Option 1: We rarely take the time to stop and smell the roses. Even on the most disastrous of days, good things happen. And these good things, when you’re on the lookout for them, pop up. All. The. Time. So for one day (heck, do it for many days), keep a lookout for the small good moments during your day and blog about them. We bet that by keeping an eye out for the good, your whole day will be even better!
My one good thing! He’s overseeing my blogging from his “office.”
I’m in the home stretch of maternity leave with my son Parker, so as much as I wanted to share what a day looks like for me teaching math and being an IB coordinator, it feels weird trying to recreate that when I haven’t been in the classroom since June 25, 2015. In the throes of the newborn stage, I quickly realized that there is no “leave” in maternity leave. I missed school–not only the familiar faces and routines but also the feeling of being competent. As a student and as a runner, I’ve previously been able to achieve good grades and better race times. With a known input comes a known output.
But with motherhood, like teaching before it, I have felt so deskilled in that putting hard work in doesn’t necessarily yield a desired result. It’s been a humbling journey, and though each day brings new challenges, I’m starting to find my footing. Over the past few months, I have grown by leaps and bounds since that first day home with Parker (when my husband and I put the car seat down on our floor for the very first time and wondered “how did the hospital let us out when we know *nothing*?”). I feel more confident with taking him out, with soothing him, with feeling like a mom, and with knowing him and his quirks. I cherish our snuggles, outings to baby lapsit, long walks, and co-cooking sessions (when he oversees me from his lion seat). Watching him grow and learn is amazing. Laughs, rolling, grasping, and getting closer to sitting up are all so cool to see.
That leads me to the overall “one good thing” of this post. Being at home with Parker and enjoying these small moments is helping me be patient with where I am rather than always worrying about not doing enough. When I got pregnant, I knew that teaching would become very different as I took on the new role of mom. However, I kept up my old habits and work style right up until the summer because I just wasn’t ready to let go of them and change. Throughout maternity leave, I’ve worried about forgetting how to teach, about my school not needing me anymore, and about how I was going to handle work if Parker still woke up multiple times a night to feed. Recently, I finally started to change my mindset about the onset of work. My brain sometimes still thinks it needs to go into panicky worry mode before every start of school, even though it doesn’t need to do it anymore.
Life will be okay if I’m reasonable about setting my bars for success. For instance, I recently ran without RunKeeper or music and just set out to enjoy the run without setting a pace goal. I could have gone into it saying “well, you *already* failed because you also didn’t double up and do a barre class today” or “if you don’t go faster than your last run, you’ve failed” or “you’re not running five miles at a time yet? FAILED!” Instead I just enjoyed the balmy weather, quiet Tufts campus, and feeling happy for having gone on a run at all. Teaching is going to be fine. It’ll be a tough adjustment, much as getting used to maternity leave was, but I’ll be able to handle it.
I made a big deal of removing the Facebook app from my phone, thinking that removing the impetus to check my newsfeed on the T, in line, or when bored would make me more productive. For the most part, this lifestyle change has helped me. I don’t get frustrated by reading the umpteenth Buzzfeed listicle, quiz, Upworthy post, or political rants from friends and acquaintance. However, I am glad that I haven’t deactivated completely, because there is still a lot of thought-provoking, share-worthy stuff out there.
My friend Jon shared this amazing post by Sarah Blaine of Parenting the Core. I’ve already posted it on Facebook and tweeted it, but I couldn’t resist posting it here as well. I’m now subscribed to Parenting the Core via Bloglovin’ and am looking forward to more of her posts.
Sarah Blaine may say she “copped out,” but I believe the exact opposite. I bet she was a damn fine teacher and now is a damn fine lawyer because of this: “I continued to learn. Nine years after my law school graduation, I think I have some idea of how to litigate a case. But I am not a perfect lawyer. There is still more I could learn, more I could do, better legal instincts I could develop over time. I could hone my strategic sense. I could do better, be better.”
Those who stay hungry for learning and understand how to reflect thoughtfully will always keep on being better.
by Sarah Blaine
“We all know what teachers do, right? After all, we were all students. Each one of us, each product of public education, we each sat through class after class for thirteen years. We encountered dozens of teachers. We had our kindergarten teachers and our first grade teachers and our fifth grade teachers and our gym teachers and our art teachers and our music teachers. We had our science teachers and our social studies teachers and our English teachers and our math teachers. If we were lucky, we might even have had our Latin teachers or our Spanish teachers or our physics teachers or our psychology teachers. Heck, I even had a seventh grade “Communications Skills” teacher. We had our guidance counselors and our principals and some of us had our special education teachers and our study hall monitors.
So we know teachers. We get teachers. We know what happens in classrooms, and we know what teachers do. We know which teachers are effective, we know which teachers left lasting impressions, we know which teachers changed our lives, and we know which teachers sucked.
We know. We know which teachers changed lives for the better. We know which teachers changed lives for the worse.
Teaching as a profession has no mystery. It has no mystique. It has no respect.
We were students, and therefore we know teachers. We denigrate teachers. We criticize teachers. We can do better than teachers. After all: We do. They teach.
We are wrong.
We need to honor teachers. We need to respect teachers. We need to listen to teachers. We need to stop reducing teachers to arbitrary measurements of student growth on so-called objective exams.
Most of all, we need to stop thinking that we know anything about teaching merely by virtue of having once been students.
We don’t know.
I spent a little over a year earning a master of arts in teaching degree. Then I spent two years teaching English Language Arts in a rural public high school. And I learned that my 13 years as a public school student, my 4 years as a college student at a highly selective college, and even a great deal of my year as a masters degree student in the education school of a flagship public university hadn’t taught me how to manage a classroom, how to reach students, how to inspire a love of learning, how to teach. Eighteen years as a student (and a year of preschool before that), and I didn’t know shit about teaching. Only years of practicing my skills and honing my skills would have rendered me a true professional. An expert. Someone who knows about the business of inspiring children. Of reaching students. Of making a difference. Of teaching.
I didn’t stay. I copped out. I left. I went home to suburban New Jersey, and a year later I enrolled in law school.
I passed the bar. I began to practice law at a prestigious large law firm. Three years as a law student had no more prepared me for the practice of law than 18 years of experience as a student had previously prepared me to teach. But even in my first year as a practicing attorney, I earned five times what a first year teacher made in the district where I’d taught.
I worked hard in my first year of practicing law. But I didn’t work five times harder than I’d worked in my first year of teaching. In fact, I didn’t work any harder. Maybe I worked a little less.
But I continued to practice. I continued to learn. Nine years after my law school graduation, I think I have some idea of how to litigate a case. But I am not a perfect lawyer. There is still more I could learn, more I could do, better legal instincts I could develop over time. I could hone my strategic sense. I could do better, be better. Learn more law. Learn more procedure. But law is a practice, law is a profession. Lawyers are expected to evolve over the course of their careers. Lawyers are given more responsibility as they earn it.
New teachers take on full responsibility the day they set foot in their first classrooms.
The people I encounter out in the world now respect me as a lawyer, as a professional, in part because the vast majority of them have absolutely no idea what I really do.
All of you former students who are not teachers and not lawyers, you have no more idea of what it is to teach than you do of what it is to practice law.
All of you former students: you did not design curricula, plan lessons, attend faculty meetings, assess papers, design rubrics, create exams, prepare report cards, and monitor attendance. You did not tutor students, review rough drafts, and create study questions. You did not assign homework. You did not write daily lesson objectives on the white board. You did not write poems of the week on the white board. You did not write homework on the white board. You did not learn to write legibly on the white board while simultaneously making sure that none of your students threw a chair out a window.
You did not design lessons that succeeded. You did not design lessons that failed.
You did not learn to keep your students quiet during lock down drills.
You did not learn that your 15 year old students were pregnant from their answers to vocabulary quizzes. You did not learn how to teach functionally illiterate high school students to appreciate Shakespeare. You did not design lessons to teach students close reading skills by starting with the lyrics to pop songs. You did not miserably fail your honors level students at least in part because you had no books to give them. You did not struggle to teach your students how to develop a thesis for their essays, and bask in the joy of having taught a successful lesson, of having gotten through to them, even for five minutes. You did not struggle with trying to make SAT-level vocabulary relevant to students who did not have a single college in their county. You did not laugh — because you so desperately wanted to cry — when you read some of the absurdities on their final exams. You did not struggle to reach students who proudly announced that they only came to school so that their mom’s food stamps didn’t get reduced.
You did not spend all of New Years’ Day crying five years after you’d left the classroom because you reviewed the New York Times’ graphic of soldiers killed in Iraq and Afghanistan and learned that one of your very favorite students had been killed in Iraq two years before. And you didn’t know. Because you copped out and left. So you cried, helplessly, and the next day you returned to the practice of law.
You did not. And you don’t know. You observed. Maybe you learned. But you didn’t teach.
The problem with teaching as a profession is that every single adult citizen of this country thinks that they know what teachers do. And they don’t. So they prescribe solutions, and they develop public policy, and they editorialize, and they politicize. And they don’t listen to those who do know. Those who could teach. The teachers.”
Personalized “Mrs.” Mug by CJayne Teach
My students like consistency, whether it be the same seat in math class or the same Starbucks drink every morning. Some have even protested my upcoming post-marriage name change. I’m not alone; our former music teacher still got called her maiden name two years later and our awesome student support/advisory teacher/family outreach/generally wonderful person still gets called by hers twelve years later.
The varied name nomenclature in schools interests me. In other Boston Public Schools, teachers are universally referred to by “miss” or “mister.” My elementary teacher friends in Virginia go by “Mrs. [Last Name]” whereas married female teachers in my current school go by “Ms. [Last Name].” Boston Public Schools oddly has not let married female teachers change their email addresses, only the display names, i.e., I would still be email@example.com with a display name of “Danahy, Kristina.” I’m hoping that our switch from Outlook to Google Apps will make the email address switch possible though.
Owning one’s name fascinates me too. I used to hate feeling different from everyone else in the classroom; I wished to be one of the four Jessicas, Jennifers, or Emilys…or even just Christina rather than Kristina. Later in life, I hated the butchering of my last name by unsuspecting teachers who called roll from their class rosters. I ended up learning the Army alphabet to avoid people butchering it when taking messages or looking up my name at event registration tables (“B as in Bravo, U-E, N as in November, A, F as in Foxtrot, E).
Now I’m happy to be unique and proudly own my name. Some cool things about it: Buenafe means “good faith” in Spanish, and my middle initial is Q. I’ve taken to signing everything “KQB” for the past 13 years (picked up the after seeing my favorite systems engineering professor do it). It’ll still always be my name even after I swap out one word…and I’ll still have to spell it out when leaving messages or signing in at events.
I’ll just have to deal with the student reactions for now…
Student 1: You can’t change your name! You’ll always be Ms. Buenafe!
Student 2: No. I think I’ll keep calling you Ms. Buenafe, because I like it better.
Student 3: I don’t want you to change your name.
Student 3: Do you have a sister?
Student 3: Then she can be Ms. Buenafe.
Student 3: Oh! Do you have a brother?
Student 3: I know. I’ll marry him and *I’ll* be [Student 3] Buenafe.
Student 3: [bats her eyelashes at me]
Update: Here’s more married-name swag. DomestiKated Life posted some awesome personalized note cards from Atelier. Love the Coffee Talk ones.
…is a message on your cup.
Not just your name scrawled in black Sharpie by a Starbucks barista (though the name mistakes can be funny) or America Runs on Dunkin, but a reminder to set a positive tone for the day.
When I saw this cute mug on Etsy, memories of signing library book cards with a freshly sharpened number 2 pencil and pecking out “The quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog” on a typewriter popped into my head. I thought, “this would make a great gift for teacher friends!”
Mug by CJayneTeach
After I read the message inscribed on the index card lines, I thought “yup, cute gift…and powerful message.” It reminded me of setting the tone of the school day as if setting an intention for a yoga class. I like to start my school days with a solitary walk from the T, planning my day while surrounded by the peace and quiet of the Boston Common and Bay Village. I think about how to make lessons run smoothly and motivate students, how to make meetings and events run smoothly and motivate teachers (as a grade team leader), and how to make internal assessments, exam review, CAS, extended essay, and various IB components run smoothly and motivate students and teachers (as an IB coordinator). It’s easy to forget to set that intention and give way to worries about all of those things.
I could get behind this coffee mug’s intention: “You are awesome. Your students are learning from you. And today is going to be a good day.”
It evokes memories of a mentor teacher who used to used to start each school day imagining herself as the queen of her classroom and repeating “I am tough. I am strong. I own this.” This confidence-building phrase has stuck with me over the past six years, picking up a companion idea of “everything is going to be okay” in this little queendom that is my classroom. Recently, my old roommate helped reinforce the idea of trading agitation for calm + finding strength in peacefulness by sharing the mantra “I am peaceful. I am grateful” that she’d picked up at a yoga retreat.
So after this February break is over and I’m back to morning coffee and walks in the snow to school, I’ll remember to listen to the coffee mug: not to think of myself as awesome all the time, but to remember to stay positive and keep finding those moments of awesomeness in teaching, learning, and leading.