“Teachers don’t poop…”

I just started my 14th year in the classroom. Even in that time, teaching has changed so very much. I work, on average, 10-12 hours a day. I’m typically buried in paperwork. The requirements and demands coming down from the state are endless, and often make no sense. The academic, physical, and emotional needs of my students are draining and more often than not keep me awake at night. This career is exhausting.

But…then there are the kids. My absolute favorite part about my job is the kids! There is never a dull moment when you are working with tiny humans. They tell me jokes that crack me up. They wow me with their creativity. My students shower me with daily hugs and stories about all the things that are important to them.

They get crayons stuck in their ears. I have heard myself say, more than once in my career, “Please don’t lick the windows.” They are squirrely and sassy at times but also have moments that melt my heart. Some days they will NOT stop talking, and others they are the most captive audience around. They are certain that ice from the nurse can cure anything. They will crawl on the floor picking up every little speck of dirt for the promise of a piece of candy.

I love the energy that they bound into school with. I love that they can still leave me speechless with the things they come up with. Today was one of the conversations that I will probably never forget. While standing in the hallway taking a whole class bathroom break, I asked one of my “responsible” students to monitor the class and hand out Dojo points so that I could go to the end of the hall and use the restroom. When I returned approximately 37 seconds later (as a teacher you have to go fast) one of my students said “Mrs. Taylor, what do you do when you go to the end of the hallway?” I replied, “Ummm…I use the bathroom.” Another student chimed in and said “D’uh…teachers pee too!” A third student chimed in, rather loudly, “And poop!” By this time the whole class is mesmerized by the topic of my bodily functions. A fourth student jumps into the conversation to proclaim, “NO! Teachers don’t poop!”

I didn’t really want to explore my bathroom habits with twenty-five nine and ten year olds…so I just quietly shook my head (as I often do) and went on. I mean really, what is there even to say at that point. Just move on. Did I even for a moment to expect that we would be discussing my bathroom habits today? Nope… Tomorrow I am sure there will be something else that catches me by total surprise.

I love these kids so much – already. We are building a classroom family and they bring me more joy than I could ever express. Even when I’m sending one to the nurse for jamming a crayon in his ear. Even when I have to try to explain to one why “No, I will NOT smell your hand.” And even when I have seen my thirty-second wiggly tooth of the day (and my stomach is lurching).

So yes, teachers work really hard and often feel underpaid and disrespected. We sometimes feel we are being tasked with the impossible. We are tired and overwhelmed and burned out. BUT, we do love the kids, and we are so blessed to get to do what we do! We can be frustrated and still love our jobs all at the same time!

I wish my teacher knew…

This time of year is always bittersweet for me. I love the lazy days of summer. No schedule. No alarm set. Slow quiet mornings sipping coffee contemplating the biggest decision of the day – which bathing suit to wear for another day by the pool. But as much as I enjoy sweet summertime, by the time August rolls around, I am ready for routine. As a child, the start of a new school year was so exciting to me. And it still is as an adult. The newness of everything feels so good. As a teacher, it is the prospect of 50 new little lives that I get to watch grow, pour into and love on.

I have worked non-stop since the first of August getting ready for this brand new school year. Countless hours have been spent setting up my classroom with a new look for the year. Name tags and lists. Materials and labels. Pencils and copies. It has all consumed me for the days and weeks leading up to the first day of school.

The first day has come and gone and I have enjoyed each moment getting to know all 50 of my students (25 in my homeroom, and 25 in my teaching partners room). I often have to tell myself that this part just takes time. I want to get to know their strengths and weaknesses, their personalities, their fears, and their interests. I want to know how they each learn best so that I can help them each grow to their full potential in the 177 days that I have them to teach.

Each year, each new group is so very different from the one before. I am loving the eagerness of this group of kids to learn. They are not afraid to try the hard things and already seem to feel safe enough in our little classroom family to make mistakes. They are helpers, jumping in to help a classmate who is struggling. They are storytellers, rushing into the room to share news of a new pet or football game. They are dreamers, talking of future careers as paleontologists and veterinarians. My desire is to foster all of this in all of them each and every day.

The responsibility of teaching and growing these little minds is not a burden, but rather one of the greatest blessings I could imagine. In my room I have an “I Wish My Teacher Knew…” jar. I encourage students to leave me a note about the things that they would like to share with me but are maybe not ready to say to my face. The first few days of school the jar would be full of little notes saying “You’re the best teacher,” or “I love school.” But it was on day four that a lone note in that jar reminded me just how important this responsibility is. This note said “I wish my teacher knew that I am dum.” I saved that note. I have not stopped thinking about those words. They have kept me awake at night. I think about them as I am preparing lessons and activities. I am thinking about them when I pray each morning before my students arrive. I will carry those words with me every day this school year. They will be the force that pushes me to do anything and everything I can for this group of students.

I have always believed that relationships come first in my classroom. I tell my students – my kids – that I love them. I listen to them. I hug them. I shower them with positive affirmations. Relationships before tasks. I firmly believe that if a student feels loved and safe, they are more willing to open up and take chances in their learning. My prayer is for each one of my students to believe in themselves and in their abilities.

And by the end of our time together I hope that they can say “I wish my teacher knew that I feel loved…”

So much more

It’s spring time again, and for school, that means another year of state testing for my students. In the past, I would have been filled with anxiety – hoping that I had done enough to prepare my students to perform on the standardized tests that they are subjected to each school year. After years of worrying about the scores that come from one (or two) days of tests that truly only provide a moment in time snapshot, I am no longer worried. These scores are not at all a reflection of who my students are, or what kind of teacher I am. A rating of proficient or better is only a label placed on each of my students that is solely based on how well they can navigate the passages and questions on one test. But these numbers are not who my students are. These score reports do not even come close to describing my students. My students are readers, and artists. They are dreamers and athletes. My students are comedians and tricksters. These children energize me and teach me. They make me laugh, and some days they make me cry.

This year, we have become a family. We have created a classroom community and have formed bonds through books and stories and lessons. We have made memories in the little moments. We have become writers. My students and all that they are could never be defined by one number. They amaze me everyday with their resilience and persistence. When things get tough, they repeat back to me our classroom mantra – “We CAN do hard things.”

Now, I have to be completely authentic here and add that not every day is sunshine and rainbows where they all listen to directions the first time and always follow expectations. We have had our days where lessons flop, arguments abound, and behaviors get the best of us. But we are a family in room 214, and family sticks together.

So tomorrow, my students will arrive bright and early, ready to tackle this test, knowing that they CAN – but also knowing that in my eyes, they are so much more than a test score.

“I love learning with you”

I am a teacher. It is not what I do…it is who I am. I love the energy that the kids bring to the classroom everyday. I love reading stories with them and listening to their reactions to historical events and reading their creative writing.

But I am tired. I know that people are probably sick of hearing teachers complain about how hard the last few years have been. But y’all, it’s like nothing I have ever experienced. And I cannot not even begin to explain how or why. Unless you have personally walked through it, no amount of words could even begin to try and paint a picture of the enormous weight that teachers are carrying.

Today was a really rough day. There are kids who desperately need help that I alone can’t give. There are parents who have seemingly checked out and are not attentive to their child’s needs. Today I ran smack into so many walls while trying to do all that I can for my students. I am feeling defeated. I am frustrated and standing on the edge of hopelessness. I have cried nearly every day this year. Many nights I have tossed and turned worrying about other people’s children – my students. I am burned out and exhausted.

As I sat in my dark room today scarfing down my cold lunch, saying a prayer that I could be what my students needed for the rest of our day, I was completely overwhelmed with feelings of failure. And then I saw tiny note peeking out from some papers on the corner of my desk. The small piece of notebook paper had been cut into the shape of a heart and crisply folded in half. Inside it read:

Dear Mrs. Taylor,

I might not have any sweet treats, but I have something I want you to read. In the start, school was a big fart, until I switched for the first time. It’s like I just ate a lime. My eyes gazed around your room. It was beautiful, through and through. What I mean is from my heart…I love learning with you!

In that moment, sitting in my dark, quiet classroom, tears streamed down my cheeks. Somehow, this sweet quiet student knew exactly what I needed today. And all of the mess and chaos of the day was gone. With this thoughtful poem, a little 10 year old girl brought me back to center. She reminded me why I show up every day. She filled my heart with so much joy that I couldn’t remain in my overwhelmed state even if I had tried.

I am so blessed to get to do what I do every day. And it took the secretly left musings of a ten year old to remind me of all of those blessings.