This blog post is dedicated to two of my favorite people to work with: Mr.David Ranen and Dr.Patty Bode.
Two years ago, I set out on an adventure, a new chapter in my professional career, and two years later, I have no regrets. When I started my 22nd year of teaching, I also started my first year of being an administrator. In an innovative model, the new principal decided to reach into the pool of teachers for 2 assistant principals who would teach half time and be half-time administrators. I was lucky enough to be one of them. Some of our central office administration couldn't seem to wrap their heads around it: how would they figure out payroll? Who would be in charge of what aspect of the school? Who would do special education? Who would oversee discipline? Somehow, we knew it would work out.
Dave had been a beloved chorus teacher for 36 years at the school, while I had taught first Spanish, then ELL. We had been friends already. When Patty Bode came on as our principal, we already knew her from her years as art teacher, and for me, as family friend. We began planning for the school year on a summer evening over burritos on Patty's screened-in deck. We had a good vibe already, and we knew our team would gel. What we did not know was how well we would come to work together in such a short time.
Between the three of us, we had over three quarters of a century of experience under our belts. We each brought different strengths to the our team. Patty held the big picture, and the vision, always at the center of what we were doing, always grounded with the question, "what are we learning today?" She developed our school's visual culture and embraced the themes of solidarity and empathy, which then the faculty learned to embrace as well. Dave had a deep understanding of and kindness towards the middle school student. They all knew they could talk to him and many would seek him out on a daily basis. He had a calm way about him that diffused challenging situations. I was able to help engage Spanish-speaking families and create a safe space for them in our school and to work with families in a way that was open and inclusive. The three of us supported the school's inquiry group work, field trips, special activities, teachers, and more.
As we wrap up two years working as a leadership team, I have been reflecting a lot on what we accomplished. In fact, I am still trying to formulate into words some of the lessons learned along the way (maybe for a future post). It was not easy most of the time, and in fact, we faced some of the most challenging times of our personal lives and of our careers. Dave and I juggled teaching with being administrators; in fact, really our district was lucky - they got 2 full time administrators who also taught on the side. Still, I know that I am richer and a better educator/administrator for having worked with them. In the meantime, the words that keep coming into my head as we wrap up our work as the "dream team" as some people called us, are "No regrets", and I truly feel that way. I learned so much from each of them, and feel incredibly privileged to have walked into an office every day where I was supported every step of the way.
Dave will be able to make his own schedule from now on in retirement. Patty will be able to follow more creative aspirations and I will continue making waves in any world she goes into. As for me, I will happily go back into my classroom full time and continue to blog about teaching, students, and education. No regrets.
Teachers, especially middle school teachers, I believe, steel themselves for the months of May and June. March seems eternal, the longest month, with no 3 day weekends to look forward to. In our area of New England, it is still pretty cold in March, though the days are longer. The month drags on and on until finally April arrives. April brings hope, with spring usually trying to peek through. This year, though, April brough not only showers but also snow, well into the month. It also brought a one week reprieve from the every day routine of school.
Finally, May is here. In May, we can see the light at the end of the tunnel. We begin to count the days (in my school we count up instead of down: it is the 144th day of the school year!) until the final day of school. We make plans for teaching summer school or other summer work. As an administrator it's extra busy because we are planning for the end of this year, but also need to plan for the beginning of next school year.
For the students, May is MCAS math month. In May, the drama often gets to an all-year high, with raging hormones mixed in for some extra fun. The weather gets warmer but sometimes we still have heat in the building, which makes for very smelly hallways: raw onion with some Axe sprayed over to hide it. Students are not thinking about next year that much - they usually think as far ahead as the summer, with plans to attend summer school, rest at home, work, go to camp or travel.
For me, it is a time of reflection as I think about changes for next year. I will likely go back to the classroom full-time, which will have its advantages: I'll be able to focus only on teaching and my students. It will be the first time in probably 10 years that I have an entire summer free, because I will not be leading the WMWP Summer Leadership Institute. I'll be teaching on online course through Mount Holyoke in May and June called "Research in Teaching ELLs", which I am excited about. My family is planning a trip to Spain to see my husband's family and my dad's family. As my kids get older (they are now 13, 14, and 17), I treasure any amount of time I can spend with them, so a family trip will be great. I will be looking for great books to read on our trip, so please recommend some if you have any! (Mary Ginley!! You always have the best recommendations)
And in other exciting news, my mother and I will hopefully finish the book we are writing, due for publication in 2019, by August. We have been writing on weekend retreats all year and it has been fun to work on something like this together! We do not have a title yet, but many blog posts have been included so far. Stay tuned for more news about that as we get closer to finishing!
What does summer bring for you? How will you rest and rejuvenate for next year? What are you looking forward to for next year? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comment section.
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