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Week 2 of Distance Teaching

It’s Monday, just past 6am, and I’ve been awake, off and on, since 3.

I finally threw off the illusion of sleeping and gave up at 5.

Foremost on my mind has been school.

Today marks the beginning of Week 2 of distance teaching.

Unlike last Monday, when nerves were on edge because of the unknown, this morning feels a little different.

Although I don’t exactly have a daily routine in place, I do have a better feel for what my weekdays will encompass.

There will be phone calls to check up on students I haven’t “seen” online.

There will be the usual flurry of emails – mostly from administrators reminding us of all of the behind-the-scenes minutia that must be done. There’s a lot more of that these days since everything we are doing is “behind the scenes” now.

In fact, even as I sit here composing this post, I can hear the sound of my email notification going off on my phone.

I dare not check . . . just yet.

There will be the inputting of grades – lots of them in my case because the online program my English 4 students are using has a lot of activities.

There will be exactly 5,794 Remind101 messages exchanged back and forth – my primary means of communicating with my students and answering their panicked requests for assistance.

I’ve always wanted to teach from home, but last week taught me a few things.

Lesson #1: It’s a little harder to unplug when your office happens to be the place where you live.

The overachiever in me has a hard time looking at my makeshift desk next to the TV and not thinking about the to-do list written in the notebook that sits beside my laptop.

That list is a siren beckoning me to do more.

And I did . . . do more . . on Sunday . . . because my face had makeup on it (I “dressed up” for online church), and I wanted to go ahead and make my weekly videos for my students while I was looking my best.

Lesson #2: Last week taught me that parents also have a hard time unplugging. They, like us, seem to be struggling with separating out school hours from home hours, as evidenced by the emails I received Friday night after 9pm and Sunday evening.

I chat frequently with my friend, Megan (I’ve mentioned her a time or two or a hundred on this here blog). We teach together, and she literally saves my brain from the stresses of the job because of the way we talk things out.

I love something she told me last week. She said that the sheer magnitude of dealing with craptons of messages didn’t allow her to instantly respond to her kids’ requests for help and, guess what?

The kids started figuring things out on their own.

Y’all, that’s not to say that we aren’t supposed to help, but why jump immediately?

I’m the kind of gal who likes to deal with things instantly. I do not have 500 unread texts and emails.

I just cannot live that way.

BUT, and that’s a huge BUT, I learned, like Megan, that because I cannot jump immediately due to being on long phone calls with parents, the kids DO figure things out.

Heck, four of my classes are reading classes. The kids are learning to read directions – to take advantage of the resources I’ve included with their assignments (lots of instructions and homemade videos) – to navigate real websites.

My kids are finally starting to take ownership of their learning. It’s hard for them – figuring out how to pace themselves in seven classes – but they are beginning to do it (not very well, in some cases, but the attempt is applauded).

Last week taught me some other things.

I have always been known as a teacher who calls home. A lot. These phone calls have usually been about behavior issues because when you teach the preps I do, less-than-stellar behaviors accompany the children.

But you guys, I’ve been making at least twenty phone calls a day just to connect with parents – to check that phone numbers work (most do not) and to grab good email addresses.

I’ve added more parents to my Remind101 rosters than I’ve ever had in the ten years I’ve been teaching, and the parents are loving it!

Last week taught me to go the extra mile for my ELL parents – those precious people whose first language isn’t English.

I remember getting a hold of one mom who, I quickly discerned, spoke NO English.

Talk about an awkward conversation!

Because I finally had her on the phone, my mind raced with what to do.

I tried using Google Translate’s audio feature to play my translation over my computer where the mom could hear.

That didn’t work.

She hung up on me.

Ha!

Then, I noticed a handy feature in Google Voice, which I’ve been using so I don’t give out my cell phone number. There was a text option.

So, I plugged in what I wanted to say in Google Translate, copied and pasted the text from Translate to Google Voice’s texting option, and voila!

The mom TEXTED ME BACK!!

Google Voice translated her words to English for me.

It was absolutely the most incredible thing ever!

That moment right there humbled me.

These sweet ELL parents love their children as much as everyone else, but they are stymied by many things – primarily language barriers.

In that moment of connecting with this mom, I had to ask myself how hard had I really tried, for all of these years, to reach ALL of my parents?

I was able to reach out to several of my ELL parents in this manner, and let me tell you that the feeling of amazement was incredible each and every time.

I know this post is long, and if you’ve read all the way through it, you have my thanks.

This pandemic, as awful as it is, truly does have some blessings.

One of them is the opportunity to grow as a person as I continue to hone my craft.

Please continue to pray for teachers as we start to settle in. Please pray for wisdom as we address ongoing technical issues. One of my students emailed me last night because she has been going to a friend’s house to try to get online since the at-home wifi connection the school provided hasn’t been working very well (how many of our students are having the same issues?).

Most of all, pray for our world and that this virus will be eradicated sooner rather than later.

Learning new things is fine; however, the context in which we are being forced to do so isn’t okay.

Have a great week, y’all!

Back to School 2.0

Today is our first day back to school since March 13th, the Friday before Spring Break. That afternoon, after we’d left school, we received notification that we would be out an extra week after Spring Break and that when we “returned,” it would be for online classes until at least April 15th.

So, today is Back to School Day.

I really should have titled this post Back to School 5.0 because y’all, we here in the Florida Panhandle have had to go through the Back to School experience five times since 2018 (the year we got hit by Hurricane Michael).

I went to my classroom last Monday to grab a few things I thought I would need to work from home, and let me tell you that walking up to the school on what should have been a loud, busy morning, was weird.

There weren’t many people on campus. In fact, we weren’t allowed to visit without permission from an administrator. I wound up seeing two people that day – all from afar.

The only gate that was unlocked was the one past our cafeteria, so I had a bit of a hike.

I walked through the courtyard where students are usually occupying tables – either eating breakfast or visiting with their friends.

I saw a random pencil on the ground and exhaled a deep sigh of sadness. It’s funny how a small object like this can bring about a strong feeling of wistfulness for what was, once upon a time, normalcy.

As I entered my building, I first noticed the stale smell of unmoved air.

We had, after all, been on Spring Break.

It was also dark. We usually have both sets of lights turned on.

Walking into my room reminded me of the first time I got to visit it after Hurricane Michael.

I saw the things that had been left sitting out before the world as we knew it changed so completely . . . the game of Uno that my students had played on the rare free day I’d gifted them with . . .

The thing that got my heart so much was seeing the calendar that hangs from the bulletin board beside my desk.

I always have the days crossed off in anticipation of when I’ll be entering my room again, and seeing March 23 all ready for me was so sad. It reminded me of the date that was hanging there when we got back from our hurricane “vacation.”

PTSD y’all.

It is a real thing.

Oh the feelings of deja vu from that 2018 post-hurricane return to school . . . such as the agenda on my whiteboard . . .

The saying on my letter board (unchanged from the first day of school, I’m afraid) . . .

Preview(opens in a new tab)

Teachers live for their routines. Truth be told, so do students.

I gathered what I knew I needed – the stuff I’d already added to my “pick-up-from-school” list on my phone – and what I thought I might need (not stuff on my list).

I know I took stuff I probably wouldn’t need, such as the boxes of yarn and knitting needles under my cabinet. They’re specifically for kids (I used to have students who knit during lunch), so I’m going to offer them up for grabs in my neighborhood’s Facebook group.

My take-home pile included some of the lesson packets I’d copied before Spring Break. Of course, my district is having us follow their own scripted curriculum, so most of my plans are out the window now, but last Monday, everything was still fluid.

I stayed about thirty minutes before deciding to leave.

Y’all, this is my home away from home, so it was bittersweet. As much as I love being home, I’ve created a space that is comfortable to work in, and the knowledge that I wouldn’t be in it for who knows how long was hard in that moment.

See you laters are never easy.

On the wall in the hallway outside of my room, I noticed the list of test dates I’d taped up – dates that no longer mattered (do I hear clapping?).

I also saw the prom poster I’d hung up, and oh word, but I felt so badly for my students.

As of this writing, the prom is still up in the air. Honestly, nobody is holding their breaths, but our kiddos – especially this class of seniors – has been through SO MUCH since Hurricane Michael, so they’re not giving up hope just yet.

One could say that this doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things, and you’d be right; however, it’s one more thing for our kiddos to deal with, and I think it’s okay to admit that it’s hard.

And so we move on to the next chapter – one that will be fraught with more highs and lows as we begin the process of educating our children virtually.

I’m a bit anxious because I like to anticipate issues that might crop up, but I’m also smart enough to know that no matter how much I plan, this will ultimately be a learning process for all of us.

I pray that we would all be mindful of this, and that we will be quick to grant grace to one another as we will surely make some mistakes along the way.

Please pray for those of us in education as we begin to establish a new normal for ourselves and the students we serve.

Begin With the End in Mind

Today is Saturday, and my goal for the day is to do as little as possible.

Why?

Well, because I just finished my first week of the new school year, and this teacher is dog tired.

But wait! I’m getting ahead of myself.

Let’s back up to last Thursday.

When I got home from my pre-planning day, I called my friend, Megan, who I’ve had the pleasure of working with for seven years. As we were chatting, I mentioned something about going to school the next day, and she asked me why?

You see, we didn’t have to work! The school district was still on the four-day work week schedule it follows during the summer. Someone I work with had told me that we did have to work. Good gravy!

It was a good thing that I’m an overachiever! I’d left my classroom near-ready when I’d left on Thursday.

Thank heavens!

I spent the weekend working hard around the house. I also prepped food for the week.

That’s Soul-Warming Stew and Dumplings from A Virtual Vegan’s new cookbook. It is absolutely divine!!!

The recipe makes a TON of food and, hence, lots of leftovers.

I also made a batch of Chewy Peanut Butter Granola Bars.

Oh, and this Vegan Chocolate Tart begged to be made.

It has an Oreo cookie crust which, surprisingly, is vegan.

I sliced the tart up into sixteen pieces because it was so rich.

I also texted two of my teacher friends who love my vegan cooking and offered to take slices of chocolate heaven to them for the first day of school. I didn’t exactly have to twist their arms to say yes. Ha!

Sunday night, I watched Big Brother and set my weights out for the next morning.

Then, I set all five of my alarms – thirty minutes apart – and headed off to Dreamland.

And then this happened . . .

If you’ve ever been a teacher or are one currently, you’ve experienced the fear of oversleeping on the first day.

I gave up the fight around 3:45am, got up, and worked out.

Because I’d gotten up so early, I was ready to go by 7:10. My goal had been 7:00, so I was doing okay.

Here’s my back-to-school picture.

That’s a dress I’d bought in Atlanta, and I’d been saving it ever since our trip because I knew I wanted to wear it for the first day. It was light, airy, professional, and so comfortable!

Poor Gambit. He wasn’t thrilled to see me head out. I felt a little badly because this would be his first go-round of long days without his brother by his side. 😦

I grabbed my cup of London Fog (Tea Latte) and said see you later to my fur baby.

Can I just tell you that it doesn’t matter how many years you’ve been teaching. You still get nervous.

When I walked into my classroom, I saw my letter board at the front of my room, and my nerves settled down.

Y’all, that’s how I run my life. It’s especially true of my teaching.

We had homeroom, and then the gauntlet began.

My schedule this year begins with a senior reading class. It’s a small class since most of my juniors passed their reading test last year. This class is comprised of mostly students I taught last year. It was so comforting to me and to them, quite honestly.

Class flew by.

My next two classes were junior reading classes. I knew none of them, so there was a flurry of new faces and names.

Fortunately, I’d created an alphabetical seating chart and had posted instructions on my Smartboard. The kids were surprised to learn that they had to turn their phones off and put them in corresponding pouches in my cell phone holder.

Amazon for the win!

That’s not the one I have, but I am going to order it because it’s more durable than the one I currently have.

This was a system that served me well last year, so I’m continuing it again this year. Everyone complied, though, so I didn’t have any issues.

Y’all, the first day of school is tremendously crazy. There’s attendance to take for faces and names you don’t know. There are new kiddos constantly coming in because they got lost trying to find your room or had impromptu schedule changes.

It was nuts.

There are questions about what the class is about, why the heck am I in here (not me but them), and can I go to the bathroom (maybe this is me as well as them).

Nutso.

But wonderful because this teacher had a plan.

I have first lunch, which was ridiculously early and a first for me.

Then, fourth period came in – my English 4 class. These are seniors – about 3/4 of whom I taught last year.

Another comfort, let me tell you.

Then came my 5th period class – comprised of mostly boys.

Very active and loud boys.

I knew, instantly, that this would be my “spirited” group.

Oh y’all. Most kids are very well behaved the first couple of days of school.

Not this crew.

So, I had to put on my non-smiling face and cut to the chase.

Yep. It’s sad to say, but I immediately knew that if I didn’t set the standard immediately, they’d be running my class.

After five days with them, I can honestly say that though they will take a lot of my energy because of the constant attention they’ll require, I’m pretty certain that they are going to be among my favorite kiddos.

Their personalities are big, and they are so funny (although I can’t let them think that quite yet).

Sixth period, I had planning.

This was a reminder that God certainly is in the details. He knew that I’d need a break after my 5th period class.

I had earned my chocolate tart snack.

Now, let’s talk about seventh period. That’s another English 4 class. Most of the seniors were kids I’d taught last year. There’s a sprinkling of some who’d had another teacher, so I didn’t know them.

I’d been a bit concerned when I’d previewed the roster. They were a loud group last year.

Let me tell you that this combination of kids, slightly different from my sixth period last year, is going to mesh together so well.

There’s a young lady in there who loves me. I didn’t realize just how strong of a bond we’d developed last year until I’d seen her in Guidance during my planning, and she was yelling at the people in there – demanding that she be placed in my class. She’s sassy but she’s had a hard life and clings tight to those she trusts.

My heart, y’all. THIS is why I teach.

Seriously though.

The day ended, and I was actually smiling.

The rest of the week went by pretty smoothly.

I slowly introduced classroom procedures and began conveying my expectations.

I even took up my first pair of slides for the year. The kiddo had a pair of sneakers in his bag, so he knew what he was doing. Sheesh.

I discovered my new favorite pens because y’all, writing utensils are important things for teachers.

Office Depot for the win!

We did a book speed dating activity on Tuesday, and my kids were reading self-selected novels by Wednesday.

Don’t those pictures put a smile on your face?

My kids were so happy when I told them that I’d be giving them twenty minutes a day for reading. One even said that NOBODY does that.

Well, kiddo, I do because I know how important it is and that you’ll have no time to do it outside of class.

I also modeled reading by opening up this brand new book and reading along with my kids.

Late in the week, I showed my reading classes their test scores from the spring. They hadn’t seen them since the scores hadn’t come back until the summer (the state of Florida is ridiculously slow in EVERYTHING they do).

Several years ago, I created this form, which I hand out to students so they can record their scores and write some reflections about them.

I tell the kids that knowledge is power, and they have to know what they’re facing if they’re going to improve. I liken it to a game against an opponent, which is certainly true with this thing we call testing. They were immensely grateful for the real talk we had and the time I allowed for this activity.

I have to tell you that this was the first year that I can remember starting school on a Monday. We usually don’t get started until a Wednesday.

I was soooo happy when Friday rolled around. Although we were encouraged to wear red for school spirit, I wanted to wear a new t-shirt I’d bought a week ago.

By the time my last class rolled around on Friday, we were exhausted.

One of my girls – the one I wrote about earlier in this post – broke down in tears as she was reading the book she’d selected.

Something she read had hit her hard, and we stepped into the hallway to talk about it. Poor girl. I saw such a different side of her in that moment. It solidified our bond. The power of books, y’all. Just wow!

When I left for home on Friday, I was pleased but tired.

After letting Gambit out to potty, we settled in for a short nap. He was so happy to have me home.

This had been the best first week of school that I can remember having in a long time. I don’t exactly know why.

Maybe it was because I’m teaching a lot of the same kids I taught last year.

Maybe it’s because I like my preps.

Maybe it’s because I saw the hope on the faces of the juniors who suddenly realized how important my course is and why they need to be on their game.

Maybe it’s because I have my eyes on the prize – the end that we are aiming for – and I can’t wait to see my kiddos reach their goals.

Year 10 had started off quite well, and this teacher just couldn’t ask for more (except maybe winning the lottery, which would be perfectly acceptable). 🙂

Worn Out Wednesday

It is Wednesday, and I am tired.

I am sitting at four days until the first day of the school year, and I am completely worn out already.

There have been days upon days of meetings.

There have been hours upon hours of lesson planning.

There have been pages upon pages of course descriptions, data tracking sheets, and lesson plan materials copied.

The only time I am a list person is the week before school.

Truth be told, I could probably teach tomorrow if I had to.

No, things wouldn’t be up to my standards, but I could do it.

But I’m not because my schedule may be changing, last-minute, so there may be many tweaks that need to be done . . . lesson plans to be adjusted, class folder buckets to be relabeled, binders to reorganize, and rosters to reprint . . . to name a few.

There isn’t an Easy Button when it comes to teaching.

Heaven help this over-planning, overachieving girl.

That was last night’s photo. I’m currently up to 59 pages in my Smartboard file.

Please say a prayer for all of us education folks.

The excitement of a new school year is there, for sure, but it comes with a price – lost sleep, sore muscles from moving rearranging furniture fifty times, and headaches from looking at our computers too long each day.

Four days, y’all.

I’ve got this!

You Say

Dear Heavenly Father,

I have to tell you a little something.

You really got me in my feelings this morning.

Oh, I know that You know this, but it’s still something that I need to acknowledge.

Despite my stubborn heart, which has been extremely resistant to the training I’m being required to sit through these past few days, You have been speaking to my heart in the tenderest of ways.

Yesterday, when in-service began, it quickly became apparent that I had sat through this training before, several years ago, only branded with a different name.

I reacted the same way many of my students do when I require them to get out of their chairs and talk to each other.

I balked.

I complained.

No, I was not the model teacher yesterday.

My introverted, stubborn self took over despite the fact that I was among friends.

The training involved various activities to help engage our students.

I was having none of it, let me tell you.

Then came the structure that began the shift in my heart.

It happened when we were tasked with finding a partner, responding to three questions, and then reversing roles.

I can’t remember what the first question was, but I sure do remember the second one:

“What do you like about me or our community?”

We had to do this activity THREE times.

Ugh.

My first partner was a new-to-us teacher. He couldn’t really answer what he liked about me. I wasn’t offended.

The second teacher’s response started melting my heart.

She told me that she liked that during meetings, I contributed helpful things I’d done in my classroom.

Although she’s a young teacher, I’d call her a veteran. Her mama has been in the education system for many years as well.

She knows her stuff.

I may have cracked a real smile.

But then . . . my third partner . . oh my heart.

When he answered the question about me, my jaw dropped to the floor. He said,

“What I like about you is that your students like you.”

I looked at him in confusion and even asked if he was sure he was talking about the correct teacher.

He assured me that he was and that his students had, indeed, repeated that statement.

This was a bit of a shock to me because I am a strict teacher. I value structure in my classroom and hold my students to very high expectations. I have a reputation among students, and it’s not always in the affirmative.

I’m not what I would consider one of the “popular” teachers. My introverted nature means I’m often more serious, and I’m cautious of people after being burned in the past. I tend to stay in my own lane. Sure, I am silly in my room, but I’m also tough on my kids. I hold their feet to the fire, and that is not always received well.

You see, God, while I’d like to believe that I don’t really care what people think of me, the truth is that I want to be liked.

More than that, my heart longs to be accepted.

Those words lifted my spirits, improved my mood, and helped me go home in a better mood than when I’d arrived.

And then, Lord, as if I hadn’t heard Your message enough, You spoke to me during my devotion this morning when You inspired the writer to explain that the Hebrew meaning of the word “breath” is literally “breath of God.” The devotion went on to explain that we should use our words to breathe life into others.

Powerful.

And then, as if yesterday’s training and this morning’s devotion weren’t enough, You spoke to me through the music I played as I got ready for work.

“You Say” reminded me that I’m enough.

“Speak Life” instructed me to go out and breathe life into others, whether it is the adults I work with or the students who will soon enter my classroom.

Just as I gained confidence and was inspired and motivated by the words that were spoken to me yesterday, through an activity that I didn’t want to participate in, so I must turn around and do the same for others.

I hear you, Lord, and I thank you for Your grace, forgiveness, and attention to my heart’s longings.

I thank you for reminding me that it’s okay to be me – that I don’t have to be like the “popular” teachers to positively impact lives.

Truly, You are a good God.

Another Day, Another Training

Welcome to Day 2 in the calendar year of a teacher’s life.

I started off my morning with a workout. Since it was my active recovery day from Beachbody’s LIIFT4 program (I’m on Week 4), I had carefully weighed my options.

I had found a sample workout from the Meltdown 100 program, but when I previewed it last night, I saw that it involved weights. Knowing that I would have a shoulder workout tomorrow, I decided to forgo it. Instead, I surprised Gambit with a pre-dawn walk.

Gambit had the absolute BEST time and managed to pull me at a fairly brisk pace for the first mile and a half. He started losing steam around the midway point but seemed content when we finished.

Just look at the gorgeous sunrise we were treated to when we finished.

Notice our lack of trees and the ones that are slanted – evidence that a Cat 5 hurricane came through last October

Gambit was worn slap out when we got home but his smile – oh my heart!

After living in running shoes and workout clothes all summer, I had trouble deciding between two different shoes – hello Megan for fashion advice.

For the record, I went with the sandals.

Onward to training!

The training was Kagan – rebranded – which I had many days of several years ago.

Sigh.

I did enjoy the company of my fellow teachers, so there was that.

The good thing was that we got out at 2:30 – thirty minutes earlier than expected.

Gambit was thrilled when I walked into the house. He gave me the major sniff-over to find out where I’d been before promptly going outside and sunning himself.

Oh y’all, all I want is to be in my classroom prepping for the actual classes I’m teaching.

Sigh.

Wishes and reality are two very different things, though, so I’ll be heading into Day 3 tomorrow.

Say a prayer for all of us teachers as we sit through another day of meetings.

Back to the Grind

Summers are like weekends – time accelerates, and before you know it, they are over, and you’re bemoaning the fact that work is calling you back to the office.

Well, folks, the office has called, and it wants its teachers back. That is why I, along with several hundred of my fellow education professionals, found ourselves scattered across the district sitting through the first of several days of in-service.

Although seeing my friends is always fun, and teaching truly is my calling, my heart longs for home.

Home is my safe place – my place where I create all of the fun dishes, where I maintain all of the green stuff (hello yard, I’m talking about you), and where I knit all the things.

Spicy Chili With Cornbread Topping
Brownie Batter Ice Cream (vegan)

It’s also where I can pee whenever I want instead of when the bells allow.

Yeah, I’d say that letting go of summer is difficult for me each year.

But my calling – to teach high school kids who struggle with their reading – well, it’s something I can’t ignore and not just because my bills remind me but because God led me on this path several years ago.

As I craft this post, schedules are being ironed out for children who are either already enrolled or are in the process of moving and will be enrolled soon.

I’m not quite sure what my personal schedule will look like, but I believe that I will be teaching juniors and seniors again. That makes me happy because these kiddos are one step away from their first big milestone – graduation.

And so it is that I got up to a 4am alarm, had my workout finished by 5:30, fed the dog by 6:30, and was out the door by 7:15.

Back to the grind, y’all.

I am on a mission – to bring home the vegan bacon and change young lives in the process.

Year 9 of Teaching

Although this past Friday was the last day of school for students, it wasn’t until after I’d attended a final meeting Tuesday morning that I could officially close the book on my ninth year of teaching.

You wouldn’t have known, from looking at the picture above, that the following was my face just an hour before . . .

Y’all, that is the face of a teacher who had gone through one of the hardest years in her career.

Truth be told, the year had gotten off to a rocky start early on. I remember telling my friend, Megan, after less than a month in, that it was already a hard year.

Little did we know that, a month after that conversation, what we would be called to deal with would stretch us to our limits.

I have always started out each school year with a fresh perspective; summer vacations are restorative must-dos for teachers due to the taxing nature of our profession.

It had not taken long, though, before I and fellow teachers were completely up to our eyeballs in oversized classes and too many preps. I considered myself fortunate that I only had two; some teachers had three or four with 30-40 students in each of them. Personally, I had 180 students – the most I’ve ever had and way too many considering that most of my students were low level 1 kids with great deficiencies in reading comprehension skills. Some of the kids came to me twice because of the way the scheduling was done, and many were resentful of that.

I can’t say that I blamed them. One class period with Mrs. Auburnchick is enough for anyone.

Ha!

Another thing that was hard at the beginning of the year, and quite frankly continued throughout, was that I had to fight hard for everything. There were kids who did not belong in some of my classes, and it was a real struggle to get them placed appropriately. A few wound up staying, which was frustrating because I knew that this wasn’t in their best interest.

Despite all of the angst, I settled in the best I could – determined to help my students pass the stupid FSA or make a concordant score on the SAT or ACT.

Hurricane Michael’s landfall and utter destruction threw everything out of kilter. It hit the day we were supposed to take our first School Day SAT, and my students were devastated. All of their hard work, because they knew that their chances of passing the stupid FSA were slim, felt all for naught.

We did the best we could, returned to school over a month later, but found ourselves with a half-day schedule (which I loved) and housed at a small middle school.

Kids had a hard time adjusting to beginning their academic day at 7am, although most were thankful that we were getting out at noon. Many of our kids found jobs because a huge chunk of the adult workforce had to relocate due to businesses being closed and homes being too damaged to live in. Places like Walmart couldn’t hire enough people, so they closed early.

I actually felt more of a community love during those hectic months. Being housed in a tiny school put us in closer proximity. We shared more conversations and had to be especially flexible in all things. As an introvert, this was both difficult yet soothing. I don’t do well in chaos surrounded by a lot of people, but this brought me out of my shell.

I did return to school with the same expectations for my students. Some were grateful for the academic challenges; others expected to sit and do nothing, which did not work in my classroom at all.

We made do, though, and eventually returned to our own campus. We had yet another schedule to adjust to because the state was demanding that we make up some of the time, and classrooms were a half-mile apart because of the portables that 3/4 of our teachers had to move into since so many of our buildings were too damaged to use.

Y’all, a Cat 5 hurricane wreaks absolute havoc on everything it touches, and repairs do not happen quickly at all.

We adjusted, though, but it was about March or April when I started seeing more extreme signs of PTSD emerge from my students. They were emotional wrecks with so much STUPID testing ahead of them.

You want to know why I was so teary-eyed in my second photo? It was partially because of how extra hard the Florida Department of Education made things for us.

This office on high refused to even consider test waivers for our sweet kids who had endured so much.

We had seniors who were scrambling to pass because the state refused to look at them as actual human beings – traumatized beyond anything we’d seen.

Do you know how hard it is to have students tell you that they probably won’t be at school the next week because they are getting kicked out of their rental, can’t find a house, and will be moving two hours away?

This happened many times a week.

Our school district had an increase in student mental health issues and a ridiculously high number of kids who were Baker Acted. When kids don’t feel like they can make it one more day but are required to take ten to fifteen exams, you know something is wrong with the Powers that Be.

Disillusionment set in – for all of us. Students repeatedly told me that the state didn’t care about them, which I agreed with, and I myself felt that the state didn’t care about teachers either.

We were still expected to jump through performance evaluation hoops – some mandated by the state and others mandated locally. There were other things teachers were told to do that I did not agree with ethically.

Sigh.

Now, I know that I’m sounding all negative, so I need to change gears for a few minutes and talk about the good stuff.

First of all, I loved watching my students put up their phones when they walked into class each day. I’d decided, last summer, to get much more strict on this policy this year, and I’d started from the first day. Students grew to be less distracted by their phones, although there were times when they would look at them hanging in the pocket holder and wonder who was texting them. I think this freed them up to really keep up with what we were doing and participate more in class discussions.

Of course, there were the celebrations when students did make their concordant scores. One young lady was ready to give up this spring. She was burned out from all of the testing she’d done, so it was very satisfying to tell her that she’d passed the stupid FSA (every now and then, one of my struggling readers will pass it).

I loved hearing, near the end of our final week, kids thanking me for being a good teacher. That meant the world to me.

I loved watching my kids from last year and the few who did early graduation this year walk across the stage to get their diplomas.

I’m not Mr. Flint, but I can imitate him quite well, thank you very much.
Pre-graduation shenanigans in the gym
This young man headed out to Marine boot camp the morning after graduation.
You’d never know from this silly photo, but this young man took care of an elderly woman through the hurricane. They both stayed, and he bailed out water from her home in the middle of the storm. When I saw him after the storm, I asked, “Were you scared?” He said, “Yesssssss, girl. I was screaming my head off.” Ha! He’s one of my heroes.

Graduation has always been the highlight of my year. It represents all of the hard work put in over the years – all of the loving poured into these kids – making them believe in themselves.

In fact, one of my students told me one of the last days of school that I was her favorite teacher. She told me that she’d been afraid to come into my room because other kids had told her that I was super strict. She said that she understood why I was strict, and that while some teachers said, “Poor girl” if she didn’t understand something (she’s ELL), I would tell her, “You can do this.”

That’s what I love most about teaching. It’s moments like this one that the people who wear fancy suits and work in beautiful, window-lined buildings (wish I could see outside my classroom) do not understand and that no amount of tweeting will get them to take notice of.

This year, I taught two English 3 classes. Y’all, after I figured out that my kids couldn’t do subject-verb agreement, we went back to the very beginning of grammar – to the parts of speech.

That is ALL we did for an entire semester because when kids don’t understand something, I slow down and teach them until they do. Even if they don’t do well on my tests (because the state says that’s the only way to measure growth), I know that my kids have progressed when I see what they are doing in my room on a daily basis.

I watched as wheels started turning in my kids’ heads as they started piecing together the different components of the grammar puzzle – how those parts worked together in their writing.

I heard one guy say, “My mama will whoop me good for talking all proper at home, so I have to talk a different way and not act like I’m better than her.” That might seem sad to you, but it was an aha moment for my kiddo who recognized that there are certain situations when you speak in certain ways.

Progress – not perfection.

My class was a safe place to make mistakes in the journey as they progressed.

What a journey it was this year too.

I was able, in the last few days of school when we were on a whack testing schedule, to talk to Flint (the Flint of the sign above). We reflected on the year. He always tells me what a wonderful teacher I am. Compared to him, Megan, and a few others I can think of, I don’t feel so great. I am not the SGA extraordinaire that Megan is. I’m not the fly-easy kind of guy that Flint is. As he and I talked, I told him that I have to manage my energy levels carefully, so I’ve tried to be more balanced and, instead, put everything I have into my lesson planning. We reflected on how grateful we were that we are veteran teachers now who have prior years’ worth of plans to lean on, tweak, or create from. With all that we had going on this year, we didn’t have to add the heaviness of being new teachers in our first or second years on top of that.

Despite that, we were exhausted.

It’s no wonder that the last day of school found me dressed, well, not in my best stuff, although Auburn attire is always spot on.

Floor decor courtesy of Hurricane Michael

I had prepped my room all that last week, so by Friday, I was able to lock my door for the summer.

I ran to the school that Monday to make the obligatory visit and turn in my keys before heading home to hang up my bag and lunch box.

I did return that afternoon to celebrate the retirement of three of our teachers. I’ll miss them and will admit to being jealous that they are closing out this chapter of their lives. State and local mandates are making me long for the day when it’s my turn. I am physically and emotionally depleted.

For right now, I’m content to retreat to my home, lick my wounds, and let God restore my tender heart, which has been too busy taking care of my teenage charges to completely mend from a beyond-challenging year.

If you need me, I’ll be working out, sunning myself, napping, and knitting – whilst enjoying homemade margaritas and yummy vegan dishes prepared by yours truly.

Here’s to Year 9 – a year when I lapsed a bit on #findingjoyinthejourney but plan a more positive approach/return to Year 10.

Seven Weeks – Hurricane Fatigue

Seven weeks have passed since Hurricane Michael hit my town, and one word describes the prevailing feeling around here:  tired.

I know that we just had a week off of school (Thanksgiving), and that we are only three days into the our return, but after talking to fellow teachers, a common thread repeats itself – we are tired.

I’ve mentioned the phrase “hurricane brain” a few times here, but I think we’ve moved into the next stage of recovery.  Yes, we are tough, and yes, we are proving ourselves to be resilient; however, we are paying a hefty price as we are saddled by the weighty feeling that comes with unending exhaustion.

Most of us are back at work.  For teachers, that involves a crap ton of planning, which was an all-encompassing task before the hurricane.  Now, we are doing this and then going home to deal with insurance adjusters, contractors (if they even call back), damaged roofs, and missing fences.  We are getting bills adjusted (hello, Xfinity, but why is my balance still wrong?), spending inordinate amounts of time in the car (traffic is still a nightmare), and trying to figure out how to shop for Christmas gifts now because most stores are still closed.

It doesn’t help that as we drive, we pass unending piles of debris lining the roads.  Getting to our homes requires us to dodge the contents of entire homes.  This is a draining experience when you do it day in and day out.

You know the feeling you get when your house is dirty?  Not only is it an eyesore, but you’re tired just looking at it and feel a load lighten after you’ve cleaned.

This is how we are living.

Every single day.

The only reprieve we have is when trucks come by and pick up piles of debris.  For now, they are only handling the trees and other vegetation.  Those piles are never-ending.

The sad thing is that our kids are coming to school absolutely exhausted.  Many of my students told me that Thanksgiving had been awful because they’d had to work.  I’m seeing evidence of their fatigue in the stories they are writing.

There’s really no downtime, which is what we need to mentally and physically recover.  If we’re not busy trying to think straight, we are still clearing out debris or helping others with their own cleanup.

Putting coherent thoughts together is proving to be difficult as well.  Today, I was able to get my room ready for my 5th period class (I have planning fourth period), and it was the first time since early October that I felt good about my little corner of academia.

We are all out of sorts since we are sharing classrooms and making do without many of the things we left behind at our home schools.

One way I am finding solace is, ironically, through nature.

The same hand that allowed Hurricane Michael to ravage the landscape I call home is also painting the most gorgeous sunrises I’ve ever seen.

I might not have seen these if I didn’t have to leave the house at o’dark thirty for work.

These are sunrises I might not have noticed if I didn’t have to walk my dogs on a leash in my own yard because my fences are gone.

Seven weeks might seem like a long time to some people, but for those of us trying to recover from this storm, it feels incredibly short.  I, for one, look forward to the day when I wake up feeling refreshed, not weighed down by the heaviness that descended the moment I heard that a Cat 4 storm was headed my way.

A friend commented that with all of our personal issues:  my ankle, the Mr.’s sickness, and now this storm, we’ve certainly had no rest for the weary.  She spoke truth.

When GMA Came to Town

It’s Sunday morning, and as I’m sitting here enjoying the quiet and my hot chocolate, I’m also beginning to contemplate on tomorrow – the start of our first full week back to school.

The three days we were back before Thanksgiving Break were short, intense, and emotional.  It was probably a good thing we didn’t have to attend five days, because I don’t know if our hearts could have taken so much so soon.

Before I jump into the week ahead of me, I want to take a few minutes to reflect on the week that’s just ended.  Also, this post is long.  Please bear with me and read to the end.  I promise that you won’t regret it.

The week was one that was filled with incredible high points.  Probably one of the most memorable was when Good Morning America came to town.

Yes, that’s right.  Good Morning America.  As in the national morning show that’s on ABC.

You see, it all started with an idea that started with one man (or was it two?) and quickly escalated into one that involved hundreds of people.

If you’re new to my blog, let me just give you the short of things to bring you up to speed.

I am a teacher, and I live in Lynn Haven, Florida.  On October 10th, Hurricane Michael hit my beautiful corner of the world.  Officially, it was a Category 4 storm, but everyone knows that the winds far exceeded the 2mph difference from it being bumped up to a Cat 5.

Mexico Beach and Tyndall Air Force Base were leveled.  Surrounding cities such as mine were left nearly completely devastated.  Every home and business was damaged, many to the extent that they are unusable.

As the days and weeks go by, I’ll be sharing more of my own pictures.  Because we went six weeks without cable or internet and had little to no cell phone service, I’ve been slow to get caught up.  I will, though, because you guys need to see what I and others have been living with.

Nearly all of the schools in my county were damaged, and many of them, including mine, have been closed for repairs.  Every high school is sharing space with another school.  My school, Bay High, is conducting class at one of our feeder middle schools, Jinks.  It’s the school that had its gym completely gutted during the storm.  High school students are attending class from 7-12, and middle school students attend from 1-6.

Anyhow, fast forward to the past couple of weeks.

Here’s a three-minute video that explains how this came about.

The staff started receiving emails about this exciting event, and we began sharing the news with our kids.  Donations began pouring in as companies partnered with Greg and Mr. Smith, Jinks’s principal.  Ernie Hall, from Just the Cook, also jumped in.  Volunteers were requested.  Invitations were sent home with students.

The local media picked up the story, and before I knew it, I heard that Good Morning America would also be covering it.

This was music to our ears.  You see, although we’ve had groups coming in to help our area, the news of the devastation and recovery had faded from the news outside of our locale.  We didn’t want to be forgotten about.  There were (and are) so many, many hurting people who need a lot of help still.

A plethora of students, teachers and office staff, parents, and others in the community not necessarily affiliated with the school answered the call for help.  I met a couple who were Snowbirds.  They were staying at the beach, had heard about what we were doing, and came over to help.  They were so nice!

Preparations began in earnest last weekend.  Trucks of supplies needed to be unloaded so that the kitchen and a pantry could be stocked.  Y’all, the pantry was for diners to shop in, for free, so that they’d have food to carry home and prepare.  Greg and company had thought of everything!

Last Monday, after I did my own grocery shopping for the meal I would prepare my family, I went to the school.  It was a buzz of activity.  There were many people in the kitchen cooking up turkeys and dressing.  There were people sitting in the cafeteria pulling turkey off of bones.

I wound up filling up baggies of ingredients needed to bake cookies.  Have you ever heard of cookies in a jar?  Well, think of this as cookies in a bag.

The Nestle Corporation had donated at least a truck (maybe more) of baking supplies.

The plan was to have volunteers take home bags of cookie mix to bake and return.  Each baggy made four dozen.

While we waited for more brown sugar to arrive, I counted how many bags, at that point, were left.  It was over a hundred.  I figure in total, there must have been a couple hundred of them.  I posted a request for assistance in my homeowners group on Facebook, and one gal answered!  I took four bags to her house and took four of them for myself.

With all of that baking ahead of me, I decided to pamper myself first and had my nails done – a treat since I hadn’t gotten all prettied up since September, before the storm hit.

Funny (and awkward) story here.  I didn’t know, while I was getting pampered, that I was sitting next to (and then across from as my nails dried) Greg’s daughter.  I mean, I suspected it was her, but I wasn’t sure.  I taught her two years ago when she was in the ninth grade, but the girl sitting in front of me looked a little more mature.  I found out the next day that it had been her.  Sheesh.  I’ll just chalk that one up to hurricane brain.  It’s a thing, don’t you know.

The Mr. and I ran out for dinner since I hadn’t been home all day to cook.  Did you know that TGI Friday’s has a vegan burger that looks and tastes like the real thing?  It wasn’t to my liking, but the Mr., a carnivore, said he’d eat it.

When we got home, we picked up my neighbor’s cookies (how she did them so fast, I have no idea).  Then, I got to work.

I’d tried to queue up the finale of Dancing With the Stars, but I got upset when my DVR had missed the first half hour.  I called Super Sis in tears.

Can I just interrupt my post for a second to tell you something very real?

Although we are nearly seven weeks post-hurricane, we are not okay.  We try to be strong, and for the most part, we succeed, but we are emotional wrecks sometimes.  It is the most random of things that make us cry.  It feels like we are menopausal – ALL THE TIME.

Super Sis was wonderful and talked me through my moment of crisis.  She told me that she understood that I liked to be in control and that nothing is in my control anymore.  The fact that my cable and cell phone service STILL go out without any rhyme or reason throws me into a tizzy, and it’s okay.

So, I had my meltdown, turned off the TV, and proceeded to bake cookies.

And bake.

And bake.

Do you know how long it takes to bake sixteen dozen cookies?  Four hours.  I kid you not.

I decided, on the spot, that there would be no cookies for my own crew.  It was a good thing I’d planned on baking pies and cakes!!

I watched the DWTS finale after I finished baking, minus the first thirty minutes, and headed to bed.

Tuesday morning loomed early, and I waited for my friend, Ciara, to get to my house.  She and I taught together eight years ago.  It was my first year at Bay High (my second year teaching – her first).  She’d read about the event on Facebook and wanted to help.  Of course, I wouldn’t be me if I didn’t experience a snafu or two.

My Vitamix exploded when I tried to make hot chocolate.  Note to self:  use a bigger container.

I wasn’t going to be deterred, so I cleaned it up and made another batch.

Then, I was ready to go.

Y’all, when I arrived at school, there was electricity in the air.  I kid you not!  There were people milling around.

The to-do list was long!

All that Ciara and I wanted to do was work.

We found our niche – slicing pies, cakes, and sheets of cookies.

I don’t know how many I cut, but I think it’s safe to say dozens upon dozens.

We would cut a batch and then wait.  Before too long, people would walk in with more that they had baked at home.

Funny story:  At one point during the morning, volunteers were asked to move their cars to the back 40.  Ciara and I couldn’t find our way back to the cafeteria.  In the process, I ran into a metal pole because I was looking elsewhere.

I saw this shirt on Facebook and need to order it . . .

The event was scheduled to begin at 3pm.  We had a meeting at 1:45, and man, did Greg and Mr. Smith get us in our feelings.

Our primary responsibility – to love on people.

Just look at this room full of volunteers . . .

What an adrenaline rush to look at those around me and see the names of the companies who had joined forces – all in the name of love.

On our way outside, we stopped and signed a banner that really said it all . . .

Yes, we certainly were standing strong!

We made out way to the tent outside.

It was set up with tables and chairs where people could eat.  For now, it was where we would receive our orders.  I felt a little like I was a tribute for The Hunger Games.  I got picked . . . to serve food!!  I was with my tribe, a sweet group of teachers I’m blessed to work with.

As we headed back inside and pulled our gloves on, I felt like I was on Hell’s Kitchen, except for the hell part.  We were amped up and ready for service.  I was not in competition with anyone.  We were all there to support each other and those who live in our community.  It was going to be a love fest.

I took my place behind the mashed potatoes.  I was ready!

The crowd was small, at first.  Things got busy closer to five as people were getting off of work.  We could hear music playing outside.  There were live performers.  Inside, there was a din of conversation happening.  We greeted people with smiles, tried to coax the kids to eat their veggies, and basically had the best time ever.

Local news stations filmed us and encouraged the public to come see us.

https://www.mypanhandle.com/news/thousands-eat-free-meals-at-bay-high-school-family-of-schools-community-thanksgiving-dinner-/1609793343

Despite spending nearly eleven hours on my feet, all I felt was joy.  There’s something to the adage that healing comes when you look outside of yourself to the needs around you.

We shut things down around 7pm, cleaned up a little but not too much (we’d been instructed to leave things a little messy for GMA the next morning), and headed home.

My shirt was splattered with potatoes, but that didn’t matter a bit as I drove home.  It was dark in my neighborhood since street lamps still don’t work, but there was light in my heart.  I do believe that I went to bed with a smile on my face (and a 3:30 alarm).

Wednesday morning, I got up way before sunrise was on anyone’s radar.  Ciara had texted me that she was on her way.  You see, Good Morning America was going to be broadcasting LIVE from Jinks, and we were all invited to be a part of it.

We were some of the first people to arrive.  It was neat to watch the crew set up.

A group of us who arrived early got selected to film something in the pantry.  The footage wound up being used as a promo for the featured segment about our school.

When the crowd got larger, we were asked to remove our jackets and head over to the other side of the cafeteria where the lights had been set up.  My friend, Tiff (the librarian at the middle school), Ciara, and I randomly sat down at the table closest to the lights.

Now, a bit of a disclaimer.  I’ve never really watched GMA, so I had no idea who T.J. Holmes was.  Now I do, and all I can say is that he was extremely personable and kind.  His producer was a riot!  She has a teacher voice and wasn’t afraid to use it to get us all to behave.  Ha!  We practiced how he would run in, slap hands with people, and then sit down with Greg and Mr. Smith.  We were told not to have our cell phones out.  We were also told, once Greg and Mr. Smith were taken out of earshot, that a surprise was in order.

I can honestly say that I got tears in my eyes.  I’ve seen great reveals, so I was eager to see what was going to happen.

A group of people had been taken into the kitchen, and the rest of us were asked to be quiet.  This was where the live segment would start from.

The countdown began, and then were live.

It was all very exciting, let me tell you.  Panama City is not a large metropolis.  We are famous because of something terrible that happened to us.

Well, let me correct myself.  We are famous because we are rising from something terrible that happened.

Watch the video below (I’m actually behind Greg).

That donation at the end – T.J.’s tears – all the feels.

There was a collective pride in that room for what we had done.  We were humbled because we had pulled it off – in ten days time.  We had loved on those around us despite going back to our own damaged homes or in the case of many, hotel rooms or other places they now call home.

In fact, Greg lost his own home and is living in a camper on the beach side, yet he and his family gave up many days of their personal recovery time to spearhead this.

I don’t know about you, but this inspires me.  Watching my friends and complete strangers reach out to help others so tirelessly makes me want to be a better human.

We still have months and years of recovery ahead of us.  It is overwhelming when you look around you at all that needs to be done, but we are doing it together because we are #850strong, #panhandlestrong, and every hashtag in between.

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