Catalyst of Change

Catalyst of Change

The times they are a’changin’… Thanks, Bob. Thanks so much for stating the obvious.

There are big changes coming for my family, and I find myself in a weird place. I am the catalyst for bringing this change about. Everyone was content until I paused to ask the questions; now everything has changed. And while I don’t regret being the catalyst for this change, I can’t say I’m not apprehensive and confused… even lost at what the future might hold for me.

That sounds so selfish. The reality is that I made this jump for my family. This move is the best thing for my husband, and it will be a great thing for my kids. While I know they will be leaving some things behind us when we move, I feel like I am the one giving up the most… walking away from a lot of blood, sweat, and tears. Just. Walking. Away.

And I don’t have a job lined up. I have no idea where my family and I will live. I have no idea what this opportunity will turn out like. Yet, I feel like this is the right move for everyone in my family.

I walked into this profession in awe, hoping to glean some wisdom from the teachers who I believed to be the BEST teachers at THE elite school in our state. I created relationships out of nothing, I kept showing up, I observed and lent a hand and did what I could to make a place for myself in this community which I desperately wanted to be a part of. Observations turned into methods classes and more observations and more networking. That turned into student teaching and then into subbing. Long term subbing turned into a one-year contract. I just kept showing up, paying my dues, biding my time until they realized I was one of them and officially gave me keys to the building.

And they did.

I was a REAL teacher. I had my OWN classroom. I had NO idea what I was getting into… I had no idea I had been giving pieces of my heart away to students for a couple of years at that point. I had no idea that the real work was just beginning.

Every new teacher has their work cut out for them: learning the curriculum, learning names, figuring out your classroom procedures and practices, learning to meet the students where they are rather than where you expected them to be. Add on top of that figuring out how to work the copy machine, keeping track of wandering students with bathroom passes, and how to dodge the landmines of sour coworkers… Being a teacher, especially a brand new teacher, is hard work. On top of all the typical new teacher traumas, I also had to deal with being undercut by a sociopath and narcissist in addition to being consistently thrown under the bus by my own principal.

Those bad times are easy to remember and easy to let the bitter creep in and take root. Those were also times when I grew immensely. I learned who I was as a teacher, what my philosophy about students and education was, and how the rubber actually met the road in the classroom. I had amazing mentors and coaches, built lasting relationships with students, and began to realize what kind of teacher I wanted to be every day. I found my stride, and I found a home.

Now several years later, I stand in front of a classroom full of kids and know I am home. I wander around the room listening to their conversations and their learning, and I feel like a parent watching my own children navigate their surroundings successfully. When I look up from my work and see a student come in with a smile to just sit and hang out with me, I feel like I have made a difference. I have become a part of this community. I have this family that comes and goes with the ringing of the bell, and part of my identity is wrapped up in those smiling, and scowling, faces that walk through my door. By now I should have run out of pieces of my heart to give away, but I haven’t.

Now I look ahead. I have no idea what the future holds. I know my faith is leading me forward. For once, I am choosing my own children over the children I call mine between the ringing of the bells. It’s breathtaking. It’s heartbreaking. It’s time.

I just hope that my faith leads me to belonging in this new community, a classroom with a new set of faces, a new sense of home, regrown pieces of my heart.

The line it is drawn
The curse it is cast
The slowest now
Will later be fast
As the present now
Will later be past
The order is rapidly fading
And the first one now will later be last
Cause the times they are a-changing

            (Bob Dylan, 1963)

Welcome to Show… Business?

Welcome to Show… Business?

Cut off

the strings.

Slack with freedom,

Unsure how to hold herself up

Lack of power

Held for

Too long.


Welcome to

Show business.

Sequins, glitter, applause, and delight

Pieces given away

Holes to fill remain bare

Sold on the crowd

Not the game.




Unseen powers

Snaked through good will

Both blind, marionette and boss

Manipulate words, contrive moves

Chess plays,

Control shifts


Strings cut,

Whisper falls

Promises remembered fold down

Heaping pieces

Which to cling to? Which to let go?

A gulp of air,

One step forward


No more a puppet, yet

Wary to move onward.


Knickknacks, Baggage, and Scars

Knickknacks, Baggage, and Scars

Lately I have been thinking about knickknacks—the mementoes we keep to remember specific times in our lives, important people, visited places. Like Tim O’Brien’s powerful novel, The Things They Carried, we all have items we carry with us on our journey.

Many of us keep these mementoes on our smartphones—notes, pictures, songs, or screenshots that we need to have with us day to day. Some of us carry other things—a worn photo, a poker chip, a small wooden cross. I’m betting that most of us have a place where we keep even more knickknacks—at home, in our classrooms, in our journals. I constantly joke to my students about how I am a hoarder for a number of reasons, but my reasons don’t make sense to anyone else. They don’t need to. These items appear to serve no purpose to other people, but their value to me is immeasurable. They make me smile and serve as reminders, protectors, trinkets, and tangible pieces of moments of my life.

Some knickknacks can’t be seen, yet they are felt and carried by us as surely as the tangible items in our pockets and purses. The power of the veiled baggage we carry pulls, weighs, and influences us in the decisions we make and the directions we take each day. Some of this baggage we don’t realize we are even carrying until something triggers an emotional reaction from us.

Which brings me to my point and away from my amateur philosophical lesson…

As most other teachers, my email inbox becomes inundated and overpowering if I don’t constantly check it and delete the garbage. Since I was away from my classroom for a few days this week, I made a point to check my email at least daily to make sure things were running relatively smoothly. One email caught my eye… and then another.

BAM! Then my emotional response hit, and I had to pause—step back—think about why I immediately became so pissed. I found myself questioning this person’s intentions and my expectations and own needs for validation. It became pretty clear that I was carrying some baggage that needed to be addressed.

The first four years of my teaching career were hard for a multitude of reasons. One reoccurring problem was the fact that I worked with a couple of people—one a supervisor and the other a colleague—who constantly took credit for other people’s work. I never noticed this to be the case until I was the one robbed of intellectual property.

I can remember the moment with exact clarity: I was sitting across the desk from my evaluator in his office, and we were having a talk about instruction and student achievement. He was trying to make a point with me about something I already agreed with, but he wasn’t satisfied with the level of admiration I was giving to his idea, so he said, Hang on. Let me show you what I’m talking about. He pulled a file up on his computer, turned the screen so I could see the content, and I was greeted with a presentation I had created.

I said nothing. Just finished the conversation and went about with my day. I’m sure I later mentioned it to my instructional coach who admitted she’d had the same experience multiple times.

I don’t know the details about how he received my work, but I have my suspicions. None of it matters, though. I hadn’t wanted accolades for the work I had produced; the only reason I had created the presentation in the first place was to help teachers to help students. For this reason, I never mentioned it to him and never made it an issue.

But it continued. Not just with me, but I saw many of my colleagues creating amazing tools for the classroom and our school community, and I saw the same people take credit for their ideas time after time. No one ever addressed it.

Let’s state the obvious: Most teachers are not in the business of education for accolades and awards. The best credit they get comes from the successes they witness from their students. The best awards are when students come back and visit well after graduation and tell their teachers how they made an impact on their lives. Those moments explain many of the knickknacks teachers carry on their hearts.

But some of those knickknacks look more like scars—baggage that forces us to hesitate, avoid taking risks, makes us consider taking the easy route to avoid making waves—these are debilitating and binding.

I can’t do anything about what’s happened in the past, but I can learn from my experiences. Flash forward to checking my email and my immediate irritation: someone has shared information which originated from me without my permission. Whether the intentions behind it were pure or malicious don’t matter. What matters is making my thinking visible and my intentions transparent.

The lesson? The first time you let a person get away with something, you have given them permission to do it again. And again. And again. Each time they get away with it, the conversation to rectify the issue seems more and more difficult. Just jump in. Get it over with. Make your intentions and expectations known, so there can be no questioning who you are.

Don’t let that baggage weigh you down. Learn from it… let it go… Don’t let the scars people have left on you define your actions in the future.

However, hang onto those knickknacks that make you smile. Even if they only make sense to you.

Eyes Open, Heart Forward

Eyes Open, Heart Forward

I have been in a funk lately. I have been questioning my core values and beliefs. This is an interesting thing because at the same time I am questioning myself, I have never felt more secure in who I am as a person.

There is one person who has prompted this funk, this step back into myself. It’s a funny and ironic thing that I’ve given this person so much power over my state of mind; this person doesn’t know their own mind, yet their actions have made me pause and stumble.

Someone lately told me they’ve never met a teacher who didn’t think they were pretty great. I don’t agree with that person; they are a good example of someone who went to school and hated it but never found out the struggle that goes on when the classroom empties and the teacher is left alone. As a teacher, I second-guess myself more than not. I always have questions in my head: How do I get better? How will I be better tomorrow? What can I do differently to connect with that student?

How do I view myself as a teacher? I make connections. I thrive off the connections I have with my students; their successes and struggles hit me also. The connections I make with my students transcend time and miles. This is true not because of what I taught them but because of how I made them feel while they were a part of my classroom. They return. They check in with me. They matter, and the work I do is validated.

How do I view myself as a mother? I look at my own children. On one day I feel like I might just get this mothering thing right… my children are thoughtful, respectful, funny, reflective. They think big thoughts. They love heart-forward. These are the days I feel validated as a mother. Of course, there are other days: days when I don’t know what to say to ease the tears, days when I just need an hour of time where I’m not being touched or spoken to, days when I feel like everything I say is wrong and is going to scar them for life. Those days teach me just as much as the others… those days keep me looking for what’s right, asking what lasting marks I am making in the memories of my children, wondering what type of adults they will be in this messed up world.

So, to the person who prompted this funk, thank you. Maybe it was time to pause, reflect, redirect, and renew. In time, perhaps you will see the damage you have caused; in time, perhaps you won’t. Either way, I thank you. Your actions have made me re-evaluate my motivations and my beliefs, and I can walk forward knowing I’m not perfect, but I believe I’ve never done you wrong. I’m still learning. I hope you will continue to learn with your eyes open.

Two schools: The kids are the easy part 

School has started, and the routine of another year has begun to settle into my house and my alarm clock. My own kids are tired from waking up at 6 a.m. to catch the bus, yet they are contradictorily happy to be back to their budding social lives.

For my own part, it’s been difficult easing back into the swing of things. I find myself starving mid-morning, ready for lunch when I still have an hour or more of class to teach. When I finally do get a quick meal, I slowly realize I can’t take the nap my body has become accustomed to. Last but certainly not least, my bladder is back in training to remember the bell schedule. After having two children, this can cause a bit of an emergency situation and a mad sprint down the hallway.

While this year has started much like the ones that have come before, something seems different this year… perhaps a bit “off.” I’ve been trying to pinpoint the cause of my perplexed state of mind.

The students are typical: eager to socialize again with their friends and flirt with potential significant others while grumbling about the impending learning which must happen to qualify as an actual school day.

In the hallways of my school roam students from a smattering of backgrounds. The seniors confidently stroll to class, not worried about the looming ding of the tardy bell: This group is beyond caring about being tardy, and they are doing what they must to either drag themselves through nine more months of school or cross their T’s and dot their I’s in order to get into that school of choice or branch of the military.

Freshmen are at the other end of the “cool” spectrum. Some are tiny and seem to shrink even smaller as an enlarged, sweaty football player passes in the hallway. These innocent newbies weave through the crowds, hoping to disappear and have no major interactions on the way to class. Other freshmen appear cocky and calm until approached by an upperclassman, where they will promptly remember that this is their first week in high school, and they don’t really want to be on anyone’s radar.

The juniors and sophomores find themselves in the true middle: not quite possessing the status of the established seniors but not anymore the underdog. These are the true middle children of the school family… trying to figure out where they fit.

All the students—weird kids with capes, lost and panicked freshmen, overly sensitive honors kids, half-asleep seniors dragging themselves to class, kids with stacks of binders and books—they are the easy part. Even the kid who did nothing in my class last year but who stopped by to say hi and how much he misses my class, or the graduate who I ran into at the grocery store who said she wishes she could go back to the easy days of high school: They all make it worth it.

These kids—all of these kids—are what bring me to these hallways each day and are what I look forward to, even on the tough days. Their humor and wit—even their sorrows and struggles—make my job worth the pains.

So what are the pains? Why does it feel so different this year?

A wise man once told me that there are two schools inside a school: the one with the students and their drama and the one with the faculty and their drama.

I think I’m finally beginning to understand what he meant. And I’ve had to take a step back to see it.

There will always be the minutia of the paperwork and hoops of beginning a new school year: professional development plans, evaluation plans with an administrator, preparation for open houses and parent contacts, club meetings, department meetings, PLC meetings, meetings for meetings…

Dealing with people brings its own set of hoops and work. For the first time, I am realizing the scope of the “second school” and the drama that comes along with it.

High schools are known as pits of gossip—nearly as dangerous as pits full of vipers—and we know how cruel kids can be. However, since I’ve paused to listen and observe, I have heard much more gossip and venomous bites coming from faculty than from the adolescents in the building. I’m not innocent. I have done my fair share of the “did-you-hears” and the “no-she-didn’ts.” This year I’m trying to change those old habits, and I wasn’t prepared for how difficult it would be.

It’s one thing to keep your own thoughts, actions, and words positive: In fact, it’s positively exhausting! When you add Emotional Vampires into the mix—and things you can’t control—it’s beyond exhausting. It’s completely draining.

People smarter than me (there are many) say it takes 21 days to make or break a habit; I’m less than two weeks in, and I’m exhausted. But I’m all in. I may not have control over the pettiness of some of my coworkers or the fact that they claim to hate gossip and drama, yet they feed off the rumor mill. I do have control over my own actions, and I’m hoping to model something positive to my students and anyone else who may be watching… from either of the two schools which exist in our school.

But you had the summer off!

But you had the summer off!

Ah, summer… lazy mornings, time with my own kids and fur babies, and a chance to get to do whatever I want—which is catch up on my life since I get SO behind during the school year. Sounds like a dream, right? As the new school year approaches, shouldn’t teachers feel rested, hopeful, and excited to begin anew? After all, we get three months out of the year to do whatever we want, right?

Not necessarily.

This is the first summer I’ve only had one week of an “official” professional development opportunity. It was great, and it got me thinking about how I may differently tackle my classes for the year. In years past, I have spent over a month of my “time off” in professional development—as I grow wiser, I understand the danger of burn-out and the need to recharge even more, so I’m more comfortable saying no. Now I try to direct my attention to development that will most benefit my kids and my practice.

Back to my week of PD… The week away was a nice break from my summer to-do list, but it’s not the only development I’ve done this summer. Like most teachers, I spend much summer time catching up on reading and writing—both for personal and professional reasons—and it never fails that something I think I’m doing for myself will apply to my students. BAM! Just like that my quiet summer reverie jolts me back to the reality of the classroom… but I’m a nerd, and I love my job. It’s only natural that my teacher brain doesn’t have an “off” button… Oh, if it did, how amazing would my time away from school be?

Back to the topic at hand… summer is nearly over. All over the nation, teachers are returning to their freshly cleaned, though perhaps disheveled classrooms, to push desks around, rearrange books, write and rewrite and rewrite lessons plans, and start the year with fingers crossed for bright-eyed students, supportive administrators, and powerful lessons both in and out of the classroom.

One of the beautiful things about teaching is the opportunity to begin fresh: a new day, a new student, a new lesson, a new school year. While it may be hard to go back to 5 a.m. alarms, piles of papers to grade, and grumbles from students about grammar exercises, most teachers I know are truly excited for the new beginning the year provides. The bounds are limitless.

Don’t get it twisted… it’s still hard to be going back.

First of all, my summer to-do list isn’t even half done. Carpets still need cleaned, closets reorganized, cabinets cleaned, and flowerbeds replanted; however, I’ve had opportunities this summer as well: Opportunities to reflect and relax, to adventure with my own children, and to center myself.

Secondly, I’d be lying if I said I didn’t have anxiety about going back to school. The last few years have been much more difficult than I’d hoped. The facts remain: the kids continue to amaze me, and the adults in the building continue to make me shake my head. I don’t expect to walk in this year and have the toxicity of the last few years completely vanish, and I won’t pretend that every adult in the building has the best interests of students in mind over their own interests. However, I can proceed with a clear direction of where I am heading and a firm grasp on what my goal for the year is.

Yes, I had the summer off. No, you don’t need to remind me about how quickly it went. Just smile, say good luck, and be supportive.

Old Buffalo and the Cost of Things


They can be found in any school building: the “old buffalo” who have been there for years and know how to navigate the system. These buffalo keep their heads down: They know how to be left alone, have made it clear to many that they will not be pushed around and railroaded, and more often than not choose to stay out of the limelight and keep to themselves… not for any other reason than to avoid the drama which pervades most school buildings.

Don’t mistake these buffalo for other teachers who have been around for years; buffalo keep their head down unless given a reason to charge and defend—they are always aware of what is best for the herd, both students and colleagues. Other teachers who have been around for a few years may feel entitled and superior, so they are the opposite of the buffalo: Like a squeaky wagon wheel, they whine and push to get their way and tend to charge into a situation to make changes for their own benefit, with no clear indication of care for anyone else.

As a new teacher, I had the task of picking out the old buffalo and staying away from the squeaky wheels. Several years into teaching, now I believe I have finally figured out who the actual buffalo are and who the squeaky wheels are—those masquerading as buffalo but are actually rogue strays who are only out for themselves.

One of my buffalo left at the end of last year, and she gave me some advice: Seek out the old buffalo in the building and stay close to them. They are the ones who matter. These buffalo have seen leadership change, teachers come and go, and the educational pendulum swing back and forth. They know how to affect change and when to let things go… valuable lessons for someone like me who tends to be reactionary.

These old buffalo know how to survive, but at what cost? What is the cost for teachers, in any building, to affect change and do what’s right, especially when met with contrary forces, like obstinate leadership.

Here are some costs I’ve noted over the last few years:

  • Substance abuse problems: While I am a fan (and a regular) of happy hour, why is that such a common place to be able to “vent” frustrations and gain some perspective from like-minded friends? Are there no other venues that may offer some release? Perhaps an occasional happy hour is nothing to be frowned upon, but where do you draw the line? Is a daily happy hour on your own at home—with a fresh bottle of wine, frosty mug of beer, or stiffly mixed drink—any different? How many of us cope with our work stresses and frustrations from the classroom by having a drink or two… or more?
  • Health problems: To my knowledge, no firm link can be found between a person’s work environment and their overall health. There are certainly studies out there that document the health issues of a variety of professions, and we all know stress causes health problems. However, over the last few years the instances of major health problems among my co-workers (and even some students), such as cancer, tumors, diabetes, depression, anxiety, etc., have seemed to be significantly higher than in any other profession I’ve had experience with. How much is our working environment affecting our health?
  • Relationship problems: Maybe a spouse or significant other doesn’t understand the amount of time spent on grading, planning, etc. Maybe each time they turn the corner at the grocery store with you, they are confronted with another co-worker or students, and they feel that there is nowhere they can just BE with you without you being a teacher or surrogate parent. Maybe your children are tired of you always spending your time and energy benefiting other people’s kids… Whatever the issue may be, loved ones will often have a hard time sharing your attention and love with who they perceive to be complete strangers.

Teaching is a stressful occupation—many are—but there are very few other professions (nurses come to mind) that demand giving so much of yourself away to other people.

Let me get to the point and the question that’s been vexing me for a while: What will be my cost? How much will be enough?

I find myself in this predicament—it’s been growing for a couple of years now. I honestly believe all (or at least most) educators go into education for noble reasons: for the students, to change the world, to make an impact, to change something. Then these bright-eyed new teachers meet THE SYSTEM. The system is designed to reward complacency and conformism and shuns things that are different and innovative; while this is happening, the system is claiming to reward innovation and creativity. These bright-eyed educators hit their first wall—or their first several—and they are shaken but not deterred. I can change this, they think. I can make this better. So they dig in and keep trying…

The cycle progresses, and with each defeat these bright-eyed educators lose a little more of their vigor, lose a little more of their hopefulness and resolve, lose a little more of themselves. Eventually they close their doors and do what’s best for kids in the only medium they have some control over: their own teaching. The fact remains that even their own teaching is not safe, and at this point in their careers, these once starry-eyed educators have to make a choice: to stay or to leave.

To stay means to continue to fight or to conform; the questions will continue to come: Are they looking for a way to get rid of me? Why does it feel like I have a target on my back? Why don’t they see what is best for kids? Is it worth the fight to keep going? What are the consequences of just shutting my door and doing my own thing? Am I still being effective for my students?

Why did I begin teaching in the first place?

To leave means walking away from a labor of love and the possibility of defeat; questions will continue to come: Am I doing the right thing? Does this mean I’m a quitter? Can I still make a difference? Who will take care of these kids? How do we even begin to make education what it should be? Is there such a thing as equality for kids? For teachers?

I don’t know the answers, but I know the questions… I’ve been asking myself for a while, and the question that continues to plague me is what is the cost?

What is the cost? When do we walk away from something we care deeply about, from something that could make all the difference in the world? When did leadership stop caring about supporting teachers? Weren’t they teachers at one point also? When will this community see the writing on the wall for what’s happening to the good teachers, the great teachers?

What will the cost be for me? For my family? When will enough be enough?

It was suggested to me recently that leadership would like to see me move on… that I should have left with all of my friends. I’m not sure what to say to that, but I know I’m not ready to leave yet. I still have some fight left in me. I will leave on my terms.

Maybe I’ll never make it to be an old buffalo… maybe I will… Figuring out the happy medium between shutting my door to do my own thing and staying out in the hallway to be visible to my students is where I find myself today. One thing I know is that I refuse to be a squeaky wheel, determined to whine and push my way through rough patches to get exactly what I want with no regard for the larger community I am a part of.

Like the old buffalo, I just want to protect and be a part of the herd.

Why I write… Why Now?

Hello, my name is Hadley, and I am a master procrastinator. I don’t suffer from writer’s block like so many aspiring authors. I feel confident that I have ideas and material, and once I start writing I feel like things will fall into place. The problem is the ONCE. I suffer from writer’s procrastination.

Hi, Hadley.

My writing started innocently enough. I liked writing. When I was younger, it was a way for me to vent my frustrations and discover who I was. My words were fueled with the truth that was all around me yet was oblivious to the adults whom I experienced daily. My words gave me a way out of feeling trapped, so I wrote my way out of that town and embarked on a journey to be a professional writer.

Since then I’ve had career changes and added family and have grown into one of “those adults”, but somewhere along the way I lost a piece of myself. That angsty teen is still there… she’s just grown in to a more directed woman… but now there seem to be consequences to my truths. At least, perceived consequences.

I write. I write the truth. And then I pause. I worry. I project my fears of what other people may think—of hurting those I love, of being harmed by those I don’t—and then I write more to make my truth sound less harsh. What kind of a truth is delivered with a frosty beer and a side of fries to make it look more appealing? Does the truth lose some of its credibility when filtered through my fears?

I worried about this last week, so I turned to my coach. Well, darn, she was unreachable, so I turned to some of the tools my coach provided me, and I found the answer I knew all along. I must tell the truth. I must be accurate (as much as I can) and lay it out for consumption, whether it be my own or the consumption of others. Only through the telling of my truths can I experience transformation, and who knows what wonderful adventure that may be. I resolved to do just that. But there was still another person who coaches me regularly, and his opinion mattered: the husband.

You can’t hold back. I knew he would say that. He always errs on the side of supportive, and he has so much more faith in me than I have in myself. You can’t always worry what other people will think. You need to just put it out there and be you, or you are wasting your time.

My wise sage. He doesn’t worry about me hurting him or our life. He worries about me holding back and not chasing my dreams.

So here we are. This is the start. It may be crap, but it will get better. All I know right now is this is what is true. And I’m all in.

There are some differences now, though, with my writing. I write with my students in mind; I often call them my kids; even though they don’t belong to me, they are mine, and I love them. I write with my own children in mind and their futures which will be lived out eventually in the halls of the high school where I teach. I write with my coworkers in mind, and I write for all those teachers who I’ve met in the last few years or who have influenced my life in the last few decades.

I also write for those who I have been embattled with. As the grand optimist, I believe each person in education began their journey as educators with high hopes and rose-colored glasses; making a difference in the world, in the lives of their students was the ultimate goal. Somewhere along the line, these people lost sight of the goal and lost sight of those naïve, bright-eyed and brand new educators they once were. Their personal integrity was traded in for a better position or a kind word and nod from someone in power. They traded their values and what they knew to be right to gain something… they don’t know what they lost was worth so much more.

When I was a teenager, I wrote to vent, to escape, to create a brighter future for myself. I couldn’t stand up and fight the system I was stuck in because I didn’t have the support nor the skills to do so.

I am different now.

I don’t know how this will all end up. I do know that this time I am not writing myself out of town… This time I am standing up and writing to stay. For my students and myself… for us all. Enough is enough. My hope is that I can do it with truth and integrity and learn something along the way.