Now you know the Bad and the Ugly of my year. Let’s lighten up these blog posts with the Good. I am going to break this post in to a few different categories of good. Good things that happened. Good people. Things that made me feel good to help me get to the other side.
The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly – Blondie (the Good)
Professional Development. Since July of 2015, I have completed 160 hours of professional development. No, my teaching certificate doesn’t expire until 2018 so I didn’t “need” to complete the hours before June 30. All but 6 hours of the professional development focused on geography. The time I spent learning helped empower me throughout the year. When I felt as if I couldn’t do this anymore, I would learn something new to try in my class. Sometimes it worked and others it didn’t but I had more tools in my toolbox. The professional development helped me create a larger learning network. The place I learned the most this year is through the South Carolina Geographic Alliance (SCGA). I am their groupie and go to EVERY session they offer. The SCGA has introduced me to a number of teachers in my state that I can work with and commiserate. This is a resource available to us for FREE. Through the SCGA, I learned about the National Geographic Certified Educator program which connected to me to teachers across North America. Other professional development I attended was through the Discovery Education Network, also a free resource. This group is like a big warm blanket wrapped around you on a cold morning. I also attended the South Carolina Council for the Social Studies workshops. Again, a great resource to connect me to local/regional teachers. Do you see the common thread to all of my PD? It’s the connection to teachers. It was so important to me to find other teachers to learn from, share with, and just people who understood.
The People. Even in my darkest days this school year, I was able to seek out people who could help. Helping sometimes meant talking about anything other than school. Laughing just to laugh or listening when I needed someone to do so. Two people in particular were there for me this year. Our early morning chats, after school chats, and baked goods sharing helped me beyond measure. I was finding my community, my people. They know who they are and I love them both dearly for the camaraderie we shared. I just want to say thank you to Regina and Franklin. Your friendship means the world to me!
The Book. See Me After Class, by Roxanne Elden, is a book I read after reading the NPR post “Hey, New Teachers, It’s ok to Cry in Your Car.” The article talks about the Disillusionment Phase that starts in about October and goes through Novemeber-ish. It’s a period when new teachers are full of doubt and can cause them to give up. It’s a real thing. I can vouch for it. I bought the book and decided to give it a shot. The book is filled with stories from Elden’s teaching career and the stories of others. Each chapter talks about real things that teachers encounter from “that parent” to grading to meetings. She offers practical advice. The book just made me think, “I am not alone thinking the way I am thinking.” “I can get through this.” Elden also has a Disillusionment Pack of emails you can sign up for. She will send you emails for about a month to help you get through the tough times. I found the emails immensely helpful. *Side note NPR’s article had so many comments from veteran teachers they published a second article, “Teacher’s Respond: Veteran teachers cry in their car too” If you know a new teacher or a new again teacher… I suggest giving them this book.
The Students. Yes, they drove me crazy. Yes, freshman are hard. No, I wouldn’t have it any other way. All of my students were amazing in their own way. Not all were interested in geography. Not all of them were A or B or even C students, for that matter, but I loved learning who they are and who they want to become. It’s great to see the light bulbs turn on when they make connections. If you don’t like the students the job is impossible. It was something I questioned all first semester. In the end, it turned out I loved the students. I am a guide for them to help be able to navigate high school. This week, I had a reminder of how successful the school year was. I received an email from a parent in JULY (school has been out since June 3). The parent thanked me for all I did for her daughter. Her daughter was really taken by me and she wants to say thank you by taking me to dinner with the family when her daughter returns from summer camp. Wow, just wow. Yesterday, I received an email from a student after she checked her AP Human Geo scores. She thanked me for all the work I made her do and how happy she was that she made a 4 on the exam (4 out of 5). Her final message was she looking forward to spending her lunches in my room next year. I feel like Sally Fields receiving her Oscar. “You like me. You really, really like me!”
Essential Oils and Meditation. This may sound like it is coming out of left field but as I felt anxious about the year, I used essential oils and meditiation to help calm me sleep. They worked. I specifically used a mixture of Bergamot, Lavender, and Frankincense in an aromatherapy diffusor in the evenings. I found that I couldn’t use it more than 30 minutes prior to me going to bed or it would put me to sleep. For meditation, I used an iOS app called Simply Being. I would do the 5 minute meditation shortly after coming home from work. I just needed a few minutes to center myself.
Fun. I found the best medicine was fun. I am not the type of teacher who likes to stand in front of the room and talk. I like to move around, let the students be involved in their learning so I tried to incorporate as much fun as I could in to our day. We would do things like Speed Dating Vocabulary – Students dressed up as a vocabulary word and try to find their mate. Fun matters. Laughter matters. With fun and laughter you gain trust and the relationship of teacher and student forms.
I have said this many times and I will say it again. I learned more this school year than I have my last 10 years in Educational Technology. My third year teaching my principal said to me “I see you becoming an administrator.” I told her no because I was never leaving the classroom. She was right for a time… I did leave the classroom for district administration but the whole time I felt I needed to strive for something higher or try something new every few years. Now I know that need for something else was my inner voice telling me to go back to the classroom. I am home.
This is the hard one to write. Being honest with yourself is hard enough… being honest to the world is unnerving. Also I am reminding myself that once I get through this I can write about the GOOD.
The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly – Tuco (the Ugly)
What was the ugly part of this school year? First semester was the ugly part. I am not sure much of first semester was good for me other than I was going through something I had never gone through before and it was making me a better person and educator even though I had no idea at the time.
The feeling of being alone. I was caught between a rock and a hard place. I was no longer a District Office employee and now a teacher not quite a part of the school family. As I mentioned in The Bad, there was a lot of speculation on why I left the big pay to go back to the trenches. Everyone was busy doing their own thing. I was not a first year teacher so there wasn’t this urge to check on me to make sure I was alright. Not many people even said hello when you walked by. That was disheartening to me. At first, no one even offered a sample syllabus to show me expectations of the school. I don’t fault anyone for things like this that happened but it helped me realize I need to make sure the next new person has the support he or she needs even if its just a hello as I walk by. I tried to make sure I always spoke to people or at least eye contact and a smile. We all have our quirks and come with baggage just like our students. I learned that it is just as important to make the environment as comfortable for the adults as the students. I think it was early November when I was on the elevator with another teacher. (I worked with her years ago at another school.) She asked me how I was doing, I said ok but sometimes I sat in my car and cried before work. She looked at me and said, “I have done the same thing in the last week.” The teacher continued to tell me how hard this year had been for her and not like any other. That moment made me feel a little stronger. I knew it wasn’t just me.
Never being able to catch up. I had this fear that I was never going to have enough time to get ahead of my students. I will be quite honest, at the beginning of the year I spent an ungodly amount of time playing around and decorating my classroom when I needed to create lessons or at least be reading content. I didn’t know where to start. I was already feeling overwhelmed with what I had to learn that I just did what I knew how to do. I created pretty things for me classroom. All the while knowing this was going to put me in a bad spot once school started. Once school did start, I didn’t have time to learn content, grade, eat, take care of my family, or even spend time with my family. I found myself falling further behind and I didn’t know what to do. I broke down a number of times in my car, at the kitchen table, in bed, etc. I have always known what to do and how to do it. I didn’t know how to get out of this pattern.
WTF moments. That moment on the first day of school when you thought you were ready for your block classes. I kept thinking I have 2 block classes that is 90 minute classes. NOPE. I realized on the first day of school block classes are 107 minutes (1 hour 46 minutes) long. I looked at the schedule a million times and never did the math. The first day makes or breaks a teacher and in my mind I completely #failed with not having enough planned for the entire time. I know this set my 1st semester block classes a little off kilter. I never gained the authority I needed in those classes. That was a shock to my core. I NEVER had classroom management issues in my previous teaching experience. Other WTF moments: When Student Learning Objectives (SLO) were introduced. My entire educational career I used an evaluation system called Goals Based Evaluation (GBE). It was relatively easy to follow but SLOs were enraging the faculty (me included) because it was just another hoop we had to jump through.
The October Incident. Let’s see if I can explain this one in a few words. Student Resource Officer is filmed throwing a student across the classroom. I watched this event unfold WORLDWIDE within 6 hours of the occurrence. No one had the facts but it was being reported EVERYWHERE. This rocked our school to it’s core. I am not going to get in to what is right or wrong or the layers of the incident. What I am going to talk about is what the incident did to me as a teacher. It made me not only second guess but third guess myself as I disciplined students. I used cellphones in my classroom for educational purposes. I wondered, how many times have students used it to video me just in case anything crazy happened? I watched a young lady at a pep rally as a teacher demanded she give up her ID (because she was being disrespectful) pull out her phone and begin recording the interchange between her and the teacher. After the incident, no one came in to give us tools for our toolbox on how to react to situations like this. The hardest part about this was as a teacher, I felt alone and isolated. We were told don’t talk to anyone about this. It is under investigation. At the same time we see parents and students all over the news talking about it. Not that I wanted to talk to anyone in the media but I wanted someone above the school level to say,”I am sorry this happened. What do you need to help?” or “This is what you need to do.”
The anxiety, stress, and prescription meds. The self-imposed expectations stress, the 1000 year flood (weather event in the area), the October Incident, and me questioning everything about who I was led me down a path I have never been before. I was so stressed and anxiety ridden that I couldn’t breathe at times. When asked about school I would have to hold back the tears. I kept thinking, “it’s not supposed to be this way.” “Why is this happening to me?” “This used to be a job that I loved.” “What am I going to do now?” I lost 23 lbs in 8 weeks. I wasn’t eating. Then one night, I broke. I literally broke.
My husband wanted to take me out to dinner. We left the house around 6pm. The restaurant we decided to go to was packed and I didn’t want to wait to eat. I wanted to eat quickly because I had work to do at home. As we walked down Main Street. I lost it. All I kept thinking about was how long we were going to be out and I was going to get my work done. I wanted to throw up. I wasn’t going to be ready for school the next day. As we walked to find another place to eat, I just started crying. I told my husband I couldn’t do this and needed to go home. It was the first time I saw fear and worry in my husband’s eyes. When we got home I curled up in a fetal position on the couch and wouldn’t talk. I just cried. He asked me to please talk to someone. In my mind, I didn’t want to talk to anyone because I would have to admit defeat. I wasn’t going to do that.
Before I talked to any of my friends, I went to the doctor and talked about my stress and anxiety. The doctor put me on Effexor. She didn’t want me making any decisions until the meds were in my system and I was moving out of the darkness. I was never going to be a teacher who had to take an anti-depressant/anti-anxiety medicine to be able to teach. Guess what? In December 2015, I became ‘one of those teachers.’ I felt this was a failure. The meds did help. I felt their relief within 7 days. The medicine helped me focus and remember why I was teaching. The medicine took away my fears. I was able to get my work done and focus on my family without feeling like I was not letting anyone down. I am proud to say, I am off the medicine and only used them for 3 months.
I made a lot of rookie mistakes this year. I beat myself up for a lot of them and that is what led me down the spiraling path of anxiety and stress. My expectations for myself were much higher than others for me. A big learning moment for me is to roll with the punches. Know that I am going to make mistakes but know that is ok. I know I am a great teacher. I just had to find her again.
One thing I found out as I was going through all of this is … this story is not just mine. A lot of teachers go through similar fears/anxieties. A book that helped me was See Me After Class. I will talk more about the book and other good things in my next post, #Year17Year1: The Good.
I debated on what order to place the next three blog posts. The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of my first year back in the classroom after a 10 year hiatus. I decided I will start with the bad… go to the ugly and finish off with the good. A positive note. A happy note.
The Good The Bad and The Ugly – Angel Eyes
So what was so bad about my first year back in the classroom? I should probably put a disclaimer out there that “the bad and the ugly” really only happened during first semester.
Freshman are hard. In my previous teaching experience I taught mainly eighth, tenth, and eleventh grade. I only taught freshman one semester. Freshman are hard. The transition to high school is vast. It’s not just going to a bigger school. It’s the expectations, the amount of classes/homework, no longer getting an A on a test without studying, etc. Students have a hard time with all of the social and emotional changes in their freshman year. When you add on the academic challenges of being in high school the first 9 weeks it might make them implode. I put this as “the bad” but I do have to tell you the good side to this. I did learn this year, I am GOOD for freshman. They drive me crazy at times but my expectations are high and I work with them to meet those expectations laying the foundation for other classes in high school. I am a good communicator with parents. This helps the parents adapt to high school as well. I try to keep them in the loop about their child and his/her progress. Technology helps me a lot. I use Google Calendar for all of my assignments. I email when big things are happening in class. I try to not let them be uninformed about their child in my class.
School Community. One of the things I was looking for as I made the transition back to the classroom was the sense of community a school has. Due to the size of our school (Over 2000 students and 100 faculty members), community can be a challenge. It also didn’t help that I was a former District Office employee who was moving back to the classroom. There were a lot of questions as to why. “Who would leave the District Office to go back to the classroom?” “She must be a spy.” “She must have done something wrong.” I was not to be trusted until people got to the core of why I was teaching again. When I made my decision I wrote about why take a look back. As you will see repeatedly as I reflect, I will go more in depth about the District Office to teacher transition in another blog post. There is a good side to this as well. About mid January, I was what I would have considered to be “accepted” but people at the school. I began to feel that sense of community I was longing for.
Disappointment about student learning. One of my biggest disappointments for the first semester is what students would do for the “points.” It wasn’t about learning. It was about getting the most points to make the highest grade. The realization that points were more valuable than learning made me think ‘maybe I don’t need to put as much in to this. It isn’t what they care about.’ One rookie move for me was not thinking that every possible test bank I could use for tests was online. I had students memorize test questions from online test banks they would find. I was quick to catch on though… by the second test I had a student ask me a question about the test. The student kept saying, “The answer for this should be E but it’s not.” I asked the student what needed to be clarified on the question. The student repeated the comment. At that moment I knew this student had memorized the questions. because I rearranged the answers and the student memorized that question’s answer to be E.
The feeling of not being good at what I used to love. This was the biggest “bad” for me. I felt lost. With trying to not sound like I am bragging, I am not usually bad at anything I try or put my mind to do. My true first year of teaching was in a rural South Carolina school. The students were all from lower socio-economics and the baggage they brought to school with them daily broke my heart. But that year seemed easier to me than first semester of this year. I wasn’t living up to MY expectations. I loved teaching when I taught. Why wasn’t I loving it now? This is all I ever wanted to do when I was a kid. Why didn’t all the students love my class? Why weren’t they doing homework? Why wasn’t I implementing all of the things I learned that make great classrooms? I was stressed by daily teacher to do’s, IEPs, 504s, this meeting, that meeting, Student Learning Objectives, etc. I couldn’t focus on learning my content because I was stressed about this student not acting right or what if a child emails his/her mother during class saying I am doing or not doing something for their child. (This one happened by the way) I spent so much time worrying that I never got anything done. I always felt two steps behind. I didn’t know what to do so I slowly started opening up to my department head. She was my sounding board and my soothsayer. If it weren’t for her, I am not sure I would have made it.
The bad was horrible while going through it. At this point, all of these points seem so far away. The bad made me a better educator. It actually ended up fueling my passion to be better at what I do. My next post is going to look at the ugly of #Year17Year1. I am going to dive deeper in to the anxiety, crying, loneliness, and WTF moments.
Keep in mind the reason I can write about this now is because I am passed it. I have to get to the ugly to get to the good.
What was it like, really? This is loaded question. If you would have asked me this in November 2015… my answer would be completely different than it is now. I spent the first semester trying to remember how to teach and learn content. I was full of anxiety and stressed to the max. I had no idea on how to balance work and home life. I was constantly worried about getting ahead. I am not sure it showed at school to most who casually observed. There were one or two people who knew the depth of my despair.
As I spiraled down the anxiety ridden path, I bought things to try to keep me from falling. Anything that would remind me who I was. The journal below was something to remind me that it would be ok. This journal became my emotions notebook throughout the year. Sometimes I would write journal entries, other times just phrases or notes to remind me of things down the road. The bracelet is one of many I eventually ended up purchasing from Hippy Do Da Creations. The bracelet and the others I purchased helped remind me that I am not the norm and I shouldn’t be. They were great little pick me ups doing the day when I would look down and see the messages.
There were so many things, tangible and non-tangible, that got me through the tough days. (My husband was my biggest support through it all.) I will write more in depth about them on another blog post.
How did this change for me? Winter break I completely walked away from school. I didn’t log in to my email. I didn’t grade a paper. I didn’t start working on lesson plans until the weekend before school was back in session. I took two weeks to remember who I am and to spend time with my family. Oh, and there was also the pharmacuticals prescribed to me by my doctor to help with the anxiety. (Yes, I had to take anti-anxiety drugs to help – more to come on that later.) When I returned from Winter break I was a new person, fresh, relaxed and more in control. Second semester I was back in my groove. I remembered what it was like to teach and to be “the teacher.”
At the semester change, I started two new classes but also kept two year long classes. With my new classes, I started strong. By strong I mean, I was more confident in my subject manner and classroom management. (Classroom management was not an issue but being in a new school and not teaching for 10 years, I was a little uneasy first semester.) The relationships I built with my year long students were becoming fun. The relationships I built with my new students came easier and faster. Managing my time became easier. I learned what worked for my lifestyle for planning, grading, and having a life. In February, I was already looking at curriculum and how would I do things differently next year. My students made me smile. I looked forward to seeing them everyday. That to me was the sign that I wasn’t leaving teaching. The end of the year got here fast. I learned a lot about who I am as a teacher, what my classroom environment needs to be, and where I want to go as a teacher.
Over my next few blog posts, I will be reflecting in depth on the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly of #Year17Year1.
I have finished my first year back in the classroom after a 10 year hiatus in educational technology. I haven’t eased in to summer yet. I am still working and learning. I will officially start summer on Saturday as we head on to vacation. Since school has been out I conducted a webinar with National Geographic Education (embedded below), taken part in planning meetings with National Geographic, attended a week long institute on Geo-Literacy and Leadership, and this week I am attending a Geographers in the Field offered by the South Carolina Geographic Alliance. In two weeks will complete 80 hours of professional development! For anyone who says teachers get 3 months off in the summer… you’re wrong. First off, it’s not 3 months… and second, we spend a lot of the summer learning and planning for the next school year.
With it being summer, I am reflecting on the past school year. What did I like? What didn’t I like? What did I do right? What did I completely fail? What were my successes? The aha moments. The HOLY CRAP moments. What lens did I have teaching coming from a district office position? How has the classroom changed since I last entered? I almost broke mentally, how did I fix it? What got me through the tough times? What has professional development and building my professional learning network done for me? All of these questions and statements are swirling around in my head. So this summer I have decided to start a #Year17Year1 series of posts to reflect and work through it all.
I would love for you to comment throughout the series on any post that you relate to or ask questions if you don’t. My goal is to post twice a week through the summer so join me on this journey of reflection.