Relationships before tasks

I am in the middle of my tenth year of teaching. Even though I find myself complaining about constantly bringing work home, and the ever-growing workload, I cannot imagine myself doing any other “job.” The profession has changed drastically in the decade that I have been a part of it. Ask any teacher who has been in the field for more than five or so years and you are very likely to get an earful about the differences. But as I reflect on my journey, I realize that I have changed just as much as the role has. This year has been a big growth year for me as I continue to hone my craft.

When I first began teaching, I worked extremely hard to learn my content. I wanted to make sure that I knew the curriculum inside and out. I made sure that I understood it completely and that I could teach it multiple ways so that they “got it.” I was very much consumed with learning different strategies for teaching reading, various interventions for students who may have been struggling. I searched for multiple texts on one topic to ensure repeated practice and a complete understanding. I was hyper focused on the “book” side of teaching. I’m not for a minute saying that knowing and understanding your content is not important…because you can’t teach it well if you don’t know it well. But it is not the only side of teaching. I have always prided myself on having a great rapport with my kids, but I think that my focus being so much on the content – on the tasks – held me back from realizing my full potential to both educate and influence my students.

My shift this year in my thinking and my practices has been monumental. I began this year more focused on relationships. My relationship with my students, and their relationships with each other. My focus has been on creating a culture in my classroom where each of us has our own voice and we are each valued. So – let me pause and say that I have always felt that classroom culture and relationships are important. That concept is not brand new to me, so my focus is not anything that is earth shattering. The “A-ha” for me has been the change in where my priorities lie. Yes, I am still teaching my curriculum, but I am not tied to the pacing of that map. Yes, I am still assessing my students for their mastery of standards, but I do not derive my value as a teacher from one set of data. Yes, I am setting high, rigorous expectations for my students, but we are not defined by a snapshot in time or a grade in the grade book.

This year I have had to let go of a lot of “control” and trust what I know about relating to my students. It has been so hard for me to not get caught up in the race of trying to “cover” everything. Sometimes we have to stop and talk. We have to stop and listen. Sometimes, we just need to read a story “because.” We have started “soft starts” in the morning – just so we can hang out together. I have been so intentional about taking those extra 15 minutes to have conversations – sometimes about little stuff, and sometimes about BIG stuff. I’m learning so much about myself as a teacher and a person. I’m learning, in such a tangible way, that my students truly will learn what they need to learn even if we spend a day “off the grid” (shhhh don’t tell my curriculum director). As a matter of fact, having spent so much time establishing trust and relationships with my kiddos has had a huge impact on their classwork. They are safe. They are valued. They know that it’s okay to get it wrong.  Because they know that Mrs. Taylor will love them even if…. And I remind them of that every day. They are more courageous in their work knowing that as long as we are trying we are learning.

For many of you out there who figured their way through all of this a long time ago, you are probably thinking “well, duh”! Yes – it does sound so simple and makes total sense on paper. Maybe I’m just a slow learner, or I was too worried about test scores for too long when I should have been figuring this out. For those of you who do this so well, and share all of your experiences, thank you so much. I have been immersing myself in all of your shared practices and ideas.

One hundred eighty days. I am blessed to have these sixty-five best friends for one hundred eighty days. I take that blessing very seriously. It’s not really a long time to make an impact. I am passionate about making those days count. My deepest desire is that they will learn from me. That they will learn not only the content that I love teaching them, but more importantly that they will learn their value. And that I love them.

In an instant

Just yesterday morning I was hit (literally) with the reality of how quickly a moment can change things. I opened the kitchen cabinet that we (attempt) to keep all of our water bottles in. On a side note, how many water bottles/refillable cups/yeti cups/etc does one family truly need? So I opened the cabinet to retrieve a water bottle to fill and take to school with me. The instant that the door opened, several water bottles tumbled out sending me into a screaming fit. One especially heavy container landed awkwardly on my hand. As I type this it probably wasn’t nearly as dramatic as it sounds. But trust me, it was quite the scene. This single second in time changed my upbeat, ready-to-take-on-the -world mood to a being instantly irritated, aggravated and ready to fight the world. I was able to recover quickly from my hand injury (which was not much more than an owie) but it took my mood a little longer to recover. I’m not sure why I was so mad. Not even sure who I was mad at. But looking back at the episode a day later, I realize that I let a really small, unexpected event rob me of at least an hour of my morning.

I have been thinking a lot about how this little thing is a lot like how life can be. In just an instant, lives can change. In just an instant, people can be gone from our world. In just an instant, diagnoses are delivered. In just an instant, finances crumble. In just an instant, relationships can be destroyed. The action of a water bottle falling out of the cabinet, in an instant, really made me think about how so many things hang in the balance in so many ways. I guess my takeaway will sound a bit cliche-ish…but the reality is that things can truly change in the blink of an eye. Within one heartbeat our whole world could be flipped upside down.

So what…..?

So…appreciate the life in every moment. Be present in every moment. Don’t miss the chance to speak those unspoken words. Smile – just because. Be someone’s hero. Ask for help. Chase your passion. Soak it in. Grab those moments and truly live in them. Don’t dwell on moments that have passed. Don’t worry about the moments that lie ahead. Live in the current moment because everything could change, in just an instant…

Milestones

stepping stonesAs a new parent, I remember being so excited for each of my children’s milestones; crawling, walking, talking, first tooth, etc. I couldn’t wait for them to reach each of them, and then to move on to the next “big” event. I would mark each of these glorious days in their baby book and swear I would remember them forever. As they got older, they still continued to reach new ones, but they didn’t seem to capture as much attention as when they were babies. Maybe that’s because life just got so busy that I didn’t take the time to fully appreciate them as I should have. What I wouldn’t do to have some of that precious time back to just slow down and enjoy each moment for its true worth. I feel like I almost wished their childhood away by saying things like “I can’t wait until they walk…I can’t wait until her first day of school…”. 

This past year has been full of milestones for both of my “big” kids. Zach finished his junior year at Otterbein University. And instead of coming home for the summer, he moved into his first apartment in Columbus (which is now home to him). For the first time in 21 years, my son does not live with me. It’s left so an odd emptiness in our house and in my heart. Carty played her last soccer game ever, attended her last prom, graduated from high school, and is at her college orientation as I type this! She is no longer a child. She is embarking on her life after school. So many milestones for her this year. As I left her at orientation (why the heck were parents not allowed?) she got out of the car and told me to drive away before she walked in. I got a big smile on my face because I knew that she knew that I was going to snap a picture of her heading straight into her next milestone. I did as she asked and drove away without a picture on my phone. But I did pause to capture the image in my mind and saved it to my heart. (Jeez that sounds so cheesy – honest but cheesy). 

Why did it all happen so fast? That sounds so cliche…but wow is it so true. I can remember so many people telling me that it would. But in those busy times of practices and homework and laundry, at times it felt like it would never end. So here I sit, tears streaming down my face, wishing that I had paid more attention along the way. Somehow, all of a sudden, my babies are grown. They are moving on to their own lives. Yes, I will always and forever be their momma…but things will never be the same. I’m sad that they are not babies anymore, but I know that there will continue to be more events that we will share. We will learn to navigate this new normal. And I will cherish each new milestone that comes along. 

*(I’m sorry (not sorry) for the emotional messiness of this post. Writing is my way to process and take time to feel what I’m really feeling. And also just to ramble a little bit.)

Words

Blank 10 x 8 inI am a word person. I love words. I love when authors use words in magical ways. I love quotes. I hold onto quotes that have been meaningful to me in different seasons of my life. I find myself pulling quotes out of my brain from the past to help me through whatever I’m going through presently. Right now, I am working on myself – my fitness and my weight (yes….here we go again). I have been successful once before losing weight and getting in really good shape, so I know I can do it. I’ve also failed way more times than I have triumphed, so I understand when even my closest friends and family doubt me. (It’s all good though…doubters are just fuel for my comeback).

So I’m currently finishing up my first full week of being intentionally focused on losing 40 pounds. I have worked out everyday except today (my sabbath). I have make food choices that I feel really good about. I feel better. I am proud of myself for sticking with what I started – granted its only been a week, but that IS progress. Right?! But, like many of us in this modern society, I want some instant gratification! I feel like I should be seeing results. I should look different in the mirror. That dang number on the scale should be getting smaller! Why am I so frustrated that there are no visible results for all of my hard work?! I do feel better, so why isn’t that enough?

As I pouted my way out of the bathroom this morning after the scale betrayed me, I was reminded of a quote that has been important to me at many times in my life. TRUST THE PROCESS! These words seem simple and perhaps they are overused, but these three words hold so much meaning and power for me. These words guided me through some very dark times in my life.This weight loss journey is definitely a process. It will not happen overnight. It won’t happen in a month. It may not happen in a year. But it WILL happen as long as I allow myself to remember that it is indeed a process. It will require trust on my part. My “instant gratification” will have to come from the small wins along the way. My results will have to come from my non scale victories from day to day. I am so thankful for the words that I hold tight from the past, and for the words that I learn each day that teach me lessons and keep me strong.

Thirteen again

Our 12 year old started swim team for this summer. Practice is every day at 7:45. Since we are at the Y for over an hour, I thought it would be a great time to spend some time exercising. However, since I have the two little girls, the only form of exercise I can get is swimming laps in the pool (no child watch that early). Let me say that I am NOT a swimmer….well like a “swim for exercise” swimmer. I’m more of a float around and soak up the sun swimmer. But, I really am motivated to get myself in shape, so I decided to use the time to better myself. Yesterday was my first day in the pool. I walked in and was totally intimidated instantly. But, I pushed through and didn’t compare myself (too much) to the people around me. Not even the 70 year old woman who was twice as fast as me. I swam 20 laps (with lots of stopping in between) and felt pretty good about myself.

I woke up this morning with that soreness that lets you know that you actually did something the day before. I was determined to walk into the pool with confidence this morning and push myself a little bit more. When we arrived, there was one lane open in the pool. The middle lane. Right in the middle of the “real” athletes with their caps and goggles and swimsuits. So – did I just jump right in and do my thing? Heck no! I sat on the bleachers and waited until the slow lane opened up. So much for feeling good about myself. Finally, the end lane opened up and I worked up my nerve to get in and start working toward my 20 lap goal. After a couple of laps I had stopped worrying about the world record swimmers around me and was focusing on myself. On lap 9, I noticed that the two male lifeguards (maybe 16 years old) had some secret inside joke that had them both cracking up. Of course, I KNEW they were laughing at me. Maybe it was my granny swimsuit. Maybe it was my inability to make it all the way down the lane in under 2 minutes. Perhaps they were laughing at my attempt at the breast stroke (which probably looked more like a I was drowning, rather than exercising). Why did I automatically assume that they just had to be laughing at ME? I am a strong, successful woman! I run a household of 7 people. I run my own classroom. Why was I letting these boys make me feel so insecure?! I felt like I was thirteen again…when I was so insecure and was certain that people were talking about me and making fun of me. I felt like that awkward little girl with the big, thick glasses who people laughed at and called names. Why was I letting myself believe that they were making fun of me. And IF they were, why did I even care? All I was trying to do was make myself better by working to get in shape. It didn’t matter what these two children were laughing at! I hate that I automatically retreat back to those hurtful, awkward times when I had ZERO self confidence, and preferred to be invisible. I’m not sure what it says about me that I can be reduced to feeling so poorly about myself so easily. But I do know that I need to dig deep and explore the whys behind those feelings.

There is a positive to this tale. When I felt like I was being laughed at and made fun of, I wanted to quit. I wanted to wrap up in my towel and sit in the locker room and cry. But I was only on lap 9 and I had set a goal for myself. I was not going to let the senior citizens who were swimming twice as fast as me, or the adolescent lifeguards who were laughing at me (probably wasn’t even about me) derail the goals I had set for myself this morning. So I did what I have learned to do best. I fought. I battled through. I finished what I started. I only wish that I could be thirteen again, so that the fighter in me could show my 13 year old self how strong I really am.

Joy and Pain

Next month my husband and I will celebrate our first anniversary. Every day that I have been married to him has been amazing. I have done things and gone places that I never would have done without him. Marrying him truly made me feel like the luckiest woman in the world and I feel like I have it all. Including fibromyalgia. I was recently “diagnosed” with it and am really having a hard time learning to manage/live with the pain on a daily basis. It sucks. I’m not good at staying positive when I’m experiencing such pain levels each day. And then when I complain, I feel guilty because I should just be able to be happy with my wonderful life. I AM happy with my life – except the pain. And then I feel like maybe I am dealing with this because I somehow didn’t deserve the husband and home and children. Somehow I’m being punished for having more than I deserve. I don’t like the way that makes me feel either. Sometimes I just get mad. I am pissed that I finally found my happiness and then this is heaped up on me. And then on top of sad and mad and scared and okay I feel hopeless. I am not sure that I will ever be pain free again and that scares me to death. I can’t imagine living the rest of my life in pain and tired like I feel now. How am I even supposed to live like this for the rest of my life? Oh and then there are the conversations I have with people who tell me that I’m not really “sick” and that maybe the pain is “imagined” – those are fun talks.

I would like to think that I am a woman of faith. I believe in God and in his plan for my life. I believe that He is in control and that He loves me. I pray everyday. I try my best to live my life the way that shows the world who I belong to. But some days I fail. Some days I let my sadness or bitterness take over and I fall. I can’t just walk around all day spouting sunshinyness and pretending that I’m okay. YES, I have a joy in my heart because of my relationship with God. But I also need to be authentic and transparent and real. Life is hard. Life is painful. Life is running me over right now.

I know that this is just a season in life. I know that it will either get better, or I will learn to better manage my emotions that surround all of it. Either way I will not be stuck right here where I am. In the meantime, I want to be truthful about where that is and what I’m dealing with. Anyone can share all the good stuff. Everyone has a highlight reel that they want the world to see. But I want to share it all. Life is about the ups and the downs. It’s about the pretty and the ugly. The smiles and the tears. Joy and pain (haha…now that song is in your head…sunshine and rain).

So there it is. It will be an interesting journey. I am going to pay attention to all of it and listen to myself as I learn about who I really am in all of it.

I should be grading papers…

Here I sit in my home office. A ridiculous pile of papers is taunting me. I should be grading them, but I’m not. I could be cleaning baseboards – goodness knows that chore is long overdue. I could be working on the 5 assignments I have due in my Master’s class. None of those things are ever really fun – but they all need done. Something always needs to be done. Life has gotten so incredibly busy that I cannot keep up. My soul is weary. I miss doing things that feed my spirit. I miss reading a book just because. I miss writing in my journal. I miss actually sitting down and sipping my coffee….savoring it. I should be doing something a little more “useful” with my time right now, but instead I am here. I am back on my blog. Sadly it had been so long since I last blogged that I had to look up my log in information. But here I am. I know that this is what makes my heart happy. Sharing my feelings. Using words to soothe. Pushing myself to be authentic even when it is scary. Nothing I am typing is earth shattering and to some it may even seem trivial. But jumping back onto the page and find refuge in words and thoughts is already making me feel more balanced and centered. Life can be crazy…sometimes I just have to jump off of that train and be still.

No Place I’d Rather Be

set a fire

Lately I have found myself in a dry season spiritually. I have felt lost at times and very far from God. The close, dependent relationship I used to have with my heavenly Father – the one where we talked daily and where I worried less and relied more – that is not currently where I’m at. I know that life is about ebbs and flows – and in all relationships there are periods of closeness and periods of distance. But I am NOT okay with where I am at in my relationship with God.

I am a teacher…

Teachers have been in the news a lot lately. Some of the press is good and some is bad. Sadly I feel like teachers get a bad rap. The profession seems to carry less respect that it used to – and much less than teachers truly deserve. It makes me sad. Ever since I was a little girl playing school in my room for hours on end – with stuffed animal students and a make shift chalkboard – I dreamed of having a classroom of my own. Now that I am a teacher I can honestly say it is my dream job. I feel so blessed to get to do what I do every single day. Am I tired? Yes. Am I frustrated at times? Yes. Do I feel overworked and under appreciated? At times, yes! But at the end of the day, I know that I carry the responsibility and privilege of making a difference in the lives of children!

Teaching is not just what I do….Teaching is who I am. It is woven into the fabric of my very being. Through the course of my day I do so much more than “teach.” I get to listen to stories of fainting goats and trips to Disney. I get to dry tears shed from missing a dog. I get to love on kids who have worries that kids should not have. I get to share in the excitement of finally “getting it.” This is such an honor and such a blessing in my life. And while not every moment of every day is sunshine and rainbows, and while there is a whole lot of other “stuff” that makes this profession not so glamorous at times,  it is all worth every single bit of energy spent. I get to be a teacher….it is who I am!

Noise

 

noise   I am an elementary teacher. I’m fairly accustomed to the constant hum of noise from a roomful of kids. And that’s nothing to the noise level found in a cafeteria with 100+ kiddos. I am momma to 5 kids. Rarely are all seven of us ever in the house – much less the same room – but when we are, there is noise. (This momma loves that noise, by the way).

When you think about it, there is noise in all aspects of our lives. TV’s are often on several hours a day in our homes. Our noses tend to be buried in some sort of screen several hours a day. We are constantly being bombarded with noise…data, tweets, posts, feeds, videos, and on and on. The other day I stepped out of my car to pump gas and there was a screen blaring commercials and music. Constant noise.

For me, the constant noise – the ever-present distractions become almost comforting. When I’m listening to a tv show, or scrolling mindlessly through the same feed I’ve read through already three times I don’t have to think about “the other stuff.” And sometimes its just easier to drown out the hard stuff. But easy isn’t always best.

I’ve recently tried to start eliminating some of the daily distractions so that I can consciously seek after these deeper things. I’m going after peace. When I’m not busy worrying about social media, or Season 5 of Grey’s Anatomy, my mind is forced to really ponder on bigger thoughts. Sometimes I end up praying…talking with God. Other times I’ve ended up worshipping – just me on my own. I’ve also found myself thinking about all of the many things I am so grateful for.

I’m certainly not trying to say that social media is bad or that we shouldn’t ever turn on Netflix…not at all. I think what I’m discovering is that distractions can very easily take up all the space in our heads and not allow any time for us to reflect on what’s really important. These breaks from the noise have been so refreshing for my mind and my spirit. I encourage you tofind your quiet!