Monday, February 20, 2017

The Student Teaching Diaries: Entry 1

It was mid-January. 5:45 am, to be exact, when my alarm sounded and I hopped out of bed with full enthusiasm. My makeup was applied to perfection in 20 minutes, each strand of my hair straightened neatly around my face before I dressed myself to the nines in slacks and a patterned shirt. I decided to throw on a cardigan. Not because it was cold, but because it made me look extra teacher-y. The Harrison Elementary lanyard I would receive in an hour would complete the look of "Miss Harper." Oh yes, I was confident that I was going to be the best intern my cooperating teacher had ever had, and ever would have.

That was day one of student teaching.

This Tuesday will mark the beginning of week 6, after a much needed three-day weekend. Thank God for President's Day. I am well-seasoned at this point in the semester. I now live for casual Fridays and my morning alarm has been moved back to 6:40 (which is still much too early). I think I've worn my hair in a messy bun for the past three weeks.

Like you would imagine most Kindergarten classes to be, mine is not all sunshine and butterflies. And while I wasn't naïve to this walking into student teaching, I was certainly naïve to a lot of other things. The colorful classrooms I found on Pinterest are a far cry from what my life really looks like.

The morning I walked in to my first day, I was informed by my cooperating teacher that one of our sweet kiddos (I had yet to meet any of them) had just lost his father to cancer. My heart shattered instantly. I was then given a quick run down of the rest of the class: two children being tested for gifted services, one likely to receive SPED services for autism in the near future, one so far behind it was up for debate whether or not he should be held back, and three students receiving language support. One of these three students speaks Russian. No English.

The fabulous teacher I knew I was going to be had seemingly vanished. Perhaps she ran and hid under the class carpet... I couldn't find her anywhere. And when it was time to take over some duties like lunch count and lining our class up, I couldn't even do that effectively. How on Earth was I supposed to teach them if I couldn't even get them to line up?!

And as if this cup of overwhelming anxiety and inadequacy was not filled to the brim, a five-year-old nose bleed topped it off. And I don't mean a little Miss Harper, my tissue has a little red splotch on it, can I go to the nurse? Oh no. I mean a blood beard dripping down the poor boy's face, all down his shirt, all over the floor; other students jumping up to help him; my teacher, of course, no where in sight. And guess who has no earthly idea how to handle the situation according to school protocol?

You guessed it. Miss Harper.

Turns out, there was a lot still for me to learn. So let me save you future student teachers some time... You'll be sick 24/7. You have to be tough with classroom management. It is important to give a student one-on-one attention, but don't forget your other 21. Your genius project ideas never seem half as amazing once you actually start implementing them with five year olds, and on top of all that... The projector never works when you need it to, the office always needs attendance before you're able to get it sent in, and you will always forget your class's library checkout time each Friday. Always.

This is what student teaching is really like. You will not be super teacher.

You will be super tired.

Because, as it turns out, student teaching is not really your first stab at teaching. It's your last stab at learning. It's failing miserably each day with an experienced teacher to step in behind you and fix what you just screwed up. It's watching her intently, praying that with time you will be just like her, and that it will soon be your time to train a student teacher who never quite feels as if she's getting it right. It's your last time to experience everything unique to the college experience, but your first time to experience everything your future career will entail. It's a brutal transition; one where you are stuck between collegiate student and hired woman. You will find yourself dedicating each day to your future and each night soaking up the last bit of collegiate freedom you'll ever have.

You will give all day and give all night, because that's the profession you have chosen. A selfless profession requiring you to give 100% love, effort, and sacrifice each day. 100% planning. 100% implementation. 100% energy.

So yeah, you'll be operating at 600% all day, every day. And you will not receive this love, effort, sacrifice, planning, implementation, and energy in return. Why? Well... Your students are five. They think you live at school for their benefit, and they have no way of knowing that everything you do for them was planned a week in advance.

You'll never be so exhausted. You'll never be so ready for summer. You'll never blow your nose so much, or worry so long, or cry so hard.

But, if your heart is truly in all that you do, you'll never be happier. You'll never look forward to each day the way you do now. And you'll never love kids more than you do in that moment, as you are learning right along with them.

Student teaching is quite the oxymoron. Are you a student or are you a teacher? Well... Both. And your role will flip back and forth all day, every day. One second you'll be praying for it to speed by so you can have your own classroom and the next you'll be silently praising God that you had a supervisor when something ridiculous happened. Someone to help you. Someone to mentor you. Someone to make sure your students were still learning when your lesson plan miserably failed.

Turns out, teaching is just what all the experienced teachers said it would be. Some days it's the happiest job in the world. Some days, you'll be praying you can make it to your car before you start crying for one of your student's tragedies. Some days you feel as if you're saving the world and some days you're hiding under your desk eating skittles from a math lesson that looked better on paper.

It's called balance, really; a balancing act that you never truly master. And that's okay, because the best teachers are able to show their students that you never really stop learning. That you never really reach the best you can be. That there's really no such thing as perfect.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Pretend Perfection

It is frighteningly awakening; to suddenly be aware of how your life can change in a matter of moments. Seconds, really. One moment, you are healthy, and the next, you are on your way to have surgery on a tumor you didn't even know you had. One second, it's a normal Christmas morning, and the next, you're scrambling around the kitchen because your Grandmother was always the entertainer during the holidays but this year, she isn't well.

One evening, you waltz out the door for a movie with a guy you recently reconnected with after five years and return home a girlfriend. His girlfriend.

It's a long story really. Those who remember our history completely understand, and those who don't probably never will. Honestly, the two of us can't really believe it either.

Suddenly I found myself post-surgery, cleared for a trip to Nashville on the condition that I wouldn't partake in any strenuous activity for about 10 days. Nashville; a far cry from my original plans but not at all disappointing, complete with the city atmosphere I required and an artistic community that I preferred. A baby New York City in its simplest form, and I had found my future home; one I never would have considered a week prior to my visit.

Sounds romantic, to say the least, so it was time to think logically. But jobs were wide open, salaries were appealing, and living situations had ten times the amount of options I had been previously considering. All roads essentially led to Nashville. God truly works in mysterious ways, and I am so thankful I was listening.

So there I was, in route of boarding a flight to Nashville, when I noticed her: a little four-year-old girl in a costume dress made like Princess Sofia, complete with a plastic tiara and purple dress-up shoes; likely the only way the poor mother could get the girl out of the house that morning.

"These kids better not make noise on this flight," I overheard the male voice from the row behind the little girl. I'm certain the mother heard it, too. I turned to face the overwhelmed momma who was balancing a baby on her hip while she instructed her pre-school daughter on proper flight etiquette. The baby wailed. The mother sighed. The men in front of me groaned. Loudly. The mother looked frustrated. The little girl looked sorry. 

A girl never has to be very mature to learn when she is being an inconvenience.

The little girl stood up, attempting to get out of a man's way (as many girls quickly learn to do), and her little bag spilled out all over the aisle. Picture books, colored pencils, and the girl's Barbie doll scattered across the row. Everyone in the immediate area moaned with annoyance.

The little girl looked up slowly, her lip quivering ever-so-slightly. Oh no, I told myself, I've seen that look before. And I had, though more often than not, I was the one living it rather than interpreting it. The growing burn in her throat coupled with damp, stinging eyes was all too familiar to me; a sign of weakness triggered by the rotten emptiness of inadequacy. After all, her mother was clearly counting on her to be a grown up today, and she was miserably failing.

It wasn't a moment later that another male thirty-something came crusading down the aisle, knocking the poor girl off her feet as she tried to gather the lost materials. As if watching the man's accidental push wasn't enough, the little girl's crown clattered on the floor of the aisle and the first tear was shed; a hopeful princess losing her crown due to her own disappointing failure.

No one even looked up to help. In fact, everyone seemed to turn away, as if ignoring it was the answer and oblivion would make it go away.

I couldn't take it anymore. Two steps behind the little girl, I dropped to my knees.

"Your Highness!" I exclaimed, "Be careful! You almost lost your crown."

The little girl was surprised. Her mother was touched. Those selfish men behind them were stunned.

"Thank you," the little girl practically whispered as she had likely been taught to do. I placed the little tiara back on her head.

"Of course," I told her, "Being a princess is hard sometimes!"

I kept walking, but I was likely impacted more than the little girl or her mother. There is a theme to every fairytale story; a dreaded point in the plot line where the Princess genuinely wishes she wasn't royalty. When she doubts that she's doing a good job, making a difference, or will ever be loved the way all the stories tell her she should be.

Being a girl in today's society is truly no different.

I would've been honored to be a member of that little girl's kingdom. Despite her youth, her innocence, and her incapabilities, she was doing exactly as she had been told. She was following directions; being quiet. Being polite. Being good. Trying her best to stay out of the way. It was not her fault that the odds were against her, as they are against all of us sometimes.

I can't help but notice that we should have more realistic expectations of people. The way people are asked to look, the way they are required to act, and the things they are expected to accomplish are not always possible, and may not be done exactly the same way you would do them. And that's okay. For whatever reason, it is generally acceptable for us to tear each other apart with the idea that we have to fit a standard model; that our thoughts and actions and opinions are to be executed and received in one way; specifically our way.

How selfish. Why are earth are we more concerned with pointing out everyone's struggles than we are recognizing things we do well? When I compliment a perfect stranger, they are stunned. Nine times out of ten, they look at me like I'm absolutely crazy, and I am no exception when I'm on the other end. I find myself fighting before receiving a compliment, rather than recognizing my worth and humbling myself to just say "thank you."

People often roll their eyes after they hear me say that we have just as much, if not more, to learn from children, but I see it every day. Our younger generations are losing confidence in themselves before they even have the capacity to gain it, and it is our fault. If we spent half as much time encouraging others as we do pretending to be perfect, we might all be a little stronger, and if our imperfections were recognized and accepted, would we still feel the need to pretend?

It isn't likely. Adults who doubt their own significance in the world are inevitably raising children who are unable to recognize their own. We cannot expect future generations to become more accepting if they are not shown how to do so, and it is our job: as parents, as educators, and as general role models, to be that confident example.

There is always a younger pair of feet dreaming of following in your footsteps. Make sure the life you are living is worth following.

Saturday, December 31, 2016

2016: A Year In Review

New Years is the strangest time for me. Everyone else is celebrating a new beginning, but all my life, I've been in school.

I am a teacher. My life begins in August, ends in May, and provides an awkward break in June and July. Too much time to consider it a long weekend, but too little to establish a new routine. January is just a necessary middle.

Not to mention, the blog (for whatever reason) began in June. So all the updates and big announcements are usually announced on the blog's birthday on the 24th.

But people often review their past year during the transition from December to January, when the last number in the date we've been writing for 365 days can finally change. So I called in your feedback in a survey...

What were some of your favorite posts in 2016? 

So here are the responses from my beautiful readers, with the most popular post from each category included. Enjoy taking a look back at 2016!

What was your favorite post from our newest movement (#CrayonsToConfidence) battling insecurity in young children?
Don't Let Her Think This Way (published September 9)

The #WarriorPrincess movement is an aspect of #CrayonsToConfidence, encouraging girls to be their most powerful and beautiful self. Which post was your favorite for women? 
Perspective (published October 17)

The #AdventureHero movement is an aspect of #CrayonsToConfidence, encouraging boys to be their best and strongest self. Which post was your favorite for men? 
The Bikini Challenge: For Men (published May 16)

Strong teachers (can be) just as influential in a child's life as his/her own family. What was your favorite post regarding my education world? 

What was your favorite project / challenge we completed on the blog this year? 
The Photo Recreation Project (published December 25)

Thank you so much for your loyalty as a reader in 2016. I certainly wouldn't be writing if not for you!

I, however, am signing off for the evening to celebrate with friends, a little bubbly, and the live televised event in New York City. I'll see you back here in 2017 for more inspiration and confidence... This one (as always) is our year!