Fork the Nonbelievers:  Some 1st Quarter Reflections from an Already Tired Teacher

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To my Fellow Educators, 

I am coming off of a tough week at work.  I am tired and struggling, as many of you are.  As the end of our first quarter approaches, I am realizing that the second full year of teaching during a pandemic will be no easier on us as educators.  Last year we were so glad to be back in person with our students that we happily pushed through a lot of hard things.  But the hard things seem to keep piling up on us.  I don’t care if you’re a homeroom teacher, a specialist like myself, a paraprofessional or a custodian, your job right now is tough — harder than in any “normal” teaching year.  Covid protocol has changed many aspects of our jobs and has added additional challenges.  

On top of the new challenges, Covid has alienated us as teachers and co-workers.  We don’t see each other at lunch or after school, thus we don’t get to share our stories and struggles. Because we don’t communicate like in the past, we forget to empathize with one another.  We forget that each role within a school may look a bit different, but each role has its unique benefits and challenges.  I feel strongly that by working together and supporting each other, we can create a positive learning environment for ourselves and our students.  You see, quite often we teachers learn as much as our students throughout the year.

While dealing with my own personal struggles, I’ve been thinking about the kind of teacher/person I want to be.  I’m not perfect.  For instance, just today I snapped at a class over something that wasn’t their fault, and I’ve been beating myself up about it all afternoon.  Still, I want to be a teacher who goes to work with my head held high, a teacher who tries a little harder next time, a teacher who my students and co-workers respect because I try to maintain my authenticity and my integrity.  I’ll tell you all the truth — teaching is not easy right now.  And yet, teaching is literally all I’ve ever wanted to do.  I knew back in 4th grade, sitting in Mrs. Cruit’s classroom, that I wanted to be a teacher. I am doing EXACTLY what I’d hoped to be doing when I was a kid.  I don’t want to take this for granted.  

So here’s my plan.  Instead of sitting around and listing for you all of the hard things about my job and yours, I’m going to tell you my WHY — my beliefs about teaching.  Then I’m going to print this out and post it in my office.  I’m going to look at my list every day, and I’m going to bust my ass trying to be the kind of teacher that I hoped I could be.  I’m going to take a piece of advice from my father:  Fork the nonbelievers.  (Note:  Language slightly altered to be less offensive.  I am a teacher, after all!)  I think this is what my Dad means by this phrase.  Don’t worry about other people — what they’re doing or what they think of you.  Keep on doing your best and you’ll be all right.  That is what I intend to do.

So here are my beliefs.  I encourage you to sit down and write out yours as well.  I think that in remembering why we became teachers in the first place, we can re-motivate and re-inspire ourselves.

What I Believe about Teaching

2021-2022

  • I believe that my job as a  teacher is important.    What I do has the potential to positively impact lives both in the present and in the future.  
  • I believe in teamwork — teamwork in the classroom, within my building, and within my field.  I want to be the kind of co-worker that people enjoy collaborating with because they know I will work for what’s best for our students and for our school.  I believe in connecting with other teachers who do what I do to share ideas and garner encouragement.  
  • I believe that a strong public education system levels the playing field for all children.  And it’s my job, in part, to help students see the importance of education now and in the future.
  • I believe that I can be a bright light in a child’s educational experience.  I strive to be a person who both shares the importance of lifelong learning and who connects deeply with her students.  
  • I believe in building relationships in my classroom.  Students won’t care about learning from me until they understand that I care about their well-being.  (Thank you Sharon B. for teaching me this!)  I also believe in building positive relationships with my co-workers and families.  Relationships are key in my profession.  
  • I believe that my content matters, but I also believe that my character matters.  How I treat my students every day makes a difference.  I want to be a kind, fair, fun and enthusiastic teacher.  On days when I fail in this department, I want to pick myself up and try again.  
  • I believe that all kids have something in them to be valued.  We all have had tough kids.  But even the toughest kid has something that can be appreciated and fostered.  
  • I believe that when there’s a problem in the classroom, there is also a solution if you work hard to find it.  I believe in talking to other teachers or my principal to find a remedy to a challenging situation.  I don’t want to give up on a class or on a kid.
  • I believe that I have the most interesting, creative, challenging, heart-breaking AND rewarding job.  I can’t think of anything else I’d rather do or be.

“One child, one teacher, one book and one pen can change the world. Education is the only solution. Education first.”

Malala Yousafzai

30 Things

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Today is November 30, the last day of a month that many people spend reflecting on the blessings in their lives.  For me, November was the 6th month of living life without my daughter.  So in ways, November has been hard for me.  And yet I’ve found that my own great loss — the loss of my favorite girl on the planet — makes my gratitude feel bigger and more profound.  It’s a kind of gratitude that starts in my heart and pulsates outward.  It’s a gratitude meant to be shared.  So here goes.

I’m creating a list for you, and I’m calling this list 30 Things.  It’s basically a list of 30 things that kept me going during this difficult year.  It’s meant to be a love letter to life, a love letter to my tribe, and a way to show you how I experience both joy and grief.  In fact, I think now that grief and joy are intertwined.  You can’t have one without the other.  And maybe that’s the beautiful oxymoron of our life on this planet.  

30 Things…in no particular order (except for maybe #1 and 2).

  1.  I’m thankful for Ally.  We had the kind of mother-daughter relationship that I had always hoped for.  We didn’t get to have the longevity that I wished for, but still, I have the most wonderful memories of time I spent with Ally.  Ally was smart, kind, funny, and uniquely herself.  I am thankful every day for getting to be Ally’s mom, even on the hard days when we fought her cancer together.  Even though I wish daily that her cancer journey had ended differently, I would not trade my fifteen years with her for anything.
  2. I’m grateful for becoming a mother, for having two children raised in the same way, but with completely different temperaments.  Joel keeps me on my toes.  He banters with me and makes me laugh.  And sometimes makes me want to pull out my hair.  Ally supported my crazy whims and was so proud that I was a teacher and her mom.  She loved me unconditionally, and that itself is a gift.  I wasn’t sure when I was younger if I wanted to be a mother or if I’d be a good one.  I’m sure glad I took the plunge.  I am softer (and yeah, sometimes a little crazier) because of my children.
  3. I am thankful for my parents.  They were my first and best supporters.  When I wanted a pink playhouse, my dad made me one.  When I wanted a one-of-a-kind prom gown, my mom sewed me one.  When I was first teaching and crying every night because I thought I sucked, my mom was the first to come over, sit with me on the couch or drag me out for a Sonic drink.  And now, although they don’t always have the words, they still show up for me when I’m having my saddest days.
  4. I’m thankful for my sister.  I cannot tell you how much Jaime has supported me through life and through this year.  When I was in high school, I went to Girls State one summer.  I was literally just gone for a week — barely enough time to even miss me.  During this time, my sister wrote to me and included the lyrics to “Wind Beneath  my Wings.”  Even then, my crazy little sister had my back.  Friends, this same pesky, blonde-haired sibling of mine who I tormented back in the day has stuck with me in the best and worst of times — through the R.C. years (personal joke), through weddings and college and having babies.  When I knew Ally’s time was nearing an end, the hospice nurse told me to call someone to be with me.  I called my sister.  Sisters always come.  They always know.  And my sister — well, if you know her, you know there’s pretty much nothing that she can’t accomplish.  
  5. I’m thankful for the power of music.  After Ally died, I started playing the piano again.  Being in my piano teacher’s house, relearning the notes, playing songs with meaning — these things all bring me a little peace.  And when I want to escape or recall my past, I go to my favorite bands for inspiration and solace.
  6. I’m thankful for my job.  For the past few years, I’ve had to miss a lot of work so I could care for Ally.  I was glad to do it, and I will always be grateful for this time.  While I was home, my work family helped my substitute in many ways and also encouraged me to put family first.  They encouraged me, brought meals, and showered Ally with gifts.  After Ally died, I was able to return full-time to my job as a librarian/computer teacher.  Even though I’m teaching in a global pandemic, the work I do fills me up.  It’s hard.  There are tough teaching days.  But I love what I teach, who I teach, and who I teach with.  I have been with many of these kiddos since they were in preschool, and I have worked with many of my co-workers going on 15 years in May.  I know that I am lucky to have a job I love.
  7. I am grateful for Nancy, Ally’s hospice nurse.  She helped our family through the toughest of times, and she shared with me WHY she became a pediatric hospice nurse.  I admire this woman to the moon and back and couldn’t have gotten through April and May without her. 
  8. I’m thankful for my in-laws.  They love me like their own, and I’m blessed with many bonus siblings.  But I’m thankful most of all for their gift to me — Rich. The past few years haven’t been easy for our family. It is hard on a marriage to watch your child suffer and know that you can’t fix it. But Rich has been a shoulder for me to cry on, a source of laughter, and a friend. When I returned to work this fall, he took to cooking nearly every night as I was wiped when I got home. He encourages me to write and exercise and spend time with friends. He’s a good man and father and husband.
  9. I’m thankful for the wonderful escape that books provide.  Books offer me knowledge and distraction, a soft place to go to when I’m struggling.
  10. I’m grateful for my friends and neighbors in my cul-de-sac.  We have a pretty great crew of folks here, and we enjoy hanging out.  And how else would I get sugar for a recipe when I’m too lazy to run to the store?
  11. I’m grateful for my “oldest and dearest” friends from high school and college.  K, I know you hate this wording, but it always makes me smile.  And of course, by “oldest” I am speaking in terms of longevity.
  12. I’m thankful for the cards that still pop up in my mail.  Thank you for never letting me feel alone.
  13. I’m thankful for my bonus daughters, who check on me regularly and take me out for coffee.  Ally would be proud of the kindness you show me.  My door is always open to the two of you.
  14. I’m grateful for yoga.  Right now this is an activity that gets me out of my head and lets me feel good and strong and whole.
  15. I’m grateful for the many friends who have walked with me — in life, through our cancer journey, through my grief.  I love you all.
  16. I’m thankful for the Foo Fighters…because, you know, I love them!  Listening to Dave, an authentic lover of music, does make my heart happy!
  17. I’m thankful for finding the Saki Lounge this year, a little place in Olathe that makes the best, prettiest plates of sushi around.  And I’m thankful for a special lunch there with Laurie, Liv and Ally!
  18. I’m grateful for Joel’s success in the military and at KSU.  I’m happy every day to see that he’s found his own tribe and he’s growing into the man he’s meant to be. 
  19. I’m thankful for my hair stylist.  She’s outspoken and smart and fun to talk to, plus she takes fun risks with my hair.  It’s like therapy/coffee with an old friend every time I go see her.
  20. I’m thankful for writing, which allows a place for my thoughts, joys and heartaches to land.
  21. I’m thankful for my “book club” — a wonderfully eclectic group of women who’ve kept me sane the last few months.  We’ve read books, tackled short stories, drank some wine, played trivia, and Zoomed just because we wanted to talk.  I’m glad we formed this group!  
  22. I’m thankful for my church home, St. Andrew.  This has been our home since Ally was a baby, and there is no place more peaceful than its grounds or its sanctuary.  I truly love the building and the people.
  23. I’m thankful for New Girl and Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist and Gilmore Girls.  These shows represent comfort and escape, and the women in these shows are my quirky, TV wannabes.  Lorelai, you know we would be besties if you were real!
  24. I’m thankful for my extended family who have checked on us, donated to causes Ally loved, and supported us through our cancer journey and our loss.  I’m not sure if I’ve told you enough, but Joel and Rich and I love you all and appreciate all that you’ve done.
  25. I am grateful for all things girl-power and Wonder Woman because they remind me of my sweet girl.
  26. I am thankful for the times I’ve had with Joel this year — riding in his car, joking around, watching a show.  He has become protective of me, and whenever I get sad, he immediately comes and hugs me or squeezes my hand.  I love my boy.  
  27. I’m thankful for mornings when Joel is asleep.  He can’t see me sneak into his room and look at him.  He’s 19 — practically a man.  But when he sleeps, I still see the three year old boy who loved to read in the closet and snuggle with his mom.
  28. I’m thankful for Bentwood Elementary School, California Trail Middle School, and Olathe East High School — places that have supported my kids and enriched their lives.  We have built lasting relationships with some of the most amazing teachers and administrators.  These schools will forever be a bright spot in my kids’ upbringing. 
  29. I’m grateful for Dr. Max, our first oncologist.  To be honest, I hated her at first.  You would too if she told you that your beloved child had aggressive brain cancer.  But she took great care of my girl and still checks in on my family.  I will never forget what she’s done for our family.
  30. Finally, I am thankful for all of YOU.  Chances are, if you’re reading this, you are part of my tribe or you know someone in my tribe or you’re morphing into my tribe.  Thank you for the million little things you’ve done to support us and show us love.  Texts.  Calls.  Cards.  Hugs.  Meals.  Walks.  Cries.  Laughs.  Everything.  

“Joy and grief are never far apart. In the same street the shutters of one hosue are closed, while the curtains of the next are brushed by shadow of the dance. A wedding party returns from church, and a funeral winds to its door. The smiles and sadness of life are the tragi-comedy of Shakespeare. Gladness and sighs brighten the dim the mirror he beholds.”

-Robert Aris Willmott

Rereading Harry Potter

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If you know me, then you already know I’m a Potter Head — a Harry Potter nerd.  I’m a 48-year-old woman who still thinks that the Harry Potter series is the best piece of writing on the planet.  I first picked up the book Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone when I was teaching high school English.  I had heard the book was on a banned book list and was curious.  And turns out, a few chapters in, I was hooked.  For years, I would devour a book, then wait a year or two for the next book to be released.  It was great fun, and my only wish was that my kids had been old enough to celebrate the release of the books with me.  

Back to the point — my rereading of the series. Over the years, I’ve picked up a book or two and reread it or listened to it on CD.  But I’d only gone back to the first few  books.  When asked by students or even by my children which book was my favorite, I’d always say Book 1 or Book 4 because I remembered those the most.  In January, when I was going through a tough period with my daughter’s health, I started listening to the entire series again.  To me, the novels are comfort reading, a wonderful escape from reality.   When I was struggling to be able to sleep worrying about Ally’s health, these books helped take the edge off and let me relax.  

I decided to purchase all the books on Audible, even though we own the whole set of books.  Jim Dale is the narrator, and he does an excellent job making each character really come alive.  I began Book 1, which is probably still my favorite, and let myself get wrapped up in this magical world J.K. Rowling created.  As I’ve been reading, I’ve also been thinking.  And I realized that these books — aside from being a great escape — have a lot to teach us about life.  Here are a few of the lessons I’ve gained from these novels

  1. Love and kindness are more powerful than hate. We find this out especially in Book 6, when Professor Dumbledore is teaching Harry about the horacruxes.    Through the pensive, Dumbledore takes Harry into Voldemort’s past.  Harry and Voldemort have many similarities, but Dumbledore reassures Harry that he is set apart by kindness and ability to love.  Harry had parents who loved him and died to save him.  He was loved by his friends, by the Weasleys, by Hagrid.  It was Harry’s ability to love, ultimately,  that empowered him to take on the task of destroying Voldemort and survive.   
  2. Life is better with friends. This is a critical theme throughout the series.  Friends matter.  Sure, these friends may fight.  They may not talk for days.  But ultimately life is better when Harry and Ron and Hermione (and a myriad of other characters) lean on each other.  In Book 6, when Harry tells Ron and Hermione that he will be going on a quest, they refuse to leave him.  That pretty much sums up their friendship; these three never abandon one another, even during the darkest of times.
  3. We all get to decide what kind of person we become.  Rowling foreshadows a strange connection between Voldemort and Harry throughout the story, beginning in Book 1 when Harry gets his wand.  His wand (remember, “the wand chooses the wizard”) is a companion to Voldemort’s wand.  Voldemort, like Harry, didn’t have the best childhood.  And yet, Harry made decisions to be a decent human; Voldemort, instead, chose power and isolation. Rowling wants us to understand that we all get to decide who we become, even if we were not blessed with an easy beginning.  Harry is the perfect example of this.
  4. It is good to be kind to misfits.  This is one of my favorite things about Harry — that he is kind to misfits.  Now, he may not start kind.  These quirky characters may initially be off putting to him.  But Harry generally comes around.  Harry takes Neville, Luna, Dobby and many other outcasts into his fold, even though he could choose to ignore these characters and their tribulations.  Harry constantly engages with Hagrid, believes Sirius is innocent, and befriends Lupin, a werewolf.  He chooses to accept characters that have been misunderstood or mistreated by others, and I love him for it.  
  5. A mother’s love is the greatest protection.  This, dear readers, is perhaps my favorite theme.  Lily Potter died to save her son.  And he was marked by her love, which offered him a powerful protection.  In Book 7, we learn that this protection expires when he turns 17.  But I disagree.  This protection changes form.  Instead of being a tangible charm that offers physical protection, his mother’s great love for him protects his heart.  Harry refuses to give himself over to evil because he’s had the greatest love there is – the love of his mother.  And Harry’s ability to love is what makes him the one wizard who could defeat Voldemort’s evil.

I am now on Book 7 of my re-reading, and I am sad.  What do I do now once I’ve revisited this series that I love?  Do I immediately start again?  Do I host a Harry Potter movie marathon?  Do I mourn the ending of this amazing series until I find something new to read?  I haven’t figured out my “what next,” but I do know that I will continue to apply these lessons to my own life.  When I teach, when I Interact with friends and family,  I will think of Harry and hope that in some small way, I can emulate his strength of character.