”

Stop vilifying teens, start listening to them.

Stop ostracizing teens, start mentoring them.

Every day, teens impress me. Every day, teens surprise me. Every day, teens inspire me.

Allow for the possibility that they can do the same for you.