The Reality of Teaching

We have had an insane start to our year at school; it’s all happening. The last two days just the tip of the iceberg. If I were to write it all down people would think it was a feral place but it really isn’t, and that’s because there are adults in the school who work really really hard to ensure that kids still learn whilst the crazy happens. The adults hold off their own reactions and processing until the kids have gone home and then, sometimes, they fall in a heap.

I think for people that don’t teach, and who shake their heads saying they could never teach, they miss the reward in what we do.

We are shaping and changing lives every single moment while we are at work. And we do that beyond the scope of the classroom.

We remind the kids that they are worth our time because we take the time to really listen to them, and to really communicate with them. We know them and so they are safe to break down and cry and to be real. They know that some of us would do absolutely anything to make them safe, happy, and learned.

And we all sacrifice our own welfare and the welfare of each other to achieve this. I think that’s my epiphany upon waking this morning.

There were about six of us that yesterday and Thursday just had insanity almost every moment; unbelievable things were happening. I left work yesterday only being able to touch base with one of them. We go to our lives outside of the workplace and realistically, only the people within the workplace could understand our lives within the workplace.

Teachers are indeed a strange breed.

When they put the hours and more importantly, their souls into their work.

I became a teacher because I wanted to change the world. People laughed at my idealism and said that it wouldn’t last: make the most of it because after five years you won’t feel the same way. And I waited in fear for my idealism to change.

They were right. It did.

The longer I teach the more passionately idealistic I become.

And that’s why some days, some weeks, it is just too hard to want to continue. I just want the easy life …

The life that doesn’t require weekly massages. On Thursday I couldn’t walk or sit comfortably by the end of the day because cortisol had seemingly replaced my blood.

The life that doesn’t involve standing eye to eye with a kid almost adult as they debate whether they are going to hit me or not.

The life that doesn’t involve umpiring classroom disputes because kids these days are scared to openly admit that they just want to be loved and valued, and don’t believe they are.

The life that doesn’t involve missing lunch and adult time because a new student is feeling desperately alone and just needs someone to talk to, to let them know that they are seen, really seen, and that it will all be okay.

The life that doesn’t involve supporting students through traumatic times when you are not entirely convinced that they are telling you the truth. And you know that even if they listen, it won’t necessarily change their behaviours.

The life that doesn’t involve your own heart breaking every time you see a child’s pain. Enough said.

The life that doesn’t involve you taking photos of what another child has written on their neck whilst you reassure them that the other child was silly and they are valuable and do not deserve this treatment.

The life that doesn’t involve so many hours of follow up paperwork, phone calls home, and further interventions. Thankless work.

The life that doesn’t involve seeing all of the worst of our society, the results of adult inadequacy and poor choices, manifested in the damage in children.

One day I hope to have that easy life. To not be so passionate about my job that I take priority.

But I don’t think that will be today, tomorrow, or even this week. Probably not even this year.

Because I love my classes. I love being in my classroom and getting kids to look deeper into life, to see the world as it has been so that they can create their own lives in a better way. Happier way.

And I love the people who share my vision. In particular the people who I know had nutty days like I did Thursday and Friday, because we all had to work together. People that do share my philosophy and vision for the most part.

I dedicate this post to them. At least we weren’t alone in the insanity:

Malcolm, Lynda, Belinda.

Thank you.

Meandering Through The Maze

I sigh.

I wasn’t sure whether to use the metaphor of a maze or a roller coaster but decided on the maze because I liked the alliteration with meandering.

I love that word – meandering. It’s connotation is calm, peaceful, slow, enjoyable. Just being where you are and moving at your pace. Contrast that to a maze – almost a sense of panic at not knowing which way to go but knowing eventually you will get out or die trying.

Yep. I love this title. Really sums up where I am on my baby pursuit.

For the most part I don’t really think about it consciously but it’s always there, just lingering.

I think inside my head a lot. I can’t find voice for most of the thoughts regarding this. I’m sort of in limbo. And I sort of think I might be too old, too selfish, too stuck. But then I think that those words might just be trying to soothe me in my childlessness.

Max, my almost two and a half year old dog, is sick. On Monday morning he woke just after three in the morning vomiting – a horrible sound. I comforted him, cleaned up the mess, and just stayed with him, sleepless, until morning and work beckoned. I worried about him all day. Mum, thankfully, called in to see how he was and to let me know he was doing okay and that he was alive (drama queen that I am). And I was exhausted but so happy in that – this might be what it’s like to be a mum, to have a baby/child.

Is Max enough? Are Max and Molly (my cat) enough? Are my nieces and nephews enough?

I just don’t know.

Hence, meandering through the maze.

I sigh.

Success in the Classroom

I have just started my twenty third year in the classroom. I am always looking for ways to keep my lessons fresh and vital for my kids. I think I was born to teach; most of what I do is intuitive. I watch my kids’ faces and if they aren’t getting it I stop and try another way.

I have been responsible for many practicum students over the years and in recent times have become perplexed with one university’s advice to their future teachers regarding behaviour management. It was only after observing a few practicum teachers in one block at our school that I realised there was a pattern. And so I asked …

The students had been instructed by their university mentors to manage the students in pockets by walking around and delivering individual instructions to pockets of kids – WTF!

Behaviour management is really quite simple in theory; it starts to work when we work and are consistent. And if you persevere at the beginning, you never really struggle like we all do in the early years again.

Successful management of a classroom hinges on:

1. Clear boundaries
2. Consistently enforced boundaries
3. Strong and appropriate relationships with the kids and,
4. Engaging lessons.

This doesn’t all come at once. No beginning teacher can follow this and magically the kids are working, responding and achieving. You plant the seeds and they grow as you grow.

My rules at the beginning of each year have become less and less each year. I now simply explain to the kids that my classroom works on respect: I respect them, they respect me and we all respect our learning, and everything will be great.

I promise them they have a teacher that loves them and wants them to know more at the end of our time together than they do at the beginning, and if they do as I ask, I guarantee them success.

But when I started teaching, I was very very specific. And I asked the kids to write Behaviour Rules as well as Book Rules. I don’t need to do that anymore because my reputation precedes me; the kids have an expectation of how they should behave before they enter my classroom. They already know they will receive consequences if they don’t follow the school rules. I am the pack leader and this inspires confidence that they will be safe in my space. And they are. But this didn’t happen overnight.

This comes from years of hard work consistently enforcing those rules; many many lunch times spent on detentions with the kids talking to them about the whys and the hows, and inadvertently developing strong relationships with each of them, because I cared to talk to them, listen to them, and spend time with them. Kids respond to this. By spending the time with them I let them know that they were valuable to me as people first, students second. Their learning and the struggles that compromised this were important to me. They believed I loved them and that their success drives me forward.

And once I had control of my classroom, the lessons I had prepared could engage the kids. By knowing my students and understanding how my kids learn, through practice not theory, I could devise units that were relevant and pushed their understanding of our world. And then they learned.

My greatest achievements as a person occur through my work. That moment when the light bulb switches on in a student’s mind, and they look at you and say, “I get it! I understand!” is amazing. There is nothing like it and I am blessed with that occurrence every day.

Because my foundation is strong.
Because the focus in my classroom is learning and not behaviour.
Because I spent years developing relationships through enforcing boundaries and reiterating expectations.
Because I strengthened my craft.
Because I never gave up, even though I threatened it and cried heaps.

I struggle in this era of teaching. I see young teachers who show potential that are encouraged to take on extra roles and duties before they have had time to perfect their craft. I believe that it is only once you have perfected your craft (and this occurs at different times for different people) that you can afford for your classroom practice to be ‘compromised’ by other roles.

And I believe that you can only lead once you have experience. Obviously, people develop at different rates and different life experiences impact on a person’s readiness to lead so there are no fixed times attached to this.

But that experience leads to knowing thyself which leads to being able to support and lead others.

In contemporary teaching I see people take on leadership roles before they are ready and the foundation of a school becomes compromised. Leading people effectively, whether they be kids or adults, requires sacrifice and time. It requires knowledge, conviction and time. Overloading people before they are ready is not in anyone’s best interests. But it continues to happen.

To the detriment of education and learning. And ultimately, to the detriment of our individual and collective futures.

Tales from the Classroom

Returning from a few days sick into my classroom is always a little bit of fun. The very best thing about teaching is the kids that I teach. A close second, very close, is the staff that I work with. Coming back to the kids though … Often hilarious.

Firstly because I generally run a tight ship, when I am unexpectedly absent, the mice will play. Because they are kids they don’t stop to think of consequences; they have perfected the art of living in the moment. It is only when they see me walk through the corridors that they realise their choices may not have been for the best.

Secondly, this makes my bluff easier for them to believe. Thirdly, the more conscious kids run to me to dob on their peers when they see me, citing the behaviour of their peers as their reason for not completing the work that I left.

And so I always return to my classroom to guilty looks, cheeky grins, and a chorus of, “Where were you?” and “We missed you” and “Hope you feel better now Miss”. And I always smile and add to the chorus with, “Obviously sick. I missed you guys too. I am better now thank you. And I hope you all realise I know you haven’t been the best you can be so go in quietly, get your equipment out, and not a word.”

The kids that misbehaved swallow hard and turn green (a bit of poetic license here), the others grin to themselves knowing the show is about to start.

And unlike every other day, they walk in quietly and follow all instructions.

“I know you didn’t all do the right thing. Keeping in mind that I obviously know who did and didn’t behave, I am giving you the opportunity to own your behaviour and accept responsibility. Stand up if you didn’t do the right thing while I was away.”

A couple of courageous lambs stand.

“What I mean by not doing the right thing is, you had your phone out, you spoke to your friends [a few more rise slowly], you didn’t complete the work, you answered back the teacher [nervously looking at me they continue to rise], you did anything you wouldn’t do if I were here.”

By this point, most of the expected subjects are on their feet or have their hands in the air. I survey the room and when satisfied, ask a few what they did and why. I then raise my eyebrows and remind them that I expect them to be their very best regardless of whether I am there or not.

And then we continue the lesson aka catching up what they didn’t do whilst I was away.

Experience as a teacher is invaluable. I have been in my current school for the better part of sixteen years. My reputation precedes me. Most of the kids have heard stories, true or not, and if they haven’t they soon learn that you just don’t mess with me. Me or my Sister of Destruction.

The funny thing about this is that I love my job, I love the kids (often as if they were my own), and I’m not that scary (ask anyone who has been taught by me).

The perception of me is infinitely scarier than the reality.

I strive to make my classroom a safe zone. A place where the kids feel safe to learn because they are free from bullying and criticism when they make mistakes. As I say to my classes at the beginning of each new year, “We learn nothing from getting everything right. Mistakes are our teaching tools. Please make them.” And like a lioness, I protect those that do, and we all have fun because they feel safe and they know that they are loved and that they are valued for everything that they are, the good and the not so good.

And so we move forward together, connected in learning.

Feeling More Myself

I hate being sick.

I hate more that I am a firm believer that illness can be avoided. So when I get sick I get frustrated with myself.

My life work balance has been struggling to find breath since work went back. I’m not really surprised but a bit upset with myself for it and so I became sick, my body susceptible to a flu virus that crept in just over two weeks ago.

As tired as I was I struggled to take the time my body needed and the virus snowballed; I spent five days last week in bed/on the lounge.

Unable to move much. Unable to think much.

Trying to get back in rhythm with my body. Consuming mostly fresh fruit and veges. Thursday I started to feel human again, although I sweat most of the long day at work away. Friday better still. Today I could get up and shower and haul myself to the local shopping centre. Happy with my progress.

I went to the shops because I need to listen better to my body, and the knots in my neck and shoulders were screaming for liberation. And only one place can help with that.

I love massages. I love that I can feel my body breathing and my mind expanding. That I can force myself to be in the moment and shut out other thoughts. That there is no worry over what I should be doing and there are no interruptions beyond, “Is this pressure okay for you?”

Bliss.

It is only in the last few years though that I have found the courage within myself to be able to get massages. It used to be that the thought of a stranger seeing my body would send me into extreme fear that they would spend the rest of the day laughing at the ugly girl. That I would be talked about for days after and that when I would come back again they would all fight to not have me as their client. Yep, I know – ridiculous.

Because even if they did do that, I don’t know that that’s what happens. I still get my massage and I still walk out with a fuzzy but clear head; a trance like state where I am part of the world and removed from it all at the same time. Cloud Nine.

It’s funny this body image thing. I have no real concept of what I look like. Sometimes I feel significantly larger than what I am, other times smaller than what I am. Sometimes I feel very attractive, other times I am convinced that there is no one alive more unattractive than me.

Funnily I feel best when I am in control and when I am me. Maybe not so funny. Often those times are when I am by myself. No pressure to be or do from anywhere else. Free to be me.

I had an inbox exchange with an ex student on Facebook. She doesn’t like the way that she looks. Amazing in my mind because she has always been a gorgeous girl. I wish I could somehow get her to see what the world sees. But I guess that applies to all of us.

And often what makes someone attractive comes from the inside. The inner beauty created from compassion, openness, honesty and integrity, really can shape the external appearance of someone – they radiate an energy that transfixes those around them. I think of people I have loved who became irresistible to me when I had seen their soul and others, initially irresistible who lost that when their superficiality and egocentric self eclipsed anything physically appealing.

If only we could all trust ourselves and the love of those who love us, to strive to be the best version of ourselves in a more holistic way rather than what social constructs determine as the right way to look.

If only we sharpened our minds and cared for other people and animals as deeply as we strive to be beautiful, what an amazing world we would be nurturing.

What a legacy for future generations …

Forcing the Creative

I am sitting in my classroom. My students are working. We have watched a series of short films to help inspire one of us. We then watched Elizabeth Gilbert’s TED talk on failing and wanting to give up. Two out of my four are falling behind on their Major Works. They were unhappy when fate intervened and they arrived early together only to receive firm words from me. I then forced them to sit and write. They have done that happily and have written more in the last hour and a half than they have prior to this, vindicating my nastiness.

And then I felt that I should turn my nastiness towards myself. And this is Elizabeth Gilbert’s fault. She asks in her Ted talk, where we most feel at ‘home’ because that is the place we need to return to when we feel the suffocation of failure encroaching; to determine this place we need to think about the thing or place that we love more than we love ourselves.

For her, it is writing.

For me, it is writing.

When I write I am wholly me. I feel that in my writing are the best elements of myself and they liberate me from the shackles of my ordinary, suburban life. It is through my writing that I share my voice and my dreams, my failures and my successes. It is almost as if I am communicating with my most authentic self, my higher self, the part of me that is untainted by everything else that brings us down.

And so, I was sitting in my classroom, instructing my students to write and realised that I too, should be writing. And not just my blog. Even though it is writing.

And it was then I realised that I allow myself to use my busy life as an excuse to not write more, to not research ideas for novels and novellas, to not fail. Because if I am not writing it is easier than writing and noone wanting to read it. And as a child that dreamed of being a writer, the failure of not being successful requires more courage than I was willing to muster.

It is hard to pursue our dreams. If I were truly serious about mine I would become a part time teacher and change my lifestyle so that financial ruin wouldn’t go hand in hand with that choice. Maybe after I give up my baby dream …

Again, another excuse. I have plenty of them. I am happy to share them too; if you want one just ask ;-).

It is fear that stops me though. I love teaching but it isn’t my love for teaching that stops me. It is my fear of moving out of my comfort zone. It is my fear of failing.

What if I try and fail?

What if I try and succeed?

What if … always what if … the children are speaking to me, wanting to know if I am their friend or not … I must go …

Visiting the Past

I am not feeling well at the moment; nothing major, a small chest infection, but it is causing me to not overload myself at the moment. This is definitely not a bad thing lol.

And so I am watching Dr Phil. I think most of my healing as an adult has been through Dr Phil and Oprah. They deserve medals lol. They have both championed the rights of people like me for as long as I can remember; I am grateful to them both.

And in this particular episode there is a fifteen year old girl who screams at conflict. I cried when I saw her do it because it triggered memories of when I was her. And at the same age. If there was conflict at home I would just start screaming. Not screaming like a scared scream. It was a scream from deep, very very deep within my soul. And it carried with it everything I could not give voice too.

And it scared my parents.
It also terrified me.

I didn’t understand it. I didn’t know where it came from. I didn’t know why I did it. One time it resulted in my father dragging me by the hair up the hallway to get me away from where I was so that it would stop. Remember – it scared my parents. It didn’t stop me. He called my mum and by the time she arrived I was crouched in the corner of my bed against the wall still screaming. I saw her fear too.

But watching Dr Phil today, seeing my fifteen year old self on the screen through this other girl, I started to understand.

And then Dr Phil articulated it.

Kids who have spent their lives living abuse almost every day try many different coping strategies. They also try different things to make sense out of the chaos; try to find the sanity in the insane. Invariably over time when none of these work, a guttural scream arises. And at the very least it is something the child can control and it provides the soul with temporary quiet, ironically.

I have spent most of my adult life trying to sort out the wounds from my childhood and attempting to minimize their impact on my life, well the negative effects.

Some of what has assisted me has been confronting my parents and not backing down when excuses were given, but more significantly I think, from them after this, their ability to say to me what they never did or could when I was growing up. They have said ‘I love you’ and more importantly, ‘I am proud of you’.

The parents on today’s show are nowhere near that point, might never be, but I am proud of my parents for their ownership of their mistakes and their ownership in finding solutions.

They both grew up in a very different time in a different world. Understanding their contexts moved me closer to forgiveness. It also opened communication channels because they were my only source of finding out about their lives as children. I have good relationships with both of my parents these days and the screaming girl no longer screams.

The Importance of Forgiveness

It is no secret to anyone in this world anymore that without forgiveness we cannot move forward in our lives. Any psychologist or counsellor will tell you that if you don’t forgive those who have wronged you or caused you pain and/or hardship, you will never feel happy or liberated or peaceful again. You say goodbye to the potential of all of that.

And I agree.

I wouldn’t be as high functioning as I perceive myself to be if I hadn’t forgiven all of those ‘who have trespassed against me’.

But in moments of weakness and vulnerability and pain I am forced to question why I repeat unhealthy patterns.

Tonight I had an epiphany. I was watching one of my heroes, Susan Sarandon, on Oprah’s Master Class, and she was talking about the difficulties of Dead Man Walking,and it struck me. I’ve forgiven everyone who has ever caused me pain and hurt, well almost everyone.

One person has been overlooked in my forgiveness. An important person. Probably the most important person.

Me.

I’ve never forgiven myself for my mistakes, my abuses, my poor choices.

This must be what is stopping my health. I need to forgive myself.

One Week Down

My friend Sara, and I went to see Wild on Thursday afternoon; an attempt at work/life balance as well as intellectual and spiritual reflection. What an incredible film! As an English teacher I am never immune to the quality of craftsmanship as well as the quality of story: both superb.

I had intended to write this on Thursday night when I arrived home but the fur kids were feeling very neglected. They took priority. Even now, two and a half days later, the words are still milling inside my brain and aren’t very coherent; I will probably not do the film justice.

I cried for most of it. I love when a film resonates that deeply. I hate when a film resonates that deeply. Sara and I were the only ones that laughed at the opening scene when she throws her boot. As we laughed though, I knew that when that scene was put into context I would be crying. And I did. Buckets. And that was whilst I forced most of them back so that I didn’t become ‘that woman kicking, screaming and sobbing in the foetal position’ in the cinema. Lol. Gotta love the magic of story.

Sara and I were the only ones that laughed at quite a few scenes. As Cheryl struggled with her backpack I was drawn back to backpacking in Europe in winter during 2010, struggling to get backpacks on as trains arrived at destinations. Quality memories.

And then her journey to reclaim herself. A worthwhile journey not dissimilar to Elizabeth Gilbert’s in Eat, Pray, Love. Physical challenge that supports inner growth. Is it really inner growth though or journey back to whom we truly are. Reclaiming the pure essence of childhood before life imprinted.

It is so easy to want to give up. To not live wholly, to make excuses, to become bogged down. It is so valuable to keep pushing forward though, to vanquish our enemies and demons, and to live authentically in a world that really only wants automatons. To know that you are breathing the mountain air freely …

Having said that, prior to the movie I saw a man walking up the stairs. I blinked. He wasn’t really there, well not in this realm. I say this only to provide context for what followed.

The cinema only had six other people in it. A group of three women, a lone woman, an elderly couple and us. I didn’t hear the mother with baby walk in and sit directly behind me. In 44 years of life and many many movie viewings, I have never been in a cinema with a mum and bub unless it was a mum and bubs session. And that only once before the epic journey of trying to conceive.

Part way through the movie I heard a baby gurgling behind me. I froze. After seeing the man I didn’t know if this was my imagination, a sign or what. My first response was to run. My second response was significantly more rational – if this was a sign from the Gods, what was it a sign of?

I tried to turn discretely to see if there was a baby but couldn’t turn enough to see; in my mind I didn’t want to make a real mum self-conscious about her baby’s noises when obviously, this was her ‘me’ time. And she is entitled to that free from judgement.

What are the odds?

And the noises continued throughout the movie. Eventually I realised, when rational mind took over, that the baby was real, and eventually I stopped trying to ascertain what it could possibly mean.

It will all be what it is meant to be.

She tries to say with conviction lol. Unsuccessfully. Her mind and heart know she is still struggling to find an answer that feels right. That journey is clearly not yet at its end.

Journeys are incredible things. Ironically, teaching that concept to Year 11 this term šŸ˜³.

The path is not always (rarely) straightforward. They can be (often are) unpredictable and frustrating. Obstacles abound, trying to force you back or make you stop, every time you think you are making progress. And they are exhausting.

But beautiful. And liberating. And rewarding.

Almost always taking you to your self, your true potential. We are far stronger than we believe. And infinitely more capable than we imagine.

I once trekked through the Annapurna’s in Nepal.

This year is a new journey for me. Trying to be who I am and live more wholly. With more balance and more external inspiration.

The sunrise was beautiful yesterday morning. The ocean was ferocious. Unswimmable. The ocean cleansing itself of its own impurities? But ravagingly beautiful all the same; a reminder that she doesn’t exist for others but for herself , and often she will allow us in to share her beauty but she will give herself time when she needs it. To heal her own wounds and forge her own path; separately from all who depend on her.

Timely reminder.

And so I have bought tickets to Elizabeth Gilbert’s talk at the Opera House in March, and have booked myself in for a ukulele workshop over two Saturdays in March.

Balance is important. As is the need to forge one’s own path, separately from those that depend on us for theirs.

There will be more coming in this vein … Still processing šŸ˜‰.