Saturday, February 6, 2021

Nightmares

As a teacher, it wasn't unusual for me to start dreaming about my classroom in August as we returned from summer break, or right before a concert. Every now and then, a nightmare would pop up where I had lost children or where everything broke or some other absurd variation on what could go wrong. It's a common experience among teachers!

Although my position has changed, these nightmares still have a way of sneaking up on you. I can tell I've been more stressed about things lately, because I had my first "FTE nightmare" this week! And in keeping with my attentive #oneword2021, I wanted to spend some time reflecting on where this stress is coming from. Here are some of the things keeping me up at night...

  • I'm worried about the future of all electives. Will we double down on math & literacy in an effort to "catch students up" and do so at the expense of the classes that round out their education?
  • In particular, I'm worried about the future of music education. Singing events have led to the spread of the virus (although there are many factors to these events), and I fear that, in the court of public opinion, the risk just won't be worth it. Will students not sign up, or will schools not offer these classes?
  • Then we come to the numbers game. In the electives world, your job is often determined by how many students sign up for your classes. Our enrollment is down across the board. Many students did not get the classes they signed up for this year due to schedule changes to make cohorts happen (they were just shoved into whatever elective class fit into their schedule). What impact will that have on next year?
  • Speaking of that, budgets. What will the federal and state funding for public education look like? My state is known for the B.S. Factor (yes, that's what it's called, the Budget Stabilization Factor, or B.S. factor for short) which creates a deficit in funding public education in order to balance the budget. Less money from the state = hard decisions about what that means in schools.
  • Which led to my nightmare. Of having to tell teachers that they are being let go or reassigned. And because our contract (similar to most) works on the basis of seniority, I dreamed about having to let go of some of our awesome teachers, who have created resources and shared and collaborated and worked like crazy to bring amazing content to our kids this year, because they happen to be lowest on the totem pole.
  • I worry about the teachers I have the privilege to serve and lead. People are exhausted. Hanging on by a thread. Burned out. The spark, the joy of teaching is often muffled these days because teaching at boxes with profile pictures just isn't the same. And the asks are mounting. Vaccine distribution seems to be bringing hope, but we are continuing to exist in this heightened state of fear and alertness, and our bodies can only take so much of that. And then you add in concerns about job security. Will we make it?
  • Ultimately, it comes back to our kids. I worry about their isolation, and also about the pressure they feel. These classes are connectors, they are places for kids who doesn't always do so well in academia to shine. They are often the highlight of a student's day. And with more information coming out about the impact of the pandemic on the mental health of children and teens, with every new story about a suicide or overdose, I think about how important it is that we don't just push our kids back into an environment of focusing solely on academics. There are other, perhaps greater, needs that we must attend to as well.
Usually, I try to be pretty positive on this blog, and I don't mean to say that it is all gloom and doom. I have seen amazing things happen this year, and I know that some good has come out of all of this! But I can't deny that these concerns are a constant rumble of low-level stress, and as planning for next year begins, they are starting to bubble up more.

As I reflect personally, I think that my goal is to hold all of this in balance. It is important for me to have these thoughts and acknowledge them, because they lead to advocating for what I believe is right and making wise decisions for the things under my control. But I can't let the fears overtake my life or drown out the joy of a profession where we truly get to impact lives. My hope for all of you is that, whatever your nightmares and dreams are, you will be able to balance it and still find the joy!

Saturday, January 16, 2021

The Phone Call

This week, I received a call from a four-year-old, asking me to come to her house to give her a pencil and paper for her homework, since she didn't have any.

This week, I received a call from a four-year-old, asking me to come to her house to give her a pencil and paper for her homework, since she didn't have any.

Crazy? Yes, a little bit. It definitely caught me off-guard. This call came from the daughter of one of my refugee friends while here mom was at work (don't worry, grandma was there watching the kids). Pre-COVID, I would take these kids to the library every week for a little homework help/reading/enrichment. It's been 10 months since that happened, which feels like nearly forever! I've definitely kept in touch with the families, but since this particular family lives 45 minutes away, I have only seen them once since the pandemic started. This brief phone call made me think about several things:
  • This is the reality of some of our kids. They don't have pencils or paper at home unless we give it to them, and even then, sometimes it runs out or gets lost. I know this...but it hits my heart differently coming from a friend's daughter. We can't forget about these kids.
  • Internet safety needs to start young! I'm glad that I am a safe person, but I didn't love the idea of this preschooler initiating video chats on her mom's phone while mom was at work. I added this to my list of things to chat about when her mom wasn't working.
  • Kids are resourceful. As much as I was wary about her using the phone, I was also impressed that she found a way to advocate for herself and express her needs.
  • What we do matters. I don't know how this little girl remembered me and figured that she could call to ask for help, and while it could have been random luck, I truly believe that she associated me with going to the library for school stuff (for months, she even thought my name was "Library") and knew that she could call for help. Don't doubt that those little moments really do make a difference!
And finally...can't we end this pandemic and get kids back in school again? I know that day will come, but I can't help but feel impatient when I think about the learning environment of this kiddo compared to what I see in preschool classrooms around the district. Here's to hoping that day comes soon!

Sunday, January 3, 2021

#oneword2020 Reflection & #oneword2021

It's that time of year again where I reflect on my #oneword for the previous year and look ahead to a new year with a fresh word!

#oneword2020: VALUE

Last year, the #oneword I chose was value. I wanted to find value in my work, value the contributions of others, and live out of my values. Some years, the word I choose seems to be serendipitous, and show up in my life over and over again, and other years, I don't think much about it beyond January. 2020 was pretty much the latter. Along came a pandemic in March, and I didn't find or make the time to reflect and focus on what I had intended for the year.

That being said, I do think that I saw the word value play out in many different ways. The pandemic had a fantastic way of bring out what we really value in life and highlight what is important. I did find more value in my work as the year went on, and I was able to see more how I was/am contributing to my district. I won't say that I always did a great job of valuing the contributions of others, but I learned some good lessons in that regard and am continuing to work on recognizing how different ways of doing things can actually make us stronger. And, through the ups and downs, I continued to cling to my faith and the values that make me who I am. Maybe this word did work out in the end, after all!

#oneword2020: ATTENTIVE

This brings me to my #oneword2021: attentive.

I feel a little selfish writing this, but first and foremost, I aspire to be attentive to my own feelings and needs. One of my best coping mechanisms when I am feeling down is keeping busy. Obviously, that has been much harder as of late, and the blessing in disguise is that it has forced me to pay better attention to how I am feeling in the moment. Even as the world (presumably) picks back up again, I want to continue to be attentive to my own heart and needs as a form of self-care!

Beyond being attentive inwardly, I want to be attentive to what is going on around me as well. Is it just me, or is it really hard to engage and pay attention when everything is on a screen? I've seen it with students, and I've also seen it in myself! It takes so much self-discipline to be attentive in the moment, especially when you are sitting on the couch at home. I aspire to be present, give my attention to whatever is at hand, and not always feel the pressure to multitask a hundred different ways.

Finally, I want to be attentive to the world around me. There is a lot going on in society, and while no one can be an expert on everything, I want to make sure I am continuing to learn and grow. We are all here on this earth and in our specific circles of influence for a reason, and I want to find the right moments to use my voice to help others.

Attentive. I considered several other words that were similar, but I settled on this one because it really starts with me and what I am thinking about on the inside. If I can be attentive to my internal needs and the external world around me, I think that it will set me up for a pretty good 2021! 

Saturday, December 5, 2020

One #EquityWin at a Time

Equity is both a buzzword and very needed in education (and society) today. I wish we could snap our fingers and fix things! But years and years of systems and personal biases cannot be done in a day, week, or even a year. Rather, it is deep work that starts with awareness and often comes one step, one #EquityWin at a time. Sometimes there are wins and sometimes there aren't, but we have to keep pressing! Below are a couple of snapshots from my past two weeks at work.

Snapshot #1

Last week, I was so frustrated when it felt like some people in my district were designing systems that put up barriers that would prevent the families who need us the most from accessing certain supports. The most discouraging thing was the lack of understanding from the people I was talking with. I know it wasn't an intentional desire to make things hard for these families, it was a lack of understanding about the reality that they faced and how challenging it is. I don't pretend to fully understand it either, but I did want to share my concerns.

Sometimes I think that these concerns are taken much more seriously when they come from our equity team, or our team that focuses on culturally & linguistically diverse learners. But why? We all need to own this work! In the end, some (not all) of the barriers were removed.

#EquityWin? Maybe.

Snapshot #2

I received an email from a teacher who was thinking about using a certain song in their class, and a student had put in the chat, "That song is racist." After some research, they concluded that there was no major racist history to the song (although there have been some questionable uses of it in the past), but it was clear that a student did not feel good about it. This teacher was looking for advice about how to handle it and if they should still use this song.

This gets so complicated so quickly in the world of music history! We engaged in some great email dialogue, with several people chiming in, and ultimately the teacher decided to move away from this song out of a desire to be sensitive to the student. What I loved was that the teacher was able to make their own decision after weighing all of the perspectives, and ended the email saying that they felt so supported. This is the deep, internal work of equity -- not just being told what is or isn't appropriate, but learning, growing, and expanding perspectives to be more responsive to all of our students.

#EquityWin? Absolutely!

What now?

We don't always have these wins, and in fact, I had a situation later in the week that was the exact opposite (I will not share it here out of respect for those involved). I feel like this is the way it goes...two steps forward, one step back. When policies and systems are changed for the better, we should all celebrate! Yet equally as important are those subtle, personal, internal changes that happen every day. Today, I'm choosing to celebrate these "small" #EquityWins and to continue looking for more of these every day. Added together, they will change the world!

Saturday, November 7, 2020

Self-Care, Amazing Teachers, & the Roller Coaster of 2020

My mind is scattered today, which is no surprise. It seems to be a way of life lately! I found myself wanting to blog, but having a lot of half-formed ideas, so I figured I would just start writing and see what came out.

Self-Care

I think it's important to start with a bit of self-reflection. The past couple of weeks have been hard, as cases continue to rise and restrictions tighten in my area. I don't think I realized until now how much I don't want to go back to that isolation again. I know that it is important for us to protect each other, and I will do my part, but the tightened restrictions has made me feel more anxious (and I'm sure the election didn't help). Along with that, my workload has increased really significantly over the past several weeks (more on that below), leaving me feeling more and more overwhelmed.

Reaching out for help isn't always easy, but I decided I needed to do two concrete things to try to help myself. The first was expressing to my leaders how overwhelmed I was feeling with work. Even if nothing can be done about it, I still think it was important for me to share my thoughts rather than continuing on and pretending that all was fine. The second thing I decided to do was text a friend to ask if she had an idea of someone I could talk to for some mentoring about some specific situations I am facing at work. She responded with a suggestion, and I had a phone conversation with this person this week. It was so helpful to hear my own words and thoughts reflected back to me in different words, to have someone asking reflective questions, and to help me think through some concrete next steps. All of this has to do with my #oneword2020, value, in valuing myself enough to prioritize finding ways to help myself in a time when it feels like there are so many competing priorities!

Amazing Teachers

I don't even know where to start on this one...I have had the pleasure of subbing in several classrooms while teachers are out on quarantine, and I am constantly amazed by my colleagues. Sometimes when I am watching them teach virtually or experiencing their classroom routines, I feel like I am getting a masterclass in good instruction! All of this fills my teaching heart up, and it challenges me to be a better teacher every day.

I also am leading a task force which started this week, where we are trying to figure out how to solve some complex scheduling situations for next semester (traveling teachers + COVID guidelines + changed school schedules = chaos). I was so encouraged by the collaboration and creative thinking of our teachers and administrators on this committee. The focus on the common good and what is best for the kids is amazing! I was so nervous for this committee, but after our first meeting, I feel full of hope!

Roller Coaster

Although I am focusing on the positives here, I would be lying if I said that life didn't feel like a roller coaster at times. I have so many competing emotions: I love subbing in schools, but I get overwhelmed by the work that builds up when I am in schools all day; I get nervous about these complex issues to solve, but am encouraged by the collaboration and work of our educators; I want to keep everyone safe, but don't want to go back to a "Stay at Home" state. I think that we will continue to live through this, and I just keep reminding myself to give extra grace -- to others and myself -- during this time. Most of us are probably not at our best right now. The more we can move toward each other with compassion and grace, the better off we will be. I'm trying to remember that every day!

And thus concludes a snippet into my life and mind in this year of 2020!

Saturday, October 24, 2020

Look Around

 Look around, friends. This pandemic keeps going. Along with it is the stress, the anxiety, the uncertainty, and the isolation. And now we're heading into the winter.

I know that I, myself, have appreciated the opportunities to be outside more and socialize while the weather is nice. It has gone a long way toward helping me feel less isolated.

Some schools are back, some aren't, and many are in a hybrid form of teaching and learning. It's hard. Even when we have amazing teachers and leaders and everyone is going above and beyond and being extremely creative to make the best of it, it's hard.

Look around at your kids. Look around at your coworkers. How are they doing? How are YOU doing?

The mental health statistics scare me. The suicide rates (attempted and successful) are up. Abuse rates are up. As we talk about a virus that can kill, I hope we also remember these other things too and that we are equally as attentive to them. They are sneaky, often silent, but have very real consequences.

I hope and pray that, as we enter another phase, we keep in mind the human needs above all else. Love. Connection. The need to be seen for who we really are. The need to be honest about the good and the bad in life. The need to know that you matter.

Look around. Be that person today who brings light to another!

*I hope nobody reads this and thinks that I am not taking the virus seriously...that is not my intention at all. I just see this other, more silent epidemic of mental health concerns going on, and I want to take a moment to shed light on that. These two things are not mutually exclusive!

Saturday, October 3, 2020

Teaching 1st Grade!

 On Friday, I got to teach a sweet group of 1st graders as they finished their first week of in-person school! Their teacher wasn't able to be there, so I got called in from the district office to sub. I was a little nervous, knowing that the majority of my experience is with older students and not during a pandemic, but it was a blast!

Here are a couple of things I learned:

  • The kids did great with wearing masks for most of the day!
  • As different as some things felt, so many more things felt normal and familiar. Seeing little people think, learn, and socialize was so refreshing!
  • Routines come quickly. This was only Day #4 of being in person for these kids, and they knew their spots, how to keep their distance, how to be careful not to get to close when lining up, etc. It's clear that their teacher really made the classroom a safe and organized space for them, and they are responding!
  • Even beneath the masks, there were lots of smiles and giggles. School did not feel like a sterile and scary place.
  • The school had it arranged really well for students to stay in their cohorts. We didn't cross paths with any other groups all day, which is important for contact tracing. Things ran like clockwork!
I know that there are many different feelings about returning to in-person school, and I can't judge -- we all have different life experiences and personalities that inform our thoughts and feelings. For me, though, it was a relief to see many of the safety measures truly worked as intended, and school still felt like school. I hope that we all continue to stay healthy and safe, and that we can continue to give students access to in-person learning in environments as safe as we can make them, for both academic and social-emotional reasons.

I'm also glad I got to experience it first-hand. I understand this was only one day, but sometimes I fear being a "district person" locked in an office, making decisions, and not knowing what it is really like. This one day of being back in the trenches gave me a renewed appreciation for exactly how often primary teachers have to tie shoes, help kids with a splinter, or take care of a loose tooth that just came out. And it helped me understand the joys and challenges we are all facing in our return to in-person instruction. I hope I continue to get opportunities to "walk the walk" as we experience this new way of doing school together.

I can't post this blog without saying, I am so grateful to the school where I got to sub and to the teacher who left amazing plans and who has clearly trained these kids well. It was obvious from the moment that I walked in the room that it was a place full of love and care and learning. I just got to experience it for a day :-).

And that, my friends, is my first pandemic teaching experience!