Monday, September 15, 2014

Like the Phoenix...

There have been many stages to my teaching career...it has gone in a weird group of segments. The first segment was the one where I was still married to my ex-husband. I got my first job and then he joined the military. This meant I left to follow him to his next destination, California. After two and a half in California I came home. So the first segment was an (almost) five year stint.

Then I returned home to Oregon, daughter in tow. After six months of healing, I began subbing until I found a part time job. This began the second portion of my career. Four more years and the second portion of my career was done.

The third portion of my career began when I was hired in my current district. Now on my fifteenth year, I am in my third "rotation." I have almost done it all, alternative HS, middle school, and now high school. Each of these positions have brought me a spark. Getting the first job (a job I thought I didn't want) turned out to be a gift I didn't even know I wanted...an opportunity to find myself, my love for teaching and the ability to make a lasting impact.

My move to middle school was impulsive yet so important for my growth as a teacher. It was the beginning of a new era, opportunities to take on leadership...opportunities for personal and professional growth. I learned a great deal about myself and my teaching. I began to get connected with mathematicians at the State Level, opportunities to get involved with the growth of mathematics at a broader level. These connections brought me to the present, the HS.

Moving to the HS was a scary move. A place that I had concerns about in the past was now part of my present and future. Leaving behind my friends and the foundation I had built was frightening. Moving toward the unknown left me with feelings of uncertainty, the foundation I had built was not going with me but rather I was forging it alone. I didn't know if I was ready...if I could stand on my own. Over the last few years my spirit had been broken, the fire intense and left me doubting. Could I grow again? Would I be able to bring my best to someplace new and foreign?

Sometimes, like the phoenix, rebirth comes from the fire...the hottest flames refining. I have been reborn and a better version of me has come from the fire. I am ready to rebuild into something stronger...a better teacher, a better teammate, a better person.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

What starts here changes the world...

Today I was watching the 2014 University of Texas Commencement Speech by Admiral McRaven with my students. It doesn't matter how many times I watch it (or how much of a military girl I am not), I love his speech.

One of my goals this year is to build a strong sense of community within my classes. I have been preaching that we leave "no man or woman behind." The inspiration for this is my class from four years ago, this year's seniors, a group that built a community of learners and, for me, created on of my most powerful teaching experiences.

I have had the best start this year than I have for awhile. Every day, I drag my exhausted, but exhilarated self to my desk. I stand through most classes, walking my small strip of carpet while I talk. I see many old faces and many new. Seeing my old kids is inspiring...seeing how they have grown into young adults is amazing!

I have on of my old students who is coming into my room during lunch, then goes to his math class after. He is doing the required work just because. The passion that I feel I helped instill years ago is fueling my own passion.


I am ready to change the world. According to Admiral McRaven, I only need to change 10 people, then they change ten and so on. It's a little like the shampoo commercials of the past but it is an exponential growth model of change...simple, yet powerful.

This is the year...I really feel it...I am excited!

If you haven't watched Admiral McRaven's speech, I recommend it...what starts here changes the world...let's change it...together!


Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Projecting forward...

One of my most recent mantras is to practice kindness and gratitude. The idea that each day should be approached with these two gives an entirely different meaning to every moment. Being grateful and acknowledging it brings a smile to not only others but also makes my heart sing.

As students begin to attend, I want to continue this practice while also acknowledging and encouraging each of them to do the same.

Assuming the best in others and treating them accordingly often causes people to rise to expectations. I have started on a personal healing journey this summer, trying to heal some of the wounds from the past few years. Healing is a process that has had me re-examine who I bring on a personal level, professional level, and emotional level. I want to find myself...I have been lost. The person I have been showing recently can be likened to an injured animal in the corner unable to function, unable to put a person forward that I could be proud of.

I am committed to re-discovering the person inside that I want to bring forth, the person who is enthusiastic about their job, who sees their mission as one to teach, encourage, coach, support. I want my students to feel supported, cared for, challenged, and encouraged. I want to push them beyond the edge of their comfort zone, engage them in productive struggle, challenge their beliefs about themselves in a positive way and celebrate their successes.

Treating students as the people who I believe they could be and should be will give them a different lens in which they can view themselves. This lens will be one of success and positivity, one that shines a light on what they can achieve rather than what they haven't achieved. This is the lens I must view everyone through, including myself. Giving permission for people to be human, make mistakes, have feelings, struggle, find joy, find their spark, and open their hearts is crucial. Growth occurs when we allow ourselves to struggle but not live in the space of struggle. It is being able to draw the line when necessary and seek help when needed.

This is a new year...one that I am nervous and excited about. This is a year where turnarounds are made and lives are changed...First and foremost I am hoping that one of those lives is mine and that my life will be filled with gratitude and positivity...I have learned a valuable lesson...I am worth it and I will do whatever it takes to show my students that they are worth it too.

This year has so much potential. I am looking forward to it on so many levels...the chance to reconnect with students, the opportunity to reconnect with myself. Finding my love of teaching again is crucial to moving forward...

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Planting Trees...

Education is similar to being gardener, you plant the seed, then wait to see the results. I have been teaching at the middle school for the last seven years, planting seeds, then walking away. You may get glimmers of success, maybe even glimpses of failure, but you often don't get to see the final product per se.

Today was our first day back to work...I met my girlfriend for coffee and we caught up, but the strangest part, for me, was when we were getting ready to leave, it really struck me that we weren't going to the same place. I have officially moved.

I am moving to teach high school, a place where I will get to see some of my kids again...a bit like revisiting the garden that was planted years ago. I am not going to lie, it will be a bit gratifying, getting to see some of what I built long ago, but I also realize that I am still just a place to pass along their journey. I may, or may not, get to see them get to their destination, but I know that I have been a stop along the way.

Sometimes it is easy to feel pensive in a career like education...each year hundreds of children pass through your classroom, some you make deep connections with, while others you may be unsure of your effect. Each day you bring content forth while also hoping that you are building a relationship that might empower, encourage, and enlighten them. They may be vocal about your impact or they may fade away like a ghost, rarely to be heard from again.

Although I have been teaching for a long time, I was really struck by the thought of how we are all just a street sign along one another's path. We do not know how the seeds we plan will turn out...they may be beautiful flowers or a large tree...we know that we have planted, we know that we were there, but it is only the other that can welcome us back to see how the seeds turn out...

We have to be satisfied with the not knowing...the uneasiness of the chasm of unknown. That is the hard part. Often we might be temped to give less along the journey because of the not knowing, but that is the hardest of all. We need to be willing to give our all with each and every person whose path we cross, we have to be willing to be open and giving. We have to be willing to leave every seed we have along the path with the knowledge that we may never reap the rewards of the knowledge of what lies ahead...we have to be satisfied that the love of the planting was enough to make a difference...we have to love the giving and be willing to walk away with the deep knowledge that we were there...and that was enough.


Monday, August 18, 2014

Fanning the Flames...

I have already begun having back to school dreams. This is a little scary considering my room is nowhere ready for student occupants. It is a giant disaster, filled with boxes which are filled with stuff.

This is a room that I want to be a place of inspiration, a place where students find their way.

I am taking this year especially seriously...I have left behind my friends and students I love to help create something positive. I am excited and terrified.

The last few years I have done these things with my partner in crime. Working with her strengthened me and my teaching. It is a strange thing to have one person impact my teaching practices and attitude at the level it has. It will be strange not to see her in the halls, after school, with the kids. She is the one who has helped me open my mind...re-discover my love. She is the one who was there during the depth...throwing a rope with the promise of being at the other end. I am taking the fire baton that she has passed and creating something for our students as they move forward.

I will be fanning the flames...the flames of my passion, the flames of others. I will be taking my fire with the hopes of setting others aflame. One day, one step, one moment at a time, I want to fan the flames of knowledge, support and expectations. I want the fire of excitement to spread, the flames to lick at the doors wanting in...knowledge passed on, on student at a time.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Give an inch...build a mile...

Today I went to see the Portland Thorns play their final game of the season. It was a must win in order to go to the playoffs. As you may know by now, I am a big time soccer fan. The World Cup at my house is a time of reverence...getting up early or staying late, whichever needs to be done, but soccer isn't really what this blog is about...it's about wanting something so bad you can almost taste it and fighting for it.

I am working on a new class for incoming Freshman with a group of other teachers. It is an interesting experience beginning to form a team with people I have never met. This class may become one of the most integral classes that freshman at our high school take...an opportunity to learn skills that they are lacking, study skills, coping skills, problem solving skills.

I want this class to be a foundation of something that they see in their future and work hard to achieve. Similar to the Thorns today...a goal in mind, hard work, and then success. These are skills that we encourage in students, want to exhibit as adults, and hope for those in the future.

I take my job very seriously...I am teaching those that are our future. I want a future of critical thinking, problem solving, enthusiastic life long learners, young adults who want to take charge of their future, our future. I want them to build great things, think beyond their perceived limits, invent fantastic ideas, grow incredible things...I want them to be builders of the world, rather than consumers of space. I want them to do whatever it takes to leave their world better than when they got it.

I know when I look in their eyes that they don't see themselves and powerful and knowledgeable, but I do. I see all the potential wrapped into a hormonal unit, squirrelly, confused, and sometimes frustrated, I want them to work harder than they have ever thought possible, experience success to the highest level, I want them to come back and ask for more, even when there may not be any.

I want them to be students who when we give them an inch, they build a mile!

Looking inside...starting anew...

Once you have opened up and let people into the rabbit hole, it is hard to know what to say. I am here...I am moving forward, I am building something new and fresh...

I am ready to begin this new stage in my life...

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Down the Rabbit Hole...

The loss of the comedic icon Robin Williams this week has brought about much conversation around the subject of depression and other types of mental illness. Today it was released that he may have been suffering from early Parkinson's Disease.

Sometimes it takes someone who seems to have it all, the riches, the life, the connections, to bring forth the ideas of mental illness. Some people don't like to use the phrase "mental illness" when talking about depression or similar issues, but the reality is that they are mental illnesses, they are wired in the brain and professional help is often needed to find some level of relief or resolve.

I, myself, have struggled in this arena. When my daughter was young, I was in a pit of despair. I took medication that gave some relief, but realistically it did not pull me from the dark place. Those years were rough...I feel bad for my daughter, looking back, I was not able to give her more of myself. My memory is a bit like swiss cheese from that time...I met a man that I fell in love with, but was unable to maintain the relationship due to my deep inability to care for myself on an emotional level. My despair actually caused me to leave the man, leave my job, and return home where I could try to dig myself out of the deep hole I was in. I was off medication, determined to heal myself without chemicals, which I was (somewhat) able to do. I found a place where I was stable, moved out on my own again, eventually meeting the man I would marry.

When my daughter was a teenager she had panic attacks. I underestimated the impact of these on her at the time, wondering why she couldn't just manage. Years later, after the littlest was born and I began having uncontrollable anxiety attacks, which included panic attacks, I felt bad that I had diminished their impact.

Being the mother of the littlest has given me an entire new perspective on mental health. When he was a baby, ironically, I wasn't anxious. I believe it was being busy and being overwhelmingly positive about his outcome kept me from being too concerned, but when we almost lost him when he was two, the panic attacks began. I was attending school full time, working full time, and trying to be a full time parent...something triggered it. I have been told that it can be like that...one day, it rears its ugly head. I tried to keep them hidden, staving away the attacks when they came on, but finally, one day, they began to take on a life of their own...I was breathing through each class period, focusing on making it to the end of each day. I finally went to the doctor for medication....it had become a full time job (on top of my full time job) just to manage.

Here I am years later, keeping just on the edge of sanity. I know how important it is to manage my anxiety, for myself, my family and my students. I am reminded, by the events of the week, how much any sort of mental illness is underplayed, that these issues are "all in the head"...many think that it's possible to fix it, pull oneself up by the bootstraps, drink less caffeine, do more yoga.

The reality is that it can be managed, sometimes through medication, yoga, meditation, naturopathic medicine, but it never goes away. It's always there, a ball in the bit of the stomach or a black curtain right behind the eyes. The goal is that it doesn't tip the balance, become greater than you are, overtaking the ability to live.

Those on the outside looking in need to support, be there, let those they love know there is no judgement. When you are in the bad place, in the thick of it, there is no logic, no way to express what is needed so...don't ask. Just tell them that whatever they need, you will be it, silence or noise, you will be it, closeness or distance, you will feel it...whatever they need...that is you.

When the light is so dim that it's hard to see or the world is spinning so fast that it feels like you might fall off, just be there to be the flashlight, be the cushion. When their heart feels like it might explode or their body is so heavy they can't move, be there...be there to calm, to soothe, to cuddle or sit far away providing support from afar.

Mental illness is real, it can be devastating, it can attack the young and the old. Education and acceptance is so important. Understanding and a willingness to learn.

My hope is that Robin William's death brings about a whole new round of understanding and awareness. It is a silent group of diseases and it is time for them to be out in the open, with nothing but support attached. It is beyond time.

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Reaching out to the Gum Lady...

I write to help me process. I write as a way to think. I started this blog over a year ago for both reasons and, in return, it has given me so much more...It honors me that people choose to read my words...it also gives me comfort.

Last night I went to the hospital to see my Grama. She was admitted yesterday due to edema in her legs, fluid in her lungs. She has a combination of pneumonia, edema and congestive heart failure. I am not delusional...my Grama is 95 years old.

My Grama is one of the strongest women I know. When I was a child, she and my Grampa would come and pick me up almost every Wednesday and Sunday for church or youth group. We would spend the day (or afternoon) together, eat, play games. I waited each week for these days...they were special and unique. I was the center of the universe these days...the most important person around.

After church services on Sundays, my Grama, lovingly known as "The Gum Lady," would let children choose from her magical bag...gum, mentos, sometimes small candies lay waiting for the chooser. My Grampa owned a pharmacy, so he would order mentos and gun by the boxful so she could supply yearning children.

I had special street cred (or maybe church cred) being the Gum Lady's granddaughter. She was the epitome of awesome, so, by association, I was treated pretty awesome as well. Since the only family my friends at church knew about was my dad and my grandparents, I was given a free pass by many.

Once, when I didn't want to go home due to my mom's boyfriend who was a total creep, my Grama went in to have a "chat" with my mom. Now, to understand, my Grama was a quiet woman, one of few words and, definitely not words of any aggressive sort toward another. The story goes that my Grama went in to have a chat with my mom, explaining to her that she needed to clean herself up, she needed to parent me better, she needed to love passionately as well as parent passionately.

Watching this phase of my Grama's life has been a challenge. She has always been there. I remember when I was young, I used to make her promise to "be there" for certain events...first it was high school graduation, then marriage, then college graduation, birth of my daughter, happily married to my second husband, then the boys, finally Javad. She has been my foundation for so long I can't imagine going through life without here...there are so many things that I want her to see, feel, be here for.

Last night she had a good night. A lot of fluid was drained off and she is looking a bit better. I am hopeful, I have faith that this is a step in the right direction. In some ways, I know that this is giving me time...time that I would love to last forever...

Maybe I can build a magical time tunnel where I can go with her...we can hold hands, she can impart more wisdom on me, just be with me...I am not sure I know how to do my life without her...the thought of it makes my heart clench and brings tears to my eyes. I know that she must be tired and miss Grampa who is waiting, but I am not quite ready yet...

maybe someday, but not today and not tomorrow either...

Sunday, August 10, 2014

One step forward...

I have finally gotten all of my things out of my classroom at my old school and it has been moved to my new building. To quote my custodian, "Your crap is here!"

I am having mixed feelings...this is the closure of one chapter of my life and the turn of the page into a new chapter. It is both scary and exhilarating.  I found out that I have a room with a window (awesome) and I don't have to share (cool). I am teaching a variety of classes, from freshman to juniors...it is all off to a good start.

It is still strange...the people that have been "my people" will be at my old school...I will need to find new people. In a staff three times the size as my old school, I will be looking for those I can trust, those who share the same goals.

The summer is rapidly coming to a close...my head is swirling with things to do, people to see. I have templates to make, things to send, organization to be had. There is a whirlwind of things to be done...all of this while trying to get settled,

Trying to start fresh...put some of the hurt and anger behind me...it's a new day and a new time...

I'm ready!