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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 . . .

Staying Warm for the Hodgepodge

It’s been a minute . . . or a fortnight . . . since I’ve written but holy cow, the recovery from what was supposed to be an easy surgery has been anything but!  I’m going to try to catch up with a separate post about that tomorrow.  For today, I’m going to answer Joyce’s all-illuminating Hodgepodge questions.  Thanks for visiting, and I’ll do my best to get around to you soon!

1.  What keeps you blogging?

What keeps me blogging is the need to unload things that build up in my heart.  Even though my blogging has been a little inconsistent the last year and a half, words have been busting to get out.

I think I also write with the hope that someone who is reading about my story will connect to it as I so often do when I read others’ stories.

I love the blogging community and miss it when I don’t have time to keep up with it.  We are our own little family drawn together by the intimate nature of our writing, because writing is just that – very personal, raw, and illuminating.

2. Some people like to travel in the winter months. Do you enjoy the beach in winter? According to Southern Living the best U.S. beach towns to visit this winter are –

St Simons Island (Georgia), Hilton Head (South Carolina), Bald Head Island (North Carolina), Seaside (Florida), Bay St. Louis (Mississippi), Cape San Blas (Florida), South Padre Island (Texas), Folly Beach (South Carolina), Chincoteague (Virginia), Duck Key (Florida), Nags Head (North Carolina), and Fairhope (Alabama)

Have you been to any of the towns listed (in any season)? Which on the list appeals to you most this winter?

I live in a beach town, but I don’t go during winter.  It’s about fifteen minutes away from my house, and I don’t feel like dealing with the traffic.  I will brave it to go to the movie theater because it’s a nice one.  I’ve been to Seaside, but only very briefly.  It is very pretty!  I’d love to spend more time exploring – when it’s warm (and when Spring Break visitors aren’t there).  I’ve also been to Fairhope, but I didn’t see the beach.  It was quite a number of years ago, and I don’t really remember much about it.

If I had to choose one to visit, I’d go with Hilton Head.  I like South Carolina; the Mr. hails from Irmo.  I think it would be fun to get out of Florida, where I’ve lived for almost thirty years, and do a bit of sightseeing in another state.

3.  What’s a song you’re embarrassed to know all the lyrics to? Are you really embarrassed or do just think you should be?

“Hips Don’t Lie,” by Shakira, gets people looking at me when I start singing along.  This goes back to when my kids were in high school and I liked to car dance to it whenever it came on which, coincidentally enough, always seemed to happen when their friends were riding with us.

Yes, I was that mom, and I will not apologize for it or pay for any counseling that my kids may need because of it.

Bahahaha.

4.  When you were a kid what’s something you thought would be fantastic as an adult, but now that you’re an adult you realize it’s not all that fantastic?

I’m drawing a blank here.  When I was a kid, all I wanted was to be free from being under my mom’s thumb.  I have that, and I think it’s wonderful.  There are tasks that aren’t that great, but I think I had a realistic view of that part of life when I was younger because I was responsible for many things early on.

5.  Share a quote you hope will inspire you in 2018.

I’ve been through so much since I broke my ankle in November 2016.  I immediately grabbed hold of the following saying:

With a second surgery now behind me, and my recovery slowly in progress, I’m repeating this mantra.

I have always been a very determined person; what others perceive as setbacks, I take on as challenges.

I am stubborn.  This is where that trait helps me.

I refuse to let anything hold me down for long.

With the Lord’s help, I will get strong again – I will run again.

6.  My Random Thought

Today marks the first day of our second semester.

One half of the school year is done.

I’m having a good year and am enjoying my prep.  Watching students achieve their goals and take steps that put them closer to graduation is very gratifying.

Even while I struggled with making new seating charts yesterday, I found myself humbled to be part of their journey.

Each name that didn’t go on the chart represented another young person who, if every “i” is dotted and “t” is crossed, will walk the stage either this May or next May.

Every kiddo who got a spot on the chart represents unleashed potential waiting for the perfect time to showcase itself.

I am very hopeful for the spring and the success that’s in store for my students.

Changing the Lesson Plans and Taking Time to Reflect

Tomorrow marks the end of over six weeks of ACT preparation.

My students are battle-weary, as am I.

In the midst of some of the most boring lessons ever, there’s been an underlying tension.  My students took the FSA Retakes early in October, and we had all been waiting with baited breath for the results.

Well, y’all, we got the scores back two days ago.

My assistant principal quietly delivered them to me late Tuesday afternoon.

My hopes were high as I dug in; my nerves were strung tightly as I eagerly scanned pages and pages of test scores.

My heart soared as I read the names of the students who had acquired the score required to pass, and it plummeted when I saw the scores of those who had fallen short, some by only one or two points.

I took the list home to run some numbers.  I prayed.  Super Sis called me, and I asked her to pray.  I also texted Rebecca and asked her to pray.

You see, the next day, I was tasked with telling my kids if they had passed or not.

Stressful much?

I worried about how I would deliver the news . . . how the kids would respond . . . how I would help them rebound given the ACT test fast approaching.

The next morning, I opened the door between my classroom and the empty one beside it and called each student alphabetically while keeping an eye on the kids in my room.

I had last year’s scores in front of me to help me show the kids how much they had improved (or perhaps regressed) from the spring test administration.

I expected a lot of tears or even anger when I had to deliver less-than-stellar news.  What I got, instead, surprised and impressed me.

Most of the kids took the news well.  Many were quick to reflect and honestly admitted that they’d fallen asleep during the test, had been distracted, or just hadn’t been in the mood that day.

One young lady told me, with a determined look on her face, that she was going to ace the ACT.  Her motivation and confidence had increased ten-fold.

Then, there were the kids who received good news . . . that they had, in fact, passed.

The looks on their faces were priceless as the realization that they wouldn’t have to sit for another FSA test ever again settled in.

One young man, who I’d had the pleasure of teaching two years ago and learned that he’d passed, waltzed back into my classroom and announced his good news.  I heard one of my girls say, “Congratulations!  Now, you get to graduate.”  Her words were sincere; this was a good friend of hers.

My students continued to impress me throughout the day as they handled the news with a grace that eased my tender heart.  A few were disappointed after discovering that they’d barely missed the mark.  Those were the hardest on me.

Overall, though, the day had gone surprisingly well, and I realized that I had not needed to worry so much.  God had prepared the way through the prayers offered up on my behalf.

As a result of yesterday’s test results, I decided to change up my lesson plans for today.

As I’d talked with my kids yesterday, I’d heard their weary voices.

They are test-tired.  With the district’s common assessments, delivered via the computer in most cases, they are constantly being assessed.  Plus, we’d been working on ACT passages for so long that they couldn’t take any more.

So, despite my wanting to review the mock ACT reading test I’d given them on Monday, I decided to allow their voices to alter our course today.

Instead, I had them record their FSA scores on a sheet I’d created for them.  We had done this in August for the spring scores, and it had been illuminating.  Most, at the time, had no clue what they’d made.

Today, I walked them through finding the percentage of correct answers for all sections of the spring and fall FSAs.  Then, they compared their scores to see where they had improved and what they needed to work on.

You should have heard their comments.  One young lady told me that she realized that her score had been affected by the divorce her parents are going through.  They are fighting over who the children will live with.

Doesn’t that just break your heart?

Another young lady told me that she had lost her car keys and drivers license the day of the test, so that’s all she could think about.  I told her that I didn’t blame her, but that on an important test day, she had to find a way to block out everything else.

I told the kids that it was important to take time to reflect . . . that they needed to understand their strengths and weaknesses . . . that their parents couldn’t be the ones managing their academics for them because, ultimately, it was the kids who would be doing the work and trying to pass.

It was during my sixth period class when my principal came into my class for an unannounced observation – part of my yearly evaluation.

He got to witness my high-spirited class ask probing questions about the FSA, the ACT, and if could they get away with not really trying on the ACT (yes, this was really asked).  I absolutely loved watching them take the reins of their learning because this is really the end goal – for the kids to handle their business with a bit of gentle leading.

I am grateful for the last couple of days because, quite honestly, it can be extremely difficult to find time to sit down with over one hundred students and have truly meaningful conversations.  At best, I can do this with two or three in each class each day.

I think that the few minutes we spent chatting, one-on-one, reminded them that I am in their corner, despite pushing them so hard the last few weeks, and that I am listening to their feedback.

While this has been a time of growth for them, it has also been a time of growth for me.  My students continue to remind me what’s important – taking time to reflect and being willing to adjust.

It’s what’s best for them, and really, it’s what’s best for me as well.

This and That

Wow.  I just looked at my Flickr photos (the ones I haven’t used yet) and at my calendar, and I realized that it’s been nearly two weeks since I last posted.

How does that happen?

Ahem.

Let’s see if I can do a bit of catching up.

It’s been three weeks since my last physical therapy appointment.  I can hardly believe it.

I thought, at first, that I’d be a little lost in the afternoons, but I haven’t been.  In fact, it’s as if I never had a break in my pre-ankle-injury routine.

I’m doing physical therapy exercises at home two or three mornings a week.  I take advantage of my leg and rest days in my workout routine and do my PT then.

Gambit loves when I do my Triple Flexion exercises because they put me down on his level . . .

Some days, I still have a lot of swelling, though.

Is it any wonder that I hurt so much?  I spend a lot of time on my feet on Fridays because I can’t resist attending my school’s football games . . .

I am beyond ready for my December surgery to get my pins removed.

School has been crazy-busy.

Of course, the hard stuff sometimes starts when I’m getting ready and can’t figure out if I’m matchy-matchy.  I sent Chicky the following picture one morning . . .

Her response . . .

My rebuttal twenty minutes later . . .

I made emergency lesson plans and copied class sets.  I remember that I reluctantly did this task last year . . . maybe with a bit of rebellion in my heart . . . only to have to call upon the use of those plans when I unexpectedly needed them when I broke my ankle.  You better believe that I didn’t complain about doing this task this year.

Perspective, y’all.

My students had been doing well, but then we hit a rough couple of weeks with quite a few behavior issues.  Who knew that juniors and seniors could still make poor decisions?

I attended a few contract negotiations meetings.  I did this a few years ago; we had salary and insurance issues to stress over this year.  Our union negotiators did a good job hammering out some things, although I will say that the raise is a bit insulting considering what we teachers do on a daily basis.

This was me, getting to school super early the day after the negotiations were finished.  We had a PLC (professional learning community) day, so the kids were out.

I’ve been prepping my students for the December ACT . . .

If the kids make a 19 or higher on the reading section, they are allowed to have a schedule change and, more importantly, they satisfy the state of Florida’s reading requirement.

Bragging Moment:  Thirteen of my students made the concordant score for the SAT when they took the test this month.  Y’all, that’s THIRTEEN juniors who don’t have to stress out about this test!

These kiddos are the best motivation for the students who are still in my classes.

We’ll be switching back to SAT prep after Christmas.  I attended training last Monday for the KHAN Academy’s SAT website, and y’all, it’s fabulous!  I can’t wait to get my kids started on it!

We had another exciting thing happen here in Podunk, USA.

We got a Lucky’s Market . . .

I took one look at the baking aisle and all of the types of flour I’ve read about in recipes and nearly swooned . . .

The Mr. has been to the store two or three times and keeps missing the honey section . . .

I only bought a few things – the kombucha was a recommendation from my physical therapist.

This is me, trying the Spiced Apple . . .

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I downloaded a rewards app and got $5 off of $25 the next time I shopped.  I love that this store donates to local charities.  I make sure to take in my own bags so I can get the wooden coins to drop in the donation box.  $.10 is donated for every wooden coin.

I’ve also been busy getting to know my essential oils a little better.  I order some each month and actually went a little overboard in October . . .

I got the Cinnamon Bark for free because I’d ordered so much . . .

I love that oil!  I put a little on before class today, and one of my girls told me that she smelled chewing gum.  Ha!

I guess that’s enough catching up for right now.

If y’all wouldn’t mind praying for the Mr., we’d appreciate it.  He’s back in Jacksonville for a few tests to make sure that his body is healing from all of the craziness that happened with his Crohn’s in January.

Thanks!!

And Then There Was This

I’ve never really liked roller coasters.  The sudden twists and turns and feeling like I’m going to fall out of my seat at any time have always left me unsettled and a bit unnerved.

Well, y’all, teaching can sometimes feel just like this!

Yesterday was one of those days filled with ups and downs.  Just when you think you’re making inroads with a student, another comes along and bumps into your happy.

I’d started the day off by getting to wear a brand new Hogwarts Running Club sweatshirt from a recent race . . .

I’d gotten all in my teacher feelings of working together as one with the saying on the back . . .

But alas, teenagers have their own agendas, and they most certainly do not align with mine all that often.

To give you an idea of the silly stuff I get to deal with on almost a daily basis, take a look at the following picture . . .

That, my friends, is one of my kids who had asked for a pass to the restroom.  When he returned, he was trying to hide a bag of food inside his JROTC uniform jacket.

Another student ratted him out, and boy did I rip him a new one.  I also sent his ROTC instructors an email with the picture attached inquiring as to if this was a new part of the uniform.

Ahem.

I later found out that he’d never gone to the restroom but was across campus talking to another GIRL when his GIRLFRIEND caught him.  She has first lunch, but he has to wait until second lunch to eat.  I guess he decided to move the clock up.

I didn’t write him up for skipping.  I figured that getting busted by the girlfriend was punishment enough.

He also won’t be getting any more passes from me for a very, very long time.

Ahem.

Y’all, this is my weekday life!  I’m finding it a bit ironic that my morning’s Snapchat filter was this . . .

Someone, somewhere is laughing right now.

😀

Is it any wonder why I was exhausted by the time I got home?  I settled in for a bit of self indulgence – chips, salsa, and a 30-minute nap . . .

I got into my pajamas as a migraine etched its way across my forehead and settled in for the night (the headache, I mean) . . .

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Then, I heard the familiar sound notifying me that I had an email.

I was surprised to find this waiting for me . . .

A former student sent it to me.  I’d taught him a few years ago.  He was one of those kiddos who actually spent two years in my classroom . . . ninety minutes a day, mind you.  His class had been one of my all-time favorites, and it was an honor to watch this young man mature over the years.  He graduated two or three years ago, so I rarely bump into him these days.

His message, prompted by God, I’m sure, was just what I needed.

No, it didn’t take away my migraine, unfortunately, but it did lift my spirits.

In fact, it energized me to the point where I was able to tweak my seating arrangements (always a tough job), write sub lesson plans for an upcoming TDY day, and outline lesson plans to take me all the way through December 8th (because I’m an overachiever like that).

My to-do list seems endless, but as I’ve often said, this is so much more than a job to me.

It’s a true passion.

I second-guess myself all the time . . . a fact that I don’t think my students would believe because I have to act all confident in front of them (would you trust a leader if that person didn’t exude confidence?).

The truth is that I hear my kiddos complain – a lot.  I sometimes take it personally.  I wonder if I could be doing things better.

Sometimes, the answer is yes.

Sometimes, I’d have to say no.  Still, the kids’ comments can leave doubts in my mind and feed into my insecurities.

And then there are messages from God, disguised as emails or visits from students . . . reminders that He sees me when I’m feeling low and though I may not trust my work in the now, He’s using me to lay the groundwork for the later.

I’m so in awe that God knows me personally and loves me enough to reach down, pat me on the back, and encourage me to keep trusting Him.

School Days

Technically, I’m in my eighth year of teaching; however, I feel as though the picture on the right side is pretty accurate despite the caption of it being a third-year teacher . . .

Y’all, teaching is not for the faint of heart, that’s for sure!

I know that I haven’t been very consistent with the blogging, but can you blame me?

This year, I am teaching six classes . . . forty-seven minutes of fun, most times (sometimes, I’ll admit, not so much).

To date, I have about 150 students.  This is down from the 180 I started out with.

Go ahead and gasp.  I did when I saw my rosters before school started in August.

This year, I am tasked with helping juniors and seniors pass either the FSA (Florida Standards Assessment) or the reading portion of the SAT or ACT.

It’s been a bit stressful, getting the hang of a new prep; however, I work with another teacher who’s been prepping students for these tests for a few years now.

There’s lots of copying . . .

Thank heavens for paraprofessionals!  These test prep packets are thick; many trees were harmed in the printing of this classwork.

Ahem.

There’s a lot of Smartboard work . . .

I recently discovered that the Florida standards are loaded with the Smart Notebook software! #win

Is it any wonder that Friday afternoons find me like this . . .

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I usually come home for a couple of hours, rest up, and then head back out for another three hours so I can cheer on my guys as they hit the gridiron . . .

After spending over sixteen hours on my feet, my ankle looks like this . . .

It’s all I can do to crawl into my recliner, apply STEM treatment, and ice down . . .

Although it sounds like I’m complaining, I’m really not.

I’m pretty happy thus far this year.  Most of my students (especially my juniors) are extremely motivated and pretty cooperative.  If they pass one of the tests I listed above, they have been promised schedule changes.  More importantly, they can check another box off of the list of graduation requirements.

As proof that my kids are working . . .

That’s my cell phone holder which, at the beginning of the year, was filled with pencils.  I ordered more from Amazon, and do you know that I already have several pencils missing.  This is not cool.

I have quite a few of the same students I taught last year, which has, for the most part, been a good thing.  The time I spent cultivating relationships has already yielded some positives.

Take, for instance, one of my assertive young ladies.  She grew to love reading last year, and it didn’t take her long this year to start checking books out of my classroom library.  Today, I watched as she added a book to a list she keeps in a notebook.  I only allow one book to be checked out at a time.  It’s too easy to lose track of them otherwise.  She didn’t want to forget the title, so she wrote it down . . . just as she did last year.

Oh my heart!

Although I’m extremely tough on things like tardies and dress code, I believe that my consistency is paying off.  Students in my largest classes are rarely tardy any more.  They know they’ll be held accountable, because Mrs. Auburnchick does not play.

So, if you wonder what I’m doing in between my blogging gaps, just know that I’m probably cat napping . . . in my recliner . . . with my Harry Potter blanket covering me . . . dreaming of, well, nothing much because I’m just too exhausted to do even that.

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Ok . . . so maybe I’m playing with the fun filters on Snapchat . . . right before dropping off into a brief nap or two.

Ahem.

Is it Christmas vacation yet?

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