An Inspiring Time to Teach

I can’t count the number of times I have been told that someone could never imagine being a teachers these days. They say if they were just starting teaching today they’d never last 30 years. They say that teaching these days isn’t what it used to be.

People who say this do it with good intentions. They are teachers, parents, and friends alike. They see it as a way of showing empathy. They use it as a cautionary tale. They say it because they don’t know what else to say.

Some days their words ring true.


And yet, other days I know I am teaching during a special point in history. If we’re lucky, it’s a turning point in history. This past year we have seen activists fight for what they believe in. The very students who were shot at in hallways are marching in Washington. The teachers with bursting classrooms and hardly livable wages are marching in Oklahoma City. The worst districts in the country are saying being 50th is no longer acceptable and walking out.

Teachers and supporters of increased education funding pack the first and second floors of the state Capitol during the second day of a walkout by Oklahoma teachers, in Oklahoma City, Tuesday, April 3, 2018. Photo by Nate Billings, The Oklahoman

We are demanding change.

I am on the edge of history just trying to do my part. I marched at the capital demanding sensible gun laws and that arming teachers like me with anything less than time, respect, and resources is foolish. I’ve written to my representatives relaying my beliefs about teaching in a school shooting world. I go to work each and every day doing my best to better students’ lives and prepare them to enter this sometimes scary but inevitable world.

The next time you see a teacher, you don’t need to tell her how hard her job is. Instead, tell her, thank you. Instead, ask her, to share a favorite success story (we have plenty). Instead, ask, what we wish the public knew.

Teachers and students of today, you inspire me. Keep fighting the good fight.

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My School Told Me So

My brother tells me I’m stupid.

I’m not so sure though.

Once he told me if I ate a watermelon seed, a whole watermelon would grow in my stomach.

I was 4.  Now I’m 10.

…No watermelon yet.

 

I go to Reading Club at school.

That’s what they call those of us that go to a special teacher.

She’s a nice teacher.

She always asks about my day and tells me how I’ve improved,

but I’ve noticed not everyone goes to her.

 

It’s Black History Month.

We’ve been studying all sorts of really cool people,

they even look like me!

Today was Nelson Mandela.

My teacher said it was a fifth grade article so everyone should be able to read it.

…I couldn’t.

 

Maybe my brother is right after all.

School is hard.

Maybe I shouldn’t even try anymore.

I’ve seen my friends laugh when other people get the answer wrong.

 

I’m going to stop trying.

I don’t need to learn at school anyway,

at least not if it means my friends will think I’m dumb.

That’s it.

Today I’m done.

 

It’s been a month since I learned I was stupid.

Turns out they were right all along.

I don’t care.

I can talk to Joey during reading.

If the teacher calls on me, I just tell her she’s not in charge of me.

I go to the bathroom every time we have to complete a paper.

When I get back I know I can copy off Maddy’s paper.

 

I’m going to tell you something,

but only if you promise not to tell.

Have you ever heard something you weren’t supposed to?

It’s like that time I heard dad telling my mom that he forgot to take my tooth from under my pillow

or like time time I heard my grandpa say my grandma drove all the boys crazy.

Today I was wandering around the classroom avoiding work as usual

when I heard my teacher say…

“Lauren is just a bitch.  I can’t wait till she’s at the middle school.”

 

I mean, whatever.

It’s not like I care.

She’s just a stupid teacher anyway.

At least the other kids won’t pick on me.

With a reputation like that even most teachers leave me alone.

 

There once was a time I thought I was smart, nice, and even a little funny.

I knew I wasn’t perfect, but who is anyway.

But now I know the truth.

…My school told me so.

Dear School Board Member….Arm Me

Dear School Board,

Nearly 3 years ago I wrote a letter to you, a letter into space on the injustice in our schools.  Today I can’t help but write to you again.  And perhaps the issue isn’t so far from where we were then.

Image result for broken heart school shooting

My world has been rocked by yet another school shooting.  My world has been rocked by the 17 more lives that have been so senselessly lost.  Teaching is an incredible career.  I am so grateful for the opportunities I have had to work with the leaders of tomorrow.  I have cried tears of joy looking at my students’ progress and I have gone home still feeling warm from the love and hugs my students so freely give.  I have also been sick to my stomach with fear over what my students are going home to each night.  I have lost countless hours worrying about what more I can do to help my students reach success.

But now, my nightmares are different.  For the last week I haven’t gone more than a few hours without thinking about the Florida shooting.  All of our security trainings told us the best way to protect ourselves and our students is to be prepared.  So I wonder…how many students can fit in the staff bathroom and will the tiny hook hold the door closed?  If a shooter comes in and I’m not with students, do I run into the hall, a classroom, or find somewhere to protect myself?  The security team says the teachers could have helped in Sandy Hook had they jumped when he changed his gun’s magazine.  That 10-20 seconds is an opportunity.  Am I truly expected to make a move in that moment?  Could I even move if I wanted to?

So many people, educators and not alike, are throwing out solutions and blame like confetti.  Far too often these ideas are overly politicized and polarizing.  I can’t speak for all schools.  I can’t speak for all teachers.  And I certainly can’t speak for the hundreds of students and staff who have been a part of a school shooting first hand.  However, I can speak for myself and the school that I know.

The idea of arming teachers with guns is absurd.  We have had countless security trainings where they recommend different tools we can use to protect our classrooms, to make it less accessible than the room next door.  They recommend the NightLocks, carabiners, bungee cords, etc, but they will not be provided.  We are told this is one more thing to add to our Back to School shopping list.   The district is putting their hopes into the already bare pockets of teachers and the idea that it couldn’t possibly happen here.  As the person who walks the halls every day and greets the children each morning, that is not enough.

#ArmMeWith Movement

ARM ME.  Arm me with support.  My students are living in trauma.  My students are living in poverty.  My students need us.  We don’t know all of the answers, but we do know some.  Look at the other schools in the district.  Look at test scores from year to year.  Look at disciplinary reports.  Walk through the hallways.  There is no denying that we know truly effective ways to do better for our students.  Our students from poverty and trauma need us most.  Stop deciding the quality of their education based on the street they live on.  In these schools we need small class sizes so that we can do our smallest part to make up the love that many of these students are screaming for.  We need small class sizes so that we can target the exact academic gaps that so often comes with our transient students.  We need counselors and social workers who are paid out of the district budget and not federal funding.  We have to work with families and stop having education be something that is done to them.  We need to teach students how to deal with the toxic stress they are facing. We must encourage the feeling of all emotions and teach healthy coping skills.  We need diverse classrooms in all schools so that every child can learn to accept their neighbor before the world teaches them to judge one another by the color of their skin and the religion they practice.  Arm me with time and gratitude.  Your teachers are drowning.  They are drowning because of how deeply they care for their students.  It may just be a number of words read in a book, but we know the statistics behind reading scores.  It feels like it’s make or break for them.  And for so many, education is the key to their future.  Give me time so that I can come to work energized and optimistic instead of weary and distressed.  Tell me I matter.  Because when you are working with some of the hardest students in a broken system, the thank yous don’t come as frequent as we need.  Before the world tells a teacher to pick up a gun, perhaps they should think about the last time they thanked them for something other than laying down their life for a child.

The number of mass shootings in America are tragic.  The solutions to this epidemic are complicated.  It will be a long and hard battle.  But in our community, in our schools, we have the start of answers.  Please don’t forget about us.  The flags may return to full mast.  The news will turn back to Olympic coverage.  And those unaffected by the shooting will return to a comfortable normalcy.  Our students and teachers lives depend on this change.  ARM US.  PROTECT US.

 

Sincerely,

A Heartbroken Teacher

Art. Community. and Inspiration

Every so often we are lucky and get to participate in something bigger than ourselves.  We become wrapped up in a group, a community, or an idea.  We are one tiny ripple in a pool of change.

For me, one such opportunity has come from Color Carlisle.

The Color Carlisle: Mural Project is an unincorporated group formed to address needs of focused attention on safety and building maintenance/upkeep as well as providing targeted measures for increased safety and awareness in various neighborhoods in Carlisle, PA. The goal, through a community art initiative, is to create sustainable living spaces by updating strategic locations with public art. Through the creation of public art, we can enrich the community’s presence while also enhance an individual’s personal health and positive mindset about their neighborhood.

In less formal terms, Color Carlisle is formed from a group of volunteers with connection to the town of Carlisle – teachers, parents, church members, professors, and more.  In times of political and human strife, we hope to bring together the many and diverse communities of Carlisle.  We will celebrate the beauty and diversity of our town through the creation of public art, more specifically murals.  Murals will begin this fall with the first mural set to be completed in November 2017.  Murals will reflect the people, communities, and heart of Carlisle and will be a true all hand-on deck effort with community fundraising and paint days.  

Tonight was the kick-off for Color Carlisle with St. Paul’s summer block party.  The energy was palpable.  People from all walks of life came together to share a meal, play carnival games, create art, and pass conversation.  We had everyone from basketball-playing elementary boys to affluent older community members.  People from all corners of Carlisle were represented.

The highlight of the night was the actual creation of our mock murals.  We started with 6 huge blank canvases.

With the help of Carlisle High School art teachers, those canvases slowly transformed as the night went on.  It was a sight to see!

By the night’s end we had 6 completed canvases,  6 works of art, and one preview of the mural work that will be done on the walls of buildings throughout Carlisle.  For now, these panels will be displayed at the high school where students are set to work on designing and creating our first mural, in empty store fronts throughout town, and at upcoming community festivals and events.  I cannot wait to see what more will be created by the community of Carlisle.  ❤

Learn more about Color Carlisle at https://www.facebook.com/carlislemural/

Follow us @Color Carlisle on Instagram

Donations can be made to the

Downtown Carlisle Association 
c/o Greg Guenther, President – Color Carlisle 
53 W. South Street 
Carlisle, PA 17103

Make checks payable to Downtown Carlisle Association with a memo to Color Carlisle.

or to https://www.gofundme.com/color-carlisle/

Back to School

Back to school brings a flurry of emotions.  I’m starting to believe that no matter how many years you have been at it, each year brings its own unique set of emotions, challenges, and promises.  This year I am reaching out to those of us that are struggling.  You need to know, you are not alone.  We are not alone.  

Each person has a unique set of baggage that they bring with them to the classroom.  It might be hard to go back leaving your baby at day care for the first time.  Maybe you are in a new position and missing the school you used to call home.  Your teammate who could anticipate your every move may have left and you’re now working with a brand new teacher.  Maybe you are just tired.  Tired of this never-ending job.  Tired of bearing the weight of these little children’s worlds on your shoulders.  Tired of viewing the fleeting innocence on your students’ faces knowing that the world around them seems to be crumbing down.

 

For those that are struggling, reach out.  Find someone.  Do not cry in your classroom by yourself.  This burden is not yours alone to bear.  There is a difference between spreading negativity by just complaining and finding comfort in those closest around you.  We were not meant to be solitary creatures.  We don’t teach in a one room house.  Turn to those around you who can understand your burdens because they live them by your side day in and day out.

To the teachers who are hitting the ground running and full of optimism about the new year...I ask that you be gentle with us as we inch towards optimism.  I ask you to stand as our support.  We may need you to lean on.  Your smile and kindness means more than you know (even if we are not ready to return it just yet).

And if you’re struggling to figure out how you will meet all those bright, cheery faces Monday morning, I will say this.  Tonight was our Kindergarten Back to School Night and those kids…THOSE. KIDS. MAKE. IT. ALL. WORTH. IT.  I know it is hard.  I know this job asks the impossible.  But those kids also made it impossible to not leave with a smile on my face and just a little more joy in my step.

Hang in there teachers, hang in there. ❤

Teaching, Coaching, and Decisions

I may just be one of the lucky ones. I have found my life’s passion and career in one. I feel like teaching is exactly why I was put on this Earth.  For as long as I can remember, I wanted to grow up and be a teacher.  In teaching I am in my element. I find so much joy in helping kids grow, in mending their sometimes broken spirits, and in being the shaper of little lives. The near miracle is that I can spend the rest of my life making a living off of this purpose. I am so lucky.

And yet, I am sitting here writing 9 months after being out of the classroom. 9 months away from the career in which I found myself.

On my very last day of the school year, I was asked to step out of my second home for a different position. After many thought provoking and trying weeks, I accepted a position as a literacy coach. It was such an honor to be asked. With just 3 years in the classroom, others saw my potential. In many ways it was a promotion, a step up the ladder, something so incredibly rare in teaching.

But today, my heart aches to get my second home, my family of 20 little souls back. It seems wrong to give up something I was so lucky to have found.  Coaching is great. My influence goes beyond the students and families I get to call mine for 180 days. I ask the difficult questions to my superiors without fear. I can feel us ever so slowly breaking away the traditional foundation our education system has been resting on for hundreds of years. I am learning so much from others and there are even a few days when i think maybe I’m teaching my teachers a little something too.

But, it still just doesn’t compare. When I left the classroom, colleagues chuckled saying I’d never go back to the classroom, but there hasn’t been a single day as a coach, be it my best or my worst, that I’ve considered anything else. It’s now only the decision of when. I want to be fair to my new school and give them the time they deserve and worry a year won’t do the position justice. I don’t want my substitute to settle in my room until one day I pull the rug out from under her feet. I worry about the impact a single year in a position could make to my resume and reputation in the district. Above all else, I worry about the students I am missing, the ones I will never get back, and all the missed opportunities to work with them.

The year is coming to an end.  Big decisions lie ahead.

Teaching in a School Shooting World

school-shooting-monitor-chorma

3 minutes.  From start to finish, they tell us that’s how long we will have.  3 minutes, 1 shooter, and a version of hell worse than any of us could have possibly imagined.

Today’s faculty meeting is different.  It is all about safety.  A seemingly logical and common topic for any workplace.  However, today we are going deeper.  Today we are planning for the possibility of an attack within our school walls.  We plan for a shooter that could enter into this sacred place of learning.

The motto is “survival is a choice.”  We are told that we need to plan today for an attack.  We are shown zip ties and duct tape, carabines and keys.  We are told that along with practicing drills with students where we crouch down in the corner, hidden out of site, teachers also need to practice.  If we need to barricade the door, what furniture will we use and how long will it take to move?  We consider what is best for breaking a window and should you hit in the middle or corner.  We are asked how many bullets are in a typical magazine and just how long will it take the shooter to reload.

The mood is somber as we all think through the possibilities.  How will I respond should this ever happen?  What will I say to calm these innocent children knowing I may be the last voice they hear?  Will I barricade myself in my own office or run into the hall to protect the students and put up a fight?

They are my least favorite days of the year: the days we practice security drills.  I know it’s necessary but the anxiety I face as a teacher is sickening.  This year there was screaming and banging in the hall as if a true fight had broken out.  The terror was real for us all, even knowing the voices were familiar.  Questions spew out of students’ mouths like a waterfall: Has anyone ever forgotten to lock the door?  What if they see us through the window?  What if they break through the door?  Slowly they spiral to be more and more absurd and have to be cut off.  It’s a fine balance – to help students understand the seriousness and preserve their childhood innocence.  So we assure them that this won’t happen in our school and we just practice to be safe…hoping that these words will forever remain true.

So I will bring a metal bat to school, I will consider what I can tie the door to, and I will go on teachingt.  Hoping each day is filled with smiles, laughter, and the inevitable smart remarks rather than fear, hatred, and gunshots.