The nine-year-old I work with explained to me today why he knows Santa Claus is real:
“I believe in Santa Claus. My mom and dad don’t believe in Santa Claus though. My mom says that when I go to sleep and wake up and there are presents, she leaves the presents. But that’s not possible! How can a mom and dad get presents in the middle of the night? They can’t go to the stores in the middle of the night. The stores are even closed! It doesn’t make sense. So I know Santa must leave the presents.”
I’ve been pretty quiet online this year, largely because there were so many changes in my life, and so many big emotions about those changes, that I didn’t really even know where to begin. But with the changing of the year, it feels like a good time to look back and reflect on the last 12 months.
I spent the first half of my year with an amazing, challenging, intensely emotional group of students who made a lasting mark on my heart. Over our time together, I grew both more comfortable as a teacher and at the same time more unsure of my ability to ever be the teacher I wanted to be, or to gain the emotional distance necessary to make year after year of teaching sustainable. By June I never wanted to say goodbye to my students and couldn’t imagine spending another day with them – or starting all over again with a new group the following year.
All of those conflicting emotions – plus some expert advocacy by my mother – led to a very different second half of the year. In May I interviewed with my father’s boss for a position at the federal contractor he’s worked for since 2002. Two weeks after school ended, I started as a Senior Business Analyst at the company – and it’s been great. My day to day interactions are with the two VPs, the COO, and my father, and the entire leadership team has been shockingly open to my (many, many) ideas, suggestions, and initiatives. I’ve been able to define my scope of responsibilities as we go, taking on projects I find exciting and that make a difference to the company. In early fall, I led a recruitment process that added two new people to our team, making me a supervisor after just four months on the job.
It’s pretty different from teaching.
The new job brought a lot of other new things, including a new car, new apartment, new work wardrobe, new furniture, new commute. I love my little red Prius, with my first-ever vanity plates, and its crazy-good gas mileage makes my marathon commute a little easier to deal with. (Literally, it’s a marathon – 26.2 miles door to door.) After spending all of August with my very patient mom and dad, I moved into a gorgeous one-bedroom apartment in September and spent most of September and October furnishing and stocking it. (It turns out that after 5+ years of downsizing apartments, I had no tables, no dishes, no glasses…)
And running through the entire year, of course, was trapeze. It’s grown from an important hobby that provided me with a sense of community to a defining part of who I am and a huge part of my social life. I spent March through October intensely focused on building my trampoline skills (until my coach ran off to join the circus), and since September my flying has moved forward in leaps and bounds. In the last few months I’ve taken multiple tricks and skills out of safety lines, which means I’m taking more and more responsibility for what I do in the air. And it’s exhilarating. I’ve always been a confident person, but as I’ve progressed in trapeze, I’ve gained a completely different sense of confidence, one that’s rooted both in a better knowledge of my body and what I can do with it, but also in constantly, and successfully, pushing the boundaries of my comfort zone. When I’m feeling uncertain at work or in a new social situation, there’s something very powerful about remembering, hey, I can do a back 1.25 tuck, drop safely from 23 feet in the air, or grab a return bar and go all the way back to the board. If I can do those things, surely the day-to-day challenges of life are manageable.
All in all, it’s been a very good year, and there’s a lot more to look forward to in the year to come.
One year ago today I took my first flying trapeze class, and today, I took my first swing out of safety lines.
I’ve been working towards this milestone for months, passing conditioning requirements, trampoline skills requirements, and trapeze safety requirements. I’ve stressed about getting to it, very nearly cried about not getting there fast enough, and worried I’d be too scared to do it once I was allowed. But then today the instructors watched my first turns, signed off on all the required forms, I took the bar without safety lines and flew – and it felt great. Not scary, not stressful, just right. Everything my body’s learned how to do over the last year I did today without thinking or worrying, and it was exhilarating.
Doing trapeze for the last year has changed how my body looks and how I relate to it. I’m incredibly strong now, and getting stronger, and I have become so much more aware of and in control of my body’s movements. I’m still not graceful (or flexible), by any means, but I’ve become connected to my body in a way I never expected to be.
Earning out of lines status is a big milestone, to be sure, but I expect I’ll look back on this as just the beginning of my trapeze journey. Each time I learn a new trick, twist my body in a new way, or figure out how to tense a muscle I’d never known I had I get hooked all over again, and I know there’s a whole lot left to learn.
I was just reading back through old Facebook posts and came across this quote:
Student explaining why he wasn’t listening to me: “Because every time I want to do something awesome you just say no!”
If that doesn’t sum up my relationship with this year’s class, I don’t know what does! It cracks me up every time.
The Virginia Tech shootings were five years ago today. For most people nationwide, it was a day of shock and sadness that quickly receded. For me, it shook my foundations even more than did 9/11.
When the shootings happened I was just a year out of working as a college administrator, just five years out of being in college, and had one sister in college and one about to go. I felt the events of the day as an administrator, as a student, as a family member – and in the end, as a neighbor and friend. People ask where you were on September 11, 2001. I can tell you exactly where I was and what I heard when my sister told mom that Reema had died. If I ever needed to cry on command, all I would need to think of is the cell phones ringing in students’ backpacks, called by families desperately hoping to get through.
The Virginia Tech shootings changed how I think about being in school. In grad school, friends wondered why I sat on the aisles in lecture classes, always in the very front or very back. In my classroom now, I sometimes lay awake at night, idly thinking about how helpful it is that I share a folding wall with a colleague’s room, because it doubles our ability to maneuver around a shooter’s movements. The day’s emotional hold on me can still catch me unawares, moving me to tears in the space of unexpected seconds.
There is less attention paid to the anniversary each year, and I suppose that’s the human and normal thing to do. But I still remember; if not everyday, then so many of the days – and I expect I always will.
Today was our last day of school before Spring Break. My most active boy was very, very active today. Literally bounced off the walls (and doors), and told me several times that I “so mean a teacher.” About 5 minutes before dismissal all that activity. Stopped.
Completely subdued, he came over to me, worrying his bottom lip. “What’s the matter?” I asked him.
“I-I-I no want to go Spring Break. I don’t know what do.”
“Who’s going to be with you when you’re at home?”
“I don’t know…I guess a babysitter?”
From what I know of his family, that truly is a guess. He and his sister might have a babysitter, or they might be dropped off at different neighbors or family members each day, or honestly, they might even be on their own for stretches of time.
“Do you want to bring some books home? Some math games?” [Head shake no]
“How about one of our jump ropes?”
[Slow nod] “I guess yes.”
He and I spent the last few minutes of the day walking around the classroom, opening cupboards, drawers, and cabinets, collecting anything of interest and stuffing it into his backpack. When his bus was called he said, “I guess it okay, I guess,” then zipped up his bag, said “I going to miss you,” and ran off.
Our district is moving to standards based grading on report grades, which means that instead of giving one big grade for Math, one for Reading, one for Science, etc., we’ll report how students have done on each of the state’s standards of learning. I think it’ll take a bit more documentation, but in the end it makes a lot of sense – if we studied time and fractions in one quarter and your child bombed one but rocked the other, does it really help you as a parent to see that performance averaged out to “on grade level”?
So, I’m in support of the change. But. My team decided to get ready for the change by starting to track our students’ achievement using checklists and rubrics measuring their level of mastery. It’s been a valuable experience, but now I have about 45-50 data points on each child that still need to be boiled down to a single, old-style grade. And I’m not sure how to do it. In this last grading period we taught units on time, money, fractions, and measurement. Some kids did well on all of them, some did well on a few of them, and happily, no one did poorly on all of them. Because so many kids did well across the board, I’m worried I’ll create a Lake Woebegone effect, with (almost) all of the kids being above average.
But then if a child did really, really, really poorly on two of the units, but really well on the other two, should they get the needs improvement grade? Or should that average out to show them on grade level?
My likely solution: put off math grading for several more hours by working on science and social studies, then make whatever choice feels right in the moment, knowing I have the data to back up whatever I decide to anyone who’s interested in understanding it.