Public school teacher. Low-income district. Single mom. And every once in a while...I'll write about it.
Thursday, December 1, 2011
The Power of a Moldy Carpet
..."I will be unconventional. I will choose which rules to bend/break to ensure that every child has the best possibility of a future. I won't become discouraged by the politics, or the families, or by my own circumstances. I will be passionate. I will always rejoice at the smallest accomplishment...as that proves I am giving my best. Most of all, I won't be afraid to try new things and to keep learning. The kids in my care deserve that from me." --Mara Kimling, June 2003
I was going through my work files last week and stumbled upon a letter a professor had me write to myself years ago back when I was taking my graduate course work for my teaching license. I know that sounds crazy. It was dated June of 2003. I had to stop and think for a minute on why she would have had us do such a silly thing. Then I remembered: she was one of the best teachers I had ever had. She inspired. She motivated. Most of all, she lead by example. I remembered she told us that teaching was a hard, hard job and 1/2 of all new teachers leave the profession before 5 years. She said it was thankless and lonely. She said we would never be rich. She said while we were young, fresh, and excited, she wanted us to write a letter to ourselves telling ourselves WHY we were choosing this profession. She said to pour our hearts out. Then she took the letters from us and mailed them to us exactly....you guessed it...one year into teaching.
I remember getting this letter and barely glancing at it. I remember I was fresh out of my first year of teaching and I was so exhausted, the thought of reading something else made me feel sick. I remember I scanned it, thought about it for all of 2 minutes, and filed it away. And there it stayed. For the last 7 years.
I've had a pretty bad problem with water leaks in my classroom. My file cabinet has grown a lovely case of mold and mildew. One day after play practice last week, I decided to go through it and try to get rid of the stuff I didn't need anymore. I came across this letter buried in a file folder labeled "New Teacher Stuff." (very eloquent, I know.) I opened it for nostalgia sake. Then read it. And read it again. And read it again.
Then I sat down in a haze of tears. I remembered how excited I was then. Before the pressures of student loans, politics, parents, unmotivated students, roofs that leak, kids that physically attack you, low salaries, technology that never works, criticism from society, unrealistic district and state expectations, and most of all...my own life problems that affect my daily moods. I wondered where "that" Mara has gone. The one who wrote about rejoicing and celebrating the small things. The one who woke up every day excited for the possibility that TODAY may be the day that Brenda finally gets it. Or that my autistic kid will make eye-contact with me. Or that Shania will tell me she's going to be a doctor and it's all because of me. Or a grandma will come find me to give me a hug to tell me how much of an influence I've been on her grandkids and thank you so much.
I've been gone for a while. I'm not sure when exactly I made my exit, but I think it has happened gradually, or my evaluations (which are always good, thank goodness) would have suffered by now. I sat on the moldy floor of my room and held the letter in my hands for quite a while. I wondered what I could do to bring myself back. If there was anything...
Later that night, I thought about when I was the happiest teaching. Family and friends have been telling me for a long time to leave this school district and get a job somewhere "easier." Somewhere closer to home. In a school where every child does his homework, every parent is involved, there's no kids doing pole dances, parents in jail, or 2nd graders reading at a kindergarten level and no one seems to give a crap about it. I thought about that and my answer to them has always been that I like it here and I've established a good name for myself here, and it's safe. But is that the truth?
The truth is I love it here. I love the dirty kids I get. I love that a smile from me might be the only smile they get all day and I have a REAL possibility here to affect them in ways I wouldn't in an "easier" school. So what else can I do to get that spark back that has been lost for so long?
It hit me hard when the answer of what to do came to me. I was happiest when I was teaching AND in school, finishing my MA. I love college. I love the discussions, I love the reading, I love researching and finding out something new. I love learning something in class on Tuesday night and being able to implement it in my classroom Wednesday morning and seeing immediate benefit from it. I've never given myself license to think about going back to school before because I already have my MA...what else could I do? A PhD in education seems silly, so I never thought about it until now. Until...a glass of wine, a friend, and an internet search provided an answer.
I'm going back to school for my Reading/Writing/Elementary Literacy Endorsement. It's about 27 credits (or 9 MA-Level classes) and when I'm finished, I'll have the option to become a Literacy Coach. Or an Intervention Specialist. Or an Instructional Coach. Or, I can use my new skills to be sure I am providing amazing reading instruction to my classroom of kiddos. In this district here in Commerce City.
So I'm going through a tedious and rushed application process to get accepted to the University of Colorado-Denver in time for the January semester. All of this happened so quickly, that I barely had time to register any of it until yesterday afternoon when I was on campus meeting with my academic advisor. I got all the paperwork I need to complete this weekend and threw my backpack over my shoulder and left the building to go pick Maelin up from preschool...
There was an amazing sunset last night. (really, it was crazy awesome...multiple people posted pictures of it on Facebook, but I digress...) I was walking through the campus that I have spent over 8 years of my life on and I know so well. I know the shortcuts and the hiding spots. I know the cheapest parking lots. I know which buildings have the best burrito dudes. I know every inch of the library, the gym, and the education department. I have worked closely with many of the professors and they smile at me when they see me in the halls there. As I was walking through the campus watching the sun set below the mountains and thinking about everyone and everything in my life that has gotten me to this point...
I was happy. I was confident. I was amazingly excited for what was to come. Imagine me: someone who didn't even graduate from high school with a Masters in Elementary Mental Health (turns out I had a 3.96 gpa that I was reminded about last night from my advisor) with an added Instructional Literacy endorsement. That puts me 10 credits below a PhD.
I'm already feeling better about the direction my life is going. I've decided to go for something that is going to make me happy, fulfilled, excited, confident, and most of all, an extremely effective master teacher. I'm not going to sit around and let the grass grow under my feet and allow myself to fall any further into the "woe is me...my job is so hard and no one appreciates teachers anymore" hole. That hole sucks. And it's not who I am.
As I've been in tears for the last few weeks due to many things going on including how stressful (but amazing!) the Christmas Gift Drive is turning out to be, (another post on that soon), I've decided to follow my own advice. That I wrote over 8 years ago...
"...If it's important to you, you will find a way. If not...you'll find an excuse."
I am 37 and mommy to Maelin who is 5 and super excited for Kindergarten. I'm a single mom who struggles every day to find the balance between my family, my job with my 2nd graders in a low-income school district, and the rest of my crazy, drama-filled life. However...I wouldn't change a bit of it.
Maelin and Me
Pumpkin Patch Time
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This is the face I get when I ask her to smile...kinda think it's cute
Spanish Steps: Rome, Italy
You may not even recognize the Spanish Steps here due to the fact that they aren't covered with people: tourists, locals drinking their birra and vino, flowers everywhere, people trying to sell you stuff, musicians and drum circles and all sorts of lovers making out and hugging and enjoying the atmosphere. But where are these people? It was springtime in Rome and it was raining...I got soaked standing there just staring at the empty steps and I'd do it again in a heartbeat.
Attempt at Photography
I took this picture in Victora, Canada during the summer when all the flowers were so striking and gorgeous. I blew this picture up for a friend's office and he says it calms him every time he looks at it...I'll take that.
"A Tree Grows In Brooklyn" is a novel by Betty Smith first published in 1943. It relates the coming-of-age story of its main character, Francie Nolan, and her Irish-American family struggling against poverty in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, New York. The novel is set in the first and second decades of the 20th century. The book was an immense success, a nationwide best-seller that was distributed to servicemen overseas.
"Gone With the Wind" by Margaret Mitchell. This is my all-time favorite book and you MUST read this at least once in your lifetime. It has won the Pulitzer Prize, it is available in 31 different countries and it has been hearlded as "The Great Amercian Novel"
"My Sister's Keeper" by Jodi Picoult is a heart-wrenching novel about what it means to be a good parent, a good person and a good sister. Kate has had cancer since childhood and her younger sister Anna was concevied to be a perfect-match bone marrow donor for her. As Anna grows up, she struggles with how she and world will see the rights of her own body. This novel is the first book in years that had me crying. It was very well written and very enjoyable if you're in the mood for a tear-jerker.
"The Glass Castle" by Jeannette Walls is a memoir about a nomadic, deprived childhood told with the wonderment of a child who always wants to believe that Daddy will be a hero in the end and that Momma really does know best. You are enrapt reading about Walls and her siblings rifling through trash cans at school looking for food, doing the skedaddle in the middle of the night, or waiting for Dad to come home after another bender. It's a riveting story and a testament to Walls' desire to rise above a life that could have easily turned her into just another tragic headline. I really appreciated this story because of the very real probability that some of my students are living this very life.
One of my favorite authors (I have everything she's ever written) is Marian Keyes whose stories are set in Britian or Ireland. She is the internationally bestselling author of Watermelon (which is my favorite), Lucy Sullivan is Getting Married, Rachel's Holiday, The Last Chance Saloon, Angels, Sushi for Beginners, Under the Duvet, and her latest, The Other Side of the Story. Her books have touched readers around the world, and they are now published in 35 countries and in many different languages.