Swirl

There’s a place on a river where the water swirls around and around as if it were caught on something. Sometimes it’s near rocks or boulders; sometimes it’s along the bank. Eons ago when I would go fishing, I often tried to cast there, or near it, because in my mind, the fish would try to be somewhere that seemed (and might be a bit) uncomfortable so that they would have a lesser chance of being eaten. I imagined that they stayed in that swirl to be continually moving without ever actually moving, comfortable yet uncomfortable at the same time.

Spring break is in its waning hours (I’m aware that it’s barely noon, thank you…) and I find myself in that swirl on the river again. Going from one task to another, twelve tabs open, with no definitive goal except to not get eaten by the tasks in the tabs that I realize now I should have been working on over the last 8 days instead of all the things on Sunday. I have had something that resembles breakfast, and am on my second cup of tea (excellent Christmas gifts, tbh). I’ve started a load of laundry and made some progress on house blessing, though even Flylady would call it half-assed.

“Have some tea, Fool!”

This time in the school year is when educators are said to have “feet in different worlds” while they reflect on this school year, working to make it to the finish through state testing and end-of-year events, and plan to improve all the things for next year. It’s not a linear time at all. We swirl from one task to the next, circling around until we find something to settle upon for a few minutes until the next interruption. This was brought up in a group I’m in–that idea of productivity as an administrator. I think we cast our lines, over and over again to hook the thing that might help us make a dent in the ever-growing to-do list.

“If I can just get one thing finished today…”

It’s neverending, the things that we are caught by, each being important on some level to someone. Our own agendas and to-do list being set aside over and over for a task or project that needs doing.

Spring Break was a time to reset, get to calmer waters for a while. While I did reset a little bit, I found myself back in the swirl often, wondering what I ought to be doing, what I missed, what I should be on top of that I’ve forgotten… Circling back amongst everything from buying toilet paper (a quarter of a roll is not going to last until payday) to sobbing through episodes of Netflix drama suggested by a friend who said I need a good cry (I do) to dog park trips and other excuses to be anywhere but home because there are plenty of things that need doing there…

A friend noted a while ago that she doesn’t have a good in-between switch for breaks like this. She’s either on and multitasking all the things or off completely, and embracing the idea of actual “rest” is difficult. I struggle with the same thing, though the guilt around “off” is greater with me.

I wonder if this is just a gifted trait or an administrator trait leftover from classroom teacher life when downtime was difficult because ideas came from tiny, unexpected places or if it’s a mixture of both, bringing multipotentiality into the swirl.

What would I like my work life to be like is a loaded question and one that crops up every year at this time–feet in two worlds, you see.

I’d like for my work life to be calm but not boring. I don’t like embracing frantic and last minute rush is not my jam. I’d like to be challenged intellectually with things to figure out, but not challenged for control of things that I know damn well are best practice and professional. I’d like flexibility in my work (place, schedule) but still have a routine and be able to support others in their own growth. I’d like to be respected for the knowledge I have gained yet not held to an impossible standard when I can’t fix everything before it went to hell. I’d like to be with others who are continually growing, willing to learn and change. I’d like to be in a role that lets me play with ideas, try new things, but with honest, reflective feedback and not less-than-helpful criticism because my trying something new made someone else uncomfortable.

I would like to be with people who get it…who understand at their core that gifted is who we are, not what we produce, yet strive to honor the need for both accountability and professionalism, embracing creativity and reflection, collaboration, personal responsibility, and willingness to see other perspectives. I want to help create a “think tank” that is willing to try and fail, learn from mistakes, all while keeping what is best for kids at the crux of it everything.

I would like to create and be part of somewhere I don’t have to hide in the swirl for fear of being consumed by the judgment of others, trapping me beneath the water.

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.

*If you would like to receive the storytelling my friend provides, go here: https://bit.ly/3p5X47f

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.

Complicate

Simplify, the books and news articles say.

The “Easy” button doesn’t exist for some of us. Between the stories running rampant in our heads to the irrefutable barrage of public voices saying that what we’re doing isn’t enough, focused on banning that which we aren’t doing at all (I see you, CRT.) and books that might give kids an opportunity to consider the reality that life isn’t all daffodils and sunshine and that people, as a whole, have been awful to one another for millennia, the “Easy” button gets buried rather quickly.

I have so many things running around in my head, much like squirrels collecting nuts before a snowstorm. I could make a list for you to help you see what I mean but I suspect that there’s a character limit even here. Some are things like cleaning the catbox–mundane and not all that easy to complicate, but others are along the lines of creating a SWOT analysis for something at work (which I could easily complicate the hell out of) or analyzing testing data for trends across levels and within same level courses…or even a blog post.

The need to overcomplicate stems from perfectionism I think. The perfectionist wants to ensure that whatever they are doing is thorough and complete, leaving nothing open to criticism or discussion. The perfectionist wants to be sure that they’ve covered all the bases, thought of all the counter positions, and addressed any potential questions, whether they be about the content or the process or the inclusion or exclusion of information.

I spent seven hours a few weeks ago complicating up an email that, even as I wrote it, I knew was too long, too wordy, and just…too much. The tl;dr version would have simply said, “Quit griping. This is what we do.” I had to send it to a friend to “un-word” it for me because I’d overcomplicated and overthought it all to the point that there were so many rabbit trails the whole thing was hard to follow.

I’ve complicated simple things like mopping the floor and I blame TikTok and YouTube and Instagram and Pinterest completely. Flylady says that done is better than perfect, but the ladies on those social media channels say that if you have this mop and that bucket and use this combination of cleaning stuff that your house will smell like eucalyptus and the 35-year-old linoleum will magically look like luxury vinyl tile.

Our gifted kids do the same thing. I can’t start working until my seat is just right, my paper is just at the right angle, and I have a freshly sharpened, brand new Ticonderoga pencil. I can’t get started on the project because I don’t have the fancy cotton balls that exist only in the craft room at my grandmother’s house in Maine. Mom, I can’t go to school today because my socks and shoes are not the same color of purple as my hair elastic. I’m not done with my paper yet–I’ve only revised and edited four times and it still isn’t right.

I’ve started and stopped this blog post 15 times in two days because…oh wait. That’s me. Questions about who my audience is, what my purpose for writing is, why anyone will care, WILL anyone care are on constant repeat.

It’s difficult to use the “Easy” button when one has such a fine ability to complicate without much effort.

Bamboo…

During acupuncture once, my therapist told me about bamboo and how it rarely breaks because it just bends when it’s blown. She said I need to be more like bamboo and find flexibility in tough situations so that I don’t break.

At what point DOES bamboo crack, though? At what windspeed does a bamboo forest get taken down by forces it can’t control? What forces will break it, leaving it in disconnected (or barely connected) piles, unusable by anyone?

This is education right now.

Educators and administrators were hit hard in March of 2020. We were asked to go above and beyond our job descriptions, transitioning suddenly to online learning, something we’d never done before, in order to keep ourselves and our students safe from a virus that had already killed thousands. We took the summer to learn how to do what we’d done for 3 months better while still in crisis mode. We were tasked with learning new systems on the fly (some of which were being created on the fly too), creating learning opportunities out of lessons we’d only ever done in person, all while keeping contact with students and families and colleagues all while taking care of our own families and their needs.

And then cases began to drop. And we could transition again from fully virtual to cohorted hybrid, which was yet another system to learn and it was expected that we do it well, that we still show that kids made a year or more of growth despite everything we’d just been through. Gradually, most of us came back in person completely, with precautions in place.

Politics got involved throughout, telling us that we were harming the children we so willingly serve by asking them to wear masks, stay a distance away from each other, wash their hands more often, and be more careful with who they spend time with and how they spent that time. We were told to “follow the science” (which varies depending on who you are) so that everyone’s preference would be honored at the same time and that we were stoking fear in our kids and our families by supporting vaccines, mask wearing, and continuing the precautions we’d taken early on for the sake of consistency in working within a situation that is anything but.

And someone thought that throwing Critical Race Theory into the mix was a fine idea, creating yet another thing for educators to be criticized for. Few had ever heard of Critical Race Theory unless they’d gone to law school, but somehow it was “found out” that teachers were inserting it into everyday lessons–lessons about math, in the books they read with kids, science experiments, and of course, discourse about history.

Except we weren’t. None of us were teaching it. None of us were mentioning it. None of us were secretly weaving it into our lessons. Hell, few, if not none, had any background in it until we had to research it in order to defend what we were teaching. From a purely logical standpoint, does anyone really thing that a teacher would add SOMETHING ELSE into their units of instruction when we can barely manage to touch on the standards and skills that we’ve been asked to teach?

And here we are again, coming off of a longer break into the last stretch of the school year and all the state testing that will be required, with two new versions of the virus to deal with, politics being thrown at us left and right, being criticized for not doing “the one thing,” teach, that we’re asked to do while trying to juggle contact tracing, distancing, planning, arranging for coverage for classes when teachers are out, working with families to care for kids who have symptoms (or not) and may test positive who got sent to school, creating alternative work or making learning opportunities available offline for those who are at home for a variety of reasons, making sure that there’s nothing in our lessons that could offend someone, keeping kids distanced and safe and engaged, and trying to practice the elusive “self care” that the internet is so focused on while also caring for our own families.

Photo by Emre Orkun KESKIN on Pexels.com

Embracing the idea of bamboo and its inherent strength is especially difficult right now. The winds are sustained a eleventybillion miles per hour, with constant streams of hail, rain, snow, locusts, frogs, and apparently fish too. New things join the party every day it seems, everything from racial tensions, school boards and politicians focusing on the wrong things, loss of people from childhood, deaths and sickness of friends and family, and more innovative political swipes at everything education is from people who aren’t educators.

Last night over a frosty adult beverage it hit me why I am so irritated all the time lately; why I am exhausted, continually sad, peeved that I have to keep bending over backwards, and trying so hard to live my word of the year without much success, carrying an overall feeling of not doing well enough for anyone. I think many of us feel this way.

Bamboo can’t bend and flex forever. At some point it will break or bend to the point that it can’t become upright again. All of this seems like it will never end and a breaking point is near. We thought we saw a light at the end of the tunnel, but like the false summit at the Manitou Incline, we were wrong and there is more. Self-care won’t fix it though it does help for a few minutes. There will never be “back to normal,” and while I know that crises like this are often catalysts for good change, the crises can stop piling on so we can work through one at a time with intention, rather than playing whack-a-mole and having no success.

There is no sage advice today. There is a request though.

Please, above everything else, be kind.

Be kind when they’re rude.

Be kind when they’re frustrated.

Be kind when they’re upset.

Be kind when they’re argumentative.

Be kind and don’t let the nasty words out of your mouth.

Be kind and set the criticism aside.

Be kind and do the right thing because it’s the right thing.

Bamboo can only bend for so long before it breaks.

Begin again…

When I click on “write” in the top left of my WordPress account, I get a dropdown of 10 or more posts that I began and either never finished, never posted, or thought I’d tweak later to publish. So much of writing like this is done in the moment, with feelings still raw, with thoughts still jumbled. Friends share their blogs and note how universal their feelings still are–what applied two or three years ago still applies now.

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The new year began yesterday with a flurry of memes about 2022 being “2020, too” and the like. I want desperately for this last half of the school year to be better, be different than the past two years have been.

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There were hopes that we’d see an improvement in COVID, which continues to rage virtually unchecked so that we could begin to focus on something else. Plans for NYE get-togethers were canceled out of an abundance of caution, just in case someone came who was positive (with or without symptoms…it doesn’t matter anymore) or unvaccinated and we might bring it home to those we love who can’t get sick. I’m still pretty angry about that, to be honest. The level of selfishness going around the past several years is unbelievable. It’s likely that because of continued rising infections, regardless of severity, there will be additional impact to what school looks like for a longer time than we thought and will bring additional arguments and pushback from those who think we can just go right back to what normal looked like in 2019.

There were hopes that with a new administration would come calmer heads, kinder words, and instead, we’re seeing more violence (now for things that are completely unrelated to political views), more nastiness, and more harsh words and actions stemming from everything from wearing/not wearing masks to backing out of a parking spot or stopping at a light. In the span of winter break, more than one person in my world has had altercations with others that began with unkindness seemingly out of the blue and ended in physical altercations. I can’t wrap my head around it. It’s as though everything we learned in kindergarten about hitting and biting other people has gone out the window.

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There were hopes that 2021 would leave quietly, and instead, it chose to leave and take 1000 homes in the Boulder area with it in a fire that leapt “football fields in seconds” over the span of several hours, leaving people without homes, lost pets, lost lives possible lost family members, and likely lost employment too once everything gets looked at. Friends who had moved from our area to that one did so on the assumption that fire wouldn’t be a thing to fear again once they moved. We watched from afar scenes we had seen before of lone trees and homes left standing while everything around them was completely obliterated leaving only the outline of a home.

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And then 2021 had to take one last dig, with Death coming for Betty White who was weeks away from turning 100 and whom we had promised to keep in bubble wrap after losing so many others. It’s reported that she died peacefully in her sleep, so that’s a comfort at least.

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But we have an opportunity to begin again, with 2022 bringing a small layer of fresh, white snow to our area, providing just enough for my dog to remember how to play in it, how to roll around in it, and how to avoid going potting in it with her cute antics. I went outside yesterday in the single-digit weather with her multiple times, praising whoever made my marshmallow coat and there was a silence and calm out there each time that hadn’t existed in the days prior.

It was as though Mother Nature was asking us to pause, breathe in deeply, and begin again as one would when calming a sobbing child.

So let’s begin again. Tomorrow begins the second half of our school year, the new beginning to a fresh calendar year, the freshness of a new quarterly planner whose pages are blank with the anticipation of what is to come.

A friend gives others words to think about during the course of the coming year. “Let what serves you take root, and what doesn’t take flight,” she says. This year the word that she came back to over and over for me was:

Patience

She said she wasn’t sure why she kept coming back to that word for me, but it was pretty insistent that it be my word.

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So this year, I am going to practice patience.

Patience with others as they learn and grow. Not everything needs to happen immediately even if someone else sees it as an emergency.

Patience with others as they navigate new constraints, new roles, and new opportunities.

Patience with the world around me. Everyone has a different word that was chosen for them and sometimes it’s a complicated relationship.

Patience with myself. Like the lotus, I cannot grow without having to deal with a little mud. I cannot fix all the things, be all the things to all the people all the time, or do all the things to ensure they get done.

It’s said that the universe continues to provide lessons in what we need to learn. And so I enter 2022 being offered lessons in patience and taking them with gratitude.

Tents Expanding

I want you to imagine for a moment that you are surrounded by people who understand your passion. Picture being enveloped by people who feel all the things that you do so very strongly. Visualize sitting 3 feet apart or across a room from someone else who has the same values, worries, and hopes for the kids you serve. It’s a good place, isn’t it?

I attended the National Association for Gifted Children convention in beautiful Denver, Colorado (at a VERY spendy “resort,” where wine is $10 a glass and “spaghettini” is $24…both worth every penny). They talked about “expanding our tents” to be more aware of the giftedness of children of color, children who are labeled “behavior kids,” and others who need something different than neurotypical kids both academically and emotionally.

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In one of the pre-convention sessions, the speakers talked about the idea of expanding our tent. Giving more space within gifted education for those who get overlooked and passed over…because of their skin color, ethnicity, gender identity or orientation, socio-economic status, and language. The “Gifted Tent” should encompass more than just high-achieving, compliant, white students. Everyone should be welcome…and sought out.

My head hurts.

But my heart is happy.

This is the first year that I didn’t have a session of my own to stress out about, worry over, edit continuously while at a conference like this in a long time. I was in the exhibition hall and overheard others who were breathing sighs of relief that their session was over. We commiserated over the love of sharing with others against the anxiety over it on a hundred levels. It was nice to not have to prepare anything…just show up and be there to take it all in.

I suspect that the women I sat with at the bar, and the group who sat over near the windows, and the people at the bar, are all here for the same reason. We want to improve and get better at what we do. We want to learn and understand. We want to support others, find support for ourselves, and be among people who get it.

A good friend said a long time ago that there is a place for everyone in the world. Everyone has a purpose regardless of ability, intelligence, or schooling. Some of us choose to work with specific populations of kids for a reason. For some, we want to give back to the system that provided us with our own education. Others, we want to support those who deserve and need strong teachers and role models. And still others, we hope to help others SEE the kids that others don’t…the ones that people overlook, think will be just fine, and don’t see a purpose in serving beyond what’s expected for the “middle.:

[squirrel] I have probably 15 unfinished posts right now…all around essentially the same thing. Someday I’ll finish them.

I spent some time reflecting on the sessions I attended. Some were inspiring. A few made me want to apologize to kids I’ve had in my class for not knowing or understanding better. All of them made me think.

What do we want gifted education to look like? What’s the ideal? What’s ideal AND sustainable?

Who do we SEE? Who are we missing? (Yes, I made multiple lists…)

What do they need? What do they want their education to feel like?

What do their families, their teachers, their peers need from us?

The tent is expanding. If we work intentionally together, we can fill it with those who need us to SEE and support them…all of them.

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Just Call.

Tonight my heart is in pieces, my eyes are bloodshot, and my fabulous mascara is definitely not waterproof. This may ramble, so tl:dr Just make the damn phone call.

When I began teaching, still in teacher school and working full time, my first “field experience” placement was in a second grade classroom. I could only come in the afternoon, but that was fine with the teacher. We met to chat before my time with her began and she was amazing. It was so clear that she adored her job…loved her work with kids. And then I met her kids.

They were sweet and kind. They were curious and asked a ton of questions. Her routines and procedures had been well-practiced and kids knew where the boundaries were. Their classroom ran beautifully, with everything kids needed to be successful where they could get at it.

One afternoon when the kids were studying weather, we went outside and talked about the different kinds of clouds and then created them with cotton balls and glue on pieces of sky blue construction paper. The kids labeled each type, and wondered which they hadn’t gotten to see, so we talked about that too.

I couldn’t have asked for a more perfect introduction to teaching. She was encouraging as I gradually got comfortable working with the kids. She gave pointers, ideas, and feedback with kindness and understanding that this was all new to me… She expected only growth, not perfection…because teachers are never perfect and always growing.

She and I remained good friends after my placement in her classroom, sharing our day to day stuff when we met on Sundays for lunch. We talked like we’d known each other our whole lives.

When I was up for my actual student teaching placement, she was my advisor and placed me with a friend of hers in a first grade classroom. Again, another fabulous experience, and while that teacher and I didn’t grow as close as we had, I loved every second of my time with her and her kids. I have a picture in my office of Field Day with her kids and running, holding hands with a sweet little dude who over that summer had his brother look me up on the internet and called me… “You are never gonna guess who this is!!” from a little voice was the sweetest thing I had ever heard and I will never forget that little guy… She loved that he called me and we talked about kids from her time teaching who she was able to keep in touch with…

As my time student teaching turned into “Oh crap I need to get a real job!” she was there to offer advice, interviewing tips, debriefs after the interviews, and she gave the best advice when I was offered a position: Take the job. You need to begin this work. Take the job.

So I took the job. And it was hard. I cried a lot. And I called her in tears often when I just didn’t know what to do anymore and was out of ideas. When we met for lunch on Sundays, she encouraged me to keep at it–I was a good teacher and still learning because there’s a ton you don’t learn in teacher school that the kids have to teach you. And when I was exhausted, we went to lunch anyway because a life outside of school was important to have. She shared stories of her nephews’ time with her to visit and how they were growing up so well…she adored those boys. Her brother was getting married and she got to help his bride choose her dress…it was such a sweet experience. She loved her family and friends, and her eyes sparkled when she talked about her husband…that’s how love and marriage should be.

And when my world imploded, she was the first person I called. Again, in tears and heartbroken while I drove home. She said, “Well, there’s this charter school that’s starting up–I work with someone who is part of it…it sounds like it’d be perfect for you!”

So I looked into it. And stalked because she was right. And 12 years later, I get to go there every day. I get to be with my people. Because of her.

There have been so many times where I thought, hey I wonder what she’s doing–we should go to lunch or chat… We talked a few times over the next few years, and she endured not only the diabetes she’d had since childhood, but also gastroparesis and eventually MS. Soon, she couldn’t drive and our lunches together became phone calls, like that scene in When Harry Met Sally and they’re watching the same movie while on the phone. And those faded away too as I got busier and she got involved in other things.

And still I thought, I should call her. And something else would come up and I’d push the phone call back to make room for the something else. That was stupid. Something else is never more important.

The last time we talked was probably three years ago. She called out of the blue and we picked up where we’d left off and swore we wouldn’t let time pass like that again.

It passed.

She died in February. I found out today because one of my memories on social media from 11 years ago mentioned her and the “Friday Night Blues” that happen when the week has taken everything out of you and sleep and mindless television is the only thing that can cure what the week brought. When I saw the post, I went to her profile and I knew she hadn’t been on social media for a while, but there were birthday wishes for her a few weeks ago in August… And as I scrolled down, her sister had posted about their father passing away. She said that she hoped her dad and sister were together in heaven.

Her sister? But she only has one sister…my friend. And so I looked more. Google found a gofundme that her sister had set up for her husband to help him with all of the medical bills and such that had piled up while she was so sick.

She died on February 4. And I just found out today.

Fitting that I found out on a Friday, I guess. Friday Night Blues will mean something a bit different now.

Make the damn phone call. Send the text. Send the email. Make the damn phone call.

Don’t lose track of the people you love who helped you become who you are.

My heart is broken and I am gutted. I am sad that she was so sick and her body gave up. I’m sad that our friendship fell by the wayside for a really stupid reason–“busy” is an incredibly stupid reason. I’m sad for her husband who absolutely adored her, and her nephews and family who surely miss her every single day. And I’m sad I didn’t just make the damn phone call…and never got to say goodbye.

She was such a beautiful person. She was kind and funny and loved life, despite the illnesses and the difficulty they caused. She was the BEST teacher on earth. I can’t imagine that any child from her 13 years in the classroom left in the summer feeling anything but love from her.

I can’t imagine that anyone she ever met left her feeling anything but love, honestly.

I have missed you, Shan…and wanted to call you so often. I’m sorry I didn’t just make the damn phone call. I love you with all my heart, dear friend, and I will miss you forever.