May 26, 2014

Teacher Musings - What I'll Miss, and What I Won't

I suppose it's high time that I post a bit about being a teacher now that it is nearly the end of May... sheesh, when did that happen?!

The school year is winding down, and it will come to a screeching halt in a matter of days. We have six school days left, and then I will officially be on summer break! I'm telling you, this break cannot come soon enough. If it wasn't for this Memorial Day holiday, I might have lost a little bit of my sanity, because my brain is definitely already on summer vacation. Oh, the tricks your mind can play!

As more and more people are releasing for summer, people keep asking me several questions:
1) Are you done with school?
2) Will you miss your kids?
3) What are you doing next year (since the school is closing)?

While the first question has already been addressed, the other two need a bit of explaining. I never really have a problem with being blatantly honest about things, which sometimes gets me into trouble, so I apologize if any of this sounds harsh - it's just coming straight out of the horse's mouth, and there's no sense in beating around the bush. (That's a lot of idioms for one sentence...)

Will I miss my kids? If I'm being completely honest... YES, of course I will miss them. It might not be a week after school is over, but I'm sure that I will miss them when my new batch of kids are driving me bonkers for whatever reason they so choose.

In the beginning of the semester, my 8th graders were my saving grace because they didn't need as much from me; my 6th graders were driving me absolutely insane because, well, they pretty much are insane at that age. Now, the complete opposite is true for me: my 8th graders drive me nuts because - let's face it - they're ego-centric jerks that couldn't care less about school, or anything aside from themselves for that matter; my 6th graders have completely stolen my heart, and they have won me over with their enthusiasm, curiosity, and willingness to learn (most of the time).

My 6th graders have made the shift of not wanting to work for me at all to basically doing whatever I ask them to do. There are exceptions, of course, but the majority of my little minions are willing to work very hard if I ask them to, which I do on a very regular basis. That has NOT been the norm for them, so making that shift is a really big deal. My 8th graders, on the other hand, started out not wanting to work, and have basically continued to do so; they had a good month or so after spring break, but then the "senioritis of middle school" set in. Hence, the majority of them couldn't care less about their grade in my class (which was shown by the lack of effort put into their final projects; my 6th graders ROCKED theirs... hence the picture below).

I should also probably explain why I call them minions - the 6th graders only... because they ARE minions. One day during class, we were reading out loud, and one of my students accidentally read the next student's "assigned" sentence. The following sentence started with "but." The student said "but" and paused, making sure that was where he was supposed to read. The class giggled. I said "but" and paused, assuring him that it was the spot for him to begin... and one student said, "You said but!" And the entire class burst into hysterical giggles. I couldn't help but laugh right along with them, because it was at that moment that I realized that 6th graders really are real-life minions. They're the perfect analogy!

I'm NOT going to miss my room being vandalized on the outside, broken into, or showered in fire extinguisher powder. I'm NOT going to miss being nearly technology-less, internet-less, and resource-less. I'm NOT going to miss having to walk my computer and papers all the way into the main building, down the hall, past the urine-drenched boys bathroom, and into the library to do anything on the internet - including entering grades, verifying observations, entering attendance, etc. I'm NOT going to miss that one student who ruined that name for me who is extremely rude, conceited, and ridiculously annoying; that laugh and that voice will forever be embedded in my brain as one of the most annoying sounds on the planet. I'm NOT going to miss that one boy with little-man syndrome who is the king of interruptions and being disrespectful in general. I'm NOT going to miss going home with the stench of middle school boys hanging all over me - a mixture of feet, B.O., and toots. I'm NOT going to miss random things from my desk going missing on a very consistent basis, mainly my good pens and pencils... and expo markers. I'm NOT going to miss having a minimum of four meetings per week (that are mostly pointless, despite their best efforts). I'm NOT going to miss having to stand with my head ON the speaker in order to hear every single announcement. I'm NOT going to miss a lot of things, really.

I'm really going to miss my 6th grade babies, though. I'm going to miss shaking their hands every day when they walk through my door. I'm going to miss rejecting their "cool" handshakes because "I'm not cool, I don't do that. I shake hands." and telling them that I'll give them one on the last day of school. I'm going to miss their crazy Hispanic/Latino names. I'm going to miss my 6th graders congregating around my door during passing period. I'm going to miss them mocking me: "Stop congregating around my door!" I'm going to miss them all calling out to me, "Miss! Miss! Miss!" I'm going to miss that little blonde boy of mine who knows that he is one of my favorites despite my best efforts; he does everything he possibly can to make me laugh when I'm trying to be serious, and it makes my heart melt every time, because he is both brilliant and hysterically funny. I won't miss that one wretched student who I wrote up at least three times, but I will miss the days when he FINALLY let his guard down enough to ask questions and put forth effort - it only took four freaking months. I'm going to miss them confiding in me, telling me things that make me laugh and make me cry. Basically, I'm going to miss those relationships that have been built, and won't continue after next week - how teachers go through this kind of torture year after year is beyond me.

Now... what am I doing next year since my school is closing? Yeah, my school is closing. It's a middle school on the southwest side of the city, which means it's pretty ghetto (if you didn't get that from some of the things that I won't miss). That's not why it's closing. It's mostly due to stuff that doesn't have to do with the school itself - government and legislation shenanigans that have the school being remodeled into a pre-k through 3rd grade school. The decision was solidified when the middle school received a grade of D or F for several years in a row (a lot of which has to do with test scores that are hindered by humongous language barriers). So, even if I wanted to stay at this middle school, I couldn't.

Really, the Lord has provided the most ideal situation for me next year. I have accepted a job at the high school at which I student taught last semester; I will be teaching English II (10th grade), which is what I taught last semester under the umbrella of my amazing mentor teacher, with whom I will be on the same grade-level planning team. I absolutely LOVE that high school, the other faculty, the administration, the facilities, the location, and the fact that it is high school and not middle school. It's going to be a tough transition, and there is way more pressure, not only because the school is better, but because it is also a testing year. All that being said, my mentor and other faculty are going to be a wonderful support system within the building - something that I haven't really had at my current school.

I have learned so much during this ridiculously hectic first semester of teaching, but I have so much more that I need to learn. I'm getting there, but I also think that I have survived so well for a reason. If ever I was meant for a profession, teaching is most certainly it...

...I am REALLY looking forward to that summer break, though. ;)

March 29, 2014

Letters from God: Saying Goodbye to Winter and Hello to Spring!

"Why should I wish to see God better than this day?
I see something of God each hour of the twenty-four, and each moment then,
In the faces of men and women I see God, and in my own face in the glass,
I find letters from God dropt in the street, and every one is sign'd by God's name,
And I leave them where they are, for I know that wheresoe'er I go,
Others will punctually come for ever and ever."
- Walt Whitman, Song of Myself

Sometimes, I am simply taken aback by how gracious and loving my God is. Truly. I rush about my life and, more often than not, neglect to pay attention to the blessings that I am showered with every second of every day. I quickly become frazzled by my current disposition of frustration, anxiety, longing, or exhaustion. I selfishly demand that my time be used well in a way in which I decide.

Oh, how silly I can be most of the time.

And then there are times when all I want to do is bask in the goodness of God, bathe in the little gifts that the Almighty maker of Heaven and Earth has given me, pay close attention to the little love letters that He sends me every single day.

It has been a long winter in Oklahoma - a very long, cold, hard winter. Now, I'll be the first to tell you that I looove winter weather: I love getting bundled up in my warm layers, not having to worry about how each of my wardrobe choices fits on my body, bustling to and fro, truly enjoying the warmth that is offered inside. I can only appreciate the heat when I am cold. However, I am so very ready to embrace the warmth and sunshine of spring! We're in the very, very early stages of spring now - the high yesterday was in the 50s, and the high today is in the 70s - the typical back-and-forth weather patterns of the central plains. I am aching to wear a tank top and some shorts (I guess I need to actually buy some first) and just soak up those beautiful rays of sunshine. Literally, there are tears in my eyes just thinking about that prospect right now.

I feel like this past winter is a great big metaphor for me and my well-being. I have been so shut off, so distant, so bitterly cold in my heart since November. Losing that second baby did something to me that I cannot fully explain; it was so different from the first time around. There hasn't been a ton of growth going on over here, either. I have grown and seen change, yes, but I have been stuck in this season for a bit too long. I'm cold, and I'm tired of being cold. I am so ready to embrace the warmth again, to not only see, but experience as well, the true beauty that surrounds me constantly, to recognize those little love letters that my Creator is sending me and respond with a heart that is content and overflowing with joy.

I can feel the tingles of anticipation in my body and soul at the thought of it; that's a feeling that I haven't felt in a long, long time.

This winter of mine is just about over, and I couldn't be more thrilled.

Now, it's high time that I get out of my robe and enjoy this gorgeous day that the Lord has made! Hallelujah!

March 3, 2014

When Other People Get Pregnant...

There are several issues that come with publicizing your miscarriages.

When my loved ones share with me that they are blessed with the news that they are expecting a little blessing of their own, it introduces (or re-introduces) a whole slue of emotions. While they are all perfectly justifiable, they are not always pretty. These emotions also follow a pattern of sorts, but it's anyone's guess as to which order I will subconsciously submit to them. They aren't really problems. They just... are.

Before I get ahead of myself, I want to state a fact:
I have some of the most incredibly sensitive, understanding, and loving friends that a girl could ever ask for. That sounds totally mushy and cliche, but I promise you that I am a thousand percent genuine when I say it. They are the absolute best, and I wouldn't trade them for all the riches in the world. And there is nothing wrong with a single thing that they have said or done in regards to this post, my miscarriages, or anything else on that front. If they ever read this post, I want them to know that they have done absolutely nothing wrong, and I'm not sure they ever will. I love you to pieces. Honest.

Here's the typical series of events:
1. The pregnant party's sharing of news, and reaction to my reaction.
2. The reminder of my status.
3. Living with the memories.
4. Coming to terms with reality

1. The pregnant party's sharing of news, and reaction to my reaction.
Over the past month, two of my dearest friends, who I consider myself to be very close to, have told me that they are pregnant. I won't lie - when the last one told me, I actually screamed from excitement. What an incredible blessing! TWO couples, whom I absolutely adore, are going to experience the miracle that is pregnancy and parenthood! Oh, God is so very good, indeed! And I get to walk along that exciting road with them!

I have prayed for them. I have prayed for their marriages, for the health of the mothers, and for the health of their babies. I have asked God to please spare them from the hell that is miscarriage, and to give them the most perfect little creatures that they have ever set eyes upon. Just because they are pregnant does not mean that I cannot pray for them. On the contrary, I will pray, and I will pray fiercely. There is not a single iota of my being that desires either of these two precious women to come within a million miles of the heartache that I have endured. And I'll be honest... I will be downright pissed off if any of my loved ones has to suffer that kind of loss, either for the first time, or again. That's an entirely different facet of my relationship with God that will need some work... but, in the meantime, I can pray against that for all of them.

When I say that I am blessed with having the best friends ever, I mean it. Some women who have suffered from miscarriage and/or infertility have had to deal with insensitive people who make the most outrageous comments, or who have no regard to the feelings that the woman who is suffering might have. When both of these precious women told me that they were pregnant, they were sensitive, thoughtful, and courteous enough to do the following:
1. They told me individually.
2. They were concerned about me - not only in that moment, but in the future.

That is one of the biggest blessings that I have received, and it is such a small thing! Not only did they tell me in one-on-one conversations, away from the eyes and ears of others, but they told me before they told our mutual friends. They didn't do this because I deserved to know before anyone else, I assure you. By telling me individually, before making the announcement public, they gave me time to process the news on my own, and prepare for the day when that news was shared with everyone else. Talk about a major blessing. When I say that they were concerned about me, I don't mean that they pitied me, or gave me some monologue about how they understand if I'm not happy; nothing like that. They simply wanted me to know that I could let them know if it ever gets to be too much - too much baby talk, too much emotion, too much anything. That means so much to me. They didn't say it for pity's sake, but so they could remain conscious of how I was feeling during their pregnancy. I'm choked up typing these words, because that, more than anything, tells you that these women are incredibly caring and selfless. In their greatest moment of joy and celebration, they're concerned about the state of their friend's well-being. I am overwhelmed every time I think about it.

2. The reminder of my status.
To be honest, any time this type of marvelous news comes about from a new source, it's always a reminder of my status. My baby-less, empty-womb, I-should-have-a-baby, I-should-still-be-pregnant, I'm-still-getting-over-this-crap status. There's no way of getting around it. I've learned to accept it, but it doesn't make the emotional roller-coaster any easier. It is what it is.

3. Living with the memories. 
However, being reminded of my status also means that I am reminded of the hellish ordeal that I have gone through - twice. Each miscarriage experience totes around a whole suitcase of emotions and memories that I get to open up and relive... and, believe me, it is not by choice. I try my absolute hardest to shove the most difficult memories and emotions waaaay down into the corners of that baggage, but they have a tendency to wriggle their way up to the top the same kind of way that my car keys tend to wriggle their way to the absolute deepest, darkest corner of my purse when I don't want them to.

Shoving those memories and emotions down, down, down often means that they resurface in strange and uncomfortable ways. After this most recent time that my sweet friend shared her news with me, I had a lovely nightmare to remind me that I'm not quite okay:
I dreamed that I went to the bathroom to take care of some lady business during the most glorious time of the month. Out of my body and into the toilet came a fully-developed infant's head, encased in the lovely stuff that surrounds infants fresh out of the womb. Yes, I gave birth to a baby's head - just a head - in my toilet. It was about the size of my cupped hand. Its eyes were closed, so I opened them; they were a strange blueish hazel color that I have never seen.

My subconscious did a great job of screwing up my mood for the day, that's for darn sure. Actually, for a couple of days. Freaking jerk.

You see, it's not just the deep-rooted emptiness or envy that gets stirred up inside when people who have no babies hear about other people getting pregnant. It's the subconscious crap, too, and the fact that all of these memories and emotions that we work so hard to bury deep down and hide away in order to get back to a sense of normalcy get yanked out of the corner of the suitcase in a split second. When everyone goes home, when the lights are turned out, when no one is paying attention, that wound gets ripped open again in an instant, and it feels as though you accomplished no amount of healing in all of the days and nights that have passed you by.

I promise you, it's not just baby envy.

4. Coming to terms with reality.
Dark, neverending nights turn into dawn, which turn into days, and those days eventually pass, whether you recognize it or not. Sometimes they go by quickly; other times, they seem to take an eternity. No matter how long it takes, though, you have to come to terms with reality once again. This time, I did it by moving my baby items from the closet into a dresser drawer. I can shut the dresser drawer and not have to look at it every time I go to the spare closet to look for something else. I can shut those emotions in that drawer, too, and keep them there until I have to deal with them again.

I'm not having a baby any time soon. I've come to terms with that reality yet again, and I'll have to reckon with that frustrating truth sooner or later.

For now, though, I'm going to try my absolute hardest to forget my woes. I just want to focus on being happy for and supportive of the people who I love so dearly, and their little ones that I will adore as soon as they arrive. They deserve at least that much from me.

February 19, 2014

Musings of a Newbie Teacher

It's true; I've completely put off writing a post about the latest events in the realm of teaching. The reason for that is simply because SO much has happened in such a short period of time! Two months  ago, I said goodbye to my precious 10th graders (yes, sophomores can definitely be precious, despite popular opinion; it was a new idea to me, too) and graduated with my bachelor's degree, becoming a fully certified teacher.

Oh my land. I could not have asked for a better student teaching experience. I want to post all of the pictures of my kids and their sweet goodbye notes so I can brag brag brag on them for days and days and days, but alas.

After finally accepting the fact that I wouldn't be teaching my wonderful sophomores or spending each day with my amazing mentor teacher, time seemed to pick up pace once again. Within the span of eight days, I applied for, interviewed for, accepted, and began a position teaching 6th and 8th grade English Language Arts at an inner-city middle school (and to be honest, five of those days were spent simply waiting for the district to get its act together and call me after I had accepted the job). Then, on January 15, I went into the district's main offices for my "on-boarding" session, meaning that they threw a bunch of information at me for about two hours. After that, I went to my school around lunchtime in order to "meet my students" and "see my classroom." Lo and behold, I actually started teaching that day! This was the view from my desk after my crazy 6th graders sprinted from the building...

This past month of teaching has been a complete whirlwind.

Let me give you a very quick summary of my job specifics:
  • I have two hours of 8th graders, and three hours of 6th graders. I said that I would never teach below 8th grade... I was wrong, but I was oh, so right that I should not do so, sweet as they are.
  • I'm the third teacher this year for my kids... that adds a lot of issues. 
  • My room is ghetto; it gets broken into and tagged (vandalized with gang signs) semi-frequently, although I have yet to experience this personally. I'm in the oldest portable in the school.
  • I have 8 windows in my room: two have been busted, two are covered with broken blinds, one is covered with the only curtain remaining after vandalism. I've covered the bottom half of 4 of the windows that face the school in order to minimize distractions.
  • I have no technology in my room (aside from a loaned laptop that only sometimes gets internet access), and very limited supplies. The fight for ANY kind of paper is a constant battle.
  • The majority of my students don't bring a backpack to class... or paper... or a pencil.  
  • I have 4 white kids, 2 black kids, and the rest of my kids are Hispanic.They are a very talkative culture by nature, and community is a big deal.
  • I have A TON of ELL (English Language Learner) students. A lot. I can't even keep track of who they are... there are so so many.
  • My 8th graders ran off their last teacher by personally attacking her items and making threats against her.
  • My name is "Miss." My name is very rarely "Mrs. Womack."
  • I love love love my principals, and there are some wonderful teachers that I get to call coworkers.
  • In School Suspension, Out of School Suspension, and Long Term Suspension are all very common. At one point last week, I had 14 students out of class because they fell into one of the above camps. Today, I filled out Education Plans for 5 students - AKA I gave work to students who will be out for 10 or more days. One of those students won't be back this year.
  • Some students adore me (including many who are not in my classes). Some students loathe me. Polar opposites.

The Lord above blessed me with nearly a week of no students; between snow days, cold days, and parent teacher conference days, I only saw my students ONE day that week. It was frustrating, especially with testing coming up, but good gracious I needed that break to catch up! I wasn't complaining one iota.

This week has been difficult for a lot of reasons. Really difficult. Lordy, it's only Wednesday. I've had some good moments, but I mostly feel like I'm drowning in classroom management issues, mostly with my 6th graders. Add the amount I've worried about my students' welfare on various fronts this week, and I'm ready to throw in the towel. Teaching can be so heavy.

To be honest, I'm ready to crawl into my bed and stay there until my (two week) spring break.

Maybe the emotions of teaching go in cycles. I started out excited, quickly became completely overwhelmed and stressed, eventually mellowed out again and regained my positive attitude, and have come full circle to the point of being overwhelmed and exhausted again.

I miss my mentor teacher. I miss my former students. I miss my former school. I miss not having to fight for paper. I miss not having a 1000 copies/month limit. I miss having the ability to play a YouTube video to introduce a subject. I miss being able to use PowerPoint to present my lesson. I miss not losing internet access every 2 minutes (that is not an exaggeration). I miss not having to walk outside every time I need to go to the office, restroom, library, copy machine, etc. I miss a lot of things.

I know that I'm just going through the growing pains of being a new teacher. I know that it will get better. I know that the students will most likely get better and more accustomed to what is expected of them in my classroom as time goes on. That being said, these growing pains are still really painful.

Alright, alright. That's enough whining. Time for a chuckle. I'll leave you with this happy moment from Monday (which I put on my Facebook):

Scene - 
I was covering another class during my plan period, and I had to wrangle a few of my 6th grade boys into behaving.
I gave a "look" to one of them, meaning that they better get crackin' and do as I say by raising an eyebrow (I can't remember if I had a smirk on my face or not).
Said student used his fingers to raise his eyebrow back at me.
I'm sure this says something about my teacher "look" and other things, but I'd rather mark it as jesting between student and teacher... and leave it at that!

January 13, 2014

Let's be Honest - My Truths about Recovering from Multiple Miscarriages

People always remark on how a new year denotes a fresh start; honestly, I think it is a lie that we try to tell ourselves to convince ourselves that this year, THIS YEAR will be better. But the truth is, we don't know if it will be. We can try to make it better by doing the things that we know we should, but we ultimately have very little control over how "good" our year is going to turn out. We do, however, have every bit of control on how we react to the circumstances put before us; that is what makes the difference.

In a matter of days, the first due date will pass us by. The first due date of our first baby will come and go with nothing to show for it. If the second pregnancy had lasted, I would be nearly 18 weeks when our original due date comes along - again, with nothing to show for it.

Most days, I don't feel much of anything. The pain floats beneath the surface - it is always there, but never quite tangible, never truly visible.

Other days, extremely rare days, I just want to cry and cry and cry. It feels as though my soul is crying out, a parched desert begging for even a drop of refreshment, a dry and empty cup longing to be filled. It is as though my heart physically hurts, as though it is aching to be heard, aching to be understood, aching for overwhelming peace and joy and satisfaction and love.

You see, there's not a moment of my life that is not touched by what has happened. However, life continues to trudge along day after day, and so must I.


People have asked me how I have been doing... you know.

The truth?
The truth is, I don't really have an answer to that question - for you, or for myself.
The truth is, while I sound a tad bitter in conversation, it's really more like cynicism. Most of the time, anyway.
The truth is that I'm honestly doing pretty darn well, considering. You don't have to believe me, either, but it's the truth.
... I don't go along every second of every day moping, or even thinking, about the fact that I have lost two babies.
... just because I'm posting on my "Miscarriage and Healing" board on Pinterest, that doesn't mean that I'm crying my eyes out, or that I'm even truly upset that day. I promise.
... I don't dwell on the fact that my husband has experienced just as much loss as I have and is hardly ever "checked on" by others.
... I am not an emotional wreck 24/7. I don't cry myself to sleep every night (not that there is anything wrong with that in the least).
... I might get choked up or shed a tear every few weeks. Yes, weeks, if that.
... while it might seem unfathomable, I'm able to function without breaking down. I promise. I'm even able to hold a conversation about it without crying. It's painful and pretty dang awkward, but it's 100% possible. It's even good for me, I suppose.
... I'm the type to keep myself busy instead of dwelling on the things that I cannot change.
... I try not to think about the fact that we won't be "trying" for a while. No, I don't want to talk to you about it, because it's not your business unless I say it is, but I don't want you to come to your own conclusions about why we're not pregnant yet, for a third time.
... every once in a great while, it all hits me at once. It slams into me like a ton of bricks after a long time of not feeling much at all.
... when that happens, I will cry out. This is a cry for help. I promise. Even if I don't want to talk about it, there's a reason that I'm emotionally withdrawn, oversensitive, or some weird combination of the two.
... I don't want you to stop asking me how I am doing.
... miscarriage is not my identity.
... I don't want you to feel sorry for me.
... I don't want you to tell me that you're praying for me every time that you think about my situation. Your time, your kind words, and your prayers without glorifying yourself mean a whole heck of a lot more to me than empty sentiments. I am not an item to be checked off of your list of good deeds.
... I have been extremely blessed by those I hold close to my heart. THIS is what compassion and understanding and love looks like:
... this is all new to me.
... I'm learning how to grieve.
... grief looks different for every single person, for every single situation. There is no one way to grieve.
... I could have written this entire post ("15 Lessons Learned from Miscarriage"), because it is my heart. I have read it several times, and I will continue to read it as I walk along this road.
... I want to move on. I am in the midst of moving on.
... I also want to be bettered by these experiences.
... I want to be there for people who have been affected by tragedy and suffering surrounding the desire to have a family, just like I want people to be there for me.
... I want to continue to speak out, even if it is just to let you know that you are not alone. No one should have to feel as though they are in this kind of suffering on their own.

The truth is, if you have never been through something like miscarriage or infertility, you know nothing about how it actually feels. You don't understand, and that's just the way that it is. Knowing someone that has been through it is nothing like understanding how it feels - I can say that with every bit of confidence, because I have been on both sides. My heart aches thinking back to the time when my precious sister- and brother-in-law experienced their loss, and I knew absolutely nothing of what it was truly like to live through that kind of hell. I knew nothing, but I also did nothing. Oh, what I wouldn't give to go back to those days knowing the things that I know now. I'm blessed beyond measure because she is there for me in a way that very, very few people can ever be. I don't deserve a bit of it, but I am so very grateful.

I know that such bold statements could seem calloused and simply unfathomable by those who have not experienced this type of loss, but you simply have to put it out there and move on. I cannot sit in sorrow every day of my life - that is a death sentence. I must grieve, though, in order to heal. You can judge me in how I go about this process, in the things that I think and say, but it won't change a thing. Thankfully, those that surround me every day of my life will understand and love me regardless.

Let's be honest. The truth? It sucks sometimes. But I don't hold onto the truths of this world, the truths of this lifetime. I hold onto the truth of the gospel, the truth that the best is yet to come - not in this life, but in the next. I hold onto the truth that JESUS is better.