Wednesday, July 27, 2016

You can call me Mom.

There are few times more embarrassing in the life of a student then the moment when they call their teacher Mom. As a teacher, it's happened a handful of times in my seven years. The kid almost immediately recognizes their mistake, stutters some quiet apology, turns as red as my Expo marker, and prays that none of their friends heard them say it. I usually chuckle, say something along the lines of it's alright, or wow, we look nothing alike, just to help the poor kid feel less embarrassed. I mean, after all, we do spend all day together 5 days a week. It's not like we're strangers or anything, but Mom is one of those sacred terms that shouldn't be thrown around lightly.

I get that, now. I am a mom. I know that being mom is the absolute hardest job ever. It's thankless, tiresome, emotionally and physically draining, and the pay is crap. You work for tiny people who change their mind constantly with unreachably high expectations and minute attention spans. They're messy, they break things and expect you to fix them, have no regard for their own physical safety, and usually get bent out of shape when you try to keep them from hurting themselves. Mom is not a job for the faint of heart. But, despite all of that, most people who are one would probably say that is one of their crowning jewels to be called Mom.

I was recently catching up with a friend I used to work with. We were chatting about our seriously late conference proposal and stumbled upon school and our kids, as well call them. Anyone who has taught has referred to their students as 'their kids'. It doesn't matter how long ago you taught them, or even what your relationship was like with them, they will always be one of your 'kids'. I asked about the kids, and these particular kids were freshman when I taught them last. They were also the first group of students that I taught, and had the privilege to teach some of them in sixth grade, again in seventh, and again in ninth grade. I've never felt so close to a group of students as I did with these students in particular.

My friend told me that she was in her office working when one student came by, now a senior, leading a freshman around on a tour. He stopped by her office and told the student that he had four moms: his mom, my friend, another teacher, and me. She didn't give much detail about the rest of their conversation, but it probably went something 'Enjoy the rest of your summer' and 'Stay out of trouble'. I'm sure he didn't give much thought about what he said, but I have.

Teacher friends, we are in the fortunate position to have a positive impact on students' lives. Our interactions can shape who they become, in small ways and in large ones, too. I've spoken of this student before, and how he has had such an impact on me and my career. But, it's been three years since I've seen or spoken to him. High school feels like an eternity when you're in the thick of it, I think I remember that much. For him to say this to another student, who will never know me, and he himself hasn't seen me in three years, there's an impact there. And on another level, for him to call me Mom? I hope his mother wouldn't be offended because I know firsthand, even if only for a small while, how hard it is to be someone's mom. How much love and stress and worry and heartache it is to be called Mom. I would want her to know I don't take that title for granted, and that I am honored and humbled that her son would call me Mom.

Be encouraged, friends. Be encouraged and go out there and be Moms and Dads to your 'kids'. Just like with your children at home, you may never get a thank you, or a act of gratitude, but know that so much is understood in the title of Mom: love, trust, appreciation, strength. Here's to hoping for that proverbial slip of the tongue, and have a great last few weeks of summer.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Dipping my toes in.

Guess who's baaaaack?

Well, it's almost the opposite. I never really went anywhere. This has been a season of withdrawal.

This past school year was about as opposite from the previous one as it could have gotten. This past school year my goals were very different. In the previous years, my goal was to be as 'out there' professionally as I could. I wanted to be in the know, to be seen and heard for what I was doing and what I had to contribute. I wanted to go to all the conferences, attend all the Twitter chats, and be in every conversation.

But, this past school year was different. My priorities were different. We had a beautiful baby girl, Avery, in March and much of my year was spent preparing for her. I struggled so much with postpartum depression with my first child, and wanted to be completely prepared when our little girl came to love and appreciate our time together as where I felt I was robbed of some of that with our first. I'm rounding the corner towards graduation in my Master's program at Purdue and spent ALOT, read A. LOT. of time doing work for graduate school. We moved across town, technically to another town. I spent time making our new house a home. I spent time on myself, both physically and intellectually. I became stronger in both ways and appreciate that time I took, selfishly or otherwise.

When I first realized I was in a season of withdrawal professionally, I became really concerned. I worked so hard the two years before to put myself in a position where I felt like I had some importance and a place in a community where I was respected and understood. My withdrawal was unintentional, and so when I realized it was happening I felt like it was happening to me, in spite of my efforts. It took a few important conversations with a few important people to realize that my withdrawal from the business (read: busy-ness) of my career was not happening to me, but rather because of me.

I, well we, chose to grow our family and it was one of the best decisions of our lives. Our daughter is perfect in her own way and a perfect fit for us. I chose to go back to graduate school, to put me in a better place to make a larger impact in my field. I love my field and have really found my niche. I chose to take time and improve my health and my happiness to be better in every area of my life.

But now it seems that the withdrawal that I first scorned and dreaded has become something that I love and appreciate. I will never again have this tim in my life. I'll never again have sweet moments with my newborn baby girl and her, uh, rambunctious, three year old brother. I'll never have the opportunity to work hard for this Master's degree and glean all that I can to make me a better educator. I'll never have the opportunity to lay the groundwork for what I hope is a very long and healthy rest of my life.

When August rolls around I'll embark on a new adventure as the Lead teacher of the STEAM magnet program at Oakdale Elementary School in Rock Hill. This new job will lead me back to my passion of PBL and STEAM education, and I truly could not be happier. However, I'm worried that with putting more 'mph' back into my career I'll lose the happiness I've built in my time away. Balance is the key to life and I know that, but figuring out this balance will inevitably take some time. My hope is to be intentional, always, with how I'm dividing my time and efforts as to not lose the happiness I created over the past year, but to instead compound it with my new position in a new school.

Thanks for sticking with my as I dip my toes back into the proverbial water, and hopefully by August I'll be ready to go head-first.

Monday, November 2, 2015

Straddling the Gap.

This photo of a video taken by a Spring Valley High School student shows Senior Richland County Deputy Ben Fields trying to remove a student who refused to leave her math class. AP

Read more here:

By now, most everyone in the country has heard about the incident in Columbia, South Carolina at Spring Valley High School where the white School Resource Officer was eventually fired for his forceful removal of a black teenage girl over what began as the use of a cell phone in class. 

When I first saw the headlines that a former student posted on Instagram, I let out an audible sigh. 
I used to work in that school district. I loved everything about it. Every difficult, satisfying, sometimes ugly thing about working with some really difficult, but amazingly wonderful kids. And I knew the mud slinging was about to start from people placing blame on both sides. It’s one of those things that make you just want to look away because people you know let out all kinds of ugly, but that is the worst thing to do. 

My heart aches on both sides, and sometimes it is so hard to be in the middle.

My heart aches for the Officer, who is now jobless, with his image strewn across the Internet labelling him as racist, abusive, criminal, and many other awful things that will likely prevent him from getting a job in law enforcement ever again. I know what it’s like to be white in a school that is predominately minorities and to be called a racist. I know what it’s like to wish people could see inside your heart to know what your true intentions are, even though there is no way they would ever believe you. I know how hard it is to look at a kid who doesn’t listen to anyone and try to get them to follow the rules. I know how frustrating it can be to feel like you are losing authority in your classroom and how crucial that authority can be to the learning environment, when all the students are at school to do is to learn. I know the struggle of having to make split second decisions in the heat of a moment and to question whether or not the decision was the right one, even if not to the magnitude this officer does. I know how those decisions can haunt you if you question, even for a second, that you did the right thing. 

And, my heart also aches for the student. She is now the subject of a controversial, nation-wide story on racism and police brutality, when, let’s be serious, being a 16 year old girl is hard enough as it is. She had her personal life exposed for millions when people spoke of deaths in her family, not to mention the millions of people constantly watching what had to be one of the worst moments of her life. She suffered physical injuries, but we cannot even begin to imagine the emotional and mental scars she’ll bear as a result of this incident. She’s been labeled and will continue to be labeled a victim for years to come when people use her as an example of awful things when they happen in the future, as they undoubtedly will. How will she be able to continue school without judgement from people who feel the Officer’s termination was wrong? How much discrimination will she face because of this? I’ve seen students who are labeled in schools and how, even though educators try their best to eliminate such bias in the classroom, many are unable to shake their perceptions when it comes to these students. 

With every article and comment coming across my newsfeed and timeline I want to scream out on both sides. Defending him. Defending her. Because I feel so much in the middle. But no one wants to be in the middle. Everything about this incident screams polarization. But, empathy. Empathy, the gift and curse that it is, compells me to feel pain for both of them. To see faults from both of them. To defend both of them. 

But no one wants to hear that. 

Sometimes it is difficult to straddle the gap, but when the ground splits beneath you sometimes you land with a foot on each side. 

Friday, September 11, 2015

To my student, the one who's no longer mine.

Recently, a student at the school where I taught previously was seriously injured in a Friday night football game. I never taught him, but my heart sank over the pain my beloved community, the young man, and his family must be going through. I looked him up in the yearbook, and I immediately recognized his face. Like I said, I never had the privilege of teaching this young man who is going through something immensely difficult, but over the last few days my heart has gone back to the students I did teach who faced seemingly insurmountable odds in the short time I knew them.

Like many teachers, I often keep in touch with students from previous years. But, as time goes on, sometimes that relationship fades, and I lose touch with them as they move on with their lives. While they grow and change, my image of them remains crystal clear. Each in their own unique situation as a growing and changing teenager forever stuck in my mind as they were in our short time together. Still, like many other teachers, I look back on these students as I remember them and wonder where they are now, who they have become, and hope for them nothing but the best life has to offer. In light of all those students, this letter is to them.

To my student, the one who is no longer mine:

I remember you, my student. I remember how much you hated that small, country town and wanted to move back to Detroit. Your senior year was such a hard time to move, and you didn't want to live with your mom anyways. I remember watching you find your place as the year went on, and talking about how much you wanted to get a job and move back home. We worked so hard to get you to graduation, and I was so honored to get a hug after you walked across that stage. I want to know if you made it, and if Detroit is better than here. But you are no longer mine.

I remember you, too, my student. I remember that phone call at 11:37 p.m. on a Wednesday asking if I could come pick you up because you were no longer welcome at the house where you were staying since your dad kicked you out. I remember picking you up on the curb, bringing you to my tiny apartment where my husband slept in the other room, and making you the best bed I could on our faux leather couch. I remember the countless phone calls to shelters, services, agencies, all of whom told me there's nothing they could do for a 17 year old. I remember asking them, then where does she go? I remember the drive to the children's home, where I helped you move in your room and tour the house. I remember crying so hard I had to pull over on the way home, wondering why I could not do more for you. I want to know where you have gone, and hear about the life I know you have created for yourself. But you are no longer mine.

I also remember you, my student. You, at just 11, with your crooked grin and clothes far too big coming to school every day and eating breakfast with me because you didn't eat at home. I remember the way you cradled your arm so gently that morning, and were afraid to let me touch it because of how badly it hurt. I remember the way you cried to me, trying to tell me that your dad didn't mean it, and please to not make you go as I brought the social worker in. I remember how you soared over the next few months living with your aunt, in new, clean clothes and with your homework always complete. I remember my heart falling when I heard you had chosen to go back to live with your dad, and that you had moved suddenly without warning. I want to know how you are, and if you still have that goofy nickname. But you are no longer mine.

I could never forget you, my student. You and I started off on a rocky road. At the beginning of the year I couldn't wait to get you out of my class, but by the end of the semester I couldn't imagine class without you. I remember your silly laugh that I could hear from a mile away, and how you'd cut class to come sit in my room to talk. I remember you telling me that you had enlisted in the Army, and how you always offered to buy my lunch on Friday when you went to Burger King. I want to know if you still like where you're stationed, and if you ever became the dental hygienist you said you wanted to be. But you are no longer mine.

I will never forget any of you, my students. To the ones I see at the grocery store, to the ones who are merely faces in a yearbook from a school year gone by. I would love to hear about your lives and your successes and your failures. But you are no longer mine. But, even if you are no longer mine, you should know that I will always be yours.

All of my love,
Your teacher.

Thursday, July 30, 2015


The last week of July always brings me many mixed emotions. On the one hand, I'm struggling to cling to the last few, precious weeks of summer that I have left with my little man at home. We're squeezing in as many pool days, museum visits, picnic lunches, and afternoon snuggles as we can before I have to go back to work. On the other hand, this is the time when the itch begins. Most teachers know the itch. The one that makes you linger for a moment (longer than usual) at the Post-It notes in Target, or take a second glance at those cute, yet sensible, closed-toed flats that look like they wouldn't make you hate your life at 3:30 in the afternoon. It's the same one that makes you think that the success of your year will be determined by your ability to color coordinate your bulletin boards, curtains, and desk accessories. The back-to-school itch is alive and well in me, especially the last week of July.

I've visited my room for the first time and spent a few hours piddling around with this and that. Most of the time I don't get much accomplished in a few hours span but it makes me feel good to be in the space again. I start to feel accustomed to being there, and it's weirdly like nesting for a baby. 

With the new year coming I felt it was only appropriate to look back at the end of my last year to see what I should take with me and what I should leave behind. I wrapped up my last school year in such a fury I hardly remember where anything is or what day it was when I walked out of school for the last time. All I remember thinking was, "I'm so done." I fully anticipated having to come back and clean out my room because I was looking for another job. I spent more than half my summer going to interviews, call-backs, video-chats, and conferences all in the hopes that I would find the place I was supposed to be. Even my boss thought I'd be leaving, I'm pretty sure. But, here we are in August and here I am again. 

The last few weeks, especially after the fourth call-back interview and the fourth 'We're sure you have a successful career ahead of you', I decided to unplug. I quit checking for job postings. I quit participating in Twitter chats. I even turned the notifications off on my phone (whaaaaat?) I just felt that I had been searching so hard for something new that I needed to give myself time to see what really was. I needed time to reflect on where I am and where I'll be for the year. For so many months I had given myself an agenda: Find a new job, make yourself known, participate and speak at all the things so people will know who you are and think you are important. I was exhausted.

After a month free of 'Chirp!'s and my search history consisting of recipes and Pinterest ideas instead of job openings and positions, I just feel better. I feel lighter. I feel like the burden I placed on myself never needed to be as heavy as it was. I still have followers on Twitter, as weird as it is to worry about such a thing. I still have significant knowledge to share about my passions in education. I still have aspirations greater than my situation. None of those things disappeared because I took myself out of fifth gear and just let myself idle for a little while. 

All of this comes to a head because I know so many incredibly talented people who are also getting ready to start another school year. I have some really crazy smart friends, y'all. So many of you are wrapped up in phenomenal work professionally and personally, and your goals are the things of this girls' dreams. You grind so hard day in and day out, and I aspire to have the determination and tenacity that you have. But, not that you need it because most of you are way smarter than I am, I just wanted to throw it out there that the grind is exhausting. And it's ok to admit that. It's ok to take a break and just be. Resting, for a long time, was a dirty word to me. I felt like if I was resting then I was moving backwards. But resting doesn't mean you stop. It can mean observing, reflecting, and planning for the road ahead.  It's so hard for so many of us to quit pushing and reaching, but sometimes I think that break from pushing gives us the strength we need to finally grasp what we're reaching for.

I'm looking forward to a little less reaching and a little more resting this school year. My sincerest wish for each and every one of my edu-awesome friends is that your year is every thing you hope it to be and more. My goals are to be more in the moment and less-looking ahead. No matter what your goals are for the upcoming year, I have the utmost faith and love for you all. Here we go again!

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

I'm Sorry

Today I got an apology from a middle school boy.

It was short and to the point. All he said was, "I'm sorry I freaked out on you Coach K."

I told him it was ok, and that I appreciated it.

That's all we said, and that's all that needed to be said. But that is all it took to bring tears to my eyes today.

It's that time of year that wears teachers' patience thin. Christmas Break is long gone, and Spring break is too far ahead in the future to provide much of anything to look forward to. Our 8th graders came back from Christmas break a little more mature, and thinking a lot more like high schoolers than middle schoolers. The only trouble for middle school teachers is that they are still in middle school, and middle school is not quite the same as high school.

The kids are in a weird place where they've had four day weeks for the past month and so now the school days seem long. They're testing the waters all over again seeing how much the tired teachers will tolerate before a reprimand is given. Today was no different.

No less than ten minutes after a 'no horseplay at recess' announcement had been made did I see two boys almost tackling each other to the ground. I called them over and asked them if they had heard the announcement. They said yes, and I asked them if they knew that I was supposed to send them to in school suspension for horse-playing. They started whining, "No way! Are you serious? Come on," to which I told them the announcement had LITERALLY just been made and asked what did they expect. The other teacher on duty had just sent a boy to in school suspension not ten minutes ago for the same thing. This is what I heard from one of the boys as they began to walk to the ISS room:

"This is the most stupid thing I've ever heard. Are you freaking kidding me right now?"

Woaaaaaa, nelly. That had me seeing red.

I kept my cool and called the boy back over. I very carefully asked him, "What did you just say?"

"This is so stupid," he said as his face got more red and I could see the beginning of tears welling up in his eyes.

"I'm going to give you a chance to take a breath and take it back, if you want to. Do you want to take it back," I asked him.

 I wasn't sure which way he'd go, honestly. He and I have gone rounds all year. He doesn't get along well with a few other teachers because he does have a bit of a smart aleck problem, but I really think he's a good kid.

You could tell he wasn't sure what I wanted him to do. I could see him trying to read my face, but I wasn't showing a whole lot to him.

"I take it back," he huffed and looked at the ground.

I told the two boys that since recess was almost over to just go sit on the sidewalk until the bell rang. They didn't even have time to walk down to ISS before we'd have to return to class.

So when that same boy walked up to my classroom during 7th period locker time smiling, I wasn't sure what was going to happen.

"I'm sorry I freaked out on you Coach K," he said and smiled at me sheepishly. I could tell he meant it. I told him it was ok; I told him I appreciated his apology and he left.

It takes a lot for a middle school boy to apologize for anything. I could have easily written him up for disrespect. He tugged on a string with his harsh words, and I contemplated making a bigger deal of the whole comment than a time-out on the sidewalk. But, I'm glad I didn't. I know there are days when I need a little grace, too. I know how hard it can be to say 'I'm sorry' when you know you've said something you didn't mean. I know how much courage it must have taken for him to decide to apologize. That apology was a much more meaningful lesson than any trip to in school suspension would have been. Now, don't get it twisted and think he is a changed kid. He and I will probably go rounds later on this week about incomplete homework or talking during instruction, but for today we're all gravy.

I'm counting today as a win and leaving with a smile.

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Make Your Deposits.

Most adults, by the time they feel comfortable referring to themselves as adults, have a pretty solid understanding of balancing a budget. While some of us may put this understanding into practice better than others, part of being an adult is understanding the basic principle that you cannot withdraw from a bank more than you deposit. Sure, there are ways to bypass that principal using credit cards and loans, but there are penalties associated with those services and usually you end up paying more than what you borrowed. It boils, very simply down to this: if you want to make withdrawals, you must first make deposits.

Recently I was reflecting on the year so far with one of my students. We were having a conversation about classroom styles and how the atmosphere of each teacher's classroom is sort of like their home: each one is a little different depending on the teacher. I asked this student, whom I have no problems with behaviorally or academically, why he tends to be off task or misbehave in other classes when it seems to be easy for him to succeed in others.

In a moment of intense honesty, he said, "I don't know. I guess it just depends on whether or not I think they really care. Because, I guess, if they don't care about me, why should I care about what they want me to do?"

Perceptive little creatures, middle schoolers can be.

I really think that sometimes we, myself included, request lots of withdrawals from students without making the proper deposits first. We ask a lot of our students every day; we ask them to give us their attention, respect, questions, concerns, weaknesses, and strengths, all while putting them in an environment where they have little to no control. Ask those things of a group of adults, and you may get a few who oblige, but I believe many of us would at best struggle to give all of those things to someone who is not required to reciprocate the exchange.

I try to make a conscious effort to deposit into my students every chance I get, because I know that I'm constantly asking for things from them. I compliment their haircuts. I ask them about their sports teams. I tell them I'm glad they're back if they've been absent. I engage in conversation. I even play them back in Trivia Crack, and obviously dominate. But for me, showing that I am invested in the relationship as well as the education pays off in triple the interest than any withdrawal I make without first giving.

We have to first make deposits and let them grow before we attempt to withdraw too much from them. We need to help the relationship mature and grow so that when we do need to ask things from them, they have more to give. They are more willing to try. They want to succeed.

Just remember to make your deposits. Even if it's not every day, those deposits will grow and you'll be rewarded with infinitely more than you ever gave.