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6 Months and a Day

It’s been six months and a day since Hurricane Michael hit my sweet little town.

I was going to write a post yesterday, but quite honestly, I was on overload after reading the various Facebook posts acknowledging the half-year anniversary.

Hurricane PTSD is a real thing, y’all.

If I had to describe how I’m feeling six months and one day later, I’d have to use the word tired.

I’m tired of waiting for a new roof. My house is currently the last one on my street still sporting a tarp — well, three tarps, to be exact. We’ve been told that we’re next on the list. That could mean next week or next month. We have no idea.

I’m tired of walking my dogs in my back yard because I don’t have a fence yet. Trying to avoid stepping in piles of dog poop at o’dark thirty is a tricky thing on dew-laden grass.

I’m tired of driving down treeless streets. I don’t think I ever truly appreciated nature before the storm destroyed the landscape around me.

My street . . . sans trees . . .
So many bushes destroyed that need to be replaced . . .

I’m tired of getting lost on streets that I’ve driven thousands of times because six months and one day later, entire houses and other structures – landmarks, if you will – have been torn down.

Six months and a day later, the realization of the far-reaching effects of this storm is weighing heavily on my mind.

This week, I’ve had two students tell me that they are moving soon. One young man has been living with his aunt, and he’s being forced to leave (I can’t remember the reason). He’s looking to live with a cousin, but he’s not sure where they’ll wind up . . . either across the bridge or down south in another part of the state.

A different student, a young lady I actually got to know last year, told me that her family is being kicked out of the home they’ve been renting. The owner is either going up on the rent or has some other reason for displacing them. The saddest part of all was hearing her tell me that she’s going to have to get rid of her pets – a thought that she cannot bear.

These stories are wearing me down. The kids I’ve taught over the years have always had tough lives; however, Hurricane Michael has thrown monkey wrenches, or should I say storm-related debris, into the mix. The kids are carrying heavy burdens – often unspoken yet visible on their sad faces.

I am tired of waiting for state and federal policymakers to assist us. Today, my school district’s superintendent had a news conference that explained that legislation is pending to help us out with this year’s financial shortfall and no legislation to help us fully fund next school year.

Because of that, the district may have to let 600 people go. That’s a lot of people – people who might have to move – people who would take their children with them – which would make our school district have fewer children to teach – which would lead to fewer jobs. Do you see the trickle-down effect?

It’s sobering.

I’m tired of state education policymakers who have given us no information about waiving student test scores this year. I’d say that I’m at a complete loss for words, but I’m a blogger (can we not speak of the irregularity of my postings the past few months – ahem). I have LOTS of words.

What the freaking heck is wrong with these people? Do they not realize that most of our children RODE OUT THE STORM and THOUGHT THEY WERE GOING TO DIE.

This is true. I read their essays.

How can you expect traumatized, displaced students to focus on STUPID reading tests when they LOST THEIR HOMES and an entire month of instruction.

I’m tired of priorities being a$$-backwards.

For real though.

Oh, and did you know that six months and a day later, we have not received the kind of financial help, overall (not just in education) that other, LARGER cities received after other storms hit (for example, Hurricane Andrew and Hurricane Harvey).

I guess that Lynn Haven and Mexico Beach (not to mention all of the itsy bitsy towns around us) are not considered important enough cities to provide funding for despite the fact that a near Cat 5 storm – one of the strongest ever – hit us square on.

Six months and TWO days ago, I had absolutely no idea what hurricane survival and recovery looked like.

Now I do.

It ain’t pretty, y’all, and it sure as heck ain’t easy.

Pardon me for sliding back into my Redneck vernacular.

With all of that being said, there continue to be positives. My school hosted prom last weekend, and it was definitely a community effort. It was held downtown, and many people volunteered their time, money, and other tangible items to make it quite memorable for our kids. Without the generosity of so many, the prom would not have happened.

Another positive, I guess, is that the hubby and I eat dinner at home most nights. We still miss our favorite Mexican restaurant, which we hear is being rebuilt at a different location. I’m not sure if it will be the same, though, without the familiar people who used to take such good care of us. Still, it’s nice being at home most evenings.

That’s all of the positives that are coming to mind right now because, in case I haven’t mentioned it, I’m tired.

I have a countdown to summer vacation posted on my white board at school. Yeah, yeah. I’ve heard not to do this because some kids actually enjoy being at school, and long summer breaks can be tough on them, but y’all, we are DESPERATE for a lengthy vacation. We need time to lick our wounds, regroup, and recharge.

Six months and a day isn’t far enough removed to be healed from a painful milestone in our lives.

To be sure, we will heal, but it’s going to take a lot more time than the point we’re currently at.

I sincerely hope that when I blog about the one year anniversary, my words will be more upbeat – that I’ll have my new roof, a fence, and maybe (fingers crossed) a new floor.

For now, all I can do, like everyone else around here, is take things one day at a time, look for joy in the mundane, and praise God for still being in control.

It’s Been a Minute

Oh y’all, I have been such a bad blogger.

I was reading Joyce’s blog recently, and she stated, near the end, that good bloggers write two or three times a week.

Sigh.

I could come up with a hundred different excuses, but the reality is that I’ve been so busy doing life, that I haven’t had a lot of time to write about it.

I was having a hard enough time as it was, and then Hurricane Michael hit, which complicated things further.

It’s funny how quickly the time has flown.  It’s hard to believe that it’s been 159 days since that horrible storm made regular, everyday life so very challenging.

When we returned to school after New Year’s, we had a scant week and a half to finish up our first semester, move back to our old school, and begin the second half of the year.

Talk about CHAOS!  About 75% of our teachers had to relocate to what we affectionately call Tornado Park.  It’s a group of portables, and let me tell you, they’ve had a rough go of it.  The first weeks back saw numerous issues with technology – or a lack thereof, bathrooms (this is an ongoing issue), and muddy paths that led to many ruined pairs of shoes.

The portables are located a half mile from my classroom.  I clocked it one day when I had to walk from the teachers’ parking lot, located beside the portables to my building.  It rained nearly every single day when we returned, so kids were soaked to the bone from walking back and forth to classes.

I’ve been fortunate.  My classroom did not sustain damage, so I was able to return to my old digs.  I have counted my blessings every day – especially after watching my coworkers struggle.

Teaching and testing have continued.  The Florida Department of Education has not seen fit to waive reading requirements for our upperclassmen.

As I’ve often said, the state cares about numbers, not people.  That is a fact.

Today is our first full day of Spring Break – hence my post, which I have time to write.

When we return to school next week, we will finish up our third quarter and will start the fourth nine weeks.  Trust me when I say that the countdown will be ON.  We’ve had probably the toughest year of anyone in education, except for the other victims of the numerous natural disasters that have happened in recent weeks and months; we share a kindred spirit with the victims of the fires in California and the tornado in Alabama.

I’m not sure what I’ll do during my week off.  You can bet that I’ll be sleeping a few more hours a day, working out at a decent hour, and reading a lot.  I also hear Netflix calling my name.

I’m going to try to blog more.  Now that my testing season is over, and I have most of my lesson plans for one prep written, I’m hoping that I’ll have more time to write.  We shall see, as I have frequently made this promise to myself and then reneged.

Seven Weeks – Hurricane Fatigue

Seven weeks have passed since Hurricane Michael hit my town, and one word describes the prevailing feeling around here:  tired.

I know that we just had a week off of school (Thanksgiving), and that we are only three days into the our return, but after talking to fellow teachers, a common thread repeats itself – we are tired.

I’ve mentioned the phrase “hurricane brain” a few times here, but I think we’ve moved into the next stage of recovery.  Yes, we are tough, and yes, we are proving ourselves to be resilient; however, we are paying a hefty price as we are saddled by the weighty feeling that comes with unending exhaustion.

Most of us are back at work.  For teachers, that involves a crap ton of planning, which was an all-encompassing task before the hurricane.  Now, we are doing this and then going home to deal with insurance adjusters, contractors (if they even call back), damaged roofs, and missing fences.  We are getting bills adjusted (hello, Xfinity, but why is my balance still wrong?), spending inordinate amounts of time in the car (traffic is still a nightmare), and trying to figure out how to shop for Christmas gifts now because most stores are still closed.

It doesn’t help that as we drive, we pass unending piles of debris lining the roads.  Getting to our homes requires us to dodge the contents of entire homes.  This is a draining experience when you do it day in and day out.

You know the feeling you get when your house is dirty?  Not only is it an eyesore, but you’re tired just looking at it and feel a load lighten after you’ve cleaned.

This is how we are living.

Every single day.

The only reprieve we have is when trucks come by and pick up piles of debris.  For now, they are only handling the trees and other vegetation.  Those piles are never-ending.

The sad thing is that our kids are coming to school absolutely exhausted.  Many of my students told me that Thanksgiving had been awful because they’d had to work.  I’m seeing evidence of their fatigue in the stories they are writing.

There’s really no downtime, which is what we need to mentally and physically recover.  If we’re not busy trying to think straight, we are still clearing out debris or helping others with their own cleanup.

Putting coherent thoughts together is proving to be difficult as well.  Today, I was able to get my room ready for my 5th period class (I have planning fourth period), and it was the first time since early October that I felt good about my little corner of academia.

We are all out of sorts since we are sharing classrooms and making do without many of the things we left behind at our home schools.

One way I am finding solace is, ironically, through nature.

The same hand that allowed Hurricane Michael to ravage the landscape I call home is also painting the most gorgeous sunrises I’ve ever seen.

I might not have seen these if I didn’t have to leave the house at o’dark thirty for work.

These are sunrises I might not have noticed if I didn’t have to walk my dogs on a leash in my own yard because my fences are gone.

Seven weeks might seem like a long time to some people, but for those of us trying to recover from this storm, it feels incredibly short.  I, for one, look forward to the day when I wake up feeling refreshed, not weighed down by the heaviness that descended the moment I heard that a Cat 4 storm was headed my way.

A friend commented that with all of our personal issues:  my ankle, the Mr.’s sickness, and now this storm, we’ve certainly had no rest for the weary.  She spoke truth.

Doing Things Old School

Monday night, I triple-checked my alarms . . . all six of them.

I couldn’t take a chance on being late.

I didn’t let the rain dampen my spirits either.

You see, for the first time in thirty-nine days, the student body at my school, including staff members, would be reunited.  We had been asked to wear red as a show of solidarity.  It’s one of our school’s main colors.

We had weathered one of the most horrible hurricanes to hit the United States, and we were eager to reestablish some sort of routine.

I had left the school the previous Friday thinking I was ready.

Ha!

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I don’t know that a person can ever really be prepared given the circumstances.

I wondered how many of my students would actually be at school.  I had heard that a lot of kids had left.  I was also concerned about the gamut of emotions that I was sure to face.  Although my school district had provided crisis training, I wasn’t sure what to expect.

I grew nervous as I walked down the hallway to pick up  last-minute handouts.

I watched as teachers dropped their children off at the daycare on campus.  The district is providing childcare because most of the daycare centers in town are destroyed, and teachers can’t work if they don’t have people to watch their children.  Our daycare happens to be across the hall from my classroom.

We gathered in the small, middle school cafeteria since we weren’t able to return to our own school.  Our principal gave a great pep talk.

The mayor of the city even spoke.  A student prayed for us, and wow, can I just say how amazing it was?

Then, we went outside where the teachers held up signs with our names so our first period classes could find us.  It felt like we were elementary teachers, but it wasn’t a bad thing.  It was a conglomeration of pure joy.

The reunions were so sweet, and although I’d expected to spend the morning crying, I found that I didn’t.  I was so focused on giving the kids hugs and hollering out to students I’d taught in previous years that I didn’t have time to cry.

When we entered my room, the kids were greeted with this message . . .

They groaned as they realized that I’d retrieved my cell phone pocket holder from my regular classroom, but everyone put their phones away.  I assured them that they would have been very disappointed if I hadn’t.

Ha!

The day flew by.  It was extremely overwhelming.  Because classes had been shortened to thirty-nine minutes (four-minute class changes), there wasn’t time to catch my breath.  It turned out that although the kids and I shared a bit about our experiences with the hurricane, we always came around to the positives of it.  I was astounded at my students’ resiliency.  I attribute that to your prayers and God’s grace.  ❤

During sixth period, we had a special delivery.  My sister, mother-in-law, and another friend had sent items they’d donated via my friend’s son.  I took my class on a “field trip” to the bus loop where he had parked to retrieve the bags and boxes.

Getting outside was good because my classroom is one of four that doesn’t have a working air conditioner unit.  It was very, very hot and humid on Tuesday.  In fact, it was cooler outside than inside my room, so we enjoyed the fresh air while we retrieved the items.

Lunch was a bit of a cluster.  The plan had been to have our JROTC deliver sack lunches so the kids could make their way to the buses or cars without encountering the middle school students, but we were told last-minute to have them go to the cafeteria to pick up their sacks.  Every student in my district is getting two free meals right now.  It was a mess, and things didn’t go as smoothly as hoped.

I finally got to breathe at noon after the kids were gone.

Well, not really because I had to empty the garbage and sweep the room – all before the next teacher got to the room to begin his day.

We are having to do things old school around here because the cleaning crew assigned to our campus has been moved to another school.

The faculty gathered in the choir room around 12:15 for a debrief.

It was a good call because we had a chance to discuss what had worked and what hadn’t.  We wrote down questions and tried to come up with solutions.  Overall, we loved on each other.

The above and below pictures are post-Back-to-School-2.0 day.

The week flew by.  Every afternoon, staff members gathered in the media center.  We ate lunch together, laughed, and commiserated about some of the challenges we are facing.

Imagine living in your house for the first half of the day and then having an entire family move in for the second part of it.

That’s what it’s like for us.

Everyone changes:  Administration, Guidance, Attendance, teachers, paraprofessionals, and the custodians.

Guidance counselors are working in teeny, tiny offices; the Attendance ladies are sharing one desk while manning two phones; the principal’s administrative assistant is holding down the fort in an office that you need to drop breadcrumbs to so you can find your way out.

Teachers are operating with as few things as possible to minimize the footprints we are leaving in other teachers’ classrooms.  Some teachers are conducting their classes simultaneously in the library because they still haven’t gotten portables.  Can I just say that they are doing an INCREDIBLE job too?  I walked in two or three times during my planning, and the kids were working quietly.  It has been impressive.

So, it’s now Friday night, and although I am exhausted, I can’t help but be proud.

I work with some of the most dedicated educators around.  I haven’t seen a teacher who hasn’t gone the extra mile to make sure that his or her students have what they need.

There’s nothing old-school about the way we are loving on our children, providing a safe and enriching environment for them, and lending a helping hand to one another.

The Cure for Insomnia

If you suffer from insomnia, I have the cure.

It’s called teaching.

I promise you that you’ll be sleeping like a baby after Day 1.

I have always been a person who falls asleep easily; however, I started having problems this summer after I hurt my back and then, later, hit my head.

My woes ended the first day of school, though, because I hit the ground running and have hardly stopped.

I spent the first week and a half teaching my students my classroom procedures and setting expectations.

Buy-in is extremely important for my reading students, so I explained about testing options and the required concordant scores to test out.

My students are Juniors who have never taken the SAT or the ACT, so they had no idea what these score reports looked like.  I believe that it’s important to put kids in the drivers seats of their learning, so I showed them (and gave them copies).

I also had my students reflect on the spring test they took.  This is a form I created a few years ago.

Now, even though the first week was only three days long, this girl was beat!  I dressed down that Friday morning with the evening’s football game in mind.

Isn’t that shirt just the best?  I’d seen an ad for it during the summer and had ordered it right away.  I’d set it aside when it arrived in the mail, knowing that I’d wear it the first Friday of the school year.

The first game of the year was something special.  Our football stadium had been under construction for over a year, and we had the honor of hosting the first football match against a city rival.

I was a bit miffed that teachers were no longer allowed to stand on the track, close to our peeps, but my friend, Leanne, let me sit in the seats her hubby had paid for (teachers don’t pay, but these were reserved seats).  The view was incredible, as was the company.

This was the most moving part of the entire night.  I always think of my Rooster and his service to this country when the National Anthem is played.

My school beat the other school.  It was fun to hear the names of the football players making tackles or scoring touchdowns.  I still didn’t know their names by heart, so I sat with my class rosters pulled up on my phone, cross-checking names.  Ha!

I met friends for some post-game celebrating and then headed to home and to bed.

I think I’ll stop this post right here because y’all, it’s after 8pm on a Tuesday, and your girl is freakishly tired.

I still have so much to catch up on.  I’ll get there.  Eventually.  Just like always.

But seriously, if you need any help with your sleep, give me a ring.  There are lots of job vacancies in these here parts.  We’ll entice you with our beautiful beaches, great coworkers like Your’s Truly, and a never-ending stream of restful nights.

Year 9, Day 1

Yesterday was the first day of my ninth year of teaching.

Sometimes I have to pinch myself because it’s so hard to believe that so much time as passed since my first year.

I woke up before my alarm – typical for the first day because I always fret about oversleeping.

I made myself roll back over, though, and only hit the snooze one time before crawling out of bed.

I had miles to put in.

Yep.  Isn’t that the creepiest photo?   Here’s an even creepier one.

Ha!

The sun was barely coming up when I finished.  I snapped this beautiful photo of the pond across from my house as I made the final loop . . .

I was pleased with my distance.

I showered, carefully applied makeup, and dressed in the clothes I’d semi-agonized over the evening before.  First impressions are always important, even when your clientele is a group of teenagers.

Yes, I am wearing wedges.  I’d been wanting to give this another try since they had not graced my feet in almost two years, before I broke my ankle.  Gianni Bini and first days of school go along marvelously, don’t you think?

I packed a pair of Vionic sandals just in case my feet gave out, which they did around lunch time.

I was pleasantly surprised when I entered my classroom . . .

Notice anything?

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Y’all, the cleaning crew had set up the chairs around my tables!  I always leave them stacked in groups of five to make it easier to sweep and mop my floors.  I have NEVER had a crew set up my room this way.  My room was so inviting!

I was a little nervous, as I always am.  Timing is a huge issue with me the first couple of weeks of school; getting back in the rhythm of the bells and planning each day’s workload can be challenging.

One of our art teachers sent out an email inviting anyone who wanted to go to his room for a pre-school prayer to join.  I did, and those of us gathered there held hands in a circle while he prayed.

It was wonderful – the absolutely perfect start to our school year.  I’m so fortunate to work with selfless educators.

I was also a bit anxious about how my newer and stricter cell phone policy would be received.

I had labeled every seat with numbers and had assigned those numbers to my roster of students.  Everything was done alphabetically and numerically to keep things easy for all of us.  As students walked into my room, I asked them to check the board, where I had the rosters and numbers listed, put their cell phones in the corresponding pocket numbers, and sit at the same seat number.

It was a beautiful thing to behold.

For the most part, the policy was well received, and I barely heard any complaints.  A couple of my classes had about half of the kids who put their phones up . . . until I told them that I’d be taking attendance based on the cell phones present in the pockets.

You better believe that those kiddos got up really fast and placed their phones in their appropriate spots.  Nobody wanted a phone call home that they had missed my class.

I did have a few kids here and there who either had not taken their phones to school or plain old didn’t have one because their phones were broken.  Hmmm.

Now, I am not dumb enough to think that some people might have been lying, but the cell phone policy I’ll go over with them today will explain, in detail, the consequences for being caught with phones during non-approved times.

This is the first year that I’ve been this strict.  I think that a few other teachers are doing something similar, so the consistency should help.

The morning flew by; my classes were angels.

I’m hoping that this wasn’t the honeymoon phase.

But seriously, my first period class is the smallest.  They were either still half asleep or their personalities just messhed well together because they were a true delight.

My bellwork was fun.

I wanted to do a different kind of icebreaker.  When students finished writing their responses, I did a stand up, hand up, pair up activity.  This is what took the MOST time and threw my schedule off.  Kids have to be taught EVERYTHING.  I put music on to get them moving around the classroom – 60’s music.  So much fun!  Then, I taught them guidelines for being good listeners and good speakers.  Everyone got a turn to share with their partners, and we shared out a few answers as a group.

Good times, y’all.

I have fourth period planning this year which runs into both lunches, so I’ve got an extra long time strung together.  I am not complaining at all.  Someone could market time and make out like a bandit!  I was able to eat leftover Mexican Quinoa Stew, which I’d made the afternoon before, and indulged in a homemade cupcake.

Lunch was interesting.  I got caught in a downpour as I made my way from one building to another.  The gutters around our school are horrible.  Water comes down between them, so you’re essentially walking through waterfalls when you go from one section of awnings to another.  I begged my principal for a ride in the golf cart, which has a roof.  I mean, this girl had straightened her hair for school.  I’d gone all out.

He handed me an umbrella instead.

Chivalry anyone?

Ahem.

Gianni Bini got wet, so I slipped into my sandals (my feet were thanking me), and I proceeded to teach my afternoon classes.

Night and day, y’all.

I think we should just do morning school and be done with our day.  Kids cannot function after lunch.  They just can’t.

One of my classes was quite spirited.  I suspect that they will be my challenge class this year.  The kids have some big personalities that I’ll have to tame.

Fortunately, my last class of the day, and also the largest class, was the sweetest group of kiddos.  I’m praying they stay this way so we can all end the day a bit quieter and calmer.

I stayed a little later after the final bell rang because who in the world really has their act together that first day?

That’s about right, y’all.

Honestly, though, I think the day went very well.  I am nervous about the lesson planning involved with my English 3 class (I have two sections this year), but I felt as though I exuded confidence in my reading classes.  I have kiddos who do not want to be in reading, but I think that as we proceed and trust grows between us (teacher and student), all will be well.

Requiem to Summer

Dear Summer,

Oh, how I miss thee already.

I miss sleeping in until 9am, staying in bed another hour, and slowly sliding out of my bed, no plan in mind and no lesson planning on the agenda.

I miss not being in a hurry because I don’t have anywhere to be.  I think the dogs will miss this too.

I miss working out at 11 or 12 instead of 4:30am.

It was a lot easier to see what I was doing without sleep clogging my eyes.

I miss no-makeup, messy-hair-bun, maybe-I’ll-shower, in-my-pajamas-by-4 days when the desire to apologize to the public at large, if I chose to go out amongst people, waned the further into vacation I got.

I miss lazy afternoons by the pool, or rather in the pool, and hours upon hours of leisure reading.

I miss Netflix binges until midnight and knitting to my heart’s content.

I miss being able to go to the bathroom whenever I want and however many times I need to.

I miss afternoon siestas – sometimes two if the need arose – because teaching is tiring business that requires months of vacation to recuperate from.

I miss afternoons spent in the kitchen, baking up all of the goodies that struck my fancy on Instagram.

I miss being able to put two complete thoughts together because my brain isn’t being pulled in a bazillion directions.

As I start my ninth year of teaching, leaving summer behind doesn’t get easier – the parting still brings sorrow to my heart.

BUT . . .

New batches of teenagers await my reading expertise and mama love.

They don’t know it yet, but they will thrive on the routines that make my classroom run like a well-oiled machine (if the stars align), not to mention the high standards to which they will be held.

I’ll spy pictures on my camera roll – reminders of warm, carefree days, and I’ll get wistful – especially when my nerves are fraught by the child who has asked, for the upteenth time, if the assignment we are working on is formative or summative (they’re all going to be summative by that point).

There will be days when I am so invigorated by my students’ aha moments that I almost forget about you (not quite though).

SO . . .

Though we must part for now, it is only temporary.

But who’s counting.

In the meantime, I’ll be doing what God has called me to do . . . bridge the gap between His littles and the big world that’s waiting for them after high school.

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