Trying to process

I finally had to turn the news off this evening. My heart could not listen to one more minute of the school shooting. My head could not comprehend what I was seeing and hearing. And then I think of all of those moms and dads who have lost their world today – and they can’t shut it off. My tears blur my eyes even now as I type these words. As I try to process this horrific tragedy.

I think of the families who have lost small children, but I also think of the entire school community, and the town. I think of my own children and the world that they live in – so confusing and sad. And I think of my students. My classroom family. Those 50 children with whom I have shared the last nine months of my life with.

I picture their faces and try to begin to fathom what those teachers are feeling right now – the ones who made it out alive. How are they even beginning to process any of this? How will all of these classmates who lived through today’s hell ever, ever be able to walk into a school again?!

This time of year is always hard on me. One the one hand, I am very excited for a little break and some relaxing. I already have my summer “to be read” stack of books piled up. But one the other hand, I have a very hard time saying goodbye to my students. We have spent so much time together since last August. We have laughed and cried. We have learned so much about each other and about ourselves – together. There have been days when I just didn’t think I could make it – it has been a very challenging school year – but I did make it. I am not ready to let them go just yet. People don’t realize how much our classroom, our students, become like a family each year. And each year, we have to say goodbye. Goodbyes are hard.

And yet, next year they will poke their heads in my classroom and say hello and run and hug me when they see me in the hall. Those poor eighteen students who senselessly lost their lives today will never have that chance. Those teachers who were excitedly counting down to summer break with their students will not be going home tonight.

I just can’t understand why these innocent lives were lost. I just can’t bear this pain. I feel so helpless. All I know to do is to pray for peace and healing for these families and for this entire community. I pray that God will provide them with the will and the strength to go on. I pray for our country and our world.

I have two days left with this year’s class. You’d better believe that I am going to hug them tightly. I’m going to make sure that they know that they are loved and that it has been my honor to have shared these last nine months with them. And then I’m going to cry some more.

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.

Twosday

Unless you have been living under a rock, I’m sure you’ve heard all of the excitement about tomorrow being “Twosday” 2-22-22. Maybe because I am an elementary school teacher, my excitement is different than yours. But, y’all I am looking forward to sharing such a fun day with my students tomorrow. If you are a teacher or have a teacher in your life, you know that it is a pretty rough gig these days. And has been for a few years now. We are exhausted and feel like our very best is sometimes not enough for what our students need right now. I think that is why I am so excited to wear my new Twosday shirt, don a neon orange tutu and have some fun with my students. We are pretty good at having fun on a normal day in Room 214, but tomorrow is hopefully going to be a day that my students will talk about for a long time.

Tomorrow morning I will go into school super early to decorate my room with Twosday banners and streamers. All of the activities we do will have to do with the number 2! Everyone will get some Double Bubble gum. Our warm up work will be drawing a picture around the number two. We will read for 22 minutes. Our read aloud is aptly titled “Tuesday.” All “work” done tomorrow will be done in pairs. We will try to imagine what life will be when they are 22, and then write 2 paragraphs about those ideas.

Now, I realize that teachers everywhere are doing many similar things – and some are probably going way beyond what I have planned. I am by no means a super teacher, but I sure try to make special memories with my students each year. I guess I’m just super excited because just as much as my students need some fun – I need to have fun with them. I love feeling energized about what my day looks like tomorrow. I am not feeling that “end of the weekend” dread about going to school tomorrow. This block of time – from the middle of February to the middle of April (Spring Break) is a long stretch with no days off. It is the most challenging time of year for me, as state tests are looming and all of us are completely over being inside at recess. So, I am going to embrace the lining of up the calendar and have an amazing Twosday with my students.

I hope your Twosday is twice as nice as any other day and that you find a way to have some fun Twomorrow!

“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.

My teacher heart

I have said from the very start of this school year that our students are going to remember it for the rest of their lives, so let’s make those memories amazing! Well this past week, my students did just that for me. I teach fourth grade. In all I have 60 students between the three homerooms. We have asked so much of these babies this year and they have risen to the occasion better than some (many) adults I know. They came back to a classroom setting that looked very different than any they had experienced in their short academic career. They came back after the trauma of missing the last part of the prior year and essentially living in a lockdown during a global pandemic. When they walked through our doors they couldn’t see our smiles and we couldn’t see theirs. They were not seated next to an elbow buddy or at a group table, but rather on their own little island that was at least 3 feet away from all classmates. Yet through all of that we have built a classroom community like none other I have ever had. They are kind to each other. They feel safe in our little room. They are caring and sweet and so very funny.

This past week my students had to spend two days taking our state standardized tests. Yet nothing about this year has been anywhere close to standard. The state felt it was the right thing to do to add just a little more pressure on these little minds by having them sit for tests that they may not be prepared for. It seems the state must have forgotten that these babies missed an entire quarter of the prior year and while we worked so hard to “close the gap” (I would be fine if I never heard this tag line ever again) we need more time. We didn’t need more testing. I don’t need test data to tell me what my kiddos need. I can tell you that from having spent every day with them since August.

Obviously, I did not let my students feel my disgust over them having to be tested. We chose to call it a “Celebration of Learning” – our chance to show next year’s teachers how hard we had worked all year. I was absolutely blown away by how my kids showed up and worked so hard. They made this teacher so proud. As I babbled and gushed about how proud I was to them when they were finished, one of them asked “Mrs. Taylor, is your teacher heart happy?”

Yes…this teacher heart is so very happy. I cannot express how much I love this group of kids. They make every day brighter in an all too dark world. And while I still completely disagree with the state’s decision to test them, I am celebrating with them for all that they have learned. And all that they have taught me.

This is not my job

This school year has definitely been different than any other in my career. Many days I feel like I am a first year teacher again. I feel like I am having to create new ways to do things nearly every day. Most days I feel overwhelmed and completely flustered. I am exhausted before the day even starts. I spend early morning hours in my classroom trying to find new ways to teach – to reach all of my kiddos. I spend all day behind a mask hoping that they can see the smile they bring to my face. I study their eyes – searching for a glimmer of understanding. I miss seeing the smiles that I know are there, but are masked. Creating engaging, cooperative lessons has become a difficult task. Sharing learning and ideas from three feet apart somehow just isn’t the same.

I come home at night, carrying a load that is much heavier than the stacks of papers in my bag. Did I even speak to her? Was he okay today or did he seem sad? If I could have only spent more time reading with them. Finding the balance between work and home is even more burdensome this year than ever before. As I lay my head on the pillow (or the couch, sometimes even my desk) my thoughts drift to tomorrow’s challenges. Do I have the energy for one more day of this environment? How am I going to reach them? And keep them safe? And listen? And show them how much I truly care – from three feet away?

But here’s the thing…I LOVE what I do – even when I’m doing it in the middle of a pandemic. I love my kids (my students carry the title of my kids). I love that they are so resilient and they handle every day of this crazy school year like seasoned veterans. They are still kids. They still laugh and play and have fun. They bring me so much joy when they draw me pictures or write me notes (even when the spelling is a little off). Yes, it has been a really tough, deflating year trying to make things feel normal when they are anything but. The pride I feel when I see how amazingly my kiddos are navigating all of the chaos – well, it makes every minute worth it.

I might be overwhelmed and allow myself to complain about the day to day details of the “job,” but the reality is, I love my “job.” I feel blessed that I have the opportunity to pour into these little lives each day. And the best thing is that I always get so much more from them that I give. My burdens may feel heavy at times, but my heart is always full. Teaching is not my “job.” Teaching is my passion.

Thank you Teddy

I’ve adopted these words as my motto as I navigate this season. Last Tuesday I was told teddythat as a district we would begin online teaching/distance learning/teaching from home on that Thursday. Thirty-six hours to wrap my head around teaching my curriculum to sixty-four students in a way that I had never done before. I went into overdrive and spent some much energy trying to figure it all out that I pretty much accomplished nothing. At the beginning of every school year I make a promise to myself to do all that I can for each and every one of my students for the 180 days that I have them. And here I have been told to “teach” them from behind a computer screen. I have worked twice as many hours a day since we have been closed then I normally do when we are “in school.” I have not slept a full night. I have worried myself sick. I have eaten a whole lot of comfort food (why can’t I be the kind of worrier who can’t eat…?).

Today, I am having to slow down, take some deep breaths and accept the fact that the remaining time with my kiddos this year is just going to be different. That doesn’t mean it is “worse” – just different. And all I can do is what I can do with what I have right now. I won’t be able to share the laughs and high-fives, but I can send messages letting them know I’m here. I won’t be able to read the books to them that I had planned – with all the voices and animation, but I can record myself reading some of the stories and send them with love. All that I do is what I can, with what I have, right here where I am. And I hope that my kids know that it’s all for them! I encourage everyone reading this to do all that you can for those around you and help them through this season of panic and fear.

Much love