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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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.

gifted

as a psychology student i never bought into free hugs
i walked around with an invisible hula hoop space
curt friendly smile, it never met my eyes
school was a mission to get through
now teaching is sharpening thinking caps
increasing brain power in a regimented schedule
i feel sympathy for my five year olds craving to play
my kiddies but a student reminds me they’re scholars
i am surprised when they put their arms around my waist
all the draining backdrop effort fades when little hearts
include me, i love you they say and i learn thank you isn’t fair
no more awkward pats on heads, hugs reward substantially
the only cure for my overwhelmed nerves

Humility Sombrero

Admitting my fears to my five year olds felt deceiving. As if it would make me less than a teacher, the possibility of my presence lifted to the pedestal of hero in their eyes forever marred. Then along came the spider.

It was a casual Wednesday morning, students beginning to come to class just as the sun got brighter. Elle sipped her hazelnut coffee and I ate my cinnamon raisin bagel as we graded homework. When Tori arrived in our doorway in tears, Elle and I were immediately concerned. She handed us her backpack and in a thick wavering voice said, “There’s a spider.” Her shaky finger pointed to a side pocket sealed by Velcro – definitely not secure to retain a spider. Both Elle and I inferred our conclusion: if there had been, it was gone by now. But Tori’s face was crumbling with insistence.
Elle was the braver one of us. At the mention of spider, I’d subtly shifted away from the backpack while murmuring words of assurance to myself or Tori I wasn’t sure. So I went on making notes of completed homework as Elle opened the pocket flap. In a split second, she yelped to her feet and pushed the backpack to me.
My brain was slow to process. Despite waking at 5:30am and bustling around since then, my reactions are inconsistent and based on my intermittent bursts of energy due to the lack of caffeine in my system. As the look of horror and disgust on Elle’s face registered as a warning sign, my only thought was leave your laptop, save yourself.
So I did, leaving my half-eaten delicious bagel with its pumpkin cream cheese. I jumped so far back I was standing in the middle of the classroom catching Elle’s end of commentary, “…so many legs! And wings!” Tori stood sobbing at our reactions.
Elle and I rushed to her side to comfort her – guiding her away from her splayed backpack. To our luck, our badass angel art teacher heard our commotion down the corridor and swung by. “What do you need killed?” she asked point blankly.
While the creature met it’s inevitable end from choosing the wrong backpack to reside in, I was on my knees at eye-level with Tori. I could see it in her face, her fear of the thing in her backpack not being truly gone. I realized in that moment, teaching isn’t about being perceived as an ideal role model. There are defining teaching moments that allow you to connect with your students and you have to take them – to be true to yourself sets an example for scholars to accept themselves too. Heart in hand, side in stitches, I pointed out to Tori it’s okay to be scared – I was so terrified I fled to the other side of the room! We were in it together, the bug gone we could laugh about the unexpected surprise that woke us all up.

I learned the best teachers aren’t the ones posing unyielding in face of trials, but rather those who are open about their vulnerabilities and display how to handle it.
I may be working long hours in and for school, but I’m still a student.

revelation #231: take care of yourself to take care of others

I’ve been trying to get ahead of my workload. Partly because since my first week of teaching I felt so overwhelmed, my brain has been rewired to be active from the moment I wake up to the moment I crash. I thrive on having work to do, tasks to accomplish. But I was told to slow down. It was ironic: the girl who procrastinated her way through assignments in both high school and college being told to hold back – I didn’t want to. Because I don’t do anything halfway – if I were to revert to my old relaxing ways, I feared I wouldn’t be able to get anything done.
This weekend had mixed results.
I spent as much time as I could with my love, as I am prone to do on my days off, and it was wonderful switching between taking naps and watching Naruto. When we were apart, I watched even more Netflix but I also ran errands, wrote, completed an assignment, and meal prepped for the majority of the week. It’s nowhere nearly close to what I wanted to get done – I always fill all the white space in my planner because I’d rather feel occupied than be busy – but as the night comes to a close and my weekly routine begins, I feel comfortable with my progress.
I’m learning to accept as a teacher there will always be work to do. I can only predict so many curve balls but the way they are pitched depend on a hand not an algorithm. I’m especially glad I got to enjoy most of my weekend – my heart will always be wondering how my scholars are over the weekend and my mind will always be beeping guilt reminders when I’m laying on my bed scrolling through Cosmo snapchat, but I have a choice. If I make the effort to retain a work-life balance, abide by it since it is solely my responsibility, then I can have it all.
But it’s still nice to have reminders so I continue to schedule breaks in my planner in my endless to-dos.

wired

yesterday was ten hour classroom setup grueling
so naturally i slumped through my anniversary date
only to pinch myself to midnight to finish lesson plans.
somehow i managed to wake up half past five today
sure to be a tricky day, i tiptoed on maintaining
positivity for the after hours Meet the Teacher
through the practice of activity demonstrations
for the first day of school. my coteacher and i
were commended for our synchronization
bouncing in and out of each other’s converstion
as we taught, our morale boosted
she let her hair down and i put on my heels on
ready to usher families into a new school year
rewarded by shy, but eager little faces