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Relaxed

Last Friday, I did a rare thing and met my friend, Cinda, for coffee.

It all started when I posted something on Facebook, and she commented and said that we needed to get together.

Cinda is absolutely precious to me.  I’ve mentioned her many, many times over the last eight years.  She started out as my teaching mentor, and a friendship grew.  She’s simply amazing.  Anyone who knows her loves her.

She also happens to be super busy, both with work and family, so the opportunity to sit with her for a spell greatly appealed to me.

I suggested Starbucks, but she had another idea – a local coffee shop in the heart of Podunk, USA.  The actual town that I live in is rather small, although it does have several traffic lights, which is more than what I had growing up.

I’d never heard of the place, so I looked it up beforehand to see what they offered besides coffee because, y’all, I’ve never grown up.  I just cannot stomach the smell or taste of it.

They had teas on their menu and something called a shrub.  A bit of research told me that a shrub is a fruit concoction that’s made by letting fruit sit in vinegar overnight.  It’s often served with club soda and, perhaps, a simple syrup.

Well, I was down for that.

I was a bit surprised by how adorable this little place was.

There were large picture windows when you walked in and a lovely area of seating.  The guy who helped us (I think it was the owner) was extremely kind and patiently explained what he used to make the shrub.  I’m very particular about sweeteners and such – nothing artificial for me!

He only had one shrub available that day – strawberry – so I ordered that.  Cinda treated me (thanks, Friend!).  She got the Almond Joy coffee, if I remember correctly.

Man, but I was really wishing I liked coffee!

Now, I’m used to places serving up drinks in disposable cups.  Not here, though.  We got real mugs for our drinks.

This redneck girl was feeling a little high class, even if I was wearing flowered shorts and a pink shirt that said “Life is good.”

Ahem.

We sat down to catch up, and y’all, I was in heaven.

That strawberry shrub was exactly what you’d picture having at the end of a summer day.  It was fresh, sweet, and light.  Oh my word – so divine!

I loved hearing what my friend had been up to and her plans for the fall.  She’s so inspiring – the way she gives of herself without reservation.  She’s a people magnet, genuine to the core.  She once spent six weeks in my classroom teaching a unit that she videoed for her national CRISS certification.  Watching her bond with my students and creating lesson plans with her taught me how to be a better educator.  I want to be a better person when I’m around her.

She asked about my family, and I brought her up to speed.

We changed topics about as many times as I change shoes on any given work morning – a lot.  We couldn’t help ourselves.

Squirrel.

Ha!

At one point in our conversation, she said, “You look the most relaxed I’ve ever seen you.” (or something to this effect)

We had just been talking about teaching and the stress involved with it.  You might remember the ungodly hours I put in my first three or four years in this profession.  It was ridiculous how hard I worked.

I don’t remember wearing a face that reflected any type of relaxation in those early years.

I laughingly told her that what she was seeing was the face of a teacher in the middle of summer break.

It always takes me a week or two to come down off of the high of the school year – to sleep off the fatigue that envelopes me ten months of the year.  Say what you will about teachers having Christmas and Spring breaks off.  That time off does little to replenish a tired teacher.

With the summer break, I am able to indulge in a bit of self care.  For me, that’s involves a lot of naps, daily workouts when I want, not when my schedule dictates, and page-turning afternoons while sitting poolside (or rather in the pool).

Hello, bicep.  Thanks for finally making an appearance.

We have less than a month until we report back for duty.  It’s always hard to go back because the workload is incredibly heavy and the stress factor is intense.

The secret, as I told Cinda last Friday, is balance.  It took me years and years to find balance in my life.  Now, I prioritize better and leave as much as I can at work.

So, with just a few weeks left of summer, I’m doing my best to not think ahead . . . too much, that is.

I’m taking all of the naps without any apologies (don’t call or text between 4 and 5pm unless you are in my brood).

I’m also going to visit that coffee shop to taste more of their shrubs.

It’s Officially Summer!

It’s been a minute, or two or three, since my last post on June 1.

What can I say except that I’ve been in recovery mode.  Teaching is seriously tiring business, y’all.

I’m going to do my best to play catch up, but it’s going to take me about a week and a half of posts to do that.

Ahem.

The last week of school, I’d worked hard to prepare my classroom for the break.  My principal has always been extremely gracious and allowed us to cut out of there when our checklists are done.

When I got to my room on the 4th (Monday), all I had to do was put a few things in my car.  Unfortunately, I’d left my car keys in my classroom and had to walk all the way across campus to retrieve them.  I decided to leave my chair beside my car.  It’s a really comfortable chair that I was afraid would get “borrowed” by someone else, so it needed to go home with me.

We had a quick faculty meeting for some parting words from our principal.  I didn’t eat the cake, but it was a lovely gesture.

Afterwards, I went back to my room for one last walk-through.

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Then, it was time to lock the door, turn in my keys, and hightail it out of there.

My face as I got into my car says everything.

I ran home, worked out, and then ran back out to meet a few teachers for lunch . . . the sit down kind where you don’t have to inhale your food.  We went to a new-to-me Thai restaurant.  Tofu Masaman is my jam, y’all.

Then, I headed home and spent time at the pool . . . something I’d been looking forward to for weeks.

I had already decided that I wasn’t going to be a slug and sleep in too late each day.  I’m desperate to maintain my schedule of walking early, before the heat and humidity make it impossible.

Gambit was a little confused when I got back, sat in my chair, and didn’t get up to shower and dress for work.

It didn’t take him too long to adjust, though, and I persisted with my routine.

I love seeing little critters like the one above while I’m out and about.

I packed in a few things the first week of vacation.  Lunch with Jane, the friend I made my first year of teaching, was a priority.

I love her.  So very much.

Check out this sunrise from the 7th . . .

I’m still doing the 80 Day Obsession Beach Body program.  I have been working out after my walks.  Doing things this way (as opposed to doing my workouts in the afternoons, which work forces me to do) has allowed me to have fun the rest of the day.

A must that first week was a trip to the beach with a good friend.

It had been raining every day, so the sunny sky was a treat!

I was a little drained when I got home, as the sun and sand are prone to do, but I got up early and put in my miles the next morning.

I also spent a few hours back at the pool.

It was blissfully quiet – a rare thing that week as all of the kids had been enjoying their free time out there.

Of course, they showed up a couple of hours later.

The first weekend of my break found me here . . . dealing with my front yard, which had been neglected.

But first, my pre-dawn walk . . .

Then, the yard . . .

I’d been walking past that sight during my walks each day and had been despising the eye sore that was my house.  Ugh.

I had not edged in months (sorry, neighbors); I had a hard time finding the edge of the sidewalk.  The grass was so thick that it took several passes with the edger to cut through the overgrown outcroppings.

Sweeping that up was a bear.  I burned MAJOR calories.

Look at all of those clippings!!!

It was worth the effort.  I think my neighbors might start speaking to me again.  😀

I definitely earned my pool time reward.

Thus ended the first week of my break.  To be sure, I did some grocery shopping and cooked. I think I recall doing other housework, but I didn’t take pictures of that stuff.

I tried to pace myself better than I have in the past, when I’ve jumped in and done way too much those first few days and worn myself out.

Can we say yay to summer and self-care?!

Priceless Smiles

I mentioned, in yesterday’s post, that my school had its graduation ceremony on Tuesday, and that I had photos I’d be sharing.

Well, surprise, surprise, surprise, but I’m actually following through on that post.

Ha!

Y’all, I know that I sound like a broken record sometimes, but seriously, teaching can be so rewarding sometimes.

Graduation is the culmination of everything amazing, not to mention the payoff for endless hours of hard work, for both students and teachers.

I was nervous about the weather that evening because Subtropical Storm Alberto had just passed through the day before, and it had rained ALL morning.  The kids usually sit out on the football field for commencement; however, Plan B was that graduation would take place in the gym if thunderstorms decided to come our way.  That would have left students with two graduation tickets instead of ten, severely limiting the number of family/friends allowed to attend.

I got to the gym, where students were milling around in their caps and gowns.  It was a great chance to speak with them and pose for pictures.

As it got closer to showtime, I stepped outside and walked to the field.  The sky was absolutely glorious – and free of rain.

We teachers milled around at one end of the field while we waited for the graduates to arrive, pageant style.

As we began to walk across the field as the ceremony began, the sky had changed colors. It took my breath away.

My school district just rebuilt our stadium; a large screen now stands at one end of the field. I absolutely loved seeing things up close. This sight made my heart flutter; gratefulness for those serving overwhelmed me.

After listening to various speakers, it was finally time for the main event – the reading of each graduating senior’s name and his/her walk across the stage.

The teacher’s section, off to the side, was in close proximity to the red-clad kiddos, and it was with much affection and joy that I hopped out of my seat to hug the necks of the kids I’d had the pleasure of teaching. Some had graced my classroom two years ago as sophomores, while others had joined me this year as juniors (graduating a year early) and seniors. A few of my sophomores from two years ago were back with me as seniors this year, so we knew each other well.

I snapped a few selfies. They are priceless and speak volumes to the emotions that were running rampant that night.

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The young lady in the photo above was a student of mine two years ago . . . a petite, feisty gal who had a strong work ethic that I held in high regard. A couple of weeks ago, during Teacher Appreciation Week, she posted the sweetest tribute to me. A friend saw it (I do not friend students on Facebook) and had tagged me in a comment. I was sitting in my driveway reading it and crying as her words entered my soul – her gratefulness for me a balm to my weary heart.

The student in the photo below was a tenderhearted young lady who had to overcome a lot of obstacles this year to stay the course. She was methodical about her work and quick to share a smile. I adored having her in my class.

The next young lady worked so hard all year. She was uber-quiet and completely focused on her goal of graduating. She went the extra mile with every assignment and worked hard outside of class to improve her reading. One of the high points of my year was giving her the good news that not only did she pass her SAT, but she blew the required score out of the water. Hearing this soft-spoken young lady shout out in exuberant joy while jumping up and down in my class brought me to tears. I know, from experience, how meaningful it is when you have to work especially hard for something.

The next young lady kept things very real in my class.  She was sassy to the core, but she was a mature kind of sassy.  She knew the line she couldn’t cross and often kept other students in check.  She was fiercely independent and worked long hours at a job outside of school.  I remember when she took the December ACT.  Many of my students had signed up for that test (it was another pathway toward graduation), and I’d surprised my students by showing up at the test site.  As I’d handed out pencils, mints, and other snacks, I’d spoken words of encouragement.  This gal’s surprise that I would show up, on a Saturday (i.e. my day off) spoke volumes and cemented a trust that had been formative at that point.

She had covered her eyes and begged me not to look when we’d signed onto her account to check her scores two weeks later.  Truth be told, I had already known that she’d passed, but she was scared to death.  Her shock and joy were a sight to behold.  She was extremely emotional as she prepared to walk across the stage, just moments after we snapped this photo.

I’ll never forget the young man in my final photo.  I remember the first time he walked into my classroom.  For some reason, I think he came a day or two after school started, and I knew, from the way other students greeted him, that he was popular.  I also spied a mischievous glint in his eye.  Oh yeah, he’d been a character his first three years of high school, or so I hear.  😉

This young man surprised me though.  He was always respectful and heeded my requests to stop talking and get back on task.  He never spoke a cross word.  It was incredibly satisfying when we learned that he had passed his reading exam, although he was sad when his schedule was changed since he no longer needed my class.  Every single time he walked past my room between classes, he spoke to me with a smile on his face.  It was with much joy that we hugged one another as he prepared to accept his diploma.

Y’all, these are the smiles of students who achieved the goals they set for themselves the first day they walked into my room.

I pray that as they encounter curve balls during their lives, they’ll remember the obstacles they overcame early on.

Year 8

You know the saying that a picture says a thousand words?

Well, take a look at this one, a snapshot taken by one of my school’s teachers during Tuesday’s graduation ceremony . . .

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This photo sums up what teaching means to me, and it fits my mood as I reflect on my eighth year of teaching.

The young man in this photo was my student two years ago, when I was still teaching sophomores.  I’d met him the year before when his best friend was a student in my class.  She was a year ahead of him, and they often walked to class together.  His teacher was in the room beside mine.

It was during those brief conversations that friendship grew.  Little did we know at the time, but the following year, this young man found himself on my roster, officially my student.

He was such a joy to teach.  His positive attitude and smile always managed to turn my mood around if I was having a bad morning.  His class was a good one, but they could get rambunctious.  He always had my back.  If you know anything about teaching, you understand that having an ally in the classroom can be especially helpful when your class is a bit spirited.

Ahem.

Later that year, I was nominated for a prestigious school award.  Some of my students were interviewed as part of the application process – this sweet guy among that group.  When I watched the video later, I was moved to tears.  Listening to him describe how he had not liked people very much until I’d opened up a new world for him through the books we read in class was illuminating and humbling.  He said that he’d gained a better perspective of others because of the characters in those books.

Just wow.

Even after the school year ended and new classes entered my room, this student continued to come by and visit.  He’d also speak to me in the hallways as he passed by, on his way to his junior and senior classes.

Then Tuesday arrived . . . the BIG day . . . when he and 270+ of his classmates donned their caps and gowns and prepared to walk the stage.

We teachers had front row seats in a section set off to the side, and as I saw him approach, his eyes met mine, and that smile he’d become famous for stretched across his face.  I got up and gave him a huge hug, congratulating him on a job well done.

I’m emotional as I type this – even two days later.  He wasn’t the only student I hugged that evening (I’ll share other photos soon), but the picture above is the one that captures four years’ worth of trust and camaraderie.

THIS is what teaching is about.

It’s not about the daily lessons, developed according to certain standards and whatnot.  While those are important in their own right, teaching can’t be summed up by them.

It’s not about a test score or grade point average.  Those are man’s ways of measuring so-called “success.”

No, teaching is about creating bonds with students so that they will leave school better than when they arrived.

In the process, we teachers are forever changed as well, newer and better versions of ourselves – upgraded, so to speak, by the young men and women who graced our classrooms.

God speed, Class of 2018.  May you never forget the big picture – that you are cherished by those who were honored to walk alongside you these past four years – that we will always remember how you grew in stature, ready to take on the world.

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I’m Sorry If That’s Not Your First Name

Today started out as pretty much an average day.

I got up, put in some miles, and went in to work.

It was testing day for our 9th graders, so we were on a delayed start.  Students who were not testing weren’t due until 1:05.  We rotated through four 25-minute class periods before calling it a day.

I stopped at Best Buy on the way home and then ran by the nail salon for a bit of pampering . . .

I called my friend, Christina, to wish her a happy birthday.  In the middle of our conversation, I walked to the mailbox.

That’s when my day became anything but average.

Waiting for me was a letter with a return address of Parris Island.

All of a sudden, my heart was in my throat, and I could hardly think straight.

Instantly, I was taken back to the spring of 2016 when such letters regularly populated my mailbox — all from my Rooster boy.

Christina had to get off the phone to get ready for her birthday dinner, so I wished her well, hung up, and headed straight for my letter opener (mustn’t mess up the nails).

Inside, I found a two-page, handwritten letter from a young man I’d taught three years ago.

He was writing from Marine boot camp – a dream he’d cultivated for years.

He held a special place in my heart – his whole class did, small as it was.  This class had watched as I’d become an empty nester and had sent off my own boy to Air Force basic training.

In fact, my student, who had asked me to call him Fluffy, had drawn a picture of Rooster’s dog, which I sent him while he was still in BMT.

I had given Fluffy my address after he graduated and told him that if he would send me a letter, I would write him back.  I knew the importance of supporting the young men and women in training to serve our country.

He kept his word; today’s letter was proof of that.

If you’ve never held a letter from a loved one who serves, you might not understand the range of emotions a person goes through.

It’s a combination of joy and pride as memories of that person flood your mind.

The opening words made me laugh.  Fluffy was himself, as always.

For the record, he did remember my first name and did include it on the envelope.

My mama heart hurt as I read that he’d been pretty sick.  Poor kiddo.  I’m praying that my own letter will find him well.

His second page is what brought the rush of tears.

Just look at how much he’s grown already – the sage advice he’s offering to my current charges.

My face as I finished . . . well, it was a good thing that the Mr. and I had not made any dinner plans.

You know, just this morning, another teacher and I were lamenting the woes of teaching – the ridiculous mandates – the horrid VAM system, by which we are judged as worthy and capable teachers.

This letter, from the first word to the end, made me snap my head back where it belonged.

I chose this profession to help kids recognize their potential.

God has been so gracious to allow me to see the fruit of my labor, one child at a time.

Although Fluffy may not remember my first name, I’ll always remember his.

It’s imprinted on my heart forever.

Test-Tired

I might have mentioned, a time or two, that my classes have been in test mode . . .

All.

Year.

Long.

We had the FSA and SAT in October, the ACT in December, the FSA in February, and the SAT and FSA in March.

Lots and lots and lots of testing . . .

And waiting for results . . .

And rejoicing for those who made the required scores . . .

And encouraging those who were left behind when the others got schedule changes.

There have been many snacks purchased . . .

And toted to computer labs, to be doled out when kids start falling asleep . . .

I started the year with 180 students.

I’m down to 45, most of whom have passed one or more of the above-listed tests (some moved away or changed schools for various reasons).

This is what teaching in Florida has been reduced to, folks, and I can’t help but feel badly for the kids.

A week or two ago, I heard one of my girls say that she hadn’t been to class in days because she had been testing so much, and that she had no clue how to do the work that other students had been learning while she’d been gone.

Next week, our ninth and tenth graders will test.  My kids took their tests earlier, so they are getting a break, for a change.

I’m trying to take it easy on my students because, quite frankly, we are all test-tired.

They worked on a literature project last week, and this week, they are reading articles about artificial sweeteners.

My job – helping them with their reading skills – isn’t over yet because many of my kids will be taking the SAT in June, hoping to pass before the concordant score goes up in the next few months (I’ll be in a rage over this factoid very soon).

So, if you’re looking for me around 4pm each day, here’s how you’ll find me . . .

The First Day

Yesterday was my first day back at work after Christmas Break, and boy was it hard to get out of bed.

I’d only had two solid nights of sleep since school had gotten out because of my surgery, and I was still playing catch up.

I’d done my best to prep the night before by whipping up my first ever batch of Instant Pot Make-Ahead Quinoa Breakfast Bowls, a recipe by Detoxinista.  I was shocked by how easy AND flavorful it was.

I’d also found an exercise video that I could do without putting extra weight on my ankle . . .

Y’all, this gal has TONS of videos!  I was thrilled with the gold mine I discovered!

Still, though, it was super-hard to go to bed that night.  I just wasn’t feeling it.

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It took awhile to drag myself out of bed.  Mind you, I am having to stick my foot into a boot before I walk anywhere, so there’s that.

I was too lazy to change into workout clothes – hence, the sweatpants which wound up being too hot.

I rather enjoyed the video.  Parts of it were a little easy, while other parts were a little more challenging.

What I liked was burning calories and getting my heart rate going a bit.

Because I’d dragged my feet, or should I say boot, getting up, I ran a bit behind.  The Mr. was not too pleased because he’d gotten up early to drive me since, once again, I am unable to drive since it’s my right ankle that’s recovering.

It was 33 degrees when we left the house – perfect weather for the use of my hand knits.

I had quite a few kids absent; the cold weather kept them bundled up at home, I suppose.  Still, being on my feet all day was harder than I’d expected.  By 5th period, I was regretting my decision not to take crutches to school.  The outside of my ankle hurt something fierce.

When I got home and removed my sock and bandage, I could see the swelling.

I was so exhausted that I went straight to bed . . .

And slept for TWO hours.  When I woke up, I thought it was morning.

I must have needed the sleep, though, because I got up, cooked dinner for the Mr., and we watched a couple of our favorite television shows.  I went to bed around 11 and slept through the night without waking up.

Overall, it wasn’t a bad first day back thanks to lesson planning that wasn’t overly ambitious yet relevant and kept my kids busy.

Only 73 days until Spring Break, but who’s counting.

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