Wednesday, May 27, 2015

And then it had been a year...

I never imagined how hard going to sleep last night would be, because in the back of (and the forefront of) my mind, I knew I'd be waking up to the one year anniversary of my grandfather's death.  Humans are so strange, the way we mark time. I wonder if any other being clings to it quite like we do to make meaning of their lives. And yet, here I lie, remembering where I was a year ago...the years and moments leading up to it, and what seems to have been the blink of an eye since.

I find myself taken aback by the waves of emotion that have snuck up on me the last week or so. I loved my grandfather dearly, but we were both very private people, and while he loved to talk, his voice seemingly made for Hollywood, we both shared private souls.  I never realized how much the loss would mean to me.

Last summer, in a writing workshop, I worked through some of my grief at the first major loss in my life.  Below is one of the stories I wrote.

Through The Lens of Death: My Glasses Moment

Before closing the casket, the man looked at her and said, “Ma’am, do you want to keep his glasses?”

It’s crazy how moments in life fit themselves together, imposing some sort of coherency even at times when chaos seems to reign.  Just days ago, I was driving along discussing movies with a friend.  It was the typical getting to know you fare between two people looking to possibly be more than friends, as we drove along the coast enjoying a three-day weekend getaway.  While the movies we watch don’t define us, per say, they sure do give an insight as to who we are, and my friend and I had moved beyond the “What’s your favorite color,” dialogue.

In talking, I mentioned a movie that always makes me cry, regardless of how many times I see it or what mood I’m in when I start.  I don’t just know the movie that makes me cry...I know the precise moment in which those tears will fall.  Any time I find my heart burdened but the well dry, I pull out my movie, and the cleansing begins.  

I watch as Veda and Thomas Jay traipse through their small town, growing closer as the summer wanes on.  I watch as, inevitably, Thomas Jay falls for the vivacious and spunky Veda.  As she loses her mood ring, I already know what will happen.  Still, the tears don’t fall.  I watch as the fated boy returns to find the ring, and as the bees swarm around him, I watch.  I watch as the adults try to make sense of what has happened, putting on a brave face for the world around them.  But it is not until the moment where Veda enters the funeral chapel, my eyes start to she runs to the casket of her dearest friend.  I know the tears will come as soon as she utters the phrase, “Where are his glasses?  He can’t see without his glasses?!”  It never fails.

**How was I to know that just days later….**

Death- so fleeting. So final.  And yet, it’s funny how it seems to linger.  Perhaps it’s not Death that lingers, but everything it leaves in its wake.  The memories of those who have moved on. The reminders of words left unsaid.  The fear of facing it personally.  Or the acceptance that it is inevitable. We all experience it’s part of the cycle of life.  There’s no avoiding it.

I suppose I’ve been lucky, never really having had to face Death too closely.  Sure.  I’ve been there to support friends who’ve lost someone dear to them...I’ve known people who have died.  But those people, while very real to me, didn’t have the same connection as my grandfather did.  If not for my grandfather, I wouldn’t exist.  A piece of myself is no longer here on Earth.

It was during that same weekend where I was getting to know that boy when I received the call.  Grandpa John had fallen and was in the hospital.  Mom said not to worry.  “Enjoy your trip,” she said.  “I will keep you posted if things get worse.”  I should’ve known.  Perhaps it was the tone of her voice, or the way it was barely audible, but for one of the few times in my life, I heard uncertainty in my mom’s voice.  Still, I stayed at the coast and tried to enjoy my trip, checking in with my mom every so often to see how things were going.  I was sure she would let me know if I needed to alter my plans.

By Sunday night, things were looking up.  He was definitely sore, and although pneumonia had developed, he was on antibiotics.  He was able to talk, and actually requesting food.  A sigh of relief seemed to permeate my mom’s update.

The improvements, unfortunately, were to be short lived.  By the time I returned home on Monday evening, my grandfather’s condition was faltering.  The antibiotics didn’t seem to be taking.  His lungs had been frail for years, having already been through more than one collapse, and if the medication did not kick in soon, there would be nothing else they could do. Tuesday morning, I was back in my classroom, attempting to teach class, and by lunchtime on Tuesday, I had received the call.  Time was no longer on our side.

It’s still a blur…going to the office and telling them I needed to go, racing home to find clothes and something to eat…time…all those times I thought- “I’m so tired.  I’ll make the drive next vacation.”  How presumptuous of me to think my grandfather would be here forever or that I would live indefinitely to capture those moments I was always putting off until next time… and still, in that moment where I was gathering a shirt and my toothbrush and underwear and socks, I still didn’t pack anything for a funeral, because, of course, everything would get better, right?

After meeting my sister in Austin, we continued the 5½ hour trek to the hospital.  We had plenty of time to talk and catch up and worry… worry about Grandpa John…worry about his wife, Nelda…worry about my other grandparents, each riddled with their own ailments…worry about my mom.

The trip seemed longer than usual, and as we met my mom at the hospital, I was filled with relief and dread.  Of course, she was her same cheerful self, putting on the brave face I was so accustomed to.  Perhaps I had only imagined things when we were talking on the phone.  A trip to the SICU confirmed my initial thoughts were correct, though.  In fact, my sister and I were the only ones who hadn’t said goodbye, and once we finished, the machines would be turned off so that Grandpa John would no longer have to suffer.  Whether or not he even knew we were there, I’ll never know.

Nelda was so strong during this time.  She and my Grandpa John had been married most of my life, but I always looked at her as more of an aunt than a grandmother.  For one, her daughter is only a year older than I am, and growing up, we played like cousins.  Perhaps another reason is that she never seemed old enough to be a grandmother, carting us around from one place to the next, helping us bake cookies, taking us to church socials.

I don’t know why I always called her by her first name, but in that hospital room, I saw a side of her I had never seen before.  She moved from person to person, comforting children and stepchildren and grandchildren, treating them all with the same love and affection.  And when it came time to take Grandpa John off the machines, Nelda refused to sit in a chair.  “I already have a seat right here,” she proclaimed, patting the bed next to my grandfather, and holding his hand the whole time.

The passing was peaceful, and for the first time in years, my grandfather wasn’t gasping for breath.  As we picked up his room and prepared for the people at the funeral parlor, Nelda remained stoic, picking up this item and that item, consulting each of us- “Do we need to keep the back brace?” “No, it’s too small for any of us.  See if we can donate it to the hospital.”  “Make sure not to forget his dentures.” “We’ll put them right here.” “Oh yes, and where are his glasses?  We can’t forget his glasses.”

The next few days were a drunken blur.  I was aware of what was going on, but I felt like I was in a constant haze, walking through the motions, but never quite alert.  And I knew I wasn’t quite alert; we all did.  We were caught in some strange time warp, but everyone was willing to excuse it because of the circumstances.  What caught me as particularly strange was the fact that while we were all stumbling through that drunken haze together, none of us thought to worry about ourselves.  Our energies were consumed making sure everyone else was okay….it’s funny…

The afternoon the funeral took place, we all met at the little church on the hill for lunch first.  Lunch for the family is customary at small town churches.  After lunch, we moved from the reception hall into the sanctuary.  The casket was open, but as the service began, the lid was closed.  How thankful I was for that…especially as I seemed to be centered right in front.  As the click echoed through the small, silent church, I thought I might be able to make it through without too many tears.

The service was led by two pastors, one who had led the church my grandfather went to as a child, and one who led the church he attended as an adult.  They went on and on about my grandfather, telling stories about him I’d never heard.  Unlike so many city funerals where the person leading doesn’t really know the deceased, these men were close friends of my grandfather, and knew his innermost secrets.

As the service came to an end, two men came to the front.  They removed the flowers on the casket, and to my surprise, they opened it once again.  I was awash with motions I could not control as each row behind us was asked to rise and come forward to pay their final respects.  I’d never been on this side of the family row before, and the feeling was foreign to me.  So many people coming to give their condolences.  So many people I’d never even seen before.

Finally, it was our turn, and though there were only a few steps between us and the front of the church, they were some of the hardest I’ve ever had to take.  We paused, and for a brief moment, we all dropped our front.  We cried together…not huge, mournful sobs, but still, tears we’d held off for days.  Then, together, we were ushered back to the front row as the rest of the congregation was ushered outside.

“Take all the time you need, and when you’re ready, we can go,” said one of the men at the casket.  Nelda looked at each of us, and then nodded it was time.

Before closing the casket, the man looked at her and said, “Nelda, do you want to keep his glasses?”

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Finding inspiration in the past

As I set my sights ahead on my new adventure as a Technology Integration Specialist, I can't help but look back on the past (partly because I'm remembering where I came from and adjusting for where I'm going, and partly because I'm cleaning through and trying to organize everything).  It's from this purging that I stumbled upon something I wrote during the summer a few years ago.  My principal, at the time, gave us homework that summer.  We were asked to write about our biggest success story from that year, and while I knew I was making a difference, I really had to ponder the assignment.  I haven't blogged in a while, and it might be cheating a little, but I thought I'd share my old assignment.  Here's what I discovered:

Choosing my success story was not an easy task, not because I don’t feel I make a difference in the lives of my students, but because I see them in such a different capacity than a “regular classroom teacher.” Throughout the course of a week, I have about 600 students pass through my doors, and throughout the course of a year, I’m lucky if I see each of those students 36 times. The opportunity to bond and connect is different from the traditional classroom. Of course, sharing in music allows for a natural bond that bridges some of the gaps created by our lack of time together. Still, it’s hard to quantify success in the music room, and although I know the research and believe in the importance of instilling a love and appreciation of music in our students, I sometimes fall into the trap of feeling that I am just a teacher’s conference period. What can I do to change a child’s life? Apparently, a lot.

Thinking over the course of the year, one student kept popping into my head. The story I’ve decided to share isn’t about a troublemaker in my classroom.  Her grades outside my room were usually pretty good. She was always attentive, and tried to do her best whenever I saw her. She was also in choir. She would come before AND after school. Although she was never “bad,” so to speak, when we would sing, she always seemed to have an exorbitant amount of energy (especially after school). She literally could not sit or stand still. She would hop and wiggle and move, even if we were just doing warm-ups or singing a ballad. She also liked to try and sneak up behind me when I was writing things on the board and “conduct” the group. Cute at first, but I’ll admit I sometimes got annoyed. I wanted the kids to be happy and excited, but this student was sometimes pushing my limits. I always attributed her excessive energy to the fact that the students had been in school all day, and this was just her way of releasing. I discovered the true necessity of choir to this student on her last day in my class. Unfortunately, by then, I couldn’t do anything to capitalize on my new enlightenment.

After choir one day, she came up to me and told me she would no longer be able to come to choir. I was surprised at first; I didn’t think she was being pulled for tutorial, and she was always one of the most excited students in my room. When I asked her why, she told me that CPS was coming to pick her sister and her up the next week and she would no longer be at Heritage. To think of her as an individual, I would have never guessed. I realized that in my room, this student was able to feel safe. When she said, “I love choir,” it wasn’t the same as when a little girl says, “I love pink.” She truly felt like my class was a haven. I provided her a place where she could be herself. She taught me a big lesson that day, but then again, isn’t it those success stories that normally teach us most.

I often times wondered if there was a reason for keeping choir going, especially as the year lagged on and more and more of my students were pulled for tutorial or baseball or whatever else. “Perhaps I’d be better off helping with tutorial or just going home at the end of the day,” I’d sometimes think. Until I realized the choir was so much more than just a group of kids singing. Music was (and is) my outlet, as it is for so many others. Although it’s not directly academic, music fulfills a need, one that will still be there long after the 3 “Rs” are gone. When I stop to think about the 5 most influential teachers in my education, at least 3 of them were music teachers. So why wouldn’t I make a difference? Sometimes it takes a special student to remind us just how important we are.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

You never know what you've got...

I can hardly believe it's been over a month since I last walked through the doors of Heritage Elementary.  Much like the seven years I spent there, at times my last day seems like a lifetime ago, and at times, it feels like only yesterday.  Summer has a funny way of launching one into a time warp, one in which I've spent much time, myself, submerged in self reflection.

When I made the decision to move on, I had no idea it would affect me so much.  I was in denial about how many tears I would shed.  I should have guessed.  I mean, in my entire life, I have never been anywhere more than 4 or 5 years.  My own educational experience included 5 elementary schools.  Growing up, my family could be classified as somewhat nomadic, never staying in one place more than a year or two.  So the fact that I was part of the same community long enough to watch my first 5th graders become seniors in high school is a pretty big deal.  I was able to grow with families, and some of my students, I can remember their older brothers and sisters coming to me excited about their birth.

Of course, it wasn't just my students and their families that I watched grow.  I was so lucky to meet amazing educators who pushed me to become the teacher I am today.  I was one interview away from quitting teaching altogether when I stumbled upon the classified ad a week before school started in 2006.  I literally owe my career to this school.  While it is not perfect (no place is), I learned so much from the people who surrounded me for 7 years, and I made friendships that will last forever.

"Thank you" does not seem enough for all the well wishes and words of encouragement I've received since I announced I wasn't returning, not to mention the cards and cake...I didn't give much notice, and was overwhelmed by the sincere emotions shown to me from children, parents, and faculty. I assure you, these are things I will not soon forget, and at times when I doubt my abilities, I will remember the things shared with me in these final hours.

While I have thought and reflected upon these things daily, I have at the same time tried not to...not because I want to forget, and yet, you never know what you have until you don't have it anymore.  I know I will always be welcome, and I know that my next adventure will be wonderful in its own right.  Still, there are feelings of loss that I never imagined would be there.  So for any of my Heritage family stumbling upon this little ramble, please know you always have a special place in my heart, and trust me....I know what I have in you.

Tuesday, July 2, 2013

I am a rock, I WAS an island...initial ISTE reflections

I can't believe that it's already been over a week since I sat at the Opening Ceremony for the ISTE (International Society for Technology in Education) Convention.  At a point in my life when I’m at a crossroads and consumed by personal introspection, this conference could not have come at a more perfect time.  I have yet to intensely review my notes or read others’ ISTE blog reflections.  I want to make sure my initial insights are truly my own.  Of course, this is only phase one, and I am just beginning to peel back the layers of everything that has transpired in my head and heart over the last few weeks (both ISTE and nonISTE related).  As I review and reflect and defragment and discuss, I know these insights will continue to shape and grow, but I’ve got to start somewhere. So what did I learn (or relearn) at ISTE?  Here are my primary thoughts and ideas.

1)   I’m doing some things right!
Let’s start with the positive here.  I might not be making headlines with all my educational accolades, and I still have a ton to learn, but I’m on the right track.  While it was a technology conference, more importantly, ISTE was a conference about best teaching practices, and my feelings that we need to instill social skills and creativity back into our children isn’t some crazy, out-there idea.  What an amazing experience it was to be surrounding by like-minded educators, excited about teaching the whole child, not just state mandated bits and pieces when time permits.

2)  There’s room for improvement.
While I know this, I haven’t always taken every step necessary to make sure it happens.  In my music classroom, it was easier to defend creativity and the organic process of learning.  Even so, sometimes it’s hard to venture out of the security and comfort of doing things the way I’ve already done them, knowing that this will get me desired results.  But are they really desired results or just safe results- results that will pass, but that could be better?  How will this change as I try to make my way into general ed?  I have so much I need to learn.  In the past, the flood of fear and doubts has overcome and allowed me to push away true innovation and moments of genuine learning in my classroom, but that leads to the next thing I’ve been dealing with in my introspection, and an idea that was crystallized while at ISTE…

3)  If I expect my students to face their fear of failure, I’ve got to be willing to do the same.  I’ve always been a perfectionist, and sometimes, I fear trying something because I don’t know if it will turn out exactly the way I want it to (case and point-I’ve been writing and rewriting this post for the past 3 days…).  But what better model for my students than seeing me try, fail, try again, fail again, persevere, try again, and eventually succeed.  More and more, teachers are becoming a guide and a facilitator of learning, but we will never cease to be models of what we want our children to aspire to be.

4)  Regardless where I end up, as the new school year begins, I need to remember the excitement I’ve felt connecting and creating with other educators- the newfound joy of my voice.  If this 30-something is reviving and invigorating her learning through collaboration and being heard, just imagine how my students, who still naturally crave this kind of curiosity will feel being able to explore life in an open and collaborative classroom.

While I’ve still got so much left to learn, it’s okay because 1- I’m a life-long learner, and 2- I don’t have to do it alone.  Perhaps one of the main reasons it seems like ISTE was just yesterday is because of all the connections I’ve made and been able to foster even after leaving the convention center.  Despite the uncertainties of my future, I am so excited of the teacher and learner I am becoming.  And regardless of what challenges I might face, I can continue to be a rock, but I no longer have to be an island.

Friday, June 21, 2013

"Life is like riding a bicycle; In order to keep your balance, you must keep moving."

And moving, I am, even if at a wobbly, just got my training wheels off kind of pace.  After seven years in the same position at the same school, I decided to change everything up.  When contracts were handed out, I didn't sign mine.  There were many tearful goodbyes at the end of the year when I made the announcement to my colleagues and students (I'm still defragmenting this part of my journey, and will write a more in depth account soon; I have come to realize how many people I truly have in my corner, and it's amazing feeling). So I'm on the hunt for a new job.

But I'm moving on, and making some significant and wonderful changes in my life.  I've been accepted to the Reading and Literacy Master's Program at UTSA.  I met with my advisor this week, and I'm incredibly excited to begin (if I could only get my crazy passphrase to work on ASAP....)

After discovering that my resignation from the district made me ineligible to teach GT Summer Camp, I also made a last minute decision to go to the Tech for Tots Conference in of the best decisions I've made in a long time(another reflection I need to stop and write about).  While I've been working hard to learn and incorporate technology in my classroom, all the while trying to help the teachers around me do the same, I still have that feeling that I'm on the cusp of something amazing that I can see, but I just can't quite grasp.  Tech for Tots opened my eyes to a whole new world.  I've been following some amazing people doing some amazing things, and those people are about to become my reality.

Because this week, I'm going to ISTE for the first time (again, thanks to not teaching summer school; guess the adage is true- everything DOES happen for a reason).  I have a feeling I'm about to be blown away.  I can sense that everything is going to fall into line, and I am so ready for the ride.  My bike is about to get blinged out with streamers and those cool noisemakers for your wheels.  I'll probably still wobble, but I'm about to look a lot cooler doing it (or nerdier, which, by the way, is making a comeback).  So first thing on my ISTE agenda- volunteer to stuff bags.  Here I go....

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Might need to rethink my goals...

I find it hard to believe that we're one week away from Winter Vacation.  Despite taking a ton of pictures of my room before and after and scripting out many a story for my blog, I have failed miserably when it comes to posting anything weekly, much less daily.  Yesterday's events in Connecticut caused me to stop and break my silence, though, if only to try and work things out for myself.

I know we'll never be able to make sense of what happened- there is no sense to be made.  Millions of people are using the event in an attempt to make their positions on religious and political views heard.  I refuse to be a part of that, but due to the magnitude of what took place, I can't help but stop and ponder.  The events yesterday reminded me of the moment I realized the full capacity of my role as an educator, something that can never be totally emphasized or understood in college education classes.  So many roles are taken by an educator that aren't outlined in the yearly contract or school handbooks.

I started teaching just a little more than a year after the September 11th tragedy, and it was probably during my first month teaching that I took part in my first fire drill as a teacher.  In that moment, the enormity of my job rested on my shoulders....I was crushed under the weight of it, both figuratively and literally.  Although it was a simple drill, I remember feeling short of breath, and yet, I had to remain composed as I lead my children through the motions.  Racing through my mind, though, I just couldn't stop thinking about all those teachers at Ground Zero who weren't in a drill, trying to physically and emotionally protect their students while being overwhelmed with a total sense of uncertainty themselves.  Reading and arithmetic were thrown out the window, as teachers rushed to protect and console their children.  They became lifelines to students who, at the time, they were just barely learning their names.

I know my students are being inundated with what happened to children hundreds of miles away, and while I strive to teach them empathy, the fear and confusion that must be growing inside them makes my heart ache.   I don't want them to grow up in a society driven by fear, and yet, that's what they are surrounded by- fear of the economy, fear of being left behind, fear of those who haven't learned how to use their words to express themselves...will we as teachers be able to use this as a teachable moment?  What can I learn myself?  There is so much to share with our children that has nothing to do with textbooks, and yet, it seems we have less time every year to equip them with the necessary social, emotional, and coping skills to be successful human beings.  I don't have any children biologically, but I view my students past and present as my own.  While I have no way of telling what their future may hold, I'm doing my best to give them what wisdom I can now.  Hearing of the horrors in Connecticut, that weight bears down on me again, heavier than the weight of the high stakes testing or attendance mandates.  The weight of preparing our future for things we can not see or know.  Can I keep myself from falling under the weight and succumbing to the fear?

Sunday, August 26, 2012

And so it begins...

For years, I've been telling myself (and anyone who would listen to me) that I was going to start a blog- a place where I could reflect on the daily happenings in my life as a thirty-something, bibliophile, novice baker, art admirer, cat lover, and teacher, among other things.  Time after time, I've put it off for a variety of reasons...what if I don't have anything relevant to say or what if it all comes out wrong...I have too much on my mind...what if nobody wants to read my ramblings...I'm not sure what to write about...I don't have my own cool graphics...Lately, that's been my main page is not beautiful enough to support my words or worthy enough to compete with all the other amazing blogs out there....but no more excuses.  It's time to face my life head on.  I'm not getting younger, and life isn't stopping to wait for cute graphics.

While many people choose December 31st to become more resolute, as a teacher, my life revolves around school, so tomorrow is my New Year, and today, I resolve to begin my blog.  I'm not sure about my POV (point of view) yet.  I don't know if I'll focus on my classroom or my recent dive into the world of cupcakes.  Perhaps my blog will be a mish mash of this and that, just like my life.  After all, this is a reflection of who I am.  My goal is to write at least once a week.  I know I won't be able to write every day, and I don't want to set myself up for failure.  Who knows...a year from now, maybe I will be writing every day, but for now, I'm going to keep my goal attainable.  I can't wait to look back and see the growth and change that is sometimes hard to see in the present.  Here's to a year of reflection and sanity!