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Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Victory Lap: Pondering the struggles of being a teacher



Sometimes we all have a down day. Then we have a down week. Suddenly, we realize that we are down too much. Exhausted and no longer excited, we've sat down, laid down, or been flattened and wondering where the encouragement will come from.

The other day someone said something unkind to me on twitter about being middle aged and middle class and it hurt. (Plus the fact he was making fun of my Christian faith, but I'm about to get used to that these days.)

It is easy to get down when you're a teacher. 

Just like preparing to speak for a keynote, I have that same rush of adrenaline that I feel each time the bell rings for a new class to come in. I know that if I'm leading the conversation that I must perform - I must be on top of my game. So, by the end of the day (as when I'm writing this) there's no game and no energy left for me. Going to the grocery store, cooking dinner, or preparing for an online meeting are the furthest thing from my mind. All I want to do is completely collapse in my chair and watch an old episode of Numb3rs or Monk with a big old hot brownie and some Blue Bell Ice cream on top.

I get the great opportunity to be a full time teacher and Mom and to write about it. This is my niche. If you're reading this and have nodded your head at what I'm writing, you're my audience. I don't get a quiet office, I get up at 5 am when it is quiet to have my quiet time and write quietly for you each day. On my knees, I ask God what people need to hear out there and how I can be helpful.

Retreat and struggle.

But lately, with some private things in my life that I've had to do, I've felt as if I'm in retreat.

What will happen if I open up and let you know that my schedule this school year is really getting to me? Will you think I'm a bad person? Not a worthy person? Do all speakers and authors that you read really have to be skinny, energetic, and perpetually young? Do they all have to be excited about every day and act like they've had 6 cups of coffee in their cereal for you to like them?

Teachers have a tough row to hoe.


Reality.

Reality for teachers is that we may get away to a conference for a few days but we've got a hard row to hoe every day of the week. We're up past midnight grading papers and have parents who send us emails and expect an immediate reply. We might have a tad of time and if we read our reader or education news we see another teacher basher who has written a damning article from the quiet of their office while their secretary holds their calls and their own children are off at school.

I feel like most edreform articles are unrealistic diatribes by the clueless for the clueless. Meanwhile, those of us doing this for a living are attracted to articles about how to do it better and rarely can stomach the edreform debates swirling around us that will determine the future of education in America or the country in which we reside.

There has to be a balance. 

So, for me right now, I'm not in retreat, I'm prioritizing.

My husband and I have been working hard to balance our budget using Dave Ramsey's Financial Peace University. It has meant packing sandwiches and cutting out extra expenses and my book budget was slashed to $20 a month. It will likely also mean that I won't be able to go to ISTE 2013. We have a son to send to college in the fall and this is the way it is.

Maybe I am middle class. Maybe I am midway through my life. But it isn't going to to turn into a crisis.

As I type this, I'm about to go put on my shorts and walk around the track (and run a bit too) as I listen to my new favorite Christian group, Veritas.
I'm going to fix a good dinner and spend time talking to our Flat Classroom Certified teacher cohort... a fantastic group of educators who excite and motivate me.
I'm going to know that I'm not thinking clearly right now because I'm EXHAUSTED.
I'm going to read some more of my Mitch Rapp book tonight as conducts black ops and gets the bad guy.
I'm going to fix an incredible dinner that my husband will love to come home to and put on my lipstick and give him a big kiss when he walks in that door.
I'm going to chat with the people who hang out on my Facebook fanpage as we talk about being teachers.

I'm not going to judge the success of my day by whether I got to inbox zero or got some more followers on Twitter.
I'm not going to look at my Klout or Peerindex to measure what kind of person I am.
I'm not going to look at my list of 60 things that I have to get done RIGHT NOW or else.
I'm not going to get down on myself any more.
It stops now.

I'm thankful to be a teacher. Teaching isn't like anything else. I rarely  have things I do in class that  I can mark off a list. But I can put my head on my pillow tonight knowing that I gave EVERYTHING to my students and that I was a fantastic teacher today. I gave it all. As our football coach says, "I left it all on the field" and I paraphrase, "I left it all in the classroom" -- I gave everything I had.

An obscenely long paragraph of what I did today (you might want to Skip ;-)

I was prepared when they walked in the door, I'm working hard to stay up on my grading, I've responded to all of the parents who have questions for me and I have appointments to teach all the kids before or after school who have missed because they were sick. I did an incredible job with study hall today as I helped the kids list all of the work they have to do on the board and I made sure they stayed on task so their parents won't have to worry about it tonight. I encouraged eighth graders who were sad about losing elections and helped my ninth graders Blackboard Collaborate with a classroom in San Antonio Texas. My tenth graders understand the 10 flatteners in Thomas Friedman's book The World is Flat and are ready to start collaborating. They understand the dot com boom, the dot com bubble, and the implications of Y2k, the IIT's in India, and the history of Tim Berners-Lee and the protocols that created the Internet. My homeroom is ready for Homecoming next week and I've got seniors doing SAT prep for the test Saturday. I've been conversing with teachers on the Flatclassrooms Ning as we brainstorm symbiotic learning opportunities and how e can creatively make more and been awe struck by Sue Levine's post about the Sweet Taste of Synchronicity. Heck, I even finally got my insurance company and the local hospital to admit a massive billing mistake when my son was in the hospital with pneumonia that is going to give me a lot more peace of mind. In between classes, I helped our science teacher upgrade the software for her Ken-a-vision electronic microscope and made sure the new Accelerated Reader system was working and removed a trojan horse from a computer that was preventing an important order from being placed.

^^^
Look at this list. I didn't even list everything but I think I did a lot more than I thought I did. I even went and retitled the paragraph and deleted some things! I bet if you type a paragraph about what you DID today you might be as shocked as I am. I felt like I did NOTHING today. I was sitting here feeling like a loser like I didn't get a THING done and look at that list!!

I even marked seven things off the list in my planner too.

Routines, Classes, People Everywhere All the Time

Teaching isn't like the business world. It isn't. We don't have lists, we have routines. We don't have meetings, we have class -- all the time. And we never have an empty room. We are often on the edge of hyperventilation and capitulation and yet we don't.

I am a teacher and I'm not going to have a guilt trip about the fact that I don't get a list of 50 things done any more. I gave all I had today and that is enough.

So, to those of you reading this, my dear friends.

It is enough.
You are enough.
If you give all you have to your students and you grade, communicate with parents, and work hard to study and stay abreast of your subject.
If you juggle the clubs and the events at your school and work hard to help others.
If you work with a passionate intensity to better the lives of those around you.

YOU ARE ENOUGH.

You've done enough.
You are important, beautiful, wonderful people and YOU ARE MY HERO.
In fact, if the world really understand what it takes to do what you do, they'd call you a hero too.

But they don't, and it is OK.
It is OK because as teachers, we MUST appreciate each other.
I'm not here to be thanked now, I'm here to be thanked when my students get out into the world. They'll see then that I gave them a world class education in my tiny room in my tiny school in my tiny town in my tiny county. They'll see that the tiny-ness of where we live never meant that was the size of our minds.

You are the modern nobility. You are teachers. I am proud to be among you.
Teach well. Be well.
I'm going to go run a mile around the track right now and the last lap will be a victory lap. It will be a victory lap because this is a good life and I am rich and I am young. Rich in experiences and young because I work with the young. I will not let a person on Twitter belittle me or make me feel any less of the winner I am because I work with CHILDREN and I love them and I love this job. It doesn't matter that people put me down, I'm doing IMPORTANT work.

I am ashamed at my guilt trip and upset that I didn't see clearly that I did good, noble things today.
But I will be happy if you too see the error of our ways as teachers.

Victory Lap, here I come! I hope that you'll find a way to do a victory lap of your own today - whether it is around the grocery store or walking around the school -take time to walk with your fellow teachers and talk about what it means to be a teacher and why you do it. You are the modern nobility.

Take a victory lap.


Photo credits: Big Stock, may only be used with proper licensing.
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