Archive for December, 2012

Winter — Break??

December 29, 2012

I woke up this morning from yet another set of school dreams.

You know, I always have this bright shiny idea in my head that I’m able to compartmentalize, to truly break from teaching during a holiday. Not like I’ve been grading papers, checking school e-mail, or thinking about my students all the time.


It’s just that school dreams seem especially unfair. I mean, it’s enough that I think about school stuff of my own free will. But in my sleep? That’s my time to fly, to explore, to go beyond limits.

Yes, yes, I know school dreams hold meaning and significance. All dreams do. Take, for example, the dream where the kids are in my classroom and I’ve done absolutely nothing to prepare for them. I have no plan, no materials ready, no homework, no idea what I’m doing — and of course, the kids totally notice. Or the dream about how my students are in the classroom, but I’m not. Maybe I’m making copies, or hanging out talking to someone, or finding my way around the (of course) foreign school hallways – seemingly unworried about needing to get in and teach. I get it, I get it. There are definitely fears of incompetence and powerlessness behind those dreams.

So, my friends, tell me this. Exactly how should I interpret the latest installment, in which I am not only a Superintendent of Schools, welcoming irate parents into my office as I sit them down to my comfortable lime-green couches and chairs, but I am doing so as a heavy-set, middle-aged, African-American woman?

And for that matter, why school dreams every. Single. Night? Why won’t they leave me alone, if only for a day or two?

Consider me stumped. Ideas? Thoughts? Interpretations? I welcome them all.

Back on the Ice: Lesson Learned

December 28, 2012

Today was a hockey day.

I haven’t been in my full equipment since the middle of the summer. I know, I know. I had set out to learn how to play ice hockey, and take you along on my journey. I know it’s important to keep going with lessons and clinics. I know! Somehow, I’ve let myself take a backseat to my family’s schedule, volunteer obligations, and just plain old life.

The first thing I did today on the ice? I fell on my behind trying to close the gate to the rink. Yeah. You read right.

Out there scrimmaging with my kids, I felt even worse. All I remember is scrambling to stay up while my kids (and some others) pretty much went around me like I was a cone. Awesome. Talk about feeling foolish.

We only had a half hour on the ice today, but that was enough for me. Dejected and embarrassed, I slunk out to change into street clothes. Thinking that my skates were the issue, I took them to the shop for a good sharpening. I was told they didn’t need it (consider it -ahem- “user error”). Yeah. Thanks for pouring salt into the wound there.

So there I was, sitting with my hockey bag by the door as I waited for my boys to come out of the locker room. First thing my son says to me as he comes out? “Good job, Mom. You even stole the puck from me once.”


For those of you who know me, you are pretty familiar with how loudly I let perfectionism speak to me. Just when I was busy feeling silly, my own kid recognized my efforts as good enough for what I could do. And here it was. The voice of Realism, telling my voice of Perfectionism to sit down and shut up.

If you want me tomorrow, I’ll be out on the ice. Trying again. I’ve got pucks to steal.

A Job Well Done: Exhibit A

December 20, 2012

Snapped this photo right after my fifth grade math class.


I love this stuff. See all those pencil shavings? Know what that means?

People were making mistakes. Mistakes they felt safe enough to make. Mistakes that they cared enough to correct. Consider how important that is to a room full of perfectionists.

Makes my day.

The Monday Morning After: Expectations

December 18, 2012

What happens when you combine horrific news, intense sorrow, a night of unsettling dreams, a Monday morning where everyone in the family oversleeps, and school the week before winter break?

A day where I have abso-LUTE-ly no idea what to expect.

What will the mood of the kids be? Will they have heard the news? Will they be concerned, anxious, curious? I especially think of the deeply sensitive ones, those kids who are in tune to everyone else’s feelings around them, or who feel they must carry burdens of social justice on their young shoulders.

And how about me? When I see my students, how do I handle my feelings? The anger, the confusion, and – most importantly – fear? How do I protect my kids from the intensity of my own emotions, still very much raw and visceral? What would happen if they knew how utterly afraid and vulnerable I really felt?

Then it happened.

The school bell rang.

Something magical happens when the school bell rings. You teachers out there with me will understand completely. You get swept up in a tide of routines – greeting each other, collecting homework, sharpening pencils. You move from subject to subject, from class to class. There’s no time to dwell on the hypothetical, on the existential. Your concentration lies entirely with the children who need your attention. Before you know it, the day has gone by and it’s all been pretty okay.

It’s happened to me before, on days when family issues have given me grief, or when I’m feeling particularly upset about school politics. Everything can go wrong up until 8:30 a.m. I’ve had days so frustrating I’ve cried on the way to school, or at my desk with the door closed. And then the kids come in. Those are the days we throw ourselves into learning with reckless abandon, and I remember why I got out of bed in the first place.

So what happened today? My fifth grade math students came to visit me. At first, the major news they debated was the bad officiating at the Bears-Packers game. (Priorities, I know.)

After the morning announcements, however, I had one student raise his hand and ask if we could sing the National Anthem in honor/support of the people of Newtown. Not sure how the singing would go over, I suggested that perhaps we could have a moment or two of quiet reflection, and he thought that would be a good alternative.

The kids in my room had all heard the news, had all expressed their shock and sadness. Now it was my turn. Ugh. Here goes, I thought. I told them how important each one of them is to me, and reminded them of the heroes and helpers that day, and reassured them that these situations are incredibly rare, and made sure they knew that I – and any other adult in our building – would have done exactly the same thing for them were they in that situation. That was all they needed.

Then it was off: to Fibonacci numbers and the Golden Ratio, to frequently misspelled words, to works of fiction with characters we can care about, to reading and interpreting line graphs, to creating puzzle books, to discussing the history of the Indo-European language family. Yes, the history of the Indo-European language family.

In short, everything I could possibly expect (or hope for). And tomorrow, I get to do it again.

What I Can’t (and Can) Understand: A Teacher’s Reflection

December 17, 2012

It’s 11:22. So far this weekend I’ve easily spent five hours on school stuff – by the standard of most weekends, a light load.

Perhaps I have a light load, but a heavy heart.

Lunchtime on Friday was when I heard about Sandy Hook. We teachers talked about the events at the table and taught our afternoon classes, still somewhat numb. We walked all of the students outside at the end of the day. I know it choked me up to see all of the parents hugging their children extra tight.

All weekend, I’ve been trying to comprehend it. I can’t. I can’t imagine the terror of those ten minutes. I can’t fully understand the turmoil those families are enduring. I cannot fathom how the Sandy Hook School community could possibly get through its first day back when it is time. I can’t understand any of it.

Well, let me correct that. Because I’ll tell you what I can understand. I can understand the determination with which those teachers tried to protect their kids. Because my kids? They’re MY kids. Yes, every bright and smiling face I see in the hallway, each eager learner who walks in my door is officially a lovey of mine. And as I’ve often said: once a lovey, always a lovey. My students are my children forever. Just ask the twenty-somethings I still keep in touch with. I want to know how their lives are, what they’re doing, whether or not they are safe and happy. Because they matter to me as much as my own children do. I hope some of my former students are reading this blog, and that they hear from me how incredibly important each one of them has been in my life.


I have nine different preps for tomorrow, some of which I’ve planned more than others. But I still can’t shake the feeling that right now, in light of the last few days, so much of that really doesn’t matter. It doesn’t matter how good my spelling packets look. It doesn’t matter how well I’ve organized the sample graphs for the math lesson, whether or not I’ve put smiley stickers on the kids’ homework, or whether or not I have all of my copies ready.

What matters to me is what has always mattered to me:

Every child in my care is worthy of respect, of dignity, of love. Every child needs to learn, to laugh, to play, to work through frustrations, to make mistakes, to fail sometimes. Every child needs an environment that is safe physically and emotionally. Every child in my care deserves to know that learning is important, but being a decent human being is paramount.

And I have always been – and still am – willing to do anything to make that happen.