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Seasons of change

December 31, 2012 Leave a comment

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.

Celebration

April 19, 2012 2 comments

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.

The benefit of confidence (and experience)

January 12, 2012 Leave a comment

Part of the reason I love trapeze is because the teachers there are really, really good at teaching.  They provide constant, individual feedback that is almost always at the student’s exact developmental level.  While almost all the teachers are strong, a handful stand out from the crowd.  I’ve realized that the classes where I really move my skills forward and try new, unexpected things are the classes with the most experienced, confident teachers.  They’re the ones who ask, “have you done [skill] yet?  No?  Okay, you’re going to learn that right now.”  Or, like tonight, they see a skill I’ve been working on for months and say, “the reason that’s so hard is because your flying is more advanced than that skill.  I’m going to teach you the harder way, you’ll do it next time up, and it’s going to feel easier.”

Making a call like that takes confidence that you know what you’re doing and have the right to do it.  Dozens of instructors have helped me with this skill, but tonight’s teacher was the only one to say “wait, why are you doing that at all?”

I think about how this trapeze experience applies to my own teaching.  One of the big changes this year is the confidence I have in moving my students forward.  Last year I didn’t really know what was coming, and didn’t know what students should look like to get there, so I kind of tip-toed everyone forward, uncertain.  This year I know where we all need to be and I’m often dragging my kids forward, more confident now that I know what they should be doing.  Having experience lets me do more than coach them where they are – like the best of my trapeze instructors, I’m learning to question why we’re there, and make a confident decision about where we should be instead.

Validation

January 11, 2012 1 comment

Last year was hard. My boss didn’t like most of what I did in the classroom and let me know it all year.  If one of my six-year-olds was (gasp!) wiggling on the carpet, she’d write in her notes that the class was off-task and not learning.  This time last year, we had an hour-long meeting to explain that I might not be recommended for reappointment that spring.

Flash forward. I have a new evaluator who thinks deeply about teachers’ practices.  We’ve talked informally about my class throughout the year, we are in 2 hours a week of team meetings together, and she’s been in to observe a few times. We had a 15 minute mid-year meeting today in which she said that I am exceeding expectations on 7 of the 23 professional standards and she’s recommending me for reappointment.  She explained that she’d thought a lot about the observations she’d done in my classroom and even talked with my mentor to think through her evaluation of it.  She said that her first impression was that the kids were behaving rather “loosely” with me (yet would sit up ramrod straight when she looked at them), and that threw her off a little.  But then when she looked more closely, she saw that I was constantly checking for understanding, pushing kids to explain their thinking, and providing enough freedom for the “hard to fit in” kids in my class to feel comfortable and find success.  She said, essentially, that my management style is not her own, but that if it works for me, she’s fine with it, because she can see that it’s working for the kids.

Forgive me a flowery moment: this is like a balm to my soul.

I’ve spent the last year and half filled with fear, doubt, and a sense of incompetence because my classroom simply doesn’t look like the other classrooms.  I know my kids are learning, but when other people see or hear our room, I feel judged – that I can’t control them, that I don’t know how to keep them in line.  And the truth is, I don’t – not in the way other teachers do.  I cannot for the life of me get a class full of six-year-olds to line up straight and silent (though I’ve seen it done).  But I kind of don’t care about that, which is probably why I can’t do it.  It’s just not a battle I feel like waging when there are so many other things that matter more to me.  Honestly, the one major non-academic battle I’ve fought this year is to have students stop touching the levers on my chair.  Drove me nuts.  They stopped.  I’m sure if I really, truly cared I would figure out how to have a quieter, less wiggly class.  But I love the roly-poly, puppy nature of six-year-olds.  I love their random conversations and off-topic explorations.  I let them conspire with a buddy sometimes instead of reading because I want to see what they’ll come up with.  I watch them change the rules of the math games and invent totally new activities, then I talk with them about what they’ve figured out.  Not all of the freedom I give them is productive, and I definitely feel sometimes like my kids are less “polished” than many of the other teachers’, but they’re learning to think, to explore, to test boundaries.

For the last year, I’ve been taught to think of myself as a failed classroom manager and therefore a failure as a teacher.  Today’s evaluation reminds me that while I may fail to look like everyone else, I’m succeeding at putting my teaching philosophy into practice.  As I read what I’ve just written about my classroom it sounds exactly like the application essay I wrote about teaching and learning to get hired for this job.  My goal for the rest of this year is to approach each day with a sense of positive purpose for what I’m choosing to do in my classroom and let go of the needless guilt and worry about how things might appear.  If I’m happy, my kids are happy, and they’re learning, that works for me.

Year-end thanks

December 30, 2011 Leave a comment

I’ve been thinking a lot this fall about how different my life is now than a year ago.  While some of the positive changes may have happened on their own, there are an incredible number of people who have helped change my life for the better this year.

Paul helped me kick off 2011.  At a point when I desperately needed someone to see me as more than a teacher – yet also needed someone to care about that part of me – he did both.  We didn’t last long, but our time together helped me find my balance again.

When Paul and I broke up, Melanie understood that my Facebook request for new activity ideas meant I was sad and she invited me to trapeze with her.  I didn’t go that night, but the invitation changed the course of my year.

Through the spring, summer, and fall, my coworkers have been there for me, unfailingly supportive and always willing to talk through classroom difficulties.  In the end, I returned for a second year because I couldn’t imagine telling them I was leaving.  And I’ve been happy with that choice.

At the trapeze school, Mandy has almost single-handedly provided the sense of belonging, significance and fun that I kept looking for in Unitarian churches and other activities but never really found.  She knows my flying better than I do and always knows exactly when to push and when to pull back.  I know that when I fly with her I don’t have to self-advocate – she’s got my back.

And there’s the rest of the staff and students at trapeze.  From my very first class they’ve welcomed me, almost literally, with open arms.  They listen to stories, give support and advice, and are completely fun to be around.  Becoming part of that community has been one of the most enjoyable developments of my post-college life.

And finally, there are my students.  It’s been wonderful to see H. blossom; it makes all of last year worth it.  This year’s class is full of such wonderful, vulnerable kids, and I am regularly humbled by the trust and love they give me, even on the days I don’t think I deserve it.  I know I’m not doing it all right, but they think I’m getting a whole lot of it right, and that’s definitely helping me sleep better.

While many of these people may come and go in my life, my family and close friends have been there every day of this year – and of the last.  They’ve dealt with my lows (and I know there were a lot), but I hope they’ve been able to share in my highs, too.

In the end, I feel like a very lucky girl, and am thankful for the happy, interesting year that’s gone by.

Growing roots

December 17, 2011 Leave a comment

I’ve spent most of my time since college enjoying where I am while looking constantly for the next place I’ll go.  I felt that way last year, through my first year of teaching, but this year, for the first time in my life, I’m not looking to go anywhere else.  It’s not that other places have become less interesting to me, but that this current place has quite a hold on me.  For the first time in my adult life, I have real roots in the place I’m living.  I live three minutes from two of my siblings and 20 minutes from my parents and I love the ease of seeing them.  At school I have not just first graders this year, but a whole cohort of second graders I know and love.  When I arrive for trapeze class I get smiles, hugs, and hellos from instructors and other students.   I love living above a Metro stop and minutes from one of the world’s major cities.  I’m starting to get to know my way around and it feels good.  The wanderlust hasn’t left me, but right now it’s not the most important feeling.  I’ll move again, I’m sure, but for now I’m happy to be right here.

Running

December 16, 2011 1 comment

Our wonderful P.E. teacher started a school-wide running program this year.  For every two miles the kids run in P.E. or at recess, they get a charm to add to their running necklace.  My grade started the recess program on Tuesday and it’s been wonderful to see how the kids respond.

Two of my boys, one a constant behavior issue, one incredibly shy, have thrown themselves into the running wholeheartedly.  In just four days they’ve earned two charms each, which means they’ve run at least one mile in each 15 minute recess – not bad for a six-year-old!  They, and the rest of the kids in my class, glow with pride over the charms they’ve earned and they’ll tell anyone who will listen how many more laps they need to earn their next charm.

The P.E. teacher says studies show schools with running programs like this one experience a drop in serious discipline problems and an increase in test scores.  While it’s obviously too early to know if we’ll see those benefits, I’ve already experienced at least one benefit of the running program.  This afternoon my usually prickly, inexhaustible child spent the last lesson of the day curled next to me, cuddly and sleepy.  Seeing that side of him was a nice way to end the week.

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