Monthly Archives: May 2016

True Summer

May is a fast-paced mix of emotions.  We honor mothers and veterans, celebrate graduates, and say goodbye to the children we have taught all year.  There are times of exhilaration, moments of sadness, flashes of fear, and bits of relief sprinkled throughout the month-long roller coaster ride.  And then, in an instant, the ride comes to a screeching halt leaving us feeling dizzy, looking for our land-legs, and wondering what just happened?

During the first few days of this new season, you may catch yourself checking school email or thinking about planning next week’s lessons.  But then, the sweet relief of summer will wash over you like a cold wave of water.  In those moments, I hope you take a chance to start getting back to your true self.  You know, the self you were last summer, before you had to teach students each day, grade stacks of papers each night, attend meetings at all hours, and answer emails in between.

My prayer for you this summer is that God helps you relearn to forsake the multi-tasking of the school day and simply be present in each moment.  This will look different for everyone.  It could mean enjoying a meal without simultaneously working through a to-do list.  Being present could mean putting away the phone to play with the kids, choosing to be undistracted by emails, texts, and tweets. It could mean looking into the eyes of a loved one or friend and really listening when they speak rather than nodding intermittently while scrolling through Facebook.  It could mean being silly and spontaneous in a way you never could be at school.  Whatever being present looks like for you, I pray it will move you away from the survival mode of school into the thriving mode of summer and towards your best self.  May these moments bring you contentment and rest.

Will You Remember Me?

It was late spring, and I had just finished reading Where the Red Fern Grows to the class. Whenever I showed any emotion, Levi was the first to make some sort of wisecrack, and that day was no different.

“Pass the Kleenex,” he snickered in his nasal voice, rolling his eyes as I closed the book.

“Very funny,” I said, still sniffling.

Another fourth grader said, “I will never forget that book, Mrs. Miller.”

“I know what you mean,” I said.  “There are some stories that we will always remember.  They just endear themselves to us, and we know they will always be part of us.”

Just before dismissal that afternoon, the students were standing at their lockers getting their backpacks.  Suddenly, Levi ran over to me, leaned right into my face, and whispered, “What about me?  Will you always remember me?”

I thought he was poking fun at my comment from earlier in the day.  But there was not even a hint of a smile on his face, and he was peering straight into my eyes.  He was quite serious.

I stooped down, looked him in the eye and said, “Yes, Levi, I will always remember you.”

“Good,” he said, and he ran back to his locker, grabbed his backpack and got in line, as if nothing had happened.

It took from August until May, but I had made a difference to Levi.  Yes, he was always joking in class and was the first to point out every mistake I ever made.  But right then, in one tender moment, I could see that it was important for him to know I would keep the memory of him tucked in my mind over the years.  I was so glad he asked because, if he hadn’t, I might never have realized how much that mattered to him.  Or to me.

In the last days of the school year, when you feel sentimental or overwhelmed or just ready to be finished, look around your room at the faces of all of the students you have poured yourself  into day in and day out.  Most of them will never say it, but rest assured you have had a tremendous impact on their lives, so much so that even the wisecracking ones are thankful for what you’ve taught them and are really hoping you will always remember them.

It’s All in the Flick of Your Wrist

Field Day with my fifth grade class included moments of laughter and fun as students displayed their athletic prowess (or lack of it.)  For example, when competing in the softball throw to see who could throw the ball the farthest, several boys and girls threw very long distances.  Others unfortunately released the ball too late and threw it high in the air where it became lodged in the branches of a pine tree.  Some other students  threw the ball upwards but slightly to the right sending it sailing over the top of the chain link fence that separated the school property from the neighbor’s yard.  As luck would have it, Arlo, the smallest boy in the class, climbed trees faster than most squirrels and retrieved the softballs quickly.  Clinton who I was confident would jump hurdles someday, willingly jumped the fence and got the other balls, and in no time we were throwing again.  I practically lost my voice cheering for students.  In between, “You can do it!” and “You’re awesome!” I gave some advice for ways students could improve their accuracy.

As we neared the end of the day, we walked to the Frisbee Toss.  The last person to throw was sweet little Roxy who was a perfectionist and a very good student.  I watched her as I stood at the other end of the field and waited to catch the Frisbee.  As Roxy stepped forward to attempt her toss, she yelled out, “I don’t know how to throw it!”

While motioning to her with my hand, I yelled back, “It’s all in the flick of your wrist!”

“Whaaaaaaaaat?” Roxy called back.

“FLICK YOUR WRIST,” I repeated.

Roxy looked befuddled.  She stood for a moment, and then, because she was obedient and an overachiever, she pushed up the sleeve on her throwing arm and licked her wrist three times.  Next she lobbed the Frisbee as far as she could and came running down the field to join me and the rest of the class.

We all laughed together as I explained that I had said “flick your wrist” not “lick your wrist.”  She rolled her eyes at the realization that she had licked when she should have flicked.  To this day I cannot see a Frisbee without thinking of Roxy.

No moral here, just a funny story. 🙂

Undone

The end of the school year can be stressful and emotionally draining.  Between the sleepless nights spent reviewing the mental “to do” lists and the sadness of saying goodbye to your students, not to mention completing report cards, you’re just tired.  Add to that packing up every single book, paper, crayon, and manipulative you own, and you’re just about ready for the funny farm by the school year’s end.

Several years ago, I did the sleepless nights, the good-byes, and packed up my whole classroom (for the third time in three years), but I didn’t shed a tear.  Now that’s strange for me, I thought,  but I was so excited about my sister visiting the next day that I didn’t let it bother me.

On her first day in town, we went straight to the chiropractor.  Going there is like a going to a spa, and it just made sense to “get our heads on straight” at the outset of her stay.   On this particular morning, my chiropractor was running a bit late with another patient, so we took a seat in the lobby and began chatting away.  With time we both noticed the Rachel Ray Show was on the television and in this episode she was revealing the winner of her Dream Kitchen Contest! The lucky winner was a young entrepreneur who had started her own cooking business.  She was a 12-year-old cupcake-baking girl, and she won some amazing new kitchen appliances. As we watched a moving video of her baking and decorating colorful cupcakes of all kinds, the background music swelled. As a new refrigerator and double oven were wheeled out onto the stage, tears of joy started streaming down . . . my face.

Oh . . . NO! I thought.  Do not cry in the chiropractor’s office over a girl you don’t know who makes cupcakes and won a double oven!   A lady sitting across the lobby glanced at me and shifted in her seat. One look told me of her discomfort at my innocent display of emotion. Had she never seen anyone cry at a Rachel Ray show before? Then my sister saw my tears and started laughing quietly.  To help ease the tension, she said, “You know, for me it’s the Little House on the Prairie Christmas special when Mr. Edwards travels on foot for hours through a blizzard to bring Laura and Mary their gifts (tin cups of their very own).”

Soon I was thinking back to when we were children.  We watched that show all the time. I said, “My favorite Little House episode is the one where Mrs. Ingalls teaches school for a while only to find that one of the older students is bullied because he doesn’t know how to read.  She painstakingly works with him to help him learn to read. I think that very episode is the real reason I became a teacher.”

And then it happens.  I come undone.  In the chiropractor’s lobby.  With my sister. And the lady who has shifted in her chair. RIVERS of tears (caused by the sleepless nights, the packing, and the goodbyes to twenty-eight students) are running down my face. And then memories of the past twenty years of teaching are flooding my mind.  Tears are flowing uncontrollably, and I can do nothing but let them come.

Just then the chiropractor swings open the door, looks out in to the lobby, and calls my name.  “Julie?” She does a double take after seeing me and asks, “Are you okay?”

Through the tears, I explain that all of the joy and sadness of my whole teaching career have come over me in an instant while watching the happy and well-deserving winner of the Dream Kitchen Contest on Rachel Ray.  As I follow her into the next room, I see a patient lying on the traction table who is wondering, based on my crying, if there has been a catastrophic global event while she’s been getting her adjustment.  I offer her a brief, reassuring explanation and hurry into Room Two where I try to convince the chiropractor that I am mentally stable, even though I have cried off all of my makeup in the waiting room.

I share this story because I want to thank you.  Thank you for being the type of teacher who loves your students so much that on certain days, and especially at year’s end, you come undone with the love of them.  Thank you for the sleepless nights, the Dr. Seuss celebrations, the trips to the library to find books for your reluctant readers, and for pleading for the right services for students you know need and deserve them.  Thank you for staying late when you could have gone home early, for having difficult conversations with parents, and for creating a classroom where kids learn well.  Thank you for giving students second, third, fourth, and in some cases fortieth chances, for making learning fun, and for having a sense of humor on the days when things just don’t go as planned.   Thank you for rarely taking a bathroom break, for lending change to the student who “didn’t know there was tax at the book fair” and for listening to children retell the longest stories about what actually happened at recess.  Thank you for designing amazing lessons, spending your own money to buy supplies and buying extras for the kids who don’t have their own.  Thank you for teaching hard even on the days when it seems only a few students are listening,  for coming up with crazy ways for students to retain information, and for attending endless meetings.  Thank you for putting your heart and soul into your instruction and for believing the best about your students.

For all you do, you are appreciated and admired.