Tuesday, April 19, 2016

How many more weeks till summer?

It turns out I have some really great ideas while driving. So I’m going to have to try getting my ideas out and recording them on my phone to use later so I don’t lose these gems.  

I wish I could say I had happy gems today, but after a day of PARRC testing with my most challenging class, alas, I cannot.  Let me try and recreate what I had going on in my head earlier.  

My teaching career is coming up on almost 13 completed years (minus two maternity leaves).  It’s hard to believe I’ve been doing this for that long, but I’ve learned and grown so much in that time.  For the majority of those years, we teachers have been inundated with the idea that forming student relationships is the key to student success.  And of all the “initiatives” that have come and gone, it’s the one I most believe in and to be perfectly honest, the one I’m best at.  I will readily admit that I’m a pretty good (most days) at teaching math.  But what I truly have a passion for, is connecting with my students.  It obviously doesn’t happen with all of them, and if I’m being honest, I’ve probably let go sooner than I should have some of the ones that may have needed it the most.  However, overall, I doing a pretty decent job.

But during all those institute days, school improvement days, workshops, staff meetings, and department meetings, I feel like they’ve left out a really key component of those student relationships: they can be incredibly exhausting and painful.  And that’s not to say it’s not worth it, but all that commitment comes with a price.  

I had two really great advisories when I started.  Kids, many of whom are older now than I was when I started teaching, who I still have a really great relationship with.  Kids who were with me during my pregnancy with Tera and her diagnosis.  I can’t even explain how important to me so many of them still are.  My last advisory started out with some rough students and while I was close with a few, there was a lot of transition within the group.  Then there’s my current group.  My fourth group of freshmen, and I went in with a new perspective.  I decided to do some intense work with them this first year in hopes of it paying off in the next three years.  So every week I talk to them about their goals for the next week and if they meet their goal, they get a treat.  I check in with their teachers, I work tirelessly to break them of the “everything is someone else’s fault” mentality, and I make sure they know that as hard as I am on them, I care very much about them.  Some of these kids asked in the first couple weeks if they could call me mom because I was looking out for them.  That’s a seriously intense responsibility.  Every week I watch these kids struggle with knowing they want to succeed and not knowing how to change their behavior to make that happen.  I see them promise me to be do better and then not want to look me in the eye when they fall short.   Those are painful moments.  This is an exhausting endeavor.  Not giving up on them when I know that’s what they’re expecting exhausts every fiber of my being.

Teacher burnout is a real thing.  We are asked by the state, by parents, by students, by administrators, and by society to give and give and give some more to make sure we churn out successful people.  And they want us to do this by administering multiple standardized tests that mean very little to the students, with curriculums that we often don’t believe in, in a short amount of time, and many times, in addition to being their parent, counselor, and personal cheerleader.  We also have meetings, trainings, and grading.  And with every passing year, someone somewhere wants more proof to hold us accountable so that someone who knows nothing about my classroom somewhere in the state of Illinois can say based on test scores and a dog and pony show held once every two years that I’m “adequate”.  To be truthful, this year I was proficient and considering my life these past two years, I’m mostly okay with that.

Which brings up my next point: I really am someone’s mom.  Two someones actually.  And a wife, and a daughter, and a sister, and a friend.  But so many times those other roles of mine suffer because I am so completely exhausted physically, mentally, and emotionally.  Being a parent of two kids who have more health issues than their typical counterparts, developmental delays (Zoey is now joining Tera in speech therapy), and who actually want to spend time with a mom who isn’t constantly on the brink of losing her shit, isn’t easy after days, weeks, and months as an educator also.  I’m not lying or exaggerating when I say I feel like I can only be an okay mom AND teacher because either my students have sucked out all my patience and energy or my actual children have.  

And this is where I have problems with people shitting on my profession.  Are there bad teachers out there? Of course there are, just like any other profession.  Do I want to hear yet again about how we get summers off? Not particularly.  To slightly modify a George Carlin line, “You want it? You try it!” I want to stop hearing people say anyone can do my job. I don’t pretend to think I could be a waitress: wanna know why? I suck at small talk and in general not dropping stuff.  Office job? Maybe, but I like my students (sometimes, but definitely more in October than April…) Referee? I’m a teacher so I kinda already am.  Glorified baby sitter? I love that one.  Yes, that’s why I have degrees in both Math and Spanish and a masters degree.  

I love my job (again, more in October than in April), but I’m tired of the general feeling that I owe people something.  But really, I’m just tired.   I will always work to connect with my students, but no one will convince me that I don’t pay for it with sleep, energy, and patience.  Sometimes at the expense of my own family.  Is it worth it? Yes. My students know I am there for them.  I know things I don’t want to know, but they feel comfortable telling me.  I’m sad that in nine years of education, some of them haven’t felt cared about by someone, but happy that they know I do.  

Please do not misinterpret this post.  I am not patting myself on the back or looking for praise.  Many teachers do all of this and so much more every day.  I fall short of what I expect of myself regularly.  If you know a teacher that has connected with you, or your child, in a meaningful way, let them know (via email) that way when they have a bad day, they can look back and feel like they made a difference to someone.  When you hear about a teacher strike, take a few minutes to consider every angle.  And if you meet a teacher, instead of “I don’t know how you do it!” try “Wow! That sounds so interesting.  What do you love most about what you do?”

Wednesday, April 13, 2016


I'm trying to keep this ball rolling so here goes my second post in a week after a long hiatus.  I had such a positive response from so many people after my last post and for any of you that took the time to say or write something to me, you have no idea the impact of your comments.  I still oftentimes think this is just something for me to do to help myself and don't always truly believe that other people have an interest in what I have to say so it's very reassuring to me to know that you do.

It's getting to be a very rough time of year.  I'm worn down from the stresses of work and the lack of motivation I deal with on a daily basis and Tom's busy season at work is kicking into gear.  Add to that the fact that we aren't out of sick season yet (Zoey was home with Tom both Monday and Tuesday) and that our everyday lives with Tera already tend to be on the challenging side and suffice it to say, June is looking pretty good right now.  

Our weekly schedule is as follows: On Mondays Tera and Zoey both have speech therapy, Wednesdays are swim for Tera, Thursdays were dance for Tera (she just finished last week), Fridays Tera has behavior therapy and every other Friday Tom plays hockey, then Saturdays and Sundays are grocery shopping, errands, working around nap time, home projects, laundry, and preparing for the next week.  That's when we aren't dealing with an illness otherwise we also add in one to two doctor's appointments, three to four nebulizer treatments a day, worse sleep than usual, and a constant worry that another hospital visit will unexpectedly end up in our plans.  

We also try to incorporate therapy strategies and general good parenting in there when we can.  Things like giving the girls nightly responsibilities (putting plates in the sink after dinner and cleaning up toys), limiting screen time, baths, outside time when weather permits, and trying not to get discouraged about Tera's ongoing potty training are just a few things.  Some weeks we feel like rock star parents that really nailed those chore charts and not caving on screen time.  Other weeks we're so completely exhausted we're ready to let the kids eat pizza and macaroni and cheese and watch Doc McStuffins until their brains actually ooze out of their ears.

It's so hard for me, and this goes for many teachers, parents, and parent/teachers, to be the best in every hat I wear.  I realized around five years ago, and then again even more so around a year and a half ago, that I just can't be the best teacher and best mom at the same time.  My students need a lot of encouragement and support, I have a child with Down Syndrome, and another child that is a former 28 week preemie with a compromised immune system and compromised lungs.  I'm also a wife with an incredibly supportive husband and in order for our marriage to survive all this chaos, we need time with just each other.  And because of all of this, I usually feel like I'm failing someone or multiple someones.   

But today, I found success! If you recall, one week ago I made my big return to blogging as a result of a very traumatic (for me) swim lesson for Tera.  To say I was nervous about tonight is an understatement.  I knew something had to change, but I wasn't sure what.  Then this morning it occurred to me that she's been experiencing success with a visual schedule during her ST/OT sessions.  So after school before I picked her up, I made up what I hoped would be a visual list of expectations of Tera from our time of arrival at swim lessons until we left.  Here's what it looked like.
Before we got out of the car to go in, I showed Tera the schedule and we talked about each item.  We talked about it as we walked in, I let her hold it as she got changed, and we talked about it as we walked to her lane for her lesson.  The way her swim school is set up is there is a glass wall that separates the pool area from the seating area.  So I sat right in front of her lane, right up to the glass, and held the schedule so she could see it anytime she turned around to look at me.  When she did a great job not throwing her goggles or performing a skill well, I gave her a big smile and thumbs up.  When she turned around to look at me after splashing, I shook my head no and she stopped by holding her hands together.  After wards she got out of the pool with very little resistance and while the showering wasn't perfect, it was far better than last week.  She got changed with no issues, went potty again, got her promised lollipop, and we were out.  I was so incredibly proud of her.

The skills still weren't quite there, but as you can imagine with any kid, and has always been the case with Tera, we have to get the behavior component figured out first before any real learning can occur.  The tricky part is of course figuring out what that behavior component has to entail first.  At least now I have something we can work with and the biggest plus? I'm not in tears tonight! Which is really super since I have to be at parent teacher conferences tomorrow night from 6:30 to 8:30... 
What better way to kick off the playoffs??

Wednesday, April 6, 2016

My non-triumphant return to blogging

Today was a rough day.  Let me clarify, it’s been an interesting 48 hours.  Yesterday, for an unknown reason, Tera swallowed a magnetic marble which resulted in an ER visit.  Fortunately, there was only one and it should pass on its own so beyond the initial stress of wondering how bad the situation was going to be, it was a really quick visit to the ER and now we just await its passing.  

And so why my non-triumphant return to blogging? Why now when I haven’t had nearly any opportunities in I don’t even know how many months? Why is today so significant? It’s not, it was just a rough day that resulted in me having to acknowledge what our lives will always be: a challenge.  I don’t mean this to be overly dramatic, but when I really break it down, the minute we decided to become parents, we accepted that our lives were going to be more challenging.  And the minute we learned of Tera’s diagnosis, they become even more so.  

Tonight Tera had her first swim lesson in a new class.  She’s been at the same level since she started last August and at the place where she takes her lessons they are continuous classes and when the kids master the skills for that level, they move onto the next one.  Except in this case her class was for up to four year olds so when she turned five, she was moved to the next one.  Don’t get me wrong, she had made a lot of progress in that first level and she was close to moving up anyway, but now here she is.  

Transitions for Tera, like many other kids, can be difficult.  So this being the first time in a different lane, with a different teacher, and with only one instructor (we’ve been spoiled and many times Tera ends up with a one-on-one instructor) it was a challenging session.  I always watch through the glass with all the other parents and let me say, it was a stressful 25 minutes.  She struggled with waiting for her turn, she struggled with following the instructor’s directions, and she struggled with not being able to do the same things the other kids could do. As I watched all the other parents calmly watch their kids do their thing, I almost cried right then and there.  Because Tera mainly struggled tonight. With a clearer mind now, I realize that although Tera cannot do the same things the other two girls in her group can do (yet) it was also her first time in this new level.  I also know that the new circumstances very well may have contributed to her inability to listen (she had an otherwise great day at school).

But I also struggled tonight.  I struggled with the fact that most of the other kids were doing what they were supposed to be and didn’t have to have one of the lifeguards within a foot or two of them so they didn’t endanger themselves or anyone else.  I struggled with the fact that once again, Tera can’t do what the other kids can do.  

Then came the shower afterwards.  This is by far the most challenging part of swim lessons with Tera.  There are a wall of showers and since I usually have work clothes on I can only instruct and encourage Tera on what to do, I can’t do it for her.  Tonight was the worst.  She put way too much soap in her hair and then refused to keep rinsing.  So after forcefully encouraging her many times to keep rinsing, and her refusing, I had to admit it wasn’t going to happen and with a lot of anger, pulled her out and had to get her dried off and changed knowing I was going to have to give her a bath when we got home to rewash her hair.  She was crying in the changing room and I felt like the worst, most inadequate parent there.  

On the way home, the stress of the past half hour along with an avalanche of other feelings came crashing down as I cried the whole five minute drive home.  I was angry, sad, frustrated, guilty, and heartbroken.  I was upset about the not listening, her struggle with the skills, and lack of potty training.  I was upset about the multivitamin, probiotic, omega-3 (for her skin), allegry medicine, iron supplement (to hopefully help with her sleep issues), Miralax (for her stomach issues), and nebulizer that all have to happen around dinner time.  I was upset about the therapies, IEP meetings, doctors appointments, specialists, and communication between everyone that has to happen.  I was upset about the search for shoes that will accommodate her orthotics, but that won’t slide off her feet so easily that she takes them off constantly and throws them.  It all hit me at once and I couldn’t handle it.

As I got home still in tears, I got Tera washed up, changed again and before heading down to dinner, we tried again to go potty.  And as I sat there with her it all hit me again and I just couldn’t stop crying.  Tera in all of her infinite abilities at the age of five, hopped down, sat on my lap and just held me.  She patted my back, gave me kisses, and as I cried and apologized to her, she looked me in the eyes, put her finger on my nose and said “boop”, which is a game she and I have played for a long time.  I couldn’t have thought of a better way to instantly bring me to my senses.  I smiled and her whole face lit up.
Tera "booping" her Dad
This little girl is amazing.  Her sense of empathy is beyond compare.  While she is most certainly the reason behind many of my tears, she can also stop them in the most amazing ways.  In the midst of her aggravating swim lesson, she jumped to her instructor with such glee and the most amazing smile of complete joy, that I couldn’t help but smile back.  

And so this incredible influx of emotions is the reason behind my non-triumphant return to blogging. I miss this so much and as much as I would love to promise to myself at least one a week, I know I can’t set myself up for that disappointment.  So I’ll add it to my list of “when I have time” items and “things I can do when I want to relax” choices.  I have so much more to share on the development and our lives with these two amazing girls, so I hope to be back again soon.