Don’t Send Your Kindergartener to School in Ivory Tights

But she really looked cute this morning.

A hand-me-down pink ribbed shirt with tiny matching rhinestones at the collar that I’m not sure she’s ever worn.  A brown and pink flowered corduroy skirt with an extra ruffle at the bottom.  And the ivory tights.  It was a whole outfit of things that matched.  And it was really my only option since she had (literally) not a single pair of clean pants.

So we went for it, and she was cute.  Cold, but cute.

Then 3:45 rolls around and she appears out of nowhere in my classroom just like she does every afternoon.  “Hi, mom.”

Woah.

Shoes untied.  Hair staticky and everywhere from her fuzzy hood.  A stain mingled with the rhinestones.  The ivory tights are now mostly brown, and one knee cap is completely poking through.

Not so cute anymore.  Looks like she’s going more for the Mom-Doesn’t-Take-Care-of-Me look.  And it only got worse.

I had made plans to work with a friend in her classroom on one of those ridiculous paperwork things that make teachers want to poke their eyeballs out and/or just retire early.  Chica, armed with a few markers, scissors, construction paper, and her creative genius, had her mind set on creating a whole flock of turkeys.  And if you have a kid or teach kids or have just ever been a kid, then you know that pretty much the only way to draw a turkey is to trace your hand.

So perhaps 45 minutes later we discover her….left hand completely black, black marker smears on the brown tights, and black marker all over her face.  She is truly talented…at making messes I mean.  The turkeys were pretty good too.

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Tonight we had planned to have dinner at Bubba’s school, but there was no time to take this piece of work home and clean her up.  Her daddy could barely look at her he was so embarrassed.  I just tried to keep reminding myself that it was all a sign that she had had a good day.  A really good day.

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On the way home I knew that the image of Chica and her holy tights had to be my thankful picture for the day.  Sure, I’m thankful for her creative spirit that will not be squelched by dirt or lack of materials or a grouchy mom.  But I think even more, today, I’m thankful that tomorrow is a new day.  The tights will go in the trashcan, the clothes will go in the washer, and the girl has already been in the bath.  Tomorrow she’ll skip to the bus a new kid, ready for a new day.

Tomorrow will be a new day.  As I turned on the bathwater, I thought of all the things I wanted to wash down the drain from my day.  The shortness I had with a friend that just wanted help.  The hurried and grouchy words with my kids.  The even more grouchy words with my classroom full of big kids who just four years ago were turkey-making little kids.  That yucky feeling of not doing what you know you need to do.

I’m thankful for forgiveness and that I get to try again tomorrow.  It’s a new day.

Oh…and I guess I’m also thankful that I now know never to send a kindergartener to school in ivory tights.  Shouldn’t I have known that already?

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Ten Things I Didn’t Learn As An Education Major

  1. How to gently break it to your husband that you won’t be home for any Thursday night in October.
  2. How to carefully craft an e-mail to a parent over a very awkward situation.
  3. How to tactfully avoid giving out your cell phone number.
  4. How to locate the source of a bad smell in your classroom…and also deal with that tactfully!
  5. How to find a balance between appropriate caution and unnecessary fear while discussing a lockdown drill.
  6. How to forgive your students and start fresh.  Every. Single. Day.
  7. How to catch a bully when you never see it happening.
  8. How to teach a line of students to stop in the hall on their own in order to let an adult pass.
  9. How to balance the needs of 53 little people with the responsibility of the two that actually belong to you.
  10. How to comfort a student that suddenly lost her father over the weekend…all while teaching the other 52 to do the same.

Christ, have mercy.

From Two Thousand to Four

I did it.  It’s past 12:00 and my eyes are straining to focus, but I did it.  I cleaned out my inbox of over 2,000 old e-mails.  There are four left:  the teacher workday schedule for the next few days, two e-mails I need to return but am not ready to compose, and a “don’t forget to look into this cool opportunity” reminder.  Phew.

I’m excited to say that this purging of stuff hasn’t been limited to my inbox.  I’ve spent the last three days at school working on clearing out space in my classroom.  My filing cabinet, closet, bookshelves, and cabinet all now have that fresh, organized look that I seem capable of only maintaining for a few weeks at best.  I still have my desk, sink cabinet, and a few (huge) boxes of papers to go, but the hard work has already been done.  I…no….we got this.  Being ruled by peace over here.

I have many things to say tonight about organization and creativity and friends and writing and my little family and, and, and.  But it’s late, and everything’s a bit fuzzy, so I’m just not sure I can articulate anything more than this….

I was struck as I read the subject and first line of each e-mail tonight how memories almost forgotten flooded back to me:

A hurricane.  A school shooting.  The death of a dear friend.  Congratulations for a contest won.  Struggles with students that ended with thankful e-mails from parents.  Room moms from heaven.  A huge project with an old friend. The green light to try a new and crazy strategy.  I need a sub…my kid is sick again.  I am one of the only five people that hasn’t turned something in…again.    And meeting after meeting after meeting.

So what did I learn from those memories?  I’ve sat here waiting for the last five sleepy minutes or so just trying to figure that out.  I think maybe I’ve got it.

When I was a kid, or maybe a teenager, and I would get overly stressed out about some assignment, my mom would always ask me something like, “In five years, will this matter?  If the answer is no, then don’t worry about it.  Get it done, but don’t obsess over it.”

As I recalled many of those memories, I felt again the panic that was such a part of the moment.  Unnecessary panic, I see now, because even just six months later, that thing, whatever it was, already doesn’t matter.

I’ve said it already, but I’m just going to keep speaking it and writing it and praying it.  This year will be different.  This year I plan to trade the panic for a focus on the things above.  A view of the stuff that will matter in six months.  In five years. 

Did my students see a peaceful, Christ-like attitude?
Did my students hear me apologize when it wasn’t so Christ-like?
Did they know that I believe they are capable and important and unique?
Did they come away loving learning and with more questions than they had when they arrived?

These last three days I’ve thrown out over 2,000 e-mails, 5 trashcans full of junk, 4 crates of paper to recycle, and a whole counter full of teacher stuff in my, “Free, Take Me,” pile.  You know teachers just pass around each other’s junk, right?  It takes a long time for stuff to actually make it to the dumpster!

But I have some more to throw away, I realize.  And no, I don’t mean recycle or the Take Me table…because you don’t need it either!

So tonight I continue to purge:
Worry.  Panic.  Frenzy.  Impatience.  Disorder.  Insecurity.  Anger.  Hurry.

More room for peace that way.

 

 

 

 

Trading Frenzy for Focus

Skype an astronaut.  Assign weekly STEM homework assignments.  Create video lessons and three levels of practice for each math topic.  Figure out how to welcome and include new teachers.  And, and, and….

I spent Monday and Tuesday of this week at a workshop led by several NASA educators.  We completed design challenges, connected virtually with experts at Langley, learned new ways to model the vastness of the Solar System, accessed and analyzed real NASA data, and just barely scratched the surface of the resources they have created for teachers.  It was pretty awesome.  And just as it should be, I left pumped and ready for a new school year….possibilities and plans rolling a mile a minute as I drove home Tuesday afternoon.

But then I remembered:  This year will be different.  No, not because I’m going to be flipping every math lesson or because I’m finally excited about teaching science.  This year will be different because I will be ruled by peace.

And somehow (truthfully, I know exactly how) I realized that this frantic churning of ideas and worrying how will I get it all done is not at all peaceful.  Peace-less, actually.

So my goal-oriented, objective-focused self realized that lesson plans aren’t the only things that need to be written before this year starts.  I need my own set of goals through which to help me filter those frantic ideas.

I’m in the process of writing them….still at the brainstorming and maybe rough draft stage.  Here’s what I have so far….

1.  I know this needs to be a peace goal.  A Jesus goal.

And of course I couldn’t help but look to Colossians 3 first:  Set your minds on things above…not specific enough for me to apply easily to my daily routine.  Clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience…this might work.  Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts…also a good choice.

Whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.  

I think this might be it.  I really like the fact that it leads me to consider both my words and my actions.  And reminds me to be thankful (a practice, I’m learning, that may keep me Awake to the important things.)  But I struggled at first to think concretely about the do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus part.  What exactly does that mean?

While mulling this over on my run tonight, I may have gotten an answer.  Or at least part of one.

What if I were to take any word or action and follow it up with, “I am doing this in the name of the Lord Jesus?”  There are plenty of words and actions where this would make perfect sense:  Taking the time to get to know a student or new teacher in Jesus’ name.  Extending unexpected grace to a student who expects a reprimand in Jesus’ name.  Reaching out to a struggling family in Jesus’ name.  Of course in my public school teacher role, this won’t be a spoken in Jesus’ name, but rather a conscious effort to work with a things above mindset, following Jesus’ example in word and deed.

Then there are those seemingly insignificant tasks to which I can add, “In Jesus’ name.”  What about grading papers in Jesus’ name?  Or giving instructions to an assignment in Jesus’ name?  Or covering lunch duty in Jesus’ name?  I think the key to these mundane moments lies in Colossians 3:23:  Whatever you do work at it with all your heart as working for the Lord, not human masters.  It is the Lord Christ you are serving.  Wouldn’t it make a big difference to view all of those moments as service to Jesus and not just a school system, a principal, a classroom of students, or a group of parents?  I think yes.

But then there are those other moments as a teacher (or parent, or nurse, or salesclerk, or waitress, or whatever) that are just incongruous if we add in Jesus’ name.  I can’t very well berate a nine year old in front of his classmates for forgetting his homework in Jesus’ name.  Or complain, in Jesus’ name, about a snippy e-mail I got from a parent.  Or repeat the latest teacher gossip in Jesus’ name.  So that’s what I came to today while running….if the words I’m about to say or the action I’m about to take is incompatible with in Jesus’ name, then I need to check myself and make a new plan.  And if it’s too late, because it will be too late plenty of times, then I need to ask for forgiveness from the ones I’ve wronged (yes…often my students!) and take steps to do it differently the next time.

2.  I’m thinking this should be a goal about inspiring my students.  It sounds pretty cliché as I write it, but I want my kids to love learning and leave my classroom with the confidence that they are mathematicians, scientists, and most importantly, learners.  Sooo….maybe something like…

My students will learn to love learning math and science.  Or maybe Develop confident and inquisitive mathematicians, scientists, and learners.

Yeah…still working on that one.

3.  I’m thinking something along the lines of Facilitate the learning of SOLs in a deep and meaningful way.  I admit my focus in the past has been too much on just Passing. The. Test.  I cringe to think of the number of times I’ve said things like, “This won’t be on the SOL test, but…”  Ugh.  While I do believe all students can learn well past the minimum requirements in the standards, I am blessed to work with a group of kids that will get there much faster than the average classroom.  This year I want to focus on going deeper than just the required info…and I realize that I can rely on my inquisitive learners to get us there.

My hope is that once I have nailed down a few solid goals, then I will be able to use them to start weeding through the tremendous number of ideas that are swirling.  Keep the things that meet all three requirements.  Pass on the rest.  I’m looking forward to trading frenzy for focus.

Teachers, do you have a set of big goals that you have written for yourself or your classroom?  Friends in other jobs and roles…how about you?  I’d be really interested (and grateful!) to hear them…even if you are in the brainstorming stage like me.  Please share!

Did That Really Just Happen?

Did I really just bribe my five year old with the following statement, “If you guys are seen and not heard while Mommy is having her meeting, we’ll go get some ice cream afterwards.  OK?” 

Yep, that really did happen today.  Now that’s some quality parenting right there.  Granted, I did relate it to a classic work of children’s literature in the process, but I’m not truly sure that makes it any better.  Several times in the Little House books Laura reluctantly remembers that children are to be seen and not heard.  Chica totally fell for my reference and agreed to give it her best shot.  Actually, who am I kidding?  It was the ice cream, not Laura.  Either way, she was mostly good during the meeting, and I decided I would forgive her short-lived and not-too-distracting barking and crawling because 1) it kept Bubba entertained and 2) I really wanted ice cream.  Daddy even met us there.  Bonus.

Count RaggiDid Chica really just tell me, “The Count Reggi is the national bird of Guinea,” while riding home from said meeting?

Yes, that happened today too.  By now I probably shouldn’t be surprised by the things she remembers from Wild Kratts and just trust that she knows what she’s talking about.  But tonight I decided to follow her rabbit trail and double check the truly random info that spills out of her little head.  Turns out she’s right.  The Raggiana Bird-of-Paradise, also known as Count Raggi’s Bird-of-Paradise, is Papua New Guinea’s national bird.  It seems this bird is best known for the male’s red plumes and elaborate courtship dance.  There.  You’ve learned your one new thing for the day.  You’re welcome.

P.S.  Does the educational value of Wild Kratts somehow make up for the lack of parenting finesse demonstrated in my ice cream bribe?  I’d say it’s likely.

Did Chica really just strip down naked in the middle of playgroup?

Oh, did that ever happen today.  The same girl who can rattle off animal facts quicker than I can google them, still doesn’t know that the backyard of a stranger’s house is not the place to change into your swimsuit when you’re five.  So here I am at playgroup for the second time ever, trying really hard to appear that I have it all together in front of these moms who do this for a living.  (I feel like I just pretend during the summer.)  So the experienced moms apparently know that you dress your kids appropriately ahead of time when there’s going to be water to avoid a situation just like this one.  Yep…got that one for next time.  So I’m digging around in my bag to find Bubba’s bathing suit when I look up and am blinded by a mysterious white light.  J/K….it’s just Chica in all her sun-deprived glory standing by the baby pool, waiting.   I couldn’t find that bathing suit fast enough.  Let’s just hope all my new mama friends were thinking more of, “Oh, poor teacher mom who’s still figuring this out,” and less of, “Wonder what kind of crazy stuff goes on at their house?”   Let’s hope.

In celebration of ChicaAndBubba’s 100th post, will you consider leaving me your best “Did that really just happen?” moment from the week?  I’d love to hear it!

Image:  Bird-of-Paradise (Paradisaea raggiana) © cliff1066  | Flickr Creative Commons

A Few Letters I’ve Been Meaning to Write

Dear New Mommy Friend,

I thought about you and your first week back to work when I was loading the dishwasher last night.  I had this memory of trying to squeeze 37 pump parts and bottle parts into the dishwasher every evening….and then trying to find a place for the real dishes.  This too shall pass, and I’m pretty sure you won’t miss it.  I’m guessing there were tears shed this week.  Those are tears well spent, my dear.

Dear Students,

I couldn’t be prouder of you this week.  When you decided as a group, without my help, to include that little guy (who is very hard to include) in your kickball game, I just stood there in amazement.  And you even let him take a turn as roller, the most coveted of positions.  You made his day, his teacher’s day, and my day.  You rock.

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Dear Neighbor Kid,

Bubba adores you.  And I don’t think it’s just because you wear sunglasses, but that’s at least one of the reasons.  He wants to be just like you.

Dear Weather,

I like you.  Do you like me?  Check yes or no.  You would think I would have learned my lesson with a very similar (and humiliating) note I passed in my sixth grade English class.  Guess not.

Dear Person Who Eyed My Belly and Asked If I Was Expecting,

I thought of you as I grabbed my third cheddar biscuit at church dinner tonight.  The only thing I’m expecting is a little self-control to show up one of these days.

Dear Bubba,

This evening when you hurled on my new shoes, your only shoes, and my Bible, at least you missed Daddy’s computer.  Thanks, and good aim.

Dear Jay,

Tonight when I was hosing the puke off the porch, I overheard your conversation with Bubba.  You told him that what I was doing separated the good mommies from the great mommies.  I thought the same thing about you (except good daddies/great daddies, of course) later as you calmly talked Chica down from her crazy fear of bugs for the umpteenth time.  Thanks for protecting all of us from the scary things.  I love you.

A Fraction of a Story

Dear Ruth,

Tell your sixth graders that this is why they have to learn how to convert improper fractions into mixed numbers.  Otherwise this will happen.

Sincerely,

Your Fourth Grade Math Teacher Friend

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Me:  What do you want for breakfast?

Chica:  Mmmmm……cinnamon toast?  (Said with a question mark because this is a meal reserved for special days.)

Me:  Ok.  (It’s the last day of Spring Break.  What the hey?)  How many pieces do you want?

Chica:  (Thinks….)  Five.

Me:  Five?  No way.  Mommy couldn’t even eat five!  (Actually, I probably could, but I would totally regret it.)

Chica:  I can eat five.  I’m sure.

Me:  You’re not having five pieces of cinnamon toast.  How about two?

Chica:  Five.

Me:  The most I will fix you is three.  You can have three, two, one, or zero.

Chica:  But Daddy fixed me five before!

Me:  What?!?

Chica:  He did.

Me:  (The light bulb comes on!)  Ohhhhh…..you mean he fixed you five half pieces of cinnamon toast?

Chica:  Well, yeah.

Me:  Then sure, you can have five.

So we fix three.

three wholes

And she has five.

five halves

Best part about this math?

one half

I get one!  : )