Keeping the Love Alive ~ The Meek Moose Gains Perspective

So my daughter says to me, "Why is the symbol for Valentine's a heart anyway?  It's a muscle pumping blood! That's just gross!" And then she walks away.

This is life with a middle-schooler. Two-way conversations are for losers apparently.  You walk in, you say what you want to say, and then you exit. As dramatically as possible.  Flip the hair if you can manage it, maybe even exhale loudly.  And as it turns out, these are pretty good guidelines to follow when you go in for a mid-year review.

Mid-year is where teachers often start reflecting on how they've been losing the heart and passion for teaching.  Or deciding that they've actually just simply lost it.  But it's also a good time to figure out a way to get the blood pumping again, and find a way to fall in love again.

I cannot fall in love with testing or data meetings.  I'm sorry, but no.  They are not love-able.  They will be single forever.  They are THE ORANGE.

These two things however, weigh heavy on my mind daily, as a teacher of a testing year in Virginia.  I got moved to fifth grade this year after eight years in second.  I taught fourth and fifth grades at the beginning of my career- but back then, we took tests with pencils and paper, and we taught lessons on how to properly fill in bubbles. "Circle the edge, now color to the inside.  Start on the outside edge, and color to the inside.  Outside to the inside. Out and then in.  Circular motions, folks!  Like a whirlpool."  Like a whirlpool that will suck you to your death, is more like it.

We taught lessons on how to erase completely. Lessons on how to make sure your pencil eraser was PRIMED for the job.  "Before you erase on your paper, erase on your pant leg.  Make sure any hard crusty bits are off, and then, with a now rubbery and soft tip, gently, GENTLY NOW! Don't rip the paper.  Gennnnnnntlyyyyy erase the mark.  Completely.  I shouldn't be able to see any stray bits.  Also this means you shouldn't have made your whirlpools too dark.  Let's practice again making bubbles lightly but completely, and then we'll try our erasing technique."  It was a necessity to watch Bob Ross videos prior to the teaching to make sure you could get that happy little tree voice down.  The zen of testing.

Data meetings meant you stood at the scantron, ran a card through and tried to guess which student it was based on how loudly the machine marked up the card. Zzzzttt-zzt-zzzzzzt-zzzzzt! "Oh, yeah.  That was Timmy.  Just lighting the world on fire, that kid."

But here we are.  The computer age.  Click click click, and they're done.  Data meetings go on for hours, and the end result is a discussion of all the lessons you need to teach them again from previous years in addition to the current content and bring up those scores.  Bring them up! Bring them up! Bring them up! Which actually translates to bringing up your blood pressure. And your career feels as if it hangs in the balance.  And for some of us, it actually does.
So how to keep yourself going?
First of all- you've got to find something in the classroom that you can still feel passionate about.  And it can't have anything to do with testing or actual content.
For example I love drawing.  I don't think I'm good at it, per se, but I like it.  Adding times to draw in to my curriculum helps me feel happy.  Recently I had my kids work on drawing plant and animal cells - I was impressed with how nicely their work turned out.  Seeing these cell posters everyday hanging up helps me feel cheery.
I also love technology - so integrating technology in to my teaching also makes me happy.  I look for ways to use different apps and software for my students to learn and present content with.  I get the enjoyment out of showing them how to do a stop-motion animation, or an aurasma, or learning how to code, and they get to learn the content in a more meaningful way.
Focus on growth.  Growth you see in your students, and also in you.
In the past six weeks I've receive three level 1 ESOL students.  One speaks Spanish.  The other two only speak Arabic.  The Spanish isn't too big of a deal for me, because over half of my class speaks Spanish, so I've been able to communicate with him without much difficulty.  But I've decided to be more diligent in also learning the language, and I've noticed in six weeks that I've started to grow in my understanding of the language, and that my relationship with my students has gotten stronger, and that this little boy has started to try to speak English with me, because I'm trying to speak Spanish with him.  Last week he asked me to go to the bathroom in English.  It was a singularly emotional moment for me, that I can only describe as a mix of awesome pride and pure joy.  If I weren't medicated, I might have wept.
So last week I got twins who speak Arabic.  Yeah.  Nobody in my grade level speaks Arabic.  And now I have 29 students.  I was feeling unbelievably overwhelmed.  But it was a very confirming moment for me to see how my students took on the situation.  All year we've talked about open-mindedness, and inquiry, and being communicators, and showing kindness and compassion.  A good ten of my students did everything they could that day to welcome these two boys.
They tried to use Google Translate on their laptops to talk to them.  They made them valentines.  They researched how to say hello in Arabic.  They came and asked me if I could fins a way for all of them to have some lessons in Arabic, because they wanted to be able to make sure they could play together at recess.
These are things that cannot be measured on any test.  And this is a moment where I can say with all honesty that I don't care if they even pass the test- because they are winning at being human.  
Make time for friends after work.  Go get coffee.  Have a slumber party.  Eat dinner and laugh.  You can still talk about school, but be sure to talk about life as well.  Because believe it or not- you have one.  Seriously.  You do.  It just might be hiding under a pile of socks.  But it's there.

And lastly - be sure to take care of yourself.  The job of teaching is a stressful one- and stress wears a body down.  I had to go the doctor recently because I could tell that things were going south.  And I wait too long to go to the doctor - most of us do.  I've got to start exercising and eating healthy to protect my heart.  I have to adjust my sleeping habits, because something isn't working the way it should.  Do things for you.
I ride horses.  I keep chickens.  I try to paint.  I watch science fiction shows.  I cuddle with my dog.
I get goofy with my kids.  I play ridiculous video games.  I laugh at inappropriate jokes.
It's okay to love yourself even though Timmy can't add fractions.  You are a magnificent piece in the puzzle of his learning- and yes, your puzzle piece is covered in glitter and has it's own soundtrack, and even a fireworks show.  But remember- you are a PIECE.  You don't have to own all twelve years of his educational experience.  Just do the best you can with the year you've got.  Forgive yourself if he moves on with some rough edges.  Don't worry, dear kitten, there's another teacher waiting for their turn to help.

*The clipart I used in this post is from the extremely talented Sonya DeHart.  Click her name to go to this valentine pack in her TPT store.


  1. I am just so glad you wrote this post. We are people just like the moms and dads we work with, like our administrators, and like our students. We need to keep it all in perspective and not work 24-7. Love the reminders to look at growth and remember where our kids started in order to know how far they've come. Have a nice weekend!

  2. Thank you for sharing how we all feel. Sometimes we need a reminder that we are human and that we do have lives.

  3. Thank you for sharing how we all feel. Sometimes we need a reminder that we are human and that we do have lives.