What to do with the ruins…

Women and girls: Do not give up, even when you fail. Failure happens. If it doesn’t, that means NOTHING of worth was happening. Failure is our natural state of being, or at least a part of it. If we aren’t failing at some point, were we really even trying?

Because failure is a way to build and learn and reach higher. We can all learn something from our screw ups, even if it’s merely what not to do next time. Learning new things is a skill, which means we can practice it and hone it and use it again and again and again. Our intelligence, our growth is not a zero sum game! It’s not a case of either you have it or you don’t. You, and I, can learn, experience, grow, get smarter, get wiser, get stronger. I do. And Jesus knows that if I can do something, anyone can. For reals, y’all.

We fail, and then we take the ruins and stack them neatly and use them as a platform, as an elevation, as a method of reaching upward. Build on the ruins. If what you were trying to do was worthwhile, the ruins will be strong and make a great foundation. And if what you were trying to do wasn’t worth your time, well, then now you have a good clean space to work with, right? Time to build again.

Failure does not define us. We define ourselves by our actions and by our choices. How hard we try again and again is what defines us. So, don’t give up trying. It’s our only real option.

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Doing what I love, and feeling guilty about it…

After 5.5 years in the classroom, I applied for a job within the school system that focuses on students in state custody who are also eligible for ex ed services. The plight of students in state custody, in the foster care system, is huge and depressing. They need and deserve smart, trained advocates and workers with time and resources, but our current political system doesn’t often allow for that. When I lived near Nashville, for seven years, I was a Court Appointed Special Advocate in juvenile court with children in the foster system, and the knowledge that too many children are lost in shuffle of a system that must exist regardless of its terrible flaws and failings has never left me. Here was the chance to work for a better life for some of these students. It was (and is) everything I could ever want to do as a teacher, and I had to apply.

I honestly didn’t believe I would get the job. I had the basic required licensures, experience, and recommendations, but just that: the basics. And I’m pretty sure I wasn’t the first choice. But then, five days before Christmas and after the students had already started Winter Break, I was offered the job and, in a heady daze of thrilled shock, I accepted. (And I can truly say that I love my job and feel beyond blessed and lucky to be working a worthwhile job that I love and enjoy, that stretches me and gives me the opportunity to learn new things every day, if not every hour.)

And then the guilt came crashing down. Hard. I was leaving my school. I was leaving my beloved students in my math class and in my advisory and in my inclusion classes. I was leaving the Beta Club. Evening school. I was leaving that the seniors trying so hard to graduate, the students with autism and learning disabilities and behavior plans and traumatic brain injury and absent parents and broken families and gang-slaughtered relatives and friends and everything else you would never wish on anyone and never want to experience yourself. All of these students who I promised to love and care for and teach… I only had the first week of the second semester to tell them I was going away. Most of them were kind and wished me well. They told me they would miss me and then they went on with their school day because hey, it’s just another teacher and there’s plenty of those. But one of them looked at me, a little bit exasperated and sad, and said what my heart was saying: “You’re leaving us.” I was. I did. I may never forgive myself…

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I had to leave . . .

I thought 2013 was going to be a good year, or at least a decent year. Then, on January 2nd of what ended up being a grim sort of year, my husband was let go with about 20 other coworkers. It took him four months to find a job, which paid less (that seems to be the case for many people who have lost their jobs through no fault of their own). I also spent the spring semester being divided between working at the high school and working at the middle school, which was mostly awful. I was ignored or reprimanded by two principals instead of one. I also started working any extra job possible to make up my husband’s lost wages. This culminated in my working 7 days a week at almost 70 hours per week for about four months. I was able to stop this right after the turn of 2014, so already this year is better than the last. And something interesting happened to my career, something I love and am happy about. It deserves it’s own post, so I will be back soon.

I love you.

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Missing so much time…

Hello to you kind souls who’ve read this blog in the past. I hope you will read this again, even though I disappeared for a while. I don’t know if I should apologize for being gone so long — I do not wish to flatter myself into thinking that what I write here matters all that much to anyone except my own twisty mind. But I have missed sharing my thoughts with others…

It is officially winter break, or Christmas break, or whatever your school district wishes to call it. I haven’t written anything since the beginning of the school year, and I think I have some good reasons. It’s been a . . . difficult semester.

Three and a half days into the first week of school, a student on my caseload was arrested on campus for serious threats to staff and students (like “I’m going to get my guns and come back and blow all your fucking heads off” and sexual violence types of threats). I didn’t even make it past my first week before I had to schedule a manifestation meeting, which are not my favorite kind of meetings, you know? For those of you who are not blessed [sarcasm] with the knowledge of educational lingo, a manifestation meeting is a meeting with many admin folks, teachers, parent, student, school psychologists, other education staff as needed (like speech-language pathologist, school counselors, and the like) meet to determine if the ┬áserious behavior infraction is a manifestation of the student’s disability.

In my experience, the behavior is not a manifestation of the disability. Reading comprehension deficits do make most high school students scream and start throwing things. Usually. And emotional disturbance is a damned hard disability to determine — all sorts of tests must be conducted by the school psychologist and then the results are presented for a peer review by other school psychologists, and things like a Functional Behavioral Assessment and a behavioral intervention plan have had to have been in place and documentation that we followed it with fidelity has to be proven, but for inexplicable reasons, it didn’t work . . . it’s just not a common eligibility for students. (This particular student does not have ED, never has had ED.) Not that a student might not have a good reason for losing his or her mind during the school day and doing something stupid, dangerous, or crazy (sometimes teachers are really horrible, much as I hate to admit that, and life is really complicated and painful when a student is constantly being asked to do work that his or her disability makes almost impossible…). But if it’s not a manifestation of the designated academic IDEA-defined disability, then we (I) have to deal with things such as alternative placement and all sorts of time-consuming meetings, paperwork, and multiple sessions of crying on my laptop in frustration and sadness.

So, that was my first week of school, way back in mid-August. Did it get better or easier after that? No. I will get to that soon.

in the meantime, I love you and Merry Christmas. Yes, Christmas. I might be posting some Greek Orthodox Nativity hymns soon, just to break the pattern of my constantly writing about how much sadness is contained in the job that I love…

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“I never know what I’m saying…”

Sometimes, I don’t even know what I’m feeling either. Or maybe it’s too many things at one time and I need to be still and process them.

Because the state I’m in starts school in mid-August, teachers report in 9 days. I am one part dread and two parts excitement. I’ve been going to my office at school periodically throughout the summer to get some basic work done (the kind that requires no thought! like filing and cleaning and such) so that when I do go back for reals, I will be able to do the important, more difficult work without so many distractions.

I am worried about so many things that are out of my control or require assistance from colleagues whom I don’t completely trust to do their jobs. That sounds so arrogant, I know, but seriously — some of my colleagues, who are good, kind, even fun people are not worriers like I am and let things slide or tell me to calm down (oh my God but I hate those words) when all I’m doing is asking them to do their jobs. Yes, they are people you would want to ask to a party long before you’d want to ask my worrying, intense, unfun behind. But you’d want me to have your back and be the person there to help you get something done. I know that people say don’t worry about the things you can’t control, but that doesn’t help me. I don’t worry about the things I *can* control because, duh, I can do something about those!

We have several new teachers this year (we always have new teachers — even though we’re a small school, we’re a hard one and we lose 5-8 staff per year, it seems) and we have “old” staff teaching different classes and curriculum. Inclusion this first semester should be interesting, if for no other reason than we have three new English teachers and our math teachers are switching classes up. Sad to say our dual-enrollment classes didn’t make. We have excellent teachers who were excited and ready and working with our local community college to prepare these classes, but not enough of our students scored in the required range on their standardized science tests to qualify for the DE classes. We are trying, the students are trying, but there are so many obstacles for these students and only some of them can be addressed in the classroom…

I have no solutions to offer about this circumstance. I’m not even sure I have any coherent, helpful thoughts about possible supports and solutions. Yes, I have some opinions but I’m not going to share them at the moment because sometimes my opinions don’t deserve a platform, even one as small as this. But there are so many things wrong in our educational system that stem from problems in our culture and society that I cannot even begin to unravel all the problems, much less present The Right Way to fix it all.

Except we don’t read to our kids enough. I do know that. We don’t show them that books are MAGIC, time travel and space travel and extrasensory perception and sharing the thoughts of those much greater and much smarter than ourselves, all that makes life beautiful and worth living. No, we don’t do that. And we need to, because these kids deserve better than what we as a culture and we as educators who represent (whether we realize it or not) what matters in our society are offering to them.

Yes, I am all over the whiteboard today, I get that. I am worried and sad about too many things right now, and trying to be positive for the school year and trying to think of good ways to impart knowledge and even a bit of wisdom and desire for the life of the mind to these kids, even if they don’t think they want that.

Pray for me, my beloved friends who are taking time to read this. But even more, pray for my students. They deserve good teaching and caring teachers. I want to be part of that for them…

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Wondering what happens when they grow up…

It might not be the wisest thing for me to do, writing this morning before a shower or coffee or when I’m still utterly wrecked by the engulfing sad of a beautiful book I read yesterday. But here I am anyway.

The first week with the little kids was every bit as difficult as I had imagined, but more fun and filled with much more learning (by me if not the kids) and with much more heartbreak than I had ever imagined. I have three more weeks with them before the end of the summer and I am still laden with fear and worry, because I’m not sure how I can do better with them. And I need to do better [more on this another day, promise]. Thank the merciful heavens for my assistants, who know everything and are wonderful!! I would have given up without them…

So, why the heartbreak over these little ones? Because I can’t help but wonder about what’s going to happen to them as they grow up. School will be hard enough, and it will be filled with adults who are trained to help, adults who are fundamentally kind and dedicated and willing to work with them. Yet even with all of that trained dedication, school is going to be at best a struggle and at worst a battleground. And then what? They age out of public school and into . . . what? Yes, in many cities, there are programs for adults with serious cognitive disabilities, but they are relatively few and not usually well funded or well staffed. We spend, as a society, so little on programs for adults with moderate to severe disabilities. And families are not always able to expend the time, the effort, the enormous amounts of money necessary to care for people with such profound deficits.

I keep thinking of my dad’s older sister, who suffered severe oxygen deprivation at birth and was profoundly disabled as a result. She never spoke, she never walked without assistance, she never cleaned herself or used the toilet or fed herself or anything that we think of as a necessary life skill. She was given a short life expectancy by the doctors, who had seriously underestimated the depth of love my grandparents had for her. Instead, she lived into her sixties, and, with the exception of a few years in a nursing facility, she lived her whole life with my grandparents, and then, after my grandfather’s death, with my grandmother. My grandmother lived her love for Alice. She changed her diaper, dressed her, kept her clean and comfortable, she slept in the same bedroom with her, she ate every meal while simultaneously feeding Alice. She took Alice with her on all her errands and shopping, talking with her the whole time, treating her with the gentleness, dignity, and love that every human being, regardless of ability, deserves. Grandmother never complained about any of this. She didn’t sigh or whine or act depressed or stressed or anything like what most of us do when we are even slightly inconvenienced. She simply did what she knew was right, and she loved her daughter without reservation or shame or regret. Grandmother was a rare and beautiful human being, the like of which I’ve neither seen nor met anywhere, anytime else in my life.

Love does seem to be the answer, yet love needs practicalities to be shown, I think, especially with the children I’m working with this summer. Care must be provided, plans made and implemented. But I don’t know how and I don’t know what. I feel helpless in the face of this tremendous need…

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. . . and sometimes it just hurts.

Bought about 30 lbs of play sand as prep for ESY with my little kids. We will have a center with the sand in a plastic container for them to play in. According to my lead teachers, the children love the sensory experience of feeling the sand. In a world that swirls with confusion and pain and too much noise, how restful it would be to be able to control some sensations.

Must admit I’m starting to be a little bit scared about this. I so want to do a good job, a great job actually, to be of help and support and to radiate love and concern and care for them, to somehow communicate with them (even the two who are non-verbal — maybe especially the ones who are non-verbal) and to them that they matter.

Today and for the next two days, I’m involved in a Facing History and Ourselves professional development on the Holocaust and Human Behavior. I was already teary-eyed once today, because I cry easily. I also laughed several times, because our teachers are amazing and flexible and funny and my fellow students (all local teachers) are interesting and far more complex than first impressions might indicate. But still . . . human beings are such monsters, rending and tearing one another with a savagery unseen in the natural world. It’s going to be an interesting, and possibly soggy, couple of days.

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