Friday, August 3, 2018

Eight Marriage Lessons

People are sometimes surprised to learn that I've only ever dated one person. I won't bore you with the details of my high school social life, but let's just say that I was raised in the purity culture and read Josh Harris's I Kissed Dating Goodbye, and I was the oldest child, so... no way was I getting a boyfriend until I was 30, am I right? #courtingforthewin

Obviously, since you're all smart folks, you can do the math and figure out that if I've only ever dated one person, I ended up married to that person. He's my best friend, confidant, sounding board, and the most amazing father to our little girl.

But it wasn't always that way. 

I could (and really should) write a juicy book about all the relationship drama we had early on-- crushing on each other, going to homecoming together, ignoring each other for two months, reconnecting on a missions trip in Jamaica under the stars (yes, it was as romantic as it sounds), returning to the States just to ignore each other for five months...

I could go on.

Oftentimes anniversary posts are sappy and glamorize relationships.

But what makes our marriage so incredible is that it was-- and is-- messy. It's real. 

One quick story, and I don't know if you'll find this romantic or creepy, but here goes.

Randy and I officially met when I was a freshman in high school and he was a sophomore. I remember this detail because my hair was really poofy (I didn't need mousse or gel when I was homeschooled) and I had braces. The creepy part is that I knew exactly who Randy was before we even spoke. Fun fact: he played one season-- I think it was just one-- of volleyball, and I had seen him at the gym on my way to practice. I was like 12 when this happened. But I remember noticing him because he was competitive and mature on the court-- I look for the important things, folks.

Anyway, we officially met through a church Easter cantata. My piano teacher was also the music minister at Randy's dad's church, and my teacher asked me to sing in this church's production, and I said yes.

And our first conversation was AFTER the cantata was over at the cast party. I'm pretty sure it went something like this. It was truly riveting:

Randy: So are you new to church?
Me: Oh, no, I just take piano lessons from Mr. McD.
And maybe something about how we would both be going to the same high school the next year.

So, as you can see, we established early on that we were really good at having in-person conversations.

Who knows when our next one was or what it entailed, but I actually started attending his dad's church. Randy and I were in youth group together, and on praise team together, and we were both in choir at the same high school. We had a lot of mutual friends, but if I'm being completely honest, we actually weren't really...friends.

If I'm being even MORE completely honest, in my head, we were in a secret competition for who was the smartest in Sunday School class. Sometimes I flipped my Bible to the necessary verse faster, so I won, but most of the time, he just knew exactly what to say (some things don't change).

And if I'm going to give you all this honesty, let me also confess that he was literally the first and ONLY guy who had ever intimidated me.

Since I knew I was never going to date in high school, I really didn't give guys much thought as dating material. Sometimes I flirted with them, or sometimes I had crushes on them, but it never went any further because I kissed dating goodbye, remember? So, guys never intimidated me.

But, y'all, this Randy kid... he was crazy smart. He was super athletic. He was definitely an introverted slightly socially awkward teenager (but so was I), but he was also incredibly funny and clever. He was respectful and mature.

The next in-person conversation I remember having with him is my junior year of high school. It must have been October of 2005. This conversation also occurred at church, and it went something like this (he may remember it differently):

Randy: Hey Christine, can I talk to you for a second?
Me: Sure!
Randy: So homecoming is approaching, and the football guys said that I have to go since I'm the quarterback. And I've really enjoyed the conversations we've had, and I'm hoping you reciprocate those feelings.

And then he asked me to homecoming.

A couple of highlights:
1) I went to homecoming with the quarterback. Yup.
2) He used "reciprocate"-- SWOON! Be still, my heart! Big vocabularies are uber attractive.

I can't even say, "and the rest is history," because our relationship went through many ups and downs. We didn't even start dating until over a year after that homecoming dance. We broke up twice in college--once was my doing and the other was his. I mean, y'all, we started dating when I was 17 and he was 18. We were BABIES.

But looking back, I now see how every single step those babies took, every mistake we made, every minute of uncertainty in our 17 and 18-year-old selves led us to the beautiful marriage we have today.

I've also learned a lot of lessons from our relationship:

1) Teenagers and young people ARE capable of deep, serious love. Don't minimize their high school relationships, something we adults so often do. Even if teens don't end up with that person, the love is still real. The pain of that breakup is still real. I mean, yes, I love Randy so much more deeply now than I did at 17 and 18 and 21, but that doesn't mean I didn't love him then (, y'all, that reminds me-- should I do a blog post about how we didn't say "I love you" for like literally two years?! Aaaaaah I forgot about that). 

2)  Young marriages aren't for everybody, but they can be amazing. People say that you need to "become your own person" before you marry. I guess that's partially true. But it's also beautiful to grow up WITH a person. Do you know how cool it is that Randy and I have almost 13 years of shared history? That we were there to support each other through life's biggest changes, and we are STILL here for each other? It's pretty special.

3) Humor diffuses tension like no other. I learned this one from Randy. When I nag him about socks on the living room coffee table, he replies, "Yeah, I was leaving them there just for you" before picking them up. And then I laugh. And instead of being irritated or potentially fighting, we just move on with life. We laugh constantly when we're together, and I'm forever grateful to be married to one of the most hilarious people I've ever met. He's taught me not to take things too seriously and to not sweat the small stuff.

4) Marriage isn't as much about finding the right person as it is about being the right person. I feel like some marriage expert said that, and I don't mean to plagiarize them, but the sentiment is so accurate. Neither Randy nor I necessarily believe in soulmates (though I grow more convinced he's mine every year). The idea of a soulmate takes the responsibility off the parties involved. If I "fall out of love" or "decide he's not the one," I have an easy out. A love where you are actively, constantly CHOOSING someone over and over again is much more real and powerful, in my opinion.

5) It's okay to marry someone who has terrible taste in football teams. I didn't know a Redskins fan could marry a Cowboys fan and both could survive more than one football season, but we are proof.

6) Marriages go through seasons, and that's okay. In one season, I was working full-time while Randy was in school. In another season, he was working and I was going to school. It's okay for the norm to change.

7) Don't get a cat. It will disappoint you by loving your husband more than it loves you, even though you're the one who wanted it. Rude.

8) Marry someone who was a cute baby. Because even if you carry the child for nine months, endure morning sickness and sciatic nerve pain, withstand labor and delivery, and nurse the child from your own breast... the baby will probably look like your husband. Thanks, universe.

I've only ever dated and loved one person, and on July 31st, we celebrated eight years of marriage. We had pre-marriage years of late night AIM conversations when we weren't sure we were even going to date. Post-marriage years of sleeping on an air mattress because we had no money for furniture. Years of trying to have a baby, losing a baby, becoming parents to the world's most adorable baby. Years of supporting each other through school and career changes and injuries and illness. Years of falling asleep holding hands. Years of texting each other memes about Lavar Ball and The Office and Tony Romo.

I hope and pray for many, many more sweet years together. Because otherwise whose dirty socks will I pick up from the living room?

Song of Solomon 8:6-7a

Place me like a seal over your heart,
like a seal on your arm;
for love is as strong as death,
its jealousy unyielding as the grave.
It burns like blazing fire,
like a mighty flame.

Many waters cannot quench love;
rivers cannot wash it away.

Sunday, July 8, 2018

Toxic Teaching: Not Trusting Your Teachers, Part 3

In this third and final post about not trusting your teachers, I'm going to address a third group of people that fail to have faith in educators.
In post one, I talked about society in general (and hinted at administration and the higher-ups). In post two, I discussed parents. 

The third group? Students.

As usual, let me preface this by saying that in the seven years I taught, the students were the absolute best part of the job. So many of them were kind and funny and want to make the world a better place. Some of them have grown up to become my friends (because they're like almost 25 now), and we meet for lattes and talk about life. Some of them babysit my daughter. Some of them come to my house for dinner. Some of them text me or call me now that they've graduated to vent or ask advice or just catch up.

The students are why I love teaching, why I will miss it so much, and I mean that sincerely with my whole heart. 

However, that doesn't mean they were perfect or that they weren't conditioned to behave a certain way. Yes, conditioned-- we as a society, as an education system, have conditioned our kids to be the way they are.

Perhaps it was just the way I was raised, but growing up, I did not question authority figures unless they asked me to do something that violated my personal beliefs or something I thought was wrong. Even if I thought a lesson was stupid or a worksheet was pointless, I trusted that my teacher had a reason for me completing that task. I may have questioned it internally. A couple times, I questioned teachers privately after class (and always, I think, respectfully).

But that was not my experience as a teacher.

I was questioned CONSTANTLY. Daily. Multiple times in every class. About my teaching tactics, about why something they were learning was important, about why they couldn't be on their phones or listen to music, about why they had to have assigned seats, why I didn't accept late work, why I marked them tardy if they walked in after the bell, why I expected them to write a research paper, why they had to learn MLA format... you name it.

Let me also clarify: questions are GOOD.
Authority shouldn't be blindly followed in certain matters or certain arenas.

I understand that giving student choice and collaborating with students is an excellent way to help them develop their own critical thinking skills, decision making skills, and sense of autonomy. VERY few times did I say, "Do this because I said so and I'm the boss." Usually the conversation was something more like, "I am telling you do to ____ because ___. It's okay if you don't agree or like it. I respect that. If you still have questions, please talk to me after class." I'm pretty sure most of my students would vouch for me in this area... at least, I tried very hard to reason with them and provide explanations for my decisions.

But I truly believe that we have created an environment in which students have too much power and freedom and not enough responsibility. That is unhealthy. It is detrimental to them and their development, both as people and as learners.

Students, here's what I need you to know about trusting me:

1) I am a trained professional. In order to be a teacher, I had to jump through all sorts of hoops and pass all sorts of tests. I possess knowledge in pedagogy, in adolescent psychology, in my content area (English), in trauma informed care, in positive discipline, in teaching reading effectively, and in a multitude of other areas.

If I am asking you to do something, it is best practice, or I have some research to back it up.

I'm not just a warm body in the room. I know how to teach, and I'm trying to use my expertise to help you learn.

2) Your success and learning is more important than your comfort. Y'all, it would be easier for me if I just let you have your phones out. If I just let you listen to music. If I just let you pick your seats. If I didn't mark you tardy and if I accepted all your late work.

But based on research and based on my own experiences, I choose to fight those battles because I believe they will help you be successful.

It's actually a lot more work for me to come take your phone, talk to you in the hallway when you refuse to give it up, give you a detention or referral when you have your phone out again, confiscate it, call your parent, etc. It takes mental energy to keep up with the number of tardies you have and follow through with consequences.

But my job as the adult is not to take the easy way out. It is to ensure that you have all the tools necessary for success. And if I kowtow to you...if I make choices about my classroom based on what you want to be more comfortable, then I don't really care about you.

Read that last line again.

It's true. You may not think it. But it's true.

3) You don't always know what you need. So often I hear, "Why am I learning this? I'm never going to need this."

How do you know? 
Do you have a crystal ball? 
How do you know you'll never have to research something, create a presentation on it, and present it in front of an audience? Because I live in the real world, and that's a skill I need.
How do you know you'll never have to suck it up and do some pointless assignment in the real world? Because let me tell you I have had to do that at every job I've ever had (end of year poster: I'm not 12; why am I making a poster?)

I was an English major, but thank God I was competent in math, because my first year of marriage, I supplemented our income by tutoring a high school student in algebra. I also needed math in order to take the GRE to go to graduate school and get my master's degree. Not to mention, the year I cried my way through precalculus and emerged at the end with a "C" taught me so much about my inner strength and my resilience.

You don't always know what you need in the moment. 

Maybe you don't need to know how the difference between iambic pentameter and trochaic trimeter when you're reading poetry. BUT do you need to know how to problem solve? How to persevere? How to do something that makes you uncomfortable? YES. WITHOUT A DOUBT.

And THAT is what we can learn from "pointless" classes and "pointless" assignments.

I'll concede that some of what we teach in school-- some would argue most of what we do-- is useless in the real world. But I also know that it's the process, the journey, that is infinitely more important. It's learning how to be disciplined. It's learning something just for the sake of having knowledge and being a well-rounded person. It's broadening your horizons to become a more educated, empathetic person.

You don't know what you need all the time. You're 16.

It's not necessarily my job to tell you what you need-- I don't know for sure, either. But it is my job to expose you to everything that I can possibly think of that might help you someday. 

Again: I know that not all teachers have the same expectations or rules.
But I do know that the vast majority are TRULY just doing what we believe is best for you, our students.
We may not see eye to eye. And if you don't trust a decision I made or a rule I enforced or whatever, that is something we can discuss respectfully in private. 

That's not something for you to yell across the room during a lesson.
That's not something for you to email to me from your iPhone in an email that looks like this: "why i got a zero on my paper i turned it in on google classroom and you aint put the grade in"
That's not something for you to complain about on social media (fun story about that: one time a girl asked me for a letter of recommendation, but I had seen on Twitter earlier that year that she had put me on, I didn't write her the letter: don't bite the hand that feeds you).

Trust that sometimes adults are wiser than you are.
That most of the time, we want you to be successful.
That it's okay for you to be pushed outside of your comfort zone.
That it's healthy for you to be held to high standards.

Because if I didn't have high standards for you, it'd be because I didn't believe in you. I expect a lot from you because I think you're capable of a lot.

Trust me.
And trust yourself.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Toxic Teaching: Not Trusting Your Teachers, Part 2

Last week, I explained this blog series I'm doing and wrote part one of "Not Trusting Your Teachers," which you can read here.

Today I'm going to address another aspect of not being trusted. It's not just the general mistrust by society. Today I'm going to speak particularly to parents, the group that we are so afraid to call out. Because parents can go straight to the principal, Central Office, the media, heck, the School Board itself and get teachers and schools in more trouble than anyone. In the education system, we are scared of the parents.

On the one hand, I respect that-- these are their kids we are educating, and they're our primary stakeholders. On the other hand, I have seen how detrimental this is-- parents are rarely questioned by higher-ups and therefore can claim anything, exaggerate ridiculously, and flat make stuff up, and their word is treated like gospel.  At least, that's been my experience

(I mean, I had a parent forward my emails with her to Central Office, and I thought I was following proper protocols [correction: I WAS following proper protocols because I went back and found said protocols in writing after the fact] and being professional, and the next thing I know, I'm called into the principal's office for a chastising session and told that I have to let this student retake a vocab quiz she knew about for six weeks and just didn't study for, among other things... I wonder what we're teaching our kids when we go fight their battles for them and refuse to put responsibility on them for the choices they make...). 

I'm convinced that if enough parents just complained, SOL testing would go away, cafeterias would all have Starbucks and Paneras inside of them, and students would sit in velvet thrones instead of plastic chairs in the classrooms.

Let me preface this by saying that overall, I have had incredibly supportive parents. Most of my parents were appreciative and quick to support me when I had to contact them about issues, positive or negative. They weren't helicopter parents, and they trusted me to do my job.

In the seven years I taught, however, I unfortunately did deal with a few instances of parent mistrust and tense parent relationships. And, in talking with other friends, I think that parents at other schools or parents of younger students are perhaps more guilty of not trusting their teachers.

So, I'd like to address that in this second "Not Trusting Your Teachers" post.

1) I am not out to "get" your student. I have had some parents over the years question their students' grades, or the fact that they didn't get into National Honor Society, or the fact that they got cut from the volleyball team. Some of them have attributed that to the fact that I didn't like their student and I am engaging in personal warfare against them.

Let me acknowledge that I am human. I am biased. And I don't like every student I teach, advise, or coach. It's true. Some of the students I have taught have been nasty, rude, vindictive, violent, and disrespectful.

This is why I use rubrics-- for volleyball tryouts, for grades, for National Honor Society acceptance. For everything. It is a good "CYA" move on my part, but it also helps me keep my own feelings in check.

I am an adult professional. I try to put aside my personal feelings to teach, coach, or advise your student because your student is a human being, and as such, they deserve my professionalism. Please keep in mind that your teenager's perception of an event, a grade, or an encounter is just one side of the story.

No, I'm not out to "get" them. Frankly, I don't have time for that. If I'm gonna "get" anyone or start a personal battle with anyone, it's going to be with George R. R. Martin for killing off all my favorite Game of Thrones characters or with Steve Carell for leaving The Office.

2) If I say your student is struggling, they're struggling. One time, I was in a meeting with a parent who insisted that her son was smart and capable but he was just being lazy. In fact, the opposite was true. He worked hard in class. The truth was that he was reading well below grade level, which I attempted to communicate to her. She was having none of it. I offered tutoring, resources, and my expertise as a reading specialist. She didn't trust my evaluation and wasn't open to having him evaluated by the school. Well, this student failed the Reading SOL test (which in my opinion actually isn't a terrible indicator of reading abilities) multiple times and almost didn't graduate the next year. He literally passed the test, like, the day before graduation. I wish the mom had listened so that I could have gotten him some extra support and resources and so that he didn't have to take that SOL test ten times.

I wasn't picking on this kid. I wanted him to succeed. But sometimes parents are afraid of a diagnosis or afraid of a label and refuse to get their kids the help they need. As my undergrad professor Lori Price told my class, "Labels are not boxes to put kids into. They're doors to open to get the kids the resources they need."

Please trust me. I'm trained in this area. If I flag your student, it's because they're struggling, and I want them to succeed. I know we all want to think our kids are "smart," but we have to remember there are different kinds of intelligences, and unfortunately, only certain types are emphasized in school. We also have to remember that not every student can be average or above average-- some have to be below average. And that's ok! It just means they need a little something extra to be successful, and that's what I'm here to provide. But denying it doesn't make it any better for your child.

3) And if I say your student is capable, they're capable. This past year, I had the most awkward parent conference of my entire life. A mother berated her daughter in front of me. Like, to the point that it was truly bordering on verbal abuse. I was so very uncomfortable-- I was shaking, and my heart was racing because I was SO angry the mom was speaking to her daughter that way. I spoke up and redirected the conversation because it was highly inappropriate, and frankly, her daughter absolutely did NOT deserve to be treated like that.

Anyway, the mom turned to me and said, somewhat aggressively, "So why did you recommend her for Honors? She has a D in your class. That doesn't say 'honors kid' to me."

Now, ultimately, what classes a kid wants to take is up to the parent because they have the ability to override my decision even when they sometimes shouldn't.

But I knew this girl had a D in class because she was missing some work. I also knew she was a ridiculously fast reader, strong writer, and deep thinker. She was BORED in my regular class and needed a push, especially if she wants to go to college as she says she does.

And I said all that to mom. I hope her mom trusted me and left her in honors.

4) "He/she never acts like this at home." My favorite line. As if I have time to fabricate a story about your student cussing me out and then take twenty minutes out of my day to write the referral and call/email you about the incident.

Maybe your child doesn't act like this at home. Maybe that's because you can actually assign consequences to him or her (this is a topic for a different post and a whole 'nother can of worms). Maybe there are stimuli and situations that aren't present at home.

And while there are two sides to every story, of course, if I take the time to write a referral and call you, something happened. I'm not making it up. I don't know why your kid acts like this at school or at home. But please trust me... your kid is not a perfect little angel, and it takes a pretty major event for me to take disciplinary action. And if you have questions or you want to get your child's side of the story, please do so. The truth always lies somewhere in the middle.

But please don't act like your child isn't capable of cursing or horseplay or skipping. We all have the capacity to make poor choices given the right circumstances and influences. Your teenager is no different.

5) If your student doesn't have the grade they want, they're not doing the level of work necessary to earn that grade. This year, I had an honors student who had a 78 the entire year. He begged me multiple times to give him two points so he could get a B. He harped on the fact that I was his ONLY class he had a C in, and it was keeping him from making Honor Roll.

His mom contacted me about it. She was not happy, and I understood and reflected her concerns. I also broke down his entire grade, did the math on paper, took a picture, and sent said picture to her. I never heard from her about his grade again.

Because what the breakdown showed is that yes, although he did well on tests and average on quizzes, he didn't complete his homework and hadn't completed several essays and projects.

It's really amazing to me that parents questioned me about their students' grades so frequently. I never remember my parents doing that. Ever. If I got a "C" on a test, it was because I didn't study. I didn't go to tutoring. Or the test was just really hard and I didn't grasp the material.

We have created a society in which parents and students think that merely DOING the work should earn them an A or B. We teachers keep trying to explain that we need QUALITY work to earn high grades. And sometimes, that falls on deaf ears.

If you want your kid to have an A or a B, I am happy to tell you exactly what they need to do to earn that grade. I don't give grades. I don't curve. I don't give a lot of extra credit. I want your students grade to be an accurate reflection of his or her academic ability and work ethic. I don't want it to be inflated because your kid brought in five boxes of tissues and some hand sanitizer.

Now... I acknowledge there are some bad teachers out there who maybe do treat some kids unfairly. In my experience, they are very few and far between. Perhaps your experience is different. If it is, I am truly sorry. Your child deserves better.

I don't have TIME to make up stories about your kid, write them up, call you, and follow up. I just don't. I believe every kid, even the ones I don't particularly like, deserves to be respected and deserves an education.

And most of all, I believe that parents and teachers have the same goal: they want the student to learn, to be a better person, and to be a better student. If we can keep that in mind, we can have an amazing partnership.

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Toxic Teaching: Not Trusting Your Teachers, Part 1

A few weeks ago, I solicited ideas for this series on Facebook, and boy, did I strike a nerve! I asked my friends what topics they'd want to see addressed in a series on the toxic environment of teaching. Y'all did not disappoint! I took your responses and grouped them together to create ten different topics (so far).

Today's topic: Not Trusting Your Teachers, Part 1 
I'm going to eventually address specific groups not trusting us teachers- administration, parents, and students- but today, I'm just going to speak about my experience in general and the effect that seven years of teaching had on my self-esteem and belief about myself as a professional. If you are a teacher or parent or student or admin, your experience may be different , but it doesn't invalidate my personal experience.

Let's back up. You need to know a bit about me as a person before you can fully understand today's post. 

If I'm being truthful, I'm thrive on authority figures respecting me (not necessarily liking me; I'm too opinionated for that). I've always wanted my teachers, parents, coaches, youth pastors, bosses, and so forth to be proud of me and my work. I truly would rather be respected than loved. 

As far back as I can remember, I've been an intelligent, competent, hardworking overachiever. I think my parents can attest to that. I never had a teacher that didn't affirm my work ethic and efforts. I never had a boss who didn't respect me and value me as an employee whether it was at the local rec center refereeing volleyball in high school or Outback Steakhouse (where I was front house "Employee of the Month" after only two months of working there...not that that's something I put on my resume or anything, but it is a testament to my work ethic, I think).

Even as a student teacher, my cooperating teachers appreciated my efforts and dedication. So did the administrators and other staff of the schools at which I student taught. Sure, teaching was incredibly hard, but when I started teaching full-time in 2011, I was confident in my training, my work ethic, my problem solving abilities, and my efficacy.

All of that slowly began to change.

I don't need to go into specifics here, because that's for a later post. However, over the years, I found myself constantly being questioned, and with increasing frequency and intensity. By the end of year seven, this past year, I was paranoid. I was constantly looking over my shoulder.

Because I had learned that making mistakes was unacceptable and instead of being supported and mentored, I would get berated, questioned, and even threatened. 

I was not trusted as a professional. Never mind the fact that I was experienced, or that I had earned my Master's degree in education, or that I had been nominated for my school's teacher of the year a couple times times, or that my SOL scores were always solid, or that my students offered feedback on my end-of-year survey that indicated my effectiveness as a teacher.

Oh, look! I CAN plan collaborative creative lessons!
You'd NEVER guess that based on the lesson plan feedback I used to get. 

None of that mattered.

I was not trusted to write lesson plans. I had to turn them in, get them critiqued (I got my lesson plans back with only negative feedback on them, something we as teachers KNOW you do NOT do to students-- you always write something positive on their work). Then, I had to rewrite my plans before I could teach them the next week. As if I had time for that.

I was not trusted to teach my students. One year I had to keep ridiculous amounts of data to "prove" they were growing. I'm not talking basic useful data, and really, I should use that term loosely. I'm talking measures that weren't accurate and couldn't possibly be accurate because of how the assessments were designed. So I just played the game. Aside: they really need to do a better job in undergrad teaching teachers how to collect and use data effectively. But I digress. 

When I would talk to my friends who worked in the corporate world about the micromanagement, the absurd policies I had to follow, the constant looking over my shoulder, the way I was sometimes treated like a child or a student, the tone with which I was addressed, the things that were said to me... their eyes widened and their jaws hit the floor. Many of them laughed and shook their heads. "That would never fly where I work," they commented.


Because you're trusted as an adult professional.

Honestly, thought? I have to take some of the responsibility myself. I lost my voice as a teacher. I should have stood up to the verbal abuse I endured. I should have pushed back against some of the rules we had to follow that were, in fact, not outlined in our contract.

But I was scared. 

Scared to lose my job.
Scared to lose my license (yeah, that's a threat that people like to throw out: parents, some administrators, sometimes even the students)
Scared to get on the wrong side of my colleagues and administrators, whom I only wanted to please and have positive relationships with (oh, and whom I will need to write me letters of reference when I return to the classroom someday...)

I want to take a minute to acknowledge that there were efforts made by some people to make me and other teachers feel supported and respected. I got some really nice feedback on lesson plans from one particular admin this year. My fellow teachers are always incredibly supportive of me. I'd say over half of my parents and students were generally respectful, too (but the ones that weren't were DOOZIES).

Still, by the end of my seven years at my school, I didn't know whom to trust. I didn't know what to believe.

I did know a few things:
1) Some of the best teachers I'd EVER taught with had been pushed out of the school because of personal conflicts, NOT because of professional incompetence or indiscretion,
2) Some of the most unethical, unprofessional teachers I had ever seen were engaging in behaviors that were being ignored,
3) The general attitude towards teachers was either one of admiration and treating us like martyrs or one of disrespect and treating us like we are only teachers because we can't do anything else.

I'd like to address that for a minute: that's pure, pardon my French, bullshit.

We can do A LOT of other things. We CHOOSE to teach because we love the kids, we want to make a difference in the world, and we love creatively sharing our passion about our subject with our students.

But we can't continue to teach in an environment that is toxic to our professional growth, our personal development, and our mental health.

And that's precisely why I left. I told all of y'all it was to stay home with my daughter. That's partially true. Now that my contract is up, I'm going to be more honest: I left because I know I was made for more. 

I know I wasn't reaching my professional and personal potential as a teacher. After all, how was I supposed to swim to bluer waters if I spent the entire time trying just to stay afloat? 

I'll end with this thought from Morgan Knight Hermann, who wrote an article for National Educators Association about why she left teaching:

"When I tell others about my decision to leave, they assume it was because of the students, saying some variation of, 'I could never do that job!' However, the kids were the bright spot of teaching, as most teachers know. The reason I couldn’t stay in the only profession I ever wanted was the negative culture and lack of respect for teachers." 

Teachers are leaving in droves, and it's mostly because we are not respected.
And, it seems like society just expects teachers to accept disrespect. We hear comments all the time: "Well, you knew you wouldn't make any money before you started, so don't complain," or "Well, you knew it'd be hard, so if you don't like it, you can just leave." And the problem is now that so many of us ARE leaving, and we have a shortage in quality teachers in almost every state, including Virginia.
This is a problem, y'all. A massive problem. A crisis, even. All you have to do is Google it: hundreds of news articles, opinion pieces, and videos addressing this topic will appear.

Now, how are we going to fix it?

That's for a different post.

Sunday, May 27, 2018

What I Want: Teacher Edition

When I was in college, a professor told my class of wanna-be teachers, “You won’t be able to be everything to every student every day. But you can try to be something to some students every day.”

Eight years ago, that maxim bored itself into my brain like a worm into an apple. It haunts me. It implies—no, preaches—that accepting less than perfection is acceptable. I still wrestle with its reality daily.

Because to the student who can’t currently read or write well: I want to be your tutor.
To the student who lacks confidence: I want to be your cheerleader.
To the student who lacks manners (and believe me, I've seen the emails you send to me): I want to be your Ann Landers.
To the student who needs validation: I want to be the writer of positive sticky notes and giver of high fives.
To the student who needs boundaries: I want to be your rule maker and rule enforcer.
To the student who needs someone to listen: I want to be your sounding board. 

I’m equal parts drive, stubbornness, and perfectionism, so I don’t give up easily and am very motivated.

And yet sometimes in teaching, I find myself so utterly exhausted, so spent at the end of the day that I come home and half-joke to my husband, “I’m not doing this anymore. This is ridiculous. These hours are crazy. This paperwork is nuts. This is my last year.” Every single year, I have seriously considered throwing in the towel.  

Honestly, if I am being transparent with you, I do lack intrinsic motivation sometimes. I fantasize about my job at Barnes and Noble where I made coffee for JMU students and only worked 8-10 hours at a time and never brought work home with me.  

And then, I go to school in the morning and stare at all the faces on my “wall of fame” (where kids have given me their senior picture). And on really rough mornings, I open my overflowing “smile file,” with student drawings and thank you letters from the past six years. I look around my room at twenty-five kids who told me they "hate reading" invested in The Crucible and BEGGING me to keep reading so they can find out if Abigail gets her just reward. I linger for a few minutes after school to talk to the kids who swing by my room to get a hug, a snack, or a pep talk. 

And that motivates me.

Because no…I can’t be the perfect teacher. I can’t be everything to every student. 

But maybe today, I can be something to someone. Maybe I can teach someone something new, whether its to believe in himself or trust herself or use a new reading strategy or use a new vocab word or speak in a more respectful tone or whatever. Maybe I can listen to one of my students fret about her future or ask for advice on how to write his college application essay. 

And it's not just that my kids learn from me. I learn from them daily. Sometimes I look around the room and think, "Each one of these kids is someone's baby," and my eyes fill with tears. I have been entrusted with the most precious gifts in the world. Yes, some of them are smartphone-wielding, Jordan wearing, teeth sucking, eye rolling sassy pants. But they are still precious gifts. 

While I am excited to spend time with my own baby next year, leaving the classroom is going to hurt. I am going to miss it. I have burst into tears just thinking about it multiple times over the past few weeks. 

What I really want for my profession: 
More respect from students, parents, administrators, community members, and society in general.  
Acceptable pay (Virginia's teacher pay gap is insulting and appalling)
TIME to collaborate, plan, grade
Freedom to actually teach 
...and so much more

Maybe when I return to teaching someday, the field will look different. Maybe we'll have progressed as a society. Or maybe I just want too much. 

Until June 15th, though, what I really want more than anything in the world is to savor these last few weeks with some of the best kids I've ever taught and the best people I've ever taught with. So, I plan to do just that. 

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Jen Hatmaker, It's Your Fault

I've been telling people for years that I would probably die in my classroom. I've been teaching at VHS for all seven of my years as an educator, and in that time, I've been FCA sponsor, NHS sponsor, varsity volleyball coach, JV volleyball coach, a member of what seems like a thousand different committees, department chair, Reflective Friend participant, Forensics coach... I've been all in, y'all.

All in.

Like many of my colleagues, I've brought Pop Tarts for my hungry students and stayed at school until 7 p.m. grading essays. I'm not the only teacher who's stretched thin because of the unrealistic expectations placed on us, the piles of work we're given with little time to complete them, the students we teach who need more than we can give them sometimes...but I digress.

When I got pregnant, I thought about giving up teaching. I prayed and read the Bible and discussed my feelings with my husband daily and prayed some more. In the end, I did not feel peace about quitting.

I'm so glad I didn't.
I'm so glad I returned to teach this year. I want to make that oh-so-crystal clear. Because (no shade) I know there were people who didn't think I would or should return to teaching.

Over the summer, and I think when I was on maternity leave (I honestly don't remember-- all the days/nights blur together), I started reading Jen Hatmaker's book For the Love: Fighting for Grace in a World of Impossible Standards.

And folks, my world was shattered.

Because she said things like, “The trouble is, we have up-close access to women who excel in each individual sphere. With social media and its carefully selected messaging, we see career women killing it, craft moms slaying it, chef moms nailing it, Christian leaders working it. We register their beautiful yards, homemade green chile enchiladas, themed birthday parties, eight-week Bible study series, chore charts, ab routines, '10 Tips for a Happy Marriage,' career best practices, volunteer work, and Family Fun Night ideas. We make note of their achievements, cataloging their successes and observing their talents. Then we combine the best of everything we see, every woman we admire in every genre, and conclude: I should be all of that. It is certifiably insane.”  

Excuse you, Jen. How dare you.
But you're right.

Our society glorifies idolizes women who do it all. And WE create these women in our minds (thanks, social media) and then think we have to be that fictional woman.

I don't want to be that woman. I don't want to do it all. I want to do a few things really well.

So, sure-- I can be a good teacher. And a good mom. And a good wife. I think I've mostly done that this year.
But I want to do fewer things with more breathing room, more love, more passion, and more creativity.

I promised Katherine from day one-- before day one, really-- that I would NEVER choose work over her. And I haven't. I haven't graded papers at home while she's still awake. I've barely done any work at home, if I am being honest.

Tonight, for example, I strapped her into my Lillebaby carrier and walked to Starbucks and talked to her about the balmy breeze in her hair and the golden retriever that barked at her and the stench of fresh mulch in the air. I wrapped my arms around her and kissed her blond Randy-hair and looked down at her two-tooth smile as slobber rolled down her chin. She then farted on me, giggled, and said, "Da da da da daaaaaaa." We're still working on "mama," obviously. We checked the mail and witnessed an adult water fight, and I've never been so happy in my entire life.

Why would I choose to grade papers over that? I can't get that moment back. Papers will still be there tomorrow.

I've literally lived my ENTIRE life doing it all and admiring women who do it all. Even in high school. I was always busy. Being busy was...I don't know...a badge of honor. I think some of y'all know what I'm talking about.

I'm done with that. It's not for me. Being busy doesn't mean I'm being productive. Or even successful.

In the spirit of making more time to do things I enjoy, I'm also reading Rachel Hollis's book Girl, Wash Your Face. Jen Hatmaker interviewed Rachel on her For the Love podcast that I listen to when I can. Can you tell I'm really into powerful Christian women lately?

Rachel writes in her book, "Maybe the hardest part of life is just having the courage to try."

I may not die at my desk chair or retire from the school where I started teaching. I may not be doing a thousand things.

But you'd better believe that I'm going to have the courage to try a billion new things. The courage to make myself Just relax. The courage to invite you into my home for dinner. The courage to finally take calculus and Zumba.

Will I miss teaching? More than you know. It's like I'm leaving a piece of my soul behind at Varina. I'm tearing up just thinking about it.

Will I regret leaving?

Absolutely not.

Thanks, Jen Hatmaker.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

When Mama Bear Sees Red

What do you get when you cross a crowded parking garage, a screaming infant, and cars who won't let the car with said screaming infant out?

A mama bear who sees red. 

Y'all, I have been processing a certain incident that happened last week. I alluded to it on Facebook. I've thought about it in the shower, muttering as I slammed my shampoo bottle on the ground. I've seethed about it as I've creamed eggs and sugar together to make cookies.

I've tried to see it from the perspective of the three women who were in the car. I've failed.

Here's a brief summary of the incident:
Hubby and I (with our four-month-old) attended a basketball game last week. This basketball game was a BIG deal and had tons of attendees, so we had to park in a parking garage on the second level. After the game, of course, said garage was basically at a standstill as people tried to leave.

Our four-month-old was doing okay, but after sitting in the car not moving at all for fifteen minutes, still stuck in our spot, she started SCREAMING. Like, choking on her saliva, sounding like she was going to spit up screaming. Not just crying. I can deal with her crying, people. It was a scream I had never heard before, and it shook me to my core.

I sat there, thinking that SURELY we are going to escape our parking spot and be on our way home. "Should I just get out and stand in front of a car so they have to let us out of our spot?" I asked my husband multiple times. He didn't really reply.  I was unsure of my other options, unsure of how long we were going to be stuck there, unsure of how to handle this situation. Meanwhile, the screaming continues and escalates until We have to get this baby home.

So, I get out of my parked car and approach the car that could, if they so desired, let us out in front of them.

In the front passenger seat is a former coworker. In the back is a current coworker. I don't know the driver. The passenger side window is cracked a couple of inches, so I smile: "Hey, I have a screaming infant in my back seat, so I was wondering if there's any chance y'all would let us out in front of you?"

Eye contact with front seat passenger is made. She says not one word and looks back down at her phone. Back seat passenger and driver do not make eye contact with me.

Me: *awkward pause* "Um okay thank you!"

I get back in my car.

And not only do they not let us out...they immediately pull up, making it very clear they're going to ensure we cannot get out. I was LIVID. Not because they wouldn't let us out. But because I felt betrayed. I KNEW these people and thought I had a positive relationship with one of them. I mean, I knew they weren't driving, but to not even be acknowledged? That STUNG, y'all.

But...I'm not here to talk about them. Because I can't control them.

I'm here to talk about me.

I have examined my motivation for asking them--was I trying to take advantage of them? Was I rude?  Was I unreasonable? I didn't think so. Maybe from their perspective I was, though.

I have examined my reaction to them which, admittedly, was NOT a positive one at first.

But perhaps most importantly, I have tried to consider what I would do in a similar situation. Because I can be spiteful. I can hold grudges. I can refuse to do things just to show people they don't have power over me or just to prove that I do what I want. And maybe that's what this car did to us, I don't really know.

What I DO know is that I want to model BETTER for my daughter. I want to go out of my way to be strong but not spiteful. To be kind but not be a doormat. To strike that balance. To teach her that YES, we can be kind to strangers (the Good Samaritan story comes to mind) and also have boundaries.

So Katherine, someday if a desperate first-time mother asks you to stop your car and let her out in front of you because she has a screaming infant in the back seat, I hope you'll let her out. Not because you have to--you don't. It's not the law. But because you WANT to because you are compassionate and loving. And I pray that you learn those traits from me and your dad. I pray we do not fail to model those for you.

In this world of tension and strife and defensiveness, I pray that I can examine my own heart and actions and model for you kindness, goodness, courage, and love. And when I fail, I pray I can apologize and do better next time. 

Mama Bear saw red last week, it's true. But Mama Bear also knows that she is to love her enemies, pray for those who persecute her, and forgive seventy times seven.

She's still working on all of that... :)