Category Archives: teacher mama

Celebrated, Seen, Loved

My final week of teaching was filled with goodness. It was sweet to have more relaxed afternoons after busy morning program practices. Diligent work by students (and their teachers) throughout the school year meant time for fun!

This note was left on the “Teacher Appreciation Week” bulletin board for me by one of the first graders. It is one of my favorite things.

Students assembled end-of-the year memory books and collected autographs from one another. Yearbooks arrived on time. There was a pizza party. There were cupcakes to celebrate those important summer birthdays.

Thursday night brought our 25th end-of-year program. Kindergarteners graduated, grade school musicians performed, and awards were presented to the Learning Center students.

While I have not been involved in all 25 programs, I have organized and directed many. I have sat in the audience for many more, often wrangling my own infants, toddlers, and preschoolers.

This year, I carried the title of piano accompanist due to my ability to play Apples and Bananas, The Piggy Song, and Round the Clock the Hours Go (Twinkle, Twinkle) with appropriate chords while the kindergarteners sang along.

I also held the title of Learning Center teacher for the final time. It was a delight to listen to my students make music with Mrs. Buchanan and then to present their awards. Looking out over the audience from behind the podium, I saw many former students and parents of students and one former student who was now a kindergarten parent!

My heart filled with a mixture of sadness and joy over endings and unknown new beginnings.

I returned to my seat in the second row only slightly disappointed that I had not asked my former students to stand. As I was letting that go I heard my name being called, and I was summoned to the podium for a special presentation.

My center spotlight survival skills immediately went to work to contain the big feelings that were surfacing. Just take the bunch of flowers and sit back down. What a nice gesture. Smile. Turn around.

It was not that simple. There’s more.

I stood awkwardly by the podium looking around as my friend and fellow teacher, Mrs. Hottinger, came down from her post on stage and reached for a gift basket to give to me. She and Mrs. Buchanan had put it together and asked to present it at the program.

I was speechless.

Words about me began to be spoken by her. That, in itself, was a gift. I heard about my impact and role in their lives as a teacher and friend and how I will be missed. She explained that the basket contained items for me as I continued on my journey. I really hoped it was full of answers and direction.

It was full of chocolate, candles, Keep Calm and Trust God cards, a handmade book, and beautiful vase. Maybe not answers, but certainly clues.

I was presented with a beautiful Psalm 23 plaque, as well, with the meaning of the verse and the images of sheep explained. It was so humbling and special.

Before I could sneak back to my seat, my husband came tp the podium to give his words for me. I listened to a brief recap of my impact and involvement in the formation of Good Shepherd from the early days until now. Five of my children were there to bear witness and to be recognized.

Reminders of how slowly and quickly 24 years can pass washed over me as I locked eyes with those in the audience who had walked the road with me over many seasons and years.

I wish that I could say that I stayed fully present and did not try to cut short my time in the spotlight while attention was being called to me. I wish the words Quit calling attention to yourself were silenced in my head for good, but they linger on.

Kindergartners were waiting in a line to receive their diplomas, and children had worked hard all evening. It was time to honor that. Feeling seen, celebrated, and loved, I asked my former students to stand before I took my final bow.

 

 

Ending Well

February 23 is when I first dared speak it. I was at an extra-curricular fair at the high school and connected with a safe sister who teaches there. I knew she would hold my words in confidence while holding me accountable to them. I had spoken them to my husband the day before.

I’ve made the decision to leave Good Shepherd at the end of this school year.

It felt terrifying, yet I knew I was the only one who could make the decision. No one else could do it for me. I needed to use my own voice. Hearing that voice speaking the words aloud stirred a mixture of fear and peace, confidence and uncertainty, joy and sorrow, relief and grief.

There was So. Much. Ambivalence. attached to the decision to end my teaching season.

There were nudges in the direction. I had agreed to two years when I signed on to return to the classroom. This was year four. There were changes going on in my world both internally and externally. There was little margin for the best with all of the good I was doing.

Wrestling with the decision was hard.

It was hard to imagine leaving the students and other teachers whom I dearly loved.

It was hard to imagine finding a replacement for my income.

It was hard to imagine walking by faith and not by sight. It was terrifying, but I knew it was time to step out.

I don’t know what’s next, but I know what’s now.

I penned these words in my journal the weekend I composed a resignation letter.  I turned in the letter on Monday morning, and then spoke in person to those I knew needed to hear the words directly from me, not in a memo or through the grapevine. I let them feel their feelings while I felt mine, not rushing through or trying to fix. It was so hard.

Again I wrote,

There are so many feelings inside. So much stirring. With the end of this chapter in sight, I need to be attentive to what is required to attend to the hearts around me and finish well. I am trusting what God has in store for me as good.

Last night was rough when the lights went out and things were still. I began to wrestle with the reality to end my time at Good Shepherd and with adulthood. What about all of the unknowns? Will you be there, God? Of course you will! How can I not trust that you have been and will be?

Holding my decision until an official word from the school office was released was challenging. I longed to write about my version of The End, May’s theme for Red Tent Living, and process on my blog, but the timing wasn’t right. I wanted to honor the timing.

I am glad that I did.

The day that the student intent letter went home with the information that I would not be the classroom teacher in the fall, there were many big feelings from small people, some of whom I had taught for all four years due to the nature of our program. There were feelings from adults, as well.

Today my students found out I am not returning next year. There were lots of feelings and emotions. Next week will be long. I need to trust.

There is much to ponder and process still about how that final week went. It was long. It was good. It was full. It was kind.

It is finished.

Blessing the Teacher

Several months ago, I read words by Tracy Johnson on Red Tent Living. She wrote about blessing the manager in her, and I immediately thought of the teacher in me and how difficult it is to bless her.

As a little girl, I wanted to be a teacher when I grew up. One brother, eight years younger than me, called me teacher before he called me by my name. I vividly remember playing school using a chalkboard set up in the smallest room of our duplex, my classroom for a season. That chalkboard was the best toy, and I was always the teacher.

Having six younger siblings, five of whom were alive by the time I was ten, offered plenty of opportunities to hone my craft. Having a father who was a Christian school teacher, offered plenty of opportunities to troll around to various classrooms at the end of each school year hoarding papers and teaching supplies that were going to be thrown in the trash.

I assembled leftover classroom worksheets into booklets, stapling them together. These were used to teach and entertain siblings on long summer car rides to Michigan. Old lesson plan or grade books with used pages torn out were treasured finds. If there was still a seating chart template in the back, I would spend hours arranging and rearranging imaginary students into rows.

I drew pictures of classrooms. The items on the teacher’s desk, the assignments written on the chalkboard, the wall decorations, all were fastidiously detailed. Sometimes I wish I still had one or two of them. Then I wonder if it is better to have them in my memory. I am curious if that is why I am intent on saving samples of my children’s work.

The dream of growing up and becoming a teacher was rooted deep inside of me. There was a time when it felt hopeful and sweet. I taught a little girl to read when I was sixteen and loved planning enrichment activities for the small group of day camp students that I worked with that summer. Then something changed.

The dream and desire became a demand. I remember when the joy of teaching was replaced by duty and the expectation to teach. I remember feeling choices slip away and panic set in. I remember trying my best to push the window of other opportunities open, only to have it slam shut and lock.

I remember feeling betrayed by the teacher in me. Why did she have to be so good at what she did? Why did she always say this is what she wanted to be? What if there were other things, too?

The teacher, ever efficient, stepped up and took over, pushing the other parts aside. She took care of business and rose to the occasion. She went to school, studied, and worked hard. She loved each student that came through her room and saw to it that she cared for them in the best possible way.

I appreciate her for that. I appreciate her ability to connect with students, to care for them, and to make learning fun. I appreciate her stepping up and doing what needed to be done. Most of all, I am grateful to have grown into a place where I can truly bless her and her gifts.

The teacher is a part of me, but she is not all of me. Still, she is pretty amazing, and I have grown to love and appreciate her. Her presence is a gift of grace in my life.

Hoarding Grace

A new school year has begun. It is hard to believe that it has been three years since this happened. You know how things look different in three years? I’m feeling it.

This school year my mantra is daily grace. My theme is grace enough. With so much going on in various aspects of life, big things and small things, if I lose focus on daily graces, I will drown. Daily graces are gifts that happen in the moment to help ease the load a bit. They are unpredictable, often surprising, and easily missed if not intentionally noticed.

Daily grace is grace enough.

The problem comes when I try to hoard grace. When I grab onto a gift I have been given in a moment and analyze and question and cling to and demand that it be like this every time, I lose sight of the gift that is grace. Grace enough says, Wow! What a gift that was!

The first day of school, grace enough was unexpected morning texts from friends, a donut from a fellow teacher, pizza brought home for dinner. The following days, grace appeared in different forms. A big field trip was scheduled, an encouraging Stephen Ministry meeting happened, food appeared for supper each evening, the first Friday pencil can activity was successful without using ModPodge.  (I have learned a thing or two over the years, and colorful “Duck Tape” works just as well or better with NO MESS!!!!)

So here I sit on Sunday afternoon with week one of school behind me. While savoring all of the grace from last week, I begin to stress about this one. Sunday evenings have historically been hard for me. I begin to feel the stress of the upcoming week and grieve the end of the weekend.

Choosing to focus on daily grace invites me to look with surprise and anticipation about what the upcoming week will bring. What does God have in store that I have yet to discover? When I change my perspective to one of openness and stop trying to pack grace manna into jars to save on a shelf for next time, I find myself breathing easier and trusting more. I also find fewer worms. (unless I am shucking the grace that is home-grown, pesticide-free garden corn)

This grace enough is such a slow process for me and carries quite a steep learning curve. I want to have everything nailed down and figured out and neatly planned. I long for ease and comfort all day every day. Instead I am given the daily grace that is grace enough to carry me through the hard, uncomfortable places and lead me to where I have yet to go.

As I look out of my bedroom windows at the bright blue sky and bright yellow sunflowers bowing their heads, I am grateful for the grace of this quiet afternoon to rest and write and refresh my soul. In this moment, it is enough.

It’s all grace.

Friendship Friday ~ on the other side of the curtain

She’s there on the other side of the curtain, the gray one dividing our classrooms. Teaching kindergarten while I supervise grade school students, I often hear her singing or explaining a lesson or giving instructions to her class.

There have been many Bible stories overheard at the start of the day, offering encouragement to my weary soul. Sometimes the simplest truths, those on a kindergarten level, are the ones that we desperately need to hear. I sit at my desk, soaking them in while students test or begin working in our quiet classroom.

Several times a day, one of us pops the curtain open, asking the other to supervise both classes while a quick break is grabbed. It’s these times of connection in the midst of our full day, when an understanding smile is exchanged, that remind us we are in this together ~ especially if the day is less than stellar.

One of my favorite parts of teaching is working with the lady on the other side of the curtain. Her kindness, thoughtfulness, and patience is inspiring. I especially love the chocolate that randomly appears at just the right time.

Thank you, Angie, for being wonderful YOU! Working with you is a gift, and I feel blessed to be the one on the other side of the curtain.

Happy Friday! We made it, Friend!!!!

Keep Breathing

Just breathe. Take a deep breath in. Let it out. You can do this.

Days begin early with this reminder. Coaching myself through each part of before school, during school, after school, and evening routine, they continue.

Take deep breaths. Slow it down. Be present.

I try, really I do, to believe that it is working. Breathing is important, as is mindfulness. I am mindful of the fact that this is an overwhelming time.

I’m still breathing. That counts.

This morning, I scramble out the door with my mini in tow reminding me of the essentials, Do you have my gift exchange gift? The candy canes? Your key lanyard? Don’t forget your coffee. This little one knows me well.

I grab a roll of wrapping paper to take along to wrap her gift, as there is not a scrap of tape in the house. Of course there isn’t. I have only been to the store countless times this week picking up ONE THING AT A TIME, while forgetting basic others like tape. Because lists? Checking twice? Who has the time and energy for THAT?

We run on the edge of slightly behind, but traffic is kind, and lights are green. She beats me to our classroom where she will wrap the gift while I go retrieve my charges, so that we can begin our school day together. I walk in to check on her, trying to slow the pace of my racing heart.

Move through each part of the day mindfully. Take deep breaths. Just breathe.

I say this audibly to myself, but little radar dish ears pick up the sound waves of my whisper, and a little person begins to laugh. As air mindfully and deeply fills my nostrils, I know exactly what is so funny.

I farted, and you just breathed it in!

Yes. I. Did. Deeply. Mindfully.

And that, Friends, is a perfect picture of how things are in these parts. I keep trying to control what I can, but there’s a lot of stuff I can’t control that just stinks.

I keep breathing, anyway.

Return to Romans 12

After posting this journal entry written nine years ago, a friend asked what I would change had I written it today. Full of shoulds, I had resisted editing them out.

This is my Return to Romans 12.

It’s hard to present myself as a living sacrifice through the daily offering of my life to God.

It’s easy to sit in the early-morning quiet and ponder the measure of grace I have been given for the tasks I have been called to. Harder is to step out and act on them, viewing the inevitable conflicts and messiness ahead as my reasonable service.

It doesn’t feel reasonable to do laundry, plan meals, clean up dog poop and pee, change small animal bedding, listen to middle-schoolers arguing over preschool toys, watch mail and bills pile up, pack lunches, fix breakfast, mediate arguments, deal with disappointments, find socks, walk the dog, scramble for lost papers and permission slips, pack lunches, figure out the daily school drop off and pick up schedule, spend hours in a classroom, monitor homework, figure out computer time, and do it all again tomorrow.

My desire to conform to the world tells me there must be something more than this. That I have missed out. This feels boring and pointless without a renewed mind that says, You are being transformed!

Being transformed sees my life as full of opportunities to love as Christ, to use my spiritual gifts, and to function as part of his body on earth. It sees these opportunities before me in my home as valid and meaningful.

So in my walking through each day, rather than wallowing in not this again, my cry is, Transform my heart, Lord! It is thinking of myself more highly than I ought to demand that I not bear my part of the broken, the painful, the hard. I am exactly where I need to be to fulfill God’s merciful plan for my life.

Believing this offers rejoicing in hope while practicing patience in tribulation. Instead of wallowing in the dog poop on the floor, I can rejoice that there are no longer poopy diapers! Once upon a time those were my biggest trial.

There will always be a new biggest trial.

My prayer is for a fervent spirit making me diligent about the work I have been called to today. I long to give preference to my family with brotherly love, to distribute to their needs with kindness, to show them hospitality.

If my greatest “tribulations” are a house to care for (shelter), laundry to do (clothing), meals to plan and prepare (food), and a classroom to run (employment), how ungrateful to complain about the blessings in my life. Transform my heart, Father, to see as you see and to receive the good gift of this day from your hand.