Late For What?

Teaching doesn’t always fit into nice little pre-planned boxes. It gets messy. It falls outside the lines. Sometimes, it falls off schedule to the point where you feel like that White Rabbit in Alice in Wonderland. Late, late, late. Late for what? Sounds like a Drake song…Late for the next thing: lunch, specials, math, science, the next standard…late for all that. And then some.

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All that used to stress me out. Used to. These days, late can’t clock me. It’s not that we aren’t ever behind. It’s not that I don’t ever fall down rabbit holes. It’s just that I realized that much like life, teaching happens and it doesn’t always fill boxes or time slots. It isn’t always pretty from the outside. But it happens.

A few weeks ago, on a Friday, I had an elaborate “review” activity for reading planned that ended in a test. This review consisted of everyone turning into literal detectives (mustaches and all) and collaborating to complete reading activities at various crime scene stations around the room in order to collect pieces of a reading passage they would later use to take a test. It was quite engaging and valuable, yet totally time consuming in a way I just didn’t anticipate when I was creating this plan.

What I mean by that is that it literally took foreeeeeever. Reading and rereading the texts, completing the activities, redoing rush jobs, solving conflicts within the group…Forever ever. Tick tock. The mouse ran up, down, back up, and down the clock a million times and no one was done.

Minutes turned into mountains…and mountains into more minutes and before I knew it…it was time for lunch. I didn’t even know it was that late. We were late. Late.

Of course, no one was finished, but it was time to move on. We were taking late to a new level today.

It was time for lunch. Then time for the next subjects. Then time to go home and on Monday…time for new standards. This test should have been done. Twenty minutes ago. And no one even earned all the pieces of their test yet. Late. Late. Late.

Bright idea, engaging review and assessment (yeah, who knew…an assessment can be engaging)…tanked…because we were late.

BUT…late for what?

What good is the next thing if we can’t complete anything?

…of course, you can’t do anything on an empty stomach, so we hurried up and went to lunch. But then…confession time...we did….Reading. During. Math.

Good Golly, Miss Molly! Holy moly. Call the Education Police.

A teacher sin. A crime. An educational faux pas.

We did reading during math. We actually finished what we started.

And then we did math.

We were late…and that was okay.

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Teacher Guilt

Teacher guilt is real, ya’ll.

…and I am full of it. All of it.

This year has been tough at times. There are many kiddos in my class with elevated levels of need. Of course all kids need all sorts of things, but this year is different. These needs are different and they are multi-faceted.

I touched on those needs in this post during the second week of school. Since then, things have intensified.

I have one baby, Junior, who I now hold near and dear to my heart. He is kind, loving, empathetic, and bright. He also has a cumulative folder full of paperwork…incidents, reports, trauma. Things that just punch you in the gut…things I haven’t seen up until this point as a teacher. It is my job to be there for him, help him cope in a world that is tough to navigate, and teach him. Junior needs love, support, counseling, and more. Junior deserves all of it.

One of my other kids, Darwin, is clever, witty, charming, and mostly happy. Until he isn’t. He holds quite a bit of emotional baggage, has difficulty interacting with others, and doesn’t always exhibit self control. It is my job to make sure Darwin knows he is special, understand his value, and help him interact with others and stay in control. It is my job to teach him. Darwin deserves that.

I have a group (“Fab Five”) of kiddos who are reading on a beginning of the year kindergarten level. In the third grade. All of them try so hard. They all want to learn. They yearn to read the chapter books that are sitting on my shelf. They want to read anything. They jump up with a quickness whenever I call them to my table. One of these babies knew 5 letter names at the beginning of the year and zero sounds. Others knew a bit more, but not by much. These babies are expected to read pages upon pages of grade level text and answer over 50 questions about that text at the end of the year. They don’t know their letter sounds yet. In third grade. It is my job to teach them. They need one-on-one, small group, intervention, and more. My “Fab Five” deserve all of that.

An even larger group (“Savvy Seven”) of my kiddos are reading on a first grade reading level. In the third grade. Their reading deficits differ, they can’t just be lumped together by a letter of the reading level alphabet. It is my job to teach them. They need support, intervention, small group, one-on-one, and more. My “Savvy Seven” deserve all that.

They all deserve everything. All of them. The Twitter hashtag you see floating around, the inspirational teacher graphics that pop up…they are real and they full of truth. These little people are 8 and 9 and what happens this year is a key piece of their educational puzzle.

Somehow, third grade feels even more urgent with all “end all be all” statistics that float around. The burden is heavy. For the record, I put that burden on myself…no one has placed that one me. Yet, the statistics are real. I have a job to do. And that is where the guilt comes in.

I am not meeting every one of my kiddos’ needs every day. I have not been able to figure out how to be everything to everyone on the same day. I am trying, but this is the real world and you don’t actually get an “A” for effort and these kids deserve more.

In fact, lately, I feel like I get an “F”:

Earlier this week Junior was having a particularly tough day. It required me to leave my small group with the “Fab Five” to attend to Junior’s immediate needs. To make sure he stayed safe and secure. During this time, I was being exactly what he needed me to be. I didn’t “fix” anything, I couldn’t help in a long term way (that is a whole other layer of guilt), but I was at my best for him and he was able to make it through the day. In the moment, for him, I was fire.

While I was what Junior needed, I was not what anybody else needed. The majority of my energy went toward Junior. Darwin needed me too. He crawled under the table and made whistling noises.

“Fab Five” were left independent and truth be told, they shouldn’t have been. I failed them as well in that moment and they missed critical time building skills that they have not yet grasped.

I put off a story that Maggie (who doesn’t have any “high” needs) was trying to tell me from the start of the day when things began to unfold. I finally got back to her at dismissal time and found out that she was up late with her mom the night before, worried about her father who parties and drinks. This story is relayed into much more adult language by the way. She had to wait all day to tell me that. Because my attention was elsewhere. I still feel like I am about two feet tall over that one.

Of course, if it’s not an issue like Junior’s, it is one with Darwin. If it isn’t Darwin, it’s getting caught up with one of my groups and not moving along quick enough for someone else. If it isn’t that, it’s being forced to make tough calls about the amount of time spent in small group or one-on-one and sometimes even cutting all together in order to move on to another subject or group. This often means choosing between “Fav Five” or “Savvy Seven and it really feels like the teacher version of “Sophie’s Choice.”

Okay, so all that sounds dramatic. But it is guilt. And it is real.

With so many babies who need so many things (both “on” and “off” the radar), it is a tough balancing act. I often find myself questioning if I am enough.

This work is important. Our kids are important. They deserve everything. And I have reached a point where I am finding that I am less than everything.

Teacher guilt. It’s real.

“Wonder”

Near the end of last school year, I lost both of my grandmothers.

Some days I still feel like I’m processing and at times I get overwhelmed by brief moments of grief. It can be triggered by anything: seeing an angel food cake in the bakery, sprinkling cinnamon-sugar on my toddler’s rice, looking at the peeps still in the candy bowl that my grandmother gave to my son, seeing a Christmas gift idea in the store, and more. So much more.

These moments are fleeting, and afterward it feels like a bad daydream. Most days these thoughts don’t ever surface at school.

But today, they did.

I started to read Wonder near the beginning of the school year in order to talk about all kinds of good stuff… Celebrating kindness, embracing differences, growing and change, character development…that kind of good stuff. Kids love to listen and it just sets a great tone. It’s my second year in third grade and one of the few things I am choosing to continue to do.

Perhaps I should have thought more closely about that choice.

Today we got to the point in the story where the grandmother passed away.

Out of nowhere, I found myself on the brink of losing it. Completely and fully.

I rushed through that chapter, holding back my tears, and as it finished went straight into the regular ELA block. No questions. No discussion. Nothing today.

A few of my kids looked at me, a little perplexed.

I acknowledged them, said quickly, “that was hard for me to read” and moved on. They smiled and seemed to understand.

Tomorrow we will continue with the next chapter.

Spilled Milk

It’s easy to feel like I’m doing everything wrong as a teacher. Some days I leave feeling simply deflated. Those are the days when nothing seems to go right: flopping lessons, students not having those “lightbulb moments,” missing a “teachable moment,” losing patience like its my keys, regression of skills, wonky behavior, etcetera and etera..ra-ra-blah. It happens.

Today wasn’t one of those days.

It had every potential to be though.

Junior came down the hall and didn’t greet me with his usual hug. Red flag #1. He threw his breakfast tray on the ground. Red flag #2. He huffed and puffed and stomped and scuffed like a billy goat gruff. Red flag #3.

This isn’t baseball, though, so red flag #4 came when he busted his milk all over the floor after it bounced off the wall.

It’s barely 8am and here I am. In the same place, once again.

In between the huffing and puffing I found out that he was upset because he forgot it was picture day and he didn’t have on any fancy clothes. There was no consoling him, nothing to make it better, life just sucked for Junior in that moment and every time a kid walked by in a tie it made it worse. This was his reality and it was hard.

Time to channel my inner Twitter hashtag, put a smile on my face and celebrate something for the kids.

I didn’t think I could; I tend to rattle easier these days than I ever have before. That’s why I am calling what happened next a mini miracle…

Junior took off down the hall in a rage. But check this out…he came back. Back. Into. My. Room.

On his own.

He came back.

If this incident happened any other day in the previous 5 weeks, he would have had to go home…possibly suspended.

But today he came back into my room.

He didn’t want to talk about it. He didn’t want to participate in class. But here is here and that’s where he was. He was in my classroom.

I let him listen to Justin Bieber on his laptop and gave him opportunities to participate in class. He declined those opportunities until small group time. At that point, he put Bieber away, sat next to me, and did some work.

As far as the rest of the day, it wasn’t the best one ever by any means, but it was something to celebrate. #HashtagThat

Family

Life’s not a movie, and neither is teaching.

Even if I drive to work with “Gangsta’s Paradise” blasting in my CD player, I am not Michelle Pfeiffer and this isn’t “Dangerous Minds.” It takes more than a few candy bars and a leather jacket to do just about anything.

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While the challenges in my room can get very real, they aren’t movie real and no one needs to be saved.

But sometimes it feels like a movie you just want to turn off.

We are five weeks into the school year and my class still. doesn’t. feel. like. a. family. Not the kind I picture anyway.  And I have been flipping out about it.

We have moments, glimpses, and glimmers of warm fuzzies that make me think we are all on the same page.  Literally.  It will be whole group reading time and everyone will be reading along on the same page.  It is beautiful.

A moment in the day will come where everything clicks like a camera (quick, take a pic) and I will be thinking we have finally achieved something.  The things that those hardcore teacher movies with leather jackets and candy bars are made of: Winston will help David understand a math problem or Maria will tie Karli’s shoe (because even in third grade it is still tough for her).  We will get to the point where I think we may have finally achieved family status.  We will laugh and tell jokes and learn new things.  We will all be dancing at morning meeting together, we will be cheering each other on.  Peers will be reteaching peers or reading aloud to someone who can’t decode the words in the book they really want to read yet.

But then something unravels.  That black leather jacket is really pleather and it falls apart.

Out of nowhere, David will snatch Winston’s pencil and class stops because someone is huffing and puffing in the corner like the Wolf in the Three Little Pigs.  And that is on a good day.  On a bad day, someone else will literally run out of the room after heaving the entire cup of pencils across it. Words will be exchanged and like the straw house that the wolf blew down, we have to rebuild.

It seems like the mood in my room is a lot like a Drake song, things go zero to one hundred real quick.  Real quick. Candy bars don’t fix that. I am working on it.

Let me bring this back to what I said earlier about this class not feeling like a family to me…I said, not the kind I picture anyway.

But what is a family? What do I expect?  Is this expectation realistic?  Am I thinking of the rainbows and butterflies that happen around the midway point in all those teacher movies?

Are families in real life always conflict free, full of warm fuzzies and kumbaya?

I’m a huge Jay-Z and Beyonce fan, they have a beautiful family.  But remember that elevator incident? “Of course sometimes things go down when its a billion dollars on an elevator?” Time has passed and presumably a lot of hard work but they are just as strong as ever (maybe stronger).

Maybe, just maybe, we are already a family.  I just missed that small defining moment (like the previous class’s Caterpillar) because I was too busy being in my feelings about our elevator incidents.  The glimpses and glimmers are still there. We always rebuild.  Each day is a new day and we are sticking it out together.  Everyone comes back through that door the next day and we are learning from each and every incident that takes place.  There may not be a billion dollars on our elevator, but the potential is there in the future…and sometimes stuff just goes down.

So when I first stated that we were not a family yet, I was mistaken.  There is no need to flip out. I am going to grab a Snickers, put my leather jacket back on, and do what you do when stuff goes down…deal with it.  Because that is what families do.

 

Looking for Trouble…

I see my “old kids” every day. Some visit my room every morning before finding their way to their new teachers. Others make sure to see me at lunch or sneak a hug in the hallway. A few have even snuck by on occasion during a bathroom break. After three years together it is to be expected… and frankly it’s welcome. I still think of them often. I miss them. They were my first “Infinity” and I consider them “mine” forever. They truly will always have a piece of my heart.

Yet… “Trouble” is troubling me.

Over three years I was able to see bonds form that could very well be the foundation for lifelong friendship, you know the stuff movies are made of. One of those bonds formed with a group of three girls; Sandy, Dalia, and Molly. These girls were reserved, quiet, and shy. They came into first grade not knowing each other and barely spoke…to anyone.

Over time, they opened up not only to me but to each other. Something just clicked for them and by the time second grade came, they were BFFs. I started to see them together more often than not and would say, “here comes trouble” whenever I saw them coming. In my entire time knowing them I don’t think they ever did anything to get into trouble so the thought alone just cracked everybody up.

By third grade, they were inseperable and they took on the nickname of “The Troubles.” The other kids in the class referred to them as that. They wrote Trouble 1, Trouble 2, and Trouble 3 on their papers and projects. Of course they had other friends as well and they never excluded anyone, but ultimately they were The Troubles…being part of it was cool.

After third grade when I came to grips with the reality that I would not be looping for a fourth time, I told myself I would do what I could to ensure that The Troubles stayed together. I fulfilled that promise to myself when class lists were being made and pulled all the strings to make sure these three girls ended up on the same class list.

This past year when I saw Sandy and Dalia at Open House before the s hool year started, I felt all the warm fuzzies when they excitedly told me that The Troubles were still together. They looked relieved. They had bright eyes filled with optimism. The third Trouble, Molly, never did stop by that night. I thought it was strange. Molly went to all our Open Houses before. She was the first of the three to open up to me and I talked to her through some tough times in her life. I felt like we had an extra strong bond and I was sure she would be the type to always stop by.

She didn’t come by on the first day of school either. Or the second.

I believe in letting my kids determine what they need from me after they leave and the ball is in their court as far as our relationship goes…some need more others need less…but I knew Molly. I was certain she was going to be one of those “more” types. By the third day, I started to look for her…but she wasn’t there. Neither of the Troubles knows where she went, just that she moved.

…I’m bummed about it. I hope wherever she is that she found her group. I hope her teacher gets her. I hope she has people in all of her corners. I hope she somehow knows I am still in hers.

“Can’t just talk about it, gotta be about it.”

Its easy to “like” things on social media, retweet the heck out of the latest EDU celeb’s quote packaged in a graphic of the cutest kid you have ever seen, and use the trendy hashtags that capture the warm fuzzy sentiments you say you hold near and dear to your heart.

Relationships first, kids deserve it, all kids just need to be seen, students will remember your attitude more than your lesson, great teachers can look past____ and understand_____, smile, all kids need a champion, you gotta work harder to reach some kids, etc…all the etcetera. You can look at any EDU social media platform and find all kinds of things that you can shout “amen” to. I know I do.

But what about times when the struggle that was real just got more real?

What about days when one of your babies ignores your “good morning”and storms into your classroom, kicking the trashcan and slinging her bookbag across the room? Then once you approach to find out what is happening, she races out of the room and down the hallway, balls up in a corner and simply shuts all the way down.

Then the next day another kid cannot. Stop. Moving. And by the next day I mean every day, just with various levels of extreme. Traditional chairs, wobble chairs, balls, carpet…it doesn’t matter. Pair that with random animal sounds and an epic meltdown due to frustration over something seemingly trivial…and finally finishing up the week by running down the hall in a rage over a lost library book.

In those moments I am overwhelmed. Shook. Shaken. In those moments I think I am about to crawl out of my own skin. Can I just go home? Can everyone just leave me alone? I am not fine.

I cannot live in those moments. I cannot just hope these babies are absent the next day or yell “suspend him!” from the schooltop. I have to ensure that I don’t shut down myself amd I cannot throw my own fit.

All those things in the EDU world that I have amen’ed are things that are actually important…but you can’t just like, retweet, and talk about it, you have to be about it. Even when it’s not easy. Even in the struggle. Especially in the struggle.

That means that in these moments of meltdown I have to get out of my feelings. Change my attitude. It isn’t about how I want to crawl out of my skin, or how overwhelmed I am. It isn’t about me at all. See if I am in my feelings, imagine what a kid mid meltdown feels. It must be terrifying for her. Horrible for him.

I have to consistently work to teach coping skills. I have to spend more time building stronger relationships. I have to try things that are outside the box. I have to link these babies with resources. I have to develop more patience and increase my own personal coping skills . It’s not a “to do” list, it’s a shift in mindset and practice. It’s a work in progress.

My district closed tomorrow to allow everyone to take precautions and plan for Hurricane Florence. During this time, I am making soms plans and restructuring some things. Next week is a new week and I plan to “be about it.”