Tag Archives: Work

Deciding to Jump: To Go Back to Work, Or Not?

Still a little rough around the edges, but working on a new blog to separate out some of my more personal writing– I will still be blogging @ oliviaobryon about writing/teaching/travel, but also want to see what it is like to take a more focused approach in the blog world. If you enjoy my mommy posts, I invite you to follow Leap of Mama too!

Leap of Mama

It's the sweet, quiet moments like these I hate to give up. It’s the sweet, quiet moments like these I hate to give up.

I am standing on the edge of one of the biggest jumps of my life. Either I go back to work part-time as an intervention teacher and attempt to juggle my dream of writing into the mix of afterwork motherhood, or I take a deep breath, and jump straight into life as a stay-at-home mom and writer.

For many, the answer seems easy. JUMP. But the decision is much more layered than I expected. I love my school, my students, my coworkers. Some days I feel on the verge of going stir crazy at home. I have a part-time job waiting that may never be there again. The predictability of a work schedule, a paycheck, and good health insurance speaks to my cautious nature. Returning to work is somehow the less frightening choice.

With a face like this, it is hard to leave home. With a face like this…

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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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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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Week 25: If I could just surrender…

This week I surrendered to teaching. With my big observation next week, report cards almost due, and the talent show around the corner, this week was packed. Then there was that two hour non-profit interview about my residency experience, a few more parent phone calls, and all my regular responsibilities, like actually planning, teaching, organizing, making copies.

Thursday morning I awoke from a dream where I was presenting my lesson for my observation to an auditorium full of 500 squirmy children, including a rowdy bunch of high-schoolers who entered and exited in the middle of everything. Oddly, I made it through the entire lesson, step by step, and opened my eyes with the feeling that if I could teach under those conditions, then I’d be fine in real life with the dreaded rubric.

As if it weren’t enough that I couldn’t escape my job while sleeping, Thursday turned out to be all around intense. Good old Maniac Magee had one of his most challenging days yet, (which always means ten other children also have urgent needs arise simultaneously). To make everything more fun, at the very peek of all the excitement, a herd of observers, possible donors as I later found out, headed straight for my door. Fortunately I was able to mouth the words, “We’re kind of in the middle of an emergency,” to my principal before they descended on my classroom.

Needless to say, I have been thinking a lot about what makes my job stressful and why sometimes I am able to manage it better than others. In the last seven days I have been told by three separate people that I am a saint. I assure all interested parties that I am not. But, I would really like to be. I’d like to always be calm, collected, loving no matter what is happening around me. Sometimes I am closer to this than others.

This week I accepted teaching as my entire life. I surrendered. I admit, I put up a fight on Tuesday, and felt miserable for it, but by Wednesday afternoon I accepted that things like afterwork yoga in an actual studio just weren’t going to happen. And, once I stopped fighting it, everything felt a lot better, minus a few minutes yesterday when I thought my head might explode because everyone needed my attention and I just wanted to curse.

See, definitely not a saint.

Which brings me to now, Friday night. I left work later than usual, went to a meeting, still have work to do this weekend, but I feel at peace. I’ve surrendered. If only I could always surrender. I almost wish I did not have such a deep-rooted desire to write books. If I could just teach, or at least just teach during the year and ignore book writing until my breaks, I think I could be a more relaxed human being… Half the reason I fight 11 hour days at school is because I am so anxious to get home and work on my writing. My nagging need to produce words won’t go away.

This all leads me to you, kind reader. I must know. Do you surrender to one passion at a time or chase everything at once?

Today, a student gave me the most sincere letter of my teaching career, which will now live proudly on my home desk with the school bus, a humorous gift from a friend with me at the wheel. My heart is in it. So, why do I still need to do five things at once.

Today, a student gave me the most sincere letter of my teaching career, which will now live proudly on my home desk with the school bus, a humorous gift with me at the wheel. My heart is in it. So, why do I also need to be a published writer?

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Unexpected Fame: You’re the Goodest Teacher

Today as I walked my rowdy crew of fifth graders chomping at the bit to become middle-schoolers out for dismissal, a kindergartener in another line turned to me and said, “You’re the goodest teacher.”

I don’t know the child, but a whole lot of children I don’t know know me. I’ll be walking through the hall and receive an excited hello with my name. I’ll be headed to my car in the evening and hear a chorus of, “Good-bye Mrs. M! Good-bye!”

My favorite, though, is out in public. I’ll see a student at the grocery store, still dressed in uniform. He or she will stop in the aisle and stare at me like I could not possibly exist outside the tall black metal gates of our school. One little girl I had never met squealed and ran after her mom. “I JUST SAW MRS. M, FROM SCHOOL!”

Children in cars point at me through windows.

Turns out I’m pretty darn famous within a couple mile radius of my school. Not exactly the fame I hoped for as a child watching the academy awards, but instead something meaningful. A reminder that what I do matters to little people I don’t even know yet. Maybe one day they’ll sit in one of my big kid desks and then I’ll know their names.

Until then, I’m just grateful for a wayward compliment from a child who does not know me but must know I need a little love on a challenging day too.

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Celebrate Those Mistakes, Darn it!

I made a mistake today at work. I hate making mistakes. It was one of those memorable mistakes that I’ll carry with me until it is fully resolved. I wish I could explain more, but this is not the right forum. In simple terms, I put too much trust in a child who could not handle it.

At my last job, I made a big mistake early on. I prepared a presentation for my boss to deliver to the heads of a major bank but left out 90 or so of the 100+ slides. It was an error in communication. I misunderstood. As I sat by his side in a San Francisco high-rise, I had my first “oh, shit” moment at work. Thankfully, he did not fire me and everyone laughed. I got off easy.

It’s funny. I’m working to reframe how students see mistakes in my classroom. Maybe I should take my own advice. Instead of being embarrassed, I invite students to celebrate their mistakes and explain what they learned from them. Everyone grows in listening to each other. Students that participate are put on our Shout-Out Board for the week, under the heading, “Our most awesome mistakes we learned from!” They love it.

We kicked off this shift with a presentation about growth vs. fixed mindsets, emphasizing that intelligence is not fixed but earned through hard work. Sure some people have to work harder to get to the same place, but everyone is capable– a very powerful message that ties back to the whole idea that we need to praise kids for hard work instead of intelligence, (<– one of my favorite articles on parenting/teaching of all time).

Chart credit Pinterest.

Credit Pinterest.

Some companies are taking a similar approach by celebrating employees’ mistakes at work. Apparently, some pretty darn intelligent people believe that celebrating mistakes fuels innovation, risk-taking, and minimizes the repetition of company-wide mistakes made in the future. For all my business-minded readers out there, I recommend clicking that link.

So, tonight, instead of beating myself up, I wrote this post to celebrate the fact that I am human, I take risks and I make mistakes. The more I think about it, the more I also see that many of the risks I take at school pay off. Without my creative approaches to behavior management, I would not survive my job. While it sucks that I failed this time, I will make better mistakes tomorrow. Mission accomplished, mistake celebrated.

"I will make better mistakes tomorrow." Credit Pinterest. Side note: I'm a big fan of this tattoo positioning, had been thinking about one on my wrist, but like this better I think... Different words, though.

“I will make better mistakes tomorrow.” Credit Pinterest. Side note: I’m a big fan of this tattoo placement… Just saying 😉

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Teaching: An End to Week 16

Here is a little secret about teachers, or at least the ones I know. We number the school weeks from 1 to 40 as we plan. Week 16 just ended, reminding me we are almost halfway done. Still so much to learn. All those fractions, to decimals, to percents driving my kids crazy. Winter break just two weeks off. Gingerbread houses dangling over their heads like the promise of Santa watching to reward those who are naughty and those who are nice.

When I think of all the weeks I have already survived, I see a bumpy road of highs and lows. This week, thank goodness, was a high. My students worked hard, behavior was good. Only one student went to the office. Consistent behavior management is paying off, even if sometimes it feels painful. I get it though. When you let things slip, each slip gains momentum until suddenly you find yourself in the middle of disaster. Better to be consistently firm.

Week 16 was bittersweet. One of my students rapped in front of the school on Friday for our weekly Town Hall, telling the students “We don’t be rude, we be polite,” teaching assertiveness with four hundred little pairs of hands waving along with him. Still, his friend sat in the bleachers sulking because he lost his chance on the mic. Consistency is hard sometimes, even if it means you care enough about someone to recognize the long-term benefit.

It is strange how two years with the same kids makes you care about them so deeply. I know it goes both ways. They often call me Mom by mistake, the familiarity sometimes confusing when they’re not paying attention. I always respond in a syrupy voice, “Yes, darling?” Then we laugh. That’s the thing. When you spend more than six hours a day directly interacting in one small room, day in and day out, you really do become a family. Even my toughest kids, the ones who would never crack last year, can be made to smile in the middle of their fits.

So, as week 16 ends, I am reflective. I worked so hard to get this little motley crew to care about each other, and now they do, but soon enough they’ll be off to middle school and I’ll be left to start over again. I know this is teaching and I’m not sad exactly, just reflective. We have grown so much and I am grateful to be at a high point instead of a dip.

I leave you with my teaching team’s idea of a good joke. Our Napoleon Dynamite inspired snack day, a quesa-dila bar. Amazing how a little laughter at work makes the day better.

You're invited!

Teacher's Lounge


Quesadilla Bar

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Will Teach for Time

I am a collector of things you can cannot touch.  Words, pictures, memories.  Right now my focus is summer.  Today is day 13.  I do not know how many days remain.  Enough, I guess.  I refuse to count for fear they will disappear too quickly.

I would lie if I said that summer had nothing to do with my decision to become a teacher.  However, I could not teach if I did not like the work.  Ten months of misery would not be worth two months of freedom.  Instead, summer is the perk that makes the pay more tolerable, helps me through those days with angry parents, makes me smile when my classroom is in upheaval.  In my past work life, I discovered that time is worth more than money.

Summer is time.  Time to refuel.  Time to reflect and grow as a teacher, wife, friend, human being.  Time to do the jobs that do not pay but feed my soul.  Time to write.

Everyday I am asked by people who do not teach, “How is your summer going?”

Splendidly, I respond.  I’m actively collecting all those little moments that will get me through the inevitable challenges of the coming year:

Listened to my sister’s high school poetry night, got lost in words, some funny, some sad.

Sunflower in Fair Oaks with my husband, he rode his bike seven miles to meet me. I drove in an air conditioned car.

Veggie burrito, healthy, much tastier than it looks. While other moms took their kids for Happy Meals, mine took me here. We’d feed the chickens and play in the park. I developed a fear of roosters.

Veggie nachos, probably the winner, but don’t tell Alex.  He gloats too much when his choice is best.

Sunday dinners with family, swimming, eating, happy.

My birthday came a little early today, make that a month and a half to be exact. My sweet husband bought me a new recorder of words, which I’ll put to good use. The irony of marriage, I’d tell him not to buy it if he asked, but I’m grateful that he did. And, yes, that is the cat you see on our dining room table, maybe you should rethink coming to dinner, I’ve given up on chasing her, at least today.

Much like the dog, I’ve also lazed about. Recharging is required to be a happy teacher. Scratch that, recharging is required to be a happy human being.

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I just sat and listened…

In my old life, I belonged to a secret club of commuters.  I woke up three mornings a week at a quarter to six, caught the 7AM train from Sacramento to Richmond, then took BART to Berkeley and walked to work.  Door-to-door, my commute took two hours and twenty minutes each way.  I left the house each morning at 6:40 AM and returned each evening a little before 8PM.  I only intended to do this for a couple of months, but thanks to the bad economy I did it for almost one year.

A few rides into my new routine, I discovered that I was not alone.  There were dozens of people that rode the same route, some taking the train all the way down to San Jose or switching to a bus in Emeryville headed for downtown San Francisco.  We were all part of the same club, regardless of the length of our commute.  Many riders had been doing it for years, if not decades.  All had their own reasons.  Cheaper housing, spouses employed in Sacramento, kids attending certain schools, students unwilling to relocate.

The ambassador for the club was a little old Indian man who introduced himself the first time he spotted my 10-ride pass.  He asked me questions about my life, sized me up to figure out how long I would last.  Many commuters did not make it.  They quit before it ever became a routine.  But this little old man showed me the way of the train.  He made sure I knew about the secret commuter club parties– birthdays, anniversaries, engagements, all celebrated by the veteran commuters on a pre-planned car of the train.  They even threw a holiday party, complete with alcohol and dancing.  My little old friend was reputed to be quite the drunken dancer.

Introvert that I am, I avoided becoming a true member of the club.  I preferred to finish up my daily analyst work, read novels, write, and listen.  And, boy did I listen.  I heard so much on that train.  I listened to men and women start extramarital affairs.  I eavesdropped on conversations about healthy eating, train track suicides, inner-club gossip.  I knew who was supposed to be the bitch and who was losing custody of their kids.  Turns out people talk a lot when they sit on the train.  They also do their makeup, curl their hair, and drink, a lot.

I never knew that this little club of commuter warriors existed until I became a temporary interloper.  But, if you ever take Amtrak from Sacramento to the Bay Area, they are there, living out a portion of their lives on the train.  To make things more bearable, they have formed an eclectic little family.  If you stop to look and listen, you will find them.  I do not miss my commute, but I am grateful to know the secrets of the train.

My commuter badge of honor.

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The Illusive Twenty-Something Happiness

Damn you internet.

I’m trying to focus on writing but I got sucked into reading an article and then writing this blog simply by searching the correct way to write twenty somethings, (and, I still don’t have a freaking answer, looks like it could be twenty-somethings, twentysomethings, or twenty somethings, depending on who you ask!).

I guess that I’m already breaking one of my summer writing commandments by allowing myself to be distracted by the internet and social media instead of focusing on the task at hand.  Damn you again internet.

But, this was too good not to share:


Stumbled across this article about twenty somethings and happiness which cuts to the core of what I’m trying to write about in Expecting Happiness.  We are a generation obsessed with finding this magic key to life that may or may not exist.  Really, we’re probably no different than any other generation, we just happen to be the ones complaining right now.  Doesn’t every generation face the quintessential crisis of having to grow up and get a job?

Are we really that different for hoping we can change the work world into a more satisfying place?

I like that the article ended with a desire to bring our dogs to work.  My husband was pretty stoked when he found out he could bring Simon to his new office and we’ve envied other friends with this luxury for years.  Seems like we might be simpler to please than we pretend.  And, really, I can’t complain, Simon is pretty much always by my side as I write.

That’s why I’m convinced writers have it the best.  They can write from anywhere and achieve any of those desires mentioned in the article.  Now only to figure out how to get paid for doing it…

The only thing better than bringing your dog to work? Bringing you dog to work at the beach…

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