Tag Archives: Brave

Be Brave: Teaching Teenagers

I’m not sure when a room full of teenagers became as scary as giving birth. However, as I lay awake the other night, contemplating my decision to take a secondary sub job, childbirth somehow became my mantra.

You gave birth, you’ve got this.

Ironically, my fear didn’t just keep me awake, it also prevented me from powering up my cell phone to hit cancel on the automated sub page. I can’t stand the idea of letting my anxiety stop me from doing something I’ve always wondered about. In some alternate reality, I must be a high school teacher because I’m drawn like some poor insect to a flame.

The upside of fear-induced insomnia is it creates time for reflection. As I lay awake, I asked myself where all this anxiety was coming from– what is it about teenagers that is so darn scary? I find it necessary to interject that this particular population of teenagers is more on the side of something you’d see in a movie where the teacher is first reduced to tears and then toughens up, but the reality is that even private school teenagers have made me hesitate from pushing send on otherwise attractive job postings.

Which brings me back to my question. What’s the worst that could happen? Sure they might not listen to me, profess hatred, or pull some stupid prank, but even then, I’d only have to last through one period at a time for just one day. I’d weathered the same from 4th and 5th graders for entire years. Heck, I’d given birth, which used to be one of the scariest things on my list of probable life scenarios worth fearing.

Still, somehow, the older kids were much more intimidating. I’d seen them yell and scream profanities and not listen to their teachers on the same campus where I used to teach. I even shared a wall with a class that made me feel lucky to have students I didn’t have to climb onto the planters to talk over. And this was the very same school where I’d impulsively hit “accept” on the secondary sub posting…

So, when 5:50AM came around, I dragged myself out of bed and resisted the final opportunity to use my fussy, teething infant as my excuse for not showing up. As I put on my most drab teaching attire and pulled my hair into an austere bun, I practiced my game face. Despite my slight frame, I managed to look somewhat menacing if I scrunched my features just right. And, unlike prior days, where I’d filled my commute time with blue tooth banter, I quizzed myself on teaching techniques and played music that made me feel adequately tough.

Upon arrival, the Dean of Discipline armed me with positive incentives and detention slips. He also warned me they’d be challenging. Great. Maybe I already wasn’t exuding the toughness I’d hoped. As I set up shop in the front of the classroom, I let my eyes stop on the note from the previous day’s sub, cautious not to read so much as to psyche myself out. A quick glance revealed cursing, attitudes, help from admin.

What did I get myself into?

One day was regrettably not enough time to morph into Michelle Pfeiffer and build lasting relationships with these kids. Still, there was no getting off the ride now. First period, 11th grade. The oldest, and biggest of the kids for the day. Straight into the deep end.

I shook each of their hands as they entered the classroom and felt tiny looking up at 6-foot-tall man children. Still, most of them made eye contact and smiled. Maybe I could do this. As I started busting out my hard-won teaching strategies, I realized I didn’t need them. Sleepy eleventh graders came in and did their job with little prompting. I didn’t even have to finish a single countdown. What a relief. One period finished and nothing to report other than an hour of near-perfect silence.

Next up, three periods of 8th grade and at least thirty familiar faces from my year of resident teaching. Maybe that was part of the secret to my success. Many of the kids knew my name and some even remembered me fondly with warm hugs and excited faces. But that wasn’t entirely it. These were the kids the other sub had written such copious notes about.

Second period came into the room as a hot mess. Laughter, chairs squeaking to unassigned spots, backpacks flying across the counters. I doubted myself for a moment, although I’m certain they didn’t see it. A loud countdown did the trick and for the most part, the kids listened. Check marks and detention slips helped. A long period of silent work was achieved.

Third and fifth period repeated the same scene. The sixth graders at the end of the day were louder, but just as responsive to a strong voice and the promise of both negative and positive consequences. Sure some individual students required more interventions than others, but overall the classes were all right.

The worst that happened? Two boys handed me a hall pass dipped in toilet water, but I didn’t let them have the satisfaction of an emotional response. I calmly washed my hands in front of the class and asked them to go to the office. I’ve dealt with worse.

It turned out that teaching older kids wasn’t so different than teaching fourth and fifth graders. It wasn’t easy but I survived. I talked directly to teenagers and they (mostly) did what I asked. I used a strong voice and looked them in the eyes. I came home tired but triumphant. I’d let go of my fear.

Now I just have to work up the courage to try Kindergarten…

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Good Riddance January, Hello Video Blog

I envisioned this post as my monthly Bloggers for Peace entry, but I have to admit I’m not feeling very peaceful. January was an intense month. While I kept my cool through the intensity, I’m hoping February will bring a shift in energy.

If I followed astrology, I would be certain some planet was in retrograde or crossing or whatever happens when people act nuttier than usual. The full moon, maybe… Or maybe it’s just January. I’ve heard that more people die in January than any other month. Something about holding it together through the holidays, perhaps?

I get that it is a bit of a let down. Suddenly the festivities are over. The parties are done, everyone goes back to work and their regular lives just as the coldest cold sets in. Last year I was sad to let the holidays finish. This year I didn’t mind. I was ready for 2013. But then January caught me off guard.

Sure it had its good moments. It certainly went by quickly. I’m still in the middle of leaving a note for a different student each morning, my daily act of kindness. The notes have earned me hugs, puzzled looks, smiles. I survived my first clothing-optional hot springs visit, (I remained clothed if you missed the earlier posts). I did yoga nearly every day. That’s probably the best part, hours and hours of yoga. I even taught my students to hold themselves in tree. It’s our peaceful, yoga contest when we need a break.

I’m just glad January is over. All 31 days of it. May February bring a little more daylight and a little less intensity.

And, what the heck– I was going to over-think my first video blog, but instead I give you the real me. Unscripted, after a long day of work… Sorry for the lame sound synching and the lack of focus… I’m already talking myself out of it as I type. Must hit publish before I change my mind, part of my goal to be brave and really put myself out there as a writer this year. Here it goes.

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Weekend Escape: An Adventure in the Making

It’s funny. I wanted to force myself to stay off the computer this week as a break from my book, but I can’t help it. I want to write, so here I am, blogging.

This weekend, however, I’m headed to a place without technology, a hot springs retreat with my mom about twenty miles outside of Wine Country. While I welcome the break, I am also a little nervous. This trip is undoubtedly outside my comfort zone. See, I have a lot of hippie qualities, but I have a lot of mainstream ones too. Growing up with a hippie mom, I was a late adapter. I resisted up until a year or two ago and it has definitely not been a full transition.

What will be outside my comfort zone, you ask? Public nudity, mainly. I’m sure I’ll deal with it, but I have to admit some of the Yelp reviews made me cringe. The hot springs are the only part of the resort where clothing is optional, but somehow poolside naked yoga and couples enjoying each other is not really my spectator sport of choice. Not to mention the weird grunting men. Thanks Yelp for giving me so much to look forward to…

My mom has assured me these scenarios are not common. Admittedly, I was swayed by a free massage, my own room, multiple yoga options per day, and quiet time hiking. The dorm room scenario was almost a deal breaker. More than anything else though, I am looking forward to a nice long weekend in the company of my mom without the distractions of normal life. No tv, no cell phone, no computer…

I am also looking forward to the drive. I will pass through Wine Country and Calistoga, (where I got married), on my own. I have never done this drive alone. The year we got married we drove to Calistoga almost monthly. It is one of my favorite drives in California. Returning on my own feels somehow introspective and meaningful. Maybe I will even stop for lunch at one of our favorite restaurants. I have never eaten at a restaurant alone. I do not even know what it would feel like.

Needless to say, this weekend will be an adventure. Despite my apprehension, I’m excited. Yoga, wine country, hot springs, my mom. Worst case scenario I add another hilarious review to Yelp. Best case, I’m one of the staunch defenders of how wonderful it is to get away from it all. Either way, I will see a different slice of life than usual.

Are you good at pushing yourself outside your comfort zone? I’m working on it.

We began our little trip by driving through wine country to Calistoga, one of my favorite drives in all of California.

Excited for one of my favorite drives, even if I’ll be on my own. January is oddly a gorgeous time to visit, little yellow flowers everywhere.

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The Girl With the Purple Guitar

Today I have to share one of my favorite moments of my teaching career so far. As a creative alternative to our book report over break, one student asked if she could learn a song from Hunger Games to play for the class. I agreed and she did a beautiful job connecting the lyrics of the song to her reading.

This morning her mom showed up with her guitar in a big box. We weren’t going to present today, but since her guitar was already in class, I let her go as the first and only student for the day. Late in the afternoon, when students are usually too wiggly to sit still, we gathered on the carpet and she pulled out her pretty little purple guitar.

A bundle of nerves, she asked if we could close our eyes. With the sweetest ten-year old voice, she sang Taylor Swift’s “Eyes Open” as she strummed along. The whole class covered their eyes and swayed back and forth, mesmerized. In the middle, she messed up and asked to start over. This time she told everyone they could uncover their eyes. She played the song again, beautifully, with 30 pairs of eyes on her. When she finished, the room erupted in cheers.

It was one of those moments I wish I had on film. So sweet and filled with emotion. I wanted to cry as I watched her. She was so nervous, but she forced herself to be brave and do it anyway. It took at least five years for me to let Alex hear me sing. She sang to a room of ten and eleven year-olds with a presence, grace, and soul uncommon in most adult performers.

I guess you can say I’m glad to be back to work with my students. It always takes a couple days, but I get there.

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Live Life, Be Brave

I’m thinking about getting a tattoo.

One of my most childish secrets is that when I was grappling most with my anxiety, I would put on the necklace below each day as a reminder to be brave.  It helped.  A lot.  Even now that my anxiety is just a whisper, I still wear it almost everyday, accompanied by one of two Celtic knots.

Thank you Jen for the poignant reminder to live, and Alex for the Celtic knots of our family.

As I was putting it on the other day, I thought that maybe I should get those words tattooed on me, as a permanent reminder that life is short and that it is up to me to be brave and live it.  It is a funny thing in life how living to our full potential often takes the greatest courage.  I do not want to ever forget that I control my courage instead of my courage controlling me.

If I choose to get a tattoo, I also want to integrate the tree of life somehow.  I am fascinated by its symbolism throughout many cultures, including the Celts.  It annoys me that the tree is becoming trendy, because my connection to it roots back further, to my childhood.  I used to sit high up in the branches of old trees and talk to them.  They even told me their secrets about life and our interconnectedness.  No, I was not on drugs.  Yes, maybe I am part hippie.

All joking aside, I really never thought that there would be anything permanent enough for me to want to have tattooed on my body.  However, anyone that really knows me, knows that I am an odd mixture of over-thinking and impulse.  It will be interesting to see which side wins this battle…  Maybe I should just buy myself a tree of life charm to add to my necklace and save myself the trouble!

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