Saturday, July 30, 2016

Being Someone's Champion

It's no secret around here that my husband and I have struggled to build the family we dreamed of having. I've written about the times when teaching hurts, and I've defended my teaching skills to people who question my abilities because I wasn't a parent. This struggle led us to hear a call to become foster parents. What I didn't realize at that time was how much that would impact me as a teacher.

My husband and I made the very difficult decision to stop fertility treatments in October 2014 after three grueling years of heartbreak and disappointment. On the day we decided we had had enough, we called to register ourselves for classes to become foster parents. We began those classes in January 2015 and became licensed in May 2015. On June 10, 2015, we received a phone call to take in a 6 day old baby boy. 15 hours later, we were at the hospital holding that little boy in our arms. Little did we know that nine months later that little boy would officially be our son. We have opened our home to four child (ranging in age from 6 days old to 16 years old), including our son, in the last year. I now view the world through the perspective of foster care, and I am changed.

As a teacher, children are the center of my world. Throughout my formal training in education and my many years working in the education/child care field, I had heard many, many stories about less-than-ideal home lives. I knew there were parents "out there" that struggled to provide safe homes for their children. Hearing those stories and actually living as a component of those stories are two completely different things. I thought I knew what it meant to be someone's champion. I had absolutely no idea until now.

Being someone's champion means loving them even when they do everything they can to sabotage it.

It's holding their hand when they are scared, confused, and sobbing because their world makes absolutely no sense all the while knowing there is little you can actually do to help it make sense for them. You wipe your tears and hold that hand anyway, and you tell them you will figure it out together.

Being someone's champion is promising to love them unconditionally for the rest of their lives.

It's shouldering the unknowns. Trauma does all kinds of damage to people no matter how small those people might be. When you are someone's champion, you recognize the possibility of that damage and say, "We'll deal with that when we need to. Until then, and when that time comes, we'll love you with all we have."

Being someone's champion is going out of your way to create experiences they might never get without you.

It's hard, uncomfortable work. You do it anyway, because it matters.

Being someone's champion means knowing them - really, truly knowing them - and anticipating what they might need next.

It's letting go even when that's the hardest thing in the world to do. Sometimes you can't be their only champion. Sometimes they need more than one.

My heart has been ripped out, stomped on, and ground up in the last year. At the same time, it has been fuller and happier than I ever dreamed it could be. I am a different person. I am a different teacher. When I look at my students, I see my son. My son who was given a terrible hand and lost everything. He needed a champion, and I was so happy and ready to be just that for him. I'm happy and ready to do the same for my students.

Friday, July 29, 2016

Summer Reading Favorites

My love for reading runs pretty deep within me. Some of my fondest memories of my childhood were taking weekly trips to the library with my mom and brothers. When I was in middle school, I remember going to the library and then sitting in our minivan and reading while my mom got groceries. When we got home, I helped bring in the groceries and then holed myself up in my bedroom to continue reading. I would typically have my books read after just a couple of days, and the wait would begin for the next trip to the library. My summer revolved around that tradition. 

Now, I have a little one of my own, and I'm doing everything I can to instill a love of reading in him too. He's only 13 months old right now, but he's very familiar with books. We have books everywhere! They're in the living room, the kitchen, the bathroom, his bedroom, and the car. We take books to church and to restaurants. He knows books, and I love to watch him interact with them. I've started weekly trips to the library with him this summer too. Sometimes we drive. Sometimes we walk. The walking trips are my favorite. It's a half hour trip there when we walk, which means he's itching to get out of the stroller by the time we get there. I gather the books we will check out, and then I give him a good chunk of time to run and explore. He plays with the giant Connect Four game in the Story Time room. He climbs on the big floor pillows. His favorite thing to do, though, is play with the stacking toys on the little tables. He throws them all over the place. He has so much fun while we are there! 

I can only hope this weekly experience does for him what it did for me. I hope it turns him into a reader. We've read some amazing books this summer. I have been late to the game for a lot of them, but I'm so glad I picked them up this summer! Here's a look at some of our favorites: (All pictures are courtesy of Goodreads.)


Friday, July 8, 2016

Losing My Fire

I haven't posted in a while. My life changed significantly over the last year, which is a blog post for a different day. Many days were a battle, and blogging just wasn't high on my priority list. In many ways last year was the most positive and successful year of my life. At the same time it was one of the worst. Unfortunately, the part of my life that took the biggest hit this last year was my teacher life. I had a tough year in the classroom. It took me longer than usual to connect with my students, and I think I will always remember this year for that reason. Right from the beginning I could tell I had a class with more needs (academically and socially) than an average class. I caved under the pressure of meeting those needs. Looking back now there are so many things I would have done differently.

First of all, I have always been a teacher who focuses on relationships. I work hard to get to know my students so I can serve them in whatever way they need. This year, I plowed through the unfamiliar curriculum instead of taking the time on those relationships. I was new to my district this year and there was no carry-over on any of the curricula. Math was different. Reading was different. Writing was different. Even science and social studies were different. I was starting all over (or at least I thought I was). I over-emphasized the importance of getting through the stuff, and my relationships crumbled. Every day took all the fight I had just to get through. It wasn't until April that I felt like I actually knew my students and they were beginning to know me. In March, my husband and I adopted our son, and I shared that moment with my students. At the same time, my students were doing Star of the Week so they were sharing their lives as well. Those two moments changed everything. Suddenly, I felt confident in the classroom again - I felt like I belonged. I'm pretty sure they felt the same way. As I shared such a huge life-changing moment with them, they were able to open up about their interests, passions, and lives, and I could feel everyone relax. I wish I could go back in time and spend the first couple of weeks really getting to know my students. The year would have gone differently.

Secondly, my passion for teaching reading didn't shine through this year. I devoted my fifth year of teaching to teaching my students to love reading - to love books. As I told one of my team members this last year, I was on fire that year and that fire burned brightly. This year, I lost that. As I mentioned before, I was overwhelmed by the curriculum. I never strayed too far from it out of fear of my students missing out on something important. I attempted to come out of the gate strong. I started Daily 5 with my students on the first day of school. We discussed, at length, the urgency of spending time reading every day for the first couple of weeks of school. Then I fizzled. There was just too much other stuff to get through, so I dragged them all along with me as I worked to figure it out. We didn't celebrate books. We didn't share books. We didn't recommend books to each other. We just slogged our way through the day. Now, most of my students loved Daily 5 time anyway, which I'm grateful for. They would complain if we didn't do it. I know it could have been more meaningful for them, though. I could have set them up for long-lasting success. The curriculum can wait a bit.

Lastly, I had a terrible attitude. On top of starting this job in a new district, I was attempting to handle being a new foster mom. There's so much I can say about the foster care life, but that would be a post (or 20) all on its own. For now, I'll suffice it to say, it's hard. There were many days I was just seconds away from bursting into tears, so I did what I've always done - used my classroom, my students, and my school as an escape. During those school hours, I worked hard to forget I was a foster parent. I was mostly successful at this. There was a constant under currant though. The stress, the worry, and the fear of the unknown was always there whether I acknowledged it or not. It made me irritable, even against my greatest efforts to not let it do that. Turns out, there is only so much I can handle with grace. When I reach my limit, I can be a bit of a grouch. I've spent a good portion of my summer reflecting on this and praying for more strength, patience, and understanding next year. Foster care is still hard - having a year of experience under my belt doesn't change that. I do know more about how it all works, and, with enough prayer, maybe this year my threshold for stress, worry, and fear can be just a little bit higher.

In March, I sat in my principal's office just before his second observation of me with tears streaming down my face. I told him I felt like a disappointment. I felt like I had failed to be the teacher I promised I would be in my interview. He kindly smiled at me and assured me I hadn't disappointed anyone. When I look at the data from the year, my students made excellent growth. Most of them met the goals laid out for them in our various standards, and I feel they are ready for second grade. I find comfort in that knowledge. It was a rough year, but it wasn't fruitless. My goal now is to learn from last year, make some improvements, and be that much more better next year. I think I can do it!