Monday, February 27, 2012

Balancing Act

Life is about balance.  When I think about this statement, I visualize a seesaw on a playground.  In all aspects of life, people tend to "seesaw" through things.  If we were really to balance our lives, that seesaw would be flat as a board, but let's be real, that's super difficult to achieve.  I have found that throughout my kind of adult life, I would say since high school, that I have had a difficult time with balance. I tend to throw my whole self into something, so that my seesaw looks like two little kids are tipping the scales with great enthusiasm. This, however, typically leads to what I like to refer to as a "mental health day," during which I sleep in, stay in bed all day, and generally have a mini-meltdown for 24 hours before throwing myself back into my terrible attempt at a balancing act.  This happens about every six months. Hey, at least I know myself well enough to admit this cycle now.

When I started teaching in August, I promised myself that I would make a valiant attempt NOT to continue this vicious cycle of non-balance.  I got into the habit of regular exercise, decided not to rely on chocolate as my primary means of fighting stress, and set a limit on how long I would let myself think about work each day.  While these were noble promises to make to myself, they haven't exactly been implemented flawlessly.  I have totally relied on chocolate (and occasionally ice cream) to fix a bad day, and there have been other stumbles in my attempt at balance.

I've found that my biggest downfall in this balancing act is caving to negativity.  You see, balance isn't just about taking on too much or too little or just enough.  It's about balancing mind, body, and spirit.  My problem is that I seem to have a hard time remembering that maintaining all three is the key to finding true balance in life.  When my desk gets covered in paperwork or I have a lot of grading to do or I have a tough day, I tend to hyper focus on my problem and forget about all the other things that are going on in my life that are awesome.  For example, I could (and should) change my focus to the fact that I'm super lucky just to have a job.  I have a friend from high school that used to say "accentuate the positive, eliminate the negative."  I think that is quite possibly one of the most difficult things to do when you are out of balance, because you just can't see the forest for the trees.

As I look at the next month ahead of me, I have lots of things that have the potential to overwhelm me at work.  I will have to choose every day whether I will accentuate the positive or eliminate the negative.  My goal for March is to choose the positive.  I can view my Praxis observation as a big, stressful, scary thing or as an opportunity for me to show off my smart, wonderful students.  I can look at Benchmark as overwhelming and out of my control, or I can look at it as a challenge to do my best teaching now.  In order to choose the positive and avoid an impending "mental health day," I'm going to have to improve my balancing act, but I think that's very possible.  My mind is committed, and I think that's an excellent first step.

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

No Giving Up Here Please

Today I decided it was going to be a "blog day."  While I would say that life has definitely not been short on material lately, I just haven't felt terribly inspired to write about anything that's going on right now.  I think I can attribute that to an overwhelming sense of being overwhelmed by things recently.  I have paperwork on my desk with acronyms for which I don't know the full names.  I have my first experience with Benchmark testing looming over my head, and my Praxis 3 assessment is in three weeks.  I guess what I'm saying is, there's so much I could write about that I find it difficult to reflect on one, specific thing.

In need of a purpose for writing, I decided to look back at two previous posts.  One of these was my post from Lent last year, which is timely since we start all that sacrificing tomorrow.  The other post was my final post from student teaching, in which I talked about the top ten lessons I learned as a student teacher.  One particular lesson struck me and sent me on my contemplative way towards a new post. It simply said:

Never give up on a kid.  I almost did that.  I felt like I had tried absolutely everything, but then I sat and thought about how many other teachers tried absolutely everything and decided to give up.  Middle school is when kids start to completely check out.  I want to keep my kids checked in, but more importantly, I want them to have a reason to want to come to school.  If knowing that one teacher refuses to give up is the only reason, then so be it.

Lately, I must confess, I've been having some hopeless feelings towards a few of my students.  I was starting to feel like I had tried everything.  But I have not tried everything.  There is a plethora of good ideas I haven't even thought of yet.  I'm new at this.  I will grow every year.  I may fail terribly at some of my lessons and explanations and attempts at discipline (which I am terrible at because I can't be mean), but at least I'm failing enthusiastically.  And I will continuously try again, until all of them at least kind of get it.  I need to constantly remind myself of these things.  

Last week, I got a little boost when I had the pleasure of teaching a dance class to our Fundamentals Club after school.  I haven't taught dance in forever, and I was honestly very nervous about working with this group of girls.  Fundamentals Club is for "at-risk" students, who may consider dropping out later or who are, to say the least, not excited about school every morning when they show up.  I was nervous because I could have easily failed in this attempt.  They could have thought dance was dumb, or I was annoyingly upbeat, or any number of negative thoughts, but instead they jumped in feet first.  It was literally the most fun I have had at school maybe ever.  Their smiles were bigger than their faces, and I probably looked like a crazy person teaching them a hip hop dance.  Ever since last Wednesday, almost every one of those girls has stopped by my room to say hi or to ask when our next dance class will be.  They needed a reason to be excited about school, a reason to not give up.  And, in that moment, right before I taught that class, I needed a reason to be excited about school, too.  Amidst the standards and testing and stress, the truest wisdom from the middle school is that to make it work, you have to make connections, whether it's in or out of the classroom.  Those kids may not remember adverbial phrases, but they'll remember the teacher who stayed after school and danced around the classroom.  That's the teacher I always want to be.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Middle School "Love" Letters

For Valentine's Day, I asked my students to write love letters.  I only gave them three rules.

1. They can write to anyone or anyTHING.
2. They must be appropriate, because I'm going to read them.
3. I would like for them to be cheesy and make me laugh.

Here's a few of my favorites.....

Dear light pole on Main Street, 
   They way you sway in the moonlight makes me want to dance with you.  You are so slick and minty fresh like four day old gum.  The way you shine is like Megan Fox walking into my bedroom.  You have that sexy hourglass figure.  Your light surrounds me like girls surround Justin Bieber.  Every time I think of you, I think of the song "My Girl."  Please be my Valentine?

These next few were excellent expressions of my own love of chocolate.  Very well worded, if you ask me.

Dear Cocoa Bean, 
    Thank you for making it possible for all the women in the world to have chocolate. We would probably have killed some people if it weren't for you.  We all love you.

Dear Chocolate,
     I love you so much! You taste so good, but yet you're so mean and make people fat!  Why do you have to be so mean?  You should try to be nicer like salad.

Dear Hershey chocolate bar, 
    Thanks for tasting so good.  You help me get the sweet tooth away.  You're not just a chocolate bar. You're my friend.  I love your sweet taste, and I love the way you look.  You are better than fruit and vegetables.  You are the best thing I have ever eaten.  I love you Hershey chocolate bar.

This one was nice.  Mostly because there are some days that I appreciate blatant sucking up.  This student wrote this right after he earned detention for his behavior in class.  I think he was trying to get out of it.

Dear Ms. Herring, 
     I love your class like a pencil loves paper, like language loves its teacher, like the sun loves the planets.  Ms. Herring, you are my favorite teacher.  Happy Valentine's Day.

And on the flip side, there are students who could care less what I say....

Dear Nail on the wall in Ms. Herring's class, 
     Not many people notice you.  You are on the seventeenth block on the second row above the Smartboard.  I have often stared at your for a whole class period.  Thanks for being there for me.

What I was reminded of, as I read all these letters, was the fact that I love my students and their various personalities.  No matter how frustrating, overwhelming, or exasperating a day of work can be, at the end of that day, I have the best job in the world.  Happy post-Valentine's Day!

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Grin & Bear It

Last night I was grading grammar packets about the types of sentences.  After reading the last writing assignment that my students completed, I realized that we needed a refresher course on correctly written compound and complex sentences.  In one section of the packet, students were asked to write compound sentences.  One student in my 2nd period wrote this:

I don't like my 2nd period, but I am glad that I have Ms. Herring.

At first, I was frustrated that she used her grammar packet to make a statement, even if her sentence was grammatically correct.  However, it didn't take me long to realize that she felt like this was the only way for her to get her point across to me.  This student has made it pretty plain all year that she is not a fan of English.  For a long time, I thought it was me, and I tried to talk to her in the halls, say hello between classes, ask about her weekend, and basically find any way to connect with her that was not related to language arts.   Through all of this, I guess my hope was that our interactions would lead to her discovering a newfound love for the English language.  My, how idealistic I can be...

This one, little compound sentence reminded me of my purpose.  My job is not to somehow be so grammatically inspiring that my students just fall in love with the beauty of prepositional phrases.  My job is to help them understand that correctly written work gets you a farther in life.  You don't have to like it, or even appreciate it as an art, but you do have to attempt to learn it.  I've been dealing with what feels like a lot of apathy in my classes lately.  I'm sure it has something to do with the time of year.  It's just blah right now, and even I feel it.  But maybe that's the problem.  If I can't foster a great love for the art of writing, I can at least make it bearable for those who have no desire to enjoy it.  I want my students to all be "glad they have Ms. Herring," even if they will never like English.  Hear's to grinning and bearing it.  Happy Wednesday everyone!