A Good Start to Friday

Open up the drawer to get out my hair brush.

 

A surprise!

A note.

Support.

Love.

Encouragement.

Celebration.

 

Exhaustion: chased away.

Excitement to start the day: activated.

Sense of “I can do this”: restored.

 

It is immeasurably great to be surrounded by love.

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Silence is Golden (Sometimes)

It is rare that I like solitude and quiet.

I am one of 6 kids. My mom is one of 5 kids. Her mom was one of 5. They all had kids. Their kids had kids. My family is huge. My family is hands on (we kiss “nice to meet you). My family is loud.

I’m confident that growing up in this environment informs my ability to stay calm in the maelstrom of a PreK room.

I’m confident that growing up in this environment is responsible for my ability to get up in the morning and be immediately social and ready to chat with people (my boyfriend and roommates are less than enthused about this skill).

I also know that that growing up in this environment is responsible for my love of community and my fear of loneliness. I don’t relish an empty house. I never longed for a single room when I was in college.

 

But every once in a while, every once in a blue moon… a moment of peace and isolation is just what I need.

Usually I look to take this time after school. Sometimes, I get home before the rest of my housemates are home. I roam around in my empty house and usually start a cooking project, zenning out while I chop and think about a lot of nothing.

 

Today, I had a peaceful moment without meaning to. I went upstairs for my regular lunch time and no one was there. I sat for a few minutes, no one came. Then I realized- all of my usual lunch buddy suspects were on a field trip together. I was alone.

 

I had gone to lunch raw, frustrated, tired, and ready to vent, process, and maybe even cry.

But there was no one there.

For a moment, I felt sad. Who would I talk to now?

 

But then I realized that I was feeling calm. I was feeling relaxed. And I wasn’t thinking about school. I was perusing facebook on my phone. I was staring at my carrots and contemplating weekend plans. I was thinking about what I’d have for dinner.

Lunchtime so often turns to an hour long forum on how to handle this that and the other student or this that and the other responsibility. It’s always supportive and therapeutic. But today, there was something therapeutic about not talking about school at all, not thinking about school at all. I was able to get fed, get rested, and get an escape from the very trials that were plaguing me.

I’m confident that as I go along in life, I will continue to place more value in conversation, in talking it out and getting support. But, I think that today I learned an important lesson about the value in time spent alone, not talking at all.

The Joy in Surprise

Today, we started a Mystery Reader Tradition in my room. I’ve never done one before, but I heard tell of it going on in Kindergarten at the school I was in last year and I love the idea of it.

My sister and niece are coming to check out my room on their spring break trip in a few weeks and I realized I wanted them to do a read aloud. And that’s when I remembered the idea of Mystery Reader and thus, the idea was born.

I put feelers out in my class to ask what folks thought about it, and I received lots of warm reception from parents.

Add to that, it provides a wonderful, calm, relaxing, yet intriguing and exciting activity with which to start paring down naptime. Since all of my wiggly 4 and 5 year olds seem to be slowly kicking the habit, finding something for them to do in lieu of the last 20 minutes of our rest time is key.

 

I have a great repertoire of Mystery Readers lined up: older siblings, an aunt, parents, the second grade teacher, and my sister with the help of my 4 ½ year old niece.

Today was our first day and our reader was my student’s big brother, who came down from second grade.

I spent all day, playing guessing games and building suspense. I slowly released clues all day. 9:30 AM: The Mystery Reader is from our school. The Mystery Reader is a family member to someone in this class. 10:30: The Mystery Reader is a boy. 11:30: The Mystery Reader is related to a boy in our room.

It was wonderful watching the kids try to piece things together:

 

“They’re from the school and related. It must be someone’s mom!” guessed one student.

“But wait. Don’t forget the Mystery Reader is in our school. Only one mom works here it must be her,” reminded another.

“I think it’s Ms. S (our classroom assistant). Because she’s in this school and she’s part of our classroom family,’ said another.

 

Later, as more clues came out, they began to narrow things down:

 

“It must be a big brother!” deduced one .

“What about R’s brother?”

“No wait! The Mystery Reader is related to a boy not a girl.”

 

They became detectives, narrowing down suspects and using deductive reasoning.

 

Finally, the big moment came. In walked the big brother. And his little brother—typically a tough-guy, class clown kind of character— suddenly beamed, smiling wildly and blushing slightly with the unique humbled look of someone who was just surprised by a loved one. I love catching looks like this one, looks where the person making the expression is so thrilled, so overcome with love that he/she forgets any social norms of dignity and instead lets out an uninhibited emotion. It’s the look that the partner waiting at the altar has as their soon-to-be-spouse begins to walk down the aisle at a wedding. It’s the look I used to get when my much older brothers would unexpectedly be home from the Navy or from school in Ireland and surprise me by picking me up at school. And it was the look that my little buddy had today.

I thought that the Mystery Reader plan was about fun read alouds. I thought that it was about learning deductive reasoning and the fun of guessing. And it is about those things. But I think in the end, Mystery Reader will be about seeing students make that face.

All the Classroom is a Stage

I truly think that my comfort in the classroom comes from my childhood spent doing community musical theater. So much of acting gets used in teaching.

  • You need to sing.
  • You need to dance.
  • You need to project your voice and make sure to speak with clarity and resonance.
  • You need to put emotion behind what you’re saying.
  • You need to be vulnerable.
  • You need to be willing to be silly.

You need to try on masks all day. Sometimes you need to put on your calm and serene face when your insides feel like a raging storm. Sometimes you need to put on your stern face when your preferred setting is “Kind and Approachable.” Sometimes you need to put on your “this is totally fun and I’m having a blast” face when really you’re nearly catatonic and you’re so desperately hungry that at least one part of your brain has considered eating the plastic food in dramatic play.

You need to improv. Or at least, you need to be able to trust your gut, follow the leads you’re given, and say “yes” to prompts that take you in a new direction.

All day long, the classroom feels like your stage.

Today, I tapped into one of my favorite acting/teaching connections. It’s that the audience (or the class) buys in as deeply as you give out. What I mean is this- the amount of  energy you put into your body, amount of  conviction you give your words, the more thrilling you make performance  invites  equal  investment from your audience. In other words, the more you show you care about and enjoy a lesson, the more the kids will engage.

Today we did another movement story. This one was about a group of wily elves who get into a painter’s paints and cover their whole bodies in paint. They the run all over the room using different movements to get the paint off their bodies and onto the walls and floor. (Using imaginary paint, of course), we acted this story out. I invited the kids to explore movement and line. “Make a wiggly line with your bottom scooting along the floor. Make straight lines ice skating with your feet. Make polka dots on the walls with your elbows.”  I cast the students as the elves and cast myself as the exasperated painter whose paints got misused.

At first, the kids resisted the activity. “I want to go outsiiide,” they protested. But it was snowing. Outside wasn’t a choice. “I don’t want to do thiiiiiis.”

I powered through their protests and began their story. I told them that I needed some elves to hide from the painter. 20 kids popped up and hid in the corner. I dramatically narrated the unfolding of events and prompted them to scatter around the room and pick an imaginary paint can. Then I let them know just which kind of painting we’d be doing. I teased out the big reveal of painting with your bottom and once I announced that that was I wanted them to do,  they were hooked. By the time I put on my “Exasperated Painter” voice and gave them a melodramatic speech scolding, “You naughty elves!” we were all carried away. Each child saw himself as an elf bent on mischief. I could see in their eyes that they really saw the paint and saw the room as their canvas. They began to chat to each other as elves, making a plan for painting the room and even running to hide unprompted when the story announced that the Painter was returning.

The story ends with the Painter trapping the elves in glue and, once she feels they’ve learned their lesson, liberating them from the glue one by one (which means going to give each child a gentle lift and saying “PLUNK!”). We returned to our seats on the rug, coming out of character and laughing together like we are all in on the same inside joke.

After this joyful activity, I had no trouble keeping their attention while I transitioned us to journaling. I gave each child a paper with a different kind of line and asked him or her to draw that line into his/her journal and use it to inspire a drawing or story. It was one of our most productive and focused journaling periods in a long time and I credit a lot of that focus to the fun we had together for the length of the Movement Story.

If I’m honest, I think that a lot of why the kids had so much fun was because I had so much fun because this activity is right in my wheelhouse. I can bring the actor in me out wherever I want. I think now that the key is to discover how to tap into my most convincing and engaging energy, regardless of how comfortable with/excited about the lesson/material I am.

 

It’s Gonna Be a Super Day!

A few weeks ago, after one round or the other of a tough day and work-intensive late night, I decided to try to make my morning alarm experience a more pleasant one. Instead of its cold, unfeeling “Alarm,” I decided to change its title to this

photo1

It’s gonna be a super day! Short. Pointed. Admittedly silly. But it seemed right to me. Instead of waking up and thinking “UGGGGH I DON’T WANNA,” I could make it so the first thing I see when I wake up is a positive affirmation. Maybe this would change my attitude. Because, while you can’t control everything and there’s always the chance that things outside your control are gonna bring on the grumpies… I believe that a lot of the day’s tone comes from your approach and your attitude toward it. So I’ve been trying it. And…

I think I need something stronger.

Take today for instance. I woke up later than I meant to. My stuff was scattered all over the house. I stepped outside to a 27 degree day (about 40 degrees colder than my Saturday) and waited for a bus that was ten minutes late. I got to school 5.5 minutes late. And then everything stacked up. Oh? The Gym teacher is out? So even though this is our first Monday in what feels like an eon, my students don’t get PE? Oh. My assistant needs to cover lunch in another room so I have to rewrite my whole afternoon lesson plan around flying solo for an hour? Oh good. A handful of students showed up, without exaggeration, 30 seconds before my doors close and then somehow a tantrum broke out? Suddenly, my brain took my alarm clock affirmation and twisted it with the wrench of sarcasm. “Oh it’s just gonna be a super day.”

I tried to quiet it. Tried to turn back around to optimism and positivity. Tried to pull into my silly place. I did…

…ok. Our morning meeting was fun. Our morning activities were  pleasant. Our day was peppered with funny thoughts and tender moments. The kids learned.

But my rebound, my resilience, my sunny outlook, they were all gone. I’m feeling a lot of stress lately. Trying to juggle a lot of things. Trying to help others overcome a lot of challenges. Trying to feel like a good teacher in the face of being brand new at everything. And when I start the day feeling like the odds are stacked against me, it’s easy to take the tough moments super hard and to overlook the bright moments.

I comfort myself by thinking that all of my students left smiling. I saw each of them have fun at one point or the other. I’m left to suspect that if they were asked, they’d report that they had a good day. So, all isn’t lost.

Still, I’m left knowing that I don’t feel like I did my best. Did I have a good day? I’m not so sure.

Maybe I need to hunt for a better affirmation? (I’m happy to take suggestions).

Maybe I need to grow a thicker skin?

Maybe I need to let it all go, go to bed early, eat a stellar breakfast, pack a big lunch, get out the door early and let tomorrow be a brand new day.

I’m not sure what the remedy is.

I only know that I hope that tomorrow is a super day.

Retail Therapy

So today, maybe I didn’t do the best job of going back into school mode.

I woke up late.

I had a lovely and leisurely brunch out with my best gal pals.

I went shopping by myself. FOR HOURS.

I don’t go shopping much. That’s not true. I used to go shopping a lot. But then I started an alternative certification program and went on a small stipend for all of last year. Now, I have a real paying job. But I’m still playing catch up on finances. I like to eat healthy and fancily. I like to travel, especially to spend time with my family.

So, my money has gone other places and not to clothes.

  • But, I’m down to 1, maybe 2 pairs of pants I can really wear to work.
  • My Toms, my exceedingly comfortable, faithful, teacher shoe of choice- are sporting huge holes.
  • My Spring jacket just sprung its belt.
  • A lot of my shirts have stains or holes (yay PreK!).

It was time to go shopping.

  • I got more shirts than any person needs.
  • I got a really cute pair of jeans. (Yup. I can wear jeans to school. My principal understands kids. My job rules).

But you know what there wasn’t anywhere-

  • Nicer, more colorful pants that help you feel dressier AND come in petite size for pint sized individuals like myself.
  • Jackets of any sort- forget Spring ones
  • And my go to Toms store was out of Toms.

So it was a 50/50 day. I’m feeling let down on some of my goals.

But I’m also feeling stocked up on cute. I’m feeling refreshed and renewed.

I think that’s important. My sister says you should dress for the part you want or the person you want to be.

Being put together is definitely not the most important thing about teaching. At all. And sometimes, I will let my looks fall to the wayside in favor of doing imperative things like eating or sleeping more.

But when I can get it together to put myself together, I always feel good. I feel shiny, presented, and ready. I feel like a spiffy version of myself. I feel a little extra spring in my step. So I think it’s important.

I am set up to be snazzy the whole week long. And I’m feeling pretty jazzed about it.

A final thought on shopping:

Being that I’m playing financial catch up and that I’ve spent a lifetime of being a middle child who feels guilty spending on herself, I always feel pangs of remorse when shopping. But you know what helps this immensely? Teacher discounts. I’m finding out more and more stores that have them. They take the sting off of buying the clothes I need to do said job. And they make me feel loved. It can be said that our job is full of rewards. And it is. Children’s joy. Children’s progress. Children’s imaginations. These are all reasons I keep coming back to school. But every once in a while, finding a place that notes the difficulty of my job and rewards it with a kind little nod feels really really good. So thanks, Ann Taylor Loft . I hope other stores follow your suit.

Stop Letting it Rent Space in Your Head

Last Saturday, I wrote about being on a school-free island and I talked about it as an unusual occurrence.

But here I am, sitting down to blog again and there isn’t much in my head. Yesterday at this time, I had 3 ideas floating around. But right now… no tengo nada.

So, I started to think about that. And I’m thinking, maybe it is ok. Maybe it is a good idea. Maybe it is healthy. I have to think about school Monday-Friday. Tomorrow, I have to plan. But today, I can turn it off for a few minutes.

This has got me thinking about something my Dad says to me. My Dad— a Navy Vietnam Veteran, retired fire fighter, a man who tried a handful of jobs between having to retire from firefighting  for medical reasons and finding his true calling, and a recently retired Substance Abuse Rehabilitation Counselor—is a very wise man. He reads people. He can detect their strengths and their struggles. He can see their ghosts. He’s good at giving advice. He’s good at making you look what matters.

Whenever I struggle he asks me,

Can you change it? Is it your responsibility? And the extremely essential How important is it?

I always take inventory and answer the questions. And with that simple reflection, I am always able to reassess the situation and give it the time and attention that is accurately commensurate to its magnitude.

There’s something else he says to me, though. Something so pointed, so spot on, so therapeutic.

He can always read me like a book- even over the phone- and tell when it’s time to drop the phrase. It’s almost as if he can see my eyes bearing witness to the wrestling match inside my own head. He can sense the tension in my shoulders. He always directs,

“Laura, stop letting it rent space in your head.”

 

I’ll give you a minute to let that sink in.

Stop letting it rent space in your head.

 

It’s so simple. There’s nothing to the phrase at all. And yet, it is so genius. It so accurately describes the experience of having something on your mind. When something is bothering you, getting to you, worrying you, troubling you, it holds real estate in your head. It invades the brain space you need to let go, to relax, to have fun. It begins to consume you. You start to be owned by your problem instead of the other way around. So evict it. Stop letting it rent space in your head.

I’m realizing that I’m guilty of being a brain space landlord. I’m letting so much rent space up there that I’m not always fully present at home, or out with friends. I’m not reliably sleeping.

I have some big mountains to climb in my room. There is a sizable and growing handful of students that need my help and energy and attention. However each child needs specific and individualized supports in order to have a successful day. And just when I think I get the hang of everyone’s everything and am sure I know which combination of elements will best serve each of them, everyone changes his/her everything.  Add to that, it is Spring, so all the children in the class have crazy energy and are all undergoing rapid bodily and cognitive changes. Plus some of the students who have spent the year being fairly well-behaved are beginning to try on different personalities like they’re costume pieces in the dramatic play trunks. Some of them are even trying on the behavioral challenges of their peers.

So, I am constantly thinking about what needs everyone has and how to help them while making sure that the support I give to one child isn’t a trigger to another child. And in between all this, I am trying to plan an authentic, engaging hands-on, child-centered, emergent curriculum and, THEN… oh ya know, run five- 8 hour days for a group of 20 kids.

So I’ve been letting lots of people and circumstances and issues and intentions and damaged self-perceptions rent space in my head.

I haven’t talked to my Dad much this week. But his voice has been there. “Laura. Stop letting it rent space in your head.”

 Yes. I need to figure everything out. I need to plan for learning and plan for contingencies to support everybody. All this is necessary. But it isn’t necessary to carry it with me every second of every day. More importantly, it isn’t necessary to carry whatever guilt/anger/frustration/vexation/sadness/self doubt it makes me feel every second of every day.  I need to compartmentalize. I need to box it away when I’m not directly working on it.

So today, my brain isn’t at school. For at least today, I’m not letting it rent space in my head. I can only hope I can get better at making more times like this. For now, maybe the best I can do is promise myself that on Saturdays, I’m going to evict all the things.