Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Living Up to Your Calling

It's the start of the school year, which coincides with the start of Cross Country season for my sons. Tonight, after practice, I took them both to a local restaurant for dinner. Chris was still at work and I just didn't feel like cooking. Over dinner we talked about favorite and least favorite classes, what classes they would have to work the hardest in this year, fears that were on their hearts, things they were excited for, and on, and on. My oldest said something interesting. In reflecting on Cross Country versus football, he said you really have to be in Cross Country because you love it, there will be no attention or accolades that you might get in football. He knows of what he speaks, he was on the football team for three years and enjoyed it. I sat and thought about that comment. 

I have two kids in this sport. Luke, in high school, currently runs about 50 miles a week. He has pushed his body to the limit. He eats a ton of food each day, packs his lunch religiously so he has healthy food at school. He studies running, thinks about it non-stop. Not to say football players don't work hard, they absolutely do. However, in Cross Country there will not be crowds cheering you on. It is a quiet sport. Parents and family members attend the meets, but no one else. You do have to be there for you and for the love of what you do. That being said, it has been the best thing for my boys, without question.

Liam has had a similar experience. His milage in seventh grade is far less than Luke's. His time is much higher. Unlike his brother, he does not win races, but is in the back of the pack. Honestly, I'm impressed he keeps at it. And yet, tonight he told me how he's been eating healthier to try and improve his time. How he wants to join the high school's team because he's seen how much Luke enjoys it. He's shared his dreams of improving his times. He talked about his goals. He too does this for himself, for the joy of being a part of this team, but with the knowledge that there won't be an award at the finish line. Instead he has the knowledge that he did just a bit better than last time.

Luke was right in his comment at dinner, and Liam had nodded in agreement. I was filled with gratitude once again for this sport they love, one that has taught them so much in two years. It reminded me of this quote from Penny Kittle from her book, The Greatest Catch

“When you’re teaching you’re going to see people who cut corners, don’t work as hard as they should, or just complain all the time about everything. I believe you’ve got to do what’s right, every single day of your life, even if the rest of the crowd isn’t. Teaching is about honor and goodness and mercy. It really is. And no one will be watching you most of the time. You either live up to the calling of this profession or you don’t, and most likely no one will ever know but you. But it matters because the kids are counting on you.”

So here's to those of us, doing our thing, for the sole reason that we know it is what's right. Not for the cheers, but because we can't imagine doing anything else. The start of the school year, of the sports season, is hard. It's exhausting work. But man alive, the satisfaction of a job well done is worth it. Knowing in your heart you reached your limit, you lay it all on the line, it is the best feeling. And whether it is making a PR in Cross Country, scoring that touchdown in football, or finding that kid and making a connection, there is no better feeling in the whole world. Wishing you all a year filled with joy and reaching for the stars. You are worth it. 

Tuesday, August 15, 2017


Tomorrow begins my twenty-second year in education, my nineteenth year in public schools, my second year in middle school. I've taught more students than I can count. I've worked for seven principals, had countless colleagues. There have been highs and lows, but I am so glad that back in 1995 I decided to turn towards education and away from law school. My bank account might be richer, but my heart would not.

Through my students, I have become immortal. Long after I am gone, they will remember me. Hopefully I will make a positive impact that lasts. What I never forget, however, is that they give me far more than I've given them. 

They've showed me what true resilience looks like. My students are braver than any adults I know. They've been dealt some pretty crappy hands, but their dogged persistence makes me sit back in awe.

My students have a kindness that knows no depths. While the world becries their selfishness, I have seen their selflessness. Kids whispering to me that they want to buy a classmate school supplies, donating to a cause they believe in, sending me cards when I have lost a loved one, bringing me flowers and doling out hugs when my dog passed. 

From Kindergarten to middle school, these kids cheer me up, make me feel better when I'm sick, and become obsessed with favorite books right along with me. They make going to work each and every day something that I look forward to.

And on the days where I feel like I've failed, want to drop my head on my desk and cry, wonder where I've gone wrong; they are always the bright spot to remind me that I've done more right than wrong. That the only path forward is one of dogged persistence. And I get up, and try again. 

In twenty-two years I've learned over 2000 names, 2000 stories. My heart has been broken and healed, time and time again. Tomorrow I'll wake up, head into school, hug some former kids, and meet my new school family. I cannot wait. 

It's going to be a great year.

Tuesday, August 8, 2017

Wrapping Up My Summer of "No..."

I said at the outset that this was my summer of saying "no"... No to extra conferences, no to things that took me away from my family, no to extra work.

That worked out, and didn't. I only attended one conference, a Scholastic Summit in Chicago. It was fabulous as I reconnected with friends I rarely get to see and presented to a group of wonderful educators. So I traveled less for sure.

And yet, I did add stuff to my ever growing plate. I decided to help create a community wide reading program for my town this October. I wrote 13,000 words towards something that I wasn't sure what it would become. It turned out it was just a reflection, but still, it took time. I shuttled my kids to an ever growing number of practices, games, and friends' houses. 

What I noticed, however, is that while I did say "no" to most that came my way, and "yes" to a select few, this summer was good for me. I'm horrible with balance. When I'm reading a lot, I write very little. When I cook a lot, cleaning takes a back seat. In the quiet time of this summer when I got a chance to reflect, I realize that my balance in work versus life has been off for some time. I set out to reclaim that balance.

Teaching is an interesting job. The more you pour into it, the more that you need to do. I love my job. I often joke that it isn't just a job, it's my hobby as well. I love to read children's books, to plan lessons, to write - I selected my profession well. Yet this summer, I began to wonder, there is more to me than teaching, right? I feared I had lost myself in my love of what I do.

Finding my balance again is tricky. I can easily slip into the mindset that I'm not reading enough children's / YA books, that I'm not blogging enough, that I need to write a book, find more conference, go work in my classroom. No matter how much I do, there is still more. This isn't to say that I'm going to stop doing the above either, I'm just going to let it stop consuming me.

In the new found spaces I found time to hang out with friends more, go out with Chris on more dates, listen to the sounds of my boys playing video games float up from the basement while I danced out to Hozier's Work Song as I cook dinner. And I'm going to read romance novels. Lots and lots of them, because I forgot how much I like them. (Great article on romance novels here.)

I'm following in the steps of my new found heroine, Maxine Waters, and reclaiming my time. Because I have a funny feeling that at the end of my days, hopefully many years from now, this is the stuff that will matter for me - these faces above, my friends, time spent with my family and pets, long lazy afternoons surrounded with my home and books I adore. I'm saying yes to more of all of this during this school year. 

And friends, you find your time too. Our students are beautiful. We can love them and have our own lives as well.

Reclaim your time. 
Reclaim what you love. 
Reclaim you.