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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Under Pressure

“…I’m an old lump of coal.”
“Yeah, I know, and I’m hoping if I put enough pressure on you I’ll get a diamond.”

I have had a rough few weeks.

School, for teachers, began three weeks ago. I spent the first week stressing out about whether or not our school would have enough children registered in kindergarten for all four of us on the K team to keep our jobs (for many, many days, we sat at 12 kids/classroom) and wondering if having a full-time intern was actually a good decision. I’ve never had an intern before (or done a teaching internship, for that matter) and the idea of a full-time, “I’m-there-when-you’re-there” person seemed so much less overwhelming in April when Caity was hyping me up for it. “You’ll be so great! I’ve learned so much from just being in your class for 30 minutes a week, your intern is going to be so lucky!” Now that my intern was actually there with me, I felt really inadequate and worried about whether or not she’d learn anything useful from me.

The second week for teachers was the first week for students. Most of the kids I’d seen at Meet the Teacher came back for Day 1 of school (one registered for kindergarten with us, filled out the paperwork I had at Meet the Teacher, and subsequently moved to a city 30 miles south of us. I’m choosing to see those as unrelated events). The problem with Day 1 of school in kindergarten is that it is literally the first day of school that some kids have ever had. It is nerve-wracking and difficult and thankfully, my principal understands that. He told us that as long as we get them to the right rooms, make sure they eat lunch and send them home safely, we’ve been successful on Day 1. No one cried, everyone ate lunch, and they all got home safely. Win.

This past week I tried to remember that I can’t compare this year’s kids to last year’s kids. Including the obvious reason that they’re just different kids, I remember last year’s kids at Day 180 and these kiddos just haven’t had the chance to get to that yet. They’ll learn the routines and procedures and so far, they’re soaking it all up. We’re learning Kagan structures, independence, and kindness. We know why we have rules, we know who the boss is, and we understand the consequences of not following directions. And for only being 10 days in, that’s pretty fantastic.

This past Friday I planned to drive down to spend the weekend with Andy, help him with a project and have good quality time. The past few weeks have been pretty stressful and he promised me a relaxing Friday night, which I was looking forward to. Only when I woke up Friday morning (late) at 5:45 a.m., the first thing that happened was the filling my dentist had put in a little more than 12 hours prior fell out. Literally, I was still in my bed. After the wave of panic subsided, I left a message for the dentist explaining what had happened, packed my car and headed out for work.

I should explain that when the dentist did this particular filling, the root/nerve/whatever it’s called of my tooth became exposed. He put a covering on it and explained to me that in the future, it would be likely that I’d need a root canal but that this would help delay that process.

Did you know that an exposed nerve + coffee = pain? Or that an exposed nerve + air = pain? I tried to teach my class on Friday. I really, really did. I had plans and goals and everything but about 30 minutes in, I knew it just wasn’t going to happen. The office found a sub for me and after a few phone calls, the dentist’s office set up an appointment for me at noon to have an emergency root canal at an endodontist‘s office.

[This is the part where I am reassured that I picked the right boyfriend.]

At this point driving up 13th Street, I had a meltdown, pulled over, and texted Andy. He had offered a few hours prior to scrap our plans and I had (pridefully) written that idea off because I had planned to go down and help him with his project. He had told me he could come up here instead and when I finally called him to ask if he would, he told me he’d run to his house after work and drive up.

Right now, we’re sitting on my couch. He’s been working on fixing my phone issues and I’ve been finalizing lesson plans for next week. He showed up two nights ago with flowers and fancy bacon from Lucky’s. We’ve had great conversations, cracked jokes, and fallen a bit more for each other. Peeking up at him over my computer monitor, I’m keenly aware of how lucky I am. The past few weeks have been stressful, but I have an amazing man who will change his plans to support me when I need it. Having him in my life is a blessing that I plan to not take for granted.

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

16 [+12] Candles

They say you’re really not somebody
Until somebody else loves you.
Well, I am waiting to make somebody “somebody”
Soon.

A few weeks ago, I had a hard time saying goodbye to my kindergarteners. 10 months, 180 school days, hours upon hours investing in their foundations both as students and as people, and it was all done. They were ready to go to first grade, and I was ready to send them. Mostly. I had decided that I’d get it over with during Morning Meeting but I couldn’t. Right before I started talking, I realized that it would be the last time I’d see some of them and I couldn’t do it. (Obviously I should never teach 5th, 8th, or 12th grade.) I teared up a little, which both concerned and amused my kids. But at 1:30 I knew I couldn’t wait anymore. They needed to hear one more time that I was proud of them. That I believed in each one of them and that I loved them. And as I took a deep breath and got ready, one of my students raised her hand.
“Yes?”
“Are you about to cry?”
“Probably.”
“Good. I like it when you cry.”
Oh, my dear sweet girl. How I will miss you.

In April, I turned 28. I’m one of those crazy people who hates her birthday, but not directly because it means that I’m getting older. I’m fine with it conceptually until I look back at what’s happened in the last year and see that I’m still not where I’m “supposed to be” at this point of my life. 27 was a year of goodbyes. I changed schools and said goodbye to my very first full-time class of kids and goodbye to my social life (at least, the one I’d had since my early 20s). After living 89 very full years, my grandmother passed away. The first roommate I had since I was 19 moved across the globe and my best friend of 12 years traded humidity for cowgirl boots and moved to Texas. I am burnt out on goodbyes.

Last year, I wrote a blog entry about what I learned in my 26th year and what I hoped for year 27. While I didn’t accomplish the goals I set for the year (at least, I don’t think I did. I met a few interesting men this year but since none of them have given me any rings…), 27 was in no way a failure.

28, though, is going to be different. I’m not setting goals for what I’ll do while I’m 28 because I know it’ll lead me to measure this year in terms of what I didn’t accomplish instead of what I did. Instead, 28 is a year I plan to live full of grace and mercy, both for myself and for others. To cook and bake for people and have them feel welcome in my home. To spend my free time unselfishly and be available when someone needs me, regardless of how tired I may be from a stressful day at work. To give away what I have to those who need it more. In short, 28 is a year I plan to love well.

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.

A Balancing Act

If you were to make a list of things I was good at, dealing with change wouldn’t make the top ten. Baking? Yes. Working with kids? Of course. Change? No. Especially when it can’t be defined as totally positive or totally negative.

Here’s the thing: I love my job. I get to spend my day teaching kids reading, math, science and the best part is, I get to make it fun. What we do in kindergarten is such a huge part of a student’s educational foundation, and it’s a responsibility I don’t take lightly. The students come to class excited each morning and even though it’s only been 5 weeks, I’ve seen an amazing amount of growth in each of them. Being there makes me feel like I’m where I’m supposed to be, doing what I was made to do.

(In case you hadn’t picked up on it, this part of my life change is the good part.)

But, here’s the other thing: My school is 45 minutes away and my kids are allowed in my room at 7:15 (in fact, by the time this posts to Facebook and Twitter, I will have already been at work for 15 minutes), so in order to get to work on time and feel set up properly, I need to leave my house between 6 and 6:15. This puts wake up time somewhere in the 5:30-5:45 range. Another thing that doesn’t crack the top 10 in “Things Kyla is Good At” is being awake in the morning, so you can probably imagine my daily battle with my alarm clock. By the time the day is done (ok, fine, we’ll be realistic – by 11am), I’m exhausted. I have 19 five year olds in my class and while I have infinitely much more support/resources than I did previously, I’m still the teacher and still the one who is responsible for what they learn or don’t learn. My day doesn’t end at 1:45 when the kids leave, or even at 2:45 when my contract says I’m allowed to leave. I have meetings with coworkers and parents. I grade papers (yes, even in kindergarten), write plans, and analyze what I could do better the next day. I go to bed thinking about projects I can do with my kids to make lessons accessible to different learning styles and sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night just to write down ideas. Every night I go to bed between 9 and 10, simply because I can’t hold out any longer and stay up any later.

(Here’s the part where the change is bad.)

I am exhausted, pretty much all the time. My free time and my friends’ free time don’t line up. At all.

I am not so foolish as to think that everyone else’s world would pause because I was not available. I am selfish enough, though, to want it to. I tried to hang out this weekend with two people I care very much about but haven’t been able to see lately. I should’ve been excited about the time I got to spend with them, but instead I was sad.  Sad because I had missed so many of the little life events that I used to know about as they happened. Sad because I had missed these people and knew it would be a while before I’d get to see them again. Sad because their worlds had continued without me. And sad because this, this inability to spend my free time with them, had begun and the more I thought about that, the more upset I got. Instead of enjoying the time I was getting, I was awkward and finally muttered some excuse about needing to leave and walked out.

I am embarrassed and upset and overwhelmed and at my breaking point. And I’m done with that.

One of the things that I believe strongly in is that there’s always hope because there’s always someone bigger who can redeem situations that I judge as hopeless. For the past few days, I haven’t been able to find any. I talked to Katie about some of the things I’m dealing with and her suggestion was that I take time to sort through things and find some resolution. Here’s what I’ve got so far:

My life has shifted. There’s no denying that things are different now and to try to maintain the same lifestyle I’ve been able to enjoy for the past few years is futile. But dwelling on that isn’t the right decision to make. If I spend the whole time staring in the rear view mirror I’m not going to see where I’m going and I won’t be able to enjoy where I am. So relationships will have to change, and the biggest issue for me to overcome with that is accepting that change as both positive and reality. Bear with me as I struggle to figure this all out, especially when I seem distant. Those distant moments happen because I feel the weight of everything and will probably continue to happen until I find a balance and a peace with all of this.

If you’ve missed me lately, know that I’m not avoiding you. And that more than I can adequately express, I miss you too.

A New Adventure

A few weeks ago, I made a very important decision. I’ve waited a little while partly because I wanted to get all of my ducks in a row, and partly because I didn’t want to have to deal with all of the emotions that go into this change. I’m ready now, I think, but even if I’m not, it’s time to share: I’ve accepted a teaching position with Alachua County Public Schools and won’t be returning to Westwood Hills in the fall.

This was actually a really tough decision to make. I have great coworkers at WHCS and I adore my students. (Yes, I realize I wouldn’t have the same kids in the fall since I wouldn’t be switching grades. There’s a huge difference, though, between seeing a child every day in morning assembly and possibly never seeing them again. I’m allowed to be sad about this.) SBAC is a better opportunity for my teaching career and the bottom line is, it’s where I think I’m supposed to be.

As strange as this may sound, thank you to all of the people (students, coworkers, and parents) who made this decision hard. You are what is good about WHCS, and what I will miss. And thank you to all of the people who love me enough to pray for me and listen to me lament making the decision that is right for me. I appreciate you. A lot.

With hope,
Kyla