Thursday, December 28, 2017

A Year With The Music Man

I suppose you could say the madness of it all started five and a half years ago, when his high school graduation cap flew in the air.

I did not partake in the graduation parties with all of our friends, because I was not graduating. I was a year younger than him...and a year younger than everyone we hung out with. They all ran off to one another's houses to enjoy cake and games and parties.

I, however, cried all the way home, listening to every CD I had of his music. It reminded me of our trip to my favorite city, New York, where he first played his music for me. It reminded me of Christmas, driving around and listening to him sing in the car. It reminded me of spring, laying on a blanket at the park with his guitar.

I was basking in a pool neck deep in nostalgia. It was clearly the beginning of the end.

He had announced that he would attend Belmont University in Nashville, TN, in pursuit of music business and audio engineering. His guitar echoed through my parked car. He was already so good at it. And I knew that however he wanted to pursue this, with or without me, I would absolutely have to support.

He had told me a few days prior that the decision had been hard to make because he loved me. I didn't believe a lot of things men said. But I believed him. And he assured me that while it would likely have to be over at the end of the summer because "long distance never worked," that we would soak up every last bit of our time together.

It wasn't three weeks later before he decided he should benefit from some time being single before moving to Nashville, and he took me on to a nice date at a Japanese Steakhouse. He spent the dinner re-capping everything I would want for my senior year of high school, and then telling me how he would be ruining that by sticking around. He told me that he didn't know if he'd be able to come back for homecomings and proms and graduations... As if I'd somehow rather go with some random guy I had no connection to than go in a group of friends knowing that I had a wonderful guy in another state who tried his absolute best but just couldn't make it. According to him, we still fit together, but the futures we both wanted did not.

He didn't present the chance for me to counter his argument, and I'd seen Legally Blonde enough times to know how this would end.

We broke up in the parking lot of that beautiful Japanese Steakhouse. It was "mutual." Not only did I almost have a wreck driving home in my emotionally compromised state like that female teenage all-state commercial, but I didn't step foot back in that restaurant for two years.

And I kept waiting. Waiting for him to call and say it was a mistake. Waiting for him to come back to our hometown and say that he wanted to try again. Try long distance. Or at least tell me that he missed me.

Every time he came back into town, I met with him. Lunches. Coffee. Frozen yogurt. Each time I had been decked out, dressed to the nines, ready for him to cave at any moment. And he never did such a thing. He never even told me that he missed me.

And so I decided that I couldn't keep doing it anymore. I was hurt. I was angry. And I was tired. He had made it very clear that he didn't want me to be a part of this next chapter of his life by my side, so why were we still meeting up when he came home like I had any real significance in this new life of his? He had never given it a chance. I never said we would've succeeded (in fact, I realized that we might have miserably failed), but I wanted the chance. I wanted to know. And he hadn't even wanted to give us that.

So I swore him off. Made up excuses when he called for coffee. Kept myself busy when he was in town so we wouldn't run into one another. And eventually, I stopped answering calls and texts altogether. The way I saw it... When he broke up with me, he got a whole new life. In a new town, at a new school, doing a totally new thing. Following his dream, really. And I had been stuck, in the same town, in the same school, doing the same things...without him. It was clear that I was still far more invested in him than I should've been, and it was holding me back.

I had no way of knowing that he would carry our prom photo in his wallet for three years after we last spoke.

A year went by. I started dating a guy from our hometown within my first semester of college. And while the relationship wasn't everything it should've been (heavily flawed on both sides), my vengeful self was extremely happy because I discovered for myself that long distance did, in fact, work...if both parties were willing to put forth the effort. I'd hoped my high school sweetheart had noticed that.

A few more years went by, and while I had broken up with my long distance guy, I had started talking to guys at college in Springfield. None of it worked. And so, my knees hit the floor.

"Hey God, it's me again down here... You're supposed to really find yourself in college, and they say a lot of people find their other half. Or they're at least supposed to successfully date a little... So if you could... Could you please send Dylan back into my life? Or at least a guy just like him?"

That was the night my roommate and I lay in bed flustered about boys after eating way too many donuts. "Sounds like you and your high school sweetheart had it the best I've ever heard of."

"Yeah..." I told her, "But that was years ago. He could be a completely different person now."

She sat up in the dark. "Only one way to find out."

The lights flicked back on and we huddled on the bed around a computer, ready to do what any millennial ex-girlfriend would do...full fledged social media stalking.

He had phases where he was active on twitter but his instagram was practically deserted. And while he wasn't half as active on facebook as he had been in high school, it was quickly becoming clear that the red-head frequenting his photos was a little more than a friend.

I shrugged. Alright God, I whispered, I guess my answer's no this time. 

I suppose I was disappointed in the way you get when your ex is happier and more involved in a relationship than you are, but the logical part of me was still somewhat indifferent. I hadn't talked to him in years. I definitely wasn't still waiting. And I was walking back to my side of the room, when the "oh no" escaped my roommate's mouth.


"Get over here."

She had ventured away from his facebook page and was now on the red-head girl's from his photos. That's when the anger and jealousy welled up inside of me.

This red-headed girl didn't just have him... She had him in a long distance relationship (which we all remember he said would never work) and she lived in New York City!!! This pixie cut musician girl I didn't even know had everything I'd ever dreamed of, and I was not okay with it.

My roommate huffed. "Well," she said, "Promise me that if he ever comes back for you that you'll give it another go?"

"No," I shook my head, tired of being held back and breaking every last possibility of rekindling a romance with Dylan Roth, "I'm moving to New York."

Her eyes widened but she knew better than to try to stop me. And frankly, so did everyone else. I researched neighborhoods. Cost of living. Jobs. School districts. Transportation. Apartments. I contacted friends who had moved there. I contacted family who'd lived there previously. And I had a plan. I would spend my final year of college preparing for my move to New York City. And I fully believed that if I were to ever see Dylan Roth's face again, it would be on the streets of New York while he was with her.

So I didn't go completely solo that next year of college. I dabbled in the dating world and talked to a couple of guys. But my eyes were set on the city, so I never took anything too seriously.

And so it was late October of 2016 when I was sitting in class, half my laptop screen open to lesson plan notes and half open to a New York apartment finder when my phone buzzed and Snapchat lit up. Which was weird, because everyone I knew had stopped sending me Snapchats because I never answered them. I could text and instagram all day, but something about Snapchat was just not my forte.

Dylan Roth has added you as a friend!

I felt like I might throw up. 

I clicked accept and slid open the chat window to take care of this quickly. "Hey good to hear from you!" I typed, "Just so you know, I'm really bad about responding to snapchats so I'll probably open them and not respond a lot." 

"It's nothing personal," I decided to add. Because in the past I had meant for my silence to feel extremely personal. 

But that vengeful side of me kicked in fast, and I suddenly had the urge to tell him how wonderful I was doing on my own. How I was in my last year of college and was graduating earlier than I thought I would and how my guard team had made finals and world championships nearly every year I'd been there and how I was moving to New York City. And so I just...did...and proceeded to respond to every single one of his snapchats until our messages got too long and we had to switch to text. 

Good job Bethany. 

A month went by of this constant texting and I was on my way home for Thanksgiving break when he said, "We should grab coffee while we're in town for the holiday!" And we set a date. 

I met him for the most awkward initial reunion of my life in a local coffee shop downtown. But once the awkwardness was (mostly) out of the way, we proceeded to talk. And talk. And talk. And then go for a walk. And we walked. And walked. And walked. And we sat down on the ramp of the town's performing art's facility. And talked and talked and talked some more. The red-head was nowhere in sight, and he explained that she hadn't been a part of his life for awhile. 

So I accidentally let six hours go by. 

And finally he had to go because he was meeting his family for a football game, but he was acting as though he didn't really want to leave. We set a date to hang out again at Christmas before we'd even left. I glanced at my phone. I had three texts from my mom asking when on earth I would be done so we could go and get dinner. Yikes. I'd been so busy talking I hadn't even noticed I was hungry. 

But it had been let him in again. And I had this awful feeling in the pit of my stomach...that my plans for New York had just gotten a lot more complicated. That God's answer to my prayer for Dylan so many years ago hadn't been a clear "no," but rather a quiet whisper, "Not yet." 

And so, I willed myself to realize that God's plan for me was not a move to New York City. And the time between that moment and that Christmas would be solely dedicated to me deciding whether or not I was going to listen. 

When Christmas rolled around, I still hadn't decided. He hadn't come right out and said it, but a few talks until 2am led me to believe that we were becoming more than friends more than quickly. We met for another multi-hour coffee session around Christmas, where it was finally vocalized. That he had feelings for me again, and he didn't know what to do about it because I was moving to New York. And I realized we had gone five years without seeing one another, only to be right back where we started. Where I was now moving to pursue my dream, and didn't know if I wanted to chance being held back. 

I kissed him anyway. That was a mistake. 

I spent the entire next day looking at jobs and apartments in Nashville. Was it enough like New York for me to be happy? Would I still be able to work at the type of at-risk urban school I wanted to? Would I be able to afford a place to live? Yes, yes, yes, it seemed. Check, check, check. 

We met up that night to see the movie La La Land, and I truly believe he expected it to be our last night together. Until the movie had a frighteningly paralleled ending to the conflict we were facing, and we kept putting off the conversation. We drove around. We went for drinks. We even drove back to the movie theatre parking lot and sat in silence for fifteen minutes before I looked up and saw that same dreaded Japanese Steakhouse that we had ended it at so many years ago.

I presented my case instantly. That I would move to Nashville for us to be together. And it scared the living daylights out of him. 

"No. No, no, no, absolutely not," he told me, "You've wanted to live in New York since we dated the first time. I could never take that away from you. You'd always regret it. You'd never be as happy in Nashville as you would in New York, and..." 

He was starting to make me mad, so I cut him off. "Will you quit telling me what I want for myself, as if you know?!" 

He stared at me dumbfounded. I don't think he'd ever heard me raise my voice in his life. 

"You laid down the law five years ago!" I spat, "You just told me the way it was gonna be because you'd made up your mind. Well now it's my turn. And you don't get to sit there and tell me that I would be happier in New York than I would be with you because you don't know that. You have no idea where my head has been all this time. And you have no idea how hurt, and how angry, I was at you for never giving us a chance. Well it's been five freaking years Dylan!! And we have another chance! And if you can honestly sit there and tell me that you don't want to try, then fine. We won't. But the way I see it? There's no harm in trying. You know me. If I move to Nasvhille, and we don't work out, then fine. I'll throw my middle finger up at you, pack my bags, and go right on to New York City. At least we'll know. Because for the past five years, I haven't known. In fact, I've wondered. Every. Single. Day." 

He proceeded carefully. "And what if we do work out?" he whispered, "And you never get to live in New York?" 

I had no hesitations. "Then you're just going to have to trust that I'll be happy enough to not care."

We sat in silence for a good while, and I honestly thought he was still going to say no. And I wasn't sure what I'd do then. Because if me screaming a monologue in his face didn't work, I didn't know what would. He was leaving tomorrow. I would have to think fast. I would have to do something quick. I would have to...

"Let's do it." 

My mouth hung open. "...what?" 

The corners of his mouth curled upwards. He threw his head back and let out a laugh. "Let's do it!" 

He left town the next day and I booked a plane ticket to Nashville to see him again before my last semester of school started. Telling my parents was next, and my mom wasn't surprised in the slightest. She'd always loved Dylan, and I, after all, was just like her. I was repeating her love story with my father first hand. 

My dad, on the other hand? Blind-sighted. The only way to possibly give him the news was to give it to him straight and blunt. 

"How's Dylan doing?" he asked, "I'm so glad you have a friend to go do stuff with when you come back into town." 

"Yeah dad, about that..." I took a breath, "He and I actually got back together so I'm moving to Nashville when I graduate. Also, I'm going to see him in a week." 

He just stared at me. 

"...what do you think about that...?" I asked him. 

"I think I need a beer." 

I feel the need to pause here and make something clear. He always loved Dylan, too. But far more than he loved Dylan...he loved Nashville. So he was fully in support of this decision. As was my mother, because Nashville was a heck of a lot closer to home than New York City. 

Long distance did suck, but it did work. We made it through my last semester of college, FaceTiming every night and visiting one another every six weeks. Not even a full week after my college graduation cap went in the air, I loaded up my car and moved to Nashville. I had nothing but a duffel bag and excitement. I'd pick up the keys to my apartment in three days. The moving truck would come the following week. I'd have a job teaching kindergarten at an at-risk urban school within the month. I'd even be offered the position at the end of the first interview. 

A year ago today, we met up one night to see the movie La La Land, and Dylan truly expected it to be our last night together. 

It turned out to be the first of many. 

Since then, we've spent an awful lot of nights dressed up at weddings and parties and music networking events. We've spent even more nights in our sweatpants eating pizza. But no matter what, we're making memories one day at a time. 

People wait until I'm alone before they ask... "Do you ever regret it? Do you ever wish you'd moved to New York?" 

I had no hesitations the night I yelled at Dylan to quit deciding what I wanted for me, and I have no hesitations answering these questions a year later. 

Not in the slightest. I wouldn't trade this for anything. 

My Dylan, we celebrate today. A year of adventure. A year of uncertainty. A year of new jobs, new beginnings, and crazy spontaneous decisions that led to one of the best years of my life. A year of midnight donut runs and a year of goodnight kisses. A year of "I still love you." 

Thanks for giving me the best life I could've wished for, straight out of college. New York would've been pretty cool. It would've been loud and busy and adventurous and everything I'd ever wanted. But I can't help but think about what it would've been like after I was in for the night, in my sweatpants, eating pizza alone, looking out my apartment window and wondering what you were up to. 

I'm so glad I don't have to wonder. Thanks for inspiring a home for me in Nashville, where it is still loud and busy and adventurous. Thanks for letting me back in and allowing me to be a part of your dream. Thanks for giving me a completely new dream. And thanks for taking a chance with me this time...

It was always you. 

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Gifts Your Kiddo's Teacher Actually Wants This Christmas

Alright parents, it's that time of year again. As if you're not stressed enough with the Christmas Party dates, the holiday program reminders, and gift shopping for your actual family, you realize you have three days before school is out and you are expected to present your child's teacher with a Christmas gift.

Your kid probably wants to get her an Emoji water bottle or something equally as random. And all you can think of is a Christmas ornament or a mug that says #1 Teacher. You're pretty sure she already has a thousand of those. And let's be honest... Would she even use it?

I love my readers on this blog, so I'm just going to give it to you straight...

She does have a thousand of those and she can't possibly use them all.

You're sure that there's something out there she could use and actually enjoy, but you aren't a teacher. So how in the world are you supposed to know what that something is?

You aren't.

Allow me to share with you where every teacher's mind is at this holiday season, so you can give something that will really count.

Something she can eat. 
I'll let you in on a little secret... Her family's favorite time of year is Christmas. Why? Because she brings home all kinds of stuff. They never have to bake any cookies or make any candy because they have plenty. 

I had a teacher one year who talked about my chocolate peanut clusters for months after I gifted them to her. I returned to give her a batch every year until she retired.

So help your teacher add to her stash with your special family recipe. It may even end up being the thing she looks forward to each season.

Something she can drink. 
She will carry her favorite drink to work daily. ...or she'll have it stocked in the workroom refrigerator so she never forgets.

So ask your kid. What does she always have with her? Get her what she feels she needs to get through the day. Soda? Coffee? Tea? Something a little stronger...? (Hey, you know your kid better than I do.) Use this knowledge to create a small little gift basket.

**Legality Note: Your child WILL get in trouble if you send alcohol to campus. And so will you!!! A cute wine glass, bottle openers, reusable wine corks, or a gift card to your local alcohol store could serve as a thoroughly used alternative. 

Something she can use to relax. 
She spends 8 hours a day with your children, a few more hours a day preparing for them, and the remainder of her time worrying about them. A bath bomb or two would be more than welcome, along with some lotion or candles to give some of that time back to her. Trust me. She doesn't give enough of it to herself.

Something to give her store credit. 
Ask your kid (because I can guarantee they'll know)... What does your teacher always have with her? And where does it come from? Gift cards are your friend here.

Is she one of those teachers who frequents the vending machine for her diet coke on the reg? Sonic.
Does she inhale coffee like it's oxygen? Starbucks.
Are your kids always bringing home cute little educational crafts? Hobby Lobby.
It might also be worth it to include some credited money to your local educational supply store, or to JoAnn's, or the Dollar Tree. (Yes they make gift cards to Dollar Tree, and yes, your teacher would eat them up.)

Your kid knows her better than anyone, so ask them. What does she like? Where does she spend her time? What does she do when she's not at school?

And if you're still stumped and all else fails... Amazon or Target. If she isn't at least mildly obsessed with these gems, then is she even a real teacher?

Something for her classroom. 
I know what you're probably thinking. "I'd kind of like to get her something to take her mind off work...not something to remind her of it over the holidays!" But look at it this way...

Providing her with classroom supplies, kleenexes, tissues, games, puzzles, or even organization pieces is less money out of her own pocket she'll spend next semester. It's something to make her long, stressful days a little bit easier. And she will remember you each time she uses it.

Something personal. 
Teachers get so caught up in the day-to-day stressors of our jobs that we forget why we're really there. For example, if your child is in kindergarten, there's a good chance they didn't even know all their letters when they walked into your teacher's room. By Christmas, they are beginning to read, write, and even complete some addition and subtraction without any assistance!

The sweetest "teacher gift" I've ever received was a framed piece of student work: on the left, an assisted writing assignment from the first week of school, and on the right, a writing piece constructed at home without any help about how much they loved school. Attached to the frame was a thank you note from the parent, showing that they had noticed the progress in their daughter and were expressing how appreciative they were of everything I had done.

I will keep it long after I retire.

Tips To Consider...

  • Teachers work hard. So anything to make our winter holiday seem longer and more relaxing will be received with great joy. 
  • Teachers are cheap. We aren't paid much, so we don't expect a lavish gift. In fact, chances are high we enjoy the simple, useful ones more. 
  • Teachers are unappreciated. The simple fact that you included us on your gift list at all lets us know that you are grateful for what we are doing. You really can't go wrong. 
So please don't let the stressors of the holiday season become an excuse to forget your child's teacher this Christmas. I promise you, she hasn't forgotten your child. 

Sunday, November 19, 2017

I Am Thankful For...

Around this time last year... I was working my tail off. I was a single lady living with three roommates in Springfield, Missouri, trying desperately to maintain my stamina in my last year of a competitive guard program while completing my final college coursework prior to my internship. I was preparing for student teaching, mentally, emotionally, and physically as I scrambled to plan how I was going to meet my requirements for teacher certification. I was also preparing for my last PRAXIS exams in Missouri, because you have to take five tests to finalize a teaching license.

I found myself in a car, on the way home, ready to help my mother fix Thanksgiving dinner for us, my dad, my grandparents, my aunt, and my uncle (which is actually quite a large gathering for my small family). I was also determined to take an actual break from schoolwork, and not complete any of the preparation work listed previously over the holiday week.

An awful lot can change in a year.

Not only do my aunt and uncle now live in Philadelphia, but I am no longer a single lady, I have no roommates, and I live in Nashville, Tennessee. I have completed student teaching, passed my exams, acquired a degree, and am now a kindergarten teacher who works with at-risk students while I blog my way through the weekends and work my way through graduate school. But I mean... Other than that, everything is pretty much the same.

Every year, I post what I am thankful for. And this year, it's an awful lot. Because I stumbled upon this quote from Grey's Anatomy a few days ago...

So do it. Decide. 
Is this the life you want to live? 
Is this the person you want to love?
Is this the best you can be?
Can you be stronger? 
Kinder? More Compassionate?
Breathe in. Breathe out. 
And decide. 
                              -Meredith Grey

...and for the first time in my life, I realized that all of my answers were a resounding yes. 

This is the life I want to live. 
He is the person that I want to love. 
I am working so hard to be the best I can be. 
Can I always be stronger? Kinder? More compassionate?
Yes. Yes. And yes. 

And I will continue to work on those things every day. But for now, I am thankful and content for so many things.

I am thankful for the people in my life. 
For my students, who give me a reason to get up each morning.
For my school family, who never make me feel as though I'm going at such a thankless job alone.
For my parents, who love and support me every day, in every way.
For my honorary brother and sister, who always make me feel close to their heart even from miles away.
For my best friends, who keep in touch and share their lives with me whether they live in Nashville or South Dakota.
For my boyfriend, who gave me the best reason to start my life out of college the way that I did.
And for my God, who made it all happen.

I am thankful for the place I get to call home. 
For Nashville, my baby New York City; an urban area with good art, good music, good coffee, and good theatre.
For my apartment, which I organized, furnished, and decorated all by myself, to make it a place I could truly call my own.
For Dylan's house, with his roommates, who always make me feel at home from the moment I walk through the door, and for letting me call it home when my apartment has mice, smells of paint, or was under final renovation.
And for my classroom, where I can provide a better environment for my kinders every day than the environment they come from.

I am thankful for my job. 
For its paycheck, no matter how big or small, which lets me provide for myself the things that I need, and enjoy some of the luxuries that I want.
For its flexibility, because I can exercise my creativity in every lesson I plan for.
For its schedule, so I can enjoy long breaks with my friends and family (and collect my overtime... *wink wink*).
For its purpose, since all students need to learn to read and count, but my kiddos also need to learn to love, laugh, and celebrate life.
For its influence, because I am truly making a difference during every second of every day.
And for its fulfillment, because this is what I have wanted to do since I was a little girl.

I am thankful for the internet. 
For without it... I would not be able to go through graduate school on my own time, connect with blog readers all over the world, or experience basic life as a millennial woman.

I am thankful for my health. 
For having to go to the doctor so little.
For having enough food to fuel my body...and a little extra to enjoy some snacks with.
For having clean water to fill up a bottle, like, twelve times each school day.

I am thankful for my self care time.
Which includes everything from my scalding hot showers, to reading books under a blanket, to crafting for the holidays.

I am thankful for you. 
For my blog, which gives me an outlet to write and a mission to build.
For my platform, which allows me to say what I need to say.
And for my readers, who give me a reason to keep this site going.

I'm signing off for the week to eat way too much turkey. I hope you're doing the same! And just a reminder to my mental health warriors this holiday season::

To my anxiety warriors: Don't let the gatherings and the parties and the family / friend endeavors ruin what could be such a magical time of year. Slow down. Take a breath. Take care of yourself.
To my depression warriors: Don't feel guilty for where your head is at. Just do what you gotta do. Do your best, beautiful. That's all anyone could ever ask of you.
To my eating disorder warriors: It doesn't matter how much you ate yesterday. You still need to eat today.

Enjoy your holiday. Be happy. Be joyful. Be thankful.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

#MeToo, But You Already Forgot

Why some women won't share, haven't shared, or think it's too late to share. 

It's been a little over a week since the incredibly serious #MeToo movement mushroomed across social media. Rapidly. And naturally, much like the also-incredibly-serious #NeverForget movement of 9-11... after about five days, all of the posts regarding the awareness had subsided. We went back to videos of celebrity puppies and photos of drunken Halloween parties.

What started as a single response to actress Alyssa Milano's tweet, #MeToo blossomed into a ploy for awareness regarding sexual harassment and assault. Which -to clarify- spans everything from an objectifying cat-call out a sports car window to full fledged rape. #NoMeansNo. Most of us remember that one. It popped up a couple of years ago and lasted about a week.

The intentions of #MeToo were golden. The entire idea was that if everyone (men, women, children, etc.) who had ever been raped, sexually harassed, assaulted, etc., would post #MeToo on their status, then the public would gain a better understanding of how common this issue really is in today's society. And everyone was asking me, "Since you run an entire blog around this subject of confidence despite hardship, why aren't you saying anything?"

"Just wait," I responded, in order to better prove my point. "Just wait."

And I waited. Waited to see how long the movement would last. The verdict? About a week and a half. Which, I admit, was about five days longer than I thought it would.

It was the talk of the town for nearly two weeks. Women who have been sharing their experiences for years and women who took the opportunity to share for the first time were posting side by side. And it was beautiful. It was brave. It was powerful.

For a week and a half.

The movement will fade. 

The main reason I never posted #MeToo was exactly for that reason. The movement would last for a week. Maybe two. And you're like, "Duh Bethany. It's an awareness movement. It isn't supposed to last forever." I know this. You know this. Everyone knows this.

But it bothers me.

Because these women? Who have actually been sexually assaulted or raped? Their lives are changed forever. It would've seemed like a business strategy. A way to gain traction for my blog to post smack in the middle of the #MeToo movement. And that's not why we're here.

I'm posting now because, like these women, sexual assault has changed my life. Because, whether a sexual harassment victim has been raped in the dead of night and received therapy for seven years or has simply had their butt slapped in the middle of the high school hallway, we are all women who have learned to alter our way of living in order to protect ourselves from this problem. We have learned to cross the street when a man is walking along the same sidewalk. We have learned to park under streetlights, never get gas for the car after dark, and never go in public bathrooms by ourselves. We carry alarms in our purses. Pepper spray on our keychains is so common that they sell them at the grocery store. Some women even carry handbags big enough to hold tazers, guns, and the licenses that accompany these more intense weapons. Self-defense classes are selling out, as well as being offered for a discount at most college recreation centers. The list goes on and on.

It's become a money game! Businesses are thriving on the fact that women need to protect themselves. Pepper spray comes in all sorts of cute colors and shapes. They make cute little taser holsters and they give you a framed certificate when you graduate from a self-defense class. That's an award for the progress made in your 10 classes...and the 180 dollars you paid up front.

The truth is, the movements are important, but any actual progress towards the goal of elimination would "hurt the economy." Because if we didn't need to protect ourselves, these businesses would close, these products would be mostly discontinued, and the entire sex industry stemming from sex trafficking would cease to exist. And we can't have that because we might lose porn. Welcome to the logic of 2017.

"It's too late."
Some women have told me, "It's too late for me to share. The movement is already over."

My darling, if it is your time to be brave, it is your time to be brave. You do not have to share when everyone else tells you to. That literally defeats the purpose of the movement and if they're telling you that you're too late, then they need to remember what the movement is really about.

Some people can't understand that while movements fade, your experience has changed the way you live and breathe. It has changed the way you look at this world. And that does not fade. The crossing the sidewalk, the fear of being alone at night, the flashbacks or the nightmares or the guilt or whatever you experience does not go away. So you share your story when you're good and ready. Don't worry about the ones telling you that it's too late, because they don't get it anyway.

"My story isn't as bad as theirs."
Maybe not. But it's no less valid. Even if some people have it "so much worse than you," your pain is still pain. Your fears are still fears. And your story still has a right to be heard. Even if you just ran to the bathroom crying after someone slapped your butt. Even if it just made you angry that you were objectified out a car window.

You count. And you matter.

"It feels like I'm begging for attention." 
This was reason #2 for me as well. So I totally get it, dear sister. "You're just whining," you will hear, and "You're just blowing this way out of proportion so that you can get someone to tell you you're brave." or "You're just doing this so someone will ask about it and give you an invitation to rant." or "You just want pity."

And while this is usually completely untrue, there are people who genuinely believe this. I won't tell you there aren't. In fact, I've met many of them, and this one came from my own personal facebook.

As if it was all about her. As if she had the right to judge people who felt they should share their story simply because she didn't feel like she needed to. This also happens vice versa, when a person can't understand why others won't share their stories simply because he/she felt called to share hers.

One of my friends countered the comment by saying that she understood where the woman was coming from, but she didn't agree. "Yes, every woman and lots of men have probably experienced it," my friend responded, "so I understand how you would think posting your story is a ploy for attention. But that's the point. To raise awareness. Someone always has it worse than you. And someone always has it easier. But the point of the movement is to show numbers. It's to show how many have been impacted my objectification, harassment, assault, rape, etc."

And, because the woman is an average person in the 21st century, she decided to start a comment fight because my friend didn't agree. "I'm not saying everyone does it for attention," you could practically hear her spat through the font, "but when I see people put it in their status and then someone else comments and then they respond with their story then I feel that is for attention."

Upon reading that, I began to get angry. Basically, she saw someone post "#MeToo" and felt that it was a ploy for attention because someone else asked for the poster's story.

What that sounds like to me... is that a woman posted "#MeToo" but didn't include her story because she wanted to raise awareness for what happened to her but didn't want it to seem like she wanted attention. And then someone else was interested in knowing her story, so she told them. I fail to see how that was a direct ploy for attention.

My friend failed to see it also. "Some people are just more open about their past," my friend responded calmly. "I suppose you'll never know anyone's actual heart behind it... But that's also not for anyone else to judge."

So if you aren't posting for attention, post anyway. The point is to show numbers, not motives. People will always judge you if they think you want attention. But they shouldn't be judging people anyway.

"I'm just not ready to share." 
And that is totally okay.

People who can't understand will try to get you to talk. People who love you and believe that you can influence the world will also try to get you to talk. It doesn't make them bad people, but it's hard to say no when they say something like, "You could change so many lives and reach so many people if you would talk about your story."

Listen closely, beautiful...

It is not your job to heal other people. Especially not before you heal yourself. After all you've been through, you owe yourself a freedom before you set out to free others. It is much smarter to break someone else's handcuffs after you are out of your own cage.

So if you shared a #MeToo statement, thank you. I do not think you were asking for attention. I think you are brave, and strong, and beautiful.

And if you did not share a #MeToo statement, you have no reason to feel any guilt. Or shame. Or fear. No matter how big or small, your pain hurts. Your story is valid. Your life matters.

Sunday, October 15, 2017

Tackling the Tennessee DMV

Ahhh, fall break. A week provided by the Metro Nashville Public School district to allow us time to rest, re-cooperate, and rejuvenate.

In my case, however, (you had to see this coming) the only thing I managed to finish with was a valid Tennessee state license. And everyone's heard enough horror stories at the DMV to know they should be prepared. But I was exceptionally prepared. As a human with very little free time and very high anxiety...that's kind of my deal.

I started bright and early on Monday morning with my manilla folder of required documents and applications in hand. But come Wednesday afternoon when I closed down the joint and still didn't have a license, I texted Dylan in absolute rage to which he replied, "Have you started live tweeting yet?" because that's how he got through his 5-day adventure at the DMV when he first moved to Tennessee.

Now, as many of you already know, I completely suck at twitter. It's only 140 characters, and wordy people like myself just can't get everything in. I'm actually impressed by people who can tweet effectively. It's a skill set I clearly did not acquire in my millennial education. Anyway...back to the DMV... (see? wordy.) I couldn't complete my DMV experience in 140 characters. Thus, the blog. 

Let's start at the beginning, shall we?

So this all started nearly a month ago, when I came home from Target all happy go lucky and 200 less dollars in the bank from when I left my apartment to go to Target. I was on my way to Dylan's for a movie night. But if you know anything about me, "I'm on my way," doesn't mean I'm in my car and driving his direction. It means I've just finished showering, I'm putting on sweatpants, I'm running a clorox wipe over my counters, I'm loading extra dishes into the dishwasher, I'm turning off lights, oh I need a pillow and a blanket for movie night, now I'm putting on shoes, I'm grabbing my purse, and - oh yeah! - I can take my trash out to the dumpster on the way to my car. Then, I'll be on my way. Efficiency, ya know?

Sometimes my head gets in a little more hurry than my body and it doesn't remind me to go slow and be careful. So when I chucked my trash bag over the top of the dumpster, my wallet went in with it. And by the time Dylan (bless his soul) and I could get back there to dumpster dive, it had already been emptied (which, of course, didn't stop us from trying anyway). So after Dylan had suited up in lavender kitchen gloves, wrapped an old t-shirt around his face like a bandit, and explored the depths of the dumpster with no wallet in hand, it was time to start cancelling credit cards and ordering new insurance cards. ATM cards. AAA cards... Cards, cards, cards.

And so let's just recap for a moment:

  • I have tossed my wallet into a dumpster like an idiot. 
  • I have called my boyfriend to dumpster dive like a desperate idiot. 
  • I have lost my rose gold, champagne Kate Spade wristlet. 
  • I have lost my drivers license, which, by the way, is still an Arkansas issued license so my plans to easily get a Tennessee license over fall break have just been ruined. 
  • I have lost all my access to health insurance. 
  • I have lost all access to any money from any bank or any credit card ever. 
  • I have lost TWO HUNDRED DOLLARS in Starbucks rewards. TWO HUNDRED DOLLARS. 

To which Dylan says, "Oh hun... You need a drink."

Why yes I do. Let's go get one. Oh wait... I don't have a freaking ID. 

So that was my life for two weeks. Carrying one of Dylan's credit cards and transferring money to it from my bank account until I could regain access to my debit cards. Trying desperately to avoid all possible scenarios where I would need a drivers license or ID while also trying not to get sick or injured because I have no health insurance so my treatment would be at least twice as much and I don't have any money at the present time anyway.

Sub-moral of the story... Don't throw your wallet in a dumpster. It will ruin your life. 

So on week three, it was fall break. I was off work, and I was on a mission. I even had a clearance letter in hand from the Arkansas DMV stating that my license was active and in good standing. I had three forms of identification, legal documents, proof of residency, a newly issued debit card, and I could've sworn I'd be good to go. Of course, we all know where this is going. I wasn't good to go.

So if you ever find yourself in this intensely desperate situation, I've been there, girl. And I'm here to help ya out.

Bethany's Quick-Tips for Tackling the Tennessee DMV

Start early. Be there when they open and allow five business days. You'll probably need them.

Be overly prepared. You will need:

  • a photo ID
  • your original birth certificate
  • your original Social Security card
  • two proofs of identify
  • a proof of residency. (Take mail that is still in the envelope. They don't accept it if there's no envelope.) 
  • an active drivers license in hand (or for those pathetic enough to throw theirs in the dumpster, you need a clearance letter from your original state. But it has to be faxed to them from the original state's DMV. You can't bring one in. You also can't email it to them. You can't even fax it yourself. They think you forged it if you do these things and it wastes two days of your time.) 

Don't go during fall break. The good news is: The DMV is open the same hours as every other working human at a normal business is at work, so if you're a teacher or in some other seasonal occupation, you get awesome time off like fall break to handle these things. The bad news is: every teenager and their dog is there to take their driver's test and it takes for-ever.

Look out for crazies. So this woman comes in and walks up to the check in machine. It asks if she has a Tennessee license, and she clicks no. Then, it asks her to enter her Tennessee license number (which, I agree, is a little messed up considering she just told it she didn't have a Tennessee license, but whatever.). Any normal person would've clicked the I-don't-have-a-Tennessee-license-number in the corner of the screen, but oh no. She walks over the counter, cuts in front of a family of four, and says, "That machine over there needs me to enter my Tennessee license number but I have a license from West Virginia."
"Oh," the DMV woman replies nicely, a rare occurrence at the DMV, "then you can just enter your West Virginia license number."
"But that's not what this says," the woman persists, "It asks for a Tennessee license number."
"Yes ma'am, but if you don't have one, then you need to enter a valid license number from whatever state your license is in."
"But that's not what it says! You need to change the machine!"
"Ma'am, we can't change the machine."
"But you're asking me to lie. I would be putting in a West Virginia license number for a question that asked for a Tennessee number. That's lying. Because I don't have a Tennessee license."
This went on for about twenty minutes before she sat down without a wait ticket number (so who knows if she ever got service or not), and began speaking in tongues. I thought for sure I'd found the perfect significant other for Sheldon Cooper.

Find the eternal optimist. There's always one. In my case, it was a sassy 16 year old who'd just received her first drivers license. "Congratulations!" her grandmother clapped from her seat in the waiting area, "You got your license!"
"Forget that, girl," the girl replied, "it's time to eat!"
They'd obviously been there for awhile.
The girl breezed right past her grandmother and headed for the door, and the grandmother stopped and looked at me just before following the girl.
"Apparently," she said, " you don't have to be a heavy set, 80 year old woman like your grandmother to get excited about food. Learn somethin' new every day!"

Familiarize yourself with the actual process of driver's services. Turns out, the DMV only gives you your license. In Tennessee, there's an entirely separate office in the courthouse that will issue you your car registration and tags, and yes, it is on the other side of town and closes 30 minutes earlier than the DMV. But you can't go there first because you need an active Tennessee license. So don't waste a day trying to do it the other way around like I did. Refer to guideline #1.

If you ever buy a car for your daughter, put her name on the title. I remember looking at my title when my parents first bought me the car at age 16. "I'm a little worried because the car isn't in my name," I told mom. Even at age 16, I was fairly anxiety driven so I worried about things five years in the future like that. "Oh that won't be a problem," she reassured me. Guess what. It was a problem. And we had to email her an entirely separate application that she had to complete before I could finalize my application for Tennessee registration.

Get your car emissions tested, like, yesterday. I'd never even heard of such a thing as required emissions testing but they don't give you any sympathy due to your ignorance. You will need the confirmation page to acquire your car tags after you finish your registration application.

Believe it or not, it could always be worse. "I hate this place," the woman sitting next to me on day five told me.
"Same," I said indifferently at that point in the game, "I've been here five days cause I lost my wallet." (That sounded at least a little better than I-threw-my-wallet-in-the-dumpster.)
"Yeah," she told me, "I've been here for three because my car got hot wired and stolen for a series of bank robberies and my purse was in it."

Just when you think your dramatic tale is the worst...there's always someone who can one-up you. Who knows... Maybe you can search for her blog post on the internet, too.

Monday, October 9, 2017

"You're Too Pretty To Cry," & Other Lies We Learn Young

I was speeding down the kindergarten lunch line, handing out student ID cards. It doesn't matter how much I organize that stack in the morning... They're never in the correct order by lunchtime. And since I was trying not to drop my lunch, spill my water, tip our class ticket cup, and scatter the cards all over the floor, I hardly looked at my students at all.

"Sweetie, what's wrong?" I heard the lunch lady ask at the other end of the line. And I must say... Even though I hadn't seen the little girl silently crying, I couldn't say I was really surprised. We have a meltdown at least twice a day, so it's best to take care of the problem quickly and move on. And because of this knowledge I gained on the third day of school, my teacher brain tuned in to the little girl's voice as she said, "My momma couldn't send me a dollar for lunch today."

Poor thing. I recognized the underlying problem immediately, for I work at a crisis school, where it is not uncommon for students to show up without a trace of lunch money. And somewhere along the line, someone told my kindergarteners that if they didn't have their dollar, they couldn't eat that day. Which, by the way, might have reminded two of them to bring their money, but told the other fifteen of them that if they didn't have money that day, they better steal someone else's or they won't get to eat.

Because the underlying problem is never really about the dollar. It's that my kids come from high poverty families and they are starving, because school is the only time of day they get to eat, and without their dollar, there is no food until they return the next day.

And so, I expected the lunch lady to say something like, That's alright, baby, you can still eat today! Or Don't worry sweetie, we'll get you something anyway. Perhaps even, You can eat today, just make sure you remember your dollar tomorrow. 

But no. Instead she said, "Oh sweetheart, wipe up those tears. You're too pretty to cry."

I was pretty sure the steam was about to explode from my ears. That didn't take care of the problem at all! I wanted to scream, In fact... You created ANOTHER ONE because you didn't want to deal with it!!! 

I dropped everything in my hands. I don't think I've ever crusaded down my line faster. I reached the little girl just as she was attempting to dry her cheeks. Her eyes were still watering, still full of tears that would have been shed. Her lip continued to quiver, and she could not breathe steadily. She still had a few scattered huffs. But she was fighting it. She was fighting hard.

I wrapped her in a hug and said, "Listen, honey. Just remember your dollar tomorrow okay? You have to pay for food at cafeterias, just like if you were at the grocery store, but they'll let you eat today. I promise."

She stood taller, rolled her shoulders back, and raised her head up. Had her lip not been quivering, and her eyes not been watering, her posture might have fooled you into thinking she was okay. But she wasn't.

"Do you need to take a break for a second?" I asked her softly. She nodded.

"Okay, just come right over here and take a minute for yourself," I told her, placing some tissues on the table in front of her, "You can get back in line when you're ready to eat."

She maintained her posture until she reached the table I had designated for her. She folded her arms out, lay her head down, and let it all loose. She cried / heaved / sobbed for a good ten minutes.

And then, it was the strangest thing. She sat up, dried her tears, blew her nose, smiled, and got right back in line. Not another sign of those tears all day.

"What on Earth!" the lunch lady exclaimed, "That little one of yours cries almost every day in here!"

"Because she needs to cry," I snapped a little too quickly, "And she's not too pretty to take care of herself."

She was lucky I stopped there and didn't launch into my soap box. That, however, is what my blog is for.

So here I am, friends! Hello, and welcome! To my readers, parents, teachers, coaches, and friends: It doesn't matter if you have a kid, are expecting one, or never want one in your life. It doesn't matter if you work with kindergarteners or work with teenagers. It doesn't even matter if you work in a cubicle and haven't encountered a child since your third cousin twice removed brought her baby to Christmas dinner five years ago.

We all have emotions. Adults, teens, and kids. I think that much is self-explanatory. I don't think anyone would dare to argue that statement. But adults and (for the most part) teenagers have learned ways to handle these emotions. Sometimes, our coping mechanisms are healthy, and sometimes they are not. That much is usually up for debate. But nonetheless, we have ways of handling these emotions we experience on a regular basis.

And some of us are more emotional than others. Some people can blow things off instantly. Others need a five minute "vent time" and then they're good to go. And then there's the friends (and we all have at least one) who will dwell on one scenario and emotion for several days straight.

Children don't know any of this. Not only do they not have a single clue on how to handle their emotions, they don't even know what emotions are! Feelings and emotions are very complex topics for a group of kindergarteners. They usually know whether or not they are sad, mad, or happy. But that's about it. They can rarely even tell you why they feel a certain way, unless they're angry. "I hit him because he called me names!" you might hear. But if you ask them why they are happy, they say, "I don't know. I just am." And if you ask them why they're sad? Yep. "I don't know. I just am."

What about emotions like excited? Nervous? Anxious? Stressed? Or what about i'm-too-poor-for-food-but-it's-a-monday-and-i-haven't-eaten-in-three-days?

They have no idea what these emotions are; what they feel like, or how to handle them. My little sweetheart in the front of my lunch line was nervous. Anxious. And scared out of her mind. Would she get to eat lunch that day? Would the lunch lady be mad at her for not having her dollar? Would anyone help her to make sure this never happened again? She didn't know. And she didn't know how to ask.

All she knew was that she needed to cry. Which is a perfectly healthy and recommended coping mechanism, by the way. Contrary to suppression as she was told she should do in order to "preserve her beauty." Forget that.

My little sweetheart knew her self-care coping mechanism (it was intrinsic and obvious to her), and she was beginning to use it. And then she was told that she was too pretty to cry, implying that she would not remain pretty if she let those tears slip. That she would no longer be pretty if she took care of herself. She knew how to meet her own needs, and she even knew how to meet them without the help of someone else, a feat not often conquered by a kindergartener. She knew that she needed to cry; and yet, she felt that she could not both take care of her needs and also remain a beautiful little girl.

This is not an uncommon statement for girls to hear. Boys, too. Boys, especially. Tears are weak. Tears are ugly. And you're either supposed to be a tough man or a strong, independent woman. This leaves no room for tears.

I feel that this is a good time to let you know that I probably cry at least once every other day. Sometimes daily. Because I have to admit, I cry as a coping mechanism for everything. 

Sad? I cry.

Happy? I cry.

Mad? I yell while I'm crying.

Stressed? You bet I'm cryin'!

Anxious? Hyperventilating and crying.

Scared? Overheating and crying.

When I was heartbroken from the worse breakup I ever had? Crying.

When I accidentally floored it backwards into a concrete pillar in a parking garage? Crying.

Crying, crying, crying. But it never lasts very long. Unless I'm trying to suppress it. 

As a little girl, I'm not sure where I got the notion that crying was bad. No lunch lady ever told me I was too pretty to cry (thank god, or I likely wouldn't have ever learned differently). Perhaps it was because my mom was a crier, too, but I rarely saw it. (I, too, now tend to hide my tears if I am in public or in the presence of people who do not know about my need for tears.) Or maybe it was because my dad was a real fix-it kind of guy, and he couldn't fix tears so I tried not to cry so he wouldn't feel bad. (He has since learned to leave the room until I'm finished and then crack a joke upon return.)

But recently, I began expressing this need vocally. "Seriously, guys, sometimes I just cry. It's my way of dealing with basically everything. If you can handle it, great. If not, just leave me alone for like five minutes and I'll come back out after and everything will be normal again." And though there was some skepticism at first, it didn't take people long to figure this out.

Now, after a long day, I can expect Dylan to ask how I am feeling. And if it was anything other than "fine," he usually sits with me for five minutes while I cry and vent about it and then we fix dinner. Or go to the park. Or go right on about our evening. He doesn't think a single thing of those self-care tears, anymore. And neither do I.

You are not too pretty to cry. You're not too strong to cry. You aren't too tough, or too independent, or too manly to cry. Whatever lie you've been told about tears is not true. In fact, if you let those tears go when you need them to, you are strong enough to take care of your hurting mind when the rest of the world seems to think less of you for doing so. And that is something to be admired.

And if you made it all the way to this point in the post and you're thinking to yourself, "Okay... I feel like I should feel more empowered by this, but I'm just not really a crier..." then good for you! Perhaps you know someone who is and you can encourage them. But even if that's not the case...

The point is, we are taught in some form or fashion that allowing ourselves to care for our mind is something we are to be ashamed of doing. Or we should at least be ashamed to do it in public. Because god forbid we offend anyone (because that never happens...) or make anyone uncomfortable. After all, to cry in front of others and make them slightly more uncomfortable might imply that we are inconsiderate; that it is our job to make sure others are more secure in this world than we are. That their comfort should be preserved at our expense. That because a lunch lady might not want to deal with us when we are hurting, it is somehow our duty to make sure our pain is sacrificed for their convenience.

You are not required to set yourself on fire in order to keep others warm. 

And we are not too pretty, too independent, too anything to lose composure for thirty seconds in order to let off a bit of whatever burden we are shouldering. But we are taught the opposite of this from such an early age.

And that's just one of the reasons we're so screwed up by the time we turn twenty. Because we learn the opposite of self care before we even complete our first semester of kindergarten.

Sunday, September 24, 2017

How I Keep A Growth Mindset As An Educator

It's the final week of September, which means we're wrapping up Growth Mindset Month here on Crayons to Confidence. We've already covered what Growth Mindset is, why it's important, and how I teach it to young children and young women.

Unfortunately, I haven't had enough experience teaching it to young men to write a post about it (thankfully, all the men in my life have an even better growth mindset than I do), but I can think of a particular group of people I haven't touched on, yet. One I have a lot of experience with. One that spends all day talking about the importance of growth mindset while rarely ever using it themselves. Perhaps, you could say, it is a group of people who need it most.


I will never forget the night I came home crying while student teaching. I felt like so much of a failure that, for the first time ever, I was questioning if teaching was really what God had made me to do. And Dylan comforted me to the best of his ability via FaceTime (we were long distance back then, and yes, it totally sucked) until he finally asked, "Bethany... Picture yourself 20 years from now. In a time where you've been teaching so long it's second nature. And if you could go back and talk to yourself in this moment, what do you think you would tell yourself?"

I considered this for a moment. "I'd probably tell myself that it was okay to be a beginner."

Even he sounded surprised that he didn't have to prompt me any more to get me to that conclusion. "I think that's very good advice."

And it was. ...for a moment. Until I realized that teachers don't get that luxury. Musicians and artists can be beginners. They will excel with practice and rehearsal. Fashion designers and book publishers can be beginners. They will gain success as they climb in their company. Salesmen and beauty consultants can be beginners. They will make more money as their product begins to sell. But teachers, social workers, and healthcare professionals don't get to be beginners. Why?

Because our product is people. Someone's daughter. Someone's brother. Someone's niece, or nephew, or twin, or wife, or father. We do not get the chance to screw up and try again next time, because we won't just mess up a sale. Our mistakes have the potential to mess up another life.

The Art Is Never Truly Mastered 
It took me a long time to realize this, so let's just get this out of the way. Standardized exams are not effective, and education is not equal. Why? Because people are not standardized. And people are not equal. And if our product is people, and people are not standardized or equal, then standard and equal education does not work.

People change. People grow. People live in new worlds with every generation that comes to pass. So education is ever changing. Teachers never really get it down. Sometimes we make big improvements. Sometimes, we try things and they don't work. Sometimes, we try things and they do. Sometimes, we even try things we know won't work just to prove to someone in the district that we were right.

So when times are tough and I'm feeling blue, or I feel overwhelmed and completely ineffective at what I do, I have to remind myself... Your job changes every second, of every day, of every week, of every day. Yes, the teachers celebrating their 25th work anniversary have a lot of skill on a first year teacher. But if you are a brand new teacher, you have brand new ideas and an updated education for an updated generation. Your fire has not burnt out yet. You are passionate, and you are young. You are closer to the generation you are teaching. You relate better to them. So while you may not feel as good or effective as the old woman across the hall who's in her 50th year teaching kindergarten (true story... I know one of those), you have an advantage that they do not. you get this generation of kid. And that gift alone can make you just as effective.

And remember: people are not standardized, which means that teachers are not either. There is no one successful model. You each have a different teaching style and philosophy and daily routine, and they're all exactly what some kid needs. So you do you, and keep on keepin' on, because you have one of the most important jobs in the world, and if you get discouraged, the job won't get done.

You Can Be A Teacher And A Student
In fact, the best teachers still are students. The best teachers are the ones who are constantly seeking help. They're always attending collaborative meetings, searching Pinterest for the hottest new phonics games, and are working overtime so they can remain as a top performer in their craft. They might be required by the district to attend professional development trainings, but the best teachers are voluntarily offering more to their job.

So when it's 8:30 p.m. and you're still at school even though you were supposed to be home to join your boyfriend for dinner at 6:30 (it's like I'm speaking from experience or something...), remind yourself that it's because you are dedicated to what you do. If you keep learning new ways to become a great teacher, you will become a great teacher. In fact, that already makes you a great teacher. So looking for extra resources and asking for help is never a bad thing. It just means you are still learning. And by personal opinion, if you're doing this teaching thing right... you are always still learning.

Broken Crayons Still Color
"Miss Harper!" the distraught wail came from the back table, "She broke my crayon!!!"

Oh lord, the mutter escaped my mouth. It was Friday. Come on, people. Get through it with me... We're almost there. But no. Instead, we're going to break other people's crayons and fight about it.

And then, like an angel, the quiet voice from a sweet little kinder boy said, "Don't worry, Miss Harper, I've got it."

The boy proceeded to stand up, retrieve the tape dispenser from the class supply area, and carry it over to the girl with the severed crayon. He took it from her hands, lined it up carefully, and taped it back together. It was as if he'd been a crayon doctor all his life. He was so prepared in that moment, you'd think that's what God had made him for: to fix that poor girl's crayon.

He handed it back to her gently. "I know it's not as pretty anymore," he told her, "but that's okay. Broken crayons still color."

I was sure I'd felt my jaw hit the floor. Tears were in my eyes instantly. How many times have we felt like that? "I'm ugly, I'm broken, I'm useless." But that couldn't be further from the truth.

The reality is, we're all crayons, and we've all been broken. We've had our wrappers ripped off, our ends dented up, and some of us have literally been snapped in half. But it doesn't really matter whether you're all worn down or fresh out of the box...

All that matters is that you still color.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

How I Teach Growth Mindset to Young Women

September is Growth Mindset Month here on Crayons to Confidence. And we have already established what growth mindset is, and how I teach it to young children. So now it's time to tackle another aspect for our readers more directly: how to teach it to young women.

Before I began teaching kindergarten, I worked as a high school colorguard coach in small town Missouri. By day two of our camp together, I easily recognized it as the most difficult job I'd ever had. They were unmotivated. They were rude. They talked back to me all the time, huffed at my instruction, and acted as though the very sport they auditioned for was the absolute biggest pain in their butt.

But I refused to quit. Not because I'm an insanely dedicated or thought I had exactly what these girls needed, but because I soon viewed it as a challenge to conquer, showing those girls they had no reason to be that way. That's basically the kind of the person I am.

By day four I was so frustrated that I sat them down in a circle before we began. "Do you want to be good?" I asked them.

They all just stared at me.

"I'll ask again," I said after several moments of silence, "Do you all want to be good?"

"Well, yeah..." they said.

"Great! That's wonderful to hear!" I told them. A few of them broke a smile. "But you could've fooled me."

Their faces fell.

And I shrugged. "You could've fooled me. Every time I give you anything to get better, you talk back to me, you huff at me, and you tell me you can't do it. You give up before you even try, and you get mad at me for believing in you. Why should I keep trying for you if you aren't even trying for yourself?"

One girl wasn't quite impacted enough by my tough love. "Because this is your job," she told me indifferently.

I couldn't help but laugh. "Please. I don't get paid enough to stay up past midnight writing choreography, driving two hours to get to and from your school for practices, and have you treat me like I don't know what I'm doing."

"Then why are you here?" the girl with too much nerve dared to ask.

"Because you're better than what you're giving me. But. I know it's easier to not practice and not try, so if you don't care and you're ready to give up, it'll be easier on me to not come anymore. If that's what you want."

No one said anything, so I just kept talking.

"I don't know what else to do. I don't know what else to try. So if you want to be good, and there's something you need that I'm not giving you, you just need to tell me. And I'll get it for you, I promise."

"It's harder than we thought," came a soft, sweet voice from the back, "It looked easy when you did it. But it's not."

It actually made me sick that I hadn't seen it before. "Well do you want to learn? How to make it easy?"

"Well, yeah," became the general consensus.

"Well it took me ten years to get to where I am with guard. You can get there, too. But not in four days. And not with that attitude."

Growth mindset. They needed it. Bad. But unfortunately, it's much harder to teach growth mindset to young women, because they are no longer young children. They aren't as moldable. They aren't as much of a sponge. They already have thoughts and ideas and opinions on how the world works, and they already have thoughts and ideas and opinions on how much they're worth. And about 99% of the time, they don't have it right.

It starts with a love of self. 
Can you teach this? Some say yes, some say no. And personally, I fall somewhere in the middle. There's certainly no set lesson plan. There's no formula or method. But I've found that believing in them is a good place to start. Most of the time, even if they believe in themselves, they're looking for someone who believes in them more. Who pushes them further because you know they can handle it, but who encourages and compliments them on what they already do well. Let them know they have your support, your encouragement, and your leadership. That's all a young woman really wants; from her educators, her parents, her man, her friends, etc. And the more she has that behind her, the more she will fuel and encourage and believe in herself.

Eliminate "I Can't" from their vocabulary.
You might have previously read how I don't allow my kindergarteners to use "I can't." I don't allow high schoolers to use it around me either. I don't believe in the phrase, quite frankly. Hepburn said it best... "Nothing is impossible. The word itself says I'm Possible." The more you speak those words, the more your brain believes them by default. But if you start reminding yourself that you can, with time, or effort, or practice, or whatever... your brain believes those by default also.

Place them where they can flourish. 
Too many times people believe that growth mindset functions best when a person is placed in a situation where they are heavily challenged. And that is true, sometimes. But in the beginning, it's completely natural for people to need to learn what it's like to succeed before they learn what it's like to grow. Success pushes anyone to want more success. That personal joy is contagious, and addicting. If a person has learned what it's like to shine, they will be more motivated to feel that way again. By placing them in situations they like so they can achieve success they truly enjoy, you are teaching them to work without them feeling as though they are working.

Push them, ever so slightly. 
Lots of things are too easy. Lots of things are too hard. Very few things are "just right." Finding that sweet spot is quite an art, but it's very important that you do. Find where they are comfortable and happy and just take one half step further. This teaches them to set goals but work slowly towards the success. Showing them how to trust the process forces them to find sweet successes when they reach the goal, and while they're still along the way.

Celebrate successes with them. 
This goes for any age. Any gender. Any person, really. It's just a wonderful thing to do! Successes are sweeter when shared with someone else. If you have been a complimenter, a supporter, and an encourager through the entire process, they will be so thankful when you are a celebrator as well.

Growth mindset is just as crucial in life as it is in the classroom. It's just as useful when you're an adult as it is when you're in a kindergarten classroom. It's pretty common for early childhood teachers to work toward it and teach it. But it tends to get lost somewhere along the way for young women. Once they start to question their beauty, their confidence, and their power (and they all do at some point), their growth mindset is shot to the wind. It takes constant reinforcement to ensure it stays a part of them, and it is no longer something they can learn and maintain on their own. They need the help of their educators, their parents, and one another. It's a trickier battle than it is with young students, but it's still a very important one.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

How I Teach Growth Mindset To Young Children

If you're new around here, September is when we celebrate Growth Mindset Month here on Crayons to Confidence! And since I'm such a firm believer in the concept, I dedicate a whole week to it in my classroom at the beginning of the year. All of our books, lessons, and centers focus on learning about and developing a growth mindset, and I'm here to share it all with you!

My school implements what we call the "First Fifteen," where the first fifteen school days are curriculum free. You can teach some of that if you want, but you don't have to. You have the freedom to focus on routines, procedures, class norms, and relationship building, so I toss in a full five days of growth mindset in there, too. In my humble opinion, the more a child can develop a growth mindset early on, the more they will love learning because they will not fear failure.

The Power of "YET." 
I always begin with the power of yet. I introduce several fixed-mindset phrases, and then add the word, "yet."

"I can't do this!" ...yet.

"I don't get it." ...yet.

"This doesn't work." ...yet.

"I don't know." ...yet.

"It doesn't make sense." ...yet.

"I'm not good at this." ...yet.

For kindergarteners, five minutes is forever. So if a lesson or a task makes them feel stupid, they feel as though they will never be able to get it. They feel as if their stupidity will last forever, when the truth is, no one learns anything wholly the first time around. It takes time, and effort, and then some more time. Reminding them to put "yet" at the end of their fixed-minded sentences helps them refocus their brain and stop telling themselves "I'm not good enough." You even see them begin telling themselves "In time, I'll be even better."

The Books I Read 

The Lessons I Use 
Little Engine 
Shared Reading :: We talk about things the students have done that they didn't think they'd ever be able to do.
Writing :: Students draw / write things they worked hard at and accomplished.
Math :: I show them a problem they will be able to do at the end of kindergarten. We set goals for our year, and talk about how we need to learn a bunch of little things before we can know one big thing.

The Girl Who Never Made Mistakes
Shared Reading :: I introduce my students to "Miss Take" with an anchor chart. She's a good friend of mine...and she messes up ALL THE TIME! We talk about some of the crazy things she does, and students think of what she can learn from her mistakes.
Writing :: Students draw / write "letters" to Miss Take showing what she can learn from one of her mistakes.
Math :: We count Miss Take's mistakes, and we count how many things she learned from her mistakes. (**Teacher hint...she ALWAYS learns a lot more than the number of mistakes she made!)

The Dot
Shared Reading :: We read The Dot, and each make a "boring," little dot on anchor chart paper with paint on our fingertips! We use our little fingerprint dots to make one, big, beautiful, multi-colored class dot. And just like the book, we all sign it.
Writing :: Students begin by drawing a dot! Then, elaborate your drawing. Use pictures and words to make your own story. Be ready to share with a buddy!
Math :: Each student gets a set of popsicle sticks with numbers 1-10, and a small container of "dot" beads. They line up the number of beads on the correlating popsicle stick.

What Do You Do With A Problem 
Shared Reading :: I introduce turn and talk on this day. During the story, students share problems they've had, and ways they solved that problem. They also brainstorm what the little boy might do with his problem in the story! We take this time to really dive in to some mental health education. We talk about worrying, anxiety, conflict resolution, and problem solving.
Writing :: Students use words and pictures to share a problem they had, and how they fixed it / how they could have fixed it. They love sharing how much of an "anxiety warrior" they were when they fixed their problem!
Math :: We play a math version of Headbands! I have a set of cards; half contains a number (i.e. 4) and half contains a visual representation drawing (i.e. 4 hearts). Each child gets one card taped to their head! They have to walk around to solve their problem and find their other half before the timer runs out! (Prompt them to use counting, number lines, hundreds charts, etc. for strategies.)

What Do You Do With An Idea
Shared Reading :: I begin by telling them about an idea I have. I really like oatmeal. But I never seem to have time to fix oatmeal for breakfast! So I was thinking... What if I made little crunchy oat circles that I can eat with milk really fast so I still get to eat oatmeal each morning? They all laugh and say ewwww! because crunchy oatmeal sounds disgusting! But then we eat some Cheerios together, and they say I love Cheerios! and I say Me too! Guess what Cheerios are? Yep. Crunchy little oat circles. Sometimes ideas seem a silly, but they really turn in to something big!
Writing :: Yamada concludes the story with the realization of what you do with an change the world! Students use pictures and words to share an idea they have / had that can help them change the world.
Math :: I have 20-piece puzzles of different ideas that people had and brought to life. Stop lights, pencils, cell name it! On the back of these puzzle-pieces I have numbered them, in order, 1-20. Students put the puzzles together in order of the number, and flip the puzzle to see what idea they made!

Eliminating "I Can't" From Their Vocabulary
As a kindergarten teacher, I can deal with a lot of things. Bathroom accidents, glue spills, tear-induced melt-downs...but there are two things I do not tolerate. I do not let my students treat others disrespectfully, and I do not let them tell me they can't do something.

I start by showing my students several scenarios of when they would use "I can't." They usually agree that it's not a very good growth mindset to use "I can't," in this moment, so I make them sign a contract! Then, as the year goes on and they begin to get frustrated or lose confidence in their work, "I can't," starts popping up again. If they say it and break their contract, they get five tickets to keep at their desk. They have five days (one ticket per day) to prove themselves show themselves that they can in fact do what they said they couldn't do. When they prove themselves wrong, they get to put their tickets into our class cup, and the class is one step closer to their reward party!

If you're a teacher, feel free to email me with any questions you have, and let me know how I can help you bring growth mindset to your classroom! If you're a parent, babysitter, or someone else involved heavily with children, stick around in the next few weeks for how you can help your child establish a growth mindset, even out of the classroom.