Year Eight: Growth vs. Grit

A new home.
Yesterday I lay on the floor of the lunch room at school and surveyed my eight years of teaching from that angle. On a floor or flat on my face can feel like the right perspective for this expanse of time. I remember lying on the floor of my empty apartment, my first year of teaching and my first year of living by myself. I remember sleeping on the floor of my first classroom, trying to gather myself together for a long commute home in the snow. I remember sunnier afternoons in Spain, where two other teachers and I lay out mats on the floor in the music room on during afternoon siestas, for un poquito de relax.

Eight years brings me here to San Diego, where we finished our two weeks of teacher prep with an hour of yoga together. Stretching and moving and lying still among a big group of my coworkers was good. For some reason I think it helped get me into an emotional place where I can actually reflect on my school year, which I try to do each summer. Maybe the equivalent of mental stretching.

As a not-new-anymore teacher, I keep checking my pulse: Am I growing or am I just surviving? The end of last year was hard because I didn’t know if I was doing either. It was an exhausting year, and the exhausted end of the year is not the best place to recognize growth. In the midst of growing pains is also not the best place to recognize growth, and there were a lot of growing pains (both as a school and as a teacher.)

And now… I’m here, and I’ve grown. So here I am with some wordy lists and some listy words (because that’s just me.) Read more of this post

Permeations

Summer! For the last few months I was completely erased by work, and as soon as I emerged and found the bits of my life again it was to take it all apart and put it into boxes.

Now there’s a new apartment in the same new city, open windows and walls that feel permeable, air that feels heavy and skin rubbed thin, borders crossed alone and familiar flight paths overhead.

Last summer was quiet and I had too much time to think. This summer is filled with voices and plans and radio waves and the moments of stillness have been rare. I’ve been teaching a bit (but not Spanish) and meeting new people (in Spanish) and meeting old friends in new places (in Hungarian & Croatian, but without remembering any.)

I’m shelving books by color instead of by contents and writing/remembering/thinking in pictures rather than words (again.)

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Vuelos

I don’t write and take pictures anymore, other than the small pieces that fit through the screen of a smartphone. So it’s March and I am just now looking through the photos I took in December, when we went back to Michigan for the holidays. Winter in Michigan is probably what I miss the least, but I do miss the people there, and the colors that are so bright and surprising in the middle of gray days.

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Gratitude

It was a quiet Thanksgiving here in our little apartment. I spent the morning drinking coffee and going through a massive amount of photos from the past six months, and the afternoon video chatting with family back in Michigan. I’ve definitely appreciated the space to breathe this week – we’ve spent so many of our breaks and even weekends out of town.

I’m not feeling particularly festive this year. It may be as small as the tragic combination of PMS and a bad haircut. (Not to be underestimated!) It may be the startled realization that it’s been over a year since we moved across the country, and that so little has changed (other than the steady trickle of bank accounts emptying into cross-country flights.) It may be that this Michigan girl still can’t reconcile the disconnect of a California Christmas, with snowflakes pinned to palm trees. More than that, it’s other contrasts: A colonizer’s holiday is celebrated in a country where having the wrong skin color can (still) be fatal. Messages of peace and goodwill decorate doors that are closed to refugees and to neighbors who worship the wrong way. People celebrate the holidays with death-defying consumerism, rushing into stores where employees can’t make a living wage but can be trampled to death.

Gratitude is important, however. It’s one small way to fight the discontent and greed and hate. I feel that I often write about gratitude, both here and elsewhere. For me, it’s the only antidote to the absolutely  human capacity for discontent.

This year I’m thankful:

  • for this still-new city, with its many beauties – both obvious and hidden
  • for my husband, who for eight years has been my adventure partner, and who more recently has become a very good cook
  • for that cat who we love despite it all
  • for friends both old and new, both near and far
  • for technology that allows us to connect with our loved ones even from far away
  • for new nephews and new sisters-in-law
  • for weddings and the chances to go to them, even from across the country
  • for my job and the chance to work hard for something I care about, with wonderful students, families, and staff
  • for the chances I’ve had to connect with others in a positive ways – my own students, exchange students, youth volunteers and children in Mexico
  • for the opportunities and the connections I’ve made via the Spanish language
  • for (oddly enough) the chance to participate in our justice system by serving on a jury
  • for health, freedom, food on the table, and a roof over my head
  • for photos to fill in the spaces when words fail me:

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Seven Years Treading Water

I just* finished my seventh year of teaching.

I’ve gotten in the habit of taking time each summer to to reflect on the school year. It’s been valuable to look back and see growth in myself. I would encourage any new teacher to journal through their first year (at the very least) just so that later on, when things feel particularly crazy, you can look back on the craziest times to see just how far you’ve come. (That’s also why Educating Esme was an important read during my first years of teaching.)

*Normally I do this before the end of August, but not this year. Still… it’s important to look back, even as I am already looking forward and planning for the coming year.

I’ve been at four different schools now, including my one year in Spain, and the longest I was at one school was three years, so my experience of teaching has been a string of fresh starts. Even within those short stints at each school, being a Specials teacher has also has been an endless cycle of fresh starts and a fair amount of flailing.

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Here’s to more than just survival.

This year brought yet another new school, yet another fresh start, and new lessons to learn: Read more of this post

La Sara en México

Mexicali 2015During Spring break this year, I spent a week in Mexicali, Mexico, interpreting for a mission team from Michigan. I went on the same mission trip two years ago, after arranging a photo show in a venue attached to the church. (We flew into San Diego, and apparently the one full day I spent there was convincing enough to move later on!) Living in a large camp with many other youth groups from around the U.S., we shared daily meals and devotions before heading out to various assignments at churches and charitable organizations. I was with a group that was running a bible camp at a local church. It was the same church I worked with two years ago, so it was good to see familiar faces. We had daily bible stories that the kids acted out, crafts, memory verses, and lots of time just to play with them. Read more of this post

Desert Colors in Anza-Borrego

We drove out on a long weekend to go camping in the Anza-Borrego State Park. Everything was vast – the sky, the mountains, the press of the sun during the day, the press of the silence at night. I sneezed a lot and only ran into one cactus.

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Marking Time

Over the holidays we flew back to Michigan twice. It was very fast… everything moved fast. It was easy to slide smoothly back into familiar places – but not quite. It was cold. We slept in basements, went to bars, held new little people entering the world, hugged people leaving it.

We flew back and abruptly reentered life here. (Crisscross of flight paths, trains, freeways, skyline, port. Cloudy mornings and afternoon sunlight. Tracing the same brief concrete arcs of road. Long days and enough sleep.) It’s my first California winter, which is not what I am used to, but I’ve retained the ability to hibernate. Still listening more than I’m talking, reading more than I’m writing, looking more than capturing, holding onto more than sharing.

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markingtime04markingtime09 Read more of this post

Adjustments

SD12Starting a new job at a new school in a new city is familiar to me, and in many ways moving across the country feels a little like moving to a new country. After a few months, things start to shift and click. I am getting to know the concrete curves of clean light under clear skies on the way to work, and the sun turning the city gold every afternoon as it sets. Routines have begun to settle in place. I miss Michigan faces (family, friends, my old coworkers and students) but I don’t miss the hours of driving or taking naps in parking lots. I’ve replaced the hours of commuting with actual productivity. I do miss Michigan autumn, but here a different flavor of autumn has arrived slowly. Afternoons are still sunny and hot, in between cloudy mornings and cool evenings. Even on hot afternoons at school a strong breeze blows up from the ocean.

Earlier this year, in the final and more desperate stages of job searching, I was applying for anything I could find. The decision to take this job was hurried in many ways – my phone interview from my car at the side of the road in Detroit, in the middle of sirens and thunderstorms, and the decision to accept the job offer after only a few hours of weighing it against the job in the Bay Area that I had already accepted. In the end, it was almost on accident that I found almost everything I could have asked for in a teaching job. I think this is a school that will allow me to actually teach, and that will allow me to grow as a teacher. My days are not any shorter, and my much-appreciated prep time has quickly been filled with new responsibilities. But I don’t have the feeling I’ve had for the last few years, of being stretched impossibly thin without much to show for it. And a few months in, time has shifted and expanded. Some days I am surprised to find how much has fit into a handful of hours or even minutes.

I still need to learn how to leave room for myself. I am beginning to learn how to do that, now that it actually feels possible. I have a lunch break now, and I even bring lunch every day, though I’m not very good at eating it and sometimes one lunch will last several days because I keep running out of time to eat more than a few bites. Without my crazy commute, I’ve found time for some coveted moments of reading. (I started reading some books I loved as a teenager, which is wonderful except for when I found myself becoming a little too connected to my teenage self and her emotions, and began biting my nails.)

This week was probably the most exhausting, with parent teacher conferences. Between condensed teaching schedules, meeting with parents, translating conferences for Spanish-speaking families, and helping to run after school activities, I often had two or three commitments stacked up on top of each other, and planned my day in 5 minute blocks that didn’t leave much time for food or sitting down or breathing. However, after so many conversations with students and families I already feel more involved and more invested. I finished the week by chaperoning the middle school dance, and seeing some of my most reserved or least engaged students break dancing or just flailing around on the dance floor. I came home so tired that I almost fell asleep with my face on the table, as my long-suffering husband got dinner out of the oven. Next Monday, however, I think I will walk into each classroom feeling a little more ready to connect with each of my students.

My words feel a little scattered (overspent on translations and doled out in lessons) so how about some pictures?

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Distances Crossed

(You might be suspicious that I am sorting through and posting photos more than once every couple of months. What are you avoiding, you might ask? Wrapping up progress reports – that’s what.)

When moving from Michigan to California, we contemplated various methods to get two adults, two cars, one cat, some furniture, and lots of boxes across the country. In the end, we decided to sell one car and tow the other behind a moving truck.

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This involved a very long drive, a very sad cat, some terrifying mountain driving, and the limited food options available when one is tied to a very big truck and a very sad cat. (The notable exception was staying with my sister in Kansas City, and eating fresh vegetables from her garden.) However, I am glad we did this rather than flying out and shipping things. One of the things I appreciated about walking the Camino was the concrete nature of spaces traveled: seeing the hills in front of you as you climb, and the towns you have passed through behind you in the distance. Moving away from our home state has been a big transition, and airplanes still feel too much like magic. (Eyelids close and open to new cities and new climates, spread out below you beneath glass.)

I needed 2000 miles to feel like 2000 miles, and to see the scenery change as we crossed the country to the West Coast: The rain and red-touched leaves of Michigan turning to Illinois fields, Missouri corn, flat empty expanses of Kansas and Oklahoma, the hulking farm equipment of Texas, the vibrant colors of New Mexico, the mountains flattening out into desert in Arizona, and the final sunset over the hills of California, waiting for the coast. We also got to visit family along the way – my sister and brother-in-law in Kansas City, and my husband’s grandparents in Phoenix.

Now those long hours and distances have shrunk back onto a map, and some images seen through a dirty windshield.

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Just over the last hill

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