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Dreams of dreams

Last week I spent my writing energy on preparing my portfolio for an application to the Master of Fine Arts Creative Writing Program at the University of New Mexico.  I had been shaken by my reawakened love for teaching.  After years of setting my sights on the writing life, I was distracted by the thought (again) that I need to be “practical.”  Practicality is a good thing.  How had I come back to the idea that pursuing my vision passion and were not practical?

I had gone through many iterations of the argument: I love being in the classroom, and feeling like I could just as well work on a Master’s Degree in Education.  That will undoubtedly require some writing!   Teaching 5th grade pays more than a teaching assistantship. Besides, if I need an MFA I can do it later.

But I felt so sad thinking that “practical” way.  It seemed sensible.  But I kept having dreams that disturbed me.  Romantic interests from my long lost past would appear, and I would give my life to return to them.  Night after night: the one I let go so we could become the good friends we are today; the crush I had at 14, who I thankfully never had so I didn’t need to let go.  I knew these dreams weren’t about romance.  I knew there was a message from my subconscious: Don’t give up your love.  When I connected it to my dream for an MFA everything fell into place.  I can apply.  I don’t know if I will be accepted.  I don’t know if I’ll be offered an assistantship.  And I haven’t even explored the option of continuing to teach 5th grade while I do my coursework.  So I put the application in.  I am not letting my love go.

And goodness knows I gaining a whole lot by learning from my students.  I already have volumes to write about from our time together.  I will share some of those experiences next time.  In the meantime, I’ll just bask in the glow of the knowledge that I haven’t given up on my dream.

Leading with Love

It’s so easy to forget.  We get busy, or lazy or overwhelmed, and we forget to treat every human being as if they mattered.

We made an essential agreement in our classroom.  It focused on two areas: how we treat each other and how we treat our environment.  I had little time to think about or research this exercise, and now I realize we missed a huge, important chunk about how we would approach learning.  Something to consider in next week’s planning.  But I am really glad we spent so much time on those two.  As I mentioned in my earlier post, respect became a hallmark of the discussion, and remains an important touch-point throughout our day.  Love has an important place in the classroom, too.  That is going to be the theme of my week.  Let’s see how it works out…

It’s been a long day.  I need a shower.  I’m exhausted and cranky with my children.  I don’t have much brain power, but I’ve committed to writing here.  So here I am.  And I am here because I have said for years that I am a writer.  Years, I’ve said it.  For many of them I actually wrote daily.  But it’s been months since I’ve written regularly, and I’ve felt the drought.  A big part of my recent employment drama had to do with that, I think.

In my last job, I had nothing to give to the page at the end of the day, no energy, no spirit, no love.  I was really concerned about that because I wanted to start my Masters in Fine Arts next fall, and couldn’t imagine working on it while I had that job.   I began to pray a most potent prayer (the Tablet of Ahmad, for those who are familiar), chanting it in the morning.  The third day I did that, my boss invited me into her office that afternoon and “released me from my employment during my probationary period.”  There had been very little warning, just some counseling to improve the accuracy of the 5% of my work that I did for her.  The rest of my 30 or so colleagues went ballistic because I had become a valuable member of the team.  Why it actually happened is fodder for the gossip mills of some other life.

After I left her office, I went into the bathroom, looked up to the heavens and said, “Really?  This is how You answer me?”

I was stunned.  Confused.  Later I was angry, and depressed.  And less than a week later, my friend asked me (after I told him I had lost my job), “Do you teach?”

It fell into my lap, this job.  Fell from where but the heavens?  And now I sit and write at nearly 10pm, when I have to leave the house before 7am tomorrow with a lesson plan in my hand.  I really need a shower, but I am writing because finally I have a life that demands that I write about it.  I want to say that I had a pretty good day in the classroom today.  I’m teaching my students about fractions and about blogging.  And they are going to blog about learning fractions in the disguise of writing about their experience in a “Spend a $1 Million” exercise which had them converting dollars to decimals to percent and to fractions.  I cannot tell you how amazing it was to see these 5th graders so engaged in learning, so excited about it.  And I cannot NOT write.  David Truss, if you’re out there listening, I want to know that I’m teaching math.  I want you to know I’m writing about it.  And to all of you who have ever encouraged me, either in my writing or my teaching, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.  Because I love it.

I’m going to go take a shower now.  Good night!

Honeymoon phase?

“Bye Ms.  Giebitz!” a student called to me as he walked towards his father’s car.  He had just said, “Ms. Giebitz, you’re the best teacher in the whole world.  You’re as good as…as good as…Mr. XXX [my predecessor]!”

Talk about heaven!  These kids loved their former teacher.  This student was one of his favorites, according to my co-teacher.  I can get no higher praise than that.  He is a teacher with decades of experience who really knows his stuff.

This may be a honeymoon phase.  It made fade over time as we grow accustomed to each other, and I may feel dejected some day.  But today was a good day.

When I taught in China, when my students got “accustomed” to me, if it can be called that, they were still hesitant to engage, to speak their minds, to think for themselves sometimes.  But my students here are like cactus in the desert during a summer rain.  They soak it up and blossom in the most beautiful ways. They engage, lights turn on.

Sometimes they engage and hit a wall.  One student cried on my shoulder when the “Spend $1 Million” exercise proved far more difficult than she intended.  (A group of 4 or 5 students decide how to spend $1 Million together. The exercise helps the students translate between fractions, decimals and percentages, and to articulate their reasoning behind the groups’ decisions.)  The instructions were to only buy four to five really big things (a house, a car, etc.)  Their whiteboard had 10 items on it.  The math had become extremely difficult.  She thought the most important thing was to get it right, and to keep up with the other groups.  I tried to reassure her that she was doing exactly what she needed to do: learn.

I think I’m starting to get the hang of this teaching thing.  I know I’m starting to love it.

Will teaching make me a better person?  This evening I noticed that I was more patient with my own children.  I don’t seem to loose patience in the classroom, which seems like a bit of a miracle considering how easy it is to loose patience in my home.  I was reflecting on moments in the last few months where I have had to remove myself from the room just to calm down, usually after a long day at my old job.  I was mentally exhausted by work that I didn’t find all that meaningful, though I enjoyed working with my colleagues and believed in our mission.  Perhaps meaningful work is the key.

I’ve been in my classroom for two days now, and I feel like I’m making a difference in those kids’ lives.  I feel like they are beginning to get that there is one more person in the world that really cares about them.  I feel if I make a smidgeon of headway in helping someone  understand fractions or their digital footprint I’ve changed their lives forever.  What a priviledge!

Perhaps spending my day doing that with young people reminds me that my own young ones are also precious, and deserve every bit of loving, patient care that I can give them.  If that is the case I am grateful more than I can say.   I can’t excuse my impatience in the past by blaming it on job stress, but it does help me understand the difference in my after-work attitude at home.  I feel better, even though I am exhausted and a bit overwhelmed by the amount of work there is  just to get ready to walk into a classroom. I hope this is a trend, and that it continues.  Because I like myself just a little bit more at the end of the day, and that ain’t half bad.

I came home today and fell into our bed and slept until dinner time.  I am so blessed with a husband who remembers to plug in the slow cooker and makes an awesome sautéed snow peas and garlic!  But what a day…

I greeted my students as they arrived today, introducing myself and asking their names as I shook their hands.  They were all friendly, and I think it set a good tone of respect.  Respect became the theme of the day.

We started out by doing a Learner Profile Reflection.  The students rated themselves as to how they feel they show those qualities.  We then made table tents to help me remember their names.  I had them pass around their table tents to each student.  Each one wrote a positive quality they appreciated in that student from a list they had generated at the end of the last semester.  It took a lot longer then I thought it would because I didn’t have a good method of tracking who had written on whose table tent.  “Plan better” is the lesson.

Later in the morning we focused on creating our Essential Agreement, which I called “2.0” because I am taking over for a teacher who left before the winter break.  The students needed to have the idea that I am a different teacher and a different person reinforced, so we are updating the agreement to be between us.  They identified “respect” as one of the most important things to include as part of “how we treat each other.”  Throughout the day, I found myself asking them “Are we using respect as we listen to Janey?” or saying, “Sam, was what you just said respectful?”  They were so responsive to this!  They immediately took responsibility for showing respect, and changed their behavior.  So maybe it only last for 30 seconds, but they remained responsive throughout the day to that reminder.  I am in awe!  These students are so brave to take on a new teacher and a new environment, and to respond so well.

My main lead-learner lesson for the day was, “PLAN BETTER!”  I had planned for an hour of computer lab time, and didn’t get to the media arts center in time to sign up for the slot I planned.  So…a whole hour, I had to make up on on the spot.  It worked out well, thanks to National Geographic Explorer.  The students had been eager to read the January issue, so we did that instead.  Now I’m somewhat terrified that I don’t have the reading and writing materials I need to plan for the next week yet, so I have to do that in some kind of miraculous way in the 45 minute planning time I’ve got tomorrow, plus make photo copies for the math units we’re working on.

I knew there was a reason I resisted becoming a teacher for all those years.  This is exhausting and difficult!  But, dang… Maybe it sounds cliche, but the kids make it worth it.  They were shocked when I told them they were important to the world.  Some seem already so jaded and disillusioned, so beaten down.  I want them to know I mean it.  I want them to know they are “mines rich in gems of inestimable value.”  If just one of them gets the idea that there’s diamonds inside of them, it’s worth the exhaustion.

children looking upAt least I hope I’m brave enough to face kids in a classroom.  I’ve been through a bit of…stuff…since my last post.  Quick re-cap:  After a working at the local university for a short time, I was hired by The International School at Mesa Del Sol to teach 5th grade in December.  This is an IB World School, so I’ll be integrating subjects within the context of a global perspective.  Exciting stuff. Can’t wait to see what happens!

One thing I am committed to is learning through this blog.  I plan to write a bit each day.  It may end up being, “Oh my, what have I gotten myself into?” on occasion, but I hope it will become a place of discussion.  I will share what I am learning, and hopefully you will share what you have learned during your IB journey.

Tomorrow is my first day in the classroom.  I will get to know the kids a little, and we’ll start on a path towards the Exhibition.  This community event at the end of the semester will share what the students have discovered about themselves and the world through the Primary Years Programme, and has prepared them to move into the Middle Years Programme. 

Wish me luck!

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