A Teacher’s Thoughts After Yet Another School Shooting

Today I wasn’t sure I could get out of bed because the task at hand seemed to large. I was not sure I had it in me to stand in front of a group of teenagers today. To tell them that they are safe here. To tell them that sometimes the world is ugly and messy but that I believe in all of the good things for them. To tell them that I think they can make the world a better place. To be prepared if someone were to try to harm them. I hardly ever call in sick, even when I really am. Today I was sick and tired of this world we live in. But I remembered that the students of mine are often reminders to me of the good in the world. I remembered I had important work to do.

I started my classes today by talking about what happened in Florida yesterday. I told my students that I do not have anything eloquent or profound to say, but that I felt like it was important to have this conversation regardless. I feel the same way about writing this piece. It will not be eloquent or profound but it will be raw, because that is what I feel right now.

I was in 2nd grade when Columbine happened. I remember coming home from school, walking up the driveway, and grabbing my usual after-school snack of goldfish crackers and a Diet Coke (Michelle Obama would NOT have approved). I remember my mom glued to the TV in our living room as coverage of the school shooting in Colorado was happening. Usually she would have turned this off or told me to go elsewhere. Instead, we watched together as students streamed out of the school, parents cried, and experts analyzed. As more and more news came out, including the motive of the shooters, I very vividly remember my mom telling me how important it was that I be kind. Always, always, always be kind. It wasn’t unusual for me to crawl into bed and watch the Today Show with my mom before getting on the bus. I couldn’t believe when halfway through interviews of parents and students sobbing she told me it was time to get on the bus and go to school, where I clearly would not be safe. She told me something that I’ve carried with me every since. “You can’t live your life in fear or you let them win.” When I got to school, my teacher addressed it. I remembered that today as I questioned how to talk to my students. If a 2nd grade teacher could lead that conversations with a bunch of 8 and 9 year olds, I could lead it with young adults. From that day on, we said the pledge as well as a statement about being kind to each other and preventing violence in our school.

I was nannying the summer a gunman shot up a movie theatre. I remember making breakfast with the 12-year-old in my care when she asked me why something so awful like that could happen and how do we stop it. Her question broke my heart all over again. I didn’t know how to explain gun laws and mental health to a 12-year-old. Heck, I don’t understand it all myself. I told her a lot of things are out of our control, but we can always choose to be kind, even when the world is ugly.

I was preparing to start student teaching when the news of Sandy Hook broke. I questioned if this was a job I could do. It wasn’t what I signed up for. I wasn’t equipped for it. I had written hundreds of lesson plans and a mathematical thesis, but no one taught me how to barricade my students into a classroom and shield them with my own body.

I’ve huddled in the corner of my classroom, both for drills and possible threats. During one instance last year, I was on prep and grabbed a student out of the hallway when the announcement that we were on lockdown came across the loudspeaker. As I sat silently in a corner with a student waiting to know if we were safe or not, all I could think of was that I had eaten a candy bar for dinner the night before. I can’t even feed myself a proper dinner and yet I am expected to know how to handle an active shooter.

I’ve participated in active shooter trainings, where I practiced disarming and restraining a gunman, barricading students in a classroom, and making life and death decisions. I’ve looked around my classroom and questioned what I could break a window with, what I could arm my students with, and where would be the safest place to hide them. I’ve questioned if I could get them out the door and to safety in time.

Today I pulled up to work and saw parents dropping of their kids. I thought of how tough that must be, entrusting us to do everything we can to keep the most important thing in their life safe. Today I looked at my class rosters. I thought long and hard about whether or not every one of those students felt like they belonged in my classroom. I asked myself if they felt loved for and cared for and welcomed into my classroom. I wondered if their needs were being met. I hoped that every one of them knew that I would do everything in my power to keep them safe. I stood at my door and tried to greet every student as they walked in, hoping they knew how very glad I was to see them today and every day.

Thoughts and prayers and blog posts are great. Sharing articles and tweets and having courageous conversations are important. I currently have a student in my class studying abroad from Germany. Today he asked me what is it with the US and guns. He has been here since the beginning of the school year. In his short time in the United States, he has seen more mass shootings than he ever has in his entire life in his home country.  This is awful and sad and embarrassing. We need to do better. It’s not like this everywhere and it doesn’t have to be like this here.

We need common sense gun laws. There is no reason why a civilian needs access to an assault rifle. We need background checks. We need to keep guns secure. We need proper training and resources for gun owners. We need to recognize that all people need access to mental health care and social services. And maybe more than anything, we need to increase the resources provided to schools. We need to increase the access to mental health resources and social services in our schools. My school’s social worker and psychologist are two of the most incredible women I’ve ever met.  I am repeatedly inspired by the work they do. I also know that their plates are overflowing. Yet they answer every email, address every student concern, and make time for every student who knocks on their doors. Every school needs them times ten. We need to recognize that in addition to trying to teach content standards, raise test scores, collect and analyze data, and all of the other “academic” tasks teachers are handling on a daily basis, teachers are also continually trying to build relationships with students and look out for both their physical and mental well-being. We need to lessen those burdens wherever we can, and that means more funding and resources. Will this prevent every tragedy? Probably not. Will it prevent some? Absolutely.

I will continue to love and care for our kids, as will teachers all across the country as they do day in and day out. But as long as our politicians care more about money than the lives and safety of our kids, that love will never never be bulletproof.

Here is a website to find out how to contact your elected officials: https://www.usa.gov/elected-officials

New Year, Same Ever Evolving Me

I am not really one for New Year’s resolutions. It seems like a really fantastic way to set yourself up for failure. Have you ever met someone who made a really fantastic change to their life and credits it to starting something on January 1? Yeah, me neither. (I’m really hoping you all said nope to that or you completely disproved this post.) Why would we decide to change our lives after a week of overeating, the day after staying up too late with a full day of football watching ahead of us? That just sounds like we are setting ourselves up for failure.

If anything, I believe in new school year resolutions. At the beginning of each school year, I make my advisory students do an activity where they make a resolution for each class, a professional resolution, their profession being a student, and a personal resolution. I do the same thing. This year, my professional resolution was to do every assignment that I assign to my students. I have no idea why they complain about homework because I think it is so much fun. I’m not even kidding. It’s what I do to de-stress. If anyone wants me to send some math assignments their way, I would be happy to do so. I’ve been doing a great job, and while a lot of my students are a month behind on homework, I’m about a month ahead. It’s been fun, it has helped me anticipate where students might struggle, and I think it puts more value on the work I assign if I say it’s so important that I’m going to do it too (even the word problems). My personal resolution was to cook at least three new recipes a month. After I ran out of new ways to make tacos, that one has kind of fallen apart. There’s always next year? (PS please send me all of your easy taco recipes.)

There are also a few things that I am famous for ranting about. Those things include (but are not limited to) people who use the snooze button (SET THE ALARM FOR THE LATEST TIME YOU NEED TO WAKE UP AND THEN GET UP YOU ARE JUST MAKING IT WORSE FOR YOURSELF), Wisconsin drivers (THE LEFT LANE IS FOR PASSING. IF YOU ARE NOT ACTIVELY PASSING SOMEONE, PLEASE SCOOTCH YOUR 68 MPH GOING BOOTY OUT OF MY WAY AND WHILE YOU’RE AT IT, LEARN HOW TO USE A TURN SIGNAL), and people who go to the gym the first two weeks of January and are so busy getting endorphins that they forget how to be a decent human being. Now, I think fitness is great and that every single person should add it to their routine. It has been great for my physical health, my mental health, and my daily donut habit. If New Year’s resolutions are what help you find a love of fitness, great! But please, for the love of all things good, wipe down your machine when you are done, stop talking on your cell phone, don’t change the TV that someone is clearly watching, AND BRING HEADPHONES. NO ONE WANTS TO LISTEN TO YOUR MEDIOCRE TOP 40 JAMS.

The thing that gets me about New Year’s resolutions is the thought that we need to wait until a ball drops to change something in our lives. I would hope that I am continually evolving to become the best me that I can be. New year, same ever evolving me. As much as I don’t believe in New Year’s resolutions, I do believe in taking the time to reflect on where you’ve been and where you want to go, and I think a new year is a really great time to do that. So here are some of the things on my ever evolving list.

1.) I want to work on becoming a more consistent writer. Now I never want to feel like I need to churn out a certain amount of blog posts every month. That sounds counterproductive for all of us. However, I would like to be better about designating time to write, whether it is blog posts or just personal journaling. Now because I’m a firm believer in full disclosure, I think it is important that I inform you that this blog post has been in my drafts since last January. On the bright side, the bar is very low, so I feel like I can only improve!

2.) I want to deepen my yoga practice. I thought about committing to a certain number of classes each week or month, doing some sort of challenge, or finally signing up for a yoga teacher training. I don’t think yoga is at all about the quantity, but rather the quality. I want to make sure that whether I’m attending one class a week or seven, I am making sure my whole self is present and honoring where my mind and body are on my mat on that day.

3.)  I want to make sure I am always putting myself in life’s way. The best things happen when you put yourself in life’s way, both in the big and small ways. When the option comes to pull back or push forward, I hope I push forward. I hope this also eventually evolves into me being a way less picky eater, but that might be taking it to the extreme.

4.) I want to embrace my humanness. I often feel the need to try to be some sort of superhuman in all things I do and I hold myself to some ridiculous standards. Although I think it is important to always do my best and put my whole self into all that I do, I also hope to be better at honoring where I am at, even when where I am at is not perfect. To mean, this means recognizing the things that are really great about me and celebrating them. It also means embracing my flaws and respecting that I will always have them. Whether I’m happy, overjoyed, sad, frustrated, exhausted, confused, lost, hurt, or anything in between, I’m allowed to feel that way and it is okay to feel that way.

5.) I want to be better at embracing others in their humanness. Yes, this includes snooze button users, Wisconsin drivers, and New Year’s resolutioners at the gym. I think this goes hand in hand with allowing myself to be more human. When I remember that I am flawed it will allow me to embrace other people’s flaws. We are all just walking along this journey of life, no one knowing more than the next. We can always be learning for each other, and ideally always evolving into our best selves.

We are all works in progress, 365 days a year, all of the days of our lives. Every day is an opportunity to work towards becoming the person we want to be and living the life we want to live. It won’t happen overnight. It won’t happen in the span of 365. Heck, it won’t happen in our lifespan. But that’s no reason not to always be working towards living our best lives, whatever that looks like wherever we are in life.

Teaching is Loving Outrageously

I didn’t make the cheer squad in middle school and I never did quite master juggling, and yet, it feels like that is exactly what I spend my days doing. Cheerleading and juggling. At the same time. In addition to teaching math, creating math songs and dances, ensuring the safety and well-being of my students, handling the avalanche of emails that end up in my inbox, tracking down students who should be in my class but aren’t, kicking out the students that should be somewhere other than my classroom, eating donuts, grading, and trying to be a functioning human being. Sometimes I wonder why I am so tired all of the time, and then I realize the amount of multi-tasking I am doing at any given moment. I’ve often seen a statistic that says teachers make an average of 1,500 educational decisions. A day. A DAY. No wonder that when it comes time for me to decide what is for dinner I find myself crying on my kitchen floor because decisions are hard (well, decisions and life sometimes). I would be lying if I said I haven’t tried to figure out a way to position my computer so that I could type emails with my foot, teach at the board, and write passes at the same time.

If you know me at all, you know that it is no secret that I have a special place in my heart for all of my students, especially my more challenging students. Call me crazy, but I love a good challenge. They are often referred to lovingly, and sometimes frustratedly, as “my kiddos.” People often ask my why I decided to be a high school math teacher. Well, besides the pay, glory, and fame, I did it for the summers off. Just kidding. A little. I like math, but I LOVE working with teenagers. They are the niftiest bunch of frustrating weirdos you could spend your day with, and I think it is pretty cool that I get to use math as a way to prepare them to be full blown functioning adults that might possibly one day change the world. Some days I see those things happening right before my very eyes. Some days I have to remind myself that it’s all about the little victories, and that I might not get to see the tree that grows from a seed planted in high school, but that doesn’t make that tree any less special.

I have a student this year who is going to be responsible for my first grey hair, without a doubt. I don’t even have her in class, actually, and yet, she is going to age me. We work together on her behavior and her academic work, and I often feel for as many steps forward as we take together, every little victory we celebrate, we often end up with a giant leap backwards. We recently had a chat where I was very honest with her. I told her that I am continually telling everyone just how incredibly awesome I think she is. I told her I will continue to tell everyone how incredibly awesome I think she is, because I completely believe it is true. But people are starting to think that maybe I’m crazy, because they don’t get the chance to see that side of her. When I start to think that maybe I am, I remember how far she’s come in the past year, and all though we still have a ways to go, that progress should never be belittled.

We had a speaker at the beginning of the school year named Dr. Sharroky Hollie. It was probably the best professional development I’ve ever sat through, and I’ve sat through a lot. Seriously, teacher friends, look him up, and if you get any say on speakers for staff, you want him. He covered so many important things relating to Culturally Responsive Teaching. The thing that stuck with me the most was his talk about outrageous love. He said that every day should be a day where we show outrageous love to the students who need it the most. It’s been said that the students who need the most love will ask for it in the most unloving way and boy oh boy is that true. But with every frustrating situation (of which there are many), I remind myself that this is the perfect time to show outrageous love. I know I’m not the only one in my building reflecting on outrageous love. While talking to a student in need of some outrageous love with another teacher, the student asked why we cared so much. The other teacher proclaimed, “BECAUSE THIS IS OUTRAGEOUS LOVE!”

So in addition to juggling all of the day to day tasks of teaching, I add in outrageous love, which to me, feels a heck of a lot like cheerleading. Sometimes I feel like I am continually cheering, “I BELIEVE IN YOU, I WANT YOU TO SUCCEED AND I KNOW THAT YOU CAN, AND I FIERCELY AND OUTRAGEOUSLY LOVE YOU!” I might just buy some pom poms and master a toe touch.

Sometimes outrageous love is exhausting. And you question if it’s worth it, if students even feel the love. And to be honest, after a particularly tough and exhausting few weeks, I was wondering if outrageous love was worth it. But then a student asked me for a letter of recommendation for college. If I’m being completely honest, I was surprised. This student hadn’t made it a secret that my class was nowhere near their favorite last year. But when this student asked me for their letter, they said they wanted me to write it because I had seen them at the worst, and loved them anyway. It was a much needed reminder, both that outrageous love is worth it, and that it’s not about where you start, but rather, where you end up and the growth it takes to get there.

I am by no means an expert, but here are some things that I have found help me outrageously love my students:

1.) Greet students at the door. I had heard this over and over, but this year I decided to make a conscious effort to be at my door during passing period whenever possible. I am continually amazed at how much more connected it makes me feel to my students. It gives us the chance to start the day on the right foot, and I honestly believe that more of my students are showing up on time.

2.) Send positive emails. I’ve started picking out a few students every week and I send a positive email home. It makes it easier to look for the good in my students.

3.) Hallway chats. Whenever possible, I try to immediately pull a student out in the hallway when behavior is not classroom appropriate. It gives us both a chance to voice our feelings without things getting blown out of proportion, and more often than not, we can both walk in to the classroom and have a reset. I also like to pull students out in the hallway for positive things. First off, it’s fun to watch them squirm when you tell them you want to talk to them. Second off, it reminds everyone that a hall chat isn’t a bad thing. Sometimes they don’t go so great though. Just last week I thought I was having a really productive conversation with a student about his behavior when he interrupted me halfway through to inform me that he didn’t like how I did my make-up.

4.) It takes a village. For a long time, I thought it was my job to find solutions for every challenge I face while teaching. I felt like if I asked for assistance, I was admitting defeat. It’s quite the opposite actually. Students need to know we are all working together for their success. I am so grateful for the coworkers who support me while outrageously loving. I am thankful that they help me brainstorm creative solutions for my most challenging situations.

5.) Remember that you are teaching almost adults. To me, this means remembering that you are teaching real humans with real thoughts and feelings. This means that there is a reason behind why a student is acting the way they are. “How does this make you feel?” and “Why do you feel this way?” are such important questions. A lot of times, I understand a student’s behavior much more when I take the time to listen to them. It also means that they are humans and humans make mistakes. Kids especially are still learning how to function as a human in the world, and it is part of our job to teach them how to do this. You can’t just assume they know it already.

6.) You can’t pour from an empty cup. I spent a lot of time trying to be super teacher. I sacrificed a lot of my own health and well-being because I thought I was doing it for my students. I realized that when I took the time to take care of myself, I was a much better teacher.

7.) It’s okay to let your students know you are human. Students can smell bullshit from a mile away. Be a genuine human with them. Let them know that you are imperfect and make mistakes. But also show them how to recover and redeem yourself.

8.) Keep a stash of things that make you smile. Some days are just going to be really, really awful. And on those days, when you find yourself googling “jobs that pay me to not interact with people, not wear real pants, and be able to use a bathroom anytime I want,” dig out those reminders that not all days will be great, and not all students will be success stories, but that you are doing good work and your work is worth it.

Why I Write

When people find out that I write a blog, they always ask me what I write about. My response is a little something like, “Uhhh life, my dead mom, teaching, grief, travel, you know, those kinds of things.” People also seem especially shocked when they find out that I am a high school math teacher, like the only thing I could possibly write would be geometry proofs. Actually, my math degree was considered a writing intensive degree because of the amount of writing required when it came to theoretical proofs THANK YOU VERY MUCH. Those made me not love writing so much because my professors did not seem to appreciate me trying to add my “voice” to my writing. I write a lot of letters of recommendation for students, and they always seem a little bit surprised when they read what I wrote, like maybe they thought I would exclusively use math symbols.

My earliest memory of writing was my Kindergarten entry in my school’s Young Authors competition. I took first place with my entry, a true story entitled “Me and My Apple Tree.” Apparently the judges looked past my grammatical error because they awarded me 1st place for my grade level. I remember sitting in our living room and dictating the story I wanted to tell to my mom, because you know, my actual writing skills in Kindergarten were subpar. She then typed the story about the apple tree that I was gifted for my birthday (because what 5 year old doesn’t beg for an apple tree for her birthday?) and I completed the illustrations (also subpar). The next year, I made a valiant effort to defend my title with the fictional “My Dog Spot.” One year, I partnered with my best friend to create a chapter book about aliens invading the school, and I still feel like we were cheated out of an award. In fifth grade, I won the coveted 1st place school award with my compilation of stories of my favorite memories with family memories. I followed that win up with a 1st place D.A.R.E. essay. You could say I peaked in 5th grade.

Through high school and college I was told what I had to write about by teachers and professors and like most teenagers, I didn’t like being told what I had to do. The one exception was my junior english class where we had to write for the first 5-10 minutes of class every single day, but we could write about whatever our hearts desired. I also kept a lyric diary, which was essentially whatever Dashboard Confessional lyrics summarized my teenage angst that day.

For a long time, I forgot how much I loved to write. Then my mom got sick and was willing to let me use my writing to keep family and friends updated. Writing those posts made me realize how therapeutic writing was, how it made me feel grounded and centered and a little less alone. After my mom died, a dear friend encouraged me to keep writing in some form or another. And from that came this blog.

Step one to setting up a blog is coming up with a name. My first year of teaching, I contemplated a teaching blog (because lol like I would have time to write on the regular) and I took to Facebook to get suggestions. Out of that came a tagline that I just loved: The exponential problems of growing up and other tangents on life. If I ever write a book about teaching, that’s golden. Please don’t steal it. I knew I wanted this blog to be more than just about teaching. I wanted it to be about wherever I happened to be in life, whatever happened to be on my mind. A piece of my mind. Writing gave me peace of mind. alittlepieceofmynd.

I’ve started a lot of things in my life that I didn’t stick with for very long. Dance classes, saxophone playing, speech performing, healthy eating, etc. So I had no idea if this would be just a phase. However, the internet has been letting me write the words that bubble up from deep inside of me for almost two years now. This spring, I decided to purchase my blog domain. Which really means next to nothing except that no one else can have it. Also, I get paid ad revenue. So with my current earnings of $0.45, I am officially a paid writer. I will not, however, be quitting my day job anytime soon.  I also have a family member who tells people I’m a writer anytime she talks about me, which I think is the absolute coolest and it hasn’t gone to my head in the least.

I am continually amazed when I find out that friends, acquaintances, and complete strangers read the words that I write. I might love writing, but I also love numbers, data, and statistics. I am repeatedly amazed when I see how many people have read my words, sometimes in different countries. Sometimes I think that it is completely absurd that I publish my thoughts and feelings on the internet for the world to read, but then I find out that someone relates to my writing, was moved by my writing, laughed at my writing, cried at my writing, or felt something because of my writing, and I realize how wonderful it is that people let me share this piece of me. So thank you for allowing me to share a piece of my mind while finding a little peace of mind.

27 Thoughts, Feelings, Musings, and Questions on 27 Years

I have always really loved birthdays. However, in recent years, birthdays have started to feel strange. I don’t know if it is because I am getting older or because of the loss of my mom. It’s probably a combination of both. But at the end of the day, I still love birthdays. How wonderful is it that we celebrate the day someone came into the world? Although I have the occasional mixed feelings on getting older, how truly wonderful is it that it is a thing I get to do? And how wonderful is it that one day a year, people call, text, post, and spend time with you to celebrate the fact that you exist in this world?

My earliest birthday memories are filled with my mom. I remember her telling me that they celebrated my existence when I was six months in the womb. Her birthday was a week before mine, but she always focused her time and attention on mine. She would start planning my birthday party with me as soon as school got out in the summer and planned it down to every last detail. When I was in college and celebrating my birthday for the first time with her far away, she decided to call a local bakery and convince them to deliver a cake to my dorm room. Now this bakery didn’t actually have a delivery service, but she told them it was my birthday and I had just moved 3.5 hours away from home. My mom had a way of getting what she wanted. She was so excited that she didn’t even wait for the cake to surprise me and called me to tell me it was coming and that I could share it with all of my new college friends. Well I had just started college and hadn’t made any friends when a cake that could feed 50 people showed up at my door. I may or may not have cried and ate a lot of cake myself before realizing that I had the secret to making friends in college in my hands: free food. September is so bittersweet without her.

In honor of my 27 trips around the sun, here are 27 thoughts, feelings, musings, and questions on my 27 years, in no particular order:

1.) Should I have my life together more at 27?

2.) But also, I have my life more together than some people, so maybe I’m doing alright.

3.) By 27, I should be better at remembering that there is no timeline or competition when it comes to living your life. We are all where we are and that’s where we are supposed to be.

4.) At what age will I start getting gray hair? Should I be using more expensive facial products to avoid wrinkles? Would my mom inform me of these things if she could?

5.) Speaking of my mom, will I ever get over the fact that she will never know me past 24 year old me?

6.) Would she be proud of 25, 26, and 27 year old me?

7.) I have gotten to see and do so many wonderful and exciting things over the past 27 years, but there are still so many more things I want to see and do.

8.) The first 27 went pretty darn fast. Hopefully I’ll be lucky enough to get another 27 more. And not to be greedy or anything, but I think I would like another 27 after that.

9.) In my 27 years, I’ve been so fortunate to have so many great people in my life. I sure do hope I get to keep those people and keep on adding to my collection.

10.) I think 7 and 17 year old me would think 27 year old me is pretty cool, but I don’t think I am who they would have predicted I would be.

11.) I am so glad I live in a world with dogs, chicken tacos, donuts, and iced coffees with mocha and cream (among other things).

12.) It’s super cool that I get paid to spend my days teaching some incredible young adults. There is something really special about getting paid to do something you are passionate about, while also getting three months off to pursue other things you are really passionate about.

13.) People read things I write on the internet and connect, laugh, and cry with me. It makes the world seem so big and small all at once, and it’s nice that people let me share pieces of me this way.

14.) Families will always be a bit messy and complicated, but mine is no different. But I am so fortunate to have the family I have, whether they are family by blood or family by life, they are family for life.

15.) At what age was I supposed to learn to stop eating like an unsupervised 5 year old at a birthday party? Is it too late?

16.) If life had always given me what I wanted when I wanted it, I wouldn’t have a lot of the things I have that I wouldn’t trade for the world. I should remember that often.

17.) At what age will I become someone who thinks waking up at 5:30am to become a contributing member of society is a thing I want to do on the regular?

18.) Will Taylor Swift please include a song about being 27 on her next album? I’m still singing “22,” but it’s way less applicable these days.

19.) I wholeheartedly believe that there is more good than bad in this world, you just have to look a little harder for it.

20.) How long will it take for me to stop writing “26” for my age? Will I be able to figure it out before I hit 28?

21.) I don’t really like odd numbers, but I guess 27 is my number for the next 365 days.

22.) How old were the characters in Friends? A little google search has informed me that they were between 24-27 when the show first started and 34-37 when the show ended.

23.) How many times will I watch Friends all the way through in my life?

24.) I sure hope I get to make this list when I’m 80. I think that 80 years would give me lots and lots of things to write here.

25.) At what point will people stop confusing me for a high schooler? Will I be offended when this happens?

26.) With this post as my witness, it seems that as I get older, life has more questions than answers. I think that that is okay.

27.) I am looking forward to all that 27 and beyond will bring. Being able to live this life is pretty nifty, and I should remember that always all of my days.

Traveling Out of Your Comfort Zone

Traveling is supposed to be uncomfortable. It is quite literally you leaving your comfort zone, the familiarity of the day to day life that you live. You will be too cold, too hot, too wet, too tired. Your feet will ache. As you lug your stuff around, you might find yourself annoyed that you need so many things, all while wishing you had packed more. You will cram yourself onto planes, trains, buses, metros, trams, Ubers, ferries, boats, and sometimes even find yourself on the back of a live animal to get to your intended destination. You will sleep in strange and sometimes questionable spaces. The space you do have will barely be your own. You will get lost and overwhelmed. You might even find yourself stuck in what might as well be an ancient Roman lift. No matter how cheaply you do it, you’ll see your bank account take a hit. Things will be lost in translation, or maybe not even translatable at all. You will find yourself surrounded by people who look, talk, and maybe even act differently than you. You might find yourself a little scared and a bit stressed at times. You will try things you had never considered before, maybe food, maybe experiences. You will be disconnected from your life, maybe from a lack of wi-fi and cell service or maybe the time difference. You will be completely out of a routine.

But this is the point. If you don’t immerse yourself in all of this uncomfortableness, you might as well have stayed home. That’s the point. Travel gives us this opportunity to step out of our day-to-day life so that we may enrich that day-to-day life. You will push yourself. You will see that you are able to do things you never thought yourself capable of doing. Your plane will land and you will return to your comfortable life with new eyes. You will have a newfound gratitude for the things you overlooked in your life before, whether it’s comforts, material things, or the people around you (or refillable cups of black coffee the size of your head). You will learn so much about this whole wide world and how you fit into it. You will realize just how incredible it is that we are all walking around on this earth living our lives at the same time. Your path will cross with other people’s paths, maybe for a moment, maybe for an hour, maybe for a whole day. But regardless of how long they cross for, you will carry a piece of that person and their life, story, and perspective with you from that point forward. You will realize how someone can live half a world away, look differently than you, speak differently than you, and still have so much to share with you.

I am a talker. I am quite possibly the most talkative introvert you will ever encounter. Sometimes I think I became a teacher because people are forced to listen (I know, I know, this is debatable) to me for eight hours a day AND I get paid for it. However, when I travel, I also leave my talkative comfort zone and I listen. I know that I do not have nearly as much to share with the world at the moment in time as the world has to share with me. I listen to tour guides tell me how what I am looking at came to be. I listen to newfound friends tell me about their lives. I listen to other tourists as they figure out this strange place in front of them. I listen to locals in coffee shops, cafes, buses and trains.

My most recent travels, or #explaurations as they were hashtagged, took me through Europe for three weeks. In that time, I stayed in eight cities in six different countries. I met a lot of people, walked 200 miles, took three high speed trains and four plane rides across Europe. I only almost took out approximately seven unsuspecting locals with my 65 liter pack on the metro. I ate a LOT of carbs in the form of pastries and pizza. I instagrammed enough to annoy my followers and posted over 300 pictures to Facebook. If you would like the old fashioned sit down play by play of my trip, holla atcha girl and we can set something up with my handy dandy projector in my classroom. I saw a lot of incredible things through the three weeks and had a lot of moments where I was like “oohhh that’s what my high school history teacher was talking about!” The pictures of historical sites and Instagramable moments are great, but I don’t think they quite do my trip justice. I also tried to think of a way to write a post that tied all of my experiences together in a nice, pretty bow, but I was unsuccessful (I’m inclined to blame jet lag and carb withdrawal), so I am going to take the Buzzfeed approach and make a list of moments, things, and observations from my three weeks abroad.

1.) One of my favorite things in Cophenhagen, Denmark was learning about and observing the Hygge way of life. It basically means creating a warm atmosphere in your life, both physically and mentally. Comfort foods, cozy clothes, and good people. That sounds like a life I could get used to!

2.) I love street music, a cold beer, people watching, water, beautiful buildings, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, and “Moon River.” I swear these all go together. We stopped for a local beer on Nyhavn in Copenhagen. That is the stretch of colorful buildings and boats you’ve seen if you’ve ever seen a picture of Copenhagen. While we were sitting there, a talented musician started playing “Moon River” from the Audrey Hepburn classic Breakfast at Tiffany’s. There is a line in the song that goes “Two drifters, off to see the world. There’s such a lot of world to see.” It was one of those moments where you feel like you are right where you are supposed to be.

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A good cup of coffee in Nyhavn has me well on my way to living the hygge life.

3.) The two year anniversary of my mom’s death happened while I was in Brussels, Belgium. At one point, I contemplated avoiding being out of the country on that day because I wanted to allow myself the opportunity to be sad. That would have ticked my mom off to no end. Her death was a reminder to always live my life. I learned that being half a world away from home did not make the loss sting any less and I had a really long, solid bathroom cry. But I got through it and reminded myself how proud she would be of me doing something I loved.

4.) During a tour of Brugge, Belgium, I was reminded of just how small this world really is. We met a woman from India who was going to school in the United States. Upon talking to her more, it turns out she is studying just down the interstate from where I grew up.

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New friends in Brugge

5.) Our itinerary included a quick stop in Paris. At first, I wasn’t sure about this only because I had been to Paris about four years ago and there are so many places in Europe that I would like to see. However, there is something really special about going back to a place you have been when you were in a completely different place in life. Paris will always have a special piece of my heart. Audrey Hepburn was right when she said “Paris is always a good idea.”

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I could probably wander the streets of Paris forever

6.) While I was wandering the streets of Paris, I happened upon a street called Rue du Quatre-Septembre, aka the street of the 4th of September. I looked it up and it has something to do with Napoleon and French history and blah blah blah. But it’s significant to me because it is the day of my mom’s birthday. Half a world away from where I lived life with her, a little piece of her was with me on this trip and I couldn’t help but smile, especially after the hollow loneliness I felt in my heart starting another year without her.

7.) Large bodies of water and beautiful sunsets will always make me feel all of the feels. In Nice, France, I stood with my toes in the sea and had another one of those moments that told me I was right where I was supposed to be.

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Nice looking Nice

8.) There are always new places to discover, even when you’ve been somewhere before. Barcelona was also on our itinerary. I had traveled around Spain last year, and again questioned if I really wanted to go back to Spain so soon. Well we did a day trip to visit and hike Monserrat and it was INCREDIBLE.

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This dress is literally called the “Take a Hike” dress, so I had to help it fulfill it’s purpose.

9.) Masterpieces take time. Last year I visited Sagrada Familia when I was in Barcelona. This year I had to go back and check on the progress. Construction started in 1882. It is not scheduled to be completed until approximately 2027. It is incredible to see, and I like it as a reminder that if it’s a work in progress and people still love it then it’s okay for me to be a work in progress too.

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Oh my Gaudi. I think I just need to keep going back to Sagrada Familia every year until it is completed.

10.) While in Barcelona, I received word that one of my students had tragically passed away. I think some people use travel as a way to run away from life, and I’ve done the same. This was a reminder that you can’t run away from life. It also served as a reminder that all of our days are numbered, and we should live all of them the best we can.

11.) Last year when I was in Madrid, it never dropped below 100 degrees and the sun was in full force. This year, I spent about 24 hours in Madrid, 20 of which were rainy and cold. This reminded me that there really are no perfect travel conditions, but that doesn’t make a place any less magical (or churros any less delicious).

12.) I want to see all of Italy.

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13.) I could eat pizza for breakfast, lunch, and dinner every day for months in Italy and it still wouldn’t be enough.

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I could easily live somewhere were pizza and wine are staples.

14.) Meeting new people in foreign cities is the best. In Rome we met a man from San Fran and his cousin from London. They were both originally from Iran and had not seen each other in quite some time. They were on there way to a wedding that was originally scheduled to be in the United States but had to be moved to Europe because of Trump’s travel ban not allowing some of the family that is still in Iran to enter to country. As if the travel ban wasn’t upsetting enough, put names and faces and conversations to it. We are all members of a global society and we would do well to remember that. We also traveled to a small Italian town called Frascati for a wine and pizza tour (you read that right). There we met several people, but stayed after the tour ended and shared a bottle of wine with a wonderful couple from San Francisco while listening to a local man play Italian songs on the guitar to his wife. The world is often messy and awful, but every once in a while, you realize just how incredible the life we live truly is, surrounded not by strangers, but only people we haven’t yet met, and it’s pretty incredible to get to be a part of it all. I am forever grateful for these people whose paths cross mine.

 

15.) Music is a universal language. The Lumineers are one of my favorite bands of all time, and I’ve been trying to see them live for years. I kid you not, through all of my travels last year, they were always one city ahead of me. When they released their tour for this year, I noticed immediately that they were in Barcelona and Madrid opposite days as me and I actually tweeted at them that they needed to change that. Unfortunately, they did not respond. But I looked at more of their dates and noticed that we would be in Rome at the same time. I may or may not have audibly squealed. It was incredible. I had visited the Vatican that morning, but if we are being completely honest, live music in a new city was a way more spiritual experience for me. That, and the pizza and wine experience.

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16.) I think cooking is cool as long as it is a novelty experience.

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17.) No country is without its problems. Greece is a beautiful country with a lot of struggles right now. I really appreciated people who were openly willing to explain what was happening in the country to me.

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20.) There are few things as good for the soul (especially as you reflect on the ending of a three week adventure) as a sunset. I also realized that my mom is never too far away from me. As we made the trek up a mountain to watch the sunset with views of the Acropolis and the Parthenon on my last night, a street musician was playing “Que Sera Sera (Whatever Will Be Will Be). My mom used to sing this to me all of the time.

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Me deep in thought, trying to figure out how I would capture everything this trip was to me in one blog post

This world is so big and so small all at once. There is so much to be and see and do, both in travel and in our day to day life, right where we are. Travel will be thrilling, exhausting, exciting, terrifying, and overwhelming all at once. It will remind us not to travel outside of our comfort zone just physically, but figuratively in our day to day life. I’m grateful for this experience and already looking forward to where my next adventure will take me. (New Zealand, I’m coming for you).

Papa G

I have a pretty strong dislike of greeting cards. Why on earth would I pay $5 for Hallmark to generically say what I want to stay to someone? Now please don’t take this to mean you shouldn’t send me cards anymore. I very much love getting mail that is not bills, and the occasional card in the mail has been known to brighten my whole week. My only request is that you write something slightly personal in it. I also learned how great card sending is recently in the wake of my grandma’s death at 95 years old. I always knew she never missed marking a birthday, anniversary, or special occasion with a card. What I didn’t know was that every month, she sat down and prepared her cards for every special event coming up. In fact, we had to warn a few people that my grandma had put their card in the mail as she went to the hospital, so don’t be too surprised when you get a gift from beyond. And thank you cards. I LOVE WRITING THANK YOU CARDS. I always have to refrain from sending a thank you card after receiving a thank you card to thank them for their thankfulness. It could lead to a vicious cycle. Just like this tangent I’ve found myself on here.

Anyways, I didn’t get my dad a Father’s Day card. In fact, I don’t even have a gift to give him when I head home for the summer today. Granted, I did buy him a wallpaper steamer and redid his home office for him. I also plan on doing more wallpaper removal this summer, you know, while eating all of his food, using his air conditioning, and making him drive me to airports. I’ll also buy him dinner, you know, to outweigh all of the meals he feeds me. I also made him a bomb Instagram post, filled with pictures reminding him of the days when he had more hair. But what better way to pay tribute to my dad than with a blog post?

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If you are reading this blog at all, there is a pretty good chance that the only reason you are reading it is because he emailed it to you saying he might be biased, but you really ought to read what his daughter, the writer (actually I’m a math teacher but I appreciate the vote of confidence), wrote. If you aren’t all that impressed, I’m really okay, but please tell my dad you are because it’s pretty cool to see him beam with pride. I’m waiting for the day when he prints my URL on business cards and starts handing it out to strangers. After all, this is the same man who once pulled up a picture of a dinner my brother had prepared all by himself and showed it off to a waitress at The Melting Pot, beaming “My son made this!” He also LOVES to force people to sit through tales of my teaching. The man is proud of his kiddos, as he should be. We would not be the people we are if it were not for him.

My dad always worked so hard to give me the whole wide world, while instilling in me that I was entirely capable of going out there an conquering it myself. There was never a passion or a pursuit that he did not stand behind me 100% on (although when I decided I wanted an archery set because that was how I was going to achieve my Olympic dreams, he stood VERY far behind me). One day in grade school, I came home and told him that me (and my crooked femurs, another post for another time) had decided to become a basketball player, and in order to do that, I needed a basketball hoop pronto. The next day, there was a beautiful hoop cemented into our driveway. Now my basketball days were short lived, but every time I see that hoop, I’m reminded that my dad truly believes I can do anything.

Since college, my dad has called me every Wednesday night. Granted, in college, I always took a Wednesday night class, and I would always walk out to a voicemail that went something like, “Hi Laura, sorry I missed you! You must be working or studying hard. Just calling to catch up, no need to call back. Your mom told me about (insert recent event here). Hope you are well. Love you!” Every week I would text him that I was sorry I missed his call, I was in class (again). We always counted on my mom to fill him in, or our annual spring break trip, or summer adventures to catch up. When my mom was sick, I was contemplating some big life changes. Usually it would have been my mom who I would talk through my thoughts with, but she was so weak and her voice so strained that talking on the phone was hard. So I called my dad. I actually think it was probably on a Wednesday. He passed his first parenting test. And I must say, he did much better than the time I called home mid panic attack as I was overwhelmed right before I started my first real job. I believe it went a little something like “Umm, hi, are you okay? No? I don’t know what to do for you. Here’s your mom.”

Now he calls every Wednesday, and I always answer. It’s definitely way more me talking and him listening, but he’ll listen to tales of whatever shenanigans I’ve gotten myself into the past week, the rants and raves about my students, my frustrations and hopes, and whatever plan I’m working on. He’s become quite the expert at giving me personal and professional advice, all while making me feel empowered to make my own decisions. He even answers my occasional hysterical phone calls without being like, “New phone, who dis?” On that note, I’m also grateful that he attempts to keep up with all of the “hip” lingo I learn from my students and has finally stopped telling people that I invented the phrase YOLO.

When we aren’t catching up over phone calls, we are chatting over dinner or on long walks or hikes. He never says no to trying a new vacation destination, dinner spot, or adventure. He’s also finally accepted that when we are traveling and I find something that I want to eat and say that it’s not a very far walk, it’s actually a very far walk and “not too much longer!” means that we have at least a half hour of walking left ahead of us. He thinks Uber is the neatest, and I have to believe it has a little something to do with these adventures.

My dad and I had always had a special bond, but the loss of my mom completely evolved our relationship. I would not have survived the past two years without his strength and support. I look for silver linings in all things, and the bond we have built through some of life’s toughest moments is so special.

My dad gave me his broad shoulders that will never fit properly into a jean jacket, his love of naps, a passion for quality music, his appreciation of a good meal and a glass of red wine, his patience, his unrelenting kind heart, and his pursuit of a job well done. He gives me strength and wisdom and independence. He gives me a place to always come home to and keeps our landline exclusively because I’m not ready to give up my childhood phone number. He gives me laundry detergent, toilet paper, a bottle of wine, and a crisp $20 when being an adult is a bit tough.

When my dad thinks proudly of my accomplishments, big and small, I hope that he realizes it is a mirror reflecting directly back at him. I would not be who I am or able to do the things I do if it were not for him. You da real MVP, Papa G. They don’t make them any better than you.

As someone who lost a parent and has also witnessed strained relationships in a family, I know that Parent’s Days can be oh so bittersweet. It can be hard to open your email inbox, walk through the store, or scroll through social media without being reminded of the void that is in your life. Teaching taught me how blessed I was to grow the relationship with my parents that I have. Losing my mom taught me how hard these days are when it seems like everyone else has their mom or dad to celebrate with and you do not. So if today is hard for you, I’m thinking of you. If your dad wasn’t the man he should have been, I hope you learn from his mistakes and realize he missed out on knowing an incredible human. If you lost your dad, old or young, my heart hurts for you. I hope you are filled with fond memories. If nothing else, I hope there is a man in this world who helped make you who you are today. Make sure he knows it.

Grief

A few weeks ago, a woman that I barely knew asked me if I was over my mom’s death, like I had come down with a bad case of the flu instead of losing the woman who gave me life and taught me how to live. She seemed like a rather sensible woman and there were no visible scars to show that she had recently had the sensitivity part of her brain removed. I have to believe that she was asking a well-meaning question in a really terrible way.

My initial reaction was to tell this woman that I had the herpes of grief. It wasn’t going away. Now generally you probably shouldn’t say herpes to people you barely know, and maybe you also shouldn’t joke about it in your blog, but here we are. Instead I attempted to eloquently explain to her, that no, I wasn’t over my mom’s death, nor would I ever be. I have to believe that this woman, very fortunately, has yet to lose anyone close to her in her life. When you lose someone, it doesn’t matter if you are young or old, if they were young or old, if it was a surprise or a long time coming, if it was brutal and drawn out or quick and painless, death changes you down to your very core. Your soul will never be the same.

I think I was very sensitive to this woman’s question because I have often asked myself where I should be in my grieving process. Are people sick of hearing about my dead mom? Do people think I should just be over it? At what point should I be concerned about my public sobbing? At what point does it become unacceptable to tell the person in the drive-thru that I handed them my phone instead of my credit card because my mom is dead and I’m distracted? I’m getting out of bed every day, putting on pants (most days), and living a good life. But I still get overwhelmed. I still miss her immensely and wish she could be a part of my days. I am the exact opposite of over my mom’s death. I’m still very much immersed in it.

We are approaching the two year anniversary of life without her. I foolishly believed that each passing day would get easier. If we are being completely honest, I think that it just gets harder. The realization that my life and the life all around me goes on is the truest definition of bittersweet that I can think of. It means that every day I fill my life with wonderful people and things and experiences. It means that I’m doing good work and all sorts of things that my mom would be so proud of and excited to be a part of. Except she’s not here.

A few months after my mom’s death, a friend shared something he found on reddit about death and grief with me. I think of it often, especially when I question my grieving process.

Alright, here goes. I’m old. What that means is that I’ve survived (so far) and a lot of people I’ve known and loved did not. I’ve lost friends, best friends, acquaintances, co-workers, grandparents, mom, relatives, teachers, mentors, students, neighbors, and a host of other folks. I have no children, and I can’t imagine the pain it must be to lose a child. But here’s my two cents.

I wish I could say you get used to people dying. I never did. I don’t want to. It tears a hole through me whenever somebody I love dies, no matter the circumstances. But I don’t want it to “not matter”. I don’t want it to be something that just passes. My scars are a testament to the love and the relationship that I had for and with that person. And if the scar is deep, so was the love. So be it. Scars are a testament to life. Scars are a testament that I can love deeply and live deeply and be cut, or even gouged, and that I can heal and continue to live and continue to love. And the scar tissue is stronger than the original flesh ever was. Scars are a testament to life. Scars are only ugly to people who can’t see.

As for grief, you’ll find it comes in waves. When the ship is first wrecked, you’re drowning, with wreckage all around you. Everything floating around you reminds you of the beauty and the magnificence of the ship that was, and is no more. And all you can do is float. You find some piece of the wreckage and you hang on for a while. Maybe it’s some physical thing. Maybe it’s a happy memory or a photograph. Maybe it’s a person who is also floating. For a while, all you can do is float. Stay alive.

In the beginning, the waves are 100 feet tall and crash over you without mercy. They come 10 seconds apart and don’t even give you time to catch your breath. All you can do is hang on and float. After a while, maybe weeks, maybe months, you’ll find the waves are still 100 feet tall, but they come further apart. When they come, they still crash all over you and wipe you out. But in between, you can breathe, you can function. You never know what’s going to trigger the grief. It might be a song, a picture, a street intersection, the smell of a cup of coffee. It can be just about anything…and the wave comes crashing. But in between waves, there is life.

Somewhere down the line, and it’s different for everybody, you find that the waves are only 80 feet tall. Or 50 feet tall. And while they still come, they come further apart. You can see them coming. An anniversary, a birthday, or Christmas, or landing at O’Hare. You can see it coming, for the most part, and prepare yourself. And when it washes over you, you know that somehow you will, again, come out the other side. Soaking wet, sputtering, still hanging on to some tiny piece of the wreckage, but you’ll come out. Take it from an old guy. The waves never stop coming, and somehow you don’t really want them to. But you learn that you’ll survive them. And other waves will come. And you’ll survive them too. If you’re lucky, you’ll have lots of scars from lots of loves. And lots of shipwrecks.

So no, I’m not done grieving for my mom, nor will I ever be. The loss of her left a huge, raw hole in my soul. I’ve learned that hole will never truly be filled or even repaired. In fact, as I continue on through my life, I will lose other people and there will be more holes. For a while, I contemplated making sure that I never felt close enough to anyone to allow their eventual death to hurt me. Well that was a super lame idea and I’m glad I kicked it out of my head quickly. Those holes are truly beautiful scars that I have loved something deeply, and I wouldn’t want to go through life any other way. Instead I can take those holes, honor that they exist and are a part of me forever, and fill the space with wonderful people, memories old and new, and incredible experiences. I can fill them not in an attempt to cover them up or heal them, but rather to bring out the beauty of their existence. Just as the grief goes on, I decided life must too.

 

Teacher Appreciation Week 2.0

Author’s Note: This post was originally written a year ago. Updates are italicized.

Happy Teacher Appreciation Week! It really is a real thing, I promise. Obama made a proclamation and everything. Heck, Chipotle has Buy One, Get One Free burritos today. May is a tough month for teachers, so this week couldn’t fall at a better time. It’s the end of the year. The end is in sight, but there is so much to do. AP Tests, Prom, field trips galore, sporting events, graduation, the list goes on and on.

On the first day of Teacher Appreciation Week this year, President Trump’s administration announced that they would not continue with the education initiative Let Girls Learn, created by Michelle Obama, that facilitated educational opportunities for girls in developing countries. He also proposed cutting an after-school program that serves 1.8 million students who are economically disadvantaged. I have a feeling public school teachers won’t be receiving any sort of tweet of appreciation this week, but hey, at least Chipotle is still giving us free burritos!

This week, my advisory students were assigned the task of choosing a teacher that had an impact on their life and writing them a thank you letter. It is a struggle at this point of the year to get my advisory to do anything but complain. They rose to the occasion. Some wanted to write more than one. Some wanted me to track down addresses for teachers who worked at a different school. Some wanted to hand deliver them and others wanted them to be an anonymous surprise. Some wanted more time to make sure they really did their teacher justice. A few made a joke of it or took the lazy way out, because this isn’t a Hallmark movie special.

This year my students wrote thank you letters again with similar results. It has been fun to work on tracking down teachers from kindergarten through high school, sometimes in different states!

So I suppose it is only right that I also write a thank you to the teachers who have made me who I am today. I have been so fortunate to always have teachers in my life, including my own teachers, coworkers, and peers, who have inspired, challenged, loved, guided, bettered, and believed in me, long after I’ve left their classrooms. I could truly write about every teacher I have ever encountered, but it’s May and I’m a teacher and my to-do list is growing exponentially by the second. So here it goes:

Mrs. Vaughn, 3rd Grade: I had always liked learning, but Mrs. Vaughn’s 3rd Grade classroom at LGS made me fall in love with learning. It was impossible to pick a favorite subject, because she made them all come alive. She had us elect a local government to teach us civics. (I was one heck of a class mayor). Studying for spelling and times tests were exciting when turned into games. We made and played our own board games to learn about the solar system. I had my acting debut in her class. When an adult hurt my feelings, she taught me to handle it with grace and poise while still standing up for myself.

Ms. Mac, 4th Grade: Ms. Mac could have written the book on differentiation and the “I’m very disappointed in you” look. I have never seen a teacher strive to meet every student’s individual needs the way she did. I had read most of the books the class would be reading. So she went to the library and checked out new books for and wrote projects for me to complete to challenge me. No matter how bad you messed up, she never yelled or scolded. She let you know how disappointed in you she was because she knew you could do better. My heart still sinks to my stomach thinking about anytime I fell short of her expectations. I believed I could be better because she believed I could be better. And I still feel a little bit guilty to this day about continuing to pass notes even after she told me not to.

Mr. Adams, 7th Grade: Math was hard. Like really hard. Like whoever had the brilliant idea to put me in accelerated math was wrong. Until Mr. Adams made it fun. He taught me to laugh at myself. He taught me that we all deserve a second chance every once in a while. He taught me that just because it doesn’t come easily doesn’t mean it won’t come at all. I’ll even overlook the fact that he is a Cubs fan.

Mrs. Oxborrow, Drama: Freshman year is terrifying. I maybe would have gone home and never come back if it hadn’t been for Oxborrow’s smiling face on the first day of my drama class. Little did she know she would see me pretty much every single day for the next four years, whether it was drama class, independent study, play practice, coaching me for my speech team piece, letting me bug her at baseball games, or taking up her entire lunch so I could cry about how sometimes life just wasn’t fair.

Mrs. Fillman, Family and Consumer Science: There is a pretty good chance I wouldn’t be a teacher if it wasn’t for this woman. After taking her child development class and working High School/Pre-School, Mrs. Fillman was one of my bosses at my summer job at the Washington pool. One night when closing up, she asked me what I planned on doing with my life. I told her I had no idea. She told me I would be a teacher. I told her she was crazy and there is no way I would do that. She asked if I planned on working at the pool my entire life and throwing away a gift of working with kids. Well it was hard to argue with that.

Señora Sandy, Spanish: My students ask what I would teach if I didn’t teach math. I tell them I think I would teach Spanish because of Señora Sandy. She taught me that a foreign language was so much more than a college admission requirement. Spanish was a doorway to a global community. The talks of her travels abroad inspired me to see the world and I think of her every time I step on a plane. I traveled around Spain last summer because of all of the things Señora shared with me. I ate paella, observed the history, and attempted to immerse myself in the culture. When people ask why I chose Spain for my first solo trip abroad, I tell them because of Spanish 4 with Señora.

Mrs. Dayhoff, English: This blog exists because of this woman. She taught me to write for myself. Every day when we walked into her English 11 class, we were instructed to write. We wrote about anything we wanted to. There were no prompts or requirements. We were to write for the sake of writing. I looked forward to that free writing time every single day. It gave me a chance to sort out the thoughts and feelings I had as a 17-year-old in a safe space. She allowed us to write “DO NOT READ” at the top, and she would honor that. She taught me to write to share my feelings, sometimes with others and sometimes with myself. She assigned books that made you feel. She spent Saturdays with me at speech tournaments. She was one if the first adults to treat me like more than a teenager. She taught me that the little things were really big things. When she saw a copy of the play that my Mid-Illini conference winning (humble brag) speech piece was from in a used bookstore, she gifted it to me. I smile every time I see it on my bookshelf.

Mr. Smith, Math: I had decided I wanted to be a teacher, but I didn’t know what I wanted to teach yet. That is, until I was in Mr. Smith’s class. Math never came easy to me. Everyone else seemed to get it right off the bat, but I had to work at it. Mr. Smith taught me to love the struggle. Many mornings were spent asking him to explain something just one more time while he had breakfast duty in the commons. He believed I could do it, so I in turn believed in myself. He was the first person I told that I was thinking about being a math teacher, and he was the first person he told me he really thought I could be successful as a math major.

Karin Sconzert, Secondary Education: My first college class ever was Education 101 with Karin Sconzert. My last official college class was Classroom Management with Karin Sconzert. I could not have asked for a better professor to bookend my Carthage career. She didn’t sugarcoat the business we were getting into. It was going to be hard. We were going to get frustrated. There would be a lot of things out of our control. A lot of education professors like to paint education as nothing but rainbows and butterflies. Anyone who has spent more than five minutes in a classroom will tell you that is false. Karin let us know what we were getting into an equipped us to be successful despite the obstacles. We read stories and listened to guest speakers. She put us in classrooms that allowed us to experience the real deal. She continues to support us into our careers, whether it’s sharing resources, or if your as lucky as I was, offering words of encouragement in her kitchen.

Janet Carpino, Math: I had the opportunity to observe Janet Carpino when I was completing my undergrad. I was overwhelmed with schoolwork and contemplating if I was making the right career path. Until I got placed in her Algebra 1A/1B class. Most of the students didn’t speak English as their first language. Many of them were special education. A lot of them had some severe behavioral issues. Watching a very pregnant Janet teach this class rejuvenated my decision to become a teacher. I wanted to be Mrs. Carpino. A few years later, I had the incredible opportunity to be her colleague. Her guidance and support helped me become the teacher I always dreamed of being.

Sonya Sutton, Math: December 2012 I received a piece of paper that changed my life. I would be teaching high school with Sonya Sutton in the Spring for my final student teaching placement. Her no-nonsense attitude equipped me to deal with my toughest classes. I had never met someone capable of treating every human they encounter with genuine respect, but Sonya does. She is now a guidance counselor. I think she spends just as much time providing guidance to the staff as she does providing guidance to the students.

Jackie Yunker, Math: I got really lucky when I got a work best friend and a life best friend all in one. I strive to achieve the patience she has when working with students. Her willingness to share lessons, ideas, insights, and baked goods is unmatched. Her willingness to set aside her to-do lists to let me vent has kept me sane. She believed in me as a teacher on the days I didn’t believe in myself.

Lea Sparks, Math: I used to spend my spring breaks and part of my summers in Kentucky with my aunt, who was a middle school math teacher. In August, we would go to the store where she would buy school supplies for all of her students, out of her own pocket. I remember being so confused as to why she would have to buy all of her students supplies out of her own pocket. She made sure every student had what they needed to be successful. When I would go to school with her, we would get to school before the sun made an appearance. She taught me that teaching is selfless.

I could go on and on and truly never do these incredible ladies and gentlemen justice. You have cheered with me in my victories and felt my pain and my sorrows. I would not be who I am if you all had not been in my life. In all things I do as a teacher and as a human, I am inspired by you all. I hope to someday be half the teacher that you all have been in my life.

If a teacher helped make you who you are today, take a minute to thank them this week.

Springing to Life (and Death)

Spring is bittersweet for me. Anyone who has spent any time with me recently knows I am straight up giddy about the longer days and warmer weather. My Chaco tanline is already making a solid comeback. I spend every moment I possibly can outside. In fact, I’m writing this on my balcony at this very moment. Everything feels new and filled with possibility after a long, cold, dark, cooped up winter. That’s the sweet part. The bitter part? My mom was diagnosed with terminal cancer as the last snow of the year was melting. When I first started driving home every few days to be with her and help with appointments, I was packing sweaters and boots. It wasn’t long before I was staring at my sandal wearing feet in the waiting room. As the weather is changing and spring is springing, I am constantly reminded of what life was like for me during the Spring of 2015.

Every year, my mom and dad spent hours planning and planting their gardens all around the house. They would pick out the most beautiful flowers and plant them with love (and in my mom’s opinion, too much fertilizer applied by my dad). The spring she got sick was no different. Although she could no longer drive because of the effects of the radiation, she would ask me to stop at the greenhouse after appointments. She would ask me which flowers I liked and explained which ones grew best in different conditions and which ones were her favorites. This wasn’t the first time she told me these things, but this was the first time I truly listened. I wanted to soak up everything I possibly could so that I could someday have my own beautiful gardens and carry that piece of her with me always. She was usually too weak and tired to do much of the gardening herself, but she loved to sit outside as the weather got warmer and tell us exactly how she wanted the flower beds planted. Every year, she tried to pick out a theme for all of her flowers. Once she asked me if I knew why she picked all red flowers that year. “Because the Cardinals are the best team in baseball? Because the Badgers made it to the National Championship game recently? Because my brother and I went to Carthage?” I asked. “Because I’m going to fight this thing like a bull,” she said with a twinkle in her eye. Only my mom would look at a garden theme as sending a message to such an ugly disease. She always told me to kill my enemies with kindness. Apparently she was going to use nature’s beauty to kill her cancer.

Before I left to go back to work one Sunday afternoon, she insisted that I plant my own pots to take back with me. I told her it wasn’t necessary, that I would be home again in a few days to enjoy her beautiful flowers with her. She insisted. She picked out what would do best on the balcony of my apartment. She helped me fill the pots with dirt and place the flowers just right. She gave me very specific watering directions. As I left our neighborhood, I took a turn too hard and knocked all of the pots over, spilling dirt and smooshing the flowers all over my car. WHOOPS! I cleaned it up, set the pots on my balcony, and honestly forgot about them. I was a bit preoccupied with life.

If we are being completely honest, I was also angry at flowers. And spring. And everything coming to life all around me as my mom was fading away. It almost felt like the greening grassy, budding trees, and blooming flowers were mocking me. Everything was being made anew and bursting with life while my mom’s was slipping away right in front of us.

My mom never felt that way though. She loved to sit outside and enjoy the world coming to life around her. Her and my dad would go to a lookout over the river when they had time between appointments. When she had visitors, she liked to sit with them on our back porch. She soaked in the changes happening all around her and saw the beauty in it all. She always was wiser than me.

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The first official day of summer came and she left us not long after. A new season was upon us and her flowers were everywhere to remind us of the beauty that remained in the wake of our overwhelming loss. When I went back to my apartment to pack up to move out in August, I went out on my balcony to bring in my outdoor furniture and I saw my flower pots. To my amazement, they were in full bloom. It had been hot and weeks since it had last rained. I had completely neglected them for months. And yet there they were, as beautiful as ever. I have to believe heaven has access to a watering can.

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So these days, spring is filled with giddiness, nostalgia, and sadness. I’m thankful for the new life springing up all around me, but I can’t help but hurt for the life that faded away as everything was blooming. The grief shows up like an unexpected spring thunderstorm. The dark clouds roll in and the thunder shakes me to my core. But the rain also gives me what I need to grow. And I’m reminded to take a page from my mom’s book and soak in the beauty all around me, in spite of what is going on within me.