I dug my own grave

I  sat in the staff workroom perfecting the upcoming book celebration plan. After kindergarten completes reading a Magic Tree House book – a second grade reading level – we decorate the cafeteria based on the book theme and have a dance party. For Midnight on the Moon, the scholars will walk in to a read aloud about the moon to see a blacked out room with bulletin board paper, stars and rocket ships on the walls, astronauts and moons hanging from the ceiling, a bowl of moon rocks in moon dust as centerpieces at each table and a pumped up playlist to get them moving after they eat.
All for them and to prove that I can excel at creation.
When my boss walked in, I was listening to a moon lullaby. I stopped it to find a more dance inducing song, and Boss told me to not stop on account of her. Smiling, I admitted I was searching for a better option.
As she placed her Wendy’s lunch on the table to sort through and refrigerate, I moved across the room to check the printer. I can lead a class of twenty-six five year olds, but striking up a common dialogue with a superior makes me bite my tongue. It was her who spoke. Curiosity I don’t know, but the Boss mentioned my approved day off. “I also saw that you added another day. Are you going somewhere?”
A conversation I didn’t expect, I was unprepared to lie. Stumbling sincerity: no, I just wanted another day to myself to write. Like a fifth grader asked about her feelings for her crush by the crush’s mom, I awkwardly added, “I can come in if you want me to.”
Where was the future me traveling back in time to stop me from committing stupidity?
Of course Boss tried to be lenient. Would I want Monday or Tuesday? I was getting a day off March 12th. That was a gift.
She packed up her prepped salad to take upstairs to eat in her office. I stood there in the empty space knowing if I screamed everybody would hear.
The chasm of frustration had me teetering on the endless rim of black hole vexation. What’s a personal day if I have to talk about it?
It’s Rich’s spring break that week. This semester has been hard on us. He juggles work, eighteen credits and jumping into game design without prior experience. We don’t see each other so much. All I wanted was to spend a long weekend with him, Indigo curled up between us as we continued our Naruto marathon. That day for vacation is approved. I just wanted the extra day for myself.
Why should I feel guilty about what I want? I take pride in my work, the youngest of the pack, I try to maintain my gait with the grade leader. Somehow I’m still the twelve year old who’s not good enough in comparison to the teachers who spend their weekends traveling to teacher conventions and hobble in noncontagious but diseased.
Scholars, parents, boyfriend, cat – and those are just the people who covet time and energy from me. Ice it with my meticulous desire to excel at creation in school projects, I don’t know how Supergirl does it. I don’t want to be taken care of, but I’m not taking care of myself either. How can I be entrusted to bring joy into anyone’s life?
I am a balloon filled with slime. Mud masked it can’t be popped; trickling life force leaving a trail of unappreciative attitude. I can’t inspire if I’m not my best self.
Coincidence awarded me the chance to blog nightly this week. This literacy testing period will be over soon and I will have to write twelve more lesson plans instead. The next testing period begins two days before Rich’s birthday. Personal days then won’t be an option so I won’t ask.
The worst hell isn’t torture. It’s a stretch of bleakness.
I used to be an actress, Jack Daniels my teacher, but it was a bad habit I had to let go of. A dull rock will never have the luster of pyrite – fool’s gold yet it sparkles. So I retreat into my mental cave of creation – for work and for myself – because the words I say aloud come out wrong.

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Gun Control NOW!

I start my car
but I don’t where to drive it
idling, I toy with the radio
while the engine warms up
indecisive, I step out
but I can’t be home either

The beauty of poetry is that you can say what’s on your mind but not truly reveal anything at all. Like any art, the audience can make anything out of it that they choose.
My car is what I really want to write: about the Florida shooting. But I don’t know where to begin. As a teacher, I have anger and sorrow and fear sown into me. I want to pour out but I know my circumventing will overrun a gas tank. Thinking about anything else is bliss. But in this case, silence is a crime.

American born Desi, my parents wanted me to love their culture, but I chose to call myself an American first most and only. I don’t want to live to India. I love traveling to Britain and France and Switzerland and Canada, but my home is United States. The land of dreams and freedom – but it’s no longer that.
In its muddled state of affairs all we have is a dream to be free of gun violence – of all violence. How long do we have to wait for that?

The news is like a taunt – what if I can’t protect my scholars? What if I’m not a good enough confidant or role model for them to lean on me when they need it? What if I can’t teach them to express with words?
There are no answers. We can all do our best but it won’t be good if the laws don’t change.

Up until 12th grade, I learned history, the past. Then I took AP Government and Politics and I learned about policies, laws and wars all in my lifetime. It was my past, what I’d grown up with on the news, now permanently etched in a book as a recording.
This shooting will be immortalized in text; my five and six year olds will one day be learning about it. This has to be the last one. I don’t want them to think it is a norm for “troubled” people, people with mental health disorders to go around shooting the world. I don’t want them to grow up accepting the world is unsafe. I don’t want them growing up it’s okay to let a disorder consume you and let actions speak louder.
We have the chance to be on the right side of history. Now or never, the 2nd amendment has to be changed. The allowance of personal guns to protect ourselves is only endangering more lives. It’s ironic, we need protection from guns and people think the solution to that is letting everyone have a gun. Fight fire with fire and there are more lives lost and hearts broken.

I’m not proud to call this my country anymore.

I know it’s been days since the incident and I know people have voiced their beliefs already. I – I didn’t want to face it.
I love Valentine’s Day. I have gold heart decals all over my room, pink and red hearts hanging from the ceiling, a wall of my favorite television couples and above my bed love letters. To spread how much I value love, I wanted to be on the Valentine’s Day committee at my school. The scholars made Valentines for their parents. they wrote and drew on hearts which teacher they are grateful for and why; these were put up in all of the school hallways. The cafeteria was decorated with streamers and hearts hanging from the ceiling. We made time for a quick dance party to get our hearts pumping. I had more ideas – I wanted to include STEM and have the kids make hearts out of toothpicks and marshmallows, make heart slime, learn about the real heart structure – but we ran out of time in preparation but I pumped to do it even better next year.
I wore a black dress with metallic flowers of various shades of pink, I was so excited to let love ring. The tragedy – I couldn’t comprehend it. How. Why. Why.

During lunch, we had our scholars share out grateful hearts. One of my scholars, Jamie, said he was grateful for me and coteacher for protecting our class. He was talking in reference to a classmate who is autistic and is working on emotion regulation. Sometimes he puts the class in a tricky situation by pulling and throwing classroom materials around. Jamie’s choice of words made my heart sad knowing the class saw it as needing protection. There are worse dangers out there, ones I never want my kids to ever find out from personal experience.

Columbine and Virginia Tech happened when I was in elementary school. I don’t remember much in the news and partly because while my parents didn’t want to scare me. The first school shooting that I remember that left me speechless and broken was Sandy Hook Elementary. It was only six years ago but 28 people died. And still guns are allowed? How is this okay?
Lives in schools aren’t the only ones important. All lives are. The Las Vegas shooting just last year, the Orlando nightclub just two years ago, the Sutherland Springs church shooting – a church? I want to call them monsters who do this, but they’re not, they’re just people. What did we do to let them become like that?

This is my first year teaching. I take a lot of pride in my profession; it’s a lot of hard work and energy – teachers are superheroes. A lot of 22 year olds don’t believe it. They want to make money and they want to make it fast. It’s parents who look at me with gratitude and thank me for choosing the profession. I get it – they are entrusting their babies in my hands and heart to teach, to love, to help their minds and emotions grow. Really we are all a part of teachable moments with people of all ages. Be fair and be open-minded.

But even if all neighbors were kind and empathetic, but it would not hold a candle to the government not changing the law on gun control.
It’s not okay that people die. It’s not okay that control of their life is taken away by someone with a gun. It’s not okay that one cannot travel outside not knowing if they will return home that night. How can we live in a world without trust? Power should not be in the hands of a gun wielder.

I shouldn’t have to wait for my country to make the right choice in protecting all of its people.

 

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?

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.