This past weekend, I went home and visited with family, mentors as well as former colleagues and students. It was a good visit–it revitalized and energized me. I needed those hugs and laughter with family and friends. Each hug, smile and giggle reassured me of my decision to move to Texas and to teach here. I know that this is the place where God has sent me.
While home, I had coffee with one of the teachers I mentored a few years ago. She is an amazing teacher. What I love about our relationship is that we can have frank conversations that she does not shy from–such is the case this past Saturday afternoon. We chatted about the differences in public and private. . . noise level, parental involvement and behaviors. The more we talked, I realized that a lot of the challenges teachers face at my previous school were the cultural.
As my friend and I talked, she helped me discover that I was experiencing the insecurity that comes with being a minority while assimilating to the culture of the new school . I asked her, “Is this what you felt like, working as a White woman in a Black school?” She laughed, “Sometimes things were uncomfortable. I didn’t get all of the cultural behaviors. Not knowing the culture does make you feel insecure.” We laughed about how in my previous school, my students went through hand sanitizer like water, refused to sit on the floor and black female students absolutely REFUSE to put their purses or bags on the floor.
Although I have been a minority all of my life, I never felt like a minority. I have never felt “different.” I lived in a city with a large African American population. I have lived overseas with a lot of different people–difference was celebrated. I am an “all people” person (That is what my mentor called it–the fact that I can get along with everyone and I don’t think about race much. Humph, most often I don’t even recognize racism). Nevertheless, I’ve never felt like a minority and have never used race as an excuse.
After accepting this position, for the first time, I felt different. I felt like a minority–there was literally no one like me on campus. This is not to say I feel unwelcome or not valued on my campus. It is exactly the opposite–New School has taken FANTASTIC care of me. I just felt different and it made me insecure. Subconsciously, this made me want to be perfect in everything and I overanalyzed and worried about everything (another post to come about this). Balance has been restored . . . I will be celebrating and enjoying my difference.
I am not perfect. I want to be. A couple of days ago, this really hit home for me. I remember an ex telling me, “you want everything to be perfect and in a neat little box and its just not.” I am not perfect. If I were perfect, I’d be thin and have profound witty things to say all the time. I’d be tall and an expert in everything. Alas, I am not perfect! I fail. And, I failed this week.
The last month has been tough emotionally for me. I did not think I would get homesick when I made the move. I miss my community and I don’t know how to build a new one. I miss the people I could confide in and those who knew me. I miss being silly and not worrying about etiquette. I had built a community of people that were my family (even though we were not related by blood) and somehow in the move my community has been come distant. Phone conversations have not been enough and there are too few of them. I miss their hugs and dinners and lunches and chats about ugly cats and stupid, senseless inside jokes. I miss myself, I miss being strong and funny. In this last week, I have crumbled into a hot stupid, mess. I cried in front of a kid for goodness sake–it was a mixture of anger and sadness and frustration. And that makes me mad at myself. I betrayed myself and my authority.
In all of my calculations and planning and moving, I did not account for being homesick. I love teaching, I love studying, I love planning and I love the new school. I do not love being alone. It sucks. My ex and I stopped talking on Valentines. That was the last conversation I had with him. Somedays, I want to call only because I am alone and I miss being real. I have to pray for strength to not to call. Literally, I ask God for strength and to trust him with his plans.
So that’s where I am. I’m homesick. And it sucks.
****Addendum: this post doesn’t mean that I am unhappy with the move or my work. Quite the contrary, I love Houston, my school and my colleagues. I just haven’t found community and for me that’s important.
This evening, I was so tired when I got home, I ate leftover Chinese and fell asleep while watching my new favorite show, “The Neighbors.” Less than 30 minutes of sitting and I was out! Now, its 4 am and I am wide awake and congested. The weather here is so unpredictable, especially, since I don’t watch the news for the weather report.
What I am thinking about at 4 am:
- I have a classroom management problem. And I take complete responsibility for this. To be honest, at my previous place of employ, I had a rule and procedure for everything (and I followed through and I had reward system in place). I abandoned it at my New School. Freshmen, here, are extremely chatty. Nothing disrespectful, just chatty. To rectify this, I am going to have more work from bell to bell. Example, I’ll keep a list of unit vocabulary or questions on the board. While transitioning from one task to another, I will have students complete it the list for submission.
- My chair said that I do not need to have an interactive activity everyday. Sometimes, they just need to work. Additionally, it should be a “treat.” Therefore, I am going to have more “worksheets,” book work and independent practice. I hate that stuff. But I did it in public school; it was a means of survival! Here, I have been going from one activity to another in my lessons. Yes, my students are learning, but we are moving a much slower pace than I would like and it has come to be expected and is feeding into my classroom management problem.
- I don’t argue with my students, I usually just say “ok” and let it go. (I learned this as a child. I hated arguing. So, I would just say “ok” and my perspective is its over–essentially, I’m gonna do what I’m gonna do!) For students, the word “ok” means yes and they have won. But that is not necessarily my meaning. Example: Earlier this week a group showed me their project, I asked “where are the subtitles?” The students said, “we planned to hand out lyrics.” I said, “but the rubric says, you needed lyrics on the screen.” Eventually, I say, “ok,” but in my head I’m thinking, “whatever.” They would be graded according to the rubric. So, they send me an email saying the were “surprised” that they would lose points for not having lyrics on the screen because I said it was okay. Lesson learned: In the future, just flatly say “No.”
- I have been too nice. Tooo nice. Here is a commonality between all teens, no matter socioeconomic status. Niceness = Weakness It is my fault. I take complete responsibility. Being firm is now my new priority. When I return from, Christmas break. I plan remind students of expectations and demand it from them.
- Group project work here was a success, but there have been some failures on my part. Next time, students will only be allowed to work with students in their class. Also, there will be no switching of groups. If you don’t like your group, you may elect to do the assignment independently within the first week of the assignment.
- Overall, I am happy. This is just a stressful time of year and I took up too much work in the last couple of weeks. I have so many things to work on and revisit over break. But the priority is rest.
Yesterday, I felt like a REALLY bad teacher for the first time this year. I am not perfect, but yesterday was the pits. Seriously, I have teacher guilt because I am backed up grading. Will spend of most of this weekend getting caught up after I attend a Freshman moms event. I have learned the error of my ways and scantron machine, you are now my friend!
I had a TERRIBLE day with my A4 class. I need to call a parent, but dreading the call. This kid does things to push my buttons. He dominates the class and makes me feel like I am in my first year of teaching again. I have not documented it well. That is why I am dreading calling his parents because I do not have exact quotes because I am actually trying to teach a lesson and he keeps interrupting me with irrelevant comments, etc. The day he was absent, we had a day of PEACE. It was amazing. Simply amazing. I’ve decided the next time it happens, I’m going to stop what I’m doing and WRITE it down. I need evidence–exact quotes.
Yesterday, I taught Zhou China. It was not a great lesson. There is not much to say about the Zhou–feudalism, they fought all the time, psychological warfare, intellectual achievements were weapons, mandate of heaven. I should have pulled out my books on East Asia and spent more time reading to find more interesting facts about the Zhou. I want to incorporate more story telling into my class. I’ve been looking for books with interesting factoids to help brighten the lesson.
I went to a school basketball game last night; it was an exhilarating time. A lot of moms reintroduced themselves to me. They are really nice and they always talk about how happy their kid is at my school. At first I was like how do these people know who I am? Shouldn’t I just be some black lady in the crowd? The guidance counselor tells me, “uhm, you’re the only black female teacher and your picture is on your emails and website.” Interestingly, very few of the Black moms speak to me. Maybe, they don’t know who I am. Very few of them showed for parent night because of a JV football game. Maybe at the next game, I’ll be more aggressive in getting to know them or maybe I shouldn’t care?
I have decided to give my students a taste of Memphis by bringing Kool-aid pies (a cheap dessert made from Kool-Aid) for our last class of the quarter. I told one class and they asked “What is a “Kool-Aid” pie????” They seem excited by the thought of it!
For sometime now, I’ve felt like I have needed to put an “addendum” to my testimony in writing. My hope is that this post will help someone find joy. Two years ago, I can honestly say that I was miserable. It’s almost weird, now, to hear people say that I am “joyful” because I had been unhappy for so long.
- Forgive Others- For the past 33 years, I had been ANGRY with my father, who is drug addict. He was physically and emotionally abusive to my mother and much of my childhood, I don’t remember (what I do remember is being at my grandmothers because those were happy times). I was so angry with him that I didn’t even stay for my grandmothers burial because I could not stand to be next to him or even hear my father’s voice. I don’t know how so much hostility had built up, but the thought of him made my blood boil and pressure rise. One year, his girlfriend invited me to Thanksgiving or some kind of dinner. I was so angry, I got dizzy on the phone. I would go to church and because I knew I had this forgiveness in my heart, I would avoid communion (fear of eating and drinking damnation to my soul). In counseling, I asked the therapist how I could know if I had forgiven someone and she talked in circles and essentially said, if you have to ask you haven’t forgiven. A couple of months later, I got tired of sitting when others went to take communion and wanted to do something about it. I made the decision that day, I need to take care of this. I prayed with new friends from church and asked an old friend to join me as I made the journey to find him. Our meeting was not long, I simply asked him to forgive me for being so angry and told him I forgave him for years of abandonment and not keeping his word. He told me that he was sorry and he didn’t realize how much he had hurt me. Who knew that forgiveness was that simple? Just go to the person and tell them how they hurt you and let them know that you have forgiven them. I am convinced that forgiveness happens in person or by message. Just saying you’ve forgiven them doesn’t work. I had been doing that for years, but was still angry.
- Praise the Lord everyday-I wanted joy so badly and I was sick and tired of being unhappy. I found that when I began everyday with a prayer of praise, I was much happier. Then, I decided to start listening to praise music everyday as I got ready for work. Eventually, I decided to make a “joy playlist”. I found a bunch of songs with the word “joy” in them and would play them each morning or even when I felt down. I listened to the same songs again and again. It was an everyday thing. Through the Holy Spirit, these songs literally deposited joy in my heart. Now, I have added reading Psalms and alternating that with some of my favorite praise music. I had been praying for joy and to be filled with the fruit of the spirit (Gal 5:22-23), but it wasn’t actually manifest until I started singing “joy.” Studying God’s word also gave me great joy, the more I studied the more joyful I became, my mind wasn’t so much on my circumstances as they were on God’s word. His word filled me with hope and joy unspeakable.
- Serve others-Give to others freely. I began to pray, “Lord show me how I can serve others.” I haven’t perfected this, but I can’t tell you the number of times, I am blessed and filled with happiness after doing something unasked for someone else. I don’t even have to hear their words of thank you because it just feels good to give. I think I heard my pastor say, “you’ll never regret giving someone a gift.” It might have been my last few dollars, but someone else’s smile and meeting their need, planted a special joy in my heart.
Even if you aren’t a Christian, I believe that if you follow these simple steps you’ll find the secret of joy–forgiving & serving others. Joy is an action; you have got to DO something. I am mostly smiling when I meet and talk with you because I have “joy, joy in my soul.”
I was inspired few months ago by Angela Watson’s post on Observing the Sabbath. A week ago, she posted this followup. I liked her ideas but did not see how I could practice them. In a new teacher meeting this week, my principal encouraged us to rest over the long weekend. She said we would be going strong until the Thanksgiving Break. I laughed and almost scoffed at her. I was thinking, “don’t you know how much work I must do?” However, yesterday, when the morning announcements were made and actually heard that Monday was a holiday, I cheered. Seriously, cheered. If I were standing I would have danced a jig! I quickly realized I needed this time. I needed a Sabbath.
I am convinced that I probably need to take a Sabbath every weekend. But I’ll start with today. Here are my guidelines:
- I started the day with prayer and bible study.
- No housework, except for dishes if I cook. I only cook if I want to.
- No school work. I’m not even going to check my school email today.
- Not too much internet, hulu or tv. I may doodle around google, but nothing school related. I may facebook some, but I don’t want spend the bulk of my day on the computer.
- Nap freely!
- Sit on my new red couch, read books and the paper. I have been getting the paper since moving into my apartment and I think I’ve only read it once or twice after 2 months of paper service.
- Write “love” and “miss you” notes to friends back home. Hopefully, talk to family and friends on the phone. Let them know how much I miss them.
- I may look at churches to visit and attend an evening service somewhere.
- No driving around running errands or going to the grocery. I wish the good pizza place delivered.
In the words of Sug, I’m on operation “Sit Down!”
I borrowed a project idea from David Duez–the cave art project–for the first quarter. I assigned it about 3 weeks ago. Kids create “rock art” about themselves during the first unit on Human Origins. The goal is 2 fold, they understand how cave art leaves clues about the lives of Prehistoric people and they continue introducing themselves to me and their classmates. It is a solid beginning of the year project for Freshmen.
One of my students says “Ms. A, I started a fire creating my project.”
I look at him, “What?!”
“I was in the bathroom, burning my art so it would look old. And the fire got out of control. I burned my moms hair. She got mad at me and told me I couldn’t burn anymore.”
“Yeah, she had a partial wig in the bathroom that caught on fire.”
“Woooo, I bet your mama was mad! You burned her weave! I wouldn’t have let you burn the rest of your project either. You’re lucky you’re walking!!!” I laugh. The class laughs.
As a side note, even though I have not graded the projects yet. In taking them up, I noticed that the quality of these projects is so much better than what I’m used to. Overall, I can tell that the kids actually spent time and energy so that they could get the best possible grade. I do love this school.
As a side note: I had a long conversation with one of my best friends on the way home from school. We talked about LOVE. When you love someone, you give them your time. Even in terms of friendship, when I love someone, I call, I text and I make time to see the person. In terms of children, you show your love by giving them your time and being present for major events. Buying people stuff does NOT equal love. It is nice but doesn’t equal love. If someone is important to you, show them love beyond your words and money, give them your time.
The school year is picking up . .. how do I know? I’m drowning in stuff to grade! I took up journals to grade while students were testing on the first unit. Tomorrow, the Quarter project is due. And, of course I have to grade the first unit test. Here a big difference, I am grading work that reflects learning. Not “easy” work or busy . .. but worthwhile grading. In public school, I found that I was giving more and more work to make up for assignments they didn’t do. This kind of thing was encouraged. I don’t mind that I’m drowning in grading because the school gives me time to get the grading done.
Another universal teenagery thing: Disorganization. Disorganization does NOT help when studying. I went to the guidance counselor to talk with her about the disorganization issue I see in the Freshmen. The reason they can’t study is because they can’t find anything. She suggested that incorporate organizing their materials into class. Honestly, I didn’t realize that this was a skill that I’d need to teach at this school. The new plan is to collaborate with Freshman English teacher to help get our students organized and stay that way. I’ve seen several notebooks with stacks of papers in pockets. I know it would benefit my students if I integrate organization. . . .but should I take on anything else? *sigh*
Playing a farming game tomorrow in class .. . where students try to build a civilization by increasing their production. Should be fun. Students usually like the game. The game is a cross between settlers of catan and monopoly only they have to make decisions as a family. They can team up with another family if they think it will benefit them. I’ll spend an hour tonight cutting up pieces, but it’ll be worth it!