stressed out

how can i be so old
and still feel the weight
of looming admonishment

like heat it rises
the overlapping deadlines
i can’t move my pawn
without sacrificing my knight

Rubik’s challenge
chuck it – but career
pick a color for the day


rebel strikes back

Why is the first reaction to criticism rejection? It’s this automatic reaction to save our prides. It stings worse when you’ve actually made an effort.

I checked my email to see if I got comments on my guided reading lesson plans. Occasionally there are a few formatting slights or material presentation misprints and sometimes I’m lucky enough that I did it right. But today there were more comments than the first time I wrote my plans back in September and it was unnerving realizing I had to edit twelve lesson plans. It’s hard enough to write that many in a week with deadlines of subject lessons plans and homework creation. My mood soured.

Since the last testing round, guided reading has changed in our school. While in the long run, once we teachers have fully grasped all the changes and have well-oiled implementation, our scholars will fully benefit from the change in style that allows them to learn to read while increasing their schema, right now we teachers are in the same boat as leadership. The information that is coming down to us is in a narrow pipeline and with no exemplary model to follow, we try and fail and get a thousand edits that leave me with more questions than answers. What am I doing right?

Our school has an education consultant who makes the trek from Brooklyn to Plainfield to help fortify the foundation of our school. A lovely lady she works with each teacher one to one listening to their questions and goals and then assisting them in improving their outcomes. Apparently what I gathered from our discussion from our meeting earlier this week was misinterpreted; I accepted the tip of the iceberg as the whole rather than delve into the frigid waters of the big picture.

We start our reading with a text presentation, a hook question if you may, like the one I started with at the beginning of this entry. Over the last few months I’ve been told to do it differently: from writing an engaging question that opens a discussion to asking a yes/no question that scholars can answer by showing a thumbs up and down to. Now to promote more usage of schema – which is much needed – I thought the consultant wanted us to present the text’s big picture in the question. For example, if the leveled reading book is called Banana Sometimes and on each page there is a pattern in which readers are told what bananas sometimes look like, it is best to create a hook based on. Thus to my scholars I asked, what do bananas sometimes look like? I let them talk to their partners before they shared out and then I was able to tie in their answers to how the book would read and what the book would tell us about bananas.

Wrong. Apparently, the big picture is much bigger. In the case of the aforementioned text in which a boy is playing with his banana as a boat, phone, spider, fingers, pencil, he is really using his imagination to pretend what the banana could be. Thus, my opening question should have been about how my scholars use their imagination to play with – a pencil. Then I would take their experience/replies and connect it to the book’s big picture to allow for a growth in schema by comparison of practice and told by story.

I get it. I understand it. But I was looking forward to my Thursday night with no work to do. Because every night I come home and I have some preparation to do, some email to answer, some plan to write. When you’re a teacher, you can try, but you can’t really turn it off. There’s just too much to do.
And today that made me want to scream. Because if the edits were given sooner, if I had prep longer than twenty minutes, if there was a quiet place for me to think during my prep, if this distinction was made clear before with a model, if if if if if if.
I still have to get it done. But I was told by tomorrow afternoon so I chose not tonight. Even though I haven’t stopped thinking about it.

Tirelessly I try to exceed expectations and face responsibilities with optimism, but I’m stifling the kid inside of me. And she’s banging on my heart to get out. The devil on my shoulder whispers for me to look for a mundane 9 to 5 ticktock workplace, but the kid in me ignores that. She just wants me to remember the fun parts of work: the challenge of coming up with sentences that the scholars can read and have sight words, finding new ways to make lesson plans engaging with videos and stories and hands on activities, doing arts and crafts to make classroom decorations, laminating for literacy centers. Still teaching related but sometimes the brain wants to follow the heart.

Let it. What good are you to anyone if you are dead at heart?

spin the wheel

Life cannot be perfect. Its trials makes us stronger but if you could choose one aspect of your life to be tricky what would it be: family, love or work?

Personally I would choose work. When work gets stressful, spending time with my family and my love helps me unwind and recharges my energy. But when things look bleak at home, it’s very hard for me to concentrate at work.

The choice depends on a person’s priority. I choose love and all relationships that come with it. This is tricky though as a teacher. I remember when my students would tell me they loved me in October and I would smile and say thank you. I adored them, but I wasn’t quite ready to tell them I loved them. Yet by Christmas, having spent 17 weeks, approximately 80 days together, when I finally started telling them I loved them I really did mean it.

Still I wasn’t able to give them my all during the process of moving out knowing I was leaving with a strained relationship with my parents. An argument with my love made me insecure about our future and I was a ball of stress.
Time and communication allowed for all sides to be heard and understood. Right when I felt like I could relax, my job got a bit more complex.

With the sudden departure of a fellow kindergarten teacher from the team, the classes had to be tweaked to make sure all scholars were getting what they needed out of education. Since Ella is a special education teacher and our classroom was only general education, we received our 27th student with autism from another class. It’s – interesting.

Jo assimilated well the first few days. There were slight hiccups among table mates over personal space but the other students were accommodating. The week before winter break it was like all hell broke loose. The excitement of the holidays in the air and a new school schedule change led to impatience and the need for frequent energy breaks that led to tantrums. The first time he threw chairs and objects in the classroom, I saw fear register in the faces of my other students and I felt like I had failed to protect them. It was the worst feeling – not knowing how to help or be the role model to help the other students move past what they see. We’d work as a team – Ella, school psychologist and social worker and I to dissipate the situation and redirect the rest of the scholars to focus on lesson at hand.
I cried the day we had to line up my class to get out of our classroom from Jo.

It’s hard. They’re all five. For Jo to be that age and struggle with expression is hard. He needs patience and rewards and breaks. With that comes different expectations than the rest of the kids. This had to be explained to them: we all have different goals we want to work on in class. Some of us are working on not calling out and some of us are working on sitting attentively and others are working on expressing themselves. For fear not to be a dark cloud hovering overhead within the class, we explained to our students that sometimes when we get really really sad, we don’t know how to talk about it. That’s when our actions can be bigger than we want. What can we do instead? Small actions like smiling and listening to each other so our friends know they can share their woes and modeling appropriate reactions like following a teacher’s instruction reminds all of us of the classroom rules that need to be followed.

I feel helpless when I think of my classroom not being able to predict what will happen.

Now with a change of schedule to allow for scholars to move between teachers to be taught guided reading and new literacy centers in which scholars dramatize less and sequence stories more there’s more preparations that need to be done by teacher. It takes away from the individualized attention some scholars need to vent. I feel a bit overwhelmed, like it’s the first day all over again. I am prepared with a bat at the bating cage. Unfortunately the ball toss machine has gone haywire and I’m no longer practicing for a good hit but rather survival.

It makes me appreciate spending time with my family and my love even more. I try to leave all my concerns and worries at the doorstep of the school so I can maintain my usual bubbly self in conversation with friends. I have to compartmentalize school related issues: lesson plans can wait to be thought about the next day, a concern about a student’s progress can be brainstormed. Timing myself strictly to while driving helps too. Once I step out of the car, I think about what’s ahead to continue to let my relationships grow without work interfering. After all, all the laughs I get at the dinner table is the best wine glass I can drink to relax after work.

What would you pick if you had to choose between family, love or work to be wonky?

inside driving

I’m a decent driver even though Rich would disagree. It’s only because his lovely self distracts me! Nonetheless, to get a discount on my car insurance for three years I chose to take a Defensive Driver course. The exam at the end was tough! It definitely took me by surprise that my common sense could not compete with the 300 minutes of instruction. Relying only what I knew did not make the cut 😦
I want to share some of the things I learned in case any one wants to start the new year with a discount for their car insurance – and feel whammied by the questions like me.

– Energy that is dissipated in a crash is called kinetic energy. (Ugh, how could I forget physics?)

– Unexpected traffic congestion can lead to more aggressive behavior behind the wheel. (I thought it would be the car in front taking frequent breaks. I know that would piss me off)

– Modern vehicles have steel beams in doors to protect passenger compartments. (Well…I guess it was somewhere in the reading…)

– Visibility during the night is limited to the area immediately in front of motor vehicle. (This one I knew! Goes to show you should never second guess yourself)

– If your car breaks down, you should park where the vehicle can be seen at least 200 feet in every direction. (I looked this answer up online and I couldn’t find it. Hope you’re luckier than me and take a different test)

– In 2005, approximately 2.5 million people were injured on the roadway in the United States. (2005?! Blimey, this test is old. I was 10 then!)

– The economic cost of motor vehicle crashes in the United States is estimated at $230.6 billion annually. (Well if this is based on stats from 2005, I don’t want to know what they are now.)

– If two vehicles meet on a narrow mountain road in which there is only room for one vehicle to travel at a time, the vehicle going downhill must yield to the vehicle going uphill.

I passed by the skin of my teeth! I hope you have better luck proving you are a good driver. (I suggest taking the exam from a direct source and not the one recommended by your insurance.) Now as I drive I am much more cautious. I choose to play Spotify or a CD than be distracted by my radio. Tonight’s going to be a late night drive so having someone with me will help me stay awake. I’m grateful I’m not driving far because I don’t have to take a break after two hours of driving. I really don’t want to step out of my car unless it’s to run into my house and straight to bed.

Safe driving everyone! Make sure to have a designated driver or a couch to sleep on! And beware of the icy patches in this frosty weather!
I know I’ll be making Rich drive back home tonight 🙂

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.