Back to School

The first few days of school have been a whirlwind. The first day I showed up to work with one earring in. I’d simply forgotten the other. The second day I got called twice over the intercom for not turning in my attendance on time. The third day, today, I read my watch wrong and released three freshmen boys to go to their football game at two instead of three. I mean, the big hand was on the twelve, give me a break. Thankfully it’s the first week and they’re still nice so they came back. Something is wrong in our cafeteria kitchen, so they’re feeding the 2300 students during one (yes, ONE) lunch Dominoes pizza from across the street. There’s flash flooding and also our classrooms are 64 degrees. That is the actual number on the thermometer in the classroom. Oh, and the construction workers took longer than expected so there’s only half of the normal spaces available in the faculty parking lot. So, y’know, typical first week.

The good news is I’d laminated most of the things on my wall, giving off the *illusion* of order and finality. Of course, teaching is the opposite of that – you’ve got to just embrace the chaos and be flexible at all times. The key to teaching is to make the clutter work for you. More on that later.

As the new sweet little freshmen baby angels trickled in, giving me their wide-eyed attention (that doesn’t last long) while I rambled on about books and made jokes to lighten the mood that they were too nervous to laugh at.

After a few hours back in the trenches, fighting my way through the giant high schooler stampede to get to the bathroom, I had to smile. All the familiar faces (kids are so much nicer when you’re no longer their teacher), blank composition books, and teacher friends made me remember how much I do love my job (usually), and the stress dissipated.

Day two, I’d met half of my crew. Some of the nerves came back that morning, but by the end of the day I’d met all of my kiddos and I was alright. I feel much more reassured. I’m lucky to be in a great environment. That helped. But kids saying silly things also helped:


Um, so I would recommend my summer reading book to adults because it has adultery in it.
can you tell me what ‘adultery’ is?
Adult…stuff?
So, Student A would recommend The Handmaid’s Tale to adults because of the adult…ery.

Student B, a 6’5″, 100-lb string bean, responded to me telling the class about my cat, Noodles.
Miss, I have a cat named Major Waffles! And there’s this cat in our neighborhood who looks like Major Waffles, so we call him Sergeant Pancakes. I’ll bring you some pictures.
Major WAFFLES. Dead.

Student C, when asked where he’d go if he could go anywhere in the world:
I’d go to New York City and punch Donald Trump in the mouth. 
Fair enough.

Student D, a sweet boy who I had last year and worked his butt off all the time, stopped by after school to talk to me. He didn’t quite pass his STAAR test, but he did much better than expected, especially on the writing portion. I told him he was close and that he should be proud.
Thanks, Miss. It’s because you taught me so good.
I mean, that is very incorrect, but also I cried a little.


Dear God, grant me the serenity to accept the grades I cannot change [because they never turned in their homework] and the courage to face the campus-wide emails each day. AMEN. 

Most.

Over the past few days I’ve been back at school for in-service, eagerly awaiting the arrival of a fresh crop of bright-eyed angels just waiting to call me magnificently crude phrases and blame me for their ever-downward-spiraling GPA.

Okay, that’s a little cynical. Those kids are definitely the exception rather than the rule, and I do love my little weirdos. It’s just that, all week, we’ve been shown countless videos and articles that are written/produced/*heavily edited* by people who, sometimes, have never even been a teacher. “Well, in theory…” Yeah, we all know how well that works for real life. The reality is it’s hard to integrate technology when half of the computers are broken. It’s impossible to have 30-minute conferences with each student in a roomful of 33 kids in a 90-minute span. And those beautiful groups with kids sharing and smiling and learning neglect to mention the kids who struggle with confidence – who can’t bring their eyes to meet those of their peers. The cameras avoid the child with his head down on the desk, blatantly telling you that he’d rather be in summer school anyway because at least his friends are there. Just like the kids’ selfies (taken while you’re writing on the board…or just while you’re directly in front of them), these ideal classrooms are filtered, glossed over to look shiny and smooth. It is a frustrating part of the job, this outsider idealism of a perfect classroom, and it simply isn’t real.

Here’s what is real: colleagues who joke and say the same comments about these superficial settings to which we’re exposed. We blow off steam by role-playing those obnoxious students, ones who ask ridiculous questions and ones who simply do nothing at all. The indifference can be comical to emulate for a moment, but what’s real is the love that these other human beings have for all their students – even the disrespectful, cheating, apathetic ones. Especially those. The videos we watch should be of other teachers dealing with these real life scenarios. Here’s what I never learned in my education courses: I never saw videos of teachers holding their ground against a student’s – or worse, a parent’s – abrasive, abusive comments. I never saw a principal quietly pull out a box off tissues when a teacher broke down in tears from pressure. I never knew the indescribably immense necessity of supportive coworkers. I have learned an infinite amount more about how to effectively interact with students from watching the brilliant people I work with than I learned from thousands of textbook pages. A group who can empathize with you when you find out a student attempted suicide and wrote about it in her last essay; a group who will work together to cover your classes when you have an emergency and are out of sick days; a group who reminds you that neither you nor your students’ worth are measured by test scores – those kids smiled, connected, and had a place to feel safe, and that is worth everything. I would not have survived these last three years without the constant hands on my shoulders and gentle prompts to go home after long days, to take a breath, to remember that I’m doing just fine.

Here’s what else is real: the kids. There are some kids who are assholes. There are no other words for it. Some will grow out of that, some will not. Some have more reasons for that kind of behavior than others. But most. Most students will grow to love you, and that, too, is worth everything. You will leave many lessons unfinished, units will spill over their allotted time, and you won’t cover every single standard. Events will pop up that cut into class time, subs will lose class sets of quizzes, and your room will very rarely look like one of those theoretical videos. But you won’t remember that (or at least you shouldn’t dwell). The kids definitely won’t. They will forget most of the grammar lessons, they will forget who killed Mercutio (if they ever even knew in the first place), and they probably will not become award-winning authors. But many will come back to you when they get their driver’s license, honking at you excitedly from a car that might be newer than your own. Years will go by and some of those little boys will come back six feet tall, stooping down to hug you and apologize for being so annoying when they were freshmen. Because they were SO annoying. Most will be overly dramatic, but, if you take the time, they’ll remember you making them feel like they matter. Most will recognize how hard you’re trying, even when no one reacts in class. Most stand up for you against problem students, telling them that you you don’t deserve to be spoken to that way. Sometimes they’ll call those other students out, saying [inappropriate] things that you only wish you could say to those kids. Most of them won’t give 100% every day, but sometimes they humor you. Classes develop inside jokes and you watch friendships blossom. If you work at it, most will feel welcome and comfortable talking about things they wouldn’t otherwise. You will laugh every single day, and most kids will smile alongside you.

These are the lessons we sometimes forget when preparing for the new semester, but they are the things that bring us back year after year. These are the things that are real.

T’each Her Own

Here I sit on the eve of the first day of school [for teachers]: professional development week. I should be in bed already, but of course that would make far too much sense. Plus, the Olympics are on. Am I supposed to just go to bed before 2AM and not support my country from my couch? I don’t think so. #patriot

Perhaps you wondered growing up how your teachers felt about the impending school year. Allow me to give you a sneak peek into my own mind with the return to school looming ominously:

  1. I’m wondering just how long I can put off using the bathroom because I’m wearing a romper. You have to take those entire things off. I need to make sure the effort is worth it.
  2. I’m also postponing my bathroom usage because I’m reading The Girl on the Train (during Olympic commercials, of course. Thankfully those are every 17 seconds.) and it is  S O   G O O D  and you must read it right now.
  3. Thank goodness my hair is already done for tomorrow. I strategically got it cut and styled the night before I see all my peers because I’m a *~gEnIuS~*.
  4. What should I wear tomorrow? I haven’t seen most of my colleagues all summer. I’ve missed them and want them to remember that I’m capable of being a professional, contrary to all of my cat/poolside/Leslie Jones tweets and Instagrams throughout the summer. I also have a new boss. Gotta dress to impress. Of course, that’s only on the first day. Then we all give up the pretense and enjoy the last few days of elastic waistbands and shorts until the children return.
  5. The girl that was my stylist tonight didn’t know what “Thriller” was. I had my hair done by a fetus.
  6. What will be at the free breakfast spread in the morning? Is it actually worth it to get there at 8:00 or do I slide in at 8:20, grab a yogurt, and make it to the 8:30 meeting? Better not risk it; there are probably bagels. I can get up early for bagels.
  7. Mentally preparing for the copy machine to be jammed. Because of course it will be.
  8. If I allude to any of the Final Five gymnasts and any student does not know what I’m talking about, I will not like that student.
  9. Should I do my classroom rules presentation purely in memes this year? I can call it I MEME BUSINESS. 
  10. I’m going to be so organized this year. I mean, probably. Well, I could be.
  11. It’s raining. It’s supposed to rain ALL WEEK. And next Monday. We should probably postpone everything…indefinitely.
  12. What if I brought Tupperware to the free lunch tomorrow? That’s just practical, right? Or maybe it’s just greedy. Hmm, yeah, definitely greedy. I’ll just eat enough at lunch so that I’m full through dinner like all the other mature adults who put off going to the grocery store.

Namaste, Y’all

Last night my friend Araceli invited me to go to a yoga class with her. It was a $5 special, so you bet I was cat-cowin’ with excitement to get in on that action. I met her at the studio, one I’ve never been to, but they had free stickers and granola bar samples, so I’d give it two thumbs up. The sticker is what said Namaste, Y’all, except it didn’t have the proper punctuation, so I added it in for good measure here. I’ve learned people don’t really like it when you correct their grammar, so I kept that to myself.

“You’ve done hot yoga before?” the man-bun instructor politely asked me.

I have. OR SO I THOUGHT. I apparently have done a light-summer-day-in-the-breezy-shade version of hot yoga; this version was on the surface of the sun.

Araceli and I walked in to the capital Q Quiet Zone, shh, and raised our eyebrows at one another. Humidity: 12,000%

The class was normal enough. Thankfully there were no new poses because I couldn’t really see what was happening at the front of the room through the waterfall of sweat cascading down my brow. It dripped in downward dog, trickled in tree, and I collapsed in a puddle during pigeon pose. Heat exhaustion is real, friends.

After losing every electrolyte I’ve harbored since 2011, I’ll admit I felt pretty good. There’s something about being surrounded by a room full of strangers silently channeling all of their focus into their own balance and strength.
One more breath, sit a little lower. Just one more breath.
Accomplishing something, even something that small, of your own [sweaty] volition is empowering.

Everyone’s favorite part of class finally came: corpse pose. Fitting, because we all basically died. While relaxing and feeling the rivets of sweat making their way down my sides, focusing on my breathing, our instructor turned the soft music down even lower. Then off. Silence. Ahhh…until.

You know how something happens and you’re not sure if you’re hallucinating or just the only one who doesn’t know how to react? Yeah, that’s what happened here. I heard a guitar and thought it was an acoustic song playing over the speakers – then a voice broke in. Our instructor. Our instructor was playing a guitar and singing to us, surely with his man bun bobbing up and down. My eyes shot open and I cautiously looked around to see if anyone else was surprised by this impromptu concert. Was everyone else wanting to look around to gauge reactions too? Or just me? That’s not a usual part of a yoga class, right? Or maybe I’ve just been getting ripped off at other places.

Mats rolled up, we headed back into the air conditioning. God bless it.

The Gown Opens in the Front

If you don’t know what I’m referring to by the title alone, then congratulations on having a Y chromosome.

For the other 51% (or whatever) of the population, yes, it was that exciting time of the year: my annual well-woman checkup. Let me just start off by saying that I have the best doctor/NP team and I love them. I love the ladies who check you in and provide those great purple Uni Ball pens for paperwork; I love the assistants who let me take off all added accessory weight before stepping on the scale; I even love the phlebotomists who shake their heads and say, “Oooh, that must be something!” when I tell them I teach ninth grade. I love the whole office and they are a magical tribe of magical ladies. Today there was an instrumental of “Colors of the Wind” playing in the waiting room, for God’s sake. But it’s still the gynecologist and that’s never a super fun day.

First of all, as I proceeded to park in the garage and drove all the way to the top without hitting anything (can I get an amen?), some awful man tried to take the last parking spot. Sir, do you know what I’m about to go through? No, you do not. Get outta here. Rude.

Second of all, parking is not validated. So I just paid to experience this. It’s true that the check-up and birth control is free, but like, c’mon, Obama. Michelle knows what I’m sayin’.

Third of all, there are no snacks in the waiting room. This might seem like a unreasonable request, but I’d like a mint, at least. Or a Dove chocolate with some inspiring words on the foil to see me through.

*I realize these are pretty stupid rants and I am very fortunate to have access to these routine visits. But that doesn’t mean I have to like it.

Like I mentioned, I really do like the women in charge of the practice. When I first went to the lady doctor in high school for some issues, the very Catholic practitioner politely reminded me that it was a sin to engage in premarital what-have-yous. I see now that that may be immoral. But this lady, Doctor Lori, is amazing. Like, I get excited to talk to her and kind of feel like we’re best friends. I’ve got a few *actual* friends who go to the same place. My dentist is also the UT athletics’ dentist, so I joke that, by proxy, it’s basically like I’ve kissed a bunch of football players since he feels around in all our mouths. I’m going to choose not to apply the same irrational logic to the OBGYN, though. Blech.

Now that I’m 26 she said she doesn’t have to officially ask me if I want STI scanning on my sample. I guess the year they kick you off your parents’ health insurance is also the year they figure you’ve got that mess straightened out. The best part about it, though, is that they send you a card with your results. The first time I went I had it sent to my mother’s house where I’d be over the break, and it was an adorable card that read, Congrats! Everything is clear and you are STI free! My mom put it on the fridge next to my high school band picture.

As I lie back, talking to Dr. L about the books I’m reading and the kids I teach, she starts telling me about her sister-in-law who teaches – oh, hello, there’s the probe – fourth grade in West Texas.

“She really loves it. They’re reading some new – put your feet in the stirrups, please. Wider. – series that’s kind of sci-fi. I think that’d be fun to do. Okay, you can get dressed now. You get an A+.”

Well, I always was an over-achiever.

 

Here We Go

WordPress is telling me ‘this is your first post,’ as if I wasn’t aware. I suppose this will be my introduction to the online blog world. Well, I wrote this last summer (shameless plug) about a European backpacking trip, but this will be more of my everyday bumblings and musings for you to scroll through in line at the grocery store.

After some (much) encouragement from friends to jump on board the publishing train, this is me running along side the tracks. I have short little legs, so if I do, by some miracle, manage to grab hold of an open side-car of this metaphor, it may take a while and my arms will probably be ripped out of their sockets. But that’s okay, because I have a bone-and-joint doctor’s appointment on Friday anyway. So, y’know, all aboard.