Teacher Heart

Confession time. This teacher’s heart, mind, and body are struggling. Each day brings physical and emotional exhaustion. This is not about complaining or seeking validation. I am acknowledging that we are in a difficult season.

Life is full of difficult seasons. This is not the first and will most certainly not be the last. Such is the world in which we live. It is just that I am having a difficult time dealing with this one.

One day can feel like a rollercoaster. One hour, I have a great class, kids engaged, lightbulbs going off. The next, I allow something small to wash away the positive. A problem with technology (shh…do not tell my husband.) 😉 My attitude, maybe a student’s attitude-it doesn’t matter which. I’m suddenly trying not to cry, counting the minutes until I can hide in the bathroom between classes and regain my composure.

My thoughts quickly move towards an “I don’t think I can do this” attitude. And every time this happens, encouragement follows.

An encouraging word from my husband. “You are stronger than you think you are.”

An encouraging comment from a colleague. “You inspire me.”

An encouraging email from another colleague. “M and T told me all about strong and weak beats…that music lesson stuck with them!”

All I see is that one word…encouraging. And these are only a few examples from the last several days. The individuals who shared their thoughts may not have realized the power held in their words, but I felt it in my teacher-heart. Their messages brought smiles to brighten my day and tears to wash away my doubts…renewal.

Renewal…the next focus word. Something we all must learn to practice. I am practicing it right now. Today, it looks like taking a personal day and a long drive. A time away, visiting my own parents. A time to rest and be loved as a daughter.

Other days, the renewal will look different. An evening walk with my husband. Taking time to play the piano. Talking to a friend. Writing, painting, something creative to ease my anxious mind. All things to help renew my heart, soul, and body so I can continue doing what I’m called to do for however long I’m called. ❤

Waves

Although I prefer to spend time in the mountains, the ocean also fascinates me. Waves come in many forms, each with its own purpose and level of intensity. We can learn so much just from observing.

Sometimes the waves are gentle, barely lapping at the sand on the beach. With little force, this wave flows over my feet, body unwavering. Sometimes the swells are playful. Just strong enough to cause the body to sway back and forth.

Other times, the waves are fierce. Swells so high, they knock over everything in their path. No point in resisting. An impossible fight.

Life feels that way sometimes.

Maybe it is a wave of emotions brought on by exhaustion. The kind of tired that knocks me off my feet. Such was the case last Friday. After finishing the third week of school, I had nothing left. I felt like waves were overtaking me. No choice but to give in to the tears already flowing, and then sleep.

Saturday morning was different. The storm had passed. Moments to relax and enjoy my morning cup of coffee were like gentle waves ushering in the day. Later, there was time for reflection to reveal the positives from the previous week.

Both waves were necessary. Sometimes rest does not come until I stop fighting and give in. Only then will I experience peaceful, renewing rest. The kind of rest that prepares me for whatever is in store.

Here’s to a new week! And all the waves it may bring-fierce, fun, or gentle.

A Hug I Could Not Refuse

Social distancing guidelines do not allow for hugs in most situations. And compared to my typical teacher hug routine, I would guess I’m about 90% successful at school. Although honestly, it feels more like missed opportunities than successes.

One day last week, there was an opportunity I’m glad I did not miss.

Music class is supposed to be fun and engaging. At least, that is my plan. And when I cannot seem to get a student interested, engaged, connecting-it is frustrating. Last week I had one of those kiddos.

In our first class together, there was constant disruption. This student showed no desire to participate. No matter what I tried, he was determined to get out of the room.

The next time I came to this class, something was different. I have no idea what had happened before my arrival, but my friend was sitting there ready for music.

Now, several reminders and redirections were needed, but there was also participation! And he made it through the entire lesson. Even though it was a small step, I counted it a success.

Later in the day, I walked past the same class heading out to recess. I caught the eye of my friend. “You did a great job in music today. I am really proud of you,” I said. He stepped out of line and sheepishly reached one arm out to give me a hug. His reach was hesitant, his eyes looking down.

Needless to say, social distancing guidelines flew right out the window.

This was a big step, and a hug I could not refuse. ❤

Guidelines

Today was day 3 of our teacher back-to-school workweek. We are preparing to welcome students back in a few short days. We often joke about how teacher tired is real this first week back. Well, this school year teacher tired is multiplied by at least 1,000.

First, we have been physically absent from our buildings longer than usual. Second, it is hard to focus on what we do best-connect with students. We are spending a portion of our time strengthening our teaching skills. However, the impact of the COVID pandemic is also fighting for our attention-new procedures/changes in routine/guidelines.

Both areas of focus are necessary, but the combination is exhausting and overwhelming.

While being back with colleagues is encouraging, it is also challenging. I see the looks in teachers’ eyes. Excitement mixed with uncertainty. A hesitation that is difficult to label.

On Monday, I saw one of my favorite fourth-grade teachers entering the gym. I have not seen her since March. I know she has been busy advocating for students and families in our school community. I also know she must be exhausted.

My first instinct was to wrap her up in a big hug. One of those hugs that say, “I see you. It’s going to be ok.” However, I could not do that. I stopped myself.

The internal conflict was immediate and stifling. That is only one experience with one colleague on the very first day back. What will it feel like when it is hundreds of students? Students that are nervous, anxious, excited, scared… greeted only with a smile from my eyes and a kind word. Will that be enough?

I am not sure I will be able to follow those guidelines.

Chosen With Care

If only I could
Hear my words
Before sending
Them out into
The atmosphere-
If only I could
Let them hang
In the air for
A few moments
Before anyone hears-
If only the vowels
And consonants
Exclamation points
And question marks
Returned to my ears-
An opportunity
For restoration
As I suck them back in
Through my lungs
And into my heart-
Filtering out any
Selfish thoughts
Removing any
Hateful words-
Allowing them to
Be transformed
Into words of
Hope and love
Before their escape-
If only I could
Hear my words,
Would they
Be chosen
With care?

I See You

You walk down the hallway
Eyes forward, downcast
Your expression distant
As if somewhere else
Maybe at home
Maybe your previous school
I don’t know, but
I see you
A storm, churning
Under the surface
Barely able to
Maintain control
I can’t help wondering
What happened to you
What made you
So angry
I smile and say
Good morning
Your glance is quick
Your words inaudible
Standing in the breakfast line
You remain stoic
Surrounded by
An invisible wall
Your actions
Presenting a mystery
I am afraid
To solve
Tomorrow, I will
Greet you again
Hoping for a small
Crack in that wall
Allowing in a little light
To let you know
You are not alone
I see you

I wrote these words after a brief encounter with a new student at school this morning. An encounter that left me sad, but challenged. I have no doubt there is a story. Another one in a sea of many, I’m afraid. Another student in desperate need of connection. Another student facing unimaginable challenges.

I wish my words were an exaggeration. That tomorrow, someone would inform me I was mistaken. That this kiddo was just having a bad day. But I know that is not the case.

And yet, I have hope. Hope that seeing one child at a time, right where they are, can make a difference. ❤

The Grandma Connection

Teaching begins with connections. Teaching over five hundred students every three days makes this quite a challenge. Sometimes it happens when least expected.

This was the case with one of my fourth-grade classes. It all started before Christmas break when one student called me “Abuelita.” We all had a good laugh. The end. That is what I thought…

https://pianogirlthoughts.com/2019/12/19/a-new-nickname/

Fast forward to the first week after the break. The previously mentioned fourth-grade class came to music. We reviewed classroom expectations and played several rhythm games. And then I heard it again- “Abuelita.” I laughed, “You guys are so funny.”

For the remainder of our class, their name choices for me expanded. Students were calling me Mom, Mama, or Grandma. I smiled and went along. Even as they lined up to leave, I heard, “Bye, Grandma,” several times.

I still didn’t give this much thought, until walking through the building one morning.

Some mornings, I like to walk through the building before my classes begin. My intention is not to interrupt, just to see students in their regular classroom. And for them to see me interacting with their teachers.

I took one of these walks one morning this week. A few students smiled and waved. I talked to a couple of teachers in the hallway.

And then I passed by that fourth-grade class.

They all started jumping up and down and waving. Their sweet teacher smiled. I peaked in the door and said good morning, apologizing to the teacher. I’m sure you can guess what happened next. Everyone started calling me Grandma.

I suddenly realized this was a connection! A connection I could have never planned-The Grandma connection! Being an adopted grandma might not be so bad! 😉

A New Nickname

Nicknames can be mean, intended to make fun of their recipient. But they can also be funny and endearing. I’ve had several during my lifetime. Spaghetti and Kelley Girl top the list. Each name attached to a person or memory.

This week I received a new one. And though I’m unsure of the original intent, I have no doubt about the outcome. It all began with a group of fourth-grade boys.

As students entered my classroom on Monday, I overheard some boys laughing and saying, “Abuelita.” I smiled, “They think I don’t know what that means.”

“Did someone just call me Grandma?” I chuckled. “I am not your Grandma, although I am old enough.” I smiled, assuring them I was teasing. The boys grinned.

Soon we were playing Christmas Song Bingo. The group of boys was a little chatty during the game. After reminding them several times to be quiet and listen, I decided to have a little fun.

With the help of Google, I discovered how to say, “My grandson talks too much” in Spanish. After repeating the phrase in my head several times, it was time to act. I quietly walked over to the boys, leaned down and said, “Mi Nieto habla demasiado.”

The look on their faces was priceless! We had a good laugh and continued with our game.

At the end of all my classes, I like to stand at the door and tell each student goodbye, have a good day, see you next time, etc. Today was the “Abuelita” class again. As they were leaving, one of the boys smiled, gave me a big hug and said, “Bye, Grandma.”

I have no idea whether or not my new nickname will stick. But if it does, I will answer. It represents a connection with another student. And that is what truly matters.

Pep Talks

Who doesn’t love a good pep talk? Especially a memorable one. A couple from favorite movies come to mind. Aragorn’s rallying speech at the Black Gate in Return of the King. Or what about the final scene from Dances with Wolves. Wind in his Hair shouts his message of lasting friendship to John Dunbar from a nearby ridge. Both are examples of acknowledgment and encouragement during difficult times.

I have recently found myself on the receiving end of some pep talks. One of them came from me but most were from my husband, Gart.

My chat with myself was relatively simple. I was taking a quick bathroom break between classes, preparing to rehearse for our upcoming Veterans Day assembly. As I caught a glimpse of my frazzled reflection in the mirror, I muttered something like, “Just breathe. You can do this. You can do this.” It helped a little.

Gart’s pep talks were much more beneficial. His words reassured me of my skills as a teacher. He took the time to acknowledge my state of exhaustion. And he described strength in me that I don’t always recognize.

The funny thing is, I’m not sure I realized how much those pep talks were needed until after they occurred. And even though I reacted with tears, a weight was immediately lifted. I suppose that’s what happens when a pep talk comes from someone who knows me so well. Someone who challenges me and loves me no matter what.

Our pep talks may not qualify as blockbuster movie moments. But in my reel of life’s moments, they are more than simple highlights. They are crucial moments etched in my memory. Moments that keep me going long after the sounds of the words have faded.

Any Other Way

Yesterday, a little kindergarten girl asked me about my kids. I don’t remember her exact question, but I responded, “They are all grown-up now.” She looked at me with her big, wide, beautiful brown eyes and asked, “Are you still their mom?” This sweet girl has no idea of the impact of her question.

What is it like to be a parent of young adults? It is something I’ve pondered quite a bit lately. My parental role is in a constant state of flux it seems. As are my emotions.

Not only has this season caused me to reflect on my years of parenting, but it has also given me a new perspective concerning my own parents.

In a recent conversation with my mom about my kids growing up she said, “Well, you left home at seventeen and never came back.” I’d never thought about it in such black and white terms. Don’t misunderstand, she was not being negative, simply stating a fact. One intended to help me better understand my feelings.

My children are finding their way as adults, following their own paths. And my reactions are helping me to understand how my young adult decisions impacted my own parents. They loved me through some challenging times, and never stopped being my parents. Our bond has only grown stronger. I hope my children will be able to say the same.

Both laughter and tears will cover the days ahead. And some days, there will also be uncertainty. The uncertainty which accompanies figuring out my new role. That is what it means to be a parent.

One simple question from a kindergartener opened the door for this reflection:

Yes, I am still their mom.

I will always be their mom.

And I would not want it any other way.