Servant Leadership (Part I)

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The past two months have been an absolute whirlwind. Not only am I a first year teacher, but I am also the only one at my school teaching 7th grade Pre-AP math. The prior teacher “is no longer with the district” and left none of her material, so I am having to develop all of my own lesson plans, including quizzes, tests, and differentiation activities for my students at different learning levels. I have duty before and after school twice a week, I am coaching the school’s math club, and the choir director found out I was a three-time All State Choir member, so on Thursdays I am using my conference period to do voice lessons for our choir girls.

I spend my weekends grading papers and attending mandatory GT workshops where I spend 8 hours of my Saturday learning about how to better reach my Gifted & Talented students. Though normally a neat freak, my state of my apartment has devolved into one of barely controlled chaos. I no longer sort my laundry by color, I actually leave dishes in the sink, and I can’t remember the last time I did a deep clean of my kitchen or bathroom.

I used to cook dinner for Seth about once a week, but these days, he usually gets to my apartment before I do and either has dinner cooking or has brought over take-out (which I then pack as my lunch for the next day).

This first year of teaching has been the most chaotic, involved and stressful of any job I’ve ever had, but it’s also been the most rewarding. More on that later. But suffice it to say, I haven’t felt like I’ve been a great girlfriend lately, and I tell Seth all the time, “I want to do something for you. Do you want me to try to get to the grocery store to make dinner tonight? Do you want to go for a bike ride after work? We used to do that all the time. Could I give you a back rub?” I want to do something! Seth has been selflessly serving me and patiently holding this relationship together while I try to keep my head above water. But he always just smiles (I can hear his smile over the phone) and tells me he’ll take care of everything. And he does.

The one thing I’ve been able to offer our relationship the past two months is gratefulness. I notice and appreciate everything Seth has been doing for me, from the big things (grocery shopping and cooking dinner) to the little things (picking up a dead roach in the front entryway). He even scrubbed the toilet bowl at my place a couple of weeks ago. He is so selfless and kind and loving, and he does it all joyfully, which has stirred my heart to love him all the more.

In the midst of my nonstop schedule, my friend Emma texted me and asked if I was up for a girls’ weekend trip. She’s a 9th grade math teacher, and her roommate also works in education, so they get it. And they suggested that the three of us take a mid-semester break to recharge. I was so excited and relieved at the thought of a break that I even agreed to give up a precious vacation day to take off Friday so we could make it a three-day weekend.

Seth and I attend bible study on Wednesday nights, and last week as we were walking back to our cars after bible study, Seth asked, “Could I come over and make you breakfast on Friday morning? You’re going to be gone all weekend, and it would be nice to see each other before you’re gone for three days.”

It was a sweet offer, and I wanted to see him, but he’s been doing so much for me lately that I felt a bit guilty at the thought of him doing one more thing to serve me. “I’d love to see you! But you don’t have to make me breakfast.”

“I want to.” He smiled.

I did like the thought of having a homemade breakfast together. And it would be nice to have some quiet time together before I left on my girls’ trip. “You really don’t mind?” I asked.

He wrapped his arms around my waist and gave me a gentle kiss. “It would be my joy.”

So I packed Thursday night and looked forward to not only my girls’ weekend but also some quality time with my sweetheart.

Authentically Aurora

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Building Character, Not Just Academics

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On my very first day of teaching EVER, I invited my students into the classroom and instructed them to write on the board in response to three prompts:

  1. What are your expectations of me as your teacher?
  2. What are your expectations of each other as classmates?
  3. What are your expectations of yourself this year in my class?

After about five minutes I had everyone sit down, and we reviewed their responses as a class. These would become our social contract for the year.

In each of my six class periods, I was largely pleased with their responses. Some students wrote a teacher expectation of “no homework” and the like, but for the most part, I saw phrases like “be patient with us” and “be kind, not mean”. Against such things there is no law.

However, in second period when I asked, “Is there anything else anyone wants to add that they may not have written up on the board?”, a large, dark-haired boy in the front row raised his hand.

“Yes…” I checked my seating chart, “…Art?”

His brows drew together angrily. “One of my expectations of you as our teacher is that you get kids out of here who don’t deserve to be in this class.”

The previously silent classroom seemed to get even quieter. Perhaps I had heard wrong. “Excuse me, what?”

He repeated himself. “Like those two.” He pointed down the row at two smaller boys, Ernie and Kevin. “They’re not smart enough to be in Pre-AP, but their parents put them in here anyway. You should kick them out of your advanced math class or they’ll hold back the whole class.”

Stunned, it was purely by the grace of God that I managed a reasonable response. “Well, Art, that leads us nicely into our next topic, which is ‘Expectations of Each Other as Classmates’. You’ll see all over this board words like ‘kind’ and ‘respectful’.” I looked pointedly at him. “So we’re not going to have any more comments like that in my classroom. Is that understood?”

Art stayed behind after class. He told me again his concerns. Totally flabbergasted at his blatant arrogance and prejudice, I suggested, “You know, Art, I’m happy to have you come alongside me as the teacher and help tutor some of these other students if they need to be brought up to speed. Instead of tearing down our classmates, let’s work together to build them up, okay?”

Art laughed – a hardened, angry laugh. “They’re beyond help.” And he walked out of my room.

Yesterday I gave my first test of the year, and I marveled as I graded the papers from second period. The high-and-mighty Art only got 20% right. And little Ernie got an 80%.

Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall. -Proverbs 16:18

Authentically Aurora

First Day of School

86acaaff3d8bc7a4ebcfbf6e78ae9bfd--first-day-of-school-tot-schoolToday – my first day of teaching – started out great. I woke up a couple of hours early, brewed myself some coffee, and read through a few chapters of Hebrews while listening to “Wonder” by Bethel on repeat. It was a slow, peaceful morning of getting in the right headspace to start my teaching career.

I prayed for my day, gathered up my bags, and walked to the backdoor where I was greeted by a cockroach on its back with its legs still twitching. I just got creeped-out chills even typing about it. It’s still alive and just got flipped over. Gross. After a quick kiss, that will be Seth’s first order of business when he comes to visit later.

Remembering that I should do a “first day of school” picture, I decided to go out my front door to take a selfie in front of the door. I’m not a big fan of selfies, but I didn’t have anyone to take my photo, so I stepped outside to do it myself… and was greeted by a black cat walking right across my sidewalk.

First, a roach; next, a black cat; then around 2pm, the sky went dark! …Okay, so the solar eclipse didn’t actually have anything to do with my first day of teaching, but it made for a good third ominous omen. In actuality, the third creepy thing about today was coming home to an unlocked door. I thought for a second that maybe Seth had let himself in with my spare key, but then I realized that between the roach and the first day photo out front – for the first time in years – I forgot to lock the door behind me! Fortunately nothing was taken, but it was still strange walking in to my unlocked apartment.

School was good. Most of my classes are good. I’m exhausted. There’s so much I could write, but my legs hurt from standing, and my throat is sore from talking, and I really just want to go drink a cup of hot tea with honey, curl up on the couch and read or watch Netflix.

So for now, I’ll simply say: 1st & 3rd period are AWESOME! I have some fellow Harry Potter fans in there, and they think I’m a pretty cool teacher because above my door on the way out, I have this sign:

Mischief Managed

In 2nd period, I had to get ISS involved. On the first day of school. That’s a story for another day. And 7th period is super chatty! I will definitely have to draw up a strict seating chart for them. 4th is my conference period (long lunch – whoop!), and 5th and 6th are not really notable at this point. More to come. Stay tuned.

Authentically Exhausted Aurora

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