Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Chaos and Comfort

The past two days have been crazy.  One would think that the children would come back from Thanksgiving break in a food coma, but they actually come back all the more ramped up for Christmas.  My classroom management skills are getting a legit workout lately with these holidays.  Thankfully, I have a handy, dandy Christmas countdown on my board in my classroom, so that I can also see how close we are to the end.  I can't believe how quickly this semester has blown by me.  I feel like I say that in every other post, but it really is mind-boggling to me that I have been a "real teacher" for six months now.  I've taught lessons, been observed by my bosses, gone to conferences, had successes, messed up badly, and found lots of places to laugh in between.  In short, I'm counting my blessings in a big way lately.

A particularly chaotic thing happened this morning.  My principals (all three of them) came to my room at 7:40 looking like they were bringing a death sentence.

"Jessica, we've got some bad news."
Oh, great......
"Your heat is out, so you'll be teaching in rooms where the teacher has a prep period until its fixed."
Did I mention I was giving a test today?  This kind of chaos is perfect for seventh grader concentration.  Perfect for annihilating it.
My response: "Ok, thanks for working it out!  Just tell me where to go!"  With a big, huge smile.

I taught my first three class periods in three different classrooms.  Nothing like a little chaos to spice up a Tuesday.  Honestly, I was a little worried that it would affect their module test scores (and behavior), but, as it turns out, I should have a little more faith.  All things considered, their behavior and focus were great.  They made me look pretty darn good on the seventh grade hall.  I'm always proud of my students, but I was especially proud of their monitoring and adjusting abilities today.

In addition to this chaos, there were also a couple new (or newly realized) comforts added to my school life today:

1. The principals bought a Keurig coffeemaker for the teacher's lounge as our Christmas gift.  That beats a poinsettia any day in my book.  Yes, I had two cups of coffee, and yes, I ate one of the accompanying homemade cookies that were brought to ring in the arrival of the coffeemaker.  I deserved it. Remember, my morning was chaotic.
2. I realized, yet again, how lucky I am to work where I work.  I value knowing that I work somewhere where I am comfortable.  It was so comforting to be able to play musical classrooms this morning and feel like all those teachers were totally on my side, even though I probably did put them out.  It was comforting this afternoon, when my principal complimented me on a lesson I taught last week.  It is comforting to know that I work in a place where I feel appreciated and like I'm part of something special.

I know that last part is borderline cheesy.  Or perhaps terribly cheesy.  But it's also true, and I think it's something that very few people experience or realize that they experience in their workplace.  Therefore, I am choosing to celebrate both chaos and comfort today.  Happy Tuesday!

Only 26 days until Christmas.....

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Thanksgiving Gets the Shaft

It is officially my favorite time of year.  It's finally starting to feel like fall here in Arkansas, the leaves are changing, and there are Christmas decorations/music/gifts everywhere.  I'm in holiday heaven.  However, I do believe that Thanksgiving gets the shaft for the bigger, more commercialized version of Christmas that we all fall prey to.  I'm not going to lie, my house is already decorated for Christmas, I've already purchased Christmas gifts, and I love it.  But this blog entry is about Thanksgiving, in all its forms.

I'd like to begin at the beginning of this sidelined holiday.  These past few days, I've been teaching my 6th grade students to evaluate and analyze texts by comparing different stories of the "real" first Thanksgiving. They were put in groups and each group had to present their findings to the rest of the class.  One sweet student, who read an article from the perspective of the Wampanoag tribe of Native Americans, stood proudly in front of the class and said loudly "Thanksgiving was a time of death and disappointment."  

Well, thanks, sweetheart, how nice.  She was right, of course.  It wasn't exactly a cheery, lets-be-best-friends day for the Pilgrims and the Indians, but I had to force myself not to laugh.  Oh, to be an overly-dramatic pre-adolescent girl.....

Anyway, I'm thrilled that Thanksgiving is no longer a day of death and disappointment.  Instead, it has morphed into a commercialized food fest, complete with turkeys, both real and cartoon, a Charlie Brown movie, and several casseroles that involve vegetables covered in butter and cheese (thanks, Paula Deen).  But I would like to focus on the THANKS part of THANKSgiving today.  I asked my students to list ten things they were thankful for this week.  For the sake of space, and so you don't stop reading, I'm only going to list five.

1. I am thankful for my family. I have two sisters who are two of my best friends. I have loving, supportive parents and grandparents. I truly could not think of enough words to express how much I need my family and how thankful I am for each one of them every, single day.
2. I am thankful for my best friend.  There are few people in this world who will wake up with you at 5 AM to go to the gym everyday, who will whine with you (and wine with you), laugh with you, and who share the same brain as you.  I am infinitely blessed to have a person like this, and it's something I don't say enough.  I am thankful for a best friend who know I'm thankful without me having to say it.  I am also, obviously, thankful for all of my friends, both the ones that live far away, for school or work, and the ones that live here.  Being the busy, over-involved person I am, I love my friends for picking back up where we left off, even if we haven't seen each other in a while.
3. I am thankful for my boyfriend.  Chance meetings can lead to great things, and I'm thankful that we met and gave this dating thing a shot. I'm thankful that I have a boyfriend that I can have fun with and share interests with.  I'm thankful that we both love and appreciate food, Razorback football, and so many others things.  And I'm thankful that you cheer me on in all that I do, especially at work.  This is a man who's never seen me teach but is convinced I'm the world's best teacher.  I love it. I'm also thankful that he has a family I look forward to seeing throughout the holidays, beginning with Thanksgiving day.  They are wonderful people, who made me feel comfortable and at ease from the moment I met them.
4. I am thankful for my job.  In this economy, I feel blessed just to have a job. But on top of that, I have an awesome job.  I am thankful for my administrators, who cheer me on and support me everyday.  I am thankful for the teachers I teach with, who are talented and funny and so supportive of each other, and I am, ultimately, thankful for my students, who without knowing it are my "guinea pigs" this year.  They have jumped in to every assignment and followed my lead and made me laugh and smile so much along the way.  They have also supplied some great blog material :)
5. Last but not least, I am thankful for the little things in life--the small, sweet moments. I am thankful for good books, cups of coffee, smiles from students as they walk by in the halls, good talks with friends, yoga classes when I'm stressed out, the ability to run and walk and be active in general, and the joy of knowing I am loved by more than one person in this world. 

The beauty of Thanksgiving is that it is the one day of the year when we are forced to accentuate the positive and recognize the plethora of blessings in our lives.  I'm looking forward to it (and to the food fest).

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Validation Station

I took my "one more mile" philosophy from last week's post seriously, and got my plans for the rest of the semester set in stone.  These next few weeks are sure to fly by.  When I started writing everything down on my big desk calendar, I was struck by how fast each month seems to be moving.  They say that time flies when you're having fun.  I think time also flies when you're flying by the seat of your pants and there's a sense of urgency behind each work day.  But, you know, that's kind of the same thing....

Anyway, I had a little journey of self discovery this week.  There's really no sweet student story to go along with this little life lesson, but not everything in life is learned in middle school.  Otherwise, I would've figured out wayyyy more stuff when I was thirteen.  This lesson came from a different kind of middle--a middle of the road place.

I think most people who know me well would consider me a terribly Type-A personality.  I compulsively clean my house at random times (ask my roommates), I am notoriously organized, and I hate clutter.  But this week I had a lapse in mental organization, which led to a stress/tiredness-induced meltdown moment today.  Last Monday, I realized I had forgotten to turn in a major assignment for a class I'm taking for my graduate degree.  This meant a zero grade.  Not only was I mortified at forgetting something so important, I was also mad at myself, because the teacher in me hated that I was one of those kids that frustrates me so much at work.  You know, the one who can do the work and understands what's required, and just doesn't turn it in.  I was very frustrated with myself, to say the least.  That first forgetful moment set the tone for the whole week.  I felt like I was playing catch up and losing the race.  On top of that, I was fighting this mysterious cold-like illness that was making me feel terrible.

Now, I do my best to put forth a confident image of myself.  I love my job and am proud of my work.  I love my life and all the relationships in it, and I strive to make those relationships strong and meaningful.  But I am not too confident to admit, to God and to the Internet world, that I have a little bit of a self-doubt issue.  Needless to say, my week of mental lapses and missed assignments brought that self-doubt glaringly into the forefront of my mind.  I want to be more than just good at what I do, and I've always been that way.  I'm a striver.  However I, and I think most people, also have this desire to be validated for that striving.  In my perfect world, there would be a Validation Station in each work place and neighborhood.  It would be a little stand where you could go on a bad day, pay a dollar, and have a sweet, smiling person remind you how awesome you are in whatever area you feel that you are lacking.  I think I could make some serious money off of this idea.

Unfortunately, there are no Validation Stations in life.  It's up to me to remember that I may not be perfect, but I'm striving.  And that's the important part.  As long as I'm giving my best, I can stand confident in knowing that I'm in the right place at the right time.  Mother Teresa said "We cannot do great things, only small things with great love."  I need to remember to validate myself in the small things--the smiles and sweet moments--and remember to breathe and know that in this moment, I'm doing just fine.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

One More Mile

Well, I am officially a believer of at least one of the "first year teacher myths" I heard before I started teaching.  You really do catch all the kids' germs.  And your poor, unsuspecting immune system has no idea how to fight off the onslaught of adolescent cooties, so you're bound to experience sickness on a whole new level.  For the second time in less than a month, I've fallen prey to the cold/allergy/stuffy head/can't breathe symptoms of some mysterious, nameless disease that requires antibiotics.  Thank God for health insurance.  I'm hoping I feel better tomorrow.  We shall see...

Before the germs attacked, I got to experience two great things this past week.

#1 - I went to the Arkansas Curriculum Conference on Thursday and Friday.  This meant that a) The children and I got two days apart, b) I got to see lots of people from college and other "teacher friends," and c) I got to hear Christopher Paul Curtis, a young adult author, talk about his writing process and read his work.  As an aspiring writer, or at least as someone who would rather write than pay a therapist, I loved every minute of hearing him speak.  Curtis writes from very personal experience and from a deeply rooted love of family.  It was absolutely breathtaking and inspiring to have him share so much of himself with his audience. Yes, I'm kind of a nerd, and yes, I loved every minute of those two days.  I was starting to feel bogged down at school, and I needed to learn some new tricks to reenergize myself for these next few weeks leading up to Christmas.  I have a feeling I'm going to need LOTS of tricks up my sleeve to keep the kids' attention with Santa Claus coming to town.

#2 - I ran another 5K on Saturday and dropped my time by four minutes.  My goal was to drop it by two minutes, so I was pretty excited.  However, I loved this event for a different reason.  In my last post, I talked about one of my 6th grade students who loves to run.  After parent/teacher conferences, this student came up to be at my desk one day and asked me to write down the dates of the next few 5Ks that I was running.  I wrote them down, thinking that he probably wouldn't be able to make it to all of them, especially not the first one on the list, which was an hour away from his house.  But not long after we checked in Saturday morning, I heard a familiar voice behind me say "Ms. Herring!"

Sure enough, there he was, with his whole family, ready to run.  I met his mom, dad, and sister, who I hand't had a chance to meet yet, and grandma was there too.  He got to meet my dad & roommate who both came with me to run.  Now when I say this kid is a runner, I mean that he is fast.  We asked him his pace before the race, and he nonchalantly said, "Oh, I don't know.....about 7:30 per mile."  That, ladies and gentleman, is WAY faster than me.  My student ended up winning the whole race.  My dad came in 2nd right behind him.  Dad tried to tie him, but he said the kid looked at him with this sneaky smile and took off at the end.  No way was he going to let anyone even get close to him.  After they finished, they both ran back to me and ran in again.  My student said, "Hey, Ms. Herring, there's a little girl right behind you that's probably gonna beat you.  You better hurry up."  He was loving every minute of being better than me.  He even posted a picture of us on Facebook later.  The caption says: "I beat my English teacher."  I was more than happy to let him win.  It actually made my day.

Racing on Saturday was a fun way to get to know my student and his family, but it also made me think about my life in the classroom.  When I run, I often tell myself, "one more mile, Jess!"  I feel like these last few weeks until Christmas are my "one more mile" at school.  Sure, there's another semester in the spring, but we'll consider Christmas break our "water stop" in this race.  I gave the first leg of the race everything I had, and I need to make sure I've conserved some energy for that last mile.  I want to set my best pace now.   So here we go!  Two weeks until Thanksgiving, and then three and a half until Christmas -- I think this is definitely a race I can win.