Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Winter Break

I'm finally off for winter break! Yippee!!!

Typically, I'm exhausted, stressed, and on the verge of some upper respiratory illness by the time winter break finally arrives. But, this year is different. This year I'm feeling really good. I can't quite explain why, but this year I have a skip in my step, a song on my lips, and a smile in my heart.

Of course, work did everything in its power to make this last week challenging for me.   I got observed by the principal on Monday and held multiple screenings of the parent volunteer video (how to report suspected sexual harassment, child abuse, or child neglect) on Tuesday.  Yeah, it's a real edge of your seat, nail biting thriller of a movie.  The parents were unhappy for having to watch it once.  I had to watch it five times this week. Wednesday was a double header day; the superintendent of schools did a walk through of our building in the morning, then we had a delightful afternoon listening to young musicians during the winter band, strings, and chorus concert.  This all led up to the piece de resistance on Thursday... wait for it...patience is a virtue... an outdoor education field trip, complete with winter canoeing. 

Turns out the fear of hypothermia is enough to keep all the kids
and adults inside their canoes. Why didn't I think of that last year?!

That's right! Two days before winter break started I took 48 kids and 25 adults to the county's outdoor education facility for some hiking, canoeing, and scientific experimenting.  Being a firm believer that you have to get back on the horse after falling off, so to speak, I grabbed an oar and got back out in a canoe with a few first time canoers.  However, I may never get in a canoe with another adult again, at least not with any Army personnel.  Last year, we had a few parents who were in the Army as canoe instructors and one of them tipped my canoe.  This year, we had volunteers from the Navy, which made me feel much safer.

I managed to stay dry on this year's canoeing adventure and if you don't know how big a deal that is, then you need to click here.  I took a fair amount of friendly teasing, joking, ribbing, joshing, funning, and jesting from friends, co-workers, family, and my fiance.  He repeatedly texted me to stay out of the canoes, away from the dock, the water, and anything else wet on site.  All out of love, that much I'm sure of, but everyone else was doing it because they found my swim last year hysterical.  I get it.  The lady who's been a canoeing instructor for years was in a canoe that tipped.  It's funny.  I get it.  I'm just sick of hearing about it.

My adventures in swimming the previous year did have one pleasant side effect.  Every parent on the trip who took kids out canoeing left their smart phones and cameras on the dock this year.  Last year, we had five people take an unexpected plunge, which resulted in three phones and two cameras going extinct.  Had anyone taken a sudden swim this year, there would have been no loss of electronics.  I can't tell you how many parents have ruined cell phones from canoeing and seining accidents in all my years taking this field trip.  It was too cold for seining this time.  What with it being December and all, walking through the creek in hip waders seemed like a bad idea to the camp muckety mucks.

But, I digress.  I'm on winter break for eleven days.  Yay!

Of course, we had the usual holiday shuffle back and forth between families on Christmas Day, but the weather cooperated with us, so that wasn't bad at all.  I'll write more about our first Christmas together as a couple later, but right now I'm just happy to be relaxing in my living room, watching the snow fall outside, and contemplating what to do with the rest of my winter break.

My Winter Break To-Do List:
1. Catch up on sleep!
2. Do the laundry that has inevitably piled up.
3. Snuggle on the couch with my fiance and look at the tree lights.
4. Enjoy all of my presents.
5. Sleep late as often as possible.
6. Exchange gifts with family and friends.
7. Visit with friends who've come into town for the holidays.
8. Ring in the new year and get a kiss from my fiance at midnight.
9. Blog!
10. Clean the house.
11. Grade papers. (It can't be helped and has to be done.)
12. Catch up on my Dr. Who viewing. (I missed the mid-season finale, much to the horror of my nephews.)
13. Make our days merry and bright.

I'm going to enjoy this winter break a whole lot!

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Being a Teacher in the Modern Era

For those of you who may not know or may have forgotten, I am a teacher.  It is a responsibility I take very seriously, possibly more so now than ever before.  When I became a teacher, I knew it was my responsibility to teach my students how to read, write and do math.  It was my responsibility to broaden their vocabularies, expand their knowledge of all things scientific, and create in them a love of history.  Nine years later, I have a new responsibility to add to all the others.  In a very real way, I am responsible for the safety of every child that passes through my classroom door.
Don't get me wrong.  Teachers have always been responsible for the safety of their pupils.  However, when I first started teaching that meant counting heads before the bus left to make sure we didn't leave anybody behind on the field trip.  It meant keeping a watchful eye on the playground during recess to make sure everyone was playing nicely.  It meant keeping disagreements from turning into pushing, shoving, and hitting.  Now, though, it means something different.
Keeping students safe in the modern era means running a background check on their parents before allowing them to chaperone the field trip.  It means running those same parents' driver's licenses through a machine which checks a national database to ensure they aren't a convicted sex offender before allowing them to enter the classroom.  Keeping my students safe means that if a parent shows up at my classroom door without a printed visitors badge, I must call the office immediately.  In fact, even with a visitor's badge, I am never permitted to release a student to a parent that shows up at my door.  All early dismissals are to be authorized through the office via the intercom system, not by the parent showing up and requesting their child from the teacher.  These are safety measures that we have all come to accept as necessary.
In the modern era, keeping students safe means not just practicing fire drills, but earthquake drills, tornado drills, gas leak drills, and yes, shooter in the building drills.
In an act of kindness, my principal kept the students and staff completely in the dark about the horrors unfolding in Connecticut last Friday.  One parent showed up in the classroom that day to volunteer.  I wasn't expecting the parent, but I also wasn't unhappy to see him as I desperately needed spelling lists and math homeworks copied.  I later realized that he had come in more to put eyes on his child than to help with my copying needs. 

Ironically, our school had scheduled a safety drill for that Friday afternoon. Which drill you ask? Was it the earthquake drill, the tornado drill, the gas leak drill?  No, it was the shooter in the building drill.  Officially, it's called a lock down drill, but the jist of the drill is that we practice what to do if there is an armed intruder in the building.  We held the drill in spite of the days events, which some might view as in poor taste, but the other option would have been to do the drill on Monday, when the children would have known about Connecticut and been that much more scared. 

I assure you, practicing the lock down drill is scary even on a good day.  We lock doors that are normally never locked when the children are in the building.  We turn off lights, close blinds, and hide silently in darkened corners until the drill is ended.  The children always ask questions about why we have to do this and some get scared by the seriousness we show about hiding and being quiet.  We do our best to allay their fears and assure them that they are safe at school, but the events of last week prove that those fears are more than justifiable

The principal called a staff meeting after dismissal, explained what had happened in Connecticut and why we had a police presence in the parking lot during dismissal, and then told us all to go home and hug our families. My honey had been especially texty on Friday, lots of texted ILY's and wishes that he was hugging me.  I had responded by telling him that I was so lucky to have such a sweet and expressive man in my life.  Once I got home and turned on the TV, I found out why he'd been so expressive.  My honey had also made the executive decision not to mention the school shooting to me while I was at work for fear of worrying me.

Monday morning was a challenge all by itself. The kids had so many questions and needed a lot of reassuring that everything was okay and we would keep them safe.  The children weren't the only ones in need of reassuring.  A student teacher in my building came in to work looking worn through with worry.  She was emotional, distracted, and looking for answers.  Her mentor teacher was in a morning meeting, so it fell to me to get her ship shape before the kids arrived. 

I told her what everyone should realize about the school shooting in New Town.  It could have been so much worse.  While what did happen was unthinkably awful and horrific, the number of victims was limited to the two connected kindergarten classrooms because every teacher in that building did exactly what they were supposed to do.  They got their students safely behind locked doors and hid them from sight, sometimes bodily blocking the door to protect their young charges.  I told the young student teacher what all the other teachers already knew. Our job is to make school a safe and happy place for our students, so it was time for her to check her worries at the door and be present for her students.

Teachers all over the country went to work on Monday morning.  They didn't call in sick for fear that it could happen to them, even though some parents kept their kids home for that very reason.  They put on a brave face, perfected a very British stiff upper lip, and read through the half dozen school security emails reminding them of safety procedures.  They smiled at their students from the doorway as they arrived at the classroom, greeted them all by name, and issued calming reassurances and hugs, as needed.  They made the day as normal as possible so that every child could relax and get down to the business of learning.  That is what I did for my students on Monday and it's what the student teacher did, too.

I began this blog with an old American proverb, "If you can read this, thank a teacher."  But, now I would like to propose a new proverb.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Eight Months To "I Do" & Fiance To The Rescue

I started writing this blog three and a half weeks ago and never got back to it.  Such is the hectic, chaotic mess that is my life right now!  For the most part, it's a happy chaos, though.  Three weeks ago, however, I was experiencing a decidedly unhappy chaos. 

In the span of a few days, I received some bad news from a friend, got a migraine, had to stay late after work on two different days to make up parent-teacher conferences (for parents who stood me up on conference day), and was temporarily orphaned while my mother was out of town on a business trip.  But, I am not about to write a gloom and doom blog, so please keep reading.  Nope, this blog is going to be about the silver lining that appeared on the gray cloud that was my week.

The silver lining to this story is not a what, but rather a who.  Someone stepped up for me that week.  This person went above and beyond to smooth over the rough patches and ease my distress.  As should be obvious from the title, my wonderful fiance was the one who helped me through a very challenging week.

When I came home from getting unpleasant news from a friend, it was my honey who held me while I cried out the tears I'd been holding back on the drive home.  He was also the one who patiently listened to me as I sniffled my way through the explanation of what had happened.  My honey even tried to help me think of solutions for the problem I sobbingly dropped in his lap. 

I admit it!  I've been a real cry baby lately.
Prior to getting engaged, I rarely ever cried in front of my fiance, probably because he always makes me so happy!  But, in the eight short weeks we've been engaged, I have cried buckets over the stupidest little things.  I cried over the wedding dress debacle.  You'll be happy to hear that I finally found THE dress when I went to a different wedding boutique.  The second place had much better service and a much wider selection for curvaceous girls like me.  I cried over bridesmaid drama.  I cried over the engagement photo proofs, which as predicted did not show me at my best.  I cried over our Thanksgiving Day schedule when his mother didn't have dinner at the time I was hoping she would.  I cried until I was dehydrated from all the tears I had shed.

I cried so much and so often that I actually looked my behavior up on the internet.  Did you know that there is actually something called post-engagement blues that many engaged women experience?  Go ahead and google it.  I'll wait.  Apparently, going from the thrill of the chase to the elation of getting your engagement ring to the stressful reality of planning a big wedding causes some brides-to-be to get the blues.  I seem to have been one of those brides. 

I'm doing much better now, but when I didn't have the answers to any of the big questions people were asking me it made me a little emotional.  Okay, I was a lot emotional.  So sue me!  I was also very easily flustered or frustrated. When's the wedding? Where's the reception?  Have you found your dress yet? Have you booked your DJ? Photographer? Videographer? Caterer? Cake Baker?  Until I had the answers everybody was looking for, I just couldn't seem to relax and the only place I seemed to be able to vent all that stress was through my eyeballs in the form of tears. 

My poor fiance didn't know what to do with me.  But, as he always does, he found the perfect things to say and do.  He held me every time I cried and told me he loved me.  He even stepped up to help me make some wedding decisions and take those worries off my plate.  He's been a real trooper!

But, I digress. My point is, he saw me through the teary days.  The day after that I was supposed to get up at 3:30 in the morning to take my mom to the airport.  Again, my knight in shining armor, I mean fiance, came to my rescue.  My honey decided that I had been through enough the day before and needed my rest, so he tucked me back in after my alarm went off and took the dawn patrol to the airport with his future mother-in-law.  Can you see why I love this man?

Later that day, I came home from work with the worst migraine of my life.  My head felt like it would explode.  I was sensitive to light and sound.  I was even mildly nauseous.  In short, I arrived on our front stoop looking like a hot mess.  Once again, my fiance donned his suit of shining armor and came to my rescue.  He got me some medicine to ease my headache, ran out to get me dinner, and spent the rest of the evening watching over me like a mother hen.  He was awesome!

The following two days, my honey had dinner waiting for me when I got home from working late.  Parent-teacher conference day is long enough without dragging it out for two weeks, but my honey made it less stressful by having the home fires burning and a hot meal waiting for me when I dragged my tired self home.

All that was three weeks ago, so long ago now that I looked at this blog posted and considered deleting it because I could hardly remember what I'd been writing about.  But, I am determined to keep my blog going, even in all the wedding planning chaos.  So here it is, my somewhat hazy recollections of being weepy six to eight weeks ago and my fiance being awesome three weeks ago.  Much more has happened since then and maybe I'll have some time to tell you about it once I'm off for Christmas break.  We'll see.

But, just in case I don't get to post before the holidays...