Sixty seconds

Recently, I saw a post on Reddit that asked the question: if you could go back in time and had ONE MINUTE to give advice to your past self, what would you say?

I have to admit that I have spent way, way more than a minute thinking about this question. Part of me rejects doing this because I know everything I have gone through made me who I am today. But then I think, fuck that cliche…why not tell myself all the things that will help “past me” be able to avoid pain, heartbreak, rejection, loss, and negative experiences???

So, here is what I would tell my younger self in sixty seconds:

“Listen to your gut. When your gut is telling you to run, run. When it tells you, don’t marry him: DON’T. MARRY. HIM. Don’t lie to cover other people’s mistakes or behavior. You think that you are protecting them, but you are really just hiding the truth, from the world and yourself.

Don’t settle. EVER. Forget having to kiss frogs and all that dumb shit. Kiss the frogs for fun, but when it comes to relationships, don’t settle for less than you deserve. Please, please do not be with someone who drinks. Promise yourself this and then DO NOT BREAK that promise. You cannot save anyone who doesn’t want to be saved. Don’t ever put yourself in a situation where you put someone else’s needs above your own. Don’t lose yourself in someone else. And always, always have an exit strategy.

Be nice to everyone. It isn’t a weakness. You never know what someone else is going through. When you think to yourself that you should call or text someone to check on them or see if they are okay, don’t assume you will always have the time or chance to do it.

No one has a perfect family or perfect life. Make the best of what you have. If you focus all your energy on the bad things, you will miss out on enjoying the good things. Forgive people, especially your dad, who don’t deserve it, even if they never apologized. Try to be the bigger person as often as possible.” *

*Okay, I literally timed myself reading that aloud. And I did not go back and edit it because I wanted it to be as authentic as possible. At first, this seemed really easy to do, but it much more difficult than I thought it would be, because how do you sum up twenty years of advice and lessons learned into one little minute? It is an impossible task. And really, how much do young people really listen to anyway? Lol! I teach 11th grade (so mostly kids that are 16 and 17 years old) and as much as I would like to think they hang on my pearls of wisdom, I know that they will have go out into the world and learn life lessons the hard way, just like all of us did- I guess that is a rite of passage. But really, why didn’t anyone stress to 16 year old me the importance of not settling…that would have been REALLY helpful 😉

Lucky 21

Tomorrow begins my 21st year of teaching. I honestly do not know where the time went. This job is truly one of the loves of my life. I often say that it was more of a “calling” for me, because I never considered doing anything else. There have been A LOT of ups and downs throughout the years, but I love teaching as much as ever.

This is going to be a really difficult and unpredictable year. I pride myself on developing relationships with my students and it is going to be challenging to do so from behind a computer screen. I feel a lot of sadness…for the students who are missing out on a “normal” high school experience. For the kids who can’t play the sport they love or participate in the school musical. Several of my close teacher friends needed to work remotely from home, so it is depressing to think about going through a school day without seeing them, or really socializing with any of my colleagues. No more Friday night football games or happy hours or eating lunch in the teachers’ cafe or stopping in the office to chat with the secretaries. I feel like this is going to be a very isolating year. We are supposed to enter school, go directly to our classrooms, teach our classes and then go home.

On top of that, my niece is starting preschool and it is still kind of a shock every time I see a mask on her little face. It is so exciting that she is starting school, but I wish she was entering during a normal school year, so she could have recess and play and eat lunch with other kids her age.

No matter what, the show must go on and as a teacher one of the most important lessons I will teach this year is how to make the best of things. And I have a feeling I will be leaning a lot this year myself. Even on days where I might have to put in extra effort, I am going to try my hardest to be a positive influence on my new group of students. At the very minimum, they deserve that 🙂

Teaching a different kind of lesson

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I shared an article on my personal Facebook page the other day that really resonated with me (I will include the link below).  It was about how having schools closed right now for the purpose of social distancing is not a “vacation” for teachers.  Throughout my 20 year career teaching English, I have faced many difficult situations, but nothing prepared me- or any of us- for this.

Yes, I am home in the comfort of my own house, wearing pajamas for most of the day.  I do not have children of my own and I live by myself.  It does give me flexibility in my day to binge watch a show for a couple of hours or take a short nap, but I sincerely wish I was at work instead.  I miss my school, my colleagues, the routine and my classroom.  I truly miss my kids.  I have 120 11th graders that I am responsible for every day, not to mention my “formers” (the students I had last year, many of whom I see daily).

I work in a very diverse school district.  This means that many of my students struggle in many different ways- some financially, some with social anxieties or other mental health disorders, some with language barriers, some with difficult family situations, some with learning disabilities, some with food insecurity, etc.  My school is using distance learning and luckily our students were provided with Chromebooks before the virus began to spread and I have been in touch with the majority of them, whether through our class website or email.

This is not a vacation for me.  I am worried about my students- now and in the future.  Are they nervous, scared, anxious, worried, confused, alone, eating, sleeping, healthy…?  I am a junior class advisor and planned the prom for April.  I am waiting for the directive to cancel that.  It makes me sad that students will miss out on milestone events in their high school experience.  I know a school dance is not important at all right now in the bigger scope of things going on in the world, but to a 16 year old, it kind of still is.

There is so much uncertainty right now and as an adult, I am overwhelmed by the fears and anxieties and stress I feel.  I can’t imagine being a child right now.  For some of my students, school is the only stability they have in their lives.  I worry what kind of lasting effect this will have on their mental health, their future economy, the world moving forward.

Yesterday, we found out the gender of my sister’s baby- a girl!  It was so wonderful for ten minutes to celebrate something, to forget about all of the urgent news alerts constantly lighting up our phones.  But then it was back to reality…my sister is twelve weeks pregnant during a pandemic and my niece is only two and a half and my father has compromised health and my mother is over 70 and my brother in law was laid off yesterday and I am struggling with agoraphobia and there’s no toilet paper and *deep breath*….

Every opportunity I have to interact with my students I am trying to be as positive as possible.  I made funny memes to make them laugh (or at least roll their eyes).  I sent a picture of my niece opening the box with bright pink balloons popping out at the gender reveal.  I tell them how I am doing with my new “coworkers”, who sometimes annoy me and step on my computer (aka my two cats).  I tell them I am here for them…anytime. I reassure them that we are all doing the best we can do right now and that things will be okay.  I am doing this for them, but also for myself.  I also need to be reminded that this “new norm” will not last forever, that things will go back to the way they were, that we will be okay.  It is much harder to convince myself, though.

Here is the article I mentioned above: boredteachers.com/…/covid-19-quarantine-isnt-a-vacation-for-teachers

 

Complicated

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I had my first “date” since breaking up with my exboyfriend.  It felt too soon, but I had to remind myself that the romantic part of the relationship with my ex ended far earlier than our break up.  I had not been intimate with anyone (including him) in well over a year.

It was a guy I knew from high school, but not very well- more like we had mutual friends.  We both agreed we did not want a relationship, rather just a “friends with benefits” situation.  I am not sure why I thought that was a good idea for me because I overthink EVERYTHING.  But, I also knew this guy is not the one for me and I just wanted to put myself out there in an effort to move on from my ex, so I figured I had nothing to lose.

I was very nervous but everything went well and I enjoyed his company.  I was surprised when he continued to call and text me every day- I was not really expecting that kind of communication, but it was really nice.  We made a second date, which he canceled on the same day and then another second date, which he also canceled (one hour before).  Both times he canceled he blamed work (which I believe because he has a demanding job), but he never attempted to choose a different day.  It has been two weeks now and I feel like if he REALLY wanted to see me, he could have carved out some time.  It’s like that movie, “He’s Just Not That Into You”…if a guy wants you, he will find a way.  So, I did what I always do and started asking everyone’s opinion on what I should do- my guy friends, my girl friends and my sister and took their advice (which really ended up not being what I probably would have done) and maturely told him it wasn’t working out.  He was snarky back and said he “gets it, I don’t trust men” and told me he doesn’t “do complicated”.

I think calling me “complicated” was presumptuous on his part.  I mean, let’s be honest, I definitely AM complicated, but I did nothing during the time talking with him for him to be able to fairly make that assessment about me.  I didn’t call or text him and I was totally okay with the first cancellation.  I know I didn’t do anything “wrong”, but yet I feel like I messed up.

My sister asked me why I feel the need to ask SO many people their advice and opinions on what I should do and without even thinking I responded, “because I don’t trust myself.”  My answer caught me off guard, but I realize that it’s true.  I feel like I have made so many bad choices and ignored a lot of red flags in the past and now I am not comfortable trusting myself to make decisions .  She also asked why I was settling for this guy.  Not that he is a bad person or anything, but he does not have the qualities that I want in a partner.  Again, without thinking, I blurted out, “because I have low self-worth”, which I also realized is very true.

I was enjoying talking to someone new because it felt good and I liked the attention and it was a good distraction from everything that happened with my ex.  But then, I just started obsessing and worrying and analyzing and questioning everything about this guy.  I think I just need more time.  And I know that I need to focus on myself more and deal with some unresolved issues.

I don’t know why I think I do not deserve to be happy or to have a wonderful person in my life.  I sadly wonder who would really want to be with me?  I think my exboyfriend accepted me and the problems I have because he also suffered from mental illness and he was so sick himself.  I feel so flawed and damaged and…complicated.

Goodbye, old friend

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Up until recently, my life has only been affected by suicide through other people’s losses.  In high school, a good friend’s mother took her own life.  I was young enough to understand the tragic impact, but was far enough removed from the long lasting effects.  As a teacher, I have had students whose parents or siblings have committed suicide. That is very difficult because I always want to be sensitive to their emotions with the literature I teach.  All of these untimely deaths affected me in that I felt sympathy for the families and tried to support my friend and students the best I could at the time.
A good friend of mine, who was also a colleague, recently committed suicide.  He and I were VERY close about ten years ago.  I considered him one of my best friends at that time and we joked that I was his “work wife”.  After my divorce, we had a very short-lived romantic affair, but ultimately decided we were better off as friends.  Over the years, he got married and I got involved in a long-term relationship.  He was moved to another classroom on the other side of the school and we just gradually grew apart.  But, it was always fun to run into him in the hallway from time to time (we have a VERY large school building).  We always maintained a funny, flirty friendship.  He was the most self-deprecating person I ever met.  He was by far the most hilarious person I have ever known.  He also had a very sweet side.  After getting divorced, I was crying to him about never going on a date again because I didn’t know “how” to date.  He said, “I will pick you up tomorrow at 7:00pm”.  He arrived at my house, all dressed up, with flowers, and took me out to dinner.  He opened the car door for me, he treated me to a meal and then he drove me home.  Afterwards, he walked me to my front door, kissed my cheek like a gentleman and said, “now you don’t need to be nervous because you know what a date is like.”  This will always be my favorite memory of him.
A few months ago he was out of work for several weeks.  At first I didn’t even know because I do not see him at school regularly.  Then other teachers started asking me if he was okay.  I texted him and got no response.  Overlapping his absence, I was out for three weeks on FMLA when my boyfriend was in ICU.  During my last week out of work, he returned to school and texted me.  He said he heard I was out and asked if I needed anything.  This led to a lengthy text conversation about what we both had been going through.  Looking back on it now, I realize he was lying to me about why the reason he was out, but it doesn’t matter because I will always be grateful for that last communication we had.  Once I returned to work, I was so busy getting caught up, I never had an opportunity to go see him in his classroom.
I awoke on a Sunday morning to a mass email to all of the teachers from our principal.  He stated we had suddenly and tragically lost a member of our staff and I had to read it over and over to make sure that I was seeing the name correctly.  I immediately felt sick to my stomach.  How? How could he be gone? The email was very vague and did not mention the cause of death, but I just instinctively knew it was suicide.  I contacted his best friend, another colleague, who confirmed this to be true.
The loss was overwhelming.  He was so full of life.  But he was always a sad clown…he used humor to cover up anything that hurt him.  When he got divorced years after I did, he even acted like it was a joke.  I tried to get him to talk seriously about it, but it was his form of a coping mechanism.
I think when someone commits suicide, the first thing people do is think about what they “could have done”.  I know that there was probably nothing I could have done to save him.  I didn’t even really know how bad things were for him.  I just wish I had seen him one more time.  One more hug.  One more joke.
Something weird has been happening to me.  I will be walking in the hall and I will think I see him out of the corner of my eye.  I will jerk my head to look and instead it is a tall, lanky student.  Or I will be pulling out of the parking lot and will see a small, white car and will glance at the driver to see if it’s him.  I am just so heartbroken- for myself and his other friends and colleagues, for his family, for his exwife and current fiancee, and for his students.  We had a memorial at school and it was so nice to hear former students explain how much he impacted their lives.  I wish there was a way for him to have known how much he would be missed and how many people would grieve for him.  I know he must have been in so much pain- that’s the most heartbreaking part of it.  His particular method of suicide was so devastating…I just cannot imagine how hopeless and helpless he must have felt.
I still feel frightened that my exboyfriend could make the same tragic, horrible decision.  My world was turned upside down when my friend died- I did not see it coming at all.  Everyone, including my therapist, tells me that I am not responsible for what my ex does, but that is easy for people to say.  If he ever did something to hurt himself, I don’t know what I would do.

Atelophobia

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I just recently turned 40 and am currently in my 19th year of teaching.  It just struck me that I have now been an educator for almost half of my life!  I knew I wanted to be a teacher since I was a little girl and every decision I made about my future was a step towards achieving that dream.  I never even considered any other career and I have never regretted it for a minute.  There have been amazing moments and really, really difficult days, but I truly have a passion for my job and consider myself so lucky to love what I do.

On Friday, my principal came to see me personally to tell me I was nominated for a very prestigious award.  I was so in shock, so honored, so flattered, so overwhelmed.  But, I didn’t want to tell anyone, even though the majority of my best friends are teachers at my same school.  I was almost embarrassed and didn’t want to seem like I was bragging.  I called my mom (who acted like I won an Academy Award- she was so excited) and she told me I was being silly not to share the good news with my friends.  I am also not the type to shout good (or bad) news from the mountaintop.  I did end up sending a group text and they all congratulated me, which was very sweet.

I have felt like a failure a lot in my personal life, from my dysfunctional childhood to my strained relationship with my dad to my struggles with anxiety to my marriage and subsequent divorce, I feel like I suck at life sometimes.  The one area where I have always succeeded and felt confident is in my career.  I have won other local teaching awards and I know I am respected in my school.  But honestly, underneath all the excitement of this amazing nomination, there was a thought in the back of my mind..”why me?”…”I don’t deserve that”…”I won’t win that”.  I know I work hard and I care SO much about teaching, but I still felt…undeserving.

I wrote a blog around the time of my 40th birthday where I reflected on my fear that no one would come to my birthday party (which of course they all did).  I shared that fear with my sister and she said to me, “you do nice things for everyone else and are so thoughtful and generous, why do you think no one wants to do that for you?” and it is because I felt…undeserving. Why would anyone want to celebrate ME? I don’t have really low self-esteem, but I think there is some aspect of my childhood that is tucked deep into my brain that makes me feel like I am not good enough.  I guess that is common for children of alcoholics.  Maybe my 12 year old self felt like if I was good enough maybe my dad wouldn’t drink?

I am very excited and honored about this nomination and I am going to really try to push those negative feelings away and focus on being happy about it, because deep down under those thoughts of not being good enough, I KNOW I am a good teacher who truly cares about her students.

 

I am a teacher.

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When I started my teaching career 18 years ago, I knew that I would have a lot of different roles at my high school.  I have been a therapist, a cheerleader, a confidant, a maternal figure, a nurse, a role model, a disciplinarian, a mediator, a comedian…the list goes on and on.  I knew that being a teacher was going to involve more than just teaching.  I knew there would be amazing days, when lessons went perfectly and students were well-behaved and sweet and engaged.  I quickly learned there would be really hard days, where students were bored and disrespectful and rude.  After almost two decades, I can take the good with the bad.  I still love this job and can’t imagine doing anything else.

When I started teaching, it was only a few years after Columbine, which hit home for me because I lived in Littleton, CO at one point when I was young.  At the time, it seemed like that was the worst possible scenario that I could imagine happening in a public school.  I also naively believed it was a one time tragedy.  Obviously, sadly, I was very wrong about that.

For most of my career, I had to sit through (usually boring) teacher staff development seminars on standardized testing and curriculum standards.  But now we do active shooter training.  I should be learning about differentiated instruction methods or how to implement new technology into my lessons.  Instead, I am learning how to barricade my classroom door and what warning signs of violent behavior to watch out for in my students.

I’m sure this sounds immature, but it just isn’t fair.  Teachers and students should not have to feel scared in school.  Anytime I go to a different room in my school, I mentally plan an exit strategy.  When I have cafe duty, I run through the scenarios in my mind of where I can hide the students if they are in danger.  When I hear the “beep beep beep” of the loud speaker turn on, my body stiffens with instant anxiety, waiting for an announcement about a lockdown and when I hear the secretary page a teacher to the office, I feel a wave of relief.  I read about the teachers who died shielding their students and I wonder if I would have the courage to protect mine.  I have nightmares about one of my students exacting revenge because of my disciplining them or reporting them for cutting my class.  I scrutinize my students for any signs of bullying, loneliness, exclusion, depression, drug abuse, anxiety, etc.

There is not one single day that passes that I do not think about a school shooting at some point.  Unfortunately, this is the new reality of being a teacher in this country.