A Zen Little Unplanned Existential Experiment

This morning, I did not expect NOT to go to work.  I mean, it was a figuratively balmy 8 degrees at 6:00 when I awoke, and the temperature was only going to climb as the day progressed.  In no way would calling school be justified again.  The Polar Vortex was done ravaging us with wind chills in the -40s; it was time to get back to normality.

However, at 6:13, a friend texted me, “No school again ?!?”

I thought he was joking.  I had not received the call, and this friend of mine, he can be somewhat of a jokester.  However, I walked out of the bathroom, and wouldn’t you know it, the phone rang one-minute later.  Today, school was cancelled because the majority of the busses wouldn’t start, and they could not, of course, allow the little dumplings stand in the frigid air while the few busses that did work tried to manage all of the routes.

Day Three.

The first thing that went through my mind was a song I used to love in the 90’s.   My mind could hear the riff of the guitar as the words played in my mind:

For three strange days
I had no obligations
My mind was a blur
I did not know what to do.
And then I lost myself

I, for the life of me could not remember anymore of the song.  I could not even remember who sang it.  Thank God for Google and the world-wide web.  I vaguely remembered the band School of Fish and when I looked up the lyrics, I found that they were actually really depressing.

For me, these have been three strange days, but unlike the lead singer, I have not lost my motivation.  On the contrary, I have relished in the gift of freedom that snow days bestow.

A gift, you scoff!  What about all the other days off?

Don’t you think, dear reader, I know you are dubious of the complexities of my job.  You see it as a cake walk: three days at Thanksgiving, two weeks at Christmas, Spring Break, and then nine weeks in the summer!  But, what you do not understand is the paradox of teaching: we work our asses off for 187 days a year because we need for the students to excel and be better at whatever subjects we teach, and in order to do that, we need days off to regroup, reevaluate lessons, and recharge our batteries.

Everyone feels burnout, you say.  Well, I do not disagree, but please, try to be a teacher for even a year, and you might think a little less critically of our chosen calling.

Now, I do not mean to put you on the defensive or make you angry.  I love my job and I am grateful for the time off that school districts give students and teachers to restore their enthusiasm and yearning to learn.  Likewise, I was grateful for our winter break.  I crossed many items off of my list.  I shopped, cooked, entertained, visited, cleaned, worked out, graded some papers (not as many as I should have, I will admit), and relaxed with my family.  It was the perfect break.

Oh, but then the Polar Vortex hit, and three magical free days were conjured in the universe.  Free Days.  I did not plan on these days.  I did not have a schedule of chores that needed to be accomplished.  I did not have any set list of items that needed attention because these days were not planned, and thus, they were a gift.

For three strange days I had no obligations….

With no obligation comes the ability to just exist.  I kind of zenned out in my own little existential experiment.  I realized that nothing had to be done, so I decided what should be done was anything that I wanted to get done.  Do you understand the enormity of this gift for a 44 year-old, full-time working mother of three?

So what did I do?

  • I read The Fault in Our Stars cover-to-cover.  I would recommend it because it is incredibly well written, but blubbering for forty or more pages makes it a hard book to recommend.  Okay, screw it.   I cried but I also laughed. You should read it!  It’s that good!
  • I worked out twice!  I never find time to workout during the week, or is it that I find a million other things to do besides working out during the week?  Well, whichever way, the endorphins made me feel strong.
  • I played countless games of Life with the girls.  I won more than once.  I always pick the college track, and I think they are starting to realize that long-term earnings increase exponentially with a college education.
  • I slept.  One can NEVER sleep enough, in my opinion.
  • I cooked delicious meals.
  • I blogged.

It was a glorious, unencumbered three days, and it was almost better than any planned vacation.

If only I could give the gift to each of you readers so you can understand how having three strange days can seem like the perfect motivation to get done some of the things you never seem to find time to do.



Lawmakers, Are You Listening?

I would like to begin by saying I love my job.  I really do.  With that being said, I would not recommend becoming a teacher to anyone.  When I began teaching sixteen years ago, I received accolades.  “You are going into the noblest of professions,” people said to me.   I believed it.  I woke each morning excited for the day, excited for the “ah-ha moment” that was surely to come to some of my students,, excited to be a part of someone’s history.

Today, it’s not that simple.  Politicians who have never stepped foot into a classroom as teachers are making decisions on how I should do my job.   Because they once were students, they have declared themselves experts, judges of what makes a good teacher, and their new laws are a reflection of this extensive knowledge. (Insert eye roll here).

Well, Lawmakers, you can pummel me with paperwork.  You can force me to capitulate to asinine rules and regulations.  You can push schools to adopt “a business model.”  You can call the students clients and you can tell me that the customer is always right.  You can bombard me with an evaluation system that defines me not by what I actually do, but by the scores of my students, and if anyone of these young people is having an off-day and does not show growth, you can threaten to fire me.  Yes, you can try to break me.  You can tell me that teaching should be the gateway to “a real job,” and that no one should teach for more than five years.  You can create a climate so adversarial that 50% of my colleagues will leave the profession within their first five years.

But until you actually fire me, you cannot break me.  Do you want to know why?  Because I know something that you are unwilling to recognize: I do something that you will never be able to do.  I make a difference every day in the lives of students!

I make kids work hard each day to think for themselves.  I push them by constantly asking “Why?  Why?  Why?”  I get kids to make connections between ideas they never knew connected.

I make kids see that being part of a community is important.   I make kids want to extend themselves to better more than just themselves.

I make kids write, and I make them write a lot.  When they are lazy and slovenly, I make them do it again.  I make them realize that I expect something of them, and you know what, they begin to expect it of themselves.

I make kids say “May I” instead of “Can I.”  I make kids learn the difference between anxious and eager.

I make kids read.  Every book is my favorite book while I am teaching it, and I get so excited about it, I pique their interest.  Every year, I have students say, “This is the first time in high school I actually read the books and didn’t just use Sparknotes.”

I make kids dream about what their lives can and will be after their comprehension and writing improves.

I make kids rise to the challenge.  I do not believe that C work deserves an A.  Only A work deserves an A, and if the students want an A, they have to work for it.

I make kids responsible.

I make kids laugh.

I make kids know I care.

I make a difference, and no amount of brow-beating can ever change that!

With Advice, Sometimes, Comes Laughter

I am honest with my children, and I have found that it has, to some degree, backfired on me.  My children, the darlings who I carried for nine months and nurtured into little compassionate girls, find some of my honesty to be odd and funny.  I find that they often laugh at me when I am trying my hardest to be poignant and supportive.

It doesn’t bother me. I like that they laugh at my idiosyncracies and realize that their mother is a bit eccentric.  They are very aware that they are genetically attached to me and that, like it or not, they, too, will develop some abnormal beliefs and behaviors.

Recently, the girls and I were having a very candid conversation about the start of school and the changes they would be facing.  All three of my children showed concern for the sheer size of their schools.  Respectively, Carson’s entire seventh grade class was 22, Maggie’s fourth grade class was 25, and Lizzie’s second grade class was eighteen students.  No one changed classes.  No one had the opportunity to meet new people.  It was a pint-sized version of the schools they would soon be attending.

My biggest fears for them included the following: with whom would they eat lunch; the embarrassment of walking into the wrong classroom; and lastly, having to go to the bathroom at school.

The first two topics were easy.  I told all of them to find someone they liked earlier in the day, and see if they were in the lunchroom.  I said it was not uncommon to walk up to an acquaintance and say, “Hey can I eat with you?”  I told them that their friendly smiles and warm personalities were inviting.  I knew they would be welcomed.

Second, I told them how I have walked into the wrong classroom as a teacher!  Just last year, I got my day messed up, and I walked into a classroom and set myself up to teach my class.   However, I was a period early!  Instead of going to my hall duty, I was trying to teach a class!

The last topic was a bit more sensitive.  Everyone, at some point in time, has to use the restroom in public.  Bodily functions should not be embarrassing because sometimes, it just cannot be avoided.

“I know sometimes using the bathroom at school is difficult.   It took me over five years to be able to use the restroom at school.”

The girls gasped.  “You didn’t go for five years?!” Carson asked, incredulous.

Realizing that they thought I meant both urination and defecation, I corrected myself.   “No.  I could pee, but I couldn’t poop.”  I paused to think how to phrase my words in a nurturing way.   “You might find that you feel like I did.  Sometimes, being in a foreign place makes it hard to poop.”

I must have been staring off because when I refocused on the girls, they squealed with laughter.  For almost three minutes, they could not speak they were laughing so hard.

“Okay, Mom,” Carson finally uttered.  “You deserve some kind of reward for your accomplishment.”

“Five years…” Lizzie muttered, but she snorted before she could finish.

“Yeah.  You deserve a porcelain throne!” Maggie said barely audible.

I sighed and left the room.  Evidently, they do not share my discomfort for public restrooms.  They must take after their father.