Category Archives: Uncategorized

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.

Progress/Perfection

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.

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

AAW

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. (https://n.pr/3x0WYlZ) 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.

Senses

When kids are young, we talk to them about the five senses: sight, smell, hearing, touch, and taste. We play games like “I Spy,” sing songs, dance, “Just eat three bites,” and read books like Pat the Bunny to give kids opportunities to experience each of their senses.`

There are more than five though. And it became incredibly evident that there were more than five when we lost them during the pandemic.

We lost a sense of community. We lost a sense of normalcy. We struggled to find a sense of safety, always wondering when which new variant was coming and how bad it would be.

I was speaking with a group of parents earlier and one noted that she uses the phrase “cautiously optimistic” so that nothing gets jinxed and we continue to head toward a sense of nearer-normal-ish.

You can’t fathom what you’ve lost until you really can’t have it. For me, a sense of community has been missing for some time. There is so much division in the world, so many areas of conflict, and so much fear around what might be next that any sense of community was a struggle to keep.

I had a group of six parents in a room today. A few I knew, a few I didn’t, and I was thrilled to see them with or without masks because they had this 30-minute block of time where they got to see other parents with whom they will share a school experience. Their children are entering kindergarten and the past few batches of kindergarten families have not been able to meet one another until schools started if at all. They weren’t able to sit and chat because each was safely in their own vehicle, windows rolled up tight, hoping that their little one wouldn’t bring home the latest version of ick. They couldn’t sit and chat because others were at home, supporting their child’s first year of school from behind a computer screen. I cannot imagine what that was like.

We’re finally to a point where we can be together in a room, see one another’s expressions, hear each other’s voices. We can talk about kids and their quirks, their hopes and dreams, and our struggles, our worries, and our hopes too. We can do it together in a space and create a sense of community, laughing at the goofy things our kids do, the latest topic of obsession, and the struggles of parenting kids…and gifted kids who are a whole ‘nother animal altogether.

And I am beyond happy about it. Community is everything when it comes to education. Without a sense of community, schools struggle. Kids can’t connect with one another, with teachers, with the greater school environment…and then they struggle to learn. Without a sense of community, families are alone on a raft in the middle of an ocean. They aren’t sure who to talk to, who has the answers to the questions they have.

I have always loved conference days, getting to meet parents, getting to talk about the amazing kids they are raising. It’s a chance to build community…

And today, I get to talk with families who will join us next year…and they get to help us rebuild our sense of community and bring us back home to our Why.

Photo by CDC on Pexels.com

Capacitating

It’s a word. It really is. I promise.

It’s a verb that means to make someone capable of doing something.

Kids ask me all the time what my job really is. I used to tell them that my job was lots of things on a big, long, disorganized list. Now I tell them that a big part of my job is to capacitate the teachers I coach and the kids I support so that they learn and grow.

I enjoy it for the most part and am happiest when the person I’ve helped capacitate is better or happier because of it.

What is most frustrating is when there’s a wall up around the other person…and while they may lower the drawbridge now and then for a short time, it goes back up quickly to protect them from whatever they’re afraid of.

For some, it’s failure. For others, it’s disappointment or embarrassment. And for others, it’s because it’s more comfortable for the person to wall themselves in and throw rocks at the problem from inside. No one likes to be uncomfortable and face the baggage on the front step.

Failure is probably the easiest one to tackle, honestly. Fear of failure, especially in a gifted person, decreases the amount of risk they are willing to take when a similar opportunity presents itself. The key is to finding, creating, or pointing out lots of ways for the person to be successful. Starting small, with seemingly tiny wins, helps to build the willingness to try something a little out of their comfort zone.

Disappointment or embarrassment are a bit more complicated. I think that for these, it’s about setting criteria for success. What will it look like when something goes well? Does well = perfect? Does it have to equal perfect? What’s good enough going to look like? What’ll you do if you aren’t successful? How will you handle disappointment (because kids have no problem bringing that on without warning…) when something doesn’t go well?

Thinking about embarrassment, it’s important to determine what would be embarrassing about a particular situation.

Is it when one of the kids knows more than you and makes a point to let the other 24 kids in the class know they know more than you do on a particular topic? (This never happens when teaching gifted kids…nope…not ever in the history of teaching. /sarcasm off)

Is it when you aren’t prepared for questions or situations that come up during a lesson? (I’ll never forget, “Ms? What’s heaven?” Email to mom later: “uh..yeah so your child asked this question in class today and I dunno what your spiritual outlook is but I’m a recovering Catholic so I framed it in terms of the era in history we were discussing…I hope I didn’t mess up your kid too much.”)

Is it when you forget to put on makeup or wear pants that are uncomfortable or your school leader chooses the biggest wardrobe fail day in the history of ever to capture you teaching to share with colleagues? (No, I don’t have that top or pair of pants anymore, for the record.)

Disappointment and embarrassment aren’t feelings that you can set aside and not deal with, but they’re not insurmountable either. Bring on the humility, the reflective journaling, and the thoughtful debrief.

Being willing to be capacitated is a professional expectation in any position. An artist needs to accept inspiration when it shows up. Even Freida Kahlo’s work changed over time. So has Stephen King’s. A surgeon can’t improve unless she is willing to seek out new methods or new discoveries to help her grow. A pastor can’t meet the needs of their congregation unless they are willing to learn from others. Peyton Manning didn’t get to be Peyton Manning by saying how much more successful quarterbacks sucked. No. He reviewed tape after tape of other players, other teams, and himself to learn how to do his job better and anticipate what he’d be presented during a game. The best fly fishing angler on the planet has caught their fair share of sticks…and rocks…and catfish…and the plant life behind them. Someone helped them to learn to cast better, differently, and to use flies for a specific purpose rather than just because they’re pretty.

We grow as educators when leaders present us with opportunities to be capacitated. Little things like how to design a testing schedule. More universal things like how to keep records in ways that make sense. Creating forms or changes in a particular practice to streamline things. If you never get to try anything new (failure, disappointment, or embarrassment might be a thing), you get stuck…and stuck in education is never good.

When you drop your drawbridge, you might feel uncomfortable. You might feel awkward. But nothing grows without a little struggle. Embrace capacitation. And if you aren’t being capacitated, ask for it or find someone who will provide you those opportunities.

Figureoutable

Everything is figureoutable. Or so I’ve been told, anyway.

I don’t recall who said it. I don’t even recall why it came up. It’s one of those words like “capacitate” that crops up in conversation…with the people I work with–not everyone works with the same word-nerd group that I do…

Life has been just…strange lately. Conflict seems to be the ongoing theme, whether it’s between kids over friendships, teachers and students over work expectations, or parents and teachers over content, behavior, grading, accountability, and an inability to communicate with one another without being nasty about it. It seems to be a much larger issue than even COVID right now.

When I teach about conflict as a Big Idea, regardless of the content area, I teach that there are specific generalizations that one can make about conflict that are always true.

Conflict is composed of opposing forces.
Conflict creates change.
Conflict may be natural or human-made.
Conflict can be helpful or harmful.
Conflict may be intentional or unintentional.
Conflict may allow for synthesis and change.

Think about conflict in terms of literature. It’s easiest to begin there, I think, because it’s in every piece of literature ever written which is the story of us in one way or another.

Protagonist and antagonist. There’s a problem created on some level that both experience differently. That problem helps or harms, creates change to one or more characters in some way, and makes an impact on the situation being shared. When the problem is resolved, there might be a change. Perhaps it’s a change in perspective, in situation, in setting, in livelihood, in family situations, in having learned something, or in having learned nothing at all.

Think about conflict in terms of history. Please see above and reference the situation in Ukraine right now. Or any war, battle, takeover, time with one group in power, any political party or governmental structure, societal event, or leader.

Think about conflict in terms of science. Adaptations, predator/prey, impacts of climate, humans, and physical changes of environment on species, how electricity works, how the solar system works, how space flight works.

All of the generalizations above still apply regardless of the content area.

We exist in a constant state of conflict. In education, those who cheered us on now fault us for our young learners being “behind.” Blame is passed around like candy cigarettes on the playground–everyone taking a little and passing it on to the next.

Learning loss has to be someone’s fault, right?

Schools were closed, so it’s the government’s fault.

Teachers didn’t teach well, so it’s the district and building leaders’ fault for hiring morons to teach our children.

Teacher prep programs didn’t prepare teachers for pandemic teaching.

Administrators and building leaders didn’t hold teachers accountable enough for student growth–why weren’t teachers visiting every child’s home to make sure they learned? Does no one care about test scores?

It’s the <insert political leaning> fault that kids are behind–they’re hiding something. They’re taking parents’ power away! They’re indoctrinating the children! They’re focusing on terrible things like kindness and respect instead of ensuring that our children understand that America is a white nation founded by Christians where everyone both speaks English and calls themselves Christian even if they don’t do the things that Jesus calls them to in the Bible.

/sarcasm off

Conflict has popped up in odd places lately. Physical interactions become aggressive. Boundaries are hidden like invisible fencing, only becoming an issue when the boundary is broken…and only for some, not all. Things that would typically be a calm conversation during the course of a day are turning into sniping, griping, and gossip about all the things X isn’t doing for Y or that Z is getting away with when A is following the rules.

Social interactions are awkward, unkind, and rather quite impolite.

In the span of the last few weeks, I’ve probably talked to more people (kids and adults) about personal space, distancing, aggressive behavior during play, swearing, offensive comments, rude retorts, gossip, rumor-starting, unkindness overall, and other really ridiculous things than I have in the last 20ish years of teaching, retail sales, insurance selling and servicing, and being the all-around scapegoat because I was the only person available.

I am tired of conflict. It’s exhausting.

I am tired of people being disrespectful and rude. I am tired of people doing things just to get under the skin of others. I am tired of people choosing NOT to change or grow because they feel that responsibility is not theirs–someone else ought to do it. I am tired of the one-up-manship and haughtiness and holier than thou attitudes of others.

I am tired of people causing drama where there doesn’t need to be any. This is not All My Children, people, and none of ya’ll are Erica Kane.

I want to tell people that no, you aren’t right simply because you’re you. I want to scream at them that this is not how civilized people behave toward one another. I want to sit grown-ass adults down in front of Sesame Street and Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood and force them to watch it until they understand that kindness and respect matter more than getting your way. Make them internalize the message that while everyone is unique and special, those qualities do not give you the right to be hurtful and unkind and toxic and combative, especially when you are in the wrong.

Also, perhaps it would help them develop the ability to read, gain number sense, spatial awareness, and a solid belief in Snuffleupagai.

I want to believe that all of this is figureoutable. Some days I doubt it. Some days I feel like giving up and handing the world off to someone else to do as they please with it. Nothing I do will matter anyway.

And then a child reminds me that it is all figureoutable…really, it is.

They choose to go to class instead of dwell on things completely outside of their control, ramping up into an emotional tizzy over and over again. They come to visit me, shutting the door behind them, ranting for a moment when they’re angry, and then go back to class because that’s where learners learn. They see the good in someone else and compliment them, help them find lost mittens or coats, pick up dropped snacks or backpack stashes, or share everything they know about Pokemon because that is what makes their world go ’round. They have plans to write a book this weekend, plans to be on their own at 21 as a famous YouTuber (cannot believe that is even a noun, people…ugh) or a math teacher (though the YouTubing probably pays better), plans to make eggs and bacon and toast with their Oma on Saturday morning.

They remember that we used to be a community of thinkers, geeks, nerds, learners, writers, scientists, historians, artists, performers, engineers, mathematicians, musicians, gamers, poets, and generally good human beings who truly cared about the people they spent their days with. Even when there were disagreements. Even when things were complicated.

Even when the world turned itself upside-down…it was all figureoutable and would be ok.

Fezziwig

I have a friend who is a storyteller*. This weekend she wrote about her experience as a stage manager and suddenly having to take on a role when the actor became ill just before showtime. A phrase from her piece hit me hard this morning: “The imposter doing her best.” While there was much more to her piece to take away, this was the thing that stuck…like superglue holding my faux leather chair together because a condo-sized border collie chose to pull it apart in frustration when her ball got between it and the crate…this is when thumbs would have been useful.

For the past several months (almost two years…gah), I think most of us in education have been Fezziwigging our way through every day for 24 months. Holding ourselves together with tape and pins, tossing out what lines and gestures don’t make sense in the moment, all the while trying to protect the production we have come to know as “school” so that our kids were impacted by the mess the last two years have created as minimally as we could manage.

But the mess remains.

No one sees what’s backstage.

Backstage, educators are broken and grieving oh-so-many things. Their hearts are in pieces. They’re questioning their purpose, their education, their role…their future.

What they knew of their identity as educators has disappeared. The way they see it, the lines and stage directions are completely different than they were 2 years ago.

And some aren’t sure what role they want to play in the production anymore. Educators are leaving the profession–not for other teaching positions, but for other lives altogether. Fezziwigging every day for 24 months has taken its toll.

Some want to blame administrators and districts for changed and increased expectations. To be honest, if we look at a list of expectations for teachers prior to March 13, 2020 and after it, there’s not much difference. The time between was what changed–teachers had to modify everything–change the way they taught, the way they provided intervention, the way they communicated with colleagues, kids, families, and how they determined what “learning” looked like and what teaching looked like. Administrators took on roles that were never in their job descriptions–everything from contact tracing to media relations to referrees.

Trying to go on stage again the way you had in the beforetimes after trauma like this is impossible. The constant worry about who will throw the tomato first is added trauma.

Everything is heavy. (Thank you to another friend for giving me the word when I didn’t have the word for it.)

Non-educators telling us that everything we gave for over a year was for naught and kids are “behind” isn’t helping with the weight, tbh. Neither are those pushing legislation that is beyond impossible to make happen…another rant for another day. This is all heavy.

A colleague told me that I’d become impersonal in our interactions a while ago when we met to talk because I launched right into the purpose of our chat, asking questions to make sure I was on the same page, probing for more information when the responses were short, sensing growing irritation from both of us.

They were right. I was impersonal. I was purposely impersonal. Being personal required additional emotional engagement that I didn’t have the space for. Anything they might say would add to the weight I’d already been carrying.

On a typical day, by 2pm, I’ve taken on the unhappiness of others in lots of situations, the frustration of stakeholders, the upset and conflict between kids, held space for the fear and sadness of others, and wasn’t able to do all the things for all the people who wanted and needed me to do the things. I know I’m not alone in this. There is only so much space we can hold, so many emotions of others that we can carry.

So yes, I was impersonal. I had Fezziwigged all day and the pins and tape were literally the only thing holding me together as our time together began. When I left for the day, the pins and tape fell to the floor. One can only Fezziwig so long before everything falls apart.

Everything right now is heavy. The pins and tape can’t last.

I have empathy for those choosing to leave education. I wonder if this is what I want to do on a fairly regular basis too. I have worked my whole life for this opportunity. But Fezziwigging (yes, it’s a word now…because I said so.) takes a toll. And we’ve done it for too long.

Just imposters trying to do our best. Doing what gifted people do…adding masks and armor as needed.

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Open Letter

This is an open letter…take from it what you will.

This work (teaching) is without a doubt one of the most difficult you can ever experience. That retail job or that customer service job you had? Doesn’t even come close.

Your hours will vary as the school year ebbs and flows, with slower periods and downtime and those times that require lots of time before and after 3 and late nights. Your “contract” may say your hours are 730-3 with a duty-free 30-minute lunch and hour planning time every day but you should know that your hours aren’t that at all. There is something to fill each “break” and multi-tasking is a thing.

You will be tired. A lot. Tired doesn’t really come close to what you will feel but we don’t have word for that exhausted in the English language…or even German given their penchant for stringing words together to create new ones to fill a need.

The exhaustion will not because you hauled logs up a hill like Paul Bunyan or pushed a rock like Sisyphus only to have it roll back down once you reach the top. It may feel like that, but that’s not why you are exhausted.

You will be exhausted because in doing this Big Work and you will find it hard to not think about your kids, your classroom, or opportunities to learn something new and grow. Every commercial, news article, museum ad, trailer for a documentary or movie, or card game will somehow connect itself to some aspect of your life in the classroom.

You will be exhausted because you cannot get through to that ONE kid in your class who is perfectly capable yet refuses to do what you know they can. You’ll be exhausted because you sent home newsletters, reminder slips, emails, and made a video to benefit your kids’ families and help them understand, only to be told that they never knew that there was something that needed doing or that they had no idea anything was going on.

You’ll be exhausted because your back pocket is only so big (even if the size on your pants is a bigger number now than in March of 2020–the COVID 19 is real, friends) and you’ve gone through all of the tricks and strategies you have used successfully before, heard about on a podcast, read about in a book, or borrowed from a friend. You will be exhausted because you’ll spend a lot of time creating something amazing and the kids hated it or it didn’t go the way the movie in your head played out.

You’ll be exhausted trying to figure out where to get money to put gas in your car mid-month because that “quick trip” to Target for three things in the dollar spot for class in a day or two turned into $100 because Target told you what you were missing in your classroom and yes, dammit, those smelly pencils and erasers will certainly make all the difference with the behavior you’re seeing in the classroom. (Sidenote: Peppermint scented ones work best.)

You’ll be tired of drawing arrows in your plan book because you planned for X, Y, and Z to happen, and none of them did because you had to go all the way back to N, O, and P…with a smattering of small group work on C, D, and E while the others are working.

And the one day you plan the most amazing hands-on, multi-step engaging activity there will be a tsunami drill right smack in the middle of it….and you live in a landlocked state suffering through a tenth year of drought conditions.

You’ll call a colleague halfway to school because you drove off with your coffee on top of the car and found out when a nice guy at a light let you know it was there and then also realized as you got back in the car that your bag, computer, and lunch are sitting just to the side of your parking spot…waiting for you to come back and get them.

Your job description when you write it out on a resume will read like a novel, listing a variety of tasks, data analysis skills, and things that you learned by doing Just reading it will make you tired.

You will make more decisions in a day than a heart surgeon. And each will feel as though a life is in your hands and if it’s the wrong one, you’ve ruined it. Your heart will hurt and you will cry because you’re over it all and that one missed opportunity may impact someone forever.

People will tell you that teaching is a joke. They’ll say that it’s not a good career move. They’ll tell you it’s a waste of time and not a good financial decision. And they’ll tell you, or you’ve certainly heard, that you are not respected nor considered a professional. You’ll hear it on the news, in church, when meeting friends of friends, in the teachers’ lounge, and at the dog park. A thousand blogs and podcasts a day will remind you that 4+ years of schooling to do this Big Work means nothing.

“You have a degree–surely you could get a job that pays better.”

Yes, you could.

There will always be a job that you could do that pays better than what you have now.

But, I will tell you this. There is absolutely nothing that matches the feeling when the kids you cared for so diligently, the ones you pulled your hair out over, the ones whose parents made you cry more than once because your everything wasn’t enough come back to you a year, five years, ten years later and remind you that your role in their life is why they love to learn. Your support when they were eight is why they got a 97% on an English paper in high school. The confidence you modeled as you learned to be a presenter are why they are confident speakers. Your encouragement and fascination with travel is why they had the courage to go study abroad. Your belief in their abilities and the opportunities your classes provided them helped them to become who they wanted to be. Your class is where they felt like it was home.

The things you taught them may not have ever had a state standard attached nor would any of them be a “tested skill,” but they are the things that matter. Every child deserves to have a place they feel at home. You were part of an amazing village that helped grow a human being.

I do not tell you this because I believe that teachers should be long-suffering martyrs, sacrificing their mental and emotional well-being, financial well-being, and families for the sake of “The Job.” I don’t tell you these things because I am tired of listening to the constant cacophony of non-educators screaming that teachers are trying to be sneaky and hide things from parents, the voices that say it’s all just too much, and the voices that continue to allow negativity and toxic commentary to run through meetings and conversations about this Big Work.

I tell you this because teaching is not a Job. It will likely never be considered a well-paying job–because it’s priceless.

But this is worthwhile Work. And the only way that we will see change in education is to continue play an active role in working toward that change. That means continuing to be solution-focused, not problem-centered. Keeping our heads in the long game, knowing that annoying inconvenience now will be of benefit later.

Despite how much we try to separate ourselves from the Work that we do, this is a piece of who we are. Not ALL we are, but a piece.

And thus endeth the lesson. Or rant. Or discombobulated stream of consciousness after an exhausting, emotional day. Call it what you will. I meant well.

Service

I find myself using the word “serve” when I talk or write about what teachers do. We serve our kids by providing a safe place to learn and grow. We serve our families by providing opportunities to talk about their kids’ progress, helping to support them when things get complicated, and we serve each other as colleagues when we offer help, support, ideas, or just a listening ear. Education is a service industry, honestly.

The overwhelm of this pandemic is great. In the middle of my forehead, just between my eyes, a headache has been forming for some time. Tonight it is worse than it has been…and I felt it growing throughout the day.

It holds the stress of friends wondering whether or not they should stay in their current role or even if they should remain in education at all.

It holds the hurt of kids who are torn between following the rules at school and their families’ or friends’ opinions and thoughts on mask-wearing, distancing, outdoor activities in winter, lunchtime expectations, snow days, remote learning days, in-school rapid tests, and everything else that this stupid pandemic has brought to us.

It holds the worry and frustration around decisions being made on behalf of education by people who are very much removed from it, furthering the untruth that teachers aren’t doing enough, are being dishonest and hiding information, and are incapable of doing the work they signed up to do to help students grow and learn.

It holds irritation with people who say one thing, do another, and stir up drama and unkindness that divides people and pits them against one another, leading to an incredible lack of trust.

It holds the heartache of not seeing people I love very often.

It holds all the unshed tears (yes, Liz, I know that they’re cleansing…but they’re stuck.), unsaid words, un-screamed fits of frustration, anger, and sadness, all the unslept hours and unfinished work.

And it holds the overwhelm of constant stress, wondering which shoe will drop today, what new crisis will crop up, what or who will be attacked next, and holding space for everyone impacted.

In education, we serve. And with that service comes every emotion you can imagine. In talking with friends today, we acknowledged this…and none of us knows how to fix it or how to be both empathetic and practical, kind and solution-focused, supportive and firm about expectations…all at the same time.

Maybe tonight I can let the tears out…maybe…or maybe not. I don’t know how much room is left in my head for all of this. But tomorrow, I’ll go back and serve our kids, our families, our staff…and it won’t be perfect and not everyone will be happy, but I’ll do what I can and it’ll have to be enough.