Six Important Lessons

This year, I have an intern teacher in my classroom. It has been an interesting shift, but ultimately, a good one. I’m confident that she’ll be a good teacher when she gets her own classroom but in the interim, I wonder what, if anything, she’s learning from me.

Things I Hope I Teach My Intern

  1. You’re going to make mistakes. Yeah, I know. Way to start with a downer. It’s true, though. Sometimes it’ll be something small, like forgetting to make copies of a math worksheet. Other times it’s something more substantial. Regardless of the mistake, it’s what you do after that matters more. Those are the moments that show your character.
  2. Be humble. Whether you need to apologize to your students for your rotten attitude or you’re dealing with an irate parent, humility is the route you should take. It shows that you’re human too. However, be careful not to mistake being a doormat for humility. It’s a mistake I’ve made in life too many times to count and one that always ends poorly.
  3. If you’re not emotionally healthy, your class won’t be either. This one has actually been something I’ve continually had to keep in check. These kids in the classroom aren’t just sponges academically, they’re emotional sponges as well. When 85% of my class is having a rough day, that usually means that *I’m* having a rough day. Take 5 minutes to stop, regroup, and begin again. Similarly, these 5- and 6-year olds don’t actually have to dictate how I feel about my day. There is more to my life than just that classroom.
  4. Books and lectures cannot prepare you for what you’ll see in your classroom on a regular basis. Pain is a horrible truth in life and even more apparent when you’re a teacher. Kids will come back from long weekends with cracked lips, sunken eyes, and pouchy bellies because they didn’t have food to eat or clean water to drink over the past several days. Or they’ll walk in with dark bruises on their tiny bodies and be unable to tell you where they came from. Some will just sit in a corner and inexplicably cry. Some share stories of times family members have been forcibly removed from their houses, others tell you about that man from the park who touched them in their bathing suit area after he gave them candy. Learning that you’re very limited in what you can actually do for these children is beyond frustrating. These things will boil your blood. If you let it, all of these stories can pile up and overwhelm you until you throw your hands up and walk away.
  5. Love, first and always. I’m confident that this is why I’ve been successful in my career and still have a decent-sized portion of my sanity. I spend a massive amount of energy each day making sure that all of my students completely understand that their teacher loves them. Even the ones that drive me batty. Because regardless of how crazy that one kid makes you feel, that’s someone’s most important, precious thing in the world. Every single child deserves (and needs!) to hear that she’s wonderful, beautiful, creative, brilliant, unique, and every other attribute she possesses. Not just once, but continually. When you show people that you know they have worth, you build a stronger relationship.
  6. This job is so much harder than anyone outside of it believes. And still, it’s completely worth it.
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iGeneration

So by now you know that I’m dating a man who lives far too far away from me. What I probably haven’t fully explained, however, is why I’m dating a man who lives far too far away from me. As he and I have both stated to each other when the other person (almost always me) is feeling insecure, if we wanted to, we could each date someone who leads a less complicated life and lives closer. I’d be lying if I said I hadn’t considered it for a minute but it was quickly rejected as an option. I mean, whoever that new man was wouldn’t be Andy. And though there isn’t (much to my chagrin) an established timeline for us to figure all of this out, he’s worth the frustrations associated with long-distance relationships.

Yeah, I didn’t actually answer the “why?” question there, did I? Ugh. I know. I got a little sidetracked! Okay, trying this again…

Part of why I’m dating this particular man is because of the conversations we have. I’m a fairly intelligent person so I need someone who can not just keep up with me, but challenge me. He’s able to bounce between serious and inane, handle my squirrel-moments (sudden shifts in topics that aren’t concretely connected), and express his thoughts articulately. He has opinions and while they don’t always match mine, we can have actual discussions about our unique points of view.

We talk about the future a lot. Not just ours, but the future of the world. As much as I’d like to continue to live in my safe, happy kindergarten bubble, the world is a really scary place right now. It doesn’t look like it’s going to get much better, either. There’s terrorism, racism, human trafficking, violence, destruction and disasters featured prominently in news feeds of every variety across the world. And in between recountings of sorrow and hatred, we’re inundated with the latest celebrity gossip. Do I think it’s my business to know the intimate details about Bruce Jenner’s transformation from “him” to “her”? Nope.

There’s also a different, yet equally haunting issue that scares me. It came up in a conversation this weekend with my Boy. He was pointing out the irony in how many creative-type people solely use Apple products, which are more rigid in design/function and thus limit creativity. (Note: I love Apple products. I’m actually typing up this blog post on my MacBook Air. I do, however, see his point.) This discussion shifted into one about how the younger generation has an easier time understanding how to use new technology but cannot troubleshoot their own problems.

Here’s how this all connects for me: we’re raising the iGeneration, a group of people who are impatient, self-centered, and alternate between feeling numb and indignant. And it’s not going to end well.

Earlier today, I was helping a nephew make cookies for his dad for Father’s Day (translation: I made cookies for his dad for Father’s Day. It’s ok, he’s little) with Lego’s Ninjago cartoon playing in the background. At the beginning of the episode the ninjas were asked, “what is the best way to defeat your enemy?” The answer [SPOILER ALERT] was “make him your friend.” I was really not expecting that much wisdom from a cartoon. And it’s easy to write it off or claim that it’s just for kids because we grown ups deal with “real issues” but that’s a cop-out.

I’m not suggesting that we round up all the child pornographers and invite them out to coffee, just that we need to do things differently. We need to pray, for protection, Godly justice, and wisdom.

What if we were different? What if we were people whose first reaction was love? What if we raised our families to value kindness, solve problems using critical thinking and effort, and attempt to see things from other people’s perspectives? I know it wouldn’t solve all of the problems we have going on now, but wouldn’t it make things easier?

What I’m saying is this: there is enough gloom, doom, and destruction already. It’s time for hope.

Watch What You’re Teaching

No matter who you are,
somebody’s learning from you.
– Kid President

Dear Celebrities,

We haven’t been formally introduced; I’m Kyla. I’m a kindergarten teacher at an elementary school in a small town. I’ve been meaning to write a little something to you but honestly, I just haven’t had the time. #99problems, right?

I spend each work day with 19 5- and 6-year olds. Contrary to popular opinion, kindergarten isn’t about nap time and finger painting. Yes, we teach ABCs and 123s, but more importantly, kindergarten sets the foundation of a child’s education. I’ve spent my entire adult life working with children for a few reasons, the biggest being that I believe in the importance of what I do. In addition to teaching kids how to read, write, and essential foundational math skills, I teach my students about character. I’ve built reading lessons around valuing kindness, spent hours teaching students how to express their feelings in non-destructive ways, and have done my best to instill the values of integrity and respect into each of my students.

Here’s the thing: you, dear celebrities, are making my job harder.

Now, it’s clearly not all of you. It’s not even the majority of you. I’m fairly certain I could google dozens upon dozens of names of celebrities and not immediately be linked to articles depicting that person’s latest destructive shenanigan. For those of you who don’t feature on my Facebook newsfeed or CNN’s front page for negative behaviors, thank you. Seriously.

But the problem is that some of you have figured out that if you have enough money and enough people know your name, you can be immune to the rules, whether they’re laws or just rules of general common decency.

Today I read two articles that disturbed me. The first discussed how Ray Rice could be reinstated in the NFL in a matter of weeks. You remember Ray Rice. The man who was videotaped delivering a knock-out punch to his then-fiancee? Were he just an ordinary person, he would have been arrested and charged with battery. But he’s famous, so that didn’t happen. That’s old news though. How about Joseph Randle, the Dallas Cowboys running back who just became a spokesman for MeUndies – after he attempted to shoplift underwear last week? Yes. Underwear. The article reports that he makes roughly $500,000. Public record will show you that my annual salary is $35,345. Never once have I debated pocketing a package of panties and scooting out Target’s front door. If I did, I’m positive I’d be waiting arraignment, not profiting from a decision to break the law. He already makes more than 14 times my annual salary. And now he’ll make even more.

I’m sorry, can I just have a second to freak out? 14 times my annual salary. 14 times!! I mean, I’m a teacher so I didn’t take my job for the great pay, but seriously. Come on. Buy your own underwear.

Let’s shift focus though, because I could very easily get stuck here and I really did intend for this to be a short letter. I know you’re busy and I am too.

I understand and value the 1st Amendment. I mean, it’s what allows me to write this letter to you. You also have the right to express yourself, and boy-howdy have some of you taken that right seriously! I mean, Miley Cyrus really went for it at the VMAs a few years ago. You could argue that it’s a parent’s job to censor what their child is exposed to, and you’d be right. But what am I supposed to tell a parent whose child has heard the first line of Jason Derulo’s song “Wiggle” belted across the kindergarten playground for the 3rd time in as many weeks? Just as you cannot control who hears your music, I cannot control who repeats it.

How, then, am I to teach my students that respect, integrity, and kindness are crucial values when they have so many examples to the contrary not only readily available to see, but that the people who make these choices are often rewarded for their bad behaviors?

There’s a lesson that I teach my kindergarteners that I think pretty much everyone needs to learn (sometimes, myself included). It’s really quite simple: you are not the most important person in the world; other people matter too. Oh, celebrities, if you truly understood how much my tiny, innocent kindergarteners looked up to you! I am not asking you to change who you are, I’m asking you to be the best version of yourself that you can be.

You reproduce who you are. Be worth reproducing.

Love,
Kyla

10 Quick Things

Over the past 2 months I have written at least ten blog posts in my head. Some of them were at moments when I was angry, like when I read Facebook status #68 in my news feed that claimed all teachers were monsters who care only about implementing standards at the expense of student learning and using highly-inappropriate curriculum because they don’t care about their students (ok, so I embellished that one a little, but seriously, it was almost that bad). Some of them grew out of moments of gratitude for the little tiny things that happen and some from a deep-seeded desire to change the world for the better. None of them made it out of my head, though, because it isn’t the right time for them, especially the ones on teaching. One day I’ll be able to compose my thoughts about Common Core and education and present them in a way that won’t get me fired from my job or make national news. And for now, Kid President has a decent grasp on changing the world for the better. So instead, here are ten things I’ve learned over the course of 29 years.

  • The fastest way to feel good about yourself is to do something good for someone else and not seek anything from them in return.
  • The most important things you do probably won’t be big. In fact, most of them will likely seem tiny and innocuous. And almost all of them will be things done for other people.
  • You are responsible for the choices you make and the consequences that come along with those choices, whether they’re immediate or happen 10 years from now.
  • Mistakes are only good if you actually learn something from them.
  • There are things that you won’t want to do because they require time and/or effort. Do them anyway.
  • Expecting a person to meet all of your needs isn’t fair to that person. That isn’t the job of your best friend or boyfriend or spouse and the more pressure you put on them to be your everything, the more quickly your relationship will deteriorate.
  • What comes out of your mouth really is what’s in your heart.
  • Life is better when you choose to be kind, regardless of other people’s decisions.
  • If you let it, the one bad moment of your day will destroy the memories of the 35 good moments.
  • True strength is shown when you’re vulnerable and transparent with the right people.

Old-Fashioned Letters

Today is the kind of day I wish I could pause. The kind where the sun shines brightly all day in the cloudless sky but there’s still a calm, cool breeze blowing. The kind where everything is still and peaceful. Perfect hammock weather, you know, provided you’re into that sort of thing, actually own a hammock, and have two trees in your yard to attach said hammock to. Of course, sitting on your back porch sipping lemonade with your feet propped up on an extra chair works almost as well. So well, in fact, that maybe you lose track of how long you’ve been outside and you discover that it’s actually much, much later than you thought it was. (DST 1, Me 0.)

Days like today help me plan my lessons. Not the sitting-in-front-of-the-computer, typing-it-all-in-and-making-it-make-sense part, but the what-do-I-want-my-students-to-actually-learn part. One of my goals as a teacher is something I won’t be able to measure: while I want my students to be excited about their education and futures, I want them to be good people. I want them to value kindness, have integrity, and to treat others with compassion. I want to build character that permeates into their homes. I want my students to love well.

But in order to build that kind of drive in my class, I have to already have it within myself. Anyone who’s been around children for long periods of time understands that you replicate who you are, mostly through your actions. So ideas of kindness, citizenship, and compassion have to be my first responses, not just words I say when two of my students are arguing with each other. And more importantly, building character is intentional, not just a defensive maneuver you squeeze in if you catch one kid pushing another.

This week we’re going to learn about writing letters and how important it is to take the time to send mail. Emails and texts are effective methods of communication, but there’s something special finding something in your mailbox that isn’t a bill or an advertisement for life insurance. At least, for me there is. It’s the feeling of being noticed, whether it’s a thank-you or a letter from a pen pal, where someone made an extra effort. For you. Because they value you and think you matter. And that’s what I want to teach my kids, both my future biological ones and the ones I parent for 7 hours a day, 5 days a week.