Weariness, Scramble, Immersion

Sometimes it feels like being a public school teacher is ALL about time management and prioritizing.  You don’t have time to get everything done.  You just don’t.  If you want to do this, and enjoy this, you have to learn to live with that reality.

It might not be specific to teachers.  It might just be a universal truth of adulthood.

In the life of a teacher, at least, you never get everything done.  At some point, you just have to stop anyway and go home.  I seem to be naturally predisposed to fight against this truth.  I don’t want to accept that things won’t get done.  When things “fall off my to do list,” as I say when I write something week after week, I take it as a personal failure.

I’m working on it.

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This area is my “office.” These two tables can pile high in a short amount of time!

 

One thing I’m recognizing recently is that there are three general paths in the day-to-day grind.  You can experience the weariness of staying a couple of hours after the students are gone.  Or you can experience the scramble of coming in early and working for a couple of house before the bell rings.  Or you can experience the immersion of taking work home.  Choose your adventure wisely.

Good Weary

This path is my healthiest path.  The weariness of going home at 6:00 instead of 4:00 and knowing that everything is in its place for tomorrow is a good weary.  Like getting in a hot shower after a hard workout.  Like packing up your instrument after a long day of music performances.

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A dark line = something DONE.

Like napping in the Colorado sunshine, with your niece asleep on your chest, with a mountain in view, after a week of hiking in the heat of the Utah desert.

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(Best nap ever!) (Unrelated photo because it’s almost summer and my spirit is ready for travel and sunshine and sitting places where I can see mountains. Or oceans. Or just anyplace that is someplace else.)

 

At 4:00, I always want to just go home.  Always.  The trick is to have a snack, and get moving forward.  Knock out a few things on the list for tomorrow.  Start crossing things off.  Keep going until everything for tomorrow is crossed off.

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Pack a snack. Eat the snack you packed. Ignore the vending machine downstairs.

Then I go home, without a work bag, tired and hungry and weary, and whatever I do with my evening, I’m free.  It’s a good rest, the freedom of knowing there’s nothing I should be doing for work right now.  “I did everything I need to do” is my freedom mantra.

In the morning, I’m saved from the immediate feeling of anxiety that hits me if things aren’t ready for the day.  I feel free to have breakfast.  I feel free to get into God’s word, to sit still in His presence for a bit.  I feel free to go into work at 7:30 and plan for next week, or wander in at 8:15 and chat with people who are standing in line for the copier until the bell rings.  Either way, in that moment, it’s a pure choice, not tainted by stress and overwhelm.

Scrambling

On the other hand, I know colleagues who can come in at 6:30 every day, and do their prep in the early morning hours.  I’ve had seasons like that.  For them, getting out of school as soon as possible is key to their rhythm, and they don’t seem to be bothered by that ticking clock in the morning.  The scramble in the morning is energizing.  At 4:00, “It can wait until tomorrow” is a freedom mantra for them.

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Quiet…bright…buzzing with possibility…

Immersion

The third path is immersing yourself in the teaching life, 24 hours a day.  These colleagues appear to arrive at 8:00 and leave at 4:00, day after day.  They carry big bags of work almost daily.  Some need or enjoy the flexibility of time, doing their work after their kids go to bed or after their partners leave for a late shift job, or they simply catch a second wind late in the evening.  Some prefer to do their work in their pajamas, on their couch, watching TV.  I call this immersion because there appears to be no line between working and not working in a giving day.  They are a teacher today, or they are not.  Teaching is an identity.

However…

The truth is, there is a little bit of each story in all of us.  Being prepared is a good feeling, and early morning hours can be magically productive, and teaching is absolutely a part of one’s identity.  All of those things are true, together, no matter what I choose to do today.  I know my best choice is usually to stay at work through the late afternoon, leaving my classroom ready for tomorrow, and bringing home nothing but my empty coffee mug.  But sometimes, circumstances – or my attitude – convince me to take a different approach.

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Remember Who You Are

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The Family Stone is a movie that has become a regular in my Christmas rotation…and sometimes at other times of the year as well.  Amy Stone, played by Rachel McAdams, is the youngest of a family of adult siblings gathering for Christmas.  We find out from one line in the movie that she is a teacher, and her profession has no bearing on the plot of the movie at all.  And yet, because I know she’s a teacher, I’m attached to the moment in the movie when she arrives at her parents’ home.  She drives what would be generously described as a budget-friendly car.  She hauls two large tote bags of work.  She’s so crabby about it that when one of the bags falls in the snow, she angrily throws the other one down, too.  She has her clothes in a laundry basket – no stylish luggage for her!  And best of all, she seems to have thrown on the first eight pieces of clothing she saw.  She is so overtaken with the rest of her life that their is no energy left for putting together a presentable outfit.

In this one small moment of the story, I think Amy Stone is the most realistic depiction of a teacher that I’ve seen in movies or television.  I mean, maybe it’s exaggerated a bit for cinematic effect.  Maybe I don’t look quite as frazzled, maybe my car is more of a small, shiny red budget-friendly choice than a hand-me-down heap, maybe I travel with my clothes tossed into a giant ThirtyOne tote instead of an old basket…but that scene definitely captures how that overlap between the work week and family time can feel.

The last three weeks have been brutal.  The kind of brutal that makes me wonder if Starbucks is hiring.  The kind of brutal that makes me want to watch this little 10-second scene over and over again to feel that I’m not alone.

DEVOLSON, or whatever.  Except that I’m not sure Thanksgiving break will make it go away.

A little voice inside my head has been saying, “Remember who you are.”

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I feel overwhelmed.  I feel the stress tangibly in my body, with stomachaches and a tightness in my chest.  I feel like I can’t get the bare essentials under control, and there is no hope for going above and beyond or actually excelling at anything.  I’m not ready for conferences, or the sub for my half-day meeting, or for the meeting I have with the literacy coach in two days, or even for my own teaching time tomorrow.

Remember who you are.  I am a living being, always in a state of change, flowing from one emotional state to the next.  This stress feels so strong that it feels permanent, but it isn’t.  Time will pass.  I will sleep.  In 24 hours, I will feel a little bit different.  In 48 hours, even more so.

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I am focused on the data.  I have graded and analyzed the math tests from every possible angle.  I have a large collection of action steps I can take to respond to how the students did.  I want to pack them in, to fill our math workshop time with as many productive moments as I can.  I want to prove my superhuman capabilities.  I want to show my worth by raising my students’ scores impressively.

Remember who you are.  My value does not rest with the data.  My value does not rest with how well I do my job.  My value would not be proven by math scores, and my value would not be increased with superhuman time management and productivity in the classroom.  My value is proven by the fact that I am here.  Every breath in and out is evidence that I am worthy of a place on this planet.

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I am too busy for community building.  I am too busy for classroom management.  I am too busy for relationships with the students.  If I have a 2-minute conversation with each of them, that’s an hour of our day, gone.  We don’t need to address behavior.  We can just hold it together, one hour at a time, day after day.  We don’t need to talk about it.  We need to do reading and math and writing and number talks and intervention time…

Remember who you are.  My calling is to build relationships, to create a community of learners.  To do all things with great love.  We do need to talk about it.  We need daily practices of sharing those “star stories” (things that happen that match our classroom agreements) and solving the problems that arise.  We need daily doses of playfulness and humor and connection.  We are not robots, and I don’t want to hold it together one hour at a time for the rest of my career.  I want to let the mess of relationships and character building into our day.

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I am too busy for the needs of my soul.  I am too busy for stillness and solitude.  I don’t have time to light a candle, write in my journal, read something uplifting.  I am too busy for the needs of my body.  I don’t have time to exercise, to cook real food, to sleep.  When everything is non-negotiable, everything gets negotiated.  The math doesn’t work.

Remember who you are.  I am an eternal being.  Eternal.  The math is irrelevant.  “The same power that rose Jesus from the grave / the same power that commands the  dead to wake / lives in us.”  A good Jeremy Camp song can do wonders.  “We will not be overtaken / We will not be overcome.”  I have more power than I can feel when I am busy thinking about the math.

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This season will be over soon, friends.  Or not.  Either way, remember who you are.

First Principles

It is raining…and raining…and raining some more today.  In fact, it rained so hard this morning that my school district canceled for the day, due to dangerous levels of street flooding.  So I’m just at home, catching up (finally!) on The Last Ship, watching the rain, and thinking about what happens when the “establishing” has gradually and subtly changed in to the “building” of a classroom community.

It’s easy to take a simple system and adapt it to fit your classroom community.  Make the chart, using colors that you like.  Put the right names on the clips.  Find a good place to hang it in your classroom.  Explain to the kids what it all means, and start moving clips around, in response to whatever happens: up for good things, down for bad things.

It’s easy.  Except…it doesn’t work.  At least, not the way I want it to work.  In March, you will still be moving the clips and giving the consequences.  I want students who are different in March than they were in September.

I want students who have more or better strategies for solving problems and expressing big feelings in March than they did in September.  Because, I want my students to be kinder, more compassionate, more responsible people after spending 180 days in my classroom.

I want classroom management to be less work for me in March than it was in September.  Because, less minutes I spend managing behaviors means more minutes I can spend teaching readers and writers and mathematicians.

If those two things are my goals, if those are the things that are important, then my “system” needs to be more complex.  It needs to be based on a way of treating people, principles about how we interact with one another.

Principle #1:  Children are not born innately hurtful.  They are simply born innately self-centered.

Children don’t innately want to hurt each other, or their parents or teachers.  They don’t carry an inner goal of seeing how far they can push you, or doing as much damage as they can, or making someone mad.  They do learn these things, and most kids have an understanding of how to hurt someone out of revenge or anger well before we see them in elementary school.  But this hurtfulness isn’t naturally inside them from the beginning.

Tiny children innately want their own needs met.  And as long as they are only aware of themselves, anything and everything feels like a need to them.

As soon as we start gently and kindly helping kids be aware of the feelings of the people around them, the majority of kids will express empathy and kindness in whatever ways they know how.  They need to be gently awakened to others-centered thinking.  They need us to model others-centered kindness and empathy, and sometimes to teach it explicitly.

Principle #2:  Problems will arise.  We don’t avoid problems.  We solve problems.

If there are no problems, it is possible that I am not allowing myself or my students to act like the human beings we are.  It is possible that I am expecting machines that always respond to a command with a certain response.  School (or dare we say, life) is for learning, and learning is for humanity, not machinery.

Embrace the problems.  Take time for the problems when they happen.  Having problems is how we can become problem solvers.

Principle #3:  The teacher is not the only problem solver in the community.  The teacher is a mentor for the other problem solvers.

Scenario:  Miles tells me, “Taylor keeps calling me ‘Moles’!  He just keeps on doing it, even though I asked him to stop!”  It is so, so, so tempting to walk over to Taylor and try to squash the behavior.

Don’t do it!

You are not the only problem solver in the room, unless you keep solving all the problems!  Be a problem-solving mentor to Miles, and leave Taylor alone.  Empathize with Miles’ feelings.  Discuss Miles’ options.  Ask the class for ideas for Miles.  Suggest a couple of ideas that Miles could try.

Over time, being a problem-solving mentor empowers Miles to solve his own problems.  Being the only problem-solver in the room sends a message to Miles that he has no power in these kinds of situations.

Earlier, we left Taylor alone, but let’s talk about him, too.  Being a problem-solving mentor to Miles sends Taylor a message that you will help him solve his problems, too.  If Miles has more things to try to get Taylor to stop, it gives Taylor more chances to see how his choice affects Miles, and more chances to learn to empathize with Miles.  And it sends Taylor a message that his choices matter, not just when the teacher is around, but when it affects any other human being.

Principle #4: Everyone is doing the best they can right now.  

Toddlers throw tantrums because it’s their only strategy.  Preschoolers grab toys away because it’s the best way they can think of to get what they want.  Second graders call each other mean names because they don’t have anything else to do with these big feelings of hurt or exclusion.

Many problem solving sessions in my classroom start off with me saying, “It looks like you wanted ____, but you didn’t know what to do, so you tried ____.”  Lots of times I have to guess or infer what they might have wanted, and sometimes I make it up altogether.  But choosing to speak in a way that assumes they were doing the best they could at the time leads the way for learning other strategies.

Choosing to speak in a way that assumes they were doing something bad and they need to be punished leads the way for the child to shut down, assume I am mad at them, be mad at me, and not learn a single thing that can actually help him the next time.

Before you move on to respond to a behavior, acknowledge out loud that the child is doing the best thing he can think of.  Even if you’re mad.  Even if you don’t think he is.  Even if your very big feelings say this child should move all the way down the clip chart and never have recess again.  Or worse.  Nothing positive will be accomplished if the student feels attacked.

The Real Miles and Taylor

I am looping with most of my students from last year, since I switched from 1st grade to 2nd grade.  So after a year of community building and problem solving, it didn’t take long for the class to fall back into the routine of solving problems as a class, with my guidance.  (I haven’t witnessed much independent problem solving yet, but I am on the lookout!  It usually appears in January or February, so I’m interested to see if it comes back sooner.)

The real Miles and the real Taylor, names changed of course, have experienced these principles, imperfectly implemented, for a year.  I’ve seen growth in them and the other kids, but it becomes visible in small moments.  I notice growth hours or days later as I’m remembering the conversation or the conflict.

A couple of days ago, Miles said, “I have a problem.  At recess, I was playing basketball with Taylor, and he kept missing.  Every time he did, I said, ‘Fail!’  I don’t think he liked it.”

That was it.  That was Miles’ problem.  He was doing something, someone didn’t like it, and he didn’t want to do it anymore.  He wanted help to treat someone better.  It was unprompted.  Taylor had not tattled on him.  It was after recess, not in the moment.  It was bugging Miles, and he trusted his community with his problem.

His classmates had two suggestions:  He could clamp his hand over his mouth when he felt himself wanting to say that.  He could say, “Try again!” instead.

And let me remind you, we solve problems like this all the time, but usually, it starts with Taylor tattling, and maybe I present Miles’ problem as a secondary problem, after we’ve solved Taylor’s problem.  This took A YEAR!!!  One year before Miles had an others-centered enough community mindset that he could present a problem where he was the one doing something hurtful.  One year before Miles could trust his classmates enough to ask them for help, unprompted.

Have patience and perseverance, my friends!

Agreements

Agreements 1In my classroom, we make “agreements.”  I start by asking the students, on the first day of school, what kind of teacher they want.  Then on day two or three, I ask them what kind of classmates they want.  I follow that by a few days of “noticing things.”  I notice, out loud, when things happen that match what kind of classmates we all want.  The culmination of all of this is a long, long conversation about what we will do to be classmates like that.  We write these agreements on sentence strips and display them in a permanent place for the year.

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Then…the real work begins.  We need to become community members like this.  For the first week or two, I’ve held things together with my bare hands, or that’s how it feels.  I’ve kept my patience in check, and directed, and redirected, and reminded, and had them “do that one more time, a better way”…without any sort of list of rules or official, spoken structure to my classroom management.  Now, after agreements have been made and displayed, it is time to pass the responsibility of making decisions to the community members who agreed to all of this.  It’s time to put my eyes farther ahead, on character and values, instead of peace and compliance.

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So, we solve problems.

Brady:  Kyle said that I’m weird.

Me: Oh, I’d be upset about that, too.  Why did he do that?

Brady:  Cuz he’s mean.

Me:  Hmm, I wonder why he decided to do something that would make you so upset.  I’m going to ask him, okay?  Kyle, what happened?

Kyle:  Brady said he didn’t want to sit by me.

Me: Oh.  I bet that made you feel sad.  (Kyle nods.)  Do you want some help from your classmates?  (Kyle nods again.)  Class, someone told Kyle they didn’t want to sit by him, and it made him feel really bad.  His feelings wanted to be mean to that person, but he wants some better ideas.  He needs our help.  Does anyone have any ideas for him?

(There were many ideas like:  Tell Brady you don’t like it when he says that.  Go sit by someone else.  Ignore him and just keep listening to the teacher.)

Me:  Class, I think we gave Kyle lots of ideas to try.  Kyle, let us know how it goes, okay?  But right now, I have a question for everyone.  What do we think about wanting to sit by someone, or not wanting to sit by someone?  What are we going to do in our class this year when we come to sit on the rug?  Do you think we should make an agreement about telling people we don’t want them to sit by us?  What do you guys think about this whole thing?

(Pivotal moment.  We’ve already come to an agreement that we will be kind.  Now I’m prepared to defend individual rights.  I’m expecting to discuss our way to the agreement that it’s okay to choose who you sit by, but it’s not okay to say something unkind.  I’m wondering how we can talk to someone whom we don’t want to sit by, and still be kind.  I’m hoping for some kid wisdom.  Big surprise for the teacher…individual rights is not the value that is growing fastest in our classroom community!)

Yasmine:  We can’t do that!

Me:  We can’t do what?

Yasmine:  You can’t tell someone they can’t sit by you.  It says on the door, ‘We are a school family!’  That means we are all best friends!  You should take care of all of your best friends!

(A chorus of, “Yeah!”  “Exactly!”  “I like that!”  And responsibility to our fellow community members wins the day!)

And suddenly, our agreement to be kind has a new application and deeper understanding.

But sometimes, the problems aren’t what we think they are when we start talking to the people involved.

Kyle:  I didn’t mean Brady couldn’t sit by me.  I’m just stuck next to this wall, and he was sitting too close.  I wanted him to move a little bit, but not sit somewhere else.

Me:  Oh!  So when you told Brady to move, you just needed a little more space?  (Kyle nods.)  Kyle, I have felt like that before, like someone is just too close.  It makes me feel wiggly, and kind of the same as being too hot.  Is that how you felt?  Class, have you felt that way before?

(The chorus of understanding is immediate.)

Me: Class, do you have any ideas for Kyle?  What can he do if someone is sitting too close and he needs a little space?

Miles:  He can say it different, like, ‘Can you move over a little bit?  I need a little more space.’  That way Kyle knows Brady isn’t being mean.

Lola:  He can come over here and sit where there is a bigger space.

Heather:  He could scoot a little bit the other way.  Well, I guess if he wasn’t right next to the wall he could try that.

Me:  Wow, we have three good solutions for this problem.  Kyle, what do you think you’ll try this time?

Brady:  Wait!  I’ll move over a little bit.  Then Kyle has enough room.

Me:  Thanks, Brady.  That was kind; making sure Kyle has enough room to feel comfortable.

And just like that, we’re back to a very simple problem solving.  But it’s worth the whole conversation, because we’ve strengthened the value of kindness in our classroom community.  And maybe, just maybe, we’ve changed ourselves and each other, just a little bit, for the better.

A Word for 2015-2016

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I love education.  I am truly and deeply committed to learning as a value, as a lifelong virtue, just like kindness or honesty.

I took advanced placement calculus as a senior in high school.  It was my best AP score, and my college transcripts show that I earned college credit for calculus, as well as a couple more AP tests I took.  I don’t think I use calculus in my daily life; I don’t know what the practical applications are.  And yet, I firmly believe I am a better teacher (and would also be a better real estate agent or nurse or business owner) for having taken calculus.  And French, and chemistry, and my beloved English literature and composition classes.

The specifics of the content don’t matter as much as learning how to learn, learning how to master new things, learning how to tackle challenges.  Learning to value curiosity, creativity, diligence, and tenacity.  These outcomes of a good education are much more valuable than the actual content.

This deeply held belief is one part of the foundation of who I am.

And this is the time of year to intentionally remember who I am.

I am not the one who always wanted to be a teacher.  I have not felt, in these last 10 years of teaching, that I am “living the dream.”  Many teachers say this is their calling, but I don’t.  This is perfectly okay.

My calling is to build community, to establish and nurture relationships.  My dream is to be a force for love and kindness, to leave the world a little better than I found it.

There are many jobs that would be excellent places to express this calling.  And one of them is in the arena of public education.

It’s so very easy to get caught up in the “elementary education” of it all.  Data, reading levels, computation strategies, bubble sheets, pre-assessments, lesson plans, running records, number talks, shared reading, conferring with students, workshop model, project-based inquiry learning…  The district I work for does all of this pretty well.  (Except bubble sheets.  I don’t have anything good to say about bubble sheets.)  But it’s so, so easy to slip into the belief that one of those things, whichever one I’m talking about at the time, is the purpose of my presence in a classroom.

Lots of things are important.  Lots of things can be effective.

But the purpose of my presence in my classroom is the same as my purpose in any other room on earth:  love, kindness, building community, establishing and nurturing relationships.

In a word:  connection.  Nothing means anything without it.

May this be my word for this school year.  May I build a classroom community with deep connections.  May my little classroom family be a force for love and kindness in our school family.  May they take what they learn in my classroom and be little forces of love and kindness in their families and friendships.  May I bring kindness and connection to my relationships with my team and my colleagues.  May I continue to nurture the connections with friends and family through these busy 10 months.

May I return to remembering this word (and all the meaning it holds) whenever I need to.

“THAT Kid” and the “Other Kids”

This morning I read a lovely, heartfelt, so very TRUE article responding to parents of the “other kids” in the class who are concerned about “THAT kid.”  The wise and delightful Miss Night seems to have struck a chord with teachers and (most) parents alike, igniting an empathy for THAT kid, eliciting patience and kindness and trust.

I agree.  With every word.

And I would like to add on.  I would like to make a case for the value of being THAT kid’s classmates.  Not just tolerating him, or learning to deal with her until next year, or hoping you can make it through the year without your kid getting hurt.  No, I’m talking about real, actual benefits to the OTHER kids as a direct result of being classmates with THAT kid.

You see, the vast majority of parents would very much like the world to revolve around their child.  And they have every right to do so.  (I will not get out my soap box and talk about how my generation was deeply harmed by the “you are so very special, you can be anything you want in this world” attitude of our parents and wonder why we as a culture haven’t learned anything about teaching humility and others-centeredness.  Nope.  I will leave that discussion for another day.)  A parent is supposed to be their child’s best advocate.  They are supposed to be invested and attached, in their child’s education and well-being and future.  They are supposed to feel strongly about their child’s struggles.  This is how it’s SUPPOSED to work.

But here’s the thing…  My job, among other things, is to build a community.  To teach generosity and self-control and others-centeredness and conflict resolution.  To make sure the world doesn’t revolve around anyone, and yet, that we all revolve around each other.

In the easy years, we go about our days, learning how to read and write, add and subtract.  We learn to say “thank you” and “excuse me.”  We occasionally say, “I’m sorry.”  We learn to be happy and calm and responsible.

But the hard years…oh sweet soap-on-a-rope, those are the growing times.  We learn to say, “Please stop, I don’t like that.”  And, “I forgive you.”  And, “How can I help?”  We learn, “I see that you didn’t mean to do that.”  And, “I can wait until the teacher is done talking to (THAT kid).”  And, “I think (THAT kid) needs us to care about him right now.”

And that very hardest year?  My kids learned to leave the room without me, go next door unannounced, sit down and read a book.  They learned to be patient when we walked laps around the first floor, as every time we passed our classroom, I glanced in to see if one of my superhero teammates had made it safe to return.  They learned to ignore the distraction when all four “THAT kids” screamed and yelled and banged their books on the floor under my table or in the corner or in the middle of the room.  They learned to be calm and self-sufficient in moments that looked and sounded anything but calm.

And what about the time the “other kids” begged and pleaded with me that even though “THAT kid” had been suspended earlier in the day on Halloween, we should all pass out candy for him anyway and save it for tomorrow?

And the time the “other kids” all thought of something kind to say about “THAT kid” after she had a very challenging day?

And the innumerable times I’ve seen the “other kids” ask “THAT kid” to play with them, over and over, no matter how many times the game ends in tears and frustration?

The “other kids” practice patience and kindness and generosity and forgiveness.  These are things we learn only when we have many opportunities to try them out.  They are the hardest things in the world for our broken humanity.  I struggle with every single one.

A small, not-at-all extreme example:  The other day, I had pulled a small group for reading, and found that K went to the library even though it was her group time.  Not exactly a “THAT kid” moment, but I was irritated.  I said, “K signed up for library?  She has small group!”  Her group-mate S responded to me, “She just made a mistake.  I know she didn’t mean to.  She didn’t see her name on small group.  I do that sometimes.  You do, too.  You remember the day you signed us all up for the wrong small group times?”  Point taken.

To be honest, I am “THAT kid” sometimes.  So are you.  We yell.  We throw things – sometimes metaphorically, sometimes literally.  We shut down and give the silent treatment and build walls.  You do the best you can with what you have to give, and sometimes in that moment, it just doesn’t work out well – for you or anyone around you.  But whether I am “THAT kid” or one of the “other kids,” those moments are more opportunities to practice being generous and kind and forgiving.  The messy struggle of working though tough moments and difficult relationships with patience and grace — it is redemption in action.  We are so much better as individuals and as a community for knowing “THAT kid.”

November Goals

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A quick reflection on October’s goals:

-Leaving work ready for the next day’s teaching was moderately successful.  I estimate I was ready for the next day before leaving for the night about 80% of the time.  It freed my mind in the evening to take a true break, and it cleared my mornings to work on other things – data, paperwork, projects.  I intend to continue this habit as part of my routine.

-Keeping sweets to twice a day was very successful!  It was easy to resist temptation during the day because I knew something was waiting for me in the evening if I was still craving sugar.  Once again, I recognized the difference between how it feels after eating too much sugar and how it feels to eat well.  I even chose to dial back how much sugar I put in my coffee in the mornings, and by the end of the month I was really only having a serving of sugary food in the evening, most days.  Experiencing something is almost always the best way I learn, and despite my instincts that lean toward “all-or-nothing,” working through this goal gave me experiential evidence that moderation can be more successful than extremes.

New goals for November:

Just like last month, new goals began to make themselves clear to me a few days before the end of the month.

-At work…  To build off of the adjustments to my afternoon routine, I’m going to try assigning general categories of tasks to particular blocks of time.  You can see a first-draft schedule above.  The job feels so big, so complex, and so unpredictable that there is no way to say, “On Tuesdays from 7:30-8:30 I will work on _____.”  But there are categories, general goals under which individual tasks fall.  I need to plan.  I need to work through and respond to math data.  I need to work through and respond to guided reading data.  I need to attend to materials like sharpening pencils, stapling blank books for writing, and cutting out any laminating.  The specific tasks might be different from week to week, but every week needs time to accomplish these general goals.

There are also tasks that may happen only once, or only once every few months, that don’t fit into a general category.  For example, this week I did paperwork for my career development goal for this year.  I also filled out a somewhat time-consuming survey for my principal.  And a student moved away, so within the next few days I’ll have to update his cumulative file to send on to the next school.  These tasks are big enough they need to be assigned to a block of time or they won’t get done.  However, they are not part of the weekly rhythm of my job, so they are harder to schedule.  I’m simply calling these things “projects and tasks.”

You can see there are some unassigned blocks, and obviously most days updating the class Facebook page or responding to parents’ emails or voice mails won’t take my whole plan period.  For the moment, call those spaces “room for surprises.” Maybe organizing time and tasks comes easily to other teachers.  Maybe, if you’re a teacher who is reading this, you think I’m just being a big baby about all of this.  Maybe the immensity of the job is specific to my school district.  But I know this:  If I am going to survive this job for much longer, I need to find out how to make it less overwhelming.  Also, I’m not willing to do less than excellent work.  I’m not ready to give up on making those two things work.

-At home…  Did you know that November is NaNoWriMo?  National Novel Writing Month, for crazy people who have a stirring in their heart to write a work of fiction but need a burst of motivation.  It sounds fantastic to me…except that I have no desire to write fiction.  I do, however, have an addiction to reading fiction!  And to prove it, on top of the shelves of books I own but haven’t yet read, I have a whole shelf of novels borrowed from other people.  So I am calling November BarNoReMo: Borrowed Novel Reading Month!  I don’t expect to finish the whole shelf.  I intend to read at least 50 pages of borrowed fiction per day, on average.  That means on certain busy days I might not read at all, but on a free Sunday I might read a couple hundred pages.  Since this adds up to 350 pages per week, I estimate I will read about a book a week.

So four or five people might get a book back that I borrowed from them.

Or my sister-in-law might finally get the three books back that I have borrowed from her.

That math is not very impressive.  I’m currently looking directly at a bookshelf in my home and realizing just how much time is represented on those shelves.  🙂

This goal is actually two-fold.  In order to read more, I need to leverage what little free time I have.  And what sucks up everyone’s free time?  That flat black rectangle in your living room!  I’m going to change up my TV habits a little bit.  In particular, I want to change one specific TV habit.  For the month of November, for meals I have at my home alone, I will eat at the table with the TV off.  I tend to start an episode of something to fill the house with noise, and after I’m done with my meal, I sit and finish watching the episode…and another episode starts…(Thanks, Netflix.)…and before you know it, two hours have passed, it’s 10:30 p.m., I should really go to sleep, and not one ounce of progress has been made toward anything productive or meaningful.  Dinner does not take two hours.  I am curious to find out how much of my free time I would effortlessly get back without that one little mindless habit.  I am curious to find out what I would do when I was done eating, if the TV wasn’t already on.

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