Category Archives: Teaching

The Importance of Stopping

This week is fall break, the glorious light at the end of the tunnel after nine weeks of school. For those of you with the normal two to three weeks off per year, I realize nine weeks does not sound like such a terrible stretch of work, but as a teacher, it is a solid chunk of energy investment, particularly given the first weeks of school are among the most tiring.

Before I became a teacher, I thought the breaks alone would make up for any amount of exhaustion in the classroom. Instead, I discovered that while time off definitely helps, the exertion required to keep 30 children learning, entertained, and emotionally supported surpasses anything I expected.

The upside, of course, is the reward in knowing I am doing something good for others, and the enjoyment I derive from building relationships with my students. So, none of this is to complain, but the truth is, I’m tired. Fall break could not have come at a better time, and I did not realize how tired I was until I finally allowed myself to sink into my couch this afternoon and shut my eyes.

Here is the thing, though, I know I am not alone. Teachers are not the only people pushing themselves to their limits. Most jobs are stressful and we also have family and other obligations that require our time and focus. We commit ourselves to a lot because we care about a lot. I get it. However, there has to be the balance, the time to stop and regroup, and sometimes, we have to let a few things go.

Balance is a big reason I have stepped back from my blog in recent months. Between school and family, writing has taken a back seat. Not because I stopped caring about writing, but because I realized other priorities had to come first. My health and my family are of paramount importance, then my job, then my writing. With less time to write, I have focused on my fiction over my blog. It is all a series of trade-offs. When I have more time, I enjoy blogging, when I don’t have time, I have to just let it go.

I know I am fortunate I get to stop, I get time to breathe and fall asleep on the couch as the leaves outside my window change color and the air is a bit more crisp. But, what about everyone else who is not a teacher? What do you do for yourself to allow for a little break, the time to stop and recharge and take care of just you?

Hopefully you have an answer!

One of the

For the past few weeks, my 17 year-old sister stayed with us, which added to my shifting perspective on life and my priorities. Family has always come first, but I feel myself transitioning to a new level of awareness in how important family is to me and what this means in my quest for balance in other areas.

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A Little Fourth Grade Cheer

After yesterday’s post, I wanted to share something that made me smile today. The same child who wept in my arms brought me a box of Nerds and a toy to keep on my desk. Apparently I’m not the only one who felt we bonded.
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Just as sweet, a little girl who would make the perfect character in a children’s book with her freckles and wild spirit, brought me a gigantic husky she found at Goodwill. Our class theme is University of Washington, so she was proud to present our mascot. You can guess where all the kids wanted to sit during silent reading. This noble beast was smushed between three children, countless others disappointed they did not get there first.

Husky

So, my camera phone might not do my lovely gifts justice, but hopefully my words did. We all bonded yesterday, and somehow these tokens of love are proof. Our missing student returned this morning and was able to go about his business with quiet support. We are becoming a classroom family, as strange as it is to let new kids into my heart.

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Melancholy Lessons on Love & Life

Today I held a weeping child at recess. He said he lost his best friend, his grandmother, a year ago. I seldom let a child hug me like family. This kid needed it, so I allowed him be loved and cry. He held on tight and I held on tighter. Maybe I needed the hug too. When I let go, I asked him if he wanted to talk to our school counselor. He said, “No, that was all I needed.”

Our classroom family talked about loss today. A different child suffered the kind of loss that stabs for a lifetime. He was not at school, so we talked about how to treat him when he returns. The counselor prepped me on what to say, but I was not prepared for the torrent of grief unleashed by so many other memories of sadness. Little boys, so tough, puddles of tears. So much loss for so few years.

One child raised her hand and offered some advice. She said, “This reminds us to go home and love our families because we don’t know how long they’ll be here.” She said it with conviction and without tears. The others nodded. Our day went on, the tears dried, recess lightened the mood. At the end of the afternoon, we signed a card for our missing student.

As I read the words after school, I was touched. So much empathy and encouragement. Talk of a classroom family, here for him upon his return, ready to listen, “to be his brother.” There is no changing the grief life brings, but there is our ability to be there for one another, to feel gratitude for each day, and for each other. A melancholy post, perhaps, but it makes me grateful for the lessons my children bring and for the overwhelming goodness inside each of them.

Thank goodness for love and family, blood and otherwise.

So much gratitude for love and family, blood and otherwise.

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Finding Words Again

Almost every blog I follow disappears for a period. Days, weeks, months. Usually, the disappearance is followed by an apology. I don’t have one to offer. My disappearance has been one of introspection, hibernation. Oddly, there aren’t words for it, and I’m not sure I’m back in any regular sort of way, but I do miss writing.

So, tonight I type to type. I type to find words again, to reestablish a flow, to commit myself to a life of writing, not just a few years here and there, as it has always been in the past. My disappearance has been more than just going back to my world as a teacher. It has been about life and balance and a space of quiet. Words aren’t quiet.

My truth is changing. What I wrote before was true, but I’m not sure it is my truth anymore, or somehow it feels stale, repetitive. It is hard to write something that no longer resonates, fiction or otherwise. I’m finding a new space, which might mean new words, I’m not sure. A new book, a new perspective on teaching, on life.

Beginning again with a fresh group of students is oddly comforting and stifling simultaneously. When I envisioned myself as a teacher, I always questioned when the repetition would catch up to me. I’m restless by nature. As I write the date on our message each morning, I feel time slipping into a strange blur, is it 2011? 2013? 2015?

This is the first time I am repeating fourth grade on my own. Last year’s batch was fourth and then fifth, two years together. I like the feeling of knowing what I’m doing now. There is a confidence and ease that was not there before, but there is also the eery feeling of the same kids, just different faces, different names, learning the same things again, hitting the same stumbling blocks, celebrating the same successes.

I admire teachers who teach for the long haul. Maybe it will be me, this year is just off to a strange start. I miss the old faces who drop by each morning, eager to hug me, brag about their accomplishments. Maybe that’s the problem. As easy as it is to fall in love with children, it is hard to let them go. Maybe my heart is protecting me as I open up to thirty new souls. It’s easier to find reasons to resist than surrender.

So, there you have it. My first real words in weeks. A few tears, too.  Life is change and the same, all at once. I am learning.

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Sunday Meditation for Peace and Loving Kindness

“Choosing to cultivate love rather than anger just might be what it takes to save the planet from extinction.” – Pema Chödrön

Today I want to share a meditation for peace from the Places that Scare YouOf course, Chödrön does a much more eloquent job of describing the steps, but I loved the idea. Make sure to sit quietly for a few minutes before you begin. As you move through the phases, pay attention to whether the ease of expressing love changes for each group:

1. Start by concentrating on happiness for yourself, “May I enjoy happiness and the root of happiness.”

2. Move on to people and/or animals in your life who you already feel tenderness toward, “May ____ enjoy happiness and the root of happiness.”

3. Next, think of a friend you care about but have more complicated feelings toward, “May ____ enjoy happiness and the root of happiness.”

4. Then, imagine people you feel neutral about or perhaps do not know well, such as a neighbor or a person you have seen on the street, “May ____ enjoy happiness and the root of happiness.”

5. Move on to someone who you dislike or find irritating, “May ____ enjoy happiness and the root of happiness.”

6. Next, envision all of the people above standing in front of you and focus on feelings of loving kindness for each of them.

7. Last, harness a feeling of loving kindness for all beings. Focus first on those close to you, in your neighborhood or city, and then let the feeling expand outward into the greater universe.

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The power of this meditation exists in pushing our boundaries in how we see people in the world around us. I already do a form of this meditation in my classroom. When I feel upset with a student, I concentrate on how much I love him or her, which in turn allows me to detach from my less kind emotions and focus on the best course of action.

While it is not always easy to tap into this love, it is transformational. It is so tempting to judge and disconnect from others who are different or activate our emotional triggers. However, it is when we open ourselves up to loving kindness for all people that the world starts to change.

If this meditation resonated, I highly recommend Chödrön’s book.

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And Sometimes It’s Beyond Worth it.

Often, teaching is like any other job. Long hours, unsatisfied customers, little recognition. Some days I daydream about a world where I do not have to squish myself into a mold in order to succeed.

Then, days come around like today, where everything makes sense.

With no prep scheduled and only the second day of instruction, I knew I was in for a long haul. Add to that my body’s stubborn insistence on waking up 40 minutes before my alarm and, well, I had to force myself to think about gratitude for the human experience as I got ready this morning.

About ten minutes before school started, the door to my classroom swung open and in marched half a dozen of my most challenging boys from last year with huge smiles on their faces. The ring leader, also my most difficult, looked proud of himself for assembling such a reception.

Instead of “I hate this school,” or the alternative favorite, “I hate you,” they were excited to tell me about middle school, pleased about how handsome they looked in their sixth-grade button-down shirts. It turns out, kids really do love you, even when they kick and scream and do anything to push your buttons.

The most rewarding part of starting a new year has been seeing all those faces from my old class. I had to fight back tears as they appeared at the most unexpected moments both today and yesterday, smiling through my window, craning their necks to peer into my new world, their old classroom home. The hugs, the stories, the yells across the courtyard make it all worth it.

And, I’m happy to report, my new batch is pretty darn lovable too. I think I’m just one of those teachers who loves the heck out of my kids. I thought it would feel different with new names and stories, but instead it just feels like the beginning of another heart-stealing adventure.

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To begin again…

I had nightmares well into my twenties about repeating grades in school. Now, I’m preparing to repeat fourth grade as a teacher for the third time (including my residency year). A fresh start feels good. The room is artificially clean and organized. Papers and two sharpened pencils wait on each desk. Thirty-one new names fill my head, and soon enough, my heart.

Save for the leaves on the carpet, everything feels like a new beginning.

Save for the leaves on the carpet, everything feels fresh and ready for new little faces.

Classroom

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The Perfect End to An Endless Summer

Tomorrow is the very last day of summer break. After that, two days in Santa Cruz for a teacher retreat, a day to prepare my classroom, and then three days off to celebrate the final weekend of my twenties with friends (and dogs!) at a beach house about two hours north of San Francisco. Life is full and good to the point that I don’t have much time to lament summer’s passing.

Yesterday, a dear friend threw me an early 30th (or second 29th as she prefers to call it), and I have to say it was the perfect farewell to summer. We sat in her parents’ gorgeous backyard, sipped sparkling lemonade, and talked for hours about her life in San Francisco and mine, here. It was the kind of afternoon that does not need to end, filled with organic green clay masks, pedicures, and swimming, exactly the kind I long for whenever summer begins, that existed so freely in childhood, but now only appears here and there, unexpected though always desired.

If only I knew how to create that feeling more often– four hours on a Saturday could always feel never-ending in that beautiful childhood way. Time manipulation will always be my most coveted super hero power. So, as I ramp back up for 31 new little faces and a pile of revisions to my book, I am also determined to hold on to yesterday afternoon in a way that makes all time stop for a moment whenever I would like.

bday bday bday

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Cultivating Mindfulness in How we React to Others

This afternoon I attended the most beautiful class on mindfulness in dealing with children. The main focus was remembering to take a moment (or two or three…) to breathe and disconnect from our own emotional triggers before responding to challenging situations. The key words there are react and respond. When we respond, we no longer let the situation control us. I definitely needed a refresher on this lesson.

Sometimes when I feel students are not listening to me, I become frustrated, angry even. I tense up and regain control through dominance instead of quiet patience. As I reflected on why I become so upset, I realized I react based on my own hunger for respect. Growing up as a small, quiet girl, people constantly underestimated me, a reality that carried over to the beginning of my teaching career as feedback often included my quiet nature.

By taking a moment to breathe and be mindful of my reaction/response, I give myself the chance to determine the best course of action for my students, instead of the emotionally obvious one. I have grown in my ability to respond with calm resolve over the past year, but those stressful moments are still there, lurking at the end of a long day. As I prepare to return to the classroom, I am mindful of how I will stop, breathe, and disconnect from emotional triggers before I respond.

I don’t expect you to answer, because these are personal questions, but maybe you could benefit from similar reflection: When do you react with emotion instead of responding in the best interest of both yourself and others? Why do these moments draw such a reaction out of you?

Just ordered this book recommended during class today-- anyone want to join me for an August book club reading?

Just ordered this book recommended during class today– anyone want to join me for an August reading?

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Squeezing Every Last Drop Out of Summer

I really can’t complain. I’ve had a nice break. Six weeks when everything is said and done. Still, as the days tick to a close, and work pops up a little this week and next and then back for good the following, I can’t help but cling to every second. Time is such a strange thing, stretching and doubling and speeding along then coming to a halt in the face of anticipation.

I want to make the next two weeks last forever but am also excited for what’s to come… My 30th birthday, 30 new little people, a fall full of weddings and family and friends, the changing leaves and holidays… It’s easy to get ahead of myself, but thinking of all the joyous moments that await helps to ease the separation anxiety from my beloved summer.

Any suggestions for making these final moments of freedom count?

Love & Gratitude

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A Good Day for Yoga

Not sure if it has made national news, but if you live in California you’ve likely heard on the radio that yoga was ruled as a form of exercise, not religion in Southern California schools. This is exciting news for me as I figure out how to integrate yoga into my classroom. I still plan to call it something else, but at least there is some backing for the idea that it can be taught in a secular fashion.

And, in less-exciting-to-you yoga news, my husband gave me a new yoga book today and promised he would start participating in home yoga with me. I’m thrilled! If you’re new to my blog thanks to Kozo’s kind repost, welcome. I’m a little obsessed with yoga and what it can do for peace, both mental and physical.

Very excited for my new book and expanding awareness of yoga.

Very excited for my new book and the potential to use more yoga in my classroom.

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Judge Ruling If Yoga Is Tied To Religious Practice, Allowed In Public Schools

Remember my mention of conflict over secular yoga in the classroom? While I can’t speak to whether or not the yoga used with these students has religious roots, I can identify with the observation by teachers that students were calmer and using breathing exercises on their own during tests. Regardless of whether people support the use of yoga when identified as yoga, there is a clear need for quiet reflection, stillness, stretching, and breathing in the classroom. Kindergarteners should not report feeling stressed. Neither should the fourth and fifth graders in my room. Obviously this points to even larger systematic concerns in how we’re teaching our kids in high-pressure environments, but at least the non-religious elements of yoga help to alleviate some of the stress.

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