Choosing Hope

“Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” Matthew 6:34

This verse popped up on my notifications last week. I read and re-read it several times. The recent stories of mass shootings and violence in the news forced me to stop and consider its meaning.

I have always tried not to live my life based on what might happen. That mindset leads to fear and worry, which then increases my anxiety. Not an easy task, but a goal.

I learned a long time ago; I cannot keep my husband and children safe. They are not with me 24/7, nor should they be. Experience has shown that even when they are with me, bad things still happen.

I used to worry about them because of high school violence. Gart was a high school principal, my kids were attending high school at various times. High profile mass shootings in high schools were unbelievably common.

Then my list of places to worry about grew longer. The same horrific events happened at the elementary school level. Stories of precious little children killed, their teachers attempting to protect them were heartbreaking.

I am an elementary school teacher. As such, I witnessed the ushering in of intruder on campus drills. I had difficult conversations with young students who should not be worried about someone entering their school to harm them.

And now? The worry invades not only my school but also the church, shopping malls, concerts, clubs. No place is off-limits. Despite this fact, we cannot remain locked up in our homes and avoid contact with others.

What is the answer? I’m not sure. Gun control and mental health top the list of conversations and news sound bites. Lawmakers bicker back and forth but offer no real solutions. Watching the news brings feelings of desperation.

Yet, I must choose hope. Hope must lead to action. Action must lead to loving my neighbor, no matter where they are from or how they look. And that is only the beginning.

“For the whole law can be summed up in this one command: Love your neighbor as yourself.” Galatians 5:14

That may seem like a simplified answer for such a terrible problem. But sometimes change begins with one step toward someone else. Suddenly, we are not walking alone. And if we continue walking together, hopefully, others will join.

As this school year starts, my children will be in new places. My two oldest are embarking on teaching careers at different high schools, my future daughter-n-law also teaches at a high school, and my youngest begins college.

Of course, I pray for them and want them to be safe. But even more than that, I want them to live each day to its fullest. Not being afraid of what might happen, but working to be part of the solution.

So, my goal for this year? Not to let worry and fear overtake me. That will require prayer, trusting God, and looking for the good in each day. I will look for it in the faces of my students. They deserve a future filled with hope and love, not fear.

“For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope.”
Jeremiah 29:11

Neighborhood Walk

It’s that time of the summer. Back-to-school ads are everywhere. School staff members are working hard to make sure everything is ready when the students arrive. It is a team effort.

I spent most of last week preparing my classroom. But on Thursday evening, I experienced a different type of back-to-school preparation. I went on a neighborhood walk.

What an amazing experience! Around sixty school staff members gathered in the cafeteria for snacks and instructions. Our goal? To visit the families of our nine-hundred plus students.

Each team received a list of names with addresses and a map. We drove together to our assigned neighborhood or apartment complex.

Walking door-to-door, we greeted each student at their home. We introduced ourselves and gave each child a backpack. Parents shook our hands, grateful for the information shared. Kids’ smiled, telling us their grade level.

During our walk, one family stuck with me. As soon as we introduced ourselves, the mom began speaking in Spanish. Two precious little girls stood close by her side. Although I could not understand what she was saying, I sensed she was happy.

Thankfully, our assistant principal translated. He told us the mom had shared that her daughter was excited about school. She knew teachers were coming to visit that day, and had been awake since 5 A.M. waiting! The walk did not start until 5:30 P.M. She had been waiting for us all day long! ❤

A little later, we walked back by their apartment. I noticed the little girl standing on the landing with her younger sister. They were playfully hiding behind a post. When she saw us, she looked out from behind the post, smiled, and waved.

The smile on that little girl’s face was the real reason for our walk. Yes, we handed out important information. Yes, we provided a few school supplies. And yes, we were hot and sweaty. 😉 But more importantly, we made connections. We made connections with colleagues, parents, and students.

The first day of school can be stressful. But just maybe, the connections made during that back-to-school neighborhood walk will help ease the stress for our students. I know it helped ease mine. 🙂

Connections Revisited

Back-to-school ads are everywhere. Supplies are stocked at all the local stores. As a teacher, I cannot ignore the fact that school will start soon. This realization leads to a renewed focus on connections.

Why have I not read this before?

I was recently speaking with some young educators preparing for upcoming New Teacher Induction. Such a stressful time with so much information. My advice to them? Focus on making connections!

The first year of teaching truly is the hardest. There are so many unknowns. Setting up a classroom, school expectations, new curriculum, etc. But one friendly, helpful colleague makes all those unknowns less scary.

Positive relationships with other teachers lead to positive relationships with students. Making time is key. Students come to school with personal stories. Stories they are eager to share. And they want to know about their teacher as well. Sharing these stories lays the foundation for learning.

Since I am transferring to a new school this year, there will be many new stories to hear. I am thankful for some familiar faces sprinkled throughout the building. Previously established connections which offer encouragement. But my students? A sea of unfamiliar faces and new names.

Some days the task feels overwhelming. Then there are days like yesterday. A much-needed visit with an encouraging mom and her two sweet kids, now former students. Laughing and talking, saying “Thank you” and “I will miss you.” I left with renewed confidence for the coming year and a reminder of the power which comes from making connections.

Bright spots. 🙂

That first day will be here soon. I will stand at my door and greet those new faces with a smile. The music playing in the background will be the next step in creating new connections. Connections which will grow and be revisited right when they are needed.

The Right Question

A recent story on the local morning news involved someone being shot at an apartment complex. There were not many details. One adult shot another adult. While listening to the report I kept thinking, “I wonder if there were any children present?”

Had I heard the same story any morning previous, my reaction might have been different. That is what happens when we view our surroundings through a different lens. Gain a new perspective.

Why did this story have this effect on me on this particular day? Because the day before I attended a professional development workshop for educators entitled “The Trauma-Informed Classroom.” Dr. Barbara Sorrels, author of the book “Reaching and Teaching Children Exposed to Trauma,” was our presenter.

One of the most powerful moments of the day was listening to an actual 911 recording. The voice we heard was a six-year-old little girl named Lisa. Lisa was witnessing a violent attack on her mom and siblings by her stepfather. And it was not the first.

It is difficult for me to imagine the awful things this little girl witnessed. The fear in her voice was almost palpable. Her cries for help were interchanged with moments of extreme clarity. She provided crucial information and displayed incredible bravery.

The screams of this little girl caused a lump in my throat and tears in my eyes. Once the recording ended, the room remained silent. Dr. Sorrels then asked us to discuss how memories from this event might affect Lisa in the future. What images, smells, sounds, etc. might trigger negative responses from her?

All I could think was, “How can a child be expected to function at school after such a traumatic event?”

The workshop continued with stories of other trauma children, their caregivers, and teachers. We also explored ways to help promote healing.

By the end of the day, I felt emotionally and intellectually overwhelmed. How could I use this information to positively influence my classroom? How could it help me better connect with my students?

Dr. Sorrels encouraged us to start with one objective, helping one child at a time. And then another idea and another child, and so on. I reviewed my notes, and one thing stood out-a comparison of two questions. The questions represent two ways I might respond to a child’s behavior.

What is wrong with you?

What happened to you?

These questions have definitely been asked inside my teacher brain. And more often than not, I asked the first question. I should be asking the second.

So where do I begin?

  • Be mindful that a frustrating “behavior” might actually be a reaction to trauma.
  • Realize my perspective in approaching a child has the power to foster healing.
  • Be willing to ask the right question.

The Mom Friend

I love my young teacher friends. Their energy is contagious! They are passionate about life and have innovative ideas. Young singles, young marrieds, young parents…each with their own set of plans for the future. Working hard to navigate the busy world of home, family, career.

In these circles, I often find myself taking on the role of “Mom.” I have even referred to some of them as my adopted kids. I have three practically grown children of my own, so the mom part comes pretty naturally. And the truth is, I am usually old enough to be their mom. Shhh…

With these young friends, the advice is both given and received. They listen to my personal life stories and share theirs. Sometimes we affirm each other’s choices, other times offer reassurance that it’s not the end of the world.

I count on these “kids” to keep me going. I’m not sure they realize the length of their influence. Their presence can turn the day around with a word, a smile, a hug.

Honestly, I’m just glad they want to hang out with me. 😉

One of these sweet friends recently said to me, “You’re the best kind of friend. You’re a mom and a friend.” I’ll take it!

I often wondered what it would be like to have more kids. In a small way, I guess I have a bit of an idea.

School Year Successes

Reflections often bring mixed emotions. Whether it’s looking in the mirror or taking stock of an entire year of teaching, there are always things I wish I could change. For this end-of-the-year review, however, I’ve decided to focus on the positive.

One of my main goals this year was making sure all students who entered the music room were able to participate on some level. In particular, I wanted to connect more with our friends receiving special education services. Professional development early in the year was both challenging and encouraging, and it reminded me of the importance of these connections.

So here are my top three successes:

  • A smile
  • A high-five
  • A music stamp on a hand

All three involved the same child. A child who would not come into my classroom last year and this year spent most of his time sitting at the back. I intentionally approached him slowly and quietly, and he eventually smiled. When I got my first high-five, there were definitely tears. And allowing me to put a music stamp on his hand? That was a big step!

Did he sing or play an instrument? No. However, he listened, sometimes colored, and participated in his own way. He let me enter his world for tiny little snippets of time. And for that, I am grateful.

Teachers in May

The school year is ending
How can that be?
So much left to do
I can barely breathe!

Tired, walking slow
To my room down the hall
My thoughts start to wander
Does my job matter at all?

Deep down in my heart
I know that it does
But right now, I’m weary
My brain feels like fuzz

Bring on the coffee
Some chocolate, too
For the next few days
That will get me through

Reflection will come
There’s no time today
I’ll wait for the sun
And a clear summer day