Today In School…

Today, we had an active shooter drill.

Yesterday, there was another school shooting. Another one.

My students handled the drill well. They didn’t question it. They complied. They each quietly left their seats and huddled under the computer tables. Several helped me to lower the blinds and cover the windows with paper. They understand what is happening in the world today.

My students all have disabilities. My students are usually loud, vibrant students. Sometimes, I have trouble with quieting them down during lessons. Several of them have noisy ticks that calm them throughout the day.

During the drill, all thirteen of my students were silent. No ticks were heard, no stifled giggles. It was the quietest I’ve ever had my classroom.

They understand. All students understand. They understand that school shootings are not a rare happening.

That’s all I have to say. Today, the kids will go home and tell their parents “Today in school, we practiced what to do if there’s a shooter.”

Sparking Joy

I’m Not “Just” a Teacher

It’s bizarre how much of our identity is tied to our profession. Maybe it isn’t so strange – we spend so much of our time at work, getting ready for work and unwinding from work. Work is where people tend to spend most of their days. It makes sense that our self worth is so deeply tied to our jobs.

When it comes to careers, how does one decide on one? What should I do? It’s a question I’ve asked myself often over the past few years. I began to teach right after college through Teach for America. The first two years were brutal. Every day on my drive into work, I would ponder how much time off I would get if I crashed my car. Not just a little crash either – I considered slamming into highway medians at 80 miles per hour. Those two years were rough.

Instead of quitting teaching altogether, I decided to give it a shot in a different building. I started working at a school that I absolutely adore this year. It’s been great – I have an amazing class of kids and far less anxiety than I had the first two years, but I was still asking myself what I should do next.

I’ve thought about it a lot and I realized that I kept saying that I was “just a teacher.” I saw peers leave teaching to become lawyers and doctors. Some went into tech. It made me question why I was still here, “just” teaching.

I’ve made the decision to continue teaching next year. Why? Because teaching is not “just teaching.” Teaching is something I am good at. Teaching allows me to give something to this world. Teaching is where I am meant to be right now.

Throwback to my first day teaching!

Teaching isn’t easy. It’s emotionally draining. The stories that my students bring to the table – often stories of struggle and hardship that no child should ever have to face – weighs on me daily. I worry about them, and for them. Teaching has opened up perspectives that I had never even considered before. Teaching has made me a better human being.

I’ve considered leaving to do something less draining, like work in an office. But the phrase that powered my through my illness during high school continues to come back to me. No rain, no flowers. I blossom where I have struggled, and I do that through teaching.

So this is me, saying that I am a teacher. Not just a teacher. And you know what – I’m pretty damn proud of it.

Teacher Tangent Tuesday #1

Who doesn’t love alliteration? Three T’s in a row? Hot damn! As you may have picked up from other posts, when I’m not writing this amazing blog, I’m a full time teacher. I started teaching three years ago when I became a corps member for Teach for America in the West side of Chicago, and have continued on until today.

Teaching is hard ya’ll. You have to figure out a way to get content to a room full of kids who don’t really want it. You need to take on the emotional baggage of children who are going through things that no child should ever go through. Some days I want to throw the towel in, but I don’t. There are fun parts about teaching and one of my favorites is the things kids say. I happen to teach in an Autism classroom, so filters are even rarer. So here’s a new series I’m starting, where every Tuesday I’ll be telling you about stuff that goes down in my classroom.

#1. Cat Calling

Okay, so, last week, I got a new student in my class. Yesterday, we were walking in the hallways when I see a girl we don’t know walking past us. The new student screams “hey shorty, you got a boyfriend?”

Keep in mind, he doesn’t know her. He is literally cold cat calling. He then does this with every woman who passes us by. Don’t worry friends – I made sure we had a chat later about how to appropriately talk to women. It is Women’s History Month, so it fit in well with our discussion.

#2. Where Do Babies Come From?

I just realized that most of my stories this week are going to involve my new student. He’s pretty funny, I must admit.

One of the girls in my class asked me if I had children. I said no. She then tells me I should adopt. New kids pipes in “Mrs. M, aren’t you married?” I tell him yes. “Well, I think you guys should just get to it then… I think you guys can figure it out.”

#3. Sweet Notes

One of my kids wrote me this poem. Safe to say, I cried a bit. That is all. (Don’t you worry – we are actively working on both grammar and spelling).

So there ya have it – a little peek into what has kept me amused at work this week. What about your job do you enjoy?

Confessions of a Teacher

From 8am to 4pm, I’m a special education teacher. I’ve been a teacher for three years now, and I have a lot of feelings about it. Some days, it’s really flipping hard – usually emotionally, sometimes physically. I’ve also had really easy days. I’ve had days where I’ve left work feeling inspired about what I do, and days where I’m left thinking “What’s the point?”

Some days look like the photo above – messy and chaotic. My first two years, I would cry before, during and after work. Those first two years were spent at a school that I did not feel valued at. I worked in a classroom with students with moderate to severe disabilities, ranging from autism to cerebral palsy. I had no experience with teaching before (my degree was in exercise science), and had come to teaching through Teach for America. I would come in early, stay late and work my butt off on weekends to prepare things for the room that would inevitably be ruined. I can’t blame the kids for that – it was, for many of them, their first experience outside of their parent’s homes. Many had experienced more trauma than most adults experience throughout their lives. Most of them just yearned for attention from somebody, anybody.

How my room looked when it was actually clean

Those first two years I felt more like a babysitter than an educator. A good day was one in which I didn’t have to file an incident report about a student being hurt. A good day was not having a piece of wood furniture thrown at me. A great day was getting through lessons – it didn’t matter how well or how thoroughly. I was working full time and going to school. I hated it, but I stuck through because I had made a commitment and I knew damn well that if I left, those kids would be left without a teacher for the rest of the year. My little sister has been in a similar classroom her whole life, and I knew the impact her teachers had made on her. Regardless of how I felt day to day, I knew my impact on these kids could be powerful.

My sister, who inspired me daily to continue to teach

After those two years, I switched from elementary to high school. I now teach students with similar disabilities, but in grades 9, 10 and 11. The difference is astounding. I leave work with energy now.

I equate teaching elementary school to teaching little humans how to navigate social settings for the first time. “Don’t lick your friends!” “You cannot eat out of the garbage bin!” “Chairs are for sitting, not kicking!”  Teaching high school is more about preparing these students, who are accustomed to the school setting of following preset rules, how to function in the real world. We take trips to grocery stores to compare prices on cereal. We practice calling Best Buy for more information on their sales. We use the computer to search for tickets to basketball games. I rarely raise my voice, and the kids respect me and understand that I am there to help them.

My work now feels more meaningful, not that my work in the past wasn’t. In order to take these field trips and to practice these real world skills, my students had to master how to attend to school. Their elementary and middle school teachers instilled those skills in them, and I recognize and understand how difficult that job was. I’m not sure if teaching is something that I can do in the long term. It drains me, to think about every kid, every day and then do what’s best for all of them. I get emotional when I hear what my students have gone through. Experiencing what it’s like to work in one of the largest school districts has made me aware of problems (that have solutions), which are harming our future generations. Maybe one day, I will be a person who has the solutions to make the system work. For now though, I will continue to be the teacher that my students need. I will continue to advocate for them, listen to them and educate them. Fingers crossed that today is a good day. How can it not be, when I received the note below on Friday?