Monday, September 26, 2011

Sometimes there are no words

I have struggled.  I have contemplated for the past two weeks whether or not I had what it took.  I have reflected on all that was going wrong.  Grappled with what to change and what to hold onto.  Cried.  Screamed.  Choked on words.  Slept.  Got up to fight through the day without any energy.  And avoided.  Avoided writing this blog.  Pushed away accepting that I could be wrong.  Ran from self-doubt right into self-defamation.  And I avoided the obvious.  Forgot the kids needed time.  Beat myself up over that which was beyond my control.  Cracked down when I should have cracked up.  And then, then I cracked. Period.

And then today.  Today was great.  Today was a dream; and even better, today was a reality.  Today my students and I stood up to a test unlike any other this early in the school year.  And we all shone.  And no one was irreparably hurt in the process. 

I haven't written each weekend like I had hoped.  I haven't had the ability to be so brutally honest with all of you in the midst of my own personal hell.  I couldn't write without being a bitter downer.  I couldn't put myself out there as I was failing miserably and falling without a net.  Then the net that I thought didn't exist caught me.  And I am here to tell about it.  The failure, the reflection and the road to recovery.  Hopefully by June I will be here to tell about the success.  But for today, just the realization that it will be okay is enough.

So, know that I am back.  Know that we are all okay.  And know that the weather has turned and tea will be brewing.  It's gonna take a lot of tea this year. 

Monday, September 12, 2011

Phone Calls Home. Part 2--Speaking with the Student

I spoke with 5 students today! 2 days before school starts.  They were adorable.  So sweet, so honest, so flabbergasted to be speaking to their teacher on the phone.  And I was a bit flabbergasted, too.  Not just because that's a fun word to write, but because these little children are unknown to me.  Even the children I have met before in the hallway don't have a clear connection in my brain to my classroom and being my student.  It was like talking to a disembodied voice.

More so, for the student I thought I had a clear picture of.   I was proven wrong by this student today.  Probably not the last time for the year, either.  But I can't be happier to be wrong.  I had met this child before, many times in the hallway.  I was a bit overwhelmed at having them in my classroom.  I had labeled this child to be a "gets-their-own-way-no-matter-what" kind of kid.  But wow, we spoke for the longest time.  This child is so eager to be back at school, with friends, with a new teacher (me!).  After having me read the entire class list (perhaps a little of that get-their-own-way?), this child was excited to have known friends in the class, excited to have new kids in the class to befriend, excited just to have a class.  Respectful, helpful, eager, filled with the excitement at returning to a place that they obviously love to be.  It's good to be reminded that personality is made up of more than just that one characteristic.

So now I have a picture of this group.  It's not a physical picture it's a feeling picture.  And the picture I have is of a truly sweet group of kids.  Mind you 5/38 is probably not a big enough sample to make a whole class judgment, but if nothing else I know that 5 kids are on my side.

Phone Calls Home. Part 1--Speaking with the Parent

I called all but 5 of my students over the past few days.  That's 33 phone calls.  And I am buoyant.  The best time to call home is definitely before school starts, nothing scary about a pre-school phone call.  I was just calling with a welcome to 5th grade and Open House invitation for the day before school. I only got to speak directly to 5 of my students.  I left lots of messages via voice mail.  I left even more messages via parent.  There was a common theme among the parents I spoke with.  They were suspicious.  Not once I told them who I was, but before I told them, when I first asked to speak with their child.  People who just moments before had pleasantly answered the phone, immediately went to mama/papa bear mode when I inquired if their child was available.  At first I was off put, thinking maybe I shouldn't call to speak with my students.  Then I was intrigued, with each new switch from pleasant to gruff I got a sense that these parents care deeply about their children--protective through and through.  And then the best part, after introducing myself they relaxed, they chatted, they were happy to talk to me, surprised and elated that I called.

What a great feeling.  Connecting with these parents who are entrusting their child to me.  Hearing their protective nature for these children we will be sharing for the next year.  And hearing their happiness, surprise, eagerness to connect back with me.  And this is why I spoke with so few of my students, I spent so much time connecting with their parent that by the time I would have spoken with their child, the parent had already relayed the open house invite and room number for me.

One dad was so happy I called, he merrily relayed everything I said to his daughter, who must have been sitting next to him, as I said it.  And while at first he suggested they had been thinking his wife might bring their daughter to the open house, by the time we were saying goodbye he eagerly told me that not only his wife and their daughter would see me at the open house but he would like to come along, too. 

Upon immediate reflection, I was sad to have not spoken directly to more of my students.  But now, many hours later I still sit fulfilled at having connected with the parent.  I have plenty of time to get to know my students, to make an impression on them over the school day.  But today was my chance to connect and impress the parent.  And I can rest knowing that it was a success.  I can now build upon this initial good impression if necessary should I need to call with less stellar news mid-year.

When I heard I was returning to the classroom I had set a goal to call home on 6 students each week--just a check-in, no bad news.  After today, I have taken that goal from "maybe" to "must-do".

Friday, September 2, 2011

Letters to My Next Year Teacher

I received the best surprise yesterday.  It was the first official district work day of the 2011-2012 school year.  Well, that wasn't really a surprise, teachers have known that was coming.

The surprise came in my teaching partner's classroom in a yellow folder--discovered on the first official district work day of the 2011-2012 school year.

It's finally real.  Official work days. With that comes the stacks and stacks of teaching stuff that somehow always fits away neatly for an entire school year and also somehow always gets spread out across any available space the days before a new school year.  Families registering their children in the office.  Little feet and big feet dashing to and fro along the hallways in a flurry of hellos and how are yous and how was your summer and are you ready for the year. 

The quiet of the hallways as I worked on my classroom prior to official days is gone. And I am glad.  Because in the quiet the surprise sat all along in a yellow folder in the classroom across the hall from where I sat and it waited.  But in the bustle of the end of the day and the commotion of moving everything from one stack to the next it showed itself.

A simple yellow folder--which in my school often signifies information about a child who may need a little more attention--contained not a heads up but rather sweet letters from some of my soon to be students.  From students who, until this moment,  sat only in a list of black and white names on my class roster.  From students who, until this moment, sat in a blur of anticipation in my brain.  Students who now sit with their little souls bared as much as they can stand, or in many cases bared as much as fit into the sentence frames their teacher from last year wrote on the board.  Students who now sit with their school picture affixed to the bottom (or top if they didn't follow directions) of the letter smiling at, or shying away, from me as I read their words about themselves. 

They are precious little beings.  I wonder what they thought as they wrote this letter to a teacher they have never met, a teacher they have hopes about.  A teacher who in their head sits as a blur of anticipation and perhaps fear.  A teacher who turned out to be me.

It's such a unique relationship in the teaching world.  We ask and expect our children to trust their teacher so completely that they are willing to try and fail and try again and perhaps fail again, only to be asked to try one more time to succeed over a period of 9 months day in and day out with that 1 teacher.  We then ask and expect our children to build that relationship with a new teacher--every year.  What hope these tiny humans bring when they write to that next teacher--please like me, please have faith in my ability to learn, please don't see me only for my shortcomings, please oh please be nice. 

I love looking at their penmanship.  I love reading their birthday and their likes and what they are good at. Yet, I flinch when I read what they feel they are not good at.  They plead in their letters.  Among them this year, "I hope you make math something I understand." And I want to.   I yearn to make sure they leave in 9 months better at math or what ever it is they ask.  And deep in my heart I know they will be just fine at it, if I can build confidence within them along with the skills.  And I also know that for the past year their teacher worked to build that confidence.  I hope my colleague knows that in the end she succeeded.  Because now these little children know not only what they lack in knowledge,  more importantly they are secure enough to know they can ask for help.  And I thank that colleague silently for that security which she instilled.  And I rise to the challenge in my head and in my heart. Thus today I began my lesson plans for these students who ask for so little and yet so much.

I can only work each day to live up to their desires, to fulfill their hopes for a good year, and ultimately work to teach them that which they must understand before the next grade.  It will take time.  And then, then once I have their trust and they are comfortable enough to learn in my classroom, when they are settled into an academic routine then, well, then I will have them write a letter to their next year teacher.