Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Refiners Fire.

You know what makes you vulnerable. Teaching broken kids. There is no hiding how difficult it is. It sands you down so the beautiful and the ugly...the real and the raw...shine through. How you can love so much and be so tired...how you can't do it, you're not good enough...but how you can't give up. It can (it often) requires you to plead with others to come alongside of you because you CANNOT do it on your own. Some days you're more diamond in the rough and some days you're just scratchy chalk on archaic slate. After your umpteenth come to Jesus talk with the umpteenth student, after you've used up all your coping skills and you start to look to the "Social - Emotional Skills Wall" that you designed for the kids...so you can draw ideas for yourself before you melt-down, after you've eaten your 21st lunch of gold-fish crackers, after you pour every ounce of you into ONE lesson plan...and still score twos (even though nobody can score that you're changing lives)...you have no choice but to be vulnerable. I'm learning so much about myself because of teaching...I'm just praying that like gold, this refining fire produces something beautiful.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Even In My Greatest Moment

You are infinitely more wise than I am in my greatest moment.  I fall against your patience and sovereignty and a find a well of peace and grace for my weary soul.  In you, all of my toil and striving cease as you whisper, "You are more than enough in me."

As the master teacher you are everything my students never knew they needed.  You are consistent in your boundaries and faithfully present.  You meet my needs and guide me with your brilliant and powerful right hand.  In you, my curiosity and awe for life is endless because in and through you, the gloriousness of all things is a mysterious life blood....I am never satisfied.

You are the picture of perfect parenthood.  Your love, it runs painfully deep.  Your patience is unmeasured.  My pursuit of their hearts...it's a familiar feeling because of your pursuit after mine.  They way you recklessly pursue me, the way you mourn my selfish decisions and the way you rejoice in my accomplishments though they pale in comparison to you and your ultimate glory.

Help me relinquish them to your love and sovereignty as you draw me nearer...to know that your hand is so much more powerful than I can ever fathom...heal, restore, protect, hold. 

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Emotional Flood.

“The surface of the earth is soft and impressible by the feet of men; and so with the paths which the mind travels. How worn and dusty, then, must be the highways of the world, how deep the ruts of tradition and conformity! I did not wish to take a cabin passage, but rather to go before the mast and on the deck of the world, for there I could best see the moonlight amid the mountains.”
Henry David Thoreau, Walden 

“It is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.” -Abraham Maslow.

True story - on both accounts.  Let us not forget.

Missing Out

If I could sit with them awhile I would share every "first" that is being missed...every beautiful moment of wide eyes and wonderment:

  • Of learning how to do a back float in the pool for the first time...despite him telling me that he surely can "swim" when in reality, he is more proficient in "sinking" than anything... but we will get there!  *You missed out on, "I can float!  I'm going to float FOREVER!! You missed out.*
  • Of the first Zoo visit.  "Look at that monkey just hanging in the tree!"  "Can I ride the carousel?" "That flamingo is sleeping ON ONE LEG!" "Come play on the splashpad!!"...on the monkey hitting the glass, on the baboon with the huge red butt, on the rhino, on sleeping tigers...  *You missed out on, "I LOVE the zoo! You missed out.* 
  • Of the first "fancy" dinner - with cloth napkins, fresh bread, and "why do I have so many forks?!"  So many decisions about what to eat and learning how to order properly, "May I please have the pepperoni pizza?  Thank you!"  The discovery of what the "little napkin" is used for (place it under your drink).  The hot-fudge sundae for dessert.  *You missed out on the toast, "To the BEST day of the BEST summer of our lives!!" and the clinking of soda glasses...You missed out.*
  • Of the trip to the trampoline place and bouncing, bouncing, bouncing all day long!  Of dodgeball against the "big kids" and "this is tiring!"  The foam pit...good thing Dyllon was a patient young lad who let us linger a bit longer than we were allowed... *You missed out on the perseverance to land that front flip...and the incredible smile when it finally happened.  You missed out.*
  • Of the first time at the rock climbing gym and the hidden fear when the harness was on and the ascent was imminent.  The slow but steady climb and the confidence as the scary became enjoyable.  Of that route that was near impossible...and the, "I can't do it..." and the "Yes, you can, we believe in you!" And the self-confidence that propelled him higher and higher and then the excitement and joy and the smile that spread across his face as his tiny hand hit the top of the wall.  *You missed out as the impossible was made possible because of his spirit.  He's a fighter and so resilient despite all he has been through.  He might think he's proving things to the world...but deep down, I know he's proving it to himself.  You MISSED OUT ON THAT!*
In two days you've missed out on SO much.  For a second I was angry at you, but a friend reminded me that, most likely, you don't find the same enjoyment in their victories and firsts as I do...or we wouldn't be in this time and space in the first place.  And because I'm not that type of person, I forgive you...for them.  For missing these incredible things in their lives.  And I will continue to bask in the joy that, for whatever reason, I was granted permission to take hold of... that I might experience these firsts and give the congratulations and the hugs and cheer them on in your absence.  I want you to know that you're missing out but I'll gladly fill the gap.  It is my joy.  It is my absolute honor.  

Sunday, May 12, 2013


I sent this e-mail to my co-worker yesterday, despite the fact that neither her, nor I, have any biological children of our own:  "Happy Mother's Day - for the love you pour out daily and for being the only picture of "real motherhood" some of "our" kids will ever see." 

Today, I received a text message from a sweet friend and neighbor, which read in part: "Happy Mother's Day!  You are a mother to more children than of any of us combined."  My heart swelled. 

I'm the surrogate mom.  That's pretty much the long and short of it. I may not tuck them in at night but I do just about everything before and after.  I'm, "Eat your breakfast," and "Do your homework..." I am the bearer of hugs, the giver of snacks, the reader of stories, the disciplinary....

I'm also results driven.  I love the process...but I love results too.  Teaching and parenting, well, they are both processes.  I'm also highly critical of myself.  You can see where this is heading, eh?

In my pouring out I empty myself of every tool and prayer and every possible strategy that I know will produce the results I desire but the truth is...it isn't (and it will never be) always enough.

I was reminded of it today when I was handed the referral.  It read, "O called J a b*tch and a n***er during after school sports on Thursday." I was hoping upon all hope that the accusation was untrue because we have come so far...but deep down...I knew it was accurate... and my heart sank.  

I went to PE to get the kids and I called O to the front of the line and said, "We need to talk."  In his rhetorical "about what?" I already sensed the admission of guilt.  I was barely able to utter, "Thursday..." before he began his defense but I stopped it before it could begin. We walked as a class back to the room and the kids engaged in AR and I pulled O aside - I'm still keeping my commitment to try and meet all of the needs.

This time there was no defense...no excuses.  It was the one victory I took hold of - we've discussed (multiple times) the weight of dishonesty on top of transgressions and something about those conversations rooted themselves in his heart.   Inspite of it all, as the surrogate, I felt like a failure.  And in that moment I realized that this is a lie that mothers throughout all time and history have bought into - that we are not, have not, cannot, ever be: enough.  That somehow we drop the ball despite being the bearer of hugs, the giver of snacks, the reader of stories, the disciplinary....and.so.much.more.  They are not perfect and neither are we, in this messy (albeit beautiful) journey called life.

So here...for all of you who are standing in the gap as teachers, loving children who were, in my humble opinion, perfectly chosen to be in your care...hold firmly to your duty to live as a surrogate and embrace the messy.

Happy Mother's Day.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Big Feelings

A fellow blogger (and a woman I respect and admire) uses the term "big feelings" in relation to her children's emotional regulation and I'd like to borrow the term...because today....today was FULL of big feelings.

As I work and redirect and draw close and pour into...as I love and teach and comfort and discipline...and as I pray over, strategically praise, and guide...I grow attached.  I liken it to farming tiny gardens.  Till the rocky soil, remove the stones that hamper progress, feed and nourish...and water.  There is no promise of fruits for my labor and yet, the hope alone of life springing forth is worth the risk it takes to keep on, keepin' on.  And then that day...when I see even a hint of new life...the risk becomes worth it.

In 3 months I've seen the most incredible life spring forth.  And yet, I'm just the gardener.  I'm not the keeper or sustainer of life.  I should re-read that a million times. 

*K*... he's moving.  Poverty equates to instability.  When he told Ms. E  early today, his typically stoic little body folded into hers and he clung tightly to her as she held him close - because the feelings...they were BIG. 

And when she told me... my own feelings became BIG as well...I almost couldn't hold back the tears.  All the tilling, and picking away small stones...all the feeding and the nourishing...and life giving water....and like a giant wave the realization that I am just the gardener. 

The big feelings took over both *K* and I all day...and when it came time for writing I almost couldn't breath.  I gave him a note to take to his parents, a note which praised his growth and was full of admonitions to let him continue in the greenhouse of love and trust and expectations our entire team has built for him. 

I gave him the note and started to teach, and as I looked over I saw his head on his folder as he sobbed uncontrollably....because the big feelings, like an incredible wave - were too overwhelming.  The feelings of loss, of insecurity, of regression, of uncertainty....and I held him close as I choked back my own tears and I affirmed that his big feelings were valid because I was feeling them too.

I am reminded yet again...this thing I'm doing...it's messy and painful. 

At the end of the day, as we waited with *K* under the awning, he held both Mrs. E and I tight.  Though the weeds have often drowned out the beautiful...the signs of life are much too prominent now.  I'm trying to remind myself that it's worth the risk...it's always worth the risk. 

Tonight I'm fighting my own big feelings....and clinging to promise that He goes before and stands behind - that He will fight for me, that He has equipped me for such a time as this...that He will sustain me...


Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Call of Duty - Mine, Theirs, and Yours

Downcast eyes, slumped shoulders, and an empty slate... I see the signs of disengagement and I spring into action.  I sit down next to him on the carpet and ask if he is OK.  He nods and states he is really, really tired.  I prod a bit further but there is nothing...so I let him sit for a few to gather his thoughts.  One thing you'd notice in my therapeutic classroom is the lack of words to express emotion.  To explain grief or pain, joy or fear, sadness or anger...there are few to no words.

As class moves along I watch him closely from a distance and it's apparent there are feelings stirring beneath the surface.  As the children engage in a writing activity I pull up two chairs just outside the door so we can have a safe space to talk.

"My dad wouldn't let me sleep."
"Oh honey, can you tell me why?"
"Because we had to get up for school - I was so tired."
"How late did you stay up?" 
"Until 5:30 this morning (almost falling asleep as we talk)"
"That is too late for a 3rd grade body, your body needs rest - look, your eyes want to close because you haven't had enough rest.  That is dangerous for an 8 year old boy.  What were you doing up until 5:30 this morning?" 
"I was playing Call of Duty: Black Ops with my dad."

And in that moment what I wanted to say was, "Let me tell your mom's boyfriend a thing or two about his call of duty to be a father and parent you, about your call of duty to be given a chance, and my call of duty to educate your precious life in order that you might have SOME semblance of a chance for a successful life."

Some days...no, every day, it takes everything in me not want to scoop them all up and run away with them.  *sigh*

And you begin to see why boundaries in a therapeutic classroom are so incredibly crucial.  Outside of my classroom very few boundaries exist for a majority of my students.  Subsequently, they lack the ability to regulate themselves in many situations.  If left to their own devices many of the students in my classroom would steal, lie, and manipulate their way through the day because these are the mechanism to which their brains default out of necessity to survive. 

I'll refrain for now from digressing into the neuroscience behind trauma... but I will say that teachers cannot shoulder the call of duty to children alone.  We cannot shoulder it alone.  We cannot.  I cannot. 

By the way, he came in today and told me he went to bed early last night...on his own.  Progress.

The Weight of Homework

I'm not necessarily a believer in homework in the traditional sense.  I don't believe my students will acquire a firm grasp on the concepts I teach simply because they do a worksheet at night.  However, I do believe in instilling responsibility in my students and homework is one vehicle in helping to accomplish this goal.

My students' homework does not require ANY parental assistance...what it does require is that my students be diligent in taking the work home, completing it in a neat and honest manner, and bringing it back the next day.  There are days my students are successful...and days (and even weeks) when they are not.  A work in progress. Always. 

Today, two of my students came in during lunch because they had not completed their homework.  I explained that I wanted them to be successful and that it really pained me that they could not attend recess (recess is a mere 15 minutes as it is - my students need more than 15 minutes in the fresh air!).  I also reminded them that parent teacher conferences would be coming up and that their parents/grandparents would likely want to know their homeroom grades.  When I asked what they thought their parent / grandparent would say...the words were heavy.  "I will definitely get spanked with the belt, " and "Me too, and I am not even kidding."  The weight of homework is much more than I ever intended it to be.


Tuesday, March 19, 2013

A Safe Space

Though it's Spring Break in theory, I'm not much of a "break" type person.  Perhaps it's my own tendencies to be anxiety driven...but that's a whole post in and of itself.  I've been reading and strategizing and reading some more.  I've been gathering and collecting and laminating...crafting and sewing and die-cutting. 

I'm committed to my students' healing. 

Until we get to the core of the human condition and meet our students where they are, in their messiness and brokenness, we will (in our pursuit not to leave any child behind) forcefully mold them in unrealistic pursuits of intellectual perfectionism until there is nothing left but a still empty, soul-less shell of a man.

Not here.

In this classroom - the persuit of healing, health, and being whole people comes first.  It has to.

"Learning anything other than what is required to survive is relegated to irreverence.  Very little information taught in schools, including reading, writing, and math, is directly related to survival; this information is thus perceived to be of little or no value to many abused [and neglected] children." - (Ziegler, 61) 

As such, we must set the stage.  A stage that strategically and consciously calls the survivors out of survival mode and into the realm of safety.

This weekend I carefully and thoughtfully created a safe space in my classroom for the disregulated (both hyper-aroused and dissociated).   We know from research that parasympathic response can increase the levels of arousal in the brainstem; consequently, increasing heart rate, blood pressure, stress response, and cortisol, which kills neurons. I could write forever on this...but I digress.

I poured over the overt and covert behaviors of trauma victims:
  • Agression
  • Explosiveness
  • Reactiveness/Impulsivity
  • Grandiosity
  • Demanding
  • Blaming
  • Self Abuse
  • Lying
  • Sneakiness
  • Spacing-Out
  • Silliness
  • Sexualized and often covert acts....
....and I began to design a space to help meet the needs.... It's far from complete, but it's a start!

The space is set apart, but not isolated - it's meant to be a time IN and not a time OUT.

Some of the items in our safe space are:

A special bowl shaped chair to sit in (safety)
A weighted blanket (sensory input) - I made this and it came out awesome!
Affirmation Ring - A ring of affirming truths
Deep Breathing Book
Balloons (for deep breathing)
Bubbles (for deep breathing)
A Pinwheel (breathing)
Glitter Jars (calming technique)
Various sensory balls (soft/firm/foam/rubber).
Playdough (non-verbal expression) 
Sand Tray (non-verbal expression)
Feathers (breathing)
Mandala Pages (non-verbal expression)
Various Books focused on social skills
Paper (non-verbal expression)
CD Player/Calming Music

Here are some pictures:

Skills Wall (will be changing the over-stimulating polka dots):
  •     I will choose to be in control of my own actions.
  •     I will take responsibility for the things I do or say.    (Focus Mechanism: Blaming)  
  •     I feel  ________________ when ________________________.   
  •     (Focus:  Helping to give my students a voice / words) 
  •     Emotions Chart    
  •     (Focus:  Helping to give my students a voice / words) 
  •      How is Your Engine Running?  (Visual)
  •      (Focus:  Emotional Regulation) 

Skills Wall   

Testing Out the Weighted Blanket...I want one for ME! :)

Manipulatives Tub

Phase 1:  Creating a Therapeutic Classroom... well underway!   More pictures to come soon.

Saturday, March 16, 2013

They Never Told Me Teaching Would Be This MESSY

*Warning - long read and many grammar mistakes ahead.  Don't judge. ;) 

I’m a nerdy girl.  A book by the name of “Trauma and the Child Brain,” - I’ve read it.  In fact, I read it in place of 50 Shades of Gray and all of the other New York Times Best Sellers over my Christmas Break -because I’m that kind of girl.  A heart designed to help people heal, to seek out justice, to connect with others – I just never knew it would look like THIS. 

I don’t really “do” mornings and yet, as I awake, squinty-eyed every morning, I find myself asking God to be my strength.  The only reason I leave the house on time is because I know the longer I wait, the less chance I’ll have to both grab my coffee AND make it to school early enough to make copies before the copy machine overheats or the line is too long.  I haven’t seen this many sunrises in a long time, but they bring me hope.  Sometimes it’s a silent drive because the weight of the day is already settling in and other times it’s the truth penned by others and set to music that sustains me in those early hours.   “I know Who goes before me…I know Who stands behind…the God of angel armies, is always by my side.”  I repeat it over and over.  It lays a foundation of truth that I vow to stand on…and I’ll cling to each word in just an hour or two.

I’m the first one in the parking lot (sans one fellow soldier who gets there just before me)… she must not wait in the Starbucks line.  I succumbed early on to the “rolling teacher cart” – and it’s a good thing, it carries my physical tools and lightens the load from my arms, but it is nothing in comparison to the toolbox in my heart and mind – I’ll use this one much more frequently.  I hit the ground running now. Carpe Diem…If I’m going to do THIS, I’m going to do it well.  It’s sentence frames and printed lesson plans, and put my lunch in the fridge (and pray I’ll get to actually eat it today), and change the schedule, and get the morning message up, it’s send the e-mails and update the data wall, and place the “return” papers in each mailbox…and it’s only 7:15.  Technically, I don’t start work until 7:45 but time…it’s elusive.  As the minutes trickle down and my tasks mount, I feel my own anxiety rise and I remind myself, “you can do this!”  7:45 and I made my copies, barely.  Then pitter patter of the feet already at school.  They crave interaction so they enter the room early…

Ms. M, can I show you this book? 
Ms. M, can I play on the computer? 
Ms. M, I….

And it’s me feeling an immense desire to soak in the last 20 minutes of silence I’ll have until 6PM.  And I turn to them and I answer as presently as possible and then, 8am I give them the speech…how I’ll pick them up in 5 minutes and scurry off to the playground to enjoy just a little time in the fresh air.  And they run out and I look at my still looming list and I embrace my team with a, “Let’s do this day!” type attitude, though I know we are all weary.  And as we look at the day we all realize life is messy – because it’s happening to us and we bare one another’s burdens.  It’s the two of us on the team realizing the third has been distant, and it’s the boldness to say “We are concerned about you.” and boldly ask, “What’s wrong?”  And it’s the messy answers and the transparency that leads us to say, “We’re going to do this alongside of you.”  And then, the bell…and so the encouragement must cease temporarily because 71 one of THEM need 3 of US.

The kids tell me I look beautiful…like I’m going to a prom.  “And Ms. M, your hair is so fancy!” they say of the messy bun pinned up and half wet because I just couldn’t bring myself to wash, dry, AND straighten my hair this morning…or the past 3…the flower pinned in it is just a cover for ulterior motives.  “Good morning!”…to each one, as I walk down the line…and as much as I’d love to fuss over  a perfectly straight line each morning, it’s a bit hectic, and I settle for a “just ok” one…it’s one of the many battles I’ll choose not to pick because fighting them all…I can’t even imagine. 

I can already see the type of day we’re about to have on many of their faces…the “I’ve had enough rest” and the “It was chaos at home last night.”  Rumors of one of our tribe moving…with no warning. Upheaval and instability…it’s part of the poverty package.  You don’t say goodbye to your friends or your teachers….it’s just there one minute and gone the next.  Oh my heart. 

Announcements and attendance.  “Please get started on your morning work,” as I drink my coffee – wait, it’s already gone?  And I suddenly become the multi-tasking queen, and the mom, and the teacher, and the psychologist all at once…and I’ll switch hats every 10 minutes if I’m lucky – but most likely every 5.  Redirect and redirect and redirect and one last time…I redirect.  The phone – ALPS…the bus is here and the students forgot to go…scramble and they are off and I semi-shout, “Have a wonderful day”!  Now I’m down to 22 students times Maslow’s entire hierarchy...in just my homeroom. 

The God who goes before me?  I need him now and it’s only 8:30.  It’s lies about homework and making a mental note of my once role-model student who’s behavior is tanking.  It’s a chat about responsibility, and calling out what’s been noted…and it’s his tight throat and teary eyes that speak, “I’ll fix it…I promise, but I can’t tell you that right now because I’ll cry…and I don’t want the world to see me.”  And it’s an admonition to pull it together…and a nod and he’s off to his seat.   In this class, it’s high expectations, and boundaries where no other boundaries exist because within boundaries people flourish.

In the coming days, he will begin to flourish and I’ll have made him student of the week because I celebrate progress and the commitment to obey.  And it’s a commitment on my part not to let my students slip through the cracks – I’ll be more diligent of every. single. one. of. them.  HE sought the one who was lost…and I’ll do the same.

By 8:45 we are starting our academics…It’s been almost an hour and that seems so…lengthy… but I’m committed to setting this ship on the right course early on in the day and meeting every need.  Needs…there are SO MANY. 

I started something new today – I’ll use the term respect frequently.  I want my kids to respect me and ultimately respect themselves but they have NO idea what it looks like.  And thus, I’ll model it and infuse our day with it.  “Please respect me by following instructions.” and  “Your talking while I’m talking is disrespectful.”  “Respect your friends by listening as they share about their week.”  Surprisingly, things are taking a turn.  It’s small…but I’ll take it.

I keep many of them close because proximity reminds each one, “I’m safe here.”  I prompt good decision making, I prompt responsibility, I prompt difficult choices to a 3rd grader running in safety mode and I stay close in case the skills fail…because they will, and they DO, and the recovery needs to be swift or the entire empire may fall.  Sounds dramatic? Hardly.

After our fluency I decide that today I’ll set aside what we “should” be doing for what we need to be doing…which is connecting with each other.  We sit on the carpet and we spontaneously talk about loose teeth…the one that fell out last night, and the one lost in the apple…and SO many voices wanting to share their story because rarely do they get to tell it and even more seldom is there anyone who wants to listen to it.  I don’t notice as the minutes slip by and we begin to talk about the reasons I have high expectations.  I often wonder if they see me as mean...we have a good discussion and just about everyone has an opinion…but in the end, we decide that boundaries are good and that ultimately, we’re going to grow into people we are proud of.  And as quickly as we began we have to get moving – I’d love to suspend this moment in time. 

In just a few hour we’re all headed off for 9 days of Spring Break and I’m no longer concerned with anyone walking into my room with their clipboards.  We take a brief assessment on grammar – it’s done and over and I just have to remember to grade it, enter it, and graph it on our data wall...both data walls actually. I’ll do that tonight…or if I’m honest with myself…this weekend. My e-mail dings and I realize it’s already 9:50 am – we have PE in half an hour but the PE coach is out… which means I’m covering my own special.  We begin our silent and sustained reading time and I mention to the kids that a kind person sent us a new set of books. Though the kids were never interested in the tattered Boxcar Children books I’ve had on the shelf since January, the shiny covers of the new set have them clamoring for copies 1-4.  By 1PM two of them will run up to me to tell me that they are “already on chapter 5”  and ask “if they read the whole book over break…can they trade with each other?”  Intrinsic excitement?  I haven’t seen this before regarding reading. My heart is SO full…there is hope.

10:30 and I finally have the straight line that didn’t quite come together this morning.  We walk out to the playground in place of PE that wasn’t meant to be for today.  My teammate is already out with his kids and I sit next to him as he struggles to reinforce some math concepts with a handful of struggling students.  The kids play and we chat about life being messy.  Speaking of messy… I remember the CPS report I need to make – I e-mailed about it yesterday but, as with many things, timely communication just isn’t in the cards.  The kids continue to play while we talk and I listen and I affirm and we discuss concepts like deflection and displacement.  20 minutes isn’t enough for this kind of messy.

It’s time to line up and those last few students just HAVE to continue to play basketball which results in a bloody nose.  And I prompt, “You see his nose is bleeding and you walk away without seeing if he is ok?”  And we have a lesson in empathy because it’s not innate when you’re in survival mode. And “You’re not showing respect when you continue to play basketball after we blow the whistle.” Infuse.  Every. minute. Of. every. day…it has to be strategic and consistent. 

In my book – this is one of the best days we have ever had…and there is SO much more to come.

Our first rotation begins and I immediately have a barrage of  “ So and so is doing….” and I lock eyes with  and state very firmly, “Figure it out.”  And the tattling continues and I say once again, “Figure it out.”  The message is heard loud and clear and everyone sits down.  And once again we discuss transitional expectations…come in quietly, sit down, and wait for instructions.  I suppose we’ll discuss these expectations every day until the end of the year.  Progress…it takes time and I’m OK with that.  Twenty minutes later and we’re lining up for lunch and again I’m reinforcing expectations.  Strategic and consistent.

Today is an important day as I’m meeting with a small group of boys at lunch about anger management, about messy feelings, about boundaries and respect…I’m praying for the best but expecting the worse.   Before I can even go to the restroom my student teacher notes that “F” stated he’s not coming and is going to lie about “forgetting.”  We laugh at the absurdity of him thinking she would “keep his secret.”  I walk out to the lunch line and make firm admonitions to attend…my admonitions are heeded and in just a few minutes I have all four boys in my room. 

It is honestly about to be the highlight of my day.  

 After some small talk I ask them each to share their versions about recent incidents of anger and violence they had engaged in – I ask for honesty and not excuses or blame and then I leave the floor open to a brave soul.  To my great surprise the boys are open to sharing honestly.  There are big gulps, no eye contact, and many pauses…but they are brave and bold and honest.  We discuss what anger in our bodies looks likes…and the flood gates open.  We set boundaries for our discussions so that everyone is heard and respected.  We use an M & M therapy game to discuss things that make us angry and ways we can control our anger.  We talk about the ALERT method (How is your engine running?) and feelings using the “I feel________ when______” sentence frame.   We talk about doing what is right when no one is looking…and it led us to talk about guilt and shame.  There were low gazes and many quiet, reflective moments.  “When I know I’ve done something wrong I get dizzy and a fuzzy feeling,”  “I feel very bad when I know I’ve done something wrong,”  “I feel sad when I know I am guilty…my eyes get blurry.”  We talk about mistakes and righting wrongs.  I am absolutely blown away by the healing power of our talking.  The bell to signal the end of lunch rings but not before genuine apologizes are offered.  Restoration.  I’m realistic in knowing this is just the beginning of a long road, but I’m committed to their journey.  In my haste I spill some of the M&M’s and rush out the door…the boys scoop them up and while I’d like to run back and remind them about integrity…well, let’s just say they ate a few more M & Ms.  It’s only 12:15 and I’ve already poured all of myself out.

Out at the playground the students are lining up after more prompting, more reminding of expectations…and then I realize, I never ate lunch.  It’ll have to wait until 3:30 now. 

As we enter the classroom two boys begin to bicker…and from nowhere I hear the little angel from earlier turn to the boys and very firmly state, “Boys, Figure. It. Out!”  I want so badly to laugh but instead admonish her to be in control of herself and not others.  The boys get the message…and apparently she had too.  The second half of our 1st rotation goes fairly well and with little incident as the kids complete their assessment and work on centers.  While they work, I write my four “anger management group” students notes expressing how proud I am of them and their willingness to be open and honest – I’m committed to positive reinforcement…or at least I’m going to try…strategic and consistent.

As we line up for the last rotation of the day I can feel the heightened sense of Spring Break excitement.  My teammates and I all look at each other with sympathetic eyes as we silently encourage each other that we can, indeed…make it to the end.

I have not sat at my desk for a single second today and I run over to check my e-mail.  The vice principal sent me a note which read, “I love reading the displays of your student’s work in the hall.  You are doing a fabulous job… we are very lucky to have you.”  Affirmation?  My weary heart REALLY needed it but before I can let it sink in…it’s rotation time.

My last class is my most difficult class.  It is a group of students reading at Kindergarten (and some Pre-K) level, of homeless students, of students with IEPs, and 3 of my 4 behavior management students. The needs are MANY and they are GREAT.   The needs are so great that I have both a student teacher AND an 8th grade student to assist me.  Today, my 8th grader didn’t show.  The students pushed into the room like a tornado and again I remind them of their responsibilities and the expectations in THIS classroom.  Our established routine was interrupted by the Special Ed teacher giving the students an assessment – an assessment that neither I nor the students were told about.  These students have a HIGH need consistency and predictability and unfortunately the hecticness of the assessment, a Friday, the day of Spring Break, and the change in the schedule began the downward spiral… I could NOT meet all of the needs.  The students had begun the assessment in another class and were at various stages in the process.  I had no idea what the assessment was even ABOUT.  I also have a high need for consistency and predictability – cue the beginning of me scrambling to dig into my own toolbox!  

As the kids work, I hand out the notes I wrote to my anger management group (K, F, & J).  Their faces light up and they cling to their notes with pride. 

And all at once the rest of the class…
“Ms. M, I don’t know what to do!”
“Ms. M, I need to use the restroom.”
“Ms. M, How do I do this?”
“Ms. M, I’m done.”
“Can I get a drink?”
“Ms. M, I have a rash and it’s really itchy” ……and we’re spiraling…and spiraling as the SPED teacher runs around the room helping kids with their questions.

I do my best to control the chaos created by someone else.  I give the students options of what to work on and I begin to catch my breath… when my student teacher hands me an assignment that one of my anger management students (K) had written a note on. 

On the bottom of the assignment is a note to (J) which discusses inappropriate touching by multiple parties and a single girl.  I am well versed in child sexuality but my kids have seen and know too much.  They are the pictures of innocence lost despite their love for dinosaur coloring books, Pokemon cards, and Disney Radio.   

And my heart SINKS as I look over at (K) and (J).  Both boys look away – well aware of what is about to occur.  Strategy and consistency and keeping kids close…this moment is more important than any grammar assessment I have planned and I forget the 99 to focus on the 1.  Time ins…not time outs.  Without even asking my student teacher to take the reigns (I know she’ll do it) I call both boys out to the hallway, along with a third student who was also involved… and eventually (F) who also ended up being involved.  And out in the hallway at a table I again have 3 of my 4 anger management students…and I’m not surprised because their wounds are deep but my heart is aching.  Again, I see the guilt and shame in their eyes and I open the floor to whoever wants to talk, because ultimately, responsibility is not about me demanding answers…it’s about one’s own acceptance for their actions.  (J) mentions that he is only the recipient of the letter and has played no part in touching “Girl A” – he is relieved and so am I.   K and S sit quietly and are both visibly tense.  I wait…and the words don’t come and I know they are both on the verge of tears.  We discuss the seriousness of their actions and a myriad of implications…and I’m sitting here thinking, “3rd grade?  The road ahead is long!”  And as I look up, the principal walks by with a confused look as to why I am out in the hall rather than in my classroom – and for a brief moment I consider changing my course and then for ONCE I don’t fall into the trap that someone else knows what is best for my students other than me.  I hold firm and I stay in the hall as I relay the sacredness of our own bodies.  The guilt is too much and they boys need time to make the decision to come clean or not…I ask them to consider their actions and to come to me in honesty when they figure out what to say. 

And as I walk back in the room…chaos.  I give a pep talk about being 40 minutes away from the end of the day and I hand out the grammar assessment.  “Girl A” finishes early and I call her over to hear her account of people touching her inappropriately.  We have one of “those” talks and as we talk my head is swirling.  I consider that maybe it’s not my responsibility, but ultimately, I know my students aren’t getting these talks at home and I’d rather it be me than no one. 

The assessment period gives me time to check in with “K” – I see him struggling with the assessment and the events of the day as a whole.  His story is one of instability and responsibilities too heavy for his small frame.  His eyes are filled with shame and I sit down next to him as we talk more.  We discuss self-fulfilling prophecy…although we don’t use those words.  We chat about how I am committed to helping him be a person he is proud of.  I can see him taking it all in.  I’m committed to keeping him near.  Strategic.  Consistent.

“S” walks up to me, “Ms. M, can I talk to you?”  He’s thought long and hard about what he’d like to be honest about.  We talk about the events that occurred and he fights back tears as the seriousness sets in.  I praise the honesty and we have a serious chat about consequences.

And as I send him back to his seat, I scrape the bottom of my tool bag to find something to sustain me for the last 15 minutes… just as “F” walks up to me.  “Ms. M, I think I know what I need to tell you.”  And another serious conversation ensues as honesty is poured out.

And with 5 minutes until the end of class, my student teacher and I jokingly embrace as we lament “I just want to cry…” only both of our eyes fill up with real tears momentarily as we realize that this job is MESSY.  We laugh it off before the kids can really see that we’ve poured all of ourselves out.

I start a quick game of, “I have never” to fill the 5 minute gap.  “K” is leaving early and I walk him into the hall where I look him in the eyes and remind him that I am here for the long haul of healing.  We discuss making Spring Break successful…and a hug and he is off. 

I run back into the room and wish the kids a glorious Spring Break as I have them line up for the end of the day rotation. 

My homeroom class pushes into the room full of excitement and joy.  I hand “O” the note of praise I wrote him early and we discuss him respecting his grandma and making good decisions over Spring Break.  It’s eye contact and high expectations and “I believe in you.”  And one last hug.  Connection.

And as we walk out to the ramada for our goodbye I think about the God who goes before me and how He stands behind and how for some reason he chose me…for these kids, for this place, for this time. 

And then, it’s double high fives today, and eye contact, and “Have an AMAZING Spring Break”…24 times. 

Looking around, my co-workers and I are visibly tired… we are ready for break but strangely lamenting that those 71 lives wont be in our care for 9 entire days.  I realize I still haven’t received word on the CPS report, I need to take PM attendance, my room is a disaster, my to do list is longer than when I began at 7am… and I remind myself there is always another day.  As we walk back to our rooms my co-worker says, “ ‘J’ was SO proud of the note you wrote him, he came in the room and immediately showed me…I swear he is already a new person!”  A small success for today.

I pack up my computer and head for the door.  As I get in my car and turn the key I hear familiar lyrics.  My heart is simultaneously completely full and entirely empty…and I realize I’m just too tired to process it all.  I drive in silence.  At home I immediately lay in my bed, still in my work clothes, and breath deep.  I think back to my program and how I learned about pedagogy, and classroom management…and politics, and core subjects…but no one EVER talks about how MESSY and PAINFUL and JOYFUL and HEARTBREAKING it can be.  It’s every one of those things and so. much. more.

They never told me that teaching would be this MESSY.