loner girl crumbled

I cried in school today. Of course, I managed to walk quickly to the bathroom to sob. I didn’t want to scar my students, but most of all I didn’t want the other teachers to know.

It’s easier to journal then share aloud how I feel. It started when I was thirteen and my parents found out I had a crush. At the time, it was the dawn of  rampant usage of technology among teens, so naturally my parents hacked into my Facebook account to protect their baby. They read my messages. They disapproved.

I think in retrospect they would have handled things differently, at least my mother. But my parents had a hard time accepting I was growing up and inadvertently shamed me for having feelings. Despite learning about it in health class, it would take me years to accept it was normal for the emergence of desires during puberty to wonder what it would be like to kiss a boy and dream about falling in love.

There’s a specific moment I realized I could never open up to my parents: I was twirling a sour cream and onion potato chip between my fingers contemplating whether to bite it or shove it whole in my mouth. But my mother saw me seating listlessly on the couch and demanded to know if I was thinking about boys instead of my homework. Her disapproving tone warned me my father would not tolerate “this kind of behavior”. An only child, learning that I couldn’t turn to my parents was hard. Turning to friends was no better; enduring teasing and smoochy faces was not what I wanted. Liking a boy suddenly became a weakness and it wasn’t long before caring in general made me too vulnerable. I did the worst thing possible: I bottled up.

That’s truly when loner girl cemented. Before then I was just a shy but friendly girl. By the end of middle school, I was eager to be ignited too ready to spit fire. All the sadness was masked by arrogant pride and anger. No one saw me cry.

Except the bathroom mirror. The bathrooms change, but mirrors always show the same broken girl with red eyes. When I saw her today, I curled up in a corner stall. In high school, when I felt like I wasn’t connecting with my peers I would eat my lunch in a bathroom stall.  Even at 22, I felt like I was 15 unable to do anything right and saw no point in making the effort.

Today it was because of guided reading. A tricky subject to teach to begin with, preparing myself with texts, videos and following my lesson plans to the exact detail had been benefiting me for the past few weeks. I was beginning to get in the groove of teaching pre-reading concepts to my scholars such as reading left to right and one word gets one tap while reading. Then this week I started using pattern books so the scholars could recognize the same words at the end (I read all by myself. I play all by myself. I clean all by myself) and attempt beginning to read by themselves.

It was a disaster. Naturally so, it was only their third time trying to read by themselves. Some of them managed to repeat “all by myself” on every page but could not identify the patterns. Others said “all my self” or tapped “myself” twice – which is also understandable as by and my sound similar and they are familiar with my as one word. But the rush to make the scholars learn in the twenty minutes before the next group and the looming literacy exam in four weeks, the scores of which would be used to evaluate my functioning as a teacher, made the bud of determined focus bloom into overwhelmed frustration. I pointed at the words, I repeated the words, I told them the pattern. As my scholars’ confused faces did not change, I felt my joy slipping as I wondered aloud if I was speaking in Mandarin.

The clock ticked 11:59 AM and it was time to transition to the cafeteria. I let Ella handle it as I escaped to the bathroom, the only place I could hide for a few minutes. My sobs shaky, I was grateful no one walked in. My mind scrambled to think of any other job I could if I quit teaching. I was unhappy. But I had to keep up with the schedule, so I gathered myself up enough to heat up my lunch in the staff workroom not making eye contact with anyone. Ella noticed and waited until we were alone in our classroom to ask me what was wrong.

I didn’t want to tell her. But I knew I had to talk to someone. Crumbling, I admitted how I felt like an awful teacher. She assured me that it was normal, guided reading was always a hot mess when new concepts were presented to the kids. “There is no perfect way to teach guided reading, but we can all work to get better at it. Don’t worry, four weeks is plenty of time for them to learn.”

The weight still has not lifted. Baby-sitting kids is not the same as teaching kids. There are goals set by the state that need to be met, a result that shows mental growth. When it’s so easy for me to cave into thinking about quitting, I know my students feel the same way with bigger books and activity challenges.

More than anything, I want to teach them to conquer that. I may have cried, but I got up knowing I had a job to do. It’s grit I want to share with my scholars in accompaniment with knowledge, but I do believe grit and curiosity go hand in hand. When my scholars grow up, I want them to be able to open up and talk about their feelings. I want them to know it’s okay to admit their weaknesses and make goals to work on them. I still have more work to do to be the best version of myself. I want my scholars to be better than me. Guided reading can stay rocky; if I can impart some emotional intelligence wisdom upon them I will know I have made a small difference.


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.

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.