As a teacher, one literally never knows what will hit you. For me, the other day, it was a football.
After lunch if the weather permits we typically take students outside for a short recess. Out of nowhere, I was suddenly hit by a flying object - a football, from about 30 feet away, had hit me. Even as I tried to breathe through it and wait out the pain, tears sprang out of my eyes. Through gulps I radioed our dean to let him know I was going to the nurse. After 45 minutes of ice, rest and tea and 2 check-ups of my eyes, I left the nurse's office feeling okay albeit with a slight headache.
Teachers do not have it easy these days. The list of what we are faced with every day gets longer and longer: active shooter trainings, trauma, anxiety, attention to special needs, social emotional health, school refusal, grading, meetings, difficult family situations, work creep, working more than one job to make ends meet, planning, and so on.
So, what can we do to keep positive in this crazy job that we (most of the time) love? I thought I would share a few things that have been working for me.
1. Do something you love!
This weekend I was fortunate enough to spend time doing one of the things I love - dancing with a fabulous group of women who, like me, are educators. Our passion for Latin American folk dances has been a form of therapy for us. Today we gave our time for a fundraiser for a local group, Center for New Americans. The event was called "Immigrant Voices" and was replete with dance, song, poetry and more. Though exhausted, I felt exhilarated and grateful to be a part of this great event.
Dance is one of my outlets. Writing is another. Traveling, even day trips, can do wonders for my mental state.
What is your outlet? Find what makes you happy, and do more of it!
2.Face the day with a smile
That can be hard to do sometimes. But, when things are upsetting, or sad, or maddening - it helps to smile. Grumpy begets grumpy. Instead, smile at people. Ask them how they are, and mean it when you ask - and then listen to their answers. Put on a smile for your students. Your energy feeds into their energy; they pick up on how we feel right away. Other adults do, too. Sometimes if you keep smiling, your body and brain start to believe you are happy and they follow suit.
For me, it works to separate the different categories of my life. If things are more challenging at home, I set that aside while I am in school, and vice-versa. When your students are still in your head long after you have left school, get them out of your head! Focus on your outside of school life.
4. Stay positive
It's easy to fall into a cycle of whining, complaining, and feeling bitter. It can be harder to make a conscientious effort to stop that cycle. Be a part of the solution, not the problem. Find happier people, or people who can help you problem solve. Vent if you need to, with some good friends - and then move past it.
And lastly, this one really works for me :-) ....
5. Take more naps
Sometimes I get home and flop on my bed. Even if it's for 15 minutes, even if I don't actually sleep. It helps to have my brain on "off" for a few minutes. I feel refreshed and can tackle the rest of the evening.
Hang in there! In Massachusetts, we are 5 days away from spring vacation. After that - you know how it goes: April is done, and May and June will fly by. We will end another year of teaching, say goodbye to our students, and take a break before we welcome new students. You can do it! Just don't get hit in the head with a football.
For this blog post, I decided to share some poems about parenting, as I am feeling reflective today on the one month anniversary of the school shooting in Parkland, Florida. Feel free to add your thoughts or your own parenting poems in the comments!
Want to remember
Don’t want to forget
This age, this night
Loving their Mami
Without holding back
Showing me their love
I hug them tight
And ask them
“Will you always love me this much?”
And they both nod, solemnly
“I never want to grow up”, they say
Neither do I, I think.
a mother’s pain
a mother’s pain
knows no limits
it’s the pain you feel
when your sweet baby is so mad,
she gives you the silent treatment for hours on end.
it’s the sadness you feel
when your grown up girls go the movies
without you for the first time.
it’s the longing you feel when you think of
the days when they were little enough to
be scooped up in your arms, and nuzzled
it’s the bittersweet memories
of the sleepless nights, tired days.
it’s the wishing and hoping
for a better future, a happy life, free of pain.
it’s the panicky feeling
you feel each day
as the future pulls your babies further and further
away from you.
and it’s the devastating, crushing, soul-sucking pain
you feel for your comadre,
who has lost her daughter forever.
7/4/14, written for my friend MT
Closeness used to be there
But it’s gone
Where there was warmth,
There is space
Where there was affection
There is a gulf, an abyss
That little person
Who used to occupy every thought
Every blank space
And every corner of me
And my life
Thoughts and ideas and worries
All circling around you and me
We were a unit
Unbreakable, beautiful, elastic bond
Elastic now wearing thin
Tired from being stretched out
So many times
And broken again,
Gasping for air,
Deep gulps of icy fresh air
Our students are pretty amazing. Not only my students, or students at my school. Our collective students in the U.S. It has been amazing to see and hear students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas School speak out in all their anger and sadness, about the recent shooting and how fed up they are. They are inspiring.
This school shooting has been the tipping point for many students and teachers. Students across the country are organizing walkouts, sit-ins and protests. I applaud them. They have had enough, and they're right! No student should have to be afraid to go to school. No teacher should wonder if today will be the day they will have to protect their students from death.
The day after this shooting, the anxiety among my colleagues and in the school building was palpable. The sense of caring for each other was, too. I stood in front of the room after my students had left, and looked around the classroom, planning. What would I do if it did happen in my school? I'm lucky to have an exit right next door, but that would require me taking my students to the hallway first. I looked out the window. Below was the loading dock and bus repair garage. If there were a bus there, I could help the kids out the window and tell them to jump on the bus below. If there were no bus there, I would tell them to jump anyway because a broken bone would be better than being killed.
What kind of crazy country do we live in where these are the thoughts a teacher has on a daily basis? What is wrong with us?
It's unfathomable to me that the president actually agrees and is taling about the idea of arming teachers as a solution. WHAT? Pure insanity. In what world is that a reasonable solution? The day that I am asked to attend a shooter training and arm myself to go teach is the day I will leave teaching/education.
I love walking down this particular hallway in my school and reading this display. Each time I notice new descriptions and I am struck by the honest and proud proclamations the students make. Our students are capable of so much. We need to continue providing for them the safe spaces to continue exploring, learning and growing - not spaces they will be afraid to go to. Teachers: this is the time to make ourselves heard. Let's defend our students in the best way we know how: by educating them and others and encouraging them to speak out and stand up against senseless violence and against a crazy government that thinks it's okay to arm our teachers, but cut special education funding.
I sit, inefficiently multi-tasking the night before going back to school after a much-needed winter break. Distracted by season 2 of "The Crown", I try to focus on the week ahead. Multiple emails to be addressed, classes to be planned, and schedules to be coordinated....and some of it actually does get done, but here is what happens as well.
Watch episode of "The Crown". Begin voyage down Google rabbit hole:
who is in the royal family .....line of succession .....why is Prince William in the line of succession, and his children, but not his brother Prince Harry?......why "queen mother" and not "mother of queen"......does the Queen watch "The Crown"?......Princess Margaret husband - bisexual photographer......Jackie Onassis and the Duke of Edinburgh flirt....names of Queen Elizabeth children....
Break for short (1 hour) nap.
Make tea and a smoothie upon waking up.
Add chia seeds to smoothie. What are chia seeds anyway? While drinking tea and smoothie, look up:
what are chia seeds....chia vs. flax seeds....recipes with chia seeds.....DIY chia exfoliating face mask......where are chia seeds from.....
Plan a little, answer a few emails. Help daughter with essay about the code of chivalry. At the New York Times website, watch a short film about a Syrian refugee in L.A. to possible use in class. Watch a little more of "The Crown" while you contemplate exercising, but the dog snuggling on your feet has made you immobile.
Ask "Alexa" some questions so you don't have to actually move your fingers on the keyboard:
"Alexa, what is the temperature?"
"Alexa, what is the question of the day?"
"Alexa, tell me a limerick."
"Alexa when is the next snowstorm?"
Soon it's dark out. The early and frigid start of tomorrow's school day looms large in your mind. Nothing to stop it now! No delays for cold weather here. Here's to the next 6 weeks everyone! Hang in there until February, or whenever your next break is. Happy 2018!
It's been a few weeks since my last post; this brings us to the long-awaited Thanksgiving break. Finally! At 2:20 PM tomorrow, you may need to cover your ears from the deafening cheer of teachers celebrating at my school.
As all school breaks do, this one comes at the perfect time. Just when you think you can't hear "what are we supposed to do?" or "why are we doing this?" or "I can't find my ______" one more time, the break arrives.
In both sides of my job - teacher and administrator - I have noticed student behaviors ramping up a notch. The behaviors, complaints, and meltdowns always get worse before a break. There are students for whom school is a safe place with routines and regulations, a regular meal, and people who care about them - even though these students can sometimes show us their worst behaviors. Maybe school is the best place in their lives. Maybe home is scary, or uncertain, or chaotic.
So, for this Thanksgiving, I wish every teacher and administrator time to enjoy their families and other loved ones; time to rest and rejuvenate - and to get ready for the stretch until the holiday break (because it will be a crazy, nonstop blur!) Take time to do things for yourself, whether that is a manicure, a hike, or a lunch with a friend. Take naps! I will, for sure. We need these breaks to help us keep going. We need genuine down time, and real self-care. I will be practicing getting better at that myself, and at the same time giving thanks for all I am so lucky to have.
On a curricular note, at this time of year, I always teach my students about the first Thanksgiving, including Thanksgiving myths and what Thanksgiving may mean to North America's indigenous peoples. It is important to keep in mind that this is not recognized as a happy time for many, especially for the first Americans. Here are a couple of resources to check out:
It has been A WEEK Wait - is it really only Tuesday? Yes! But it's not your average week. Yesterday was Halloween Eve, today is Halloween, and tomorrow and all week is post-Halloween (sugar comas, candy wrappers all over school, sticky hands). Language differences, disparities in behavioral expectations in different cultures and schools, social-emotional ups and downs all combined with the excitement of Halloween to make my small class "spirited" as a very kind and diplomatic colleague said. Or, as I said, it was a sh-- show.
It is a hard thing to admit, feeling like a failure at the job you have been doing for years and that you really do love. I don't know a single teacher who does not feel this way at times. And yet, we keep coming back and trying again. I would wager that other teachers have had these thoughts too: why don't I have a job where I go to an office every day and do not have to deal with 12-14 year-old people? Is there another job that would not keep me up at night as much, worrying about my students and planning different ways to engage and teach them? Why not sell perfume in the cosmetics department at Macy's? What if I drove a truck, like my hair stylist recently left the salon to do? Open roads, good money, travel?
Now, I know that every profession and every job has its ups and downs, its challenges and its hard to deal with people. Still, there is something about teaching that drains and exasperates a person.
So, why do we do it? Besides the fact that we need to continue getting a steady paycheck?
Because I get to come to school on Halloween and be Glinda the Good Witch and the kids totally get it.
Because I see the joy and excitement about coming to a new school and learning English, and making new friends in the face of my newly arrived student from Cape Verde and it keeps me going.
Because my student who is separated from her mom needed my shoulder last week to cry on.
Because my class can sometimes be a much-needed refuge for my students, who are holding it together despite the many adverse situations, family challenges, and trauma.
Because sometimes your students call you "Mami" and it doesn't phase you.
Because your students might come to your door on Halloween night and happily say, "Is that you Ms.Lopez?" and it makes your day better.
Because if something doesn't work out or go the way you planned, you go back to that classroom over and over again, and you try different things until something does work. Eventually, something will work! At least that's what I keep telling myself.
Wishing all teachers out there a calm day tomorrow. Happy Halloween!
My friend Julie and me at school today
"Perhaps my favorite of these words is saudade, a Portuguese and Galician term that is a common fixture in the literature and music of Brazil, Portugal, Cape Verde and beyond. The concept has many definitions, including a melancholy nostalgia for something that perhaps has not even happened. It often carries an assurance that this thing you feel nostalgic for will never happen again. My favorite definition of saudade is by Portuguese writer Manuel de Melo: 'a pleasure you suffer, an ailment you enjoy.' "
I love this word, saudade and feel like in my soul, I get it - I understand that longing for something, that nostalgia for something that maybe never happened or something you didn’t experience. The Gallegos of Galicia, Spain have a similar word: morriña; in Spanish there is also the word añoranza, which is like a yearning or longing.
The millions of Puerto Ricans who were born and stateside might feel the same as me about the beautiful nostalgia of Puerto Rico. I've never lived in Puerto Rico, though I have been plenty of times and have strong connections to family, friends, and places there;. My mother never lived even there either, though she at least grew up in a mostly Puerto Rican neighborhood to Puerto Rican-born parents. They came to New York as “pioneros”, one of the first generations to make the mainland their home. I also lived in Brooklyn and in Queens, but then grew up in mostly white Belchertown, MA. Luckily I had many connections to our culture and to the language, and as many stateside Puerto Ricans, claimed my pride in being Boricua and passed that pride on to my kids.
My real and imaginary memories of Puerto Rico are intertwined with my saudade. Memories of palm trees swaying in the heat, of singing and dancing from one door to the next during the Christmas parrandas. I remember family visits that lasted hours, the adults drinking coquito or Cuba Libres. I remember the warm bath water of the beaches and the thick density of the rainforest. The coqui’s beautiful chirping is music to my ears, and I dream of holding one in the cup of my hand until it leaps away. I see the fruit trees and the jibaros, or country folk on coffee plantations, straw pavas on their heads to shield their faces from the sun. I feel the downpour of rain on my head while my parents and I wash the heat off our bodies. I feel my stomach churning, riding in cars up impossibly steep and narrow roads with breathtaking views and sheer drops off to the side. I hear my Titi Sara stirring condensed milk into my cup of cafe con leche, and when I bring it to my lips it is like tasting heaven. I feel the freezing water coming out of a pressure-less shower head refreshing my sticky body. I can call up the content feeling of rocking in a hammock in my soul. I cook as if the sazon and sofrito come out of my own veins to give my food the rich, unmistakable flavor of our food.
Some of these memories are very real, from many trips taken to Puerto Rico and time spent with family. Some are very real, but are not from time on the island, but time spent with family in Brooklyn. Some of these memories are not memories at all but wishes, or words from books and song lyrics come alive in my head.
My saudade extends to Spain, where my dad’s family is from too. I think I have successfully passed on this remembering and these feelings of both places to my children. Even though they are now 3rd generation Puerto Rican (and 2nd generation Spanish), they feel connected to both places. Thanks to a soul-filling trip to PR last year, and many trips to Spain, they will now have some of the memories, sounds, and sights to carry with them for a long time. On the flipside, they will be like me: always missing the other place.
The recent hurricane and the devastation in Puerto Rico have reactivated my feelings of saudade. I feel deep sorrow, profound sadness and anxious worry for my island and my people. Tears roll down my cheeks when I see what el Yunque looks like post-hurricane. I instinctively want to fly down and help - though I know it is impossible and probably not actually helpful. I feel pain for those here who are still waiting to hear from loved ones, and for those who are suffering, who have lost everything. Rage overcomes me when I see the president of this country lobbing paper towels off to crowds of people, flippantly. Those paper towels can’t come close to wiping the countless collective tears of Puerto Ricans.
I also feel joy and pride when I see how the same people sing and rejoice and rebuild and help one another by cleaning debris, cooking, and serving coffee to their neighbors. I am moved by the strength and resilience of my people. My love for them and Puerto Rico overflows; the giant Puerto Rican diaspora is united as one. My saudade is as strong as ever.
In my brain, I had written a blog post just a few weeks ago! School began and the pace of everything got furiously fast and relentless, as teaching and administrating often are. And then came the earthquakes in Mexico and the hurricanes in Puerto Rico. Feeling stuck and irrelevant, I was too sad to write or post anything.
There is a collective sadness and heightened state of anxiety, and also a sense of community, among Puerto Ricans everywhere. We have family and friends no one has heard from in Puerto Rico. Some of my closest friends, my colleagues and my students have parents, children, grandparents, aunts and uncles and cousins they have not heard a word from since Hurricane Maria devastated Puerto Rico.
As teachers, we have to keep doing what we do. Our students count on us to be there for them, every day. In a way, it is a blessing because we stay occupied and have less brain space to obsessively think about the sadness and destruction. This week was a great reminder for me of this.
On Thursday, my energy was low and so were my spirits, as were those of many of my colleagues who grew up in PR and have immediate family members there. Still, I had to turn my attention to my class. This year I have the same group of 9 students in English and social studies. As always, there is a wide range of studentship skills, English levels, and maturity. I was feeling frustrated, in particular, with the low maturity levels of some of the students. Right in the middle of us playing Kahoot (which might explain why they were so happy), one student mentioned that she loved my class. It started a chain reaction of others saying, "Yeah, I look forward to coming here!", and "It's my favorite class!". One student shouted out "I love you Ms.Lopez!". Then she ran over to the front of the room where I was and hugged me. I told her she had made my day, and I told all of them I love them too. They really did make my day. Their words and smiles filled my heart and put things back into perspective for me.
That same night, one of my students sent me a heartfelt email in Spanish asking me if I could think of any fundraising we could do at school to help people on the island. She had still not heard any news from her grandmother, but she was holding it together well in school. The next day, I told the class about the email, and I told the student that I had already started planning a fundraiser and would definitely need her help. She smiled, and for the moment, looked somewhat relieved.
In these moments, as much as we need solace and relief ourselves, our students need it even more. Every small gesture counts. Don't be afraid to say something comforting to your Puerto Rican students this week.
Stay tunes for a new blog post every 2 weeks on Saturday or Sunday if I can! Thanks for following.