Two Worlds

In April, administrators have their feet in two worlds: the tail end of one school year and the beginning of another. It’s the month when the goal of the last several weeks of school is to ensure everyone, including students, teachers, and families, get what they need. It’s the month when angry “this has been going on all year” rings like church bells every hour, and a moment later, a flood of “thank you for what you’ve done; you’ve made a difference” happens. It’s a month of mixed feelings: frustration and hope, sadness and excitement. May is one of my favorite months, but also the busiest, thinking about two school years at once, moving from task to task, while taking time away from box-checking for important things like spring events, continuation and graduation ceremonies, and seeing graduates who have grown up into actual adults.

Some of my kids and their friends are graduating high school in a few weeks (one technically graduated in December), headed off to college and other adventures, beginning the next part of their lives. They grow up so quickly, a friend noted while sharing photos of some of our shared kids this week. It was just yesterday that one was sitting beside me on the floor of my classroom painting the “low parts” in the corner nearest the exterior door, the wall that would eventually become our tech corner. Two sat at a table sobbing over a book, asking if it was ok that they cry–they just identified with the characters so much. Another joined our classroom and had a gaggle of friends within seconds–many of those friendships are still strong now.

One of my favorite pictures is of this group of kids: a silhouette of several sitting together along the back of my classroom couch in front of our huge windows, looking outside as the snow was falling one afternoon. They were among the most cohesive groups of kids I’ve ever taught. They were kind to one another, supported each other, were empathetic and inclusive to anyone new. They were the first group I taught who learned to self-advocate, and who showed me that not all teachers are as accepting of that self-advocacy…shooting down what I felt were reasonable requests before they’d even finished sharing their reasoning. They’re the group who, even at 10, had huge plans for their lives. They planned to become writers, activists, doctors, firefighters and military members, attorneys, teachers, composers, engineers…and anything else they can imagine because they have their whole lives to do whatever brings them joy.

My friend gave me the graduation announcement for her boy, who has somehow transformed into an actual dude…a guy…complete with that facial hair nonsense (“I just shaved yesterday!”) and a wingspan that rivals Michael Phelps. I seriously cried. In my mind, he’s four going on five, barely hip high…and thankfully, he has retained the kindness, curiosity, and empathy of that little one who helped me paint my classroom so long ago.

My two worlds right now are more than just this school year and next. My mind remembers these young ones whose curiosity about the world brought such joy to my day and who helped me become a reasonably good teacher, embracing my own curiosity, as well as my mistakes and opportunities for growth because they needed to see that those things still happen when you’re a grown-up. And my heart is so full of love and pride for these kids and hope for their futures.

I hope that their lives are full of happiness and joy and that they do things in their lives that are meaningful to them, even if some of it is difficult.

I hope that they go off and do good in the world. Good doesn’t have to be big…it can be as simple as showing kindness and empathy when they can, demonstrating integrity and honesty in their interactions with others.

I hope that they find a sense of accomplishment in what they choose to spend their time doing. I hope they know that they’re so very much enough, and not ever “too much” of anything. I hope they surround themselves with good humans who make their lives better by simply existing. I hope that they share the beautiful people they are with the world…it needs more of them.

Go off and do good, sweet kidlets. The world is yours.

Photo by Nataliya Vaitkevich on

The Job Fair

I went to a job fair this weekend to showcase our school. We have a wonderful staff, serve amazing students, and have fabulous families. We get to work with gifted kids, an underserved population. Our work is not easy, but it’s rewarding beyond measure, and those of us who have chosen to be there are there for good reasons and believe in the work we get to do every day. Life happens, and sometimes people need to make choices that take them away from our community, but even when we aren’t looking to fill positions, we want to be sure that people know who we are at fairs like this, at conferences, at networking events, and out in the greater community too.

The group hosting the fair was honest with all of us who were going to attend. There would be almost a hundred schools for less than half of the number of teachers that they would see at a job fair pre-pandemic. I arrived before most representatives, but those there before me were setting up, ready to grip and grin with bells on, sharing how wonderful it is to work with them, the focus of their school, their community, and how they could help a teacher grow. We had a prime spot, visible just as teachers walked through the door. Some tables would remain empty, other things likely taking priority so they couldn’t make it. The energy in the room was mixed: excited and hopeful…worried and anxious at the same time.

I remembered the last job fair I represented us. The job-seekers came in droves and there was a constant chatter all day between seekers and finders. Teachers stopped at many tables to see where they might want to teach–they dropped resumes, sold themselves, shared their hope for the future. They were young, bright-eyed, and excited to begin the next part of their professional lives.

This year it was different. Schools posted their open positions on boards at their tables. Many sought classroom teachers, others specialists, and still others a variety of interventionist-based positions. I glanced at my watch when the doors were to open to allow job-seekers in, and no one came through the door save six high school students helping to support those of us at the fair.

Gradually, a few teachers trickled in, and most were older, with years of experience. Most bypassed me because of where our school is located–no one wants to relocate because they have spouses, children, and mortgages. The few who stopped were looking for very specialized positions: English teacher for AP courses only, high school STEM with a focus on pre-engineering courses, music, but with a flexible schedule that allowed them to teach when they liked and didn’t require extra duties like lunch or recess coverage or the requirement that they attend staff meetings or parent conferences. They said they wanted to be where their talents were honored and respected and where no one would ask them to do more than what their professional plan called for: teach. One asked about administrative support for teachers. They said they expected to have an administrative assistant–they’d had one paid for with ESSER dollars and now were seeking a school that would guarantee that for them even after ESSER dollars are spent.

One was graduating in May: a new teacher. Very anxious, but also very hopeful. They wanted a promise that they would not have active shooter drills or have students who needed behavioral support–they had kids in their student teaching who needed 1-1 support and wanted guarantees that they wouldn’t have that experience again. They wanted to teach the kids they read about in books–Mrs. Frizzle’s class–who were excited to learn and who didn’t cause problems in class. They asked about curriculum: they wanted complete autonomy as to what they taught and had some neat ideas, and in the same breath wanted all the materials handed to them, so they didn’t have to plan. They asked about our class size–22 and 23 is too many–they were looking for a max of 12-15 per teacher. They asked about the pay: they heard that new teachers are now starting at $60-70K a year and at 23, should surely be making more than that to start–they’d worked in child care in college so had experience already. Um, no.

I talked to people from the group that organized the fair. They were disappointed in the turnout, though they weren’t surprised. They’d been honest with all of us with the number of possible applicants vs the number of schools coming. Fewer than half of those who had signed up to drop resumes or interview even bothered to come. We talked about teachers who have left the profession, the expectations we’d overheard in conversations between applicants and school representatives, and what the teaching programs were seeing–fewer enrolling to start with and many quitting before they’d even started. Kids of all ages hear what adults say…and some choose to leave a profession before their career has even started because of what they hear from the public.

We talked about how to sell teaching as a great choice for a profession. We talked about education needing to change and shift with the needs our students and their families experience now. We talked about how charter schools have a bit more room to innovate, but how they’re still bound by all the same rules as a traditional school in a big district. We talked about funding, and the continued lack of it, and the ongoing pressure to do more with less while watching the legislature debate whether or not schools should be given the money they need to do the work or whether adequate funding should be withheld until educators bend to the will of the politicians and specific groups who want school to eliminate anything that doesn’t fall into their bucket of preferences.

Teachers were lauded as heroes for a little while not so long ago and everyone would say that it’s nice to be appreciated. Pandemic teaching came with lots of thank yous.

The public saw what they thought school looked like and sounded like in boxes on a computer screen. And after the crisis passed a little bit, they got scared that what they saw on Zoom was really what school was like now and much of the political fervor around education reform stems from those fears. (spoiler alert: That isn’t what school is like and never was. Pandemic teaching was a response to a crisis and was messy, painful, and attempted to keep a semblance of normalcy where none could have possibly existed.)

Educators everywhere are disillusioned, angry, and sad. There’s a comedy show touring comprised of teachers who left the profession who tell horror stories of situations they endured at the hands of their administrators, their districts, the families they served. We laugh, but we know that they aren’t lying about what they experienced because on some level, all of us have had a similar experience or two. Teachers are being told by politicians and conservative groups that they aren’t allowed to share books with students because books encourage learning and thinking about things that those groups don’t agree with. They disagree with stories that share concepts like kindness, community, support of others, diversity of background, different belief systems, as well as those that tell the stories of actual historical events…all of those are targets for those demanding books be removed from classrooms and libraries. Teachers are still told in 2023 that they aren’t allowed to be out in the community after dark, must be seen at church every week, can’t be seen in restaurants that serve alcohol (whether they’re drinking or not), and can’t have side jobs or side hustles–someone is bound to be offended whether they’re teaching fitness classes at a gym on weekends or tutoring kids who need some extra support. And heaven forbid they’re seen in a library with a book in their hand. They might be fired on the spot and run out of town.

And the media frenzy around people who do horrible things to kids is non-stop…and the media is sure to point out that those people called themselves teachers.

So yeah, there’s a shortage of teachers. And those who remain are doing everything they can to provide a good, solid education for the kids who turn up in their classrooms every day. In many schools, administrators who began as teachers are going back to their roots to teach in the classroom too–maybe to cover for someone who is out, perhaps one class, maybe full days, but they’re right there…

Educators who serve kids do all the things in their job descriptions and then some every day. And they have hope that the kids we’re serving right now will be the ones who grow up and make our educational system what it should be: a system in which kids get what they need to be able to learn and grow and think critically about the world and all that goes on in it so that they can go off into it to do good.

That’s a big part of why we do this work. We need more good people willing to do this work while those of us currently in it try to make it a better profession for all of us, now and in the future.


Again, I realize it has been a hot minute since I sat myself down on the well-worn and much-replacement-needed carpet between my couch and coffee table to write.

It’s hard to know what to write about sometimes, I said with sympathy to a young one in tears today over an all-school writing assignment. Today was plan and draft day. Yesterday, classes discussed what they might choose to write about, using the power of the collective to brainstorm topics they might write about. Some had ideas. Others couldn’t commit. And others insisted that they didn’t know anything about anything.

This is the part where kids get stuck. Gifted kids can get stuck just after the words “writing prompt” come out of their teacher’s mouth. What’s the topic? Do I know anything or enough about it to write something that makes sense? What if I don’t know anything? What if I know a lot? What if it’s my favorite thing and I know everything there is to know and have very strong opinions about why it’s important for people to understand what a big deal this thing is?

What if it’s not perfect?

When I teach writing, I ask kids who their audience is (or who it might be–they may change their mind after they get started!) and why they’re bothering to write at all. Responses to these questions begin with “you” and “Because you are making me.” We write those things at the top of the page so we remember who we’re writing for and why we’re writing to begin with. Gradually, as we build trust, their audience becomes “the city planning people,” and their purpose transforms into “what they’re doing to our open space is horrible and will have lasting impacts on wildlife and our neighborhoods,” the page dotted with tears of rage and hurt because what if they won’t listen?

A long time ago a teacher I admired noted that writing is just another way to communicate, and it’s important to identify those two things, audience and purpose, even if they may change as you write, just like we would in conversation. Topics and the tone of a conversation change depending on who we’re with and what we’re sharing. I wouldn’t discuss my latest true crime obsession with a parent while giving a tour of our school. I wouldn’t share my mini-TED talk on educational philosophy while having a romantic dinner at a nice restaurant with my person. The parent would think I was nuts and reconsider our school as a place for their child and my person would roll his eyes and wish I’d stop talking and go back to binge-watching The West Wing.

Young gifted writers have a vast collection of interests, a variety of opinions, and volumes of stories to share…but they get stuck when they’re asked to pick something and just write. So they tear up and sniffle. Rip the page. Use the page to create an origami owl…or a bat…or a dinosaur with big teeth. Draw and make patterns on the lines. Write IDK in a thinking web. Cover the page in crocodile tears and eraser marks…

And they ask, “How can I choose an audience or purpose if I have no idea what I’m going to write? I don’t want to be wrong!”

Older gifted writers have the same problem sometimes. We have so much to say about so many things…what if the one we commit to is the wrong one? And what if we commit to one and then write it wrong–targeting the wrong audience or with the wrong purpose?

So we open and shut the tab (often the only tab that ever gets shut) for our blog, our poem, our op-ed, our conference session proposal, our diary entry, our reflection on the day, the grocery list or to-do list… Sometimes staring at a blank page is better than committing to a word…because one word begins a flood of others that rush onto the page eventually requiring revision, editing, saving for later, or removing altogether (and then you feel bad about removing them because they mattered too). And that leads to having to DO something with them all…hitting send or publish or save or print or submit.

And then they’re out there..where they can be judged.

I admire the hell out of stand-up comedians when they’re just starting out and have no street cred. They take big risks standing up on the stage under the hot lights with a glass or bottle still somewhat full of liquid courage in one hand hoping that someone will laugh..or at least grant permission to the rest of the group to do the same. They clasp the microphone in their other hand praying to something greater than themselves that no one will groan…yawn…or throw something.

It’s the judgment that kills us both, the writer and the performer, sending us spiraling into the land of self-doubt, negative self-talk, and hopelessness that we’ll never be the communicator we should be. And so we stop altogether.

Now imagine being 7 or 11…or 15…with adults holding a big chunk of your self-worth in their green or purple pen. Wouldn’t you be unwilling to risk it?

When we approach writing as a process during which we aren’t judged for what we share or how we choose to share it, we’re likely to be willing to take that risk over and over again, improving our craft, experiencing the process willingly, and seeking out feedback so we can grow in our practice as writers. Begin with praising their ideas, their risk-taking, their excitement to share their thoughts. Talk about the work that writers do, how they choose words, and rechoose them, moving them around the page and experimenting with their order. Share drafts of your own writing–you’re a writer too–and demonstrate what it is to be vulnerable before other writers. Celebrate the sentence. The powerful conclusion. The perfect word to illustrate exactly what they want to say. Play with cadence and emphasis and complexity of language. Writing is music, equations, experimentation, physics, performance, art…

All this, says the writer who has thousands of things to say and hasn’t found the courage to commit to a single word.


The bother with boundaries

After a while, the therapist queried, “You know it’s not your job to do all the things, right?”

The patient responded, “I realize that, however, some of the things will not get done unless someone does them, and the Someones who could be doing them aren’t stepping up because their boundaries say that those things shouldn’t be or aren’t their responsibility.”

For all the talk about the importance of boundary-setting as a part of self-care, there’s a question that continues to be overlooked.

Once you’ve set your boundaries around what you will and will not do, what happens to the things that you will not do?

Someone else has to do them.

Who is someone else?

What about their boundaries?

What about the things that still need to get done?

It’s an infinite loop.

Hard and fast boundaries don’t allow for the delegation of tasks to someone else…their boundaries don’t allow for new tasks to be added to their list.

Strict boundaries don’t allow for growth opportunities in areas of interest or in areas of skill.

Boundary-based refusal creates a bigger problem for the big picture when the things still need to get done and aren’t getting done because they all seem to fall beyond everyone’s boundaries.

Sometimes the things that need to get done aren’t things that can be ignored. Ignoring them creates more things…more complicated things…they’re like Tribbles.

Sometimes the things that need to get done are the things that need to be done by the person closest to the situation…not someone outside the situation. Involving someone outside the situation fractures trust.

And sometimes, the things that need to get done require follow-up and follow-through…and someone outside the situation isn’t the best person to do either one.

The excuse that a task is beyond one’s pay grade only really applies for tasks that require a specific set of skills or knowledge–and the assumption that neither one can be obtained through doing the task. (And that statement “beyond my pay grade” is incredibly insulting to both parties, tbh.)

The therapist asks, “Well, what IS your job?”

The patient* says, “To do the things that need to get done. I have a list…in multiple places…that keeps growing. Beyond that, I really don’t know.”

*often a gifted person of any age

Walls and Boxes

A colleague of mine once said that it was critical for students to write to the same prompt, do the same project (a diorama for you! and you! and you!), take notes the same way to capture the same information, and turn in the same work with only one right response.

Doing so, they said, would teach them what it looks like when work is done, what it means to have work that is done well, and how to evaluate their own work against a set standard – the criteria set forth by a teacher. I saw an article about this somewhere the other day and it noted too that this type of expectation is setting kids up for the real world of adulthood–to be good little worker bees who are able to do what they are asked to do when they are old enough to have a job.

I went along with my colleague’s thinking for a while. I was a newish teacher and wasn’t sure how to prove my hypothesis about why my gut was aching more and more as we moved from unit to unit.

I wanted to see what would happen if we gave kids the opportunity to show what they had learned using a variety of options, each with its own set of criteria but also incorporating a requirement for the same knowledge. One of the things this colleague had noted was that they felt that it was impossible for a teacher to evaluate student learning if everyone was turning in something different–all students had to show the same learning so all students should be doing exactly the same work and then should be evaluated against each other to get a good picture of how the class as a whole was learning. A teacher can’t do that if everyone turns in something different–it all has to be exactly the same.

Almost everything I’ve learned about teaching, I’ve learned from kids. Kids have told me what they need in the past 17 years. And they’ve told other educators for far longer than that. They need, especially in the elementary years, to have opportunities to show what they know in a way that they are confident and able to do it. Some need to tell me what they know in a conversation or a presentation. Others want to sing about it because they can remember things best that way. Some want to draw it out and explain it. Others want to put all of it and then some into a poster and add bling and lights to illustrate the most important parts (the things THEY feel are the most important) and others want to write about it–they want to write about the experiences of people, their thoughts about a particular event, or simply lay out a series of facts. And still others want to recreate something they read about or saw–with a dance or a series of hand movements or by actually making the thing so they can understand how it works.

Kids need choice. They need to choose what they do, how they do it, and all the bits and pieces that go into it. And they need to learn what to do when what they chose doesn’t work out.

A question that came up was how I’ll know if they learned everything if they’re only focusing on something THEY want to share.

I don’t want them to learn everything. There’s a place for regurgitation of facts but I want them to learn enough to be able to connect what they’re learning with other things. They’re capable of finding out when William the Conqueror invaded England. They can google the names of every US president in order or learn the song if it brings them joy, but I’d rather they understand and be able to explain how the awful thing one person did impacted events and other people later on…and be able to connect it all to current and future situations.

A million years ago, when I was little, we learned about Native American tribes in Mrs. Gerlach’s class. I remember using paper bags to make “leather” to create a tipi and writing stories using pictures on the sides using markers, and sugar cubes to create igloos, and learning a little bit about the ways Native Americans used everything in nature to live. It was fun, and I remember that I enjoyed it all very much.

Photo by Jola Kedra on

Here’s what I didn’t learn:

I didn’t learn why they settled where they did or why they didn’t choose to move when the weather was cold and awful or what we’d consider too hot.

I didn’t learn why the Trail of Tears happened or why Native Americans were moved from where they settled first by people who moved here to escape persecution in their home country. And I didn’t learn why people thought that was perfectly reasonable to do.

I didn’t learn how the Native American cultures were the same, or how they were different beyond where they might have lived or what they ate, and I didn’t learn anything about their individual cultures or how their cultural stories connect to stories in other cultures in and beyond the U.S.

And given that I went to a Catholic school, I didn’t learn how their beliefs about God were the same or different than the faith in which I was being brought up. I think that would have been pretty damn important given we were learning how to be good Catholics.

I did learn that my tipi needed to look the same as others right down to how my story looked in pictures and that my igloo had to be shaped just like the other ones. I learned to answer multiple choice questions and match vocabulary words to their definitions.

And now as a grown-up, I don’t remember anything about that content beyond how to make a damn fine piece of paper bag leather and the way that it felt in my hands when it was soft and pliable…and that sharpies work better to draw on it than Crayola markers.

Kids deserve to learn more than how to make paper bag leather tipis. They deserve to be able to explain why they thought it was important to focus on the fact that one Native American culture chose to stay on the Western Slope while others chose to park themselves on the plains. They deserve the opportunity to imagine a life a long time ago and connect to it, comparing the 25-room homes of one culture to the two-bedroom, one-bath house they live in. They deserve to see history, science, literature, and math not as a series of facts to be memorized and spit out when the test day comes but as experiences of real live people who made choices and decisions and had revelations that impact the lives of other real people.

They deserve to get to do the work that generates more “why” questions, more “how” questions, and more “what if” questions.

As educators, we need to look beyond the posters we bought on Amazon or from the teacher store hanging on the walls of our classroom and think beyond the boxes of curriculum that arrive on our tables in August. None of that is learning. Those are resources to help support it. And this is why Joe Schmoe off the street cannot be a teacher–a teacher…a good one…learns over time how to use those resources as something to supplement learning…not to drive it. There’s good stuff in it, to be sure–sometimes there are great questions or ideas that you can steal to make a springboard for kids into a great discussion or great exploration of thought that leads to more questions.

That is learning.

Ghosts in the Cheap Seats

I think I’ve written before about ghosts of bosses past. Those bosses who told you over and over again that you weren’t pulling your weight, not doing the right things, not giving the job everything you had, or weren’t invested enough in the work. Those bosses who, bit by bit, took away the privileges or responsibilities you’d earned the right to have because of your hard work, dedication, and expertise. Those bosses who ensured that you were no longer invited to the meeting, the get-together, or not given the memos that others were…left out of the loop.

Those people and their residual voices often live rent-free in our heads, sometimes for fleeting moments and sometimes for much longer. Evicting them is complicated.

I’m teaching full-time this year. And trying to do all the other things too–all the things I’ve been doing the last six years and was finally feeling reasonably confident about doing. I felt like I was in the loop. Funny, when I left the classroom I was about nine years in…and I finally felt reasonably confident in my job.

I got an email today about “new processes” and immediately felt the pain of left-out-ed-ness. Another thing I missed. When the hell did this new process start and why didn’t I know anything about it? How will the new process impact the kids we serve and our ability to make sure they’re actually SEEN and not just a set of scores? How could I have missed something so important? I have questions and no time to ask them that won’t make me look like I’m slacking…or just not able to do my job.

I can’t go to meetings during the school day because I am teaching so I’m out of the loop unless I happen to catch the one out of 9000 emails that happens to mention the thing I need to know. I have to be selective about email and constantly feel behind because there are only 24 hours in a day and emails aplenty for far more hours. I’ve already been chastised once because I was expected to attend a meeting (that could have been an email or a video greeting) with the comment along the lines of if you can’t make the meeting you damn well better find someone who is more capable of coming and doing the job.

More capable. More capable of being in more than one place at a time. More capable of doing my job..and all the jobs that fall beneath it..and all those that become mine because it’s the most logical place to file them. More capable of handling multiple roles at once without anyone feeling as though I’m not completely present–their needs are the most important in that moment. Nothing else exists. More capable of juggling 10 balls…and sixteen plates, four knives, and a Katana sword or two for good measure…while wearing roller skates in an ice skating rink and hula-hooping while dodging flying hockey pucks launched by the best NHL players on earth….and dodgeballs chucked at my head by the dodgeball team from Average Joe’s Gym live on ESPN The Ocho, complete with play-by-play commentary from Pepper Brooks and Cotton McKnight.

The ghosts in the cheap seats make me second guess every email, every on-the-fly response, every gut feeling, every piece of documentation, every hat change, every single decision. What seems logical to me may not be logical to those who matter. And when I’m not asked to a meeting, or have a task removed from my plate (even if the intent is good), or have to ask for help…the ghosts tell me that I’m not capable. Maybe I’m not cut out for this after all because I’m not managing it all well…without complete transparency, perfection, and with all of the i’s dotted and t’s crossed.

I know that this isn’t just a gifted thing. There are others out there doing exactly the same thing every day, trying to keep the balls in the air, the plates spinning, the positions filled. But sometimes, you do feel awfully alone and the weight of the work is heavy.

I know that my own intensities make the critics louder. My own perfectionism clouds the way I see everything, the way I plan, the way I present, the way I reflect. They all determine which critics are yelling from the cheap seats….and which I hear loudest in a given moment.

I am lucky to have good people around me though…to check on me and make sure I found what I needed, to bring coffee, hallway hugs, food, more tissues, and allergy medicine…to read me when I’m trying so hard to keep my book shut and hold it together…and to be able to see beyond the box for solutions…and to catch the ball, plate, or sword before it hits the ground.

Be these people for your gifted kids. Be the ones who check in, grant grace, offer solutions instead of punishment or consequences, shine a light outside of the box so they can see possibilities. And the ones to launch a dodgeball at their ghosts in the cheap seats.


A friend gave me a shirt that says Teaching is Progress not Perfection.

One of the kids noticed it today, pointed it out, and intentionally grinned and said, “I like that.”

I have felt like I am floundering for several weeks. I know I can wing it in the classroom, but I don’t like having to do so for more than a little while. I am able to build fairly good relationships with kids easily–street cred goes a long way and kids are inherently good-hearted and grant grace in buckets.

This morning, I got up before God after sleeping like the dead from pure exhaustion and the panic set in quickly after I took the dog out.

Getting up at 430 in the morning should be plenty of time.

It’s not.

The realization that I had eleventy-billion things to do, no copy paper, little sense of direction, a long list of to-dos sorted and arranged in my head, no time to do any of them, emails to catch up on, and also had to people far before I felt ready to caused a Jessie Spano moment. (No, I didn’t sing or scrunch my socks above my high-tops…but I did make damn sure I took my supplements and anxiety meds.)

I don’t like feeling that way. I prefer, as a friend puts it, to “not embrace frantic.” Teammates have been fabulous, preparing slide decks as a jumping off point with critical things included, granting grace for missed meetings, and allowing me to disappear to get other things done in the few moments available.

So tonight I sat and reworked slides for tomorrow in a way that brings me a little normalcy, rethinking how the last two days have gone, what I’ve missed teaching, what I’ve done well, and what I’ve forgotten entirely.

I’m thankful for the gift of past experience–my kids taught me well. And this new batch is helping me remember and get into a groove that suits them too.

We’re creating a system for our work together, I said this morning. We’re creating systems that work for us in this space together so that we can function and learn and grow. No, our brains aren’t doing a lot of heavy lifting just yet but they will…once the foundation of our systems are in place.

A tree needs roots to grow…but it’s progress…not perfection that helps it grow strong.


2022 has been one hell of a year.

Really, everything since March 13, 2020 has been one hell of a time.

That’s when the grieving began. It’s been compounding exponentially ever since.

We grieve time lost. When everything just stopped…suddenly home was safest so we stayed there as much as we could. We lost time with loved ones, time to grow and change, time to find out who we are.

We grieve people lost to a virus no one knew or understood how to control. And those lost once some understanding was attained too.

We grieved seeing full faces, smiles, smirks, and hearing people speak clearly, unmuffled by layers of cotton and medical grade material. We still grieve missed milestones like kid-faces becoming young adult faces, schmutz appearing between noses and lips, grown-up teeth arriving, baby teeth lost, and braces coming and going. And we grieve missed facial expressions that would have conveyed what we really meant…not misinterpretations.

We grieve being able to do our jobs the way we knew how to do them–the way we’d always done them. The routines we had perfected…the systems that worked. Some of us were just coming into our own as educators; we had some stuff figured out and had plans for how to make other stuff better.

We grieve friendships fractured or ended altogether because of different beliefs, different politics, and different ways of wanting to see a crisis handled. We grieve family relationships that will be forever changed by words and actions over the past several years…

My heart is heavy (yes, again) because so much of the last several months (read: years) is hitting me like hail on a roof that desperately needs replacing with every question about what the plans are for this year.

There’s a teacher availability crisis if you hadn’t heard. More are leaving the profession than entering. All of the reasons are valid ones. Family needs change. Professional goals change. Pandemic stress won. Feeling unappreciated, overworked, and disrespected by people inside and outside of education is real. Seems every other article I read lately is either criticism of those who choose to stay to do this Big Work or criticism of those choosing to do something different. Either way, the article, opinion piece, or podcast is almost always about how educators failed the kids, the parents, and society as a whole because reasons and how administrators at every level failed everyone altogether. It takes a toll and makes you doubt what you believed you were called to do.

We’re short teachers this year, and it’s likely that both me and my director will be teaching in addition to doing our actual jobs with support from an army of brilliant humans who are willing to jump in and take over parts of our brains until the right people arrive. And I’m grieving my office-with-a-window job too. I had plans… It’s no one’s fault, of course. I’m not angry…just sad. Cloning is still not an option, unfortunately–though I hear they’re getting closer. Probably won’t be done and foolproof soon enough to be useful.

I have said I miss teaching. I do miss teaching. I miss kids and creating a learning community together. I miss learning alongside them and heading down rabbit holes because we can. I miss ah-ha moments and their increased confidence showing through when they help someone else with something that was hard for them a few weeks ago. I miss the moments shared among us, the goofy jokes, the trust built over time, growing their self-advocacy skills, and the street cred provided for me by older siblings. I am looking forward to the team-level collaboration, the ideas crafted together, and learning alongside kids, colleagues, and families though–that’s a piece of “teacher” life that looks very different in my office-with-a-window job.

Photo by CDC on

Someone asked why I’m not “setting up my classroom.” I’m not setting up the classroom because it’s not needed yet–the people who will do the work to make it a home aren’t in yet–they don’t come for another couple of weeks and the tables and chairs are there already. I need pencils (the good expensive ones) and paper. Basic supplies. The kids will provide the decoration, the organization, and the community. It’s not my classroom. It’s theirs. There are certain things that I’ll need to stay sane–sharpies, sticky notes, coffee…and manilla envelopes for kid-work collection otherwise I’ll lose things. The kids will make it what it needs to be when they arrive.

While I hope to find a teacher to join that community of learners and go with them on their journey this year soon, I grieve letting go of them too. The last time I said goodbye to a group of kids it broke my heart…and at least one kid in the process.

Yes, there is grief right now, compartmentalized appropriately, and a cascade of tears waiting for one rock to move enough for the dam to break. Not sure how much longer it’ll hold, but for now it’s ok. The tall poppies are safe.

Photo by Snapwire on

Loss…and Life

My mother died.

She had lived a long life, which had grown increasingly lonely after my father died 30-ish years ago and she retired 10 years ago. The introvert was great with that one. The trouble was, I was no longer a child and was trying to make my own way in the world, creating my own life, sometimes to comments of “Why the hell do you want to do that?” Yet, she depended on me for a lot of things–making sure that her bills were paid, that she had what she needed and wanted, that her groceries were delivered and that they didn’t include odd things like taco shells or sardines with nothing else for culinary context. I was her connection to the world beyond the daily news. We were entangled, my friend said, her life and heart with mine.

Being an only child made things both better, I think, and more difficult at the same time. I didn’t have to fight with anyone except my own inner voice about whether or not I was doing the right thing for her. But I also had no one else to lean on. There was no one else to consult about anything. There was a constant need to balance her needs and wants with my own–can I go away to that conference or take a vacation and be unavailable or is it too risky? We had a good relationship, and I loved her dearly, and I will always be thankful for that.

I wondered out loud more than once, “How in the hell do people help support their parents and have lives of their own when they don’t live anywhere near one another?” Doctors, nurses, and social workers didn’t have answers, but they tried to act as a middle man to get me in contact with people who might be able to help. Those at assisted living facilities didn’t have any answers either, beyond “the family helps…the family pays for things.” That’s a pretty tough pill to swallow when you are the family and there is no money to pay for the things.

She died at the end of June, and I have been questioning whether or not I did the right things ever since. All the questions run through my head–did she give up because I went to work, because I went home, because I didn’t stay longer, because I didn’t take her home like she wanted me to. Was I right to listen to the doctors and nurses and hospice people? Should I have fought harder? Should I have sat at her bedside and not left to go home or to work? Friends have said that it’s not possible to screw this all up–you can’t bugger up death and the process of it.

I went into her house this weekend and sat and cried, surrounded by her memories, her things. So many of the things she kept have a story…but it all is her story, not mine.

I think it hit while I sat there sobbing amongst the suitcases that wouldn’t be allowed on any plane these days due to their weight when empty, the boxes of stuff, the dolls, toys, and books…I have no one to share her memories with. She told me stories of her parents, their parents, their lives in Norway, Czechoslovakia, Austria, North Dakota, and Minnesota. The farm, the boarding house, the paper mill… My parents’ lives together before I was born.

Those are her stories. Her memories. I have to create my own.

“Ask what makes you come alive and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” ~Howard Thurman


I listen to several podcasts, and one in particular references attitude-adjustment walks (AAWs) as a way to handle stress. Basically, it’s telling yourself that it’s ok to just get up, walk out, and go for a walk with no purpose other than to lose whatever icky mood, unhelpful internal monologue, rotten mojo, frustration, or overwhelm in order to reset and get back to doing the things that need doing.

The first time it was referenced, I thought to myself that it’s like sending kids on a “very critical errand” to another teacher’s classroom as far away as possible with a sticky note in a folder that reads “Please keep Joey for like 5 minutes–pretend to look for a book or a paper or have them show your resident Pokemon Trainer their favorite card…I don’t care, but just let them be with you for a bit so we both get a break.” Except it’s for adults…and self-imposed.

The last technical day of school was Friday. An AAW has been long overdue for me. This has been one hell of a school year, to put it bluntly. When we came back in the fall, I made the assumption (wrongly, btw) that we would just get back to somewhat normal while including social distancing, masks, and the few events we would have held outside as COVID cases allowed until COVID calmed down and we could get closer to mostly normal.

I was reminded that even the smallest things that we used to do as part of our routine took a lot more effort.

Are the kids far enough apart in line? in the classroom? in the bathroom? Oh God, how many did I send to the bathroom at once? Who else sent kids at the same time?

How can I have them work in teams when they can’t be near each other? Stand up-Hand up-Pair up requires a classroom three times this size and everyone wearing hula-hoops to ensure safe distancing.

What do you mean they’re playing Fortnite when they’re supposed to be using the computer to research the first clock?

You googled WHAT?

Discord? Are you serious?

How can I teach the kids to project their voices when they’re masked and I can barely hear them from 3 feet away?

Conflict doesn’t mean that you beat the ever-loving crap out of each other, kids…it just means you disagree about whether Star Wars (IV – VI, not those stupid prequels) is better than Star Trek (Picard, not Shatner).

Kids reminded me daily that two years of pandemic learning did no one any favors–not academically and not social-emotionally either. The public reminded me that our education system is flawed, inequitable, trying to meet the needs of everyone and failing. What would have been a typical ask of a teacher was a bridge too far now. For some, that ask was the last straw.

Kids requested that we use different names, different pronouns. Some advocated for friends and some pushed boundaries. Every. Day. Others kept their heads down and their mouths shut, uncomfortable with all of it. Some were uncomfortable and did not keep their mouths shut…but weren’t kind either. Some parents were on board with the requests, others weren’t, and some simply couldn’t wrap their heads around it all. Kids found their voices and brought issues and concerns to school that hadn’t even visited before this year much less taken a front-row seat in class.

Families struggled with modified, sudden quarantines, changing guidelines, and symptoms that could be allergies, a cold, the flu, or COVID, or just dust floating around.

Everyone struggled with kindness. All year long. All the people. And the last few weeks, it was one mass shooting after another it seems. ( Kids and parents were once again unsure if school was safe–or the grocery store for that matter. And schools reevaluated everything all over again, including end-of-year activities–do we have continuation and graduation celebrations? field day? conferences?

And we wonder again, who is next? Which school? What level? Will it be random or in retaliation for bullying or a bad day? Will it be about race or gender identity? Will it be because their mother shushed the shooter when they were four? (IYKYK) Will it be about being pro-life vs. pro-choice (always an ironic thing…you say you’re pro-life yet you’re shooting at people with the intent to unalive them…) Or will it be about lost jobs, lost elections, lost relationships?

Many of us have stopped asking those who can make changes to make the damn changes. We know they won’t–their religion says that hate, racism, and murder are sins yet having the weapon-based means to harm others was somehow a right given by God. Heaven forbid a personal arsenal becomes a legal issue or the mental health of everyone becomes a priority. Some are back to “thoughts and prayers” because everything else requires accountability.

So yes, an AAW was in order today. I loaded my dog into the car and drove 20 minutes out of town to essentially the middle of not-quite-here and not-there-yet where a big open space exists in which my unemployed freeloader can run and sniff and generally be her goofy self and I can get sun..and quiet…and fresh, relatively non-smoke-from-fires filled air. Sometimes big open spaces are good for AAWs. Few people, lots of space, and greenish prairie until it stops where the mountains start.

I will take an AAW when I need to going forward. I won’t put it off. Holding on to all of this for so long hurts. Just like for kids, sometimes a change of scenery can make a difference in how we approach the world around us.