The Teaching Rollercoaster

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Only 1 week into teaching, I can already attest to the fact that the rumors are true: Teaching is an emotional rollercoaster.

I haven’t even met any kids yet, and I’ve already climbed into the rail car and taken a few dips and turns! Just in-service was enough to get me pumped up and then anxious; excited and then stressed out at the mountain of things I have to do before next week. My To Do list is currently five pages single-spaced, and every day I am finding out about more things I have to do that I didn’t even know to ask about (like a Word Wall. Apparently every teacher – even math teachers like me – are required to have a “Word Wall” in their classrooms. I only know this because I overheard a conversation – who was going to tell me?!).

But at the end of the day – even the Alexander Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Days – I am still glad I am here at not in corporate.

I am still sure this was the right decision. It’s going to be hard, but it’s going to be good. In corporate, all of the vision casting was elaborate and verbose, but it never came to fruition; it was just rhetoric and word fluff from the top down that took no input from the lower ranks. They had no heart; no pure intent behind the syrupy words.

But here in my school district, it’s evident that the Superintendent at least – and also my direct Principal – genuinely believe in the shared vision. They legitimately took input and feedback from all stakeholders – parents, students, teacher and the community – to determine and develop our shared mission, values and purpose. They are passionate and authentic and bought in.

It’s not a perfect district (people are, after all, messy), but I can tell that they truly believe in empowering teachers and students (even if they’re not very good at equipping new teachers like myself). They encourage thoughtful challenge of the status quo.

I really think this is where I belong. I really think I finally found a fit. It won’t be perfect, but I think God has a purpose for me here, and I am excited to walk forward into this first school year as a teacher.

Authentically Aurora

Back to School – Part 3

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I just got an email from my principal.

Finally.

It was addressed to me and one other teacher. I expected it to be welcoming me to the school and giving me some good information for what to expect next week. Instead, it says simply:

“Since you guys have big rooms,  we are going to use your rooms for rotations the first week back to school.  We will need a functioning projector. “

That was all.

The good news: Apparently I have a big classroom.

The bad news: I don’t yet know which classroom is mine, what rotations she’s talking about, or whether or not my room has a projector, much less how how to use it.

I’d forgotten how much it stinks to be the new person.

Authentically Aurora

Back to School – Part 2

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Thanks to my perseverance, I finally got issued my district email address a few weeks early. I’ve hungrily dug into all of the shared files, desperately trying to find out if there are already lesson plans in place or if I need to be spending my last weeks of summer developing a syllabus, worksheets, homework, quizzes and tests for the year. I don’t want my first six weeks to be a mess of chaotic franticness.

All summer long, I’ve been checking the district website hoping they’d update the calendar for the 2017-2018 school year. They finally did a couple weeks ago, so I found out my first day of teacher inservice would be Thursday, August 10th. I’ve had it in my calendar ever since.

To make the most of my last week of summer, Seth and I planned a romantic day trip for Monday, August 7th, and I have a specialist doctor’s appointment scheduled for Tuesday the 8th. I had to schedule the appointment two months in advance, so I was relieved they were able to get me in before school started.

Then yesterday, I checked my district email account.

The email account I only have because I’ve been bothering IT all summer long.

The email account I’m not supposed to have yet and that no one has advised me to be checking yet this summer.

I had an email “reminding” me of MANDATORY TRAINING for new teachers on August 7-8.

Note that this email was not sent to my personal email from my resume. I did not receive a call from my principal or administration. I never heard anything about this mandatory training from the HR department. The only reason I found out about it was because I had a district email address that I AM NOT SUPPOSED TO HAVE YET AND ONLY HAVE BECAUSE OF MY PROACTIVITY!!!

Seth and I cancelled our romantic day trip. He’s out $50 for tickets we already bought.

I postponed my specialist doctor’s appointment for another two months. Now I’ll have to use a precious vacation day to go to my appointment.

And I will responsibly show up for this mandatory training I only know about because I am proactive, responsible and on top of things when the rest of the school system is not.

I’m so glad I left Corporate America to escape bureaucracy.

Authentically Aurora

Back to School – Part 1

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I knew there was going to be a steep learning curve entering the world of education as a first-year teacher.

Half the people I told about my new job – rather than congratulating me – offered their condolences. That made me just all the more determined to love teaching and the world of education. But so far, I am staring to see their point (much as I am loathe to admit it).

I got hired back in April. Since then, I’ve been asking my principal, the HR department, my math specialist co-teacher and the IT department what I need to be doing to prepare for the school year. I’ve had three months to do professional development, lesson planning and all manner of things to get ready for my first year as a teacher. Here’s the feedback I’ve gotten.

From my principal: “You’re way ahead of the game. Just relax. We don’t do most of our hiring until July.”

From HR: “Ask your principal.”

From my co-teacher: “Here are a bunch of links. But you won’t be able to access any of them until you have a district email address.”

From IT: “Sorry, we don’t issue new teacher email addresses until the week before school starts.”

I feel like I’m back in the world of Corporate.

Authentically Aurora

The System (for Introverts)

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I used to hate getting shots. Every six weeks or so, I have to go into my allergist’s office to get my maintenance dosage of allergy shots. It takes 20 minutes to drive there, and I have to sit and wait for 20 minutes after getting the shots so they can make sure I’m not having an anaphylactic reaction; then it takes another 20 minutes to drive back home or to work. So every six weeks, I used to feel like I was wasting an hour of my day… until I figured out The System.

Screen Shot 2017-07-21 at 11.32.12 AMNow when it’s time for my allergy shots, I go get myself a latte. I throw my Kindle into my purse. I silence my phone and stick in my earbuds and listen to white noise to drown out the sounds of older patrons talking loudly or children whining or babies crying.

Now every six weeks – instead of feeling like I am wasting my time sitting in the doctor’s office – I get an extended period of time to sit in a comfy chair disconnected from the world and read a good book while drinking a freshly brewed latte. And it is heaven.

Screen Shot 2017-07-21 at 11.34.48 AM.pngThis morning when I went in for my six-week maintenance dose, I scanned the waiting room as I nestled down, and I spotted a sixteen-year-old girl who has already discovered The System. She had kicked off her shoes and pulled her feet up into her chair and was curled up with a thick paperback, oblivious to anyone but the characters in her story. I smiled to myself and thought, “She’s my people.”

OlderWomanI got my shots, enjoyed 20 minutes of uninterrupted reading, and walked outside to my car. On the way, I saw an attractive, well-dressed woman in her fifties perched on the hood of her lime green car. Her knees were drawn up to her chest as she basked in the sun and talked on her phone with a relaxed, lazy drawl. And I smiled to myself for the second time in half an hour, again thinking, “She’s my people.”

The sixteen-year-old with her paperback was me nearly two decades ago, and I imagine the woman on hood of her car is a portrait of Authentically Aurora in another two decades. These are my girls. These are my people.

Authentically Introverted Aurora

Diego Turned Angel

On Child's Level.pngI’ve never considered myself to be certifiably insane, but – deciding to be a long-term sub for the last month of the school year? – maybe I should reconsider the state of my mental health.

After I resigned from my cushy (and soul-numbing) corporate job in April, I took a three-week long term substitute teaching assignment at a nearby elementary school. I figured it would be a good opportunity to learn some key teaching skills before I started my full-time teaching job in August. And I was right.

What I hadn’t taken into consideration were the facts that:

  • These 5th graders in my class had already finished their state testing and so felt like there was no more learning to be done.
  • They believed that they ruled the world (as the oldest grade in their school).
  • Summer (and graduation from elementary school) was less than one month away.
  • It was a Title I school.
  • I had basically zero experience with classroom management.

Suffice it to say, I nearly died those first few days. I had kids threaten to have their parents sue me when I said the wrong thing, had kids tell me they hated me and I was the worst teacher ever, had parents calling in wanting a parent-teacher conference because they believed their child was being bullied, had to get a counselor involved because a fifth grade boy was following girls into the bathroom and touching them inappropriately… It. Was. Madness.

But I survived. And I am better for it. And, looking back, it was actually a lot of fun. Because – for the first time in nearly eight years – I actually had purpose. I actually felt challenged. And I finally made an impact.

Diego was one of the kids I nearly sent to ISS the first day I subbed. He talked incessantly and, as soon as I got the class calmed down and on task, he (as a natural leader and the class clown) had the power to get them all off task again. I felt like I was constantly battling him for the class’s attention.

And Victor. He was the most simultaneously hateful, cynical, apathetic person I have ever met in my entire life. He loved to argue with me in front of the class just for argument’s sake. He knew I couldn’t physically touch him, so he openly defied me on a daily basis when I asked to speak with him privately outside. He refused to go in the hallway, and I couldn’t physically force him, so for a long time, I lost the daily battles of power struggle with Victor – the most arrogant, abrasive student I can imagine I will ever have in decades of teaching.

But as the weeks went on and I learned students’ names and personalities and values and insecurities, I slowly learned how to individualize not only my teaching but also my motivation and discipline of each one.

On my last week of subbing, the students were supposed to be engaging in silent reading time. Diego repeatedly got off task, reading out loud in an intentionally loud voice and distracting other students. When I asked him to read silently, he claimed not to be able to read without saying the words out loud (this was a lie). He – like Victor – refused to go into the hall with me, so I knelt down on his level and whispered to him quietly.

“Diego,” I sighed. “I know you think I don’t like you, but I do. I think you’re adorable. You’re smart, funny and a natural leader. You have so much potential!”

I shrugged my shoulders and continued as I knelt beside his desk on his eye level. “You are not a bad kid. But right now you are making bad choices. I can see the kind of man you could be, and I really want to see you reach your full potential. You are natural leader with a lot of power to do a lot of good in the world. But in order to do that, you need to start making better choices.”

To my surprise, Diego’s eyes started to water. He was tearing up, and I realized he probably had never been told by anyone that he had potential; that he had value and worth and power to do good in the world. So I went on, “It’s really up to you. I only have a few days left here, so it won’t affect me either way. But every day, you make choices that have consequences, and those can be good or bad consequences. I hope for your sake – and the world’s – you choose good.”

Diego just hung his head and wouldn’t make eye contact with me after that, so I left him alone, but he was surprisingly quiet the rest of the day.

The next morning, the class was working individually on a math worksheet, and – to my surprise – Diego raised his hand and asked for help understanding how to add fractions. He’d never expressed interest in learning before. Encouraged, I knelt by his desk and gently explained to him how to find common denominators so he could add (or subtract) fractions easily. I watched the lightbulb flash in his eyes as he “got” it, and he worked a few problems on his own to show me that he understood the concept.

Later that afternoon, some girls got in trouble for selling homemade “slime” (that ended up clogging the school toilets), and a lot of the kids – exposed to this entrepreneurial spirit for perhaps the first time – were trying to figure out how they could make some side money selling something at school. Diego came up to me and asked simply, “Will you give me five dollars?”

“Why would I give you five dollars?” I asked, not unkindly.

Diego looked thoughtful. “What if I gave you something?”

“Like what?” I asked, forcing him to think through what he was asking.

“Hmm… like a cake?” he suggested.

“That sounds nice,” I told him. “What kind of cake?”

He furrowed his brow, thinking hard. “Maybe chocolate or strawberry?”

I smiled. “Diego, if you bring me a chocolate cake tomorrow, I will give you five dollars.”

I had little to no expectation that the little man who’d given me so much trouble would actually follow through in baking a cake, but the next morning, Diego bounded into my room, beaming with delight he tried to hide a bit as he dashed up to me holding a little 9″x9″ foil pan.

“I brought it!” he exclaimed, and I peeled back the foil to see chocolate icing covering what looked like a homemade box cake.

I smiled at him and pulled a $5 from my wallet. “Here you go,” I told him. “You earned it!” His delight as he accepted the money made me smile all the more.

In retrospect, I probably couldn’t have done that exchange with Diego if I was a full-time teacher or if I hadn’t been about to leave that school campus, but I’m thankful for the way it worked out because not only did I finally make a meaningful, positive connection with a formerly disruptive student, but Diego also learned some important lessons about entrepreneurship, determination, and the power of our choices. He finally had someone show him tough love and believe in him for becoming more than he was.

The next day was my last day, and I had essentially no hope for a reconciliation with Victor, but even he surprised me. Early in the day, I kept Victor outside of the computer lab to talk with him before he went in. I gave him a similar speech to the one I’d given Diego, and like the other boy, Victor started to tear up. I don’t think either one had ever experienced a loving “I believe you for better” heart-to-heart. And at the end of that school day, Victor – the thorn in my side and bane of my existence – was the first to volunteer to stack chairs on the desks before recess. He picked up loose papers and helped me tidy up the classroom without being asked, and my heart was warmed by his transformation.

After a tough few weeks, God gave me two amazing reminders of why I’m going into teaching. It’s going to be hard but good. It’s going to be challenging but worth it. There are days I will want to cry in frustration, but I believe there will be great purpose and impact on individual lives. And that’s what I want to be about in this next year and in this next season of life.

A few weeks later, Seth and I were at dinner with some friends – old and new – and one of the new girls asked what I did for a living. After a few moments, we made the connection that she had formerly been a teacher at the elementary school where I’d subbed. “Oh my gosh! You’re THAT sub! I heard you did an amazing job, and all the teachers there want to have you back as the sub for their classrooms!”

I smiled and thanked her, storing up those words in my heart. As we drove away in his truck hours later, Seth turned to me and said with a squeeze of my hand, “Your reputation precedes you. I’m proud to have you by my side.”

I’m glad to be there. It’s nice to be appreciated.

Authentically Aurora

Life is Lived in the Grey

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I started going grey at 22. I remember standing in the bathroom of my college’s volleyball colosseum and cringing at the strands of metallic white hair I saw peeking through the rest of my dark brown locks. For years I plucked the hairs or just let them grow out, but this year – once I turned 30 – I decided to finally take action.

That first week I turned 30, I quit my corporate job, took off for four days to drive alone through the hill country, and scheduled an appointment with a new hairdresser to dye my hair for the first time ever. Anyone who didn’t know me would think I was going through a mid-life crisis, but Ashley and others knew the changes were a long time in coming.

The Colorist was a nice woman in her fifties – nice but not warm. Tall and slender with angular features and jet black hair, she came off as astute and knowledgeable as she talked me through my options. I’d planned on dying my hair outright, but once she understood that my priorities were hiding the grey and having low maintenance, she suggested highlights instead.

“Highlights will camouflage the grey hairs,” she explained to me, “though they will still be there. If you completely dye your hair, you’ll have to come in to have the roots touched up twice as often.”

“Okay, that makes sense. Thanks.” After her education, I decided to have highlights done, but I emphasized that I wanted them to look natural. “I don’t want big, chunky highlights.”

“Alright, I’ll give you more of a natural, sun-kissed look,” she agreed. She went to work, and in the meantime, I looked around her salon station, noting the trophies lined the counter. She was good at her job and had been at it for decades. The Colorist told me that working on “virgin hair” was her favorite, so getting to do my highlights was a special treat. We made some small talk, but not much, and when she was finished, she sent me off to have my hair blow-dried by a male hairdresser named Jonny.

Jonny was channeling Adam Lambert, circa 2009, complete with shaggy black hair, dark eyeliner and multiple rings on each hand. He seemed nice but frazzled, having misplaced his hairdryer. I thought that was odd, since he was a hairdresser junior enough that his primary job was blow-drying the hair of other hairstylists’ clients.

Once Jonny found his hairdryer,  he went to work on different sections of my hair, moving through them slowly – and then stopping completely when the back end of his newly-found hairdryer started to smoke. He turned it off and on, shaking it and then shaking his head in frustration. He turned it back on and continued to dry my hair, keeping a wary eye on his questionable equipment.

Having finally found his groove, Jonny started to make small talk with me. He asked if I was married, and when I told him I was dating Seth, he asked how we met. I told Jonny about church and meeting while teaching Sunday school.

Ever since starting to date Seth, I’ve had an easy gateway into talking with people about faith. Nobody wants to talk about God, but everybody wants to talk about my love life. Since Seth and I met at church, I can pretty easily bridge that gap into the typically taboo topic of faith.

Sure enough, Jonny latched on to the topic. “Wow. That is just the perfect story, isn’t it?” He was genuinely enthralled. “How cute is that?! You two are just perfect. She teaches girls Sunday school; he teaches boys Sunday school… It’s like a movie!”

Jonny and I got to talking more in depth, and I thanked God that I didn’t have anywhere to be. Every time we talked about something that really interested him, Jonny would turn off his blowdryer so that he could better hear me and make sure I heard his response in turn. As a result, it took him TWO HOURS to dry my hair. I was in the salon for three hours total – a trip that normally takes me less than half that time! But it was worth it.

Jonny obviously felt comfortable with me, because he asked me a lot of good questions about God and what I believe. “You’re supposed to love God with all that you are, right?” He asked. When I nodded, he went on, “But if you marry Seth, you seem like the kind of girl who would also want to give her husband 100%. I know you’re going to be a great wife. You are so pure and kind-hearted. But how can you, as a good Christian, give both God and your husband 100%?”

“That’s such a great question, Jonny. I’m glad you asked me.” I paused, trying to think how best to respond. “Jesus said that anything we do for others, we are doing for Him. When we love and serve other people, we are loving and serving God. God wants me to love my husband well, and – if I were to marry Seth – loving Seth would be a way of loving God. So the two aren’t mutually exclusive; they support one another.”

“Huh. I didn’t know that. I give food to homeless people all the time,” he told me, and I could tell he really wanted me to think he was a good person. “So am I doing that for God? Does that count?”

I smiled. At first, Jonny had been intentionally pushing my buttons, trying to see how judgmentally I’d respond when he flippantly told me about waking up next to his girlfriend or how cool it was to get to cut her hair when they showered together. But when I looked past those comments and just focused on the heart of the conversation, he started to open up more.

“That’s so great – I love that you have such a giving heart. I believe God gave you that generosity because the world desperately needs people like you. And it’s wonderful that you are helping the homeless. But God says that anything we do apart from Him is fruitless, so I’d say it comes back to motives. When you feed the homeless, are you doing it because you want to feel good about yourself or because you want to glorify God and do His work?”

Thinking about James 3, I added, “I think what you are doing is great, and you should keep doing it, but to go to heaven, we have to be in a right relationship with God, and to receive rewards in heaven for what we’ve done, we have to check our motives and abide in God.”

Jonny nodded thoughtfully. “Okay. That’s good. Maybe I can change my mindset and motives.” He finished up drying my hair and asked delicately, “Um, when you had your hair cut last, did you by chance come in on a Saturday?”

I blinked, surprised. “Yes. Why?”

“Well… sometimes our hairdressers are rushed on Saturdays, and it looks like some of your layering is off. Did you have it cut here?”

I nodded, and Jonny continued, “Then I should see a certain technique.”

He lifted the ends of my hair with a comb, shaking his head. Then he glanced around furtively. “I’ll fix it for you. No charge.” He smiled at me. “I like you.”

I smiled back. “Thanks, Jonny. I like you, too.”

Authentically Aurora