Dear New Teacher, WELCOME!

Dear New Teacher,

Welcome to the noblest of all professions, and like all noble journeys, the burden is great and oftentimes feels too heavy.  When I think back on the night before my first day of teaching and my first night of being a new parent, my thoughts were incredibly similar, “Who thought it was a good idea to leave me in charge of these little humans?!”  Like you, I knew that my new job was extremely important to help develop these precious beings, and I didn’t want to mess them up!

Please let me calm some of your fears. You will mess up. You will make mistakes. But you will also experience victories, you will inspire those little, or big, humans; and you will find your calling along the way.  

Don’t be afraid of those mistakes. They will guide your decisions and increase your wisdom as you keep growing. They will give you clarity when your students mess up, too.  We all deserve second [and tenth] chances.  Show your students how to make things right by your own example of a growth mindset! 

Your passion that steered you onto this path will give you the strength to take chances that others would never dream up!  Your passion, and possible youth (or youth in spirit), will be your greatest asset in this new world! There may be those along the way who tell you you can’t do it or why even try, but don’t listen to those voices. They need you to remind them it’s still possible. Do it!  Your students will never forget it!

Whether it’s your faith, your pump-you-up-playlist, a glass (or two) of wine, and/or a supportive group of family and friends, make sure you have them in place for times to celebrate your victories, or when you need to reflect on what went wrong.  Keep some Advil and Epsom salts handy.  The mental and physical exhaustion is real, and learning how to take care of yourself outside of work needs to be a priority to successfully finish.  

You’ve probably heard the saying “No man is an island” and it’s definitely true in our field; we, teachers need each other.  If you are blessed to be given a mentor teacher who will guide you through the first years, like I was, be vulnerable and listen to him or her. You’ll know their feedback is priceless when it serves to build you up and allow you to learn from challenges.  Ask questions, observe them teach, share your thoughts and concerns. If you don’t have that mentor in your life, look me up on Twitter @mjmcalli and I will introduce you to an Army of Educators who will help and inspire you.  I’ll be one of them, too.  

Classroom and school-wide community is important.  Please, please keep in mind that while parents may not appear perfect or make the decisions you’d make, almost all of the parents I’ve met love their children and would sacrifice their lives for them. In fact, they are the experts when it comes to their children, and to build community, we have to listen and support them to have it in return.  Keep that in mind during hard conversations that you need to make when talking with those incredibly important people.

Educate yourself on signs of abuse.  Make that call to save their lives, even through the confusion and guilt: It always matters.  Our young people look to us as a lifeline.  While creating a safe environment to learn, the trust our students place in our hands is immense. 

This journey of teaching is challenging, but it’s probably the most rewarding, too! Okay, I’m a bit biased, but you have the opportunity to speak into so many lives, it’s also quite humbling.  Your students will remember the songs you sang together, the jokes, the fun, and discipline including everything on the social emotional spectrum.

Welcome, New Teacher, and thank you for embarking on this journey with all of us!

Why Race Matters For This White Teacher

In 2004, I began my first year of teaching. I lived in a small, Texas town and the population of students I served were almost 99% white. I love those kids and have watched them grow into fantastic adults, some are even advocates for ideas I’m still learning and writing about today.

My fourth year of teaching, after marrying my husband, began while helping start up a new school in an area outside Dallas. The neighborhood around it was full of large, beautiful homes, but the children living in those homes would not be the students coming through our doors. We bused in more than 70% of our students and our student body was mostly Hispanic and African Americans. For the first few years until now, I only have a handful, if any, white students each year.

I’m not going to lie, teaching at a diverse campus was not anything I was prepared for, and it made me nervous to think about. Not only was I afraid that I might not be able to reach my new students, I was very fearful I would not be accepted in this new community.

Race Issues Exist

Race Issues on TEDx

I love this YouTube video as it shows us how honestly children are learning from us the differences of white and brown people.

I had some awkward run-ins with parents that first year. The majority spoke Spanish and apparently I looked like the white stepmother of one of my black, female students. Her mother did not like that at all. After this mother told me this at a parent conference, she also wanted to know if her daughter “acted white?”

Whether I handled the situations well or not, I don’t know, but we all survived and I loved my students and they loved me. The next few years would reveal that my students of color and their parents would support, challenge, and teach me how to be a better educator.

Coming to Terms With My Own Prejudice

I’m a white woman teaching in a school and district whose student population is not reflected in our teacher population. Like many schools across our nation, this is a problem. I didn’t know it was a problem until one of my black colleagues explained this to me. The conversation we had was very eye-opening and made me aware of why this is a problem and how students need the people in their lives to be representative of who they could find connections & commonalities. It wasn’t that I should quit because I am white, but acknowledging this as a relevant issue is important to help me connect with all people in my community, students, parents, and teachers, too!!

While I’m acknowledging my prejudices, I will apologize beforehand if it is offensive to you, I only offer it up as a reference and hope my truth allows others the ability to talk plainly as a way and means of more unity.  I believe knowing our own prejudices will help guide us in honest reflection and allow room in our minds and souls to replace these falsehoods with truth.

First of all, I did not believe I was prejudiced against brown or black people. I believed I was color blind, that we were all the same, and in this modern time we were all offered the same opportunities. I believed the only thing that separated us was that some of us chose to take on opportunities while others did not. White privilege could not exist because we have laws in place for that.  I was not to blame for any societal racism as I did not own slaves nor even exist before or during The Civil Rights Movement–which seemed to me a long-ago history. The Black Lives Matter movement made no sense to me!All lives matter and to say anything else was, in fact, racist. If these black people would just listen to the orders given by the police, we’d stop seeing these shootings and riots on the news every week!

Again, please note that my honesty above is not reflective of how I presently believe, and it is not meant to hurt, just to open dialogue and to be honest in my own wrong judgments and actions.  But I do understand that even my honesty is hard to read and may hurt the reader, and I want to apologize to you for this.

Have I lost you, Friend? Hang in there, I know acknowledging these prejudices are not easy to hear, but I’m not that person these days.

There are three main reasons I’m changed:

1. Ongoing conversations with my black friends, whom I completely respect. My friends Natalie and Derek especially come to my mind as they were so patient with me. They listened and answered and I listened to their stories and perspectives.  I have sought out conversations on social media and face to face with those willing to have an honest conversation.  I have always grown afterwards and thank all of my friends who do not shrink back for these conversations.

2. Reading and learning from people who love the Lord and lead by example. Benjamin Watson’s book completely obliterated my defenses and woke me up! His thoughtfulness and background made one, amazing story of why it’s important for we who profess to love Jesus Christ, to seek unity in His Name. He says it’s a “sin problem” more than a “skin problem.”  Reading his story allowed me to see life through the perspective of a person of color in our time instead of only through my own lenses.  I keep this book close for reminders.  I honestly look up to his family’s example in our time of life. If you do not have a black or brown friend to talk to about any of these issues, Watson’s book would be a great way to start if you are interested in the “whys” that seem so hard to relate/grasp on your own.

3. Loving Z and Keesha. I taught Z in the 5th grade, and I loved this silly, active boy fiercely. His mom raised him by herself and her example of being a mom has awed me from Day 1. She is not afraid to tackle tough issues, share truth, or even let the ignorant show their true colors. But as much as they mean to me, it was the fear of Z not coming home because someone might make quick judgments about him and hurt him that opened my eyes to a fraction of the fear moms have for their black and brown sons all over our country. God gave me a glimpse of this reality through Z and Keesha. It was triggered when she shared he was old enough to get his driving permit… all the news stories and sobbing mothers sharing their stories grabbed my heart instead of my defenses. Does that make sense?

By the way, I watched Z graduate this past month, and I’m so proud of him!

Like Kim Bearden’s meme above, and through her own life’s example, it’s the relationships we have with others, who are different than us, that will help us the most.

A colleague asked me why I was so obsessed with race reconciliation, and at the time, I could not articulate a good answer of what was going on inside of me. But God has been doing a work in me this whole time through the years, and it’s because as much as I love my students, He loves them so much more! So much, that He wants me to see them, understand them, and appreciate the beautiful people He designed and loves.  As so many in our society refuse to accept that racism is alive and well, this lie continues to hold back many of His beloved. He gave me the desire to seek unity and use the boldness He gave me to help others who want it, too.

Signs of Hope

Asking some of my students of color how I could improve my teaching for other students of color, one sweet young lady told me this was the first year she didn’t feel differently than others.  She felt like she could be herself for the first time in her educational history.  This inspires me to keep growing in this area, but it also hurts my heart that it took so long for her to feel accepted in our educational system.

Both of my school-aged children, who attend the school I teach at, had these strong women as teachers. I love that my own children love their teachers, who are also Women of Color! And our friends are all different shades of melanin, too! This is different than my own childhood. The friendships we have, now, gives me hope for all of our roles in unity!  My children do not see different shades of melanin as a barrier but as something they accept as part of their friends.  I would not be surprised if they grew up to date or marry someone of a different color, nor would I discourage it.

I also happened on this thread this past weekend! I loved reading it in its entirety and I loved that Mr. Reed was willing to discuss it in such a truthful & bold way. So many educators joined in!  This gives me hope that we can discuss this in peace and safety allowing more unity to take over.  Our kids deserve this! Our society needs this!

If you are on Twitter, please follow him, Benjamin Watson, and Kim Bearden!

The last thing that gives me hope that I’m truly a part of the solution is supporting our local chapter of Black Educators.

Joining this incredible group filled with these educators will ensure I’m learning and using best practices to help teach all of my students. I am especially grateful to have formed a friendship with the group’s president, Statia Paschel. She has embraced me and encouraged me, and I’ve already learned more about leadership from her example!

My Goal in this Post

The goal of my writing this post is to open the doors for more real talk, honest dialogue, and unity to grow where there has been division in the past.  I know that if someone as blind as I was can see the light, there has to be hope for everyone!

Please let me know your thoughts.  Please share your ideas.  Please correct me if I have made an oversight or am still in error.  I welcome your feedback.

In closing, there are so many resources out there for all of us who desire more unity.  But if you know me, you know I love the online education tool of Flocabulary . My students loved one of their newest songs Perspectives on Race . I think the reason why I am on the right track is that I do not try to hide the fact of division but offer times of celebration and mourning of where our country is in this day and age.  I allow and welcome conversation about it all in my classroom.

Thank you you so much for reading.

Math Mindset

Back in my college days, I loved learning about emergent literacy, or the way kids naturally learn reading skills by watching the most important adults in their lives (parents/older siblings) enjoy reading! Now, as a parent myself, who once struggled in math, I see the same can be true for a math mindset. Watching my own children, my most favorite students, naturally engage with math, in a FUN way, has given me ideas to use in my classroom this next fall!

Natural Exploration

It was the weekend and my son was showing math patterns to his sister, a future kindergartener. He was helping her see patterns of ten on a 100s chart! I promise I just happened to hear them and start recording!

As a fifth grade teacher, my students who need the most intervention in math do not naturally see these patterns. By the time they reach my class, this is a skill that will help them regroup, do long division, and multi-digit multiplication. But the key is that they must find the pattern themselves so it clicks and becomes part of their schema. In our broken education system, this kind of natural learning, or play, is often rushed or seen as non-productive. However, I believe often times, our students miss these math skills because we must follow a curriculum designed to cover all our state-mandated skills in 7 months instead of a curriculum that fits the needs of all learners. So math play and exploration is replaced by flat worksheets that can frequently overwhelm a struggling math learner, and bore the daylights out of any learner!

Fraction Familiarity

My oldest daughter, Madi, loves to bake. This morning I spent time showing her how to bake some breakfast muffins! I need her to get confident in this area so I can sleep in more this summer and on the weekends! Haha!

We’ve done this together many times, so I tried to let go and allow her to follow the instructions and guide her when she asked for help.

I also used this time to review kitchen safety!

Before mixing up the ingredients she asked me about how to say “3/4” because she had forgotten. We haven’t been out of school for three full weeks yet! I was glad to reinforce this with her!

Another moment later, she realized she had gotten “tsp” and “tbsp” mixed up–and this could taste awful!

I asked her how I was doing as her teacher, and she said, “Better, you haven’t yelled at me!” I say this to you because as we’ve done this over the course of her life, it’s been hard for me to truly let go and let her learn through her mistakes. But if I let my students at school learn this way, I’ve got to be better with my own kiddos, too. Especially with them!

Emotional Math Learning

We adults use math everyday and it helps us enjoy our lives more. Madi enjoyed the process of making muffins so much, she wanted to set the table for her siblings in a special way. We had so much fun and bonded emotionally that I realized how much social emotional learning was taking place.

My Madi and my other children are teaching me that the best way to teach math is to let them lead, explore, and keep it meaningful. Isn’t that how we all learn?

By the way, this math lesson was delicious!

The Fire Within

This time last year I was headed off to the ISTE conference in San Antonio. It was so exciting! I was about halfway through my last pregnancy, but I felt great! The school year had ended on a high note, and everything felt bright.

My Snapchat and Facebook Memories are bittersweet as I look on at my face and body not yet stretched from a fifth pregnancy and I remember feeling like I had it all. And I did. And I do.

BUT…this past school year had many ups and downs, both professionally and personally, that have left me drained and tired. I don’t feel on top of the world. I received the scores from our state tests and I don’t feel like a hero. Many of my PLN are now at ISTE in Chicago, but I couldn’t even imagine being away from my children, especially my six month old, at this point in time. How can I feel such a 180 from a year ago?

Because life never stops. Last year’s victories and accomplishments belong to another time. Right now, I seek solace, calm, and peace. I seek time spent with my family. I seek support after healthy reflective thinking. This summer break, I seek rest. Oh yeah, and love….Beautiful, restorative love!

You may be an educator feeling the weight of the past year, like me. And it’s to you I write as well as to remind myself:

1. Some years are mountaintops & others are not.

2. Growth truly is your measuring stick, not test scores, but growth, believe it even when the paperwork doesn’t look so pretty.

3. Stop comparing yourself to you. You are an ever-changing-growing-human. Remember you poured your heart into every human in your path, there’s nothing to regret.

4. You are enough. God created you for the purpose you are fulfilling. It’s not easy, but keep moving, growing, and healing. He loves you, you know.

I’m telling this to myself. I’m preaching to the woman who needs to take time for self-care, who needs to sleep in a few mornings and stay in her pjs. I’m telling me to remember I’m not alone. YOU are not alone.

I started & finished The Fire Within by Mandy Froehlich today. I only put it down to care for my kiddos, but I hated to put it down for a second. Reading the stories of how other educators have faced adversity and grown from their experiences released a flood. Reading how people I look up to have made mistakes and grown from them showed me I’m not alone. All the junk pent up inside came flooding out and I feel like I can do this again. You know, teach some more this coming fall 😉.

Lessons from defeat that have ignited a passion for learning….

It’s not over for me. It’s not over for you. There’s a fire inside of us that may look more like a flicker, but that’s more than enough to start a blaze!

After reading the stories from Mandy and all the contributors, I feel so inspired…to take care of myself and those I love. We’ve got so much to offer those around us, and the people we love have so much power to breathe new life, or fan the flame, into our lives.

I’m also a contributor in this incredible book, and it felt good to be reminded that I’ve faced challenging seasons before & I’ll face them and grow from them, again.

What will you do this summer? I’d love to know!

If you are interested in learning or reading how other educators are facing adversity from mental health issues, trauma, and using it as a means of growth and empowerment, please check this book out!

https://www.amazon.com/Fire-Within-Lessons-ignited-learning/dp/1732248710

End of the Year Prayer

I came into work this Saturday, but all I want to do is be home with my family.  The deadlines, due dates, and all I am struggling with are keeping me from the work I am here for.  I am 100% sure I am not alone.  I’m about to leave and go home to be with my family because they are who I wake up for more than anything else in this world.  My faith in God and His Son, my Savior, is who I cling to when I can’t.  This prayer came to my mind and if it helps you through the end of the year, I invite you to pray it from your heart, also.

Heavenly Father,

You know exactly every struggle I face in my personal and professional life.  I thank You for Your intimate knowledge of everything I face, both good and bad.  I thank You for all the people and things in my life that I often take for granted, but who are the reasons I wake up everyday to do what You have called me to do.  

Humbly, I ask You to give the me strength to find a way, moment by moment, hour by hour, and day by day to be the person You have created me to be.  Humbly, I ask You to help me guide my children, students, and be the partner I need to be. I cannot face the tasks ahead without Your wisdom and guidance.  Above all, help me be the example of love in this world that You model through Your Word and example. Help me finish strong, Lord!

 I pray this in Your Name, Jesus, because You can when I can’t.  Amen.

 

I pray for you to find peace as I know we can count on the Only One who can offer it to use through any and all challenges we face in this life.  May God bless and keep you, and may we bless and keep each other lifted up, too.

Someone To Count On When the Days Are Being Counted

Holy smokes, just like that, it’s the end of the year!  The first day of school flashes before my eyes, I was pregnant, had my son, came back, and now it’s the end of the year…just like that (said more slowly while exhaling).  Seems like Career Day was just two days ago. I remember posing with my school-aged children on the first day… it truly is hard for me to wrap my mind around this end of the year.

On Twitter Land, I see countdowns until the last day of school (I’ve even wished for that last day), I’ve seen countdowns for the first day of the NEXT YEAR (won’t even touch that one), and I suppose that too much counting either way will keep me from being present in the here and the right now.

Yesterday, I left school and I was ready to say goodbye to my students.  I was sleep-deprived, malnourished, and just, plain tired. Probably a little old in there, too. Old.  I had some hard conversations with students and parents, and I left school yesterday feeling old. Frustrated. Prayerful. Mindful. All of those things. Heavy.  

Thankfully, last night, errr, this morning, I was only woken up once from the baby and was able to get some more sleep than has been my usual of late. And well, today I made a difference.  I prayed the entire way to school, which is only a two mile commute, but I prayed that I would have God’s wisdom, that I could make headway. I prayed for eyes to be opened, and especially mine if there was something I wasn’t seeing.  I can tell you, now, those prayers weren’t in vain.

We started today with a meeting.  Some people in the South like to call it a “come to Jesus meeting” and well, we didn’t pray and I didn’t perform any miracles, but I admitted to my twenty plus students how sad it made me feel that after teaching kindness for a whole year, we were still saying awful things to one another.  I asked them to please be more aware of what they said and how they were treating each other. I asked them to talk about what was bothering them and if they weren’t okay with telling the whole group, to write it down for me so we could work on it.

Three minutes later, I had my first customer.  Long-held resentment towards another student.  We talked it through and student was ready to share with other student.  They talked, I mediated, some forgiveness happened and two lighter students were in my classroom.  Then there was the quiet girl with sad eyes. According to her, there was “nothing” wrong, but I had to persist.  I didn’t really know how I was going to persist, but I just did. I used stuffed animals as puppets, waited, listened, and two more students were lighter through mediation.  But wait, something still is wrong with the quiet girl. She’s looking at me with anger in her eyes and I can’t fathom what I did. Turns out she hates school? Hmmm……more persistence, more listening, and a letter she writes to a family member explaining why she’s so angry.  She didn’t want me to read it so I didn’t. She didn’t want me to call her mom, so I didn’t. We’ll talk tomorrow, but quiet girl, she dealt with some demons today and left school feeling lighter.

And there’s more of course. One belligerent student demanded why we were still learning! They had taken their tests, so why?!  I thought about writing him up for the ugly way he was talking to me, but then I decided to just listen to the frustration. Student didn’t think making board games about American History was much fun, but came up with another assignment that inspired him that he was willing to share with rest of class. After making an agreement and setting up expectations, he left a little bit lighter today, too.

One student was full of nervous energy.  She was about to sing the song she had written to the entire grade level for the talent show tryouts.  I listened to her and was amazed and a bit teary-eyed. She asked me if she sang well, “Well?,” I asked, “You sound beautiful.” She said that was all she needed to give her the bit of confidence she needed to perform.

And I made a difference today. I’m still praying for my quiet one, praying she gets the guts to read her letter out loud and that it’s received with open arms because I know this could make or break trust from here on out, so I’m praying she is seen by the one she loves most. Praying she is heard.

I’m going to keep on praying I hear them, too.  It’s easy to plan a year around kindness, but finding the fruit is a challenge.  We don’t live in a kind world. It’s all sorts of messy. As most of the year is behind us with just a smattering of days left, these are my thoughts.  It’s kindness to see the eyes filled with pain and refusing to go further until it is acknowledged. It’s kindness to see through the frustrated child and make a plan that fits their mold instead of the other way around.  It’s kindness to keep giving new chances for success and help students deal with the hurts they just don’t know how to let go of on their own. It’s kindness to listen- to stop and listen, and give a genuine compliment to a student looking for support.

My prayers were answered.  It was my eyes that were opened today.

So…I’m not counting down anymore.  For the few days left that I have with these precious young people, I’m going to keep being someone they can count on.

UnSung Hero: Our Music Teacher

For years I’ve known my friend, Carrie.  We were part of a staff that opened our school ten years ago.  She was the first person, besides our boss, that I met, and I greatly admire her.  She is our elementary school music teacher. She offers an Honor Choir for our fourth and fifth graders, and she puts on multiple grade level performances throughout the year.  She is a teacher of high standards, as her Honor Choir receives highest ranks every spring, and even when she is tired, she never stops giving her best to our school community.  To say I admire her is an understatement. I think she is an amazing teacher, colleague, friend, and person!

Carrie always has a laugh and smile. She smiles even when life is painful.  And that smile isn’t phony. She knows pain, and as a breast cancer survivor, she knows perseverance and grit. As a wife and mother herself, she knows what is truly important in life.  She knows how to find the joy, even when it’s hiding in a corner. She counts the good even when life throws her curves anyone would rather take a pass on….

Carrie is super creative.  I’ve watched her hang decorations by herself from a tall ladder to the top of our stage.  She uses her minutes wisely and gets things done. When we attend our children or student performances, we might not realize there was a lone teacher doing work behind the scenes to make it perfect.  I don’t know if I could do all of that multiple times a year! She really amazes me!

Carrie is a supportive teammate.  She pulls her weight, more than her fair share, and she will help you carry yours if you need a hand.  She’s not afraid to get her hands dirty, and her actions follow her convictions. She believes in loving her neighbor, caring for others, and lifting up the downtrodden.  Every year around Thanksgiving, her Honor Choir has a service learning project of gathering canned food items to help a local pantry! This has become an annual tradition and helps all of us in our school community to give back.  The Honor Choir also puts on a holiday show for the elderly in nursing homes every winter. What a legacy she is creating!

Carrie uses music as a way to help our students become advocates.  One incredible way she does this is by honoring our Veterans every November.  Every year, she turns one of our walls into a Hall of Fame for the Veterans in our lives.  She carefully posts the pictures given to her and makes sure the ranks and duties are listed.  She invites Vets to come and be honored in the evening performance, and this is a real way she is teaching our students to value those who have sacrificed their lives for ours. There are always tears of gratitude flowing during her Veterans Day program.  

Carrie is a phenomenal music teacher.  She has given our students opportunities they might not otherwise have, like visiting nursing homes and giving our elderly a reason to smile and remember that people in their community still care for them.  She brings joy to our campus with the annual talent show. She teaches students to take pride in their performances as they compete every year against other schools. She has set standards that must be met to participate in Honor Choir, like having good citizenship and making sure to come to every practice. She does all this while juggling life as a wife and mom who also dedicates her life to serving her family. She is an important piece of our school community, and she is so truly serving a purpose in our students’ lives. She lifts up our school in the way she cares for her students and peers.  

Carrie, thank you for all you do!  You make our school a better place for students, and if you have ever felt unnoticed, I hope you will remember that we see all the love and dedication you pour into everyone around you.    

I love my crazy life!

When I was thinking about what I was going to write about tonight, there wasn’t anything inspirational that came to mind. I worked a long day, came home to five children, did all that adulting, and I’m just tired.  I started thinking about some backup ideas I’ve already written rough drafts for…the new cool things we’re doing in our classroom…my teacher evaluation meeting tomorrow and what I’ll contribute…there’s plenty of things on my mind, but there’s just one thing that keeps going on repeat:  I love my crazy life.

How did this even happen??? Two school years ago, I was only working because we were so broke!  I was hoping we’d be able to get out of the debt hole, and then I could go back to being a stay at home mom and homeschool.  Six years ago, when I resigned my teaching position, it was for good! So going back because of dire straits wasn’t the most encouraging welcome back, if you know what I mean?

We’ve heard the saying, “If you look for the negative, you’ll find it.” That’s so true. The reverse is also true.  I’ve often wondered if I’d still be working if my husband hadn’t been laid off two years ago and we had zero debt? Last year, I would have said, “NO!”  But crazily enough, after having my fifth child and even missing him everyday when I leave for work, I know one hundred percent I am exactly where God has me to be.

Some of the challenges I’ve had this year were personal in a way I’ve never experienced. I lost my Dad a month after having my son, Whit.  I knew it was coming, but death is death, he may be in Heaven, but here on earth, I miss him. I hate that he never got to hold my sweet baby.  Another challenge was leaving my precious baby to go back to work. I knew in my soul I could never quit mid-year on those innocent lives that were truly waiting for my return, but how could I live this new life?  I had gone back to work with my first child, but I had no balance and I never want my own children and husband to feel like I’m not fully committed to them. Teacher life is truly unbalanced. There were also professional challenges I’ve faced that I hadn’t ever dreamed I’d go through, before and after maternity leave.  So how can I truly love this crazy, unbalanced life?

Here are some things that are helping me:

  1. Spending more time in prayer every morning.  I miss sometimes, but I want to meditate on Scripture and pray before everyone else wakes up. Sometimes even after prayer, the hectic morning looks like me screaming at my children or husband to hurry up and all yelled with a few choice words. But I always pray that God will redeem those times, and through the power of forgiveness coupled with humility, they are turned around.
  2. Looking for the good in everything:  in people, in lessons, in my students, and in my challenges. My faith tells me that everything I experience can build me up if I walk in faith that God has every detail already worked out.  I cling to this instead of my old friend, Worry.  
  3. Finding ways to make life more exciting!  In the month I’ve been back work, my classroom was transformed into a campground, a baseball diamond, and a party for the stars!  (I’m still nursing my infant son, so none of this would have happened without my husband helping me and my faithful family and friends.)  I’m hoping my students are just as excited and may even wonder what their crazy teacher is up to today!
  4. I thoroughly enjoy teaching children.  It’s exhausting. It’s challenging. But it’s also  profound, enlightening, and so fulfilling. I’ve seen my 24 students grow, GROW!!! Regardless of being gone for two and a half months, my students are still growing, and I’m still learning about them and loving them more everyday.  
  5. And the biggest reason I love my crazy life is because I love my family with every breath I have.  I am privileged to serve them. I am privileged to wake up every new day with these beautiful beings.  My husband supports me even when I exasperate him. My kids continuously forgive me when my patience wears thin.  We go together like macncheese. Seven of us. We’re a big bunch. We’re learning about this life and all it’s ups and downs together.  I want my children to grow up knowing that working hard is something to be proud of, and I want my husband to have a partner who supports him 100% in return.  

I know I’m fulfilling God’s path for my life because it’s hard.  It’s so challenging, it gets me up out of bed every morning. How am I going to be a better mom? A better wife? A better teacher? I no longer have thoughts about my Plan B or resenting my present condition of being a working mom. In fact, I respect working moms and stay at home moms in many more, new ways because I know what it’s like to be both!  Regardless of life events, I want to be better in every role I have been blessed to hold. I want to please the Savior of Whom I truly serve above anyone and anything else, Who makes all this possible under the sun.

Life isn’t perfect, our washing machine is broken, and I’m not getting much sleep these days…but don’t you know, I’m living on the mountain top!

When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire,you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. Isaiah 43:2 NIV

Wake UP With a Positive Attitude!

It’s not that my young friend, Dan Mason, coined this phrase himself.  I’m sure he’s heard it from someone, possibly a Zig Ziglar quote, like many of us have, but…and I mean a BIG BUT, when he said it, it grabbed our attention.  When I say “our” I mean, my students and myself.  Let me back up and tell you the story….

A couple of weeks ago, I texted my Sparklett’s water guy, I like to call him “Dan the Water Man” and asked him if he would come and speak to my class.  See, he’s been delivering water to me for over a year and when my students see him, all they see is coolness. I asked him if he’d come and speak, maybe give a treat, and help be part of the “All STAAR Treatment” to help pump up my students for their first round of state testing.  He was quick to commit and very enthusiastic!  When I told my students he was coming, they were just as excited.

When Dan came, I could tell he was nervous and probably hadn’t spoken to many classes of fifth graders.  He gave them some goodies and then he delivered a quick but meaningful message.  He shared with them that everyday he wakes up with a positive attitude.  He talked about how there were many people in his life growing up who didn’t think he’d do much with his life, called him out because he was short, and so on, but none of that mattered to him.  He always knew that he was going to do something with his life.  He shared that the route he is taking may not look like what others consider the path of success i.e. he didn’t get his degree, first, but that he is working hard, proud of his work, and he’s actually about to start up his own company with the knowledge he’s learned along the way.  When he was telling us his story, we were all ears. This group of fifth graders were NOT talking over him!  And it didn’t hurt that he also told them to listen to me, the teacher that will help them get to where they’re going!  When he finished, he promised to come back and check in on them and their progress.

There’s so much about this that I love.  I love how Dan is a walking illustration of his words.  He is a positive, young, and successful man.  He may not be an experienced speaker, yet, but when I was listening to him, I could see that he definitely will go on to do greater things, all while giving back to his community, too.  I don’t know if my students saw all of this, but I do know they felt his sincerity.  His positive attitude was contagious.  At the end of the day, one of my student’s asked, “Is it weird that I’m actually excited about tomorrow?!”  And I asked if there were others who felt like her, and half the class raised their hands.  Excited for state testing?!  Wow!  And when they came in this morning, I can tell you, that many of them were excited.

So thank you, Dan the Water Man, even though you are moving on to greater things and won’t be my “water guy” for much longer.  You have made an impression on all of us, and I look forward to seeing how you will give of yourself to our community as you climb the ladder of success.  I believe that you will see your dreams to fruition, and I predict you will go even further in life than you dream of now!

Teachers, parents, and anyone who is reading this, when we partner with people in our community who sincerely care about our students, it’s a perfect recipe for social emotional learning, don’t you think?  Dan told his story about turning negative feedback around with the confidence he’s always had in himself.  We need more of this!  This whole event taught me that I need to be doing more of this! Every time I’ve asked someone to come and speak to my kids, it’s been a wonderful experience, so why am I not making more time for it?  Why am I not inviting more people?  I have decided that this is something I will make a priority as a real way of showing our kids the growth mindset and the reality of success through perseverance.

So tomorrow is another exhausting day of state testing, but I am going to be like Dan, and wake up with a positive attitude!  Won’t you join me?

The Cost of Encouragement

As the Easter holiday has passed, my heart is full, and I’m amazed how my faith in God has kept me going in a time that is truly very rigorous.  My son was born this past December, my fifth child, and the joy he brings to my life is what gave me hope after losing my Dad a month later. Dealing with these changes in my life, caring for my family, and then returning to my full-time teaching position has made life very hectic!  But it’s a good life and I love it. The encouragement, support, and empathy I have received, from close friends and colleagues, has proved to be invaluable as my family and I put a new life routine into practice.

It all has me wondering in this fast-paced life, how often do we encourage each other?There are times I walk the halls of my school, and I try repeatedly to say, “Hi” to my passing colleague, only to be ignored.  I wonder if they are consumed in their thoughts or if they don’t like me? I brush it off, but it worries me. We have too much at stake to go through our day as teachers, stakeholders, and ignore one another.  You’d think that looking up and saying hello to someone passing by is basic etiquette, but maybe we are so consumed inside our own stressed out brains, we forget to see who is right in front of us?

One of the first books I read after going full time in the classroom again, in the fall of 2015, was  Kim Bearden’s book, Crash Course: The Life Lessons My Students Taught Me, and it has so much wisdom I’ve taken to heart! Chapter Nine, titled “Generosity” is one of my favorites.  The course description says, In this course, you will learn how lifting others will help you lift yourself. This chapter is about how some of the service learning projects her students have done have taught them how serving others can pull them out of their own despair in life.  She recounts how their school cheers for each other with genuine love and enthusiasm. The last line of this chapter, the one that has stuck in my head for almost three years now, reads, The more we elevate one another, the stronger we all become.  She also autographed my book, with the words that I matter.  She may write this in all her fans’ books, but it still meant something to me because I saw love radiating from her throughout the days I spent at her school, The Ron Clark Academy (RCA).

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Meeting Kim Bearden in December 2015, at RCA, really inspired me!

Lifting each other up and telling each other we matter is so relevant in our education system today.  Just look at the headlines of the states with teachers, schools, and parents protesting to their state governments that they want better for their students and families.  They deserve to have a salary that can support a family, and the students they teach deserve to have everything from new textbooks to enough chairs for a whole class! There is such a teacher shortage in these states, such as Oklahoma, because teachers can’t support themselves or their families on inequitable pay, so they leave and teach in other states! It’s been great to see my teacher friends and mom friends support these educators demanding more, even while politicians, elected officials, deride them as tantrum throwers.  We must encourage these brave educators because we are in this together. Their victories are our victories, and their losses will affect us all in powerful ways.

So when a teacher in your school receives an award, congratulate her.  Lift her up! Maybe you are more qualified and there is a bit of resentment because you have gone unrecognized (this is a natural human feeling), but the more positive words we share with one another, the more we lift ourselves out of these pity party ruts!  Your day will come when someone elevates you for the unique abilities you have, too! I’ve been around professionals who are afraid if they congratulate another coworker, it’s like admitting they aren’t as good as that person. Don’t give into that! Lift your peer up!  It might be their party right now, but joining in their celebration will lift your spirits too. You will be part of their victory. Giving into resentment will not help you or anyone else around you, especially your students and children who look up to you.

We are living in a time when we need to be lifting each other up, celebrating each other’s’ gifts, awards, and even joining in our teacher friends’ fight for equitable pay! If you need a good place to start, think of a person who has really impacted your life and reach out to them–today!  That person probably really needs some encouragement right about now. I bet after your phone call or meeting, you’ll feel even lighter, too. I ENCOURAGE you to do it NOW. Speaking life to someone doesn’t cost you a dime, but that doesn’t mean it’s cheap…it’s priceless.