Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Teacher's Perspective: When You Have Nothing Left To Give

With the homeschool post still lingering in my head over the last week, I started wondering what teaching is like for "real" teachers.  I struggle with insecurities with my own child and am luckily only accountable for her, but teachers have a different set of expectations and pressures on them.  They have to answer to parents- some rational, some not so rational- a principal, and a set of test scores.

So I reached out to my friend Laura, a middle school math teacher now living in the great state of Texas.  We met in Bible study where almost on a weekly basis I would hear this very tall and beautiful young lady voice her struggles and heart for the kids in her classroom.  She would ask for us to pray for her and her kids, and we would.  I saw her stress about whether or not she would face the same roadblocks in a new school year, whether or not she was prepared to face the politics of the system yet again.  I saw her heart break when she couldn't do more for bright kids struggling at home.  This chick loves her kids.

I asked her to write on anything about teaching.  Below are her thoughts.  Enjoy.

When You Have Nothing Left To Give

I still don't know how teachers do it. Writing detailed lesson plans at 3am, managing small groups without anyone making and throwing paper airplanes, dealing with girl drama, dealing with boy drama, keeping your advanced kids challenged, keeping your low kids from crying out of frustration, teaching good character and integrity, embracing the differences of every child while keeping your routines similar. 

It is hard. 

I don't listen to anyone that says different. There are always times that I very much question if I am indeed the best person for this job. I'm not a great teacher. I'm average at best. My student's test scores are below proficient. I have kids that walk out of my room. It takes me longer than 30 seconds to get students quiet. I am not always consistent, and if I'm honest, I don't see all my reading groups every day. I sometimes forget to probe for higher level thinking and I misspell words my students copy down. It can all be overwhelming. Most of the time it feels like I am failing my kids.

However, I keep coming back. Every day I wake up and come into my classroom convinced that the day is going to be different; that this would be the day my kids actually will learn something. I revise my lessons and prevent off task behavior. I continue to have high expectations of my students and it's only grace that keeps me coming back. I very much believe in my students and work hard for them.

 Their behavior and/or academics is no excuse for me to be a bad teacher. It pushes me to be an even better teacher. And when this year is done and I look back, I hope that it will be evident that they have learned something. 

As a teacher, you will have unbelievably bad circumstances. Teachers absolutely have a hard job, but there’s no excuse. We have our nation's future in our hands. We should not take that lightly. Therefore, even when I feel like there's is nothing left to give, thankfully God steps in and takes over. It's then when I see amazing things come from my students.  I see students who have never picked up a book begin to read in such a way that they can't put the book down.  I overhear students debating how to solve a difficult math problem.  I watch a boy who was so angry begin to show compassion to a younger student.  That is God.  I take no credit.  I am only the means by which God can step in and reach these kids.  So when you think you have nothing left to give, remember that God is the one working through you.  It depends on Him, not you. 

Monday, February 18, 2013

Facebook Detox

I love social media.  I love getting my social, sport, political and world news all in once place on Twitter.  I love Pinterest. And I really, really enjoy Instagram, especially during Fall and Spring Fashion Week.

Facebook can be a complete and utter waste of time and brain cells for me, though.  It's totally distracting.  Then there is the issue of talking to a friend and not having anything new to say because I have posted every meaningless thought and song lyric as a status update, and linked my Instagram uploads to my newsfeed. Want to know what I had for lunch yesterday?  Check my Facebook timeline. 

Okay, I'm not that bad, but you know the people who are that bad?  I can teeter on that line. 

Is it a lack of adult human interaction or just a desperate attempt at exercising the voices in my head?  I'm not yet sure.

There is also something to be said about leaving some mystery to your life.  It's sort of like dressing.  If you flaunt all your goodies, you lose all your mystery and expose obvious insecurities.  Likewise, if I'm constantly telling everyone about everything I'm doing, is it some twisted way of gaining attention?  Or worse, do I think I'm that important that everyone must be graced with my inner thoughts and wisdom?

So, when I feel myself getting too Facebook happy I put myself on detox. I deactivate my account for a few months and enjoy life sans obsessive compulsive status update checking, because most of the time I end up checking status updates without even realizing what I'm doing.  My fingers swipe my phone to open and check mail, then the next thing you know I'm reading people's thoughts and frustrations and getting bombarded with very tempting sales and products from the companies I "like".  Dangerous ground.  I only have so much willpower.  

Now for a few months I will live blissfully unaware of what friends, some of who I barely even see anyway, are doing. I won't know what fabulous new products Athleta has debuted for Spring.  Alright that one was a lie because the catalog is on my desk with flagged pages of what I want need this year.  Yes, need.  But at least I won't be reminded of it so often. 

Since I will be largely unaware of what friends are up to, I am forced to now reach out to them properly, either by phone, e-mail or traditional mail.  And I do enjoy writing letters.  Pretty stationary and pretty stamps.  It is so romantic.  Of course this also encourages more personal writing and reflection because I have to actually form complete thoughts, something I should probably practice more anyway since I suffer from lack of mouth filter.  Yes, I should probably think before I speak more often.  (Note: This paragraph is meant to be read in a British accent, as that is the voice in which it was written in my head.)

A comprehensive research tool for homemakers, educators, designers and party planners alike, Pinterest will never be a victim of social media detox on my watch.  I am actually pretty productive when consumed with it, and there is never the risk of saying or commenting on something I haven't quite thought through yet.  I am ever so grateful for the memes, such as the one above, that voice inner thoughts for me.  The only guilt I have to deal with is the one associated with agreeing or laughing hysterically at all the inappropriate memes pinned.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Happy Valentine's (ZZzzzZzz) Day!

This is the first Valentine's Day in recent memory that has been chock-full of hearts, candy and activities commemorating the day.  And, I am exhausted despite the lovely weather.  It feels like Spring and Fall had a baby.  Spall?

The day is bright and wonderfully sunny.  The weather is a cool 49 degrees, and just breezy enough to have you keep on a cardigan when you walk in the shade. 

It's always hard for me to get it together for any holiday, even my birthday (which is why for my 30th I just flew to Vegas, where the party never starts because it never ends).  But sweet Isabella loves Valentine's Day and so, since this is the first year she has spent it out of school, she demanded we make cards, decorated and celebrated.  "Best day ever!" she says.

I'm patting myself on the back because I managed to research, choose and execute a craft and holiday treat.  Yesterday after we completed our school work we got busy and made Conversation Hearts and Rice Krispie Valentine's Day pops I found on Pinterest.  It was very chaotic and very messy. 

As I briefed my husband on the day's crafts and baking he offered his sweet perfectionist wife a word of caution.

"Now, Honey, you do know that it's okay if the girls don't do the crafts and baking perfectly and it doesn't turn out the way it looks on Pinterest, right?" James asked semi-rhetorically, but still with great caution.

"I know," I said.  "I've actually gotten a lot better at not freaking out that things don't look pretty when we craft or bake,"  I continued, my face beaming with pride.

I still struggle with letting go of my control freak tendencies, but I have gotten a lot better.

Apart from the kitchen being a disaster and the "MOM!  Paloma won't let me stir!" and the "MAMA! That's MY stool!"  And "I WANTED TO PUT THE FOOD COLORING IN!"  And then the, "It's MY turn to cut the heart shape!" And the Rice Krispie all over the kitchen counter and floor, which was later joined by the pink, white and red sprinkles, it was successful.

We ate insane amounts of pink Rice Krispie treat scraps and sprinkles.  All the processed sugar I consumed brought about a huge headache.  And since after my run earlier in the morning I went from coffee to sugar, to more sugar, I was also largely dehydrated.  

But at the end of the day I still managed to throw chicken on the grill, steam some corn and call it dinner.  The evening ended with some spy programming on TV and a bottle of mandarin flavored seltzer water.

Today even though I woke up very late and missed my morning run, and my walk with Hannah, I got out that pancake batter, heart cookie cutters, bacon and eggs, and got busy in the kitchen.  It was a mess all over again, but I knew the girl's joy over something simple like heart shaped pancakes would trump the stress of a messy (again) kitchen.  And it did.

I only wish I had bought the Valentine's Day inspired dishes at Target I dismissed as totally unnecessary when I was there two days ago.  Paper plates just didn't do for me as presentation.  Note to self.

As I finished my sixth cup of coffee James called and asked if we would meet him for lunch.  So still full of bacon, eggs, coffee and pancakes, I agreed.  He greeted us with an arm full of tulips, one bouquet for each of his girls.

Then we enjoyed a frozen sangria and margarita with lunch, not because it is 5 o'clock somewhere, but because holidays are hard work.  I also managed to eat a bowl of queso dip even though I wasn't even hungry.  Adding pico de gallo to your queso dip makes it totally healthy, and chips are corn- veggies!

Happy Valentine's Day!  

Next:  Thinking ahead to St. Patrick's Day.  As soon as Target switches decor Izzy will be on me about shamrocks, leprechauns, rainbows, green, and pots o'gold.  

Sunday, February 10, 2013

Why We Decided to Homeschool

Since moving back home, I get asked quite often why we decided to homeschool.  I didn't get asked when we lived in Florida for a year, but then again, I feel like the further north you travel, especially if you live in a metropolitan area with "good" school districts, homeschooling becomes more of a rarity, so for the two months we homeschooled in Florida I never really had to think about why we homeschooled.  I had expressed interest in it before, but almost immediately dismissed it because my brain is so disorganized (which later, in my research for homeschooling, learned is not a weakness but just a strength that becomes a weakness in formal school/learning settings).

Truth be told, we got cornered into homeschooling in Florida.  We moved there a month into the 2012 school year, were in a horrible school district, the private school options would have depleted any hopes of savings, and transferring her to a different district or magnet school was not an option in our county because we had missed the application window.  We weren't going to send her to a bad school and we weren't going to deplete our savings.  So, we homeschooled, until a miraculous opening in an amazing charter school became available.  

Once James' job was over and we knew we would be moving back to the DC area, I knew I wasn't going to put her back in the school system.  The reasons are many, so instead of writing a long piece on all my reasons, I figured it may be easier to break it into parts.

Reason No. 1:  Logistics

  • I hated having to wait until almost the end of June (when school let out) to start our summer.  
  • I hated having to miss Boomsday, which happens every Labor Day weekend in Knoxville, because her first day of school was always the Tuesday after Labor Day.
  • I hated not being able to take weekend road trips to Knoxville for football games because we  had to be back for school Monday. 
  • I hated having to wait for school breaks to take road trips to Georgia to visit my in-laws.
  • I hated having to wake up Paloma from naps because the bus was about to drop Izzy off.  
  • I hated that the bus LOST Isabella twice.  
  • I hated that if I was on an outing with Paloma and picking Isabella up would be easier, I had to still trudge to the bus stop because that's where I had to pick her up if I hadn't given notice.  
  • I hated that the bus stop wasn't walking distance and that transportation wouldn't give me a closer stop.  
  • I hated how early school started, Isabella bleary-eyed from waking up so early.  It also meant that if I wanted time to read and run before the kids were up, I would have to wake up at like, 4am.
  • I hated rushing every morning no matter how early or on time Isabella had woken up.
  • I hated that if I didn't have dinner planned and/or ready by the time we got home, the evenings were a mess.
  • I hated that I had to load an infant in and out of a car seat when Izzy stopped taking the bus and I was picking her up from school.
  • I know all of the above are total First World problems.
In essence, school was getting in my way of living everyday life.

Reason No. 2:  Izzy Started Hating School

 My curious, smart, fun-loving, school-loving little girl started faking sick to avoid going to school.  This did not happen in Florida, because her teacher was amazeballs, pardon the expression, but she was.  However Izzy would still celebrate when there was no school or when there was half day.

Reason No. 3:  Mean Girls

Drama, drama and more drama!!!!

"Mom, Suzie (made up name) said she wasn't playing with me because I invited Mary (another made up name) to play with us, but I only invited her because she was all alone.  And then I told Kristy (made up) I wanted a break from playing with her today and she started saying mean things about me and said she wouldn't be my friend unless I played with her."


Then, I heard Isabella employ one of said tactics on a friend and it was all I could do to not ring her neck.  I will not and do not tolerate emotional manipulation.  I have been down that road, am guilty of it myself and know how destructive and powerful it is.

Reason No. 4:  Because We Can

Some countries do not allow you to homeschool your child.  You have no option but to enroll your child in either the public school system or pay to send them to a private school.  There are so many liberties we take for granted in the good 'ole U. S of A!

 Reason No. 5:  I Couldn't Ever Keep Up

  • This post is a really good window into how our year functioned.
  • Planning dinner and lunch and trips to the grocery store were always a nightmare for me, and as soon as I did get a good routine going, a vacation or slip in schedule would set me back weeks.  It was constant stress.
  • Homework wasn't ever long or dubious, but when you already struggle with keeping routine and schedules and planning meals, making time to spend with your child while he or she does homework is just another obstacle in the evening.  Sometimes we'd spend 30 to 40 minutes on homework.  At home, we can be done with an entire day's worth of school in two hours, maximum.
  • Field trip forms, school auctions, family nights, money collections for the homeless, due dates for projects, I couldn't ever keep up with it all.  Sunday night or early Monday mornings you could find me furiously thumbing through Izzy's Friday folder just to make sure I wasn't sending her unprepared for the day.  When I did miss deadlines, or homework, or projects, I felt like I was in school again making excuses for myself.
  • Cleaning the house?  Ha!  

Reason No. 6:  I'm a Snob

Or am I?  When the emotional drama with Isabella started in school, I didn't know what the heck to do or how to handle it.  I had never gone through it when I was in elementary school, at least not the extent it got with her.  There were mean kids, but nothing like what Isabella experienced.  Then again, when there were really troublesome kids at my school, they would get kicked out if their behavior didn't change.  That's one of the pivotal differences between private and public schools.

In public schools, teachers and kids have to deal with troublesome kids.  When we raised the issue of bullies at Izzy's school with her teacher and principal, they brought in behavioral therapists to meet with the children in question.  That was not good enough for me.  The discipline, or lack thereof, was infuriating.  Shortly after her troubles began, Isabella started faking illnesses and lying to her teacher.  It was a mess. 

I also didn't know my boundaries.  I didn't want to be that mom, so I was constantly talking myself out of standing up more.  I was ill-prepared to handle the situation.  Since it was my first time dealing with a public school system, I didn't know how big of a fit I could throw to get things fixed, and I was scared to throw a fit.  

James most always thought I was being over-dramatic.  He said kids would be kids and they learn how to handle it, but that was not good enough for me.  I was watching my little girl fall apart and it killed me inside.  All I could think of was, is this it?  I have to go through this with her until she's in college?   I also found myself wanting to strangle 4 and 5-year-olds.  It was not good. 

So, snob or not, I wanted more for Izzy.

Reason No. 7:  Kids Looked Bored

Before we moved to Florida I would help out in the classroom some days, and the kids looked bored and uninterested.  I couldn't blame them.  Spanish bingo is only fun for so long.  The work and activities seemed monotonous and pointless.

Reason No. 8:  Politics

State and federal standards, No Child Left Behind, teachers unions, blah, blah, blah.  School administrators and teachers face huge obstacles.  I have friends who are teachers that have really tried to mentor their kids because they really care, only to have some political nonsense stop their efforts.  It's insane.

Reason No. 9:  Religion

We want to be Deuteronomy 6 parents: 
These are the commands, decrees and laws the Lord your God directed me to teach you...Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates. -New International version
Emphasis in italic and red are mine.  When in the world was I ever going to have or find the time to talk about all the hard lessons and wonderful stories told in the Bible when I "sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up"?   I would never have time to sit at home and walk along the road.  Shoot, half the time I was falling asleep with the girls when I read books at night.    And when I got up, I was taking care of myself so I could prepare to take care of the day.  In fact, I'm still taking care of myself first thing in the morning, but at least now we have the whole day to sit and chat if the need arises.  And trust that Isabella has plenty of tough questions concerning God and the Bible.

And it isn't that you can't be Deuteronomy 6 parents if your child is in school, Christian or not, it just takes a concerted amount of effort and dedication to instill Biblical principles in your children if you're already a spaz case in the brain, like me, juggling everything I've already mentioned that seemed to set me up for total and utter failure in this area. 

Reason No. 10:  I Kind of Like My Kids

The crazier our days got during the school year, the grumpier I was.  And homeschooling has not been easy our first year, but I have been able to really enjoy the girls.
  • I catch Isabella and Paloma snuggling on the couch watching Mickey Mouse while I tie up loose ends in the kitchen.
  • I see Izzy pushing Paloma around in an empty cardboard box pretending she's taking off in a rocket ship into space.
Some moms need the time while kids are in school to gather themselves, have time to get the day ready, work from home, etc.  Being with the girls all day does affect my mommy social life, but we have been able to meet other families like us, so it all works out.

Reason No. 11:  I Know What's Going On

Izzy isn't coming to me with worksheets that require I reference the week's synopsis to know what's going on and what they're covering.  I know what we're doing, her weaknesses in math, and able to mold a curriculum that better caters to her learning style.

If anyone ever told me I would homeschool my children I would have told them they were crazy.  It is not for everyone, but anyone can do it.  There are some amazing teachers and schools out there.  Our experience in the school system was not bad overall, I just wanted more for our family; more flexibility, fun and time together.  That was hard for me to accomplish with Isabella in traditional school.