Learning to be a Better Teacher

When I see a blankness, I want to cover it all. In words, in doodles, in darkness. Mess is chaotic but it’s art and natural; order shows functions but its systematically rigid. Heartless.
I’d choose clutter any day, baubles full of history.

I burned myself out this past weekend. A robot I was racing against the other teachers, against myself to complete all homework creation and lesson plans and guided reading plans and morning work preparations long before the deadline. I didn’t want to feel guilty about binge watching the entire season 2 of Once Upon a Time, so I did all my work with my ears glued to the giant smartTV in my living room and eyes stuck on my laptop.

During my prep, I felt the weight of my choice: the emptiness. Preciously fired up, it felt great to be churning my brain cells in attempt to exceed expectations. But today I woke up sluggish. My brain had rewired to sit and type furiously instead of being sugar for my students.

In autumn, it’s always sad to see the crumpling leaves fall, decaying brown, but the glowing hues of red and orange and yellow are filled with warm vigor that radiates vitality in dropping temperatures. That is what I want to embody: when I wake up and wish I could stay under my fleece blanket, I still find the energy to jump out of bed to get ready to greet my scholars with utmost honest enthusiasm.

It was an easier choice to dive into my work last weekend than face the last day of my one of my scholars last Friday. He had a curious imagination and was always eager to participate. Coping with his extreme ADHD was tricky a lot of times – for his little self and for us teachers trying to manage the whole class and help him. He would get upset when he wasn’t called on all the time and in group activities he tried to steal the learning spotlight to be a clown. But Ella and I loved him; he had a very big heart eager to bring smiles to all his friends’ faces. His fascination with bugs started to heal my fear of plastic realistic looking spiders. His active mind required constant stimulation that challenged me to build more creative methods in regaling lessons to him. Progress was a roller coaster, but he was our scholar, ours, one we believed we’d see growing up in our charter school. As it turned out, his family benefited from a job in another state. We were given a week’s notice but Ella and I did not want to face it. Even on the last day, we went about the day regularly.  As the day came to a close, both Ella and I hugged Dary and sent home his school-kept comfort bear as a parting gift.

It didn’t hit me I was in denial until Monday. I saw Dary’s name on school supplies his family had given to our classroom; I saw his nametag pop up everywhere – every time I was forced to see it, I handed it over to Ella – she was much more swift in letting it go. I wanted to stand and stare at the chance gone in helping a scholar succeed and mourn.
But that choice made me distant from the scholars that were in front of me.

My scholars know I am putty to their hugs. I will never say no. Many randomly get out of line or seat to give me a hug; I chide them to follow instructions and complete the task at hand, but I can never put my heart into it. Their hugs mean I am doing something right and I love to share my joy back with them.
But the last two days the hugs depleted. I wasn’t myself; aloof and focused on prep work and making it through lesson plans, I wasn’t interested in what the kids wanted to do or say. The connection between my students and me was breaking – all because I was afraid of getting to close to the kids left because at the end of the year they wouldn’t be mine anymore.

As my first year teaching, the kindergarten graduation will be a tearful event for me: full of rejoicing the growth in my students over the ten months and sadness for letting my babies go and use the wings that Ella and I are working so hard in ensuring they have to believe in themselves. But as my prep came to a close and through writing I faced what was holding me back, I realized I was going to lose precious happy moments with my scholars. Events may surprise me and set me back emotionally, but I cannot let it jeopardize my role in my scholar’s hearts.

I bounded up the steps from the staff workroom to my class to walk them to lunch; my scholars noticed my uplift immediately. Chattering scholars rushed to tell me about their Spanish lesson. Mellie held up her color wheel, all her colors correctly matching its Spanish word counterpart. Alexa, my youngest mischievous doll is very perceptive and she matched my mood change to bound over to give me a hug. She wouldn’t let me go, even when I stopped to tie another scholar’s shoelaces. She found excuses to be in the back of the line next to me and held my hand. And I know I should have been firm with her to remind her to act like a professional quiet, in-line scholar, but I needed to be reminded I was making some difference.

And I am. And I will.
When the year does come to an end when I must bid adieu, I want my scholars to know I will always be their teacher; I will always love them.

I give away so many pieces of my heart freely; the power of love regenerates my heart so I can give more pieces away. Sometimes it needs rest – some farewells are more bittersweet than others – but my faith is love. As I instill it in teaching, I know my scholars will gain lifetime confidence, perseverance and caring attributes.

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loner girl monologues

my monologues are really dialogues. in my head i have conversations between characters that i have created or are based off of myself, characters who feel more like friends than real people.
it was easy to hide behind scripted words in my head in high school; i was never forced out of my comfort zone. then suddenly at college, i was living on my own. i made my own schedule. the opportunities to meet new people were endless.

i find myself stumbling over words. in my head, i greet enthusiastically and flash a smile expecting the other person to engage me in an intellectually in response. when writing, every conversation has a purpose. even filler details can be subtle clues to personality or foreshadow events. life can’t be controlled like that.

it’s hardest with the people i love. i don’t share what i am thinking; it comes out awkward because i pause frequently doubting the necessity to open op. “Are you…going to..wish your ex..for her birthday?” i knew i should’ve just donned my resting bitch face and seem nonchalant.

but that facade is only a mere glance image. i keep to myself but i’m eager to laugh and mean it when i bid “have a wonderful day!” to everyone. those actions are mine to control. it’s when i cannot expect reactions to what i have to say, i do not handle my disappointment well.

in my head i hoped he’d say no, he’d forgotten. in my head i hoped he’d shrug and say “maybe, but i’m here with you right now. that’s all i want to think about.”

basically anything but him gushing about how talented she is at voice acting and how he’d want to work on a project with her.

my thoughts jarred; there was not a singular coherent feeling to express. rather, bottled up, my first reaction was to split. he’s not good enough for me, i deserve to be the only center of his attention! 

blame it on me being a Leo.
even a loner likes to twirl in the sun. we don’t like seeing eyes on us, but knowing they may be there? awesome.

i wasn’t happy but after almost a whole day of moping, i realized it’s my choice to let it go. my love is with me. he chose me over her. he didn’t gush, he was being practical about utilizing a talent of a friend. is it his fault that i cannot be friends with my exes? no.

in the world that exists within my head, it’s easy to plan out the perfect romantic dialgoues – and the best revenge scenes. that’s really how i ended my moping today: imagining myself staring at my love before pulling up on the side on the highway and waving, “boy, bye.” he’d have to walk ten miles home! i realized that wouldn’t give me satisfaction at all because i indeed do love him.

since i strictly watch and read things that have a guaranteed happy ending (life’s too melodramatic for me to spend hours crying over Titanic and Old Yeller), i know my fair share of promising cheesy lines to believe in oneself and fight for love. loner girl here spends too much time trying to come up with original heartfelt words that aren’t too cliche. candidness is never a response i see coming; the one thing that gets me every time in reality.

my love is my first dating relationship. twenty-two and so late in the game, it’s going to take time for me to process and accept the natural ebb and flow of real dialogue that does not give me what i want to hear. eventually, hopefully i’ll truly appreciate his honesty like i say i do.

until then, if i see people break into dance moves and songs i’ll know it’s time to pinch myself awake.

dear tomorrow

when i was a little girl, my dad and i would get into fights. i don’t even recall why anymore; my grades and outspoken attitude would disappoint him then. twelve, i wanted to talk about what i liked than be talked at for what i needed to succeed in my future. i swallowed the words instead and my dad never pried those words out. we wouldn’t talk for days. that’s when i would wait for a family function because i knew in front of family we would act like everything was okay and let go of what was eating us. i would be happy to have my dad back to joke with.

but just as easily an argument about who i wanted to be versus who he wanted me to be would render us silent for weeks. those stretches have grown longer since i’ve gone to college and graduated. i don’t know how to connect to him and he doesn’t know either.

today was a rare day i want to remember. he drove me to wegmans because i needed mixed frozen vegetables to make chicken potpie for my potluck at work tomorrow. we talked a little bit about how my work was going. mostly we hit it off talking about tv shows because we have the same taste: love and family and happy endings are simply a must. when he saw me making anchor charts for my class while playing Once Upon a Time on my work laptop, he suggested i do my work outside in the living room so i could watch the show on our large smartTV. i know he just wanted to enjoy my presence. and it did feel good to be watching a show with him that made him tear up just like me. as i shuffled around the kitchen cooking, even though it is my mother’s primary domain, i asked my dad for advice and he helped.

today we felt like father and daughter. but we didn’t get personal. that never works. when i talk about my love for writing, he only expects me to churn out a book like a machine. when i talk of my love, he is repulsed that i would date instead of being married already because despite being family, our cultures are different. when he prays to god, i pray to Love. when i bring prep work home and complain about not enough time, he uses that as an excuse to be upset when i go out to hang out with friends.

but underneath it all, he’s still my dad who only wants the best for me. i want to believe that. even if we can’t be more than tv buddies. our views may be different, but i know i inherited upholding my beliefs firmly and passionately from him.

our road is rocky. but today was nice. i want to remember today.

 

heart to heart

like cheese left out in a dish
we peek through the windows
to see my father drive away
the sign to begin chattering
my mother and i stumble over eachother’s
voices to get all we have to say out
before the key turns in the lock
and we scamper to separate corners
our voices muffled, no crumbs left
of the secrecy of being in love and
her admittance to trusting me
factors uncontrollable for father
he does not want to hear
we the mice hide our whiskers twitching
for another cheese opportunity

one at a time

I try to do several things at once. Partly because I am impatient, partly because I don’t want to feel bogged down with work. When I am cooking or writing lesson plans and I have Netflix playing in the background, my necessary responsibilities do not feel tedious. But it slows me down.
I used to be the Queen of Procrastination. It worked too because it fueled my creativity drive. Under the pressure to study for an exam, some of my best poems were written ironically.
It’s not like that anymore because I am committed to my job. I want to be successful at teaching, make it a long-standing career. For that reason, I find myself waking up thinking about what I have to do for work, ready with words to write on sentence strips for the scholars to practice voice to word matching as they read, going over the list of what else needs to be taken care of. Songs or a familiar favorite tv show playing in the background is meant to soothe my nerves as I tackle on the feat to make my classroom the best in organization, preparation and connections with scholars.
Today, however, I realized it’s slowing me down. My eyes wander to the video playing than focus on the assignment at task. I’m laying in bed as I type my lesson plans and my body slides down along with my pillows further disengaging me from the seriousness of the work I am producing. Momentarily, instilling creativity in lessons becomes trivial because I want to know what is going to happen next on Grey’s Anatomy more.
I was faced with a choice: leave my lesson plans for later and binge watch or complete my work so I can move onto another task. I have so many great ideas to meet my scholars needs but it’s easy to fall into the lapse of leisure with no expectations. It comes down to learning to balance prioritizing myself and my scholars.
Being a teacher is so much about giving. I never planned on being a teacher but I always enjoyed working with kids. Baby-sitting and working in childcare taught me responsibility while mostly playing with the kids. Teaching is a lot less play; it’s about painting the beauty and tragedies of reality in small doses to young minds and help guide them to making consistent positive choices that benefit them.
I teach my scholars self-control by governing the classroom schedule, by doling out quiet work for them to do, by constant repeating reminders of how to ask a question (raise hand, not call my name or pull on my skirt) and walk in a hallway. School basics that I expect become ingrained within my scholars that they begin to apply in other aspects in their life: waiting their turn to put food on their dinner plate, listening when their sibling is speaking, remembering to complete homework every night.
But to be a good teacher, I have to self-govern my habits as well. Watching television while I am trying to be meticulous is a short-cut that slows me down. Overwhelm rises as the hours tick by because of my own choice to not compartmentalize my attention appropriately. On the other hand, instrumental (Disney/pop) music really helps the voice in my head to be rational: I’m faster when I complete what’s needed before I give myself a break; the incentive holds the exact amount of allure I need to concentrate.
Next time my scholars’ faces are scrunched up with frustration from the extensive quiet work they have to do (two workbook pages? never the problem. doing them silently on the other hand…), I am going to remember my own weakness in the struggle to maintain both expectation and joy factor while working. I’m still a little scholar at heart; if timed activities and plenty of incentives get me going, I am certain my scholars are about to flourish this upcoming week now that I’ve opened my eyes.