Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Lessons from My Little One

My son has taught me more about love, life and myself than I ever thought another person could. Please see my latest post on Liberating Working Moms, Lessons from My Little One. <3


As a working mom, and even more specifically, as a teaching mom, I often mull over the lessons my son might learn from me as he grows up. Will he be a planner like Mommy or will he go with the flow like Daddy? Will he be a horrible cook like Mommy or a quick learner like Daddy? Will he be outspoken like Mommy or a quiet observer like Daddy?

Too often, we ask ourselves these questions. We wonder which of our traits—good and bad—will rub off on our children. Then we think about academics. We wonder if they’ll learn their letters, colors, shapes and numbers before they go to school. We wonder if they’ll be potty trained…ever. Because we’re the teachers. And they’re the learners.

But this week, I realized something. That’s not true. I realized it before this week, but a few things this week reminded me. My son has taught me so much about life, love, and myself. More than anyone I’ve ever known has, or ever could have. Here are a few simple lessons I think we, as hard-working moms, can learn from our wee ones:

1.     “Sometimes…what you least expect happens.” -Love and Other Drugs

Man, there were moments during my pregnancy when I experienced wicked feelings of regret. Why didn’t I just get my Master’s degree, dedicate my life to teaching and writing, and put off the whole start a family thing for a few more years? Why did I subject myself to daily trips to the bathroom to puke?

Well, now I know why.

I expected the worst throughout my pregnancy. I thought about miscarriage, deformities, colic, and more. And you know what I got? Literally the healthiest, happiest, funniest infant I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing. My son has taught me that from now on, I’m not going to fear the unknown or unexpected. Because those might be just the things I need.

2.     “Don’t find fault, find a remedy.” –Henry Ford

My son has taught me to problem solve. Lately, he loves to turn the television and Playstation 3 on and off. Although I think it’s hilarious when my husband is playing a video game and my son crawls up to the entertainment center to do his trick, it’s really not a safe place for him to be. I don’t want him messing with the cords and systems, so while we await the arrival of our monster play yard, we’ve been blocking him off with various other items. Items he has learned to push. And items he has learned to climb.

When I strategically placed a laundry basket in front of the cable box and game system, I watched. I could see the wheels turning in his little baby brain. He was problem-solving. How do I get to it? he would ask himself if he could speak out loud. He pulled himself up, cruised to one side, and began pushing it until it was far enough on one side that he could make it to the Playstation 3. He pressed the button, the light turned blue, and he looked at me as if to say, “I got it!”

Sometimes as working moms, we’re so busy that we fail to realize the simple solutions to problems that plague us. We need to look at our problems the way our children do. To them, nothing is insurmountable.

3.     “Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do… Sail away from the safe harbor... Explore. Dream. Discover.” –Mark Twain

Babies and children love just checking things out. When I handed my son a piece of banana for the first time, he examined it. He passed it from one hand to the other, squished it between his fingers, stared at it, then ultimately, put it in his mouth. When we’re outside, my son looks around like it’s the first time he’s ever seen a tree or a sunset before. Because maybe, since he’s so young, to him, it is the first time. He chases ants crawling, sticks his finger in between the sidewalk cracks. He turns his head when he hears a fire engine siren. He is inquisitive. He wants to discover.

We need to appreciate beauty in life. We need to try new things. As working moms, we have to make sure to stay out of a rut. Routines can be beneficial. But they can also be stifling. We need to experience things the way our little ones do—like it’s the first time, with awe, and with curiosity.

4.     “A crust eaten in peace is better than a banquet partaken in anxiety.” –Aesop

There is good stress or anxiety. The moments before a wedding. The start of a new job. The arrival of a newborn family member. But then, there are bad kinds of stress and anxiety. And I think we face those more regularly. My son isn’t stressed or anxious. He can’t be. His needs are met. As working moms, we work to meet the needs of our family. We feel like we are entitled to stress, am I right? But the thing is, the stress isn’t helping us accomplish our goals for our workplace or for our family. We need to let it go, eat the crust of bread while breathing easy, and forget about the things that plague us. Even for a few moments a day.

5.     “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” –The Shining

When my son wakes up every Saturday morning, he plays on his play mat in his pajamas for at least an hour. No, he doesn’t have to do laundry. He doesn’t have lesson plans to write. He doesn’t need to send out birthday invitations or grocery shop. But he’s a person. And a person needs play time. Which means, so do I.

Jack Nicholson’s character typed the above quote over and over and over again. Then he went crazy. Ladies, if we don’t have time for ourselves, if we don’t make time to do something for fun, we will lose our minds. I know that I grow resentful if I feel like all I do is cater to the needs of others. While I love pouring into my family and teaching my students, I have passions and hobbies that need tending to, as well.  Find something you love and dedicate some time to it. Dedicate some time in your day to play.

6.     Love unconditionally.

This is the most important lesson I’ve learned. There’s really no love like the love between a mother and a child. People told me that. But I didn’t believe them. Til I felt it.

For thousands of years, people have been trying to put the love between a mother and child into words. In my humble opinion, no one has even come close. The love I feel for my son when I look into his sweet brown eyes is a love I never knew existed. And the way he looks at me is indescribable, too. What I’ve learned about love from him is that you only truly love someone if you love him or her unconditionally. Period. Real love doesn’t keep a record of wrongs.

I guess the point is, maybe I’m not the teacher, after all. Maybe I’m the learner. And maybe, that’s the way it should be.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Down the Road, the Sun is Shining

I’m a pessimistic person by nature. A Negative Nancy. A Debbie Downer, if you will. I often have to remind myself of the little ways in which I am totally rich and blessed: I have a husband who loves me unconditionally, a house to live in, a job, a car to drive, a beautiful, happy, healthy, funny baby boy. Yet, I often find myself confronted with anxiety or depression or just simple disappointment that I haven’t accomplished everything I’ve wanted to in the time I wanted to.

I went back onto Liberating Working Moms and saw the post where we all shared our New Year’s resolutions. I’m not gonna lie. I kind of threw my list together last minute. All of them were items I fully intended on addressing, but my heart really wasn’t in them at the time. The only resolution on that list that I have kept is probably the most important one: to play with my son daily. All the other ones, in some ways, I have failed.

One of my dear friends, Laura-Jean, decided upon the arrival of her third and final (so she says—not many of us believe her) sons that she would sit down and write a goal timeline for herself.

Because if anyone deserves to put herself first now, it’s her. I mean, she won’t put herself first. Technically. Her handsome young men will still be educated, loved, played with, entertained, cooked for, and her husband will still have a saint of a wife to keep their home as perfectly organized and smoothly running as only she can, as she accomplishes her goals. But she’s making her desires and passions a priority. And for that, I salute her.

I decided instead of making lofty long-term goals and dates I MUST stick to—because I know I’ll become Negative Nancy if they don’t happen according to plan and get down on myself if I’m at fault for letting a goal fall by the wayside—I decided to make a list of things I’m looking forward to in JUST the next four months. That way, when I become pessimistic about all of the items on my to-do list for each week, when I miss my son while I’m at work, when I have doubts about my future, when I get stressed out at work, I can remember these little pieces of sunshine that will greet me soon enough.

MARCH 2012

Things I Look Forward To:
1.              Going on a lunch date and to see The Hunger Games with Jimmy- We both read and enjoyed this trilogy. We’ve gone to dinner and a movie ONCE since Will was born. It’s overdue.
2.              Seeing Matthew and Caroline!!!- Our best man and his lovely wife will be visiting from Asheville. Even if we only see them for a day, it’s worth it. They are two of the most beautiful people I know.
3.              Participating in my first MLB Fantasy Draft on March 31- nervous, but so, so, so excited about this. And determined NOT to be the quintessential girl.

1.              Write one new short story
2.       Finish The Scorpio Races- I don’t read as much as I used to. I started this one over Christmas break, put it down, picked it up, put it down. I just re-started it last week and I will keep reading until I’m finished, even if it’s only a couple pages a day.

APRIL 2012

Things I Look Forward To:
1.              Spring Break- just me and my boy <3
2.      Major League Baseball starting!!! April 13--Braves home opener!!!
3.             Will’s first birthday party!!! <--event of the century, people!
4.             Jimmy’s graduation-Master’s Degree, baby!

(I just realized that April is going to be a pretty badass month.)

1.              Compile milestone pictures and create Will’s first year scrapbook
2.              Take Will to one new place and try one new craft over Spring Break
3.              Start reading a new book, preferably on my Kindle

MAY 2012

Things I Look Forward To: 
1.              Turning 26 (not really… that sounds too close to 30, but it's an excuse to eat cake)
2.              Celebrating Mother’s Day
3.              Seeing the Braves at the Trop!!! />/>/>

1.              Organize all educational materials from my classroom at the end of the year
2.              Get to the stadium EARLY to see batting practice when the Braves play the Rays

JUNE 2012

Things I Look Forward To:
1.              Summer off!
2.              Celebrating my 4th wedding anniversary with my love
3.              Seeing COLDPLAY live in concert!

1.              Write DAILY
2.              Use Rosetta Stone or Little Pim (haven’t decided which to buy yet) to learn Spanish FLUENTLY… No seriously. This NEEDS to happen this year. No excuses.
3.              Work out... Also NEEDS to happen.
4.              Look for an online teaching position to relieve some of the stresses of working outside the home and to be more available to my son
5.              Contact advisor at University of Tampa, University of South Florida and University of Central Florida regarding applications for MFA in Creative Writing
6.              Study for the GRE if necessary
7.              Get new glasses :)
8.      Enroll Will in swimming classes!

Before I wrote this, I didn't realize how much I had to be positive about in the next four months. I think this is a good start.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Cooking Impaired?

Check out this week's Liberating Working Mom post about how I am completely and totally cooking impaired.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

That Teacher Evaluation Post...

When my first evaluation of this school year rolled around, I didn’t know what to expect, and sort of ran on adrenaline. It was the beginning of the year, my lessons were prepared, my kids were relatively well-behaved, and really, what was the worst that could happen? I could “score” as a developing teacher. I could be told I need serious improvements in my classroom management. And hopefully, I would be given advice on how to improve before the next observation.

I didn’t really give it a ton of thought.

But now that my second one looms over my head, and I sit at the dinner table discussing it with my husband, a few things come to mind.

I’m tired of getting calls about the latest Senate bill being voted on without any input from real-life, day-to-day educators.

I’m tired of my students feeling anxious because they think something they say or don’t say to an assistant principal might affect my job status.

I’m tired of being stripped of all creativity for the sake of standardized testing.

I’m tired of not just being me in my own classroom. And my students not being themselves.

The Marzano evaluation system covers 41 domains. 41. Of those 41 domains, I don't think they touch on many things GOOD teachers do on a regular basis. Should I have routines, rules and procedures in my classroom? Absolutely. Should my students be engaged in a lesson? Certainly. Should my students be able to answer the "Lesson Essential Question" for that day? Yeah, maybe. But when you ask my student a loaded question like, “At what point did you lose interest in today’s lesson?” you are setting me and my students up for failure. And there are so many more parts to being a teacher than routines and discipline.

So, Mr. Marzano, Mr. Governor, Mr. President, and all other parties involved in creating unrealistic legislation and inconsistent evaluation processes, here are some situations I have undertaken in the last four years that you might find interesting... I only thought of 10 off the top of my head.

1. I spent time in my portable (yes, portable—but you probably have a nice office with a view, right?) with a student after school hours translating a letter to her parents from English to Spanish. You see, she had just moved to the United States from El Salvador, and didn’t really understand how to read Julius Caesar with her classmates. So, after printing her shorter summaries and pictures to go with the material, along with giving her oral exams because she couldn’t write words in English yet, I communicated with her parents in their native language to let them know what was going on in their daughter’s education.

SIDE NOTE: I was there, just four weeks after having my first child, to see that girl from El Salvador graduate from high school. Wouldn't have missed it for the world. I hugged her, congratulated her, and took a picture with her. So I can remember true successes that aren’t printed on data sheets.

2. I left my class alone… Yes, alone. I left sixteen-year-old students in a classroom by themselves. Not a best practice, right? What if I told you I left them alone because no one in the front office would answer the phone and because I had to walk one of my students to a social worker immediately? You see, she confided in me that she wanted to take her own life that night. I know I broke the rules. But I may have saved a life, too. Does that count?

3. In the midst of a district-wide senior project, I stopped my lessons to give my students a copy of my own resume. Many of them were talking about the economy, employment, and how financially difficult things were getting for their families. When I showed them my own resume, many of them admitted they had never seen one before. So, I took a break from ACT prep. I took a break from Senior Project. I taught them how to write resumes using mine as a guide. Then, I made them dress professionally and conducted mock interviews with them.  Multiple students accepted job offers in the following weeks. One of them even told me the hiring manager complimented him on his resume. Too bad mock interviews aren’t in the English curriculum.

4. During my lunch, I sat with a girl and helped her write multiple scholarship and college entrance essays. But it’s okay that I didn’t get to eat. She’s now into her second semester of college, on her way to a promising career.

5. I proofread multiple love letters one of my students wrote to his girlfriend. On my own time. In between classes. During my planning period. Because he can’t spell, but he wants to express his feelings to a girl he thinks is beautiful. And I think that’s important enough to spend time on.

6. I notice when my teenage girls come in hormonal and upset. And I listen to them. When their boyfriends hurt their feelings. When their parents get divorced. When their best friends make fun of their hair extensions and spray tans. When they don’t get asked to prom.

I notice when my teenage boys are pissed at the world. I talk them out of fighting. I stand up for them to other teachers. And if they don’t get their work done that day? “It’s okay,” I tell them. “We’ll work it out.” Because we will. And because EVERYONE has off days.

7. I got an email this weekend from a girl asking me what to do because she likes a boy. And I answered it.

8. I got another email from a student asking me how to use databases to search for sources for her research paper. And I answered it.

9. I got an email a few weeks ago from a former student asking me to help cure his writer’s block for a college paper. And I helped him. And he got an A.

I answer all emails I receive from current and former students. And their parents. And my co-workers.

Because they matter.

Because I teach more than English.

10. I go to school plays and shake the hands of the students who perform. I go to baseball games with my husband and son and cheer when one of my boys pitches a strike or drives in a run.

I know there are more situations. But you get the picture.

So, I have a request. How about we add a domain to the evaluation process? How about we dedicate one domain to teachers who genuinely CARE about students?

Because in that domain, I would be considered innovative. Exemplary. Whatever you want to call it. Because I do care. And if you want to call me developing, I’m fine with that. Have I ever shown a movie in class that wasn't totally related to the curriculum? Have I ever been behind on grading? Have I ever said something sarcastic? Have I had a bad day as a teacher? Yes. 

But whether a student likes me, hates me, thinks I need improvement or I’ve already “arrived” as a teacher, at the end of the day, I bet they'll tell you I have their best interest at heart. Always have. Always will.

I am thankful that I work for and with an administration who encourages me, sees the good I do, and does not set me up for failure. I wish all teachers could say the same.

I would like to state for the record that I have NO problems with observations. I have NO problems with an evaluation system that assures the best teachers are in the classroom with our nation’s youth.

I just think the current systems are flawed. Like most of us, and like most of our students. Life fluctuates. So does my classroom. And it will be that way until someone takes the title of “teacher” away from me.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Home is Where the Mess is

Are you the perfect housekeeper? Would you like someone to make you feel better about the way your house looks?

Please see this week's Liberating Working Moms post: Home is Where the Mess is.