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.


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


The Long Winter

This winter was harsh here. Like a trauma, it had to pass before I could write about it.

I took pictures. School was cancelled a lot. I spent many hours gripping my steering wheel and inching across slick roads. I lost sight of bare pavement for months.

Mostly I hid under the covers, wrapped in my red sheets, and watched the days slide by – world soft & white or wet & dark.

Discontent settled in around me, like dust on shelves. I didn’t brush it off. I wrote my name in it, on every filthy surface.

Spring came, and we got drunk on the rain and the excess warm air. Neighbors stumbled out of their doors, to shed layers, draw on the sidewalk with chalk, shout up the street, ride bikes, to sing or shoot guns, somewhere far away.

For me the dates on the calendar are pointed inward. Square boxes become curved lenses, and inside I am still disastrous. Fairy lights reflected in puddles are burning cities, for no good reason. If there’s nothing to flee, I lose direction.

This is nothing new – this is the same every year. Ice to mud to green. I relearn everything, every time.


the long winter - 01

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Tracing shapes with the spaces around them

(Santiago – less of a destination than a pause along the way.)

This is not me catching up on my 365 project. (I do have photos… un montón! Soon!)

This is not a description of the Camino, of the End of the World and monumental shifts, of transatlantic flights and preparations for a new job.

This is not a collection of the sights and sounds and smells that are floating around my headspace, both more vivid and more distant now that I am back in more familiar scenery (which in itself has become both vivid and distant.)

This is a reminder to myself:

Of how at the time your feet hurt, or sweat was dripping into your eyes, or something was grating or distracting, or the past surfaced like gold mist or a greasy oilslick, or there was just something more exciting just on the horizon or next week or in a few months. How like artists working with charcoal, we look at the spaces around bodies – making shapes by filling in the empty spaces, by shading in the things that are missing.

I was dreading leaving Spain and coming “home.” I had trouble imagining myself falling back into the once familiar routines: driving, alarm clocks, expensive vegetables.

Now I am home and I remember what it’s like to run into familiar faces on the street, to have so many friends show up at the bar that we have to push seven tables together, to go home to my parents’ house for dinner. I don’t feel as displaced as I thought – on the contrary, I feel as though the past year of my life didn’t exist – just a vague recollection of blue skies and old stone, fading into Midwestern cloudcover. I am sad to watch it recede behind me, but I am also looking into the future with a lot of hope – a new job, new students, a house with gardens and a fantastic kitchen, shared meals and wine on autumn porches, a wedding sometime next summer.

But this is not about the past or the future – this is about the present. I don’t want to feel wistful later about how I was too wistful now, losing hold of these handfuls of days.

So for now I am living out of suitcases for a few more weeks, sleeping in the freshly painted nursery of one of my oldest friends while she is growing a new little person inside of her. I am waking up by myself to much needed rain on the window. I am drinking beers with people whose faces I missed, and speaking in my native language. I am making budgets and picking up side photography jobs. I am sketching out the skeletons of lesson plans. I am savoring one more week of sleeping in. I don’t know if I’m home yet, but I am content.


Another cop out photo? No. (Yes. Maybe.)

More importantly, this was the means of finding out some very important news.

I had a phone interview with a school in Detroit today. Due to many technical difficulties I couldn’t take it via my internet number at home, and had to retreat to a locutorio with a shaky phone line and a woman screaming in the booth next to me. However, after several attempts to reconnect, I had a positive and encouraging interview with the administrative team, and went back home feeling hopeful. 15 minutes later I got a call from headquarters, offering me the job. (It’s the least amount of anxious waiting I’ve ever had to endure after an interview… and I am an expert at anxious waiting.)

This is a charter school system I’ve applied to and interviewed with before, and from what I’ve seen of their other schools and from my conversation with the administration, I think this may be the positive school environment I have been dreaming about. What’s more, they offer 50% tuition assistance so I can finish my masters… and the school is in the same part of Detroit where one of my best friends teaches Spanish.

Oh, Comely

Yesterday during our prep hour my coteacher and I were distracted by photos and footage trickling over from Japan. The tragedy hasn’t hit close enough to be personal – the Japanese student I worked with last year emailed me back right away to reassure me – but even secondhand the destruction is beyond comprehension.

At the end of the school day I left the apocalyptic news stories and went to a staff meeting where we were informed of a pay cut for all teachers at my school. We lost all retirement benefits a few months ago, and two staff members were laid off abruptly, and along with the current pay cut we were given a dire picture of what might happen next year, if the state-wide funding gets slashed as promised.


Things are looking dire here in the ol Dirty Glove.

I’ve certainly toyed with the idea of moving away from my home state, but I always thought it would be by choice and not by necessity. As rough as things have been for years, this is the first time I have felt despair for my state. Even if I can make a living here, I am not sure if I’d want to stay and raise a family here. There is still a good chance I’ll be teaching in Spain for the coming school year (keep yer fingers crossed!) but I’m apprehensive about what I’ll be coming home to.

The uncertainty and anxiety of current events at home and abroad has made me cranky at times, and this week my students have been the (mostly) innocent victims. I apologized to my middle schoolers for snapping at them yesterday. More than anything I want to be strong and loving to my kids, because lord knows it’s hard enough for us adults to remain hopeful and feeling secure.

When you come down to it, I am alive and well – I can still pay rent and pay my bills, and no amount of pay cuts can devalue my good fortune. My family is alive, my home is intact, my city is not on fire or submerged or steeped in radiation. I am forging on into my (underpaid/overworked) career that I care deeply about.

So on a much happier note, some of the things that have been making me smile – and things which will have to make up for where my pay check is lacking:

Señorita es bonita, muy baja, y muy muy vieja. (8th grader)

I’m sorry I was on the floor in soup. (Apology from a penitent 2nd grader)

Kindness = Vulture letting hyena share carrion. (Definition from a 4th grader)

On Ash Wednesday they celebrate Thanks-Giving-Up! (Clever 4th grader)

Llamas are stronger than people, and the police. (Concerned Kindergartner)

You mean Mexicans’ booty holes don’t be on fire?? (A 7th grader’s musings on tolerance for spicy foods – more hilarious because it was such a genuine inquiry)

Um, I think this music is too funky for school. (4th grade music critic)

I like smelling his hair because it smells like cupcakes. (Kindergartner with major friend-crush on a classmate)

Kindergartner: Why do so many things have patterns?
Me: Like what?
Kid: Like bees… and giraffes… and zebras…
Other kid: And black ‘n’ yellow, black ‘n’ yellow!

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