The Meltdown

Sometimes, a new student might come into your classroom.  This new student might be stressed out.  He might live his whole life under an atmosphere of uncertainty, threat, and criticism.  The voices in his head say, “You are bad, you are bad, you are bad.”  So then he joins your class, and the only strategy he has for interacting with his classmates and his new teacher is to tell them, “You are bad, you are bad, you are bad.”  With very naughty, very hurtful words and violent physical behavior.

But you, dear teacher, you are human.  You are a person who gets attached, who cares, who feels.  So your reaction, inside your head, is:  “You are new.  You can’t come into my school family and be mean to people I care about.”

On Wednesday night, after almost two weeks with this one, you find yourself at orchestra rehearsal.  Staring up at the stained glass windows, counting through 48 measures of rest and singing along with, “Come awake, come awake, come and rise up from the grave.”  And you feel asleep and numb and buried yourself.  This time that usually empties you all out and leaves you at peace and ready for tomorrow, it’s not working its magic.  And you just want a different job, one where small humans won’t be mean to other small humans.  And you just don’t know how much longer you can live at this breakneck pace and this heartbreaking intensity.

The Connection

Then on Thursday, you find this new one on the top of the slide, teary and holding tight to his anger.  And he tells you why he’s mad.  He TELLS you, with words.  Sentences, in fact.  He doesn’t try and scratch at you, he doesn’t run away from you.  And somehow, without even trying, you look up at him and empathetic words come out of your mouth:  “Oh, that stinks.  I wouldn’t like that if someone did that to me, either.  It’s hard to feel so mad, isn’t it?  I’m sorry that happened.”  And you reach up and hold onto his ankle for a minute, and he doesn’t resist.  He sits, he cries a little, and then you move on to the next playground problem.

The Truth

I “came home to myself” yet again this week.  It is my belief that academics follow attachment in first grade.  You may have heard of attachment parenting?  I might practice “attachment classroom management,” if there were such a thing.  Except when things get tough, it’s easy to bury myself in academics to the exclusion of attachment.  “I can get through these last two months of school, just focus on the data and the lesson plans and power through, setting aside the feelings — mine, and theirs.”

But two true things can’t be set aside so easily.  One, I believe love, compassion, and generosity of spirit are greater than all else.  I believe that practicing kindness is the right thing to do.  I believe in the value of putting a relationship above the desire to be right or be successful.  I could always, always improve at putting this belief into action.  But in a others-centered, following-Jesus way, attachment is very important in my classroom.

Two, in my experience, kids work much harder and accomplish much more when they feel attached to their teacher and their classmates, when they feel loved, and when they feel like things are fun.  So, in a manipulative, success-seeking way, attachment is very important in my classroom.

The Lesson

Year after year, I am taught yet again that I can feel a connection with every single child who crosses the threshold of my doorway.  Every.  Single.  One.

I often say that what little I do know about commitment and love, I learned from having siblings.  We fought, we got mad, we kicked and yelled…and the next day, we were still there together.  In fact, in the midst of a fight, I knew that when the fight was over we would be back to having fun.  The staying power, the knowing that we would all still be there when the fight was over, it minimized a fight’s ability to damage the relationship.  (I know this is not everyone’s experience, and I know how lucky I am to have the siblings I have.)

My next lesson about power and love, I am learning from having students.  I can’t control the other person in the relationship — not their attitude, not their actions, not their feelings.  I can only control myself.  But letting go of trying to control the other person and taking full responsibility for myself can have great power to make the relationship happier.  When I take responsibility for my emotions — not that I can control them, but that I am responsible for deciding how to respond to them — and when I find empathetic things to say, when I attribute positive intent, when I look for ways to make “I love you rituals” in our day…  I am happier in my relationship with my students.  And I am modeling skills that will help them be happier in their relationships with me and each other.

I once read something where a wife said, “I have a fantastic marriage.  I can’t speak for my husband; you’d have to ask him how his marriage is.”  I love the lesson here, and I love it for all relationships.  It’s not simple, and it’s not easy, to live in community with all these other humans we encounter.  But at this moment, I have a fantastic relationship with all 27 of my students.  I can’t speak for them; you’d have to ask them how their relationship with their teacher is!

April Habits … Fresh & Social

This monthly habit thing is working well for me!


In March I have been focused on fitting exercise into my week.  The scheduling of the workouts didn’t help me so much.  I may try that again another time.  What it did was focus my attention on the pockets of my week where exercise can fit in.  Just 30 to 60 minutes is all I need.  This afternoon, a coworker was talking about 30 minutes of exercise each day, and my principal said, “That’s just 2% of your day.”  Two percent!  What a difference that 2% can make on the other 98%!  I have also let go of the idea that my workouts need to be at the same time every day.  I’m trying to fit one workout in between leaving work and arriving at work the next morning.  That makes more sense with the hours I keep, rather organizing my workouts by day of the week.


For April, I will be returning to the classroom for one of my habits.  Social media.  I love it and hate it, classroom-wise.  I have done a terrible, TERRIBLE job of keeping my class social media page updated.  It’s important — it’s how the parents know what’s going on in the classroom.  Paper newsletters are a waste of trees and time, but parents will respond to social media updates or messages within just a few hours, if not sooner.  My classroom goal for April is to post something on my class social media page every day.  It doesn’t have to be big…a photo or two, a comment about a classroom activity, a reminder about something the parents need to know.


The other habit I would like to try in April is to eat something fresh with every meal.  A raw fruit or veggie, a salad, a green smoothie…  I’m not expecting perfection, I just want to enter the decision-making with the intention of eating something raw.  Even a meal of box macaroni and cheese and chicken nuggets, one of my absolute favorites (it’s college nostalgia, not quality!), is completely fine as long as I have a clementine or some grapes to go with it.  Away with the all-or-nothing mentality!  Bring on the balance!  :)


photo credit: <a href=””>Gamma Man</a> via <a href=””>photopin</a&gt; <a

photo credit: <a href=””>Johan Larsson</a> via <a href=””>photopin</a&gt; <a href=””>cc</a&gt;

Book Report: Orange is the New Black

I need to write about this book today.  TODAY.

Why, you ask?

Because I have become completely addicted to the Netflix show, and it has a much different feel from the book.

The author, Piper Kerman, spend a year in minimum security prison for smuggling drug money 11 years before.  I loved this book.  Ms. Kerman takes the reader on a journey into a community of women very different from myself and yet not so different.  She drives home the point that for many women in the prison system, it is but for my access to a few life advantages, and their lack of access, that they are incarcerated and I am not.

Ms. Kerman tells a story of temperance.  She speaks of slowly learning the culture she has been dropped into, of wisely observing and avoiding drama and setting boundaries even as she bonds with her fellow inmates.

It is a story of strength.  She tells of the saga of flying with Con Air to testify at another trial, and spending time in what sounds like a more miserable, less community-minded prison while waiting for her role in this trial.  Parts of that story I could hardly bear to read, because she makes the reader care so deeply.  There was one incident on board Con Air, a ten-second observation of someone — we never even learn her name — being treated unkindly by the male prisoners on board, that left me broken-hearted, sobbing for this person whose story is unknown to me.

It is a story of humility — the good kind, the soul-transforming, joy-producing kind.  Ms. Kerman’s fiance and family are supportive and selfless throughout the story.  Ms. Kerman helps the reader understand how her fiance, especially, was punished by the whole experience as well.  She makes the reader feel that although prison is an awful experience for all involved, it is especially awful for the children of prisoners, and the mommas who miss years of their children’s lives.  She highlights the lack of “correction” in the department of corrections, the inmates’ poor preparation for returning to life outside, the system of using the fewest resources and officers possible with few real avenues for prisoners to assert their rights or improve themselves in any way.  She doesn’t minimize her own experience but she emphasizes that she is doing time for a crime she committed, that there is justice here.  Possibly my favorite theme of the story, Ms. Kerman shows the gifts from her experience, the women who changed her and widened her understanding of compassion and humanity.

Now, the show…  It is fantastic, off-beat, unique, risky, and raw.  Funny and disgusting.  Distasteful and sweet.  “I can’t believe they did that!” and “I want to see more!” live side-by-side in my mind.  It is loosely based on the real characters from the book, but remixed to make a great, addictive TV show.  The fiance is not so steady, the main character is not so temperate, and the corrections officers are more involved in the story…and much more disturbing.  I can’t wait to see where the plot will go in the second season.

March Focus … Time to Change the Game


Big, full, messy, colorful, perpetually changing…

Earlier this week, my principal said, “February is just the dog days in the field of education.  February is just the pits.  February is when it feels really hard.”

So.  True.

January is okay.  You’re coming off a nice break, you maybe have some snow days.

March is okay.  The weather shows signs of life after all, kids get to go outside again, therefore they can sit still and focus for more than 30 seconds without you standing right next to them.  You feel like maybe you can accomplish something by the end of May after all.

February just stinks.

Which is why my February habit was perfect!  I didn’t run away every day as soon as the kids went home.  I stayed, I did my work, I accomplished things.  I rediscovered (again…and again…and this won’t be the last time!) how awesome it feels to be prepared, to not procrastinate, how I am a better teacher when I treat myself to a neatly stacked pile of  prepared materials and lesson plans on my desk.  (And a morning that doesn’t involve trying to be at work at 7:00 a.m. to try and get that pile ready!)

I even began to make my peace with the reality that sometimes, I need to bring work home with me.  Sometimes, the other things I want to do during the week make it so that being at school for 10+ hours in a row just isn’t possible.  And even though I love the evenings when I can walk out the door at 6:00 with just my purse and my empty coffee mug, the evenings when I walk out at 4:15 with a bag full of stuff can turn out okay, too.

(Really…I know I’m a mess when it comes to time management…and I also know I’m not the only one!)

I was pondering what habit to focus on for March, and I really couldn’t think of one.  The 1st grade scene feels…manageable.  Big, full, messy, colorful, and perpetually changing…but I feel like I can handle it.  (In fact, those words make it sound really fun!)  I am not overwhelmed and drowning in my job…even though it is February.  My usual attitude these days is:  “This is quite a challenge…and I like that it’s hard!”  I am reminding myself of something:  The cycle of work and play for a teacher is a year long.  I work now, and I play in June and July.  That’s not to say there aren’t moments of rest and play, but big-picture-wise, I can handle really busy weeks and months now, because the respite is coming.

So, perhaps it’s time to focus on a habit outside of the classroom.  One thing that has fallen almost completely off my weekly radar is…(mock suspense here)…exercise.  Or to be more specific, enough exercise.  I go to yoga about once a week, and when the weather allows, I walk all over creation with my dog a couple times a week.  Both of which are fantastic, but I need more.  I need to run.  (Before you suggest it…the dog doesn’t run.  He’s 13 pounds.  Or to be more specific, he runs for a block or two and then I’m practically dragging the poor thing by his leash for the remainder of the run!)

Ideally, I would like to run three times a week, on top of my yoga habit.  So for March, I will focus on a habit that has been suggested by many fitness magazine writers forever:  I’m going to schedule my runs each week.  Life is busy, and every week looks a little different.  During the month of March I will take a few minutes on Monday night — Mondays are yoga days, no running for me anyway — and plan three times in the next six days to run, and also where (gym or outside) based on the weather.  I will even record them in my calendar.  Recording workout times in a calendar has always sounded crazy to me, a little more fanatical than I want to be about exercise, but I’m going to try it anyway.  :)

February Focus


(I don’t have a good relevant photo for this post, so please enjoy this loosely related photo.  It’s just a little colorful holiday cheer, shared among coworkers.)

I must be honest with you…I had no specific habit to focus on for the month of January.  My focus was on making it through the month, alive and relatively unscathed.  With rare exception, I kept up on my previous habits of making a to do list each evening before leaving work and taking a couple of circles around my classroom to tidy.  But that’s it.  No new habits.  No new surges in productivity.  Sick kids, sick teacher, winter stir-craziness, and a brief and passing compulsion to quit teaching, live in my car, and travel.

But no matter.  It’s a new month.  Onward.

One of the things I have been struggling with in January is the familiar feeling of, “There’s never enough time!!!”  I can’t fix this for myself or any other classroom teacher.  Good teachers, bad teachers, ALL teachers will fight this battle, on a regular basis.  It is the nature of the beast.  We have a hundred balls in the air, and we want to feel like we are juggling, not like the balls are falling down on us and burying us.

For me, the key is to do away with procrastination and focus on that blissful, possibly addictive, feeling that comes with being fully planned and prepared.  Unexpected things will happen, but it’s never a helpful practice to create unexpected things by “just winging it.”  It is my intention to leave the classroom completely prepared for the following day.  It is also my intention not to bring work home with me.  So with those intentions in mind, I asked myself, what is getting in the way?  The truth is, when the kids leave, I want OUT.  I want to RUN far away from my classroom, for as many hours as possible.  It’s a passing feeling, but it doesn’t feel that way in the moment.

For the month of February, I will be focusing on my 3:45 routine.  I need some small comforts at 3:45 that will make me settle in for a couple more hours of working.  I need a snack, some fresh ice water, and some music.  Just small things that signal to my wild, escapist emotions that I don’t need to run away just yet.



I don’t need this space as much these days.

I still have a dark and twisty streak running through my life.  I still need to pound my fists against someone and scream my emotions from the rooftops sometimes.  I am taking my pounding fists and screaming emotions to Jesus more.  It is more satisfying than bringing them to the internet.

Sometimes I read my Bible.  Sometimes I sit and stare at a candle flame for a few minutes.  Sometimes I write and write, with everything I used to say here — more, with no anxiety of what the reader will think or say.  Sometimes I cut and glue and doodle my emotions.

I have no desire for less emotion.  I like my strong emotions.  If I am too much — too happy, too sad, too silly, too serious — if I am too much for you, that is about you, not me.  I find that I need a safe space to go deep and wide with emotion and worrying about what the reader will think poisons that safety.

I don’t hope I will work the dark and twisty out; I don’t hope I’ll be unfailingly bright and shiny.  The dark and twisty has better lessons.  The bright and shiny is the result of those lessons.  Both are essential to my happiness.

This space is not my journal.  This space is my scrapbook.  This space is for pictures and stories that I want to remember and revisit.  It’s for me to talk about books and movies and TV shows and theater.  To talk about hikes and bike rides and adventures.  To talk about traveling and staying home.

This space is for me to record my life.

I hope to live a life worth recording.  It’s very easy to live many days in a row without noticing or creating anything worth showing off or writing about.  It’s sometimes hard to take the time to post the pictures and write about them.  But I think telling my stories is important.  I hope to do a little more story telling in this space.

The stories are happening, every day.  My life is good.

DPP 2013 / Directions / Dec 19

DPP 2013 / Directions / Dec 19

Number 4 is the best! :)


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