Listen

FullSizeRenderMy mom has warned me about a lot of things in life. She’s tried to protect me and guide me since I was a little girl. Unfortunately, I’m a rather stubborn girl that tends to follow my own desires/logic rather than heed Mom’s advice.

When I was 4 years old, she told me to get down from standing on a plastic chair, and I was stubborn and eventually fell off of it and landed on my arm, breaking it in two.

When I was beginning college and trying to determine a major, I told her that I was thinking about teaching. She, having many years of experience in the classroom, warned me that it was a difficult job. She reminded me of the long days, the exhaustion she’d come home to a large family with, and the countless extra hours spent at the school, but I was stubborn and didn’t listen. I loved my education classes. I loved the age group I had chosen to work with: middle school students. I loved the subjects (language arts and social studies) that I eventually chose to become certified in.

I wish I had listened.

Right now I find myself in a very difficult position. I’ve been trying to explain it to people for a while now, but every time I seem to come up short.

IMG_1348I love so many parts of my job. I love the people I work with. They care about me and I care about them. I have a work environment where every other adult on the payroll wants to see me succeed and do well at my job, which I feel is a rare thing in today’s world. IMG_1172I love getting to be
creative and make things. Getting an idea and being able to run with it and see it come to fruition is an incredible thing. I love my kids. They frustrate me at times, but I love hearing their stories and seeing them grow and develop into teenagers- figuring out the world a little bit at a time. I love getting to be an actress every day and put on a smile and get in front of my class and be energetic and try to engage them and (somewhat) entertain them as the day trudges along. I love those parts of my job.

There are parts that I don’t like though. I could go into specific stories that end with me crying in my car or in my classroom at all times of the day. I could tell you about lessons that have completely failed and moments when I “wrote” my lesson plan in the car on the way to school that day. I could tell you about students and parents that make me want to scream ugly things. I could tell you about the overwhelming feeling I have throughout most of the year. I could rant about the lack of discipline and rise in inappropriate behaviors. All of these things bother me. However, today I think I figured out my main qualm about education: a lack of direction and too much going on.

No one seems to know what they heck they’re doing, and the things that we are doing, we only do for a little while until we’re told to do something else. There is no time to do anything well. I’m a person that likes things done well. I dive into things and give 110% of myself because I want what I do to matter, and I want to be successful. It’s hard to do that when you’re being told to do 100 different things. It’s hard to be successful at everything.

Make sure they know all the standards. Implement all 504 and IEP plans fully and with fidelity. Make your teaching fun and interesting. Develop personal relationships with all of your students. Incorporate STEM initiatives and problem based learning into as much of your curriculum as possible. Oh yeah, write your own curriculum- don’t worry, there are hundreds of thousands of websites and resources out there for you to look through. Analyze all the testing data of all of your students and make all FullSizeRenderof your decisions in the classroom based on results. Individualize lessons as much as possible. Volunteer for after school activities and extra curriculars.
Teach your kids to be nice and caring. Teach them to think critically. Make sure you help students develop a positive image about themselves. Teach social skills. Teach them appropriate technology use. And keep your room looking great- no one likes a trashy looking school.

I could go on and on, but I think you get the gist. There are a lot of things happening. There are a million things to keep in mind, and you have to keep them in mind all day, every day. It doesn’t end when the kids leave. It doesn’t end on the weekends. It doesn’t end over Christmas or summer break. As a teacher, you’re constantly thinking about your kids. There is always something to do. They always need something. I don’t stay late and work on the weekends and over breaks in an effort to get ahead or in an effort to better my practice. Most of the time I do it just to survive the next day of teaching.

The sad thing is, my mom told me it would be like this. When I told her I was going to school to be a teacher, she didn’t jump up and down with excitement. She was very honest with me. “You know how hard that is going to be,” she said. She never discouraged me or told me to not do it. She knew by then that her words couldn’t change my stubborn spirit. I had my mind made up. But she tried to warn me, and I wish I would have listened.

So now I find myself confused, working in a job that I love and hate. A job that kills me but gives me purpose. A job that I feel like I need to leave but can’t whole heartedly turn my back on just yet.

Give it another year. Things will get better. It will get easier. You’ll figure out what to do. You’ll be good at this one day. I keep telling myself these things. I keep praying. Praying for direction or strength. Direction and strength. I’m in a rut.

Lord, speak to me. I’m listening.

Breaks… or Breaking Point?

I haven’t written in a while. Okay lets be honest, I haven’t written in a long time. The following I wrote a while ago, but never posted. Instead, I left it in my “drafts” section where I continued to read through it over and over. Hesitating to put something somewhat depressing on my blog, which up until this point had been positive and focused on a lot of the aspects of teaching I loved. I’ve decided to share it with you all, finally, because I feel like someone has to say this. I feel like I have to say this:

I’m feeling it. We’re about 7 weeks into the school year and boy am I feeling it. 

Teaching is like running a marathon. You know it’s going to be a long, exhausting year and you try to pace yourself. But at the same time, you have to keep moving- no matter how tired you get- because you have to finish the race. You have your colleagues and a few incredible parents cheering you on from the sidelines, encouraging you along the way. You see your students smile and light bulbs go off in their head and somehow it gives you energy to go one more mile, and then another, and then another. 

Lately I’ve been feeling like I’m running this race in the rain, barefoot, on rocky terrain, and that it’s all uphill. I’ve been feeling like this is a race I may not finish. I feel like I need a break. I feel like I’m about out of breath. 

The funny thing is that I’m on Fall Break this week. That’s right. I’ve had a whole week off from school and I’m still tired. Why? I’ve been juggling the work from my online class (which my school wanted me to take), have been trying to come up with creative lessons for next week, working on assignments for my Microsoft Educator certification class (which my school is also requiring me to take) and have had 130 2-4 page short stories to grade. It’s important work, I’m not denying that, but it’s still an overwhelming amount of work- and I’m supposed to be “off” this week. Thank you Lord that I’m off this week to get it all done! I couldn’t imagine doing this while trying to still teach every day. Oh wait- I’ve been doing that all year… 

That’s the thing with teaching: there is never enough time. Maybe it’s my perfectionist tendencies. Maybe it’s my attention to detail, or my desire to truly want to see every student succeed. Maybe I care too much. Maybe I do too much as a teacher, but that’s what I feel like this job requires of me: everything, and then some. It’s truly a job that consumes you. 

“But you get summers off and long holiday breaks,” everyone always says. “I’d kill to have that!” Well, I’d kill to have a silent lunch break where I didn’t have to be monitoring students and taking bites in between mediating issues. I’d kill to have enough time in the day to make a phone call to the appliance repair man instead of having to call him on the way in to work because that is literally the only time I can speak to them during their business hours. I’d kill to have time to go to the bathroom during the day! I’d kill to actually have a weekend where I just answered work emails and didn’t have to spend 3-4 hours prepping for the week ahead. I’d kill to get overtime pay the 3+ days a week I’m at the school 10 or 12 hours at a time. 

Pray for me friends. I’ve had a whole week off and I still feel like I need a break. 

Something is wrong in education when this is my feeling after a week that’s supposed to be restful and rejuvenating. But then again that’s  just my opinion, my experiences. Maybe the system isn’t broken. Maybe it’s me that’s just not cut out for this. Whatever the case, it’s going to be a long year for me and I’m good to be needing extra prayers for strength and perseverance. 

I love my students. They truly keep me going. Seeing them grow and learn every day… it brings me joy. I wish I could focus on just teaching them. Honestly, I wish I didn’t have so many of them to teach. I feel like I could do a better job and focus more on their individual needs, but that is not the case. 

We are here, my 126 students and I, and we still have about 29 weeks ahead of us. We still have a lot of the race to run. I’m leading us, but I’m already tired. I’m already needing a break. Pray for my students and I as we continue our school year. I need energy. I need focus. I need patience. I need discipline. Maybe I need to slow it down a bit too…

So much of this still applies. The feelings of tiredness and anxiety and stress still consume my days. My students still make me smile. They tell me about things going on in their lives, successes they’re having, how they’re contributing to their community, and I see them growing right in front of my eyes. Not just physically growing, but growing into young men and women that are learning to be more empathetic, more organized, more self motivated than they were the day before. I love my kids. I love my kids. I love my kids. Yes, my kids. I’m 24, not married, and I have 126 kids. I really do love them. Maybe I just need to find a different avenue to work with them. Maybe teaching them Language Arts isn’t what I’m supposed to be doing.

I’ve been praying a lot about what to do come August, and I’m still not sure what the Lord has for me. Part of me says to stick with it and try to figure out a better way to do this thing they call teaching. Another part of me says to find something else entirely. We shall see what the future has for me.

In spite of all this, I do feel lucky to have found something in life that I’m passionate about: investing in the lives of adolescents. Speaking to them and being a positive role model in their lives makes me feel like I’m making a difference. I love that part of my job. I’m happy that my job does let me pursue my passion, but I wonder if there is another job out there that allows be to enjoy pursuing my passion even more.

If you can’t spell Entrepreneurship…

entrepreneur… find someone who can and pay them to spell it for you. That’s one of the sayings I heard last week at a great professional development conference I went to. It’s called the International Entrepreneurship Institute and they train teachers how to encourage students to become problem solvers and, essentially, entrepreneurs.

Harvard Business School defines an entrepreneurship as “the pursuit of opportunity without regard to resources” and I must say that empowering our students with that kind of thinking is exactly what we need to be doing in schools. We underestimate kids way too much. They’re brilliant, they just need the chance to show their brilliance!

In today’s classroom, there’s not many opportunities to do this. We’re too focused on making sure our kids can diagram sentences (which, as an ELA teacher, I must say that I absolutely hate doing). Students are taught to get the “right answer” and are rarely taught how to come up with a SUITABLE answer.

Many People Thinking of Questions

This year, for instance, I had a student who was always asking me questions. Now don’t get me wrong, usually I love questions, but these questions were repetitive and became monotonous and annoying to me. She was so sweet and smart and would follow directions meticulously, but then come ask me if she did it right and take me through every step of what she did. I would tell her time and time again that she was brilliant and that she is usually right, but years of schooling had conditioned her to question everything she did because if she didn’t have the perfect, exact answer then she’d somehow fail or be punished. It was discouraging to see so much potential in her (she brought out good points during class discussions) but to see her hide it or be embarrassed of it when it came to doing something for a grade.

At the institute we learned about how entrepreneurship is seeing a need and rising up to meet the need. This can be a for-profit venture or a non-profit venture, but regardless, when an entrepreneur starts something not only are they fulfilling the need for themselves but for their community as well. So one could argue that teaching entrepreneurship could also teach our students about becoming better global citizens, global citizens who make valuable contributions to the world around them.

I’m excited about making my students these kinds of learners. I’m excited about encouraging my students to become more entrepreneurial. So far, the reading teacher on my team and I have partnered to plan a social-entrepreneurship project (non-profit) to revamp the courtyards at our school. I’m excited to see how that goes and will be sure to update my blog as we progress through this yearlong project.

Heres to developing smarter kids- kids who come up with their own answers to the worlds problems. Heres to the teachers that let them do that. God knows we need more of both of them.

Well hello there

It happened again. AGAIN. I ran into one of my students far, far away from the school.

IMG_6869The last time I saw one of my students out somewhere I was at the Braves Opening Day. Turner Field is about an hours drive from my school, so I didn’t expect to see anyone from that realm of my life there that day, but during the bottom of the 7th inning I get tapped on the shoulder, “Aren’t you a teacher?” the woman asked. I froze.

As I replied, “I am,” I immediately recognized the woman. She was a mother to one of my students. I looked beside her and sitting in the seat that was directly behind me I saw one of my favorite homeroom boys accompanied by all of this brothers and a few of his friends. “Hi Codey!” I managed to say with genuine enthusiasm, but I was a little taken aback. I had just finished my Coors Light and was with a bunch of my friends. Quickly I replayed the past 7 innings in my head. I only had one beer. I didn’t curse- none of my friends cursed either. All of our topics were appropriate. I breathed a sigh of relief and continued our conversation.

shocked faceLast week I was in Hilton Head, South Carolina at a conference for school. After dinner we stopped at the grocery store. As soon as I walked in the door guess what I heard? “MS. HERRING!” My eyes got big and I started looking around. It was one of my girls from my 6th period! In Hilton Head. In the same grocery store as me. What?! It was so good to see her and we talked briefly about her summer and how we both hope she’s in my class again next year.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I dread seeing my students out side of school- I actually enjoy seeing them! It makes my heart happy. However, every time I see them I briefly go through a moment of panic. For some reason I feel like as a teacher I have to hide a part of myself from them. I have to maintain my “Ms. Herring” persona that I give off in the classroom. This isn’t some fake version of me (to be honest I think my truest self sometimes comes out in the classroom more than anything) but I still feel like I have a role to play in front of them. I guess it’s the same as when anyone else would see someone from their corporate world out at a restaurant or grocery store- and it’s probably how my students feel when they see me out too. There’s this moment of confusion and you’re just so startled that you’re not really sure how to act or what to say. map
I’m interested to see where else I’ll run into my students. It just goes to show you that you never know who’s around you. If I’ve learned anything it’s that you have to be aware of your behavior no matter where you are. You never know who might be watching you.

 

Sweet Summertime

TIMG_7153he school year is over. Summer is here. Yay! Yay?

My reaction to the end of the school year has been exactly the same these past two years: a mix of jubilation and dread. Half of me is happy to have a break- to get time away from the building, to be able to pee whenever I want, to be able to meet a friend for lunch during the middle of the day. The other half of me is going to miss school. I’m going to miss the kids and their randomness, the staff I work with, and the actual job of teaching and creating.

I’ve discovered that though I’m a pretty project driven person, and during the summer I miss the sense of accomplishment I get at the end of every school day. I have so much packed into every hour during the school year, and when I get home at night I feel like I’ve used those past hours of my life well. During the summer that isn’t always the case. Sometimes I spend an entire day shopping, or I’ll spend days laying by the pool just reading or napping. After too many of these days I begin to feel lethargic. I need things to do. I need stuff to work on. I can’t sit around day after day and not be working on or messing with SOMETHING.

This summer I have 3 major things going on:

1) International Entrepreneurship Institute. I leave next week to go to this conference and I’m so excited! Not only is it a week in Hilton Head, but it will be spent learning how I can make my classroom a place that encourages students to create their own solutions to the world’s problems. For the past few months I’ve been thinking about how my career will develop, and I believe this is going to be a great opportunity for me to explore this side of education… and who knows what doors this experience will open up for me. I’ll make sure to post an update soon.

IMG_58552) Family Vacation. Guys. I’m so excited. The beach with my family is so much fun. We are in the sun and playing in the ocean all day, with short trips back up to the condo for lunch and maybe a short air conditioned nap. This year there is the possibility of cousins and aunts and uncles and my Mema coming along as well, so it’s sure to be a good time.

3) Moving. I’m under contract with a house! So in July (if everything goes through) I’ll be packing and moving and renovating and decorating and making my new place feel like home. I already have a list of projects I want to do… typical Kelsi… haha.

So It’ll be a full summer, that’s for sure. And on top of all of this I’m sure I’ll be posted up in a Starbucks on many occasions working on lesson plans and stuff for the upcoming year as well. It’ll be a good summer, it’ll be relaxing and there will be a lot of fun memories made and projects accomplished, but when it’s over I’m sure I’ll be ready for my normal, crazy life to start back up again- just like I was last summer.

STEM. STEAM? STREAM? Whatever.

Since testing is over and I’ve taught all the new curriculum I need to teach this year, I wanted to take these last few weeks of school and do something with my classes that would be a good way to review the main things we’ve learned. I also wanted to have fun and I didn’t want my kids to hate coming to class for the next few weeks. Our administrators said they wanted us to do more STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) based projects in our classes too, so I should probably take their thoughts into consideration since I’d like to keep my job all wall. I started brainstorming. Then it hit me: I’d do a stop motion project.

STEM_wide_clear

When I was in college I worked with a weekend program called Academic Adventures. It was geared toward 5th and 6th grade students that tested gifted in one subject area or another. My job was to be the teachers assistant and help him/her manage the class of adolescents (since usually these classes were taught by college professors who had no idea how to deal with students under the age of 18). It was always a fun time and the pay was great, not to mention I knew it would look awesome on a resume after I graduated (I was right).

One weekend was particularly fun. I was partnered with a woman named Gretchen Thomas, who was actually one of my technology professors at the time. Her class was all about Stop Animation– when you have an inanimate object and a digital camera and slowly move your object in each shot. In the end, when you piece all the shots together, you have an animated film. Yes, 10 and 11 year olds made these! Sure, they were only about 2-3 minutes long and all of their materials were made out of construction paper, but they were still pretty incredible. Ever since that weekend I always thought it would be cool to do this in my classroom, and this year I finally figured out how. It wasn’t that difficult.

Step 1: Look at your curriculum. I needed to decide which of my standards I wanted to focus on. I knew I wanted them to write some kind of essay. I wanted to focus on transition words and good opening and closing statements. I also realized I wanted to do some type of expository writing- writing that explained something, perhaps a process or a phenomenon, and wasn’t a work of fiction.

IMG_7123.jpg

Working on a film that explains the Scientific Method.

Step 2: Talk to the science teacher– keep things science based (a key part of STEM). The teacher on my team is amazing. I went to her and asked what the kids were learning- maybe if there were any processes that the kids could explain. She immediately started rattling off a number of topics: the formation of a star, the scientific method, the formation of our universe, how different types of weather form, the water cycle, weather/erosion/deposition- the list seemed endless and I knew I had hit a gold mine.

Step 3: Gather your resources. I went back to my room and scoured the internet for teachers who had already done stop motion projects- and thought back to my weekend with Gretchen. What worked? What didn’t? How could I build in support for my students that I knew were going to struggle with being creative, or with technology, or with working in a group? I went and talked to our librarian/media center specialist about the technology I could use. I decided the kids could bring in their own devices and found an awesome app for them to edit on. I also discovered that the school had digital cameras for those that couldn’t/didn’t want to bring in technology and that Windows Movie Maker is an easy editing program that they’d be able to use for the entire project. I made some tutorial videos, posted them to our class website, and got ready to make rubrics.

IMG_7120

This group chose to explain the water cycle. They made ALL of their “props” out of materials donated by parents. 

I knew I wanted them to turn in some kind of writing. They’d go on to use this as the narration (or script) to their film. They’d also need to create a story board so they’d have an idea of what they were going to film to begin with. And of course the final film itself. We’d break down the project this way. Three parts over the course of 4-5 weeks. I would allot roughly one week for scripts, one week for story boards, and two/three weeks to film/edit. Their films would all explain a scientific process. It was going to be a massive undertaking, but I felt like in the end it’d be worth it.

Step 4: Let the chaos begin. I knew that even though I wanted these to be group projects  I’d have a few kids wanting to work by themselves (and I was right), and I knew they would all choose different processes to explain (and I was right). Everyone would move at different paces and with different content. I knew it was going to be difficult for me- to keep up with who was doing what and which step they were on. Boy was that an understatement. I made charts and checklists to keep myself organized so when I visited each group I just got an “update” of where they were instead of having to have them explain everything to me for the 10,000th time.

The results? I introduced this unit to my class and their eyes lit up. They were excited. We began working. I told them it was a major task, but that we were going to take things one day at a time, and we did. However, every single day of those 5 weeks was hectic.

IMG_7128

Some even built dioramas to shoot their scenes in! 

Students were coming up to me all day every day asking for help with their specific problem- and boy were there a lot of them. Some needed help with writing, some with planning, some with creativity, some in dealing with their group members, some with time management, and everyone had technology issues. It was draining. I couldn’t do very many whole-group lessons that would address these issues because they were so situational. Many times I’d have to look at them and simply say, “Sorry Honey, I don’t know how I can help you with that. What do you think you should do in this situation?” It made me step back and really look at how I  teach. Students were now in charge of their own learning now and I was just there to help facilitate and help when I could. I wasn’t necessarily the fountain of all knowledge and I had to learn to be okay with that. Wow. That grew me as a teacher.

IMG_7121Their films were amazing (for the most part). Of course I had my kids that struggled through this. They were the same kids that always struggled, even though I helped their groups more than any of the others.

I handed out a questionnaire at the end. I asked questions like

“What’s one thing you learned about working in a group OR choosing to work alone”

  • Finding reliable partners was one thing they mentioned. Several who worked alone noted that the project would have been so much easier with a group.

“What’s one thing you liked about this project?”

  • They liked getting to pick their groups, their topics, and that they got to be creative

“What’s one thing you wish you could change?”

  • They all wished they had more time! Several students said they feel they could have done a better job if there was an extended deadline.

When ranking this assignment on a scale of 1-5, roughly 70% of students liked or loved it, roughly 20% didn’t have an opinion about it, and around 10% of them didn’t like it very much or hated it altogether.

Even though 10% weren’t too happy about how they were asked to do it, those students still did very well on accomplishing the main goal of the unit: explaining their process to an audience.

So what does this mean? Are STEM (or STEArtsM or STReadingEAM) programs worth investing our time in as teachers? Absolutely. It took some out of the box thinking from me and it took a lot of planning, but it required my students to encounter some real world problems and learn how to figure them out. In the end, students were also left with a product that they were proud of. They were wanting to come to class. They were wanting to create and learn and work. Quite a few times when I’d tell them it was time to start cleaning up and getting ready to leave, a few of them would look at me in disbelief and scream, “What?! Already?! We just got going!” It was a phenomenal couple of weeks. I want to make the rest of my year look more like this past month. Hopefully next year, as part of the STEM team at my school, I’ll be able to do that.

 

 

 

 

 

Testing. Testing. 1,2,3.

It’s everyone’s favorite time of year again: the time after testing.

The kids are so focused. The teachers are so driven and patient. Administrators have so much free time to talk to you about your concerns for next year. Parents are anticipating the day when they can once again spend every waking moment with their precious baby angels. And everyone is happy to be inside while the sun peeks through the blinds and the temperature is a nice 78ºF outside. We all love May.

943344_371155192995637_218613806_n

For me it’s mainly four weeks of students saying:

“Ms. Herring, why do we still have to come to school?”

“Ms. Herring, how many more days of school left?”

“But Ms. Herring, testing is over, so none of the stuff we’re learning now matters, right?”

Lovely.

Last year it was a struggle. A struggle I tell you. I didn’t want to be there anymore. I knew I wouldn’t be teaching that subject at that school ever again. I had already accepted the job for my current school. Yet, I still had to create meaningful lessons to keep my kids challenged and engaged until the very last day of school. I was kind of sad because I knew it would be the last time I’d probably ever see these kids again. Every day was bitter sweet and felt monumental, yet somehow minuscule and unimportant.

This year it’s much different. I already know that I’m moving to a new grade next year so I’m preparing for a change again, but  I also know that I’ll be in the same school with some of the same students I have now, and that’s kind of exciting. I know how this school works and my head is spinning with ideas for the upcoming year. I’m meeting with the 7th grade teachers to see how they work as a group, and hopefully will get the chance to visit their classrooms some before the year finishes. I’ve also come up with an excellent project to end the year that reviews many of our standards, involves technology and science, and encourages the kids to be creative and show off their artistic side (more to come about this in a later post).

To say that I’m feeling good about teaching is an understatement. I actually am feeling a bit revived already, and it’s not even summer yet! It’s as if getting these tests out of the way has let me finally get down to business and do the things I want to do in my classroom. The things the kids love to do. The things that challenge them to be problem solvers and to be creative. The things that make me happy. The things that made me want to be a teacher to begin with.

Testing is over. It’s May. Holy cow- it’s May! I only have about three weeks left with these humans. Three weeks left to impact their lives and help them in their life journey. It’s the most wonderful time of the school year. Let’s end this with a bang.

Reassurance.

I think there are moments in every career when you’re reminded why you do what you do. I’ve had a couple of those moments recently.

1. The time I helped equip them.

I got an email today telling me that one of my students used his skill of writing to bring about a change in his community- and the kid is only 12 years old!

Apparently cars have been speeding through his neighborhood and after his dog was killed in a collision, he wrote an emotional and persuasive letter to the Mayor of the city urging for a change. Not only did the Mayor hear his cry and put him in touch with the Chief of Police, but my student was invited to help the police decide how to solve this problem!

We’ve been focusing this year on writing letters and just finished a unit on argumentative/persuasive writing so to hear that one of my students was putting this to use in his real life was incredible. Hopefully he remembered some of the things we discussed in class. Regardless, I instantly felt so proud of him: this young man trying to make his world a better, safer place. I helped equip him for that, and that made me feel good. Like my efforts were worth it.

2. The time THEY taught ME.

I have several awesome students. Seriously- 90% of my kiddos are wonderful. I work at a great school. But I have one student in particular that I could describe as every teacher’s dream. He’s kind to his classmates, always participating in class, is positive, interacts with his classmates well, and always tries his best on every assignment. In his class there is also a student who… well… let’s just say that a lot of the kids don’t like him, and at times I struggle to find patience with him as well.

During one of his outbursts, my kind student looked at me and apparently could tell that I was getting frustrated. After class he lingered and asked me how my day was going. “It’s been a day,” was all I said back.

He looked at me like he understood and nodded and responded with, “Yeah, but I’m sure every one has those days. Even _____ (he mentioned the students name). But you just have to remember that tomorrow is another day. God is in control and good things can still happen today.” He started making his way towards the door. “Bye, Ms. Herring. See yah tomorrow!” 

And with that I was left feeling encouraged by a 12 year old. 

I may be in these kid’s lives for a reason, I may be teaching them things, trying to make them into decent human beings as much as I can, but goodness they sure are teaching me things and helping me grow as well. 

3. The time I got to see confidence grow. 

Middle school is the time of insecurity. Ask anyone and they will agree. My classroom, though I always try to build my students up, is no exception. Girls, in particular, seem to struggle with this. I have a young lady who at the beginning of the year was quiet. She didn’t have many friends. She was always second guessing her work- stressing over every little thing and if she got it perfectly right or not. Over the course of the year she’s really blossomed.

A few days ago I gave her back an argumentative essay. She did an incredible job and received a 98. I wrote a little note on her paper saying how impressed I was. When she got it her eyes lit up and the biggest smile came to her face. “Wow. Really? I didn’t know I had it in me,” was all she said.

“I knew you did,” I responded. Her smile got even bigger.

She went back to her GROUP that she was working on this project with (even though she had a chance to work alone) and showed them her paper. They were all impressed and she then began to step up and take more of a leadership role amongst her peers! How cool to see. 

4. The times they’ve made me smile and brought me joy, just by being themselves. 

I have so many wonderful students in my room and they all have their own personalities that bring me joy on many levels and for many different reasons. 

I have my Hippy Child. She always wears beautifully colored clothing that flows when she walks. Often her head is adorned with a crown of flowers. Sometimes she’ll wear a wig or colorful lipgloss/eye shadow. She’s always smiling. Seeing her live her life and be the carefree, kind spirit she is makes me smile. It’s a beautiful thing. 

I have my Star Wars boys. They’re obsessed. At the beginning of the year they were designing and “selling” paper lightsabers for 5 cents each. They cut me a deal though and gave me the special “teacher discount”– AKA, it was free. They were obsessively talking about the new movie when it came out. Their recent hobby has been to have epic saber battles during the last few minutes of class when we’re packing up. I tell them to begin packing up and they get out their pencils. The “zzzmmm” “zuuum” noises begin. When I look to the back of the room I see them acting it out. Putting their whole body into it. Making insane faces. They love it so much. I love that I get to see them love it so much. It’s a beautiful thing. 

I have my Creative Funny Girl. She’s not your typical attention seeking class clown. She’s the girl that’s brilliant and witty and sees things in a way that most of the other kids in class can’t. I’d say she’s wise beyond her years, but she also had a hilarious, fun personality. When given assignments, she always finds a way to take them, make them her own, and always knocks it out of the park. She’s kind of the girl I wish I could have been in middle school. She’s such a fun, creative soul to be around. It’s a beautiful thing. 

All of them, and countless others, bring me small doses of happiness all throughout the day. They keep me going. Their energy. Their personalities. Who they are. Sure, they’re 11/12 years old. So what? They’re incredible people. They’re going to be even more incredible adults one day. I’m honored that I can help build them into something even better than what they are. That I can have an impact on them and that they will in turn have an impact on their world. It’s a beautiful thing. 

Sometimes I sit in my frustration, in my tiredness, in my busy, overwhelming classroom (or in my home) and I wonder why I even do this. Why don’t I just quit tomorrow? Why continue? Then I have these little moments. These moments of reassurance. Times that make all the headache and lack of sleep and stress worth it. On their own they might not amount to much, but as a whole it’s things like this that reassure me I’m on the right path. I’m where I’m supposed to be. I’m a teacher! Praise the Lord!

 

A Day in the Life

“Oh my gosh I’m so bored. There are only so many games of solitaire I can play in a day.”

This was a text I got from one of my friends who works at a consulting firm in the city. Of course I wasn’t able to read it until the day was over and I realized it had been over 4 hours since they sent it. I read that text and I immediately laughed, but then I got a little jealous. This guy was making a hell of a lot more money than I was, and today he was sitting around his office playing solitaire. That is one luxury I will never have as a teacher: free time during the work day.

In almost every other job I’ve heard about there are a few minutes of free time throughout the day. Wether it’s spent playing a quick game of solitaire, mindlessly roaming around the office, drifting off into la-la-land, or looking up stuff about your favorite band that’s coming in to town this weekend, most of my friends seem to have time at work to do plenty of non work related tasks. For me, that simply isn’t the case.

Here’s what a typical day looks like if you’re a teacher:

IMG_6205.jpgYou walk in your classroom at 8am (okay let’s be real, most days it’s closer to 8:05). You go straight to your desk, turn on your computer, and the day begins. You’re greeted with a trove of emails. From parents telling you their child will be out, students asking a question about an upcoming assignment, administrators informing you of the latest school business, and of course emails from fellow teachers regarding planning  or the upcoming grade level field trip. Hopefully you can get through them all and get your lesson pulled up and ready before students come walking in the door at 8:20. (Most days I’m still doing it while the early birds are coming in.) Late bell rings at 8:30 and home room madness starts.

“Ms. Herring, I need to go get a bus pass.”

“Ms. Herring, will you review the 4 types of hooks with me again?”

“Ms. Herring, Jimmy won’t stop flicking his eraser shavings on my desk even though I’ve asked him nicely to stop.”

“Ms. Herring, why do dogs still smell a little bad right after you give them a bath?”

On Mondays your school teaches a character building lesson during home room, so there’s that to plan for and accommodate as well. IMG_6345

During class change teachers are expected to go out and monitor hallways- all the while making sure no one is currently setting their room on fire. We go to 1st period, 2nd, and 3rd and you get to pursue your passion of teaching children things and watching them grow. Then we have a locker break, 5 minutes to greet our next class (I give them an outline of the day and tell them the homework), and head to lunch.

Finally. Lunch. You think that’d be a break, right? A time to sit and breathe and relax for the first time since you got out of the car this morning, but you’d be assuming wrong. You have 25 minutes to eat, and you have to monitor the students during lunch as well. Have you noticed that you haven’t had a restroom break yet? (This is usually when I take my first one of the day, but you better go fast because you don’t want to waste your time to eat.)

Hopefully you have a good lunch class and you actually get to sit the entire 25 minutes, but usually that is not the case…

“Tommy, please don’t rip apart your tomato and put it down your shirt.”

“No, Kevin, you cannot mix ketchup, broccoli, chicken nuggets, peaches, and french fries together and force feed it to Lilly.”

“Where is Brooke? Why is she sitting with Ms. Smith’s class? She doesn’t have a pass!”

“Brandon, please stop laying on the floor. There is no telling what is on it.”

It’s constant. Not to mention all the drama you have to manage at lunch… You’re lucky if you get to sit through an entire lunch period and not address at least two issues.

You go back to class, teach one period, then it’s planning. Praise God! (Well… hopefully you’ll actually get your planning time to yourself.) You see, there are these little things called meetings. Teachers, administrators, and parents love to schedule them during your planning. Your school has also adopted a new piece of technology. Guess who now has to go to a three-day training during planning to be introduced to it? Lucky you! The planning days you DO get to yourself are spent planning for upcoming lessons and running copies, creating rubrics, grading papers, or responding to the countless other emails you’ve gotten throughout the day. But you better do it quickly. The kids come back in an hour and 10 minutes.

You teach your last class (which they’re always squirrely during and they can’t seem to give you any of their attention for the last 15 minutes). When the bell rings at 2:30 you try not to get trampled as they stampede towards the door. Then your late dismissal kids stay behind and help you clean your room and tell you a funny joke so your day ends on a happier note.

3:45. Finally. They’re all gone.  Silence. It’s beautiful. You sit in your chair for 5 seconds. Oh crap! You’ve gotta pee again. While in the bathroom you remember that you have an after school faculty meeting at 4. Dang it. You run back to your room, shove a stack of ungraded papers in your bag to grade after dinner that night and walk as quickly as you can to the media center. Hopefully this won’t last and hour and a half like last time…

IMG_6578

One of my sweet babies gave me this: “Free Teacher’s Pass: When you want to relax… use this!”

Do you see what I mean? Do you get it now?

You were physically moving around and mentally “on” since the moment you walked into the building and you had to stay that way until even after students left.

I got that text and it made me frustrated. Frustrated at all the times I tell people that I’m a teacher and their immediate response is, “You’re so lucky you get summers off! And so many breaks throughout the year too…” I like my job, and I would do it all throughout the year if I had to, but it is impossible mentally and physically to do it every day. Maybe if my day wasn’t so jammed packed. Maybe if I actually had some time to play a game of solitaire during the work day I could manage teaching more than 180 days of the year, but that simply is not the case. I do my job, and I do my job well.

There is no way I could do my job more than I currently do. I’m barely making it as is.

Hello. Here’s my backstory.

I wish I could say that being a teacher is the best thing ever. I wish I could say that growing up I always wanted to be a teacher, and that these first two years of teaching have been everything I thought it would be and more. I could tell you these things, but I would be lying.

It wasn’t until my senior year of high school that I even considered being a teacher. I was volunteering at my church co-leading an 8th grade girls bible study. Originally I thought it was going to be horrible. “Middle schoolers are the worst! Bless you…” is what everyone would say. But I did it anyway. Boy was I shocked at the outcome. I grew to love those girls so much. They were just discovering life. They had so many good, deep questions that were coming to their minds for the very first time. I loved it. We had great discussions and they truly helped me grow in my year leading them.

When I started college I knew I wanted to do something with that age group. What better way to reach them than by teaching? I thought. So I enrolled in the Middle Grades Ed program. Since I wasn’t very good at math I chose language arts and social studies as my areas of concentration, and would later add on a certificate to teach reading as well. I graduated Cum Laude from the University of Georgia 4 years later.

The first year was rough. I was at a charter school in Florida that had great staff and students and up to date technology, but very little pedological support. I had no established curriculum (besides a list of standards I was expected to teach) and no teachers to plan with. I was also given all of the students performing below grade level. Typically I stayed at the school from 7am-6pm Monday-Friday and found myself working most of the weekends too. I was getting burnt out, and I knew I needed a change.

Luckily a school in my home state of Georgia called and offered me my dream job teaching 6th grade Language Arts at a very distinguished school. I accepted immediately. This past year has had it’s challenges as well, but I’ve learned so much from the teachers I work with and it has been much better. Recently I was informed that my time in Florida was actually very successful. I was named one of the Florida Teachers of Impact based off my students test scores! It was a proud moment considering the rough year I had.

As I look to the future, I plan to stick with teaching for now. No, I don’t absolutely love it, but I do like parts of it and I want to see how I can grow. I want to see how I can grow as a teacher and I want to see how being a teacher helps me grow as a person. I’m hoping this blog will help me do that.

So I turn to my subject: writing. Here I am. Documenting my days away. My thoughts, my experiences, my questions while I’m in the classroom and after I leave. I’m not really sure what this blog will be, but I’m excited about the adventure ahead.