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.

It’s not your couch

I feel ridiculous even writing this, but I’ve come to learn that my workplace and some of the people I work with are ridiculous. The silliness of my workplace seems based in unreality because so many of the happenings are just that: ridiculous. The goings-on over the last few years fuel many of the stories I feel compelled to write. I can see the dramatic episodes playing out in my mind… like a bad soap opera.

Amazing that these petty happenings are what take up precious teaching focus and energy in our schools. Case and point:

My couch was removed from my classroom without my knowledge, and I’m fairly certain that its current residence is at the county dump.

Let me set this up: I had just purchased this lovely loveseat from a friend who is moving on from our school. It’s been in the school for a couple of years and has brought many moments of comfort and relaxation to those who have sat on her cushions. Naturally, since my friend was moving on, I thought I could bring some of those relaxing moments into my classroom and provide them for my students—an inviting reading space they could enjoy during quiet moments.

During the last week of school I rearranged my classroom—taking out my own desk and cutting down on the amount of space I needed as a teacher—in order to create this space of comfort for my kids. They were so excited! As the kids shuffled in and out during passing periods, they showed their delight by testing out the couch and asking why we couldn’t have it sooner.

Ms… this is sick! Why didn’t you have this in here all year?! Then the students realized they most likely would not have me as their teacher next year, and their delight turned a bit to disdain. Wait… why do next year’s kids get this? I wanted this! This is awesome, and now I don’t even get to chill! Of course, I extended the offer that they could come see me anytime next year as I wasn’t going anywhere, and neither was the couch.

Fast forward to a few days ago: I headed to the school to do a little work; yes, teachers work during the summer even when they don’t have to… actually, we work 7 days a week, 365, but that’s a different blog.

I hadn’t even reached the door of my classroom by the time I had a couple sweet-natured custodian ladies explaining to me that my couch had been removed by order of the principal. Apparently, he wanted all the couches removed from the building, so the custodians took care of it. Naturally, I was irritated, but my chagrin wasn’t directed at the custodians who were just following orders, so I headed down to the main office. Of course, principals get much-needed time off also during the summer, so the principal wasn’t around for me to talk to. That was fine as I knew I could turn to the well-oiled machine that was the office ladies. Without them, our school wouldn’t function. At this point, I was told my couch had been removed and placed on the dock where a truck hauled it off: Two. Weeks. Ago.

Wait, what?

On what planet is it okay to take something that doesn’t belong to you and send it off to the dump?

The story has since continued to evolve. The reasons behind the removal? I was told all the couches from the building were removed, but I was given different reasons from different people; it’s important to note here that all the people said the order was from the principal and so was the varied reasoning:

  • Having couches in classrooms makes it hard for the custodians to clean the rooms.
    • Really? I have always been told to put away things that would get in their way: my piles of paperwork or books, knick-knacks, etc. I had all these things put away and made sure things were situated in my classroom to make it easy on the summer cleaning crew. Like the well-oiled machine that is the office staff, I understand how important the custodial staff is to making my life easy, and I wouldn’t do anything to make their job any harder.
  • Mice will make nests in couches.
    • Hmmm… being raised in a rural area and an old drafty house, I know a thing or two about mice, and they will make nests wherever they darn well want to: desk drawers, closets, boxes… all of which can be found in any school.
  • Students will… ahem… fornicate on couches.
    • … I’m not sure what to say here. I wasn’t the best kid in high school, but I’m not sure I would have thought to have sex in a classroom during a school day—or anytime for that matter. Yes, students can be squirrely and make bad decisions, but I can’t rationalize students fornicating on a seating area that can be seen from the hallway in one of the busiest areas of our large school. Let’s suspend my disbelief for a moment and pretend that this is a rational reason: how about when I’m not in my classroom monitoring appropriate behavior, I close and lock the door… oh, wait, I already do that.

All the reasons aside, I can see the thinking in removing large personal furniture from classrooms. I don’t agree with the thinking behind it because I firmly believe classrooms need to be designed to be safe places for students to grow and think and learn, and teachers’ abilities to make connections with students are easier done in environments where students feel comfortable. Ok, let’s not be petty and just agree with the decision of the principal; after all, everyone’s couches were removed, right?

Wrong.

Out of at least four couches I know of in the building, mine included, the couch in my classroom was the only one removed and disposed of. After multiple emails asking my principal to locate my couch so I could bring it home, I was metaphorically “patted on the head” and told to step in line and drop it. This came after a blatant lie that he didn’t know I had a couch in my room and didn’t know it had been removed at all.

The lesson? This is stupid and so petty, and I’m bothered that I’ve spent any energy on it—energy that could be better spent enjoying the sunshine with my own kids. Summer vacation is meant to recover from the stresses of the school year, not begin dreading the inevitable interactions of difficult people.

My original point is how ridiculous this situation is to begin with. Perhaps we need to go back to the teachings of kindergarten: be nice, respect yourself and others, and don’t take things that don’t belong to you.

There are schools and teachers and students across the nation who have real problems, who may be fighting to have books and enough desks and could care less about my couch. I’d rather direct energy in their direction, but the principle of the matter seems to be one I can’t let go of.

If we can’t treat each other with professionalism and respect, how can we be expected to teach our students how to be respectful and make the right choices?

Is this type of unnecessary, silly drama what I have to look forward to this year? Am I being targeted by my principal? I have spent the first several years of my teaching career at this school fighting for survival, fighting for respect, fighting for what’s right for kids, and fighting against people who have no integrity and only have their own interests in mind. I am hopeful I can start this next year fresh—focus on my students learning and learning to be a better teacher myself—but after the last few days of trying to explain logic to the leader of my building, I’m afraid that may not happen. I’m afraid I’m not done fighting yet.

Here we are one month into the summer break, and I already have a target on my back for the next school year. Here we go again…

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.