Posted in Reflections At Mid-Life

Now what?

It’s time to be patient and think positive

All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us. – J. R.R. Tolkien

Excitement was in the air! My year of teaching children in small boxes through a computer screen had come to an end, but my wise 8-10 year old students had requested that we try to see each other in-person, at least once. Their parents also shared concerns about a need for some in-person interaction and some closure to a year that had been filled with ups and downs, and changes with classes and teachers. More importantly to me and the students, we would never know how tall we all actually were. Up until this year, my height has always been a popular topic of conversation with elementary school students, because so many of them end up being taller than me, at 4’11” on a good day, by the end of the school year. Most of my students this year, from two different schools, had never had a chance to stand next to me.

So, on the morning of June 11, 2021, we said our last virtual goodbyes, but much of the potential sadness was postponed because we had a plan to meet for a picnic lunch at a park. It was heartwarming to see these smiling (behind masks) faces from the small boxes on my computer in person. They were joined by family members, and even Chico, Z’s dog, came along. After all, Chico, along with other family pets, had become part of our class too! The relief and joy that I felt coming from the parents and children was a perfect ending to the most imperfect school year I have ever experienced. The week prior to this week, I was also able to make a brief visit to the 24 students I taught, also remotely, from August until December. I brought them a small gift to remind them that they were amazing and that I believed in them. They were fifth graders, so there was no doubt that they would be taller than me. I didn’t realize how satisfying it would feel to see them all together, in-person. No regrets from taking the time to go see them in person.

Normally, at the end of the school year, I reflect on the year and begin to plan for the next year. That’s called “best practice” in education. Reflection is a critical skill for teachers so that they can continue to grow in their personal and professional life. The 2019-20 school year ended in such chaos, there was no time for reflection. We were all in survival mode. As I try to reflect back on the school year of 2020-21, it is hard to know where to start. This has been a unique year for everyone due to the pandemic and all of the chaos that came with it, the uncertainty, and the need to turn on a dime over and over and over. It has been a year of nonstop reflection for me.

Between March 2020 and May 2021, I worked in three different schools. It was my decision to make those changes; however, making those changes amidst all of the changes happening in the world presented emotional challenges that I did not anticipate. Each change required reflection in order to make the decision to change again. Making decisions during a pandemic is less than ideal. Pandemic “brain fog” was a reality for me and definitely contributed to putting barriers up for any clear reflection. My reflections were sometimes blurred and caused me to doubt myself and my abilities to make a difference in teaching. I cried. I walked and swam. I tried to write about it, which also proved to be difficult, because it was hard to focus. I talked with family and friends. I could sense worry from friends and family, because this was so far from the norm for me. I tried to keep everything in perspective, but I was just not my usual positive, organized, “good trouble” self.

In May, 2020, I made a decision to leave the school I had been working in since 2017. Our principal had resigned, the pandemic was in its beginning stages, and we had no idea what the outcomes would be from Covid 19. I was in the throes of coordinating fundraising and food deliveries for 75 families from the school. I was trying to figure out what my job really was at this point and what it might look like when and if school started back up in August. My heart felt the need to stay, but my tired brain and body were telling me that it was time to hit the refresh button in hopes of not burning out. It was also crystal clear to me that I was not a good fit for the new administration at the school, so it was time to move on. This meant leaving a teaching staff that I had grown to love and admire, and knowing that we had no idea what was ahead of us with the pandemic. It also meant moving five carloads of my stuff to our house and a storage unit.

I was able to find a job that began in August in a public school in a neighboring county. This was also a difficult decision, considering that I had just campaigned for months to run for school board in my county. My deep concerns about equity and the schools in the city I have lived in for 28 years had not magically disappeared just because I was not elected. I was constantly thinking of ways I could possibly contribute to public education. At the same time, I was also feeling the need to step back from my current school system in general, because I spent months pouring my heart and soul into campaigning and speaking out about the inequities in our school system. When I was not elected, I had to regroup and figure out what was next. I wanted to advocate for the children and teachers, often invisible to the rest of the community, in the school I was working in for three years. My exhaustion from the campaign and the beginning of the pandemic had caught up with me though. I was emotionally drained. On top of that, the pandemic kept bringing doom and gloom and I could not seem to shake off feeling the weight of the world on my weakened shoulders.

When I interviewed for my new job, I was hired to teach fifth grade Language Arts. Since I had been a Literacy Coach for the past three years, that was appealing to me. It was also a Spanish Dual Language School and a Title I School, so I felt like I could continue to chip away at equity in public schools, just in another county. This is, after all, a nationwide problem. So, I moved my five carloads of books, furniture, and school supplies to my new classroom. Unfortunately, due to Covid19 restrictions, I was not able to set up the classroom or unpack my things. I also learned that I was needed to teach all subjects for the year, not only Language Arts. I took many deep breaths and told myself that I could do it. I told myself that this was a fresh start and it could be exciting. As the year started and I met daily and virtually with my 24 students on Zoom, we plugged along together and tried to do the best we could. Between being virtual and planning for five subjects, I was always feeling like I was on my last leg. I was not sleeping, I was not able to plan as I wanted to (I can be a bit of an overachiever and this clearly was not the year I should have tried to do that), and I was missing interacting in person with these wonderful, yet tired, fifth graders. Every 2-3 weeks, I would spend hours driving to each students home to drop off books and materials, along with a little surprise wrapped up that they would all unwrap together on Zoom. It also allowed me to connect with students who did not come on camera during class, which was a added challenge for relationship building. Although my exhaustion was not going away, I was pushing myself to do everything I possibly could to keep students engaged online and most importantly, to let them know that I cared about them and that they were valued as learners and human beings.

In mid-November, we received unexpected news about my 24 year old daughter, Callie. She had been diagnosed with an unknown kidney disease. I had very little reserve energy at that point, but I had enough to know that her health and well-being were a priority for me. I knew that I could not support her emotionally, if I continued to work in a job that was sucking the life out of me. I had very little time or opportunities to build relationships with the principal or my co-workers, which was also wearing on me. I was also concerned that I would be expected to go back into the school to teach in person before I felt that it was safe to do so. No vaccines yet, and talk of returning to school no matter what. I wanted to be “covid-free” in case Callie needed me to go to Chicago or if she needed to come home. So, once again, I began a job search. Filling out applications, updating my resume, and interviewing, when I barely had time to do anything other than work, proved to be yet another stressor. (Next blog entry will address ageism and the reality of finding a job, or not, when you are over 60.)

I didn’t really know what I was looking for in a job and I was trying to muster up excitement and energy to write letters of interest and prepare for interviews. Fortunately, a new temporary position at a local Quaker school had been created due to the pandemic. Unbelievably, they needed a virtual only teacher, to begin in January, for a group of eight students, ages 8-10. As I interviewed for the job, which included talking over Zoom with many people for two days, I had a sense that this was where I needed to be, at least for now. I learned that there is a Quaker saying “proceed as the way opens.” What this means is that you know some type of change or action needs to take place, but it may not be crystal clear how to make that happen. Well, at this point and time, that described me perfectly. I was offered the job and accepted the offer. I resigned from my other teaching job and moved five carloads of books, furniture and materials back to a storage unit and into our home. Again.

My experience teaching as part of a Quaker school, completely virtual for five months was, I believe, exactly what I needed in order to move forward. I was able to take much better care of myself and I was able to begin to think more clearly again. I don’t doubt that being vaccinated, and knowing that my family friends were also vaccinated, has contributed to feeling less anxious about the pandemic. There are still many ramifications from the pandemic, and I suspect they will continue to present challenges for all of us for quite some time. Apparently, we have not really learned much from being quarantined, or having to close businesses, schools, and churches. Unfortunately, what I am noticing is that as soon as restrictions are lifted, people are rushing back to try to find the old “normal.” It is really disappointing to me, and makes me worry about what lies ahead, but it will not stop me from moving forward.

So that brings me back to reflecting on what I have learned. How will I answer the question of what to do with my time? That remains to be seen. I am going to think positive and dream big. As I reflect back over the past year, I know that I learned to do things I never would have dreamed I could do. Technology skills were not optional, so I definitely improved in that area. Relationship building was still a priority for me, and I made that happen with students and families in both schools that I worked in this past year, during virtual only teaching. I learned that I am still a teacher and that I love literacy more than anything. I still have strong feelings about being antiracist and about equity in schools.

A couple of months ago, as I was slowly feeling more like myself again, I was able to see that I needed to find work that was going to feel exciting to me. I realized that I do not need to leave education, my heart and soul for over 35 years. I do need to be creative. Innovative. Valued. I still want to make a difference for children, families and teachers. I don’t need to be a classroom teacher, but I need to be involved with public schools.

It seems that I need to wait for another opportunity “to proceed as the way opens.”

Well, I think I found it. It’s as if it should have been obvious to me for years. So…time will tell. The time given to me now is the time to be patient and to think positive. It’s going to be great! Not easy, but great. Oh, and that stuff in the storage unit is going to need to be moved again.

Posted in Reflections At Mid-Life

Is My Brain Fit to Be Studied?

As of Friday, I am wearing a borrowed fitbit, temporarily. I am aware that many of my friends and colleagues wear these everyday, counting their steps, or whatever else they do with them. I, however, am wearing this for a few weeks as part of a research study at Duke University. Last month, I saw an announcement about the the study seeking participants, so I contacted them and was told that I qualified to be in the study. It’s a brain study! I have always been fascinated with brains and how they work. I frequently tell students that I consider myself a brain detective. That’s been a big part of my success as a teacher, because I intentionally spend time trying to figure out how every brain works in order to teach each student about their own brain, and also to help me to teach them better. 

This particular study is about the Aging Brain, Memory and Decision Making. I told them that they could study my brain, or what’s left of it after this past pandemic year of teaching virtually, but I definitely want to know what they learn overall when the study is completed. The first session was this week. I answered questions, repeated lists, and completed tasks on an ipad for over an hour. As I answered questions, I felt all of my old performance anxiety feelings bubbling up. Sure enough, I froze for some of the auditory questions, especially those involving numbers. I actually enjoyed the visual tasks, and found myself using various strategies that I have taught students to use to try to remember things. It was just myself and a very kind, enthusiastic young grad student in the room. She did not react to my blunders and my nervous responses, but I was pretty sure she was thinking, “Wow! She was not kidding about her brain being a good one to study!”  As in “What on earth is happening in this woman’s brain?” That is also a question my family and friends have wondered about for years, but that is an entirely different blog post. 

I have administered a fair share of tests and tasks to students ranging from 5 -18 years of age, for much of my 35 year career in education. As a special education teacher and an instructional coach, assessing students was a critical piece for teaching. I am not referring to the meaningless, biased tests required by school systems. When I assess students it is to gather critical information about how they think and learn, and to help identify the best strategies to help them learn. I know what it’s like to listen to and watch students trying to figure out test questions, letter sounds, number calculations, and the meaning of what they just read. I pay close attention to the physical signals and body language shown during testing that are major clues to me about what their brain and emotions are doing. I wondered if the grad student was noticing my body language? I tried not to show signs of anxiety, but I am sure it was obvious to her.

I am more than sure that my lack of working memory is why I rarely passed tests, my entire life, and it is why I chose not to pursue a Master’s Degree. Tests have never been the way for me to show what I am capable of doing in the real world. I am a strong advocate for not judging anyone’s abilities based on test scores or the letters after their name. I have been around long enough to know that PHD, MA and DR are not a guarantee that someone is better at their job than someone who does not have those letters after their name. I say this with some hesitancy, because I know how hard people work to get those letters behind their names. I know how proud they are of them. I also firmly believe that the bias against those of us without the letters, is unfair. I obviously value education, or I would not have dedicated over half of my life to it as a profession. However, I would put money on the fact that there are many of us out here who simply have a Bachelor’s Degree, or maybe only a High School degree, who should be considered for other jobs, but are passed up due to a lack of letters behind our name. I would contend that many of us have test or performance anxiety and avoid being in situations that feel like tests. Being a part of this study is definitely putting me in a vulnerable position. I decided to do it mainly because I want to know more about how brains, not only mine, and working memory are different for everyone. It is a plus for me that the people conducting the study do not know me, are meeting me with a mask on, and I will likely never see them again in my lifetime. Brene Brown would have a hay day with me, right? A perfect candidate for vulnerability and shame, all in one paragraph!

My next two brain research sessions will involve sixty minute MRI’s. I have never had an MRI before, so that, in and of itself will be an experience. When asked, I told them I am not claustrophobic. I hope that’s true. My understanding is that I will be looking at a screen with more questions and tasks on it, and answering questions while they watch how my brain responds while I struggle (or not) to find the answers. 

The fitbit, I am not exactly sure about. They set it so the information goes directly to them. My steps and activity level, my sleep patterns and my heart rate are all of interest. My performance anxiety has kicked in again. That’s not always a bad thing though. I am finding that I am intentionally running up and down the stairs at home and moving around more during the day. The annoying quiet vibration and buzzing that keeps happening throughout the day is a constant reminder. I will not miss that when I return the fitbit to them at my first MRI appointment. I am generally pretty active, but this past year, being a virtual only teacher based out of our home, has found me sitting at a computer more than I ever imagined was possible. I do go for walks and swim laps 5-6 times a week, but my hunch is that I will walk further and swim harder with this fitbit on to try to make sure I am not labeled as an older, low activity woman for the study!

In a few weeks, in the middle of this study, I will celebrate my 62nd birthday. It is no coincidence that I found this study to be intriguing as I turn another year older. My brain is tired and very, very full. I am trying to write a memoir in hopes of emptying out some of the clutter that is taking up space in my brain. I may not be able to perform on tests, but I have hundreds of stories to tell that explain what I have learned as an educator and how students and families have been the reason I became such a strong and effective teacher. Participating in this study is giving me a close up look at myself, the way I problem solve, as well as exposing some insecurities that have nagged at me most of my life. It is also showing me that I am not finished learning about myself, I am willing to take risks, even if they are uncomfortable, and I am not ready to be old, just older. What I am ready for, is to give myself credit for the wisdom I have gained over the years, and to continue to be curious and to learn about myself.

I keep a running list of topics to write about. One of my upcoming topics is ageism. I’ll wait until I complete the brain study to write that about that one. As I learn more about my thinking and memory capabilities, and reflect on how my brain currently processes and retains information, compared to when I was younger, I expect that I will have a few revelations. I am wondering if the difference will be minimal, and I am curious to learn a bit more about how societal attitudes toward aging may be influencing my personal mindshift about how fit my brain really is. For now, I need to stop typing and get up to move around so I can get some steps in before I begin my lesson planning for the day.

Posted in Reflections At Mid-Life

A Hat, Compassion Fatigue, and Trying to Be Enough

On November 11, 2020, my husband surprised me with a Happy Half Birthday gift. It was a baseball hat with the word Hero and the symbol, a circle with a small cross underneath, that represents female or girl power. He told me that he read about the meaning behind the design of the hat and it reminded him of me,so he bought one for me. It stands for those who wear their heart on their sleeve, and women who run for office or for sport (it is made by Saucony, a popular footwear and apparel company.) That gift brought many thoughts to mind and I found myself reflecting on the past eleven months.

In March 2020, along with thousands or even millions of other educators across the world, I fell into a trap and I have been fighting to try to survive ever since.

That may sound dramatic, but it is truly how I feel. I am finding that this feeling is common amongst educators, for different reasons and at varying levels of intensity, but never the less, it is there. There are a variety of teaching settings happening now, which, I feel, adds to the problem. The inequities are glaring. The feelings of inadequacy are hard to ignore. The need for some sense of what used to be normalcy and routine are palpable.

While I continue to push myself to be the best I can be for my work, my friends and family, I can’t help but feel like a part of me is disappearing. The part that was thinking non-stop about ways to teach and to advocate for equity in public schools. The part of me that had high expectations for myself. The part of me that felt like my work should be valued and respected. Those have all disappeared. Could it be that almost a year ago I was campaigning to run for school board? And that almost ten months ago I raised $20,000 for a spur of the moment idea to start an Adopt A Family program, that provided over 75 families with food for four months, at the beginning of the pandemic? But now, I find that instead, every night, I work really hard at convincing myself that what I am doing is enough or that it even matters. I wonder if our students and teachers will be okay when a vaccine for COVID19 is accessible to everyone and we will have a chance to truly connect with one another again? Connect as humans, not only through screens.

Surrounding those thoughts, I also realize that I am one of the lucky ones. My family, friends and I remain healthy. Far too many friends have lost loved ones over the past 8 months, many not directly related to coronavirus. I do wonder, though, how many people have left this world due to the stresses, the anxiety and the confusing and often disappointing environment we have been living in for the past few years. Perhaps their bodies and souls decided that they had enough and their work on earth was finished for now?

At the end of last school year, I made the decision to go back to the classroom and teach fifth grade. Like most other teachers, I knew there was a chance, but hoped that I would not need to teach remotely for most of this school year. Well, here I am, three months later and looking at a minimum of three more months teaching through a screen. While some schools across the country have returned to in-person teaching (for now), I can only speak to being in a remote only teaching situation. While I have painstakingly established new routines in order to teach from a bedroom in our house (thanks to Callie for loaning me her room while she is away in grad school) every day, all day, they are not serving the purpose a routine usually serves. For most people, especially, children, having a routine and sense of predictability are critical. They relieve anxiety, give one a sense of control, and provide one way to find calm in an otherwise chaotic world. I work hard at providing routine for my class of 24 fifth graders, because I know it will benefit them. I want them be able to experience some moments of joy, some aha moments and maybe even some inkling of being a confident learner. That will not happen unless they are feeling safe, understood and valued.

And yet, even after 3 months, new routines still feel contrived and uncomfortable. I am unable to find the balance between doing too much and not enough. Teaching in a room in your home, alone, without being able to read body language, facial expressions or even to know that a student is squirming or fidgeting or tapping a pencil or leaning back and sitting dangerously on only two legs of the chair, is lonely. I want the students I am charged with teaching during this stressful time to have the same opportunities they would have if we were in person, sharing a classroom. That is, of course, impossible. One thing I have at this point in my career in education is wisdom. Added to my wisdom, I have always had good instincts as a teacher. I know that it is ridiculous to even think that teaching and learning will take place in a way that feels acceptable to me. My priority has always been to put social and emotional growth first, both for students, as a classroom teacher, and for teachers when I was a coach and mentor. That remains the same, and in fact, is more important now than ever before. I know that there are some teachers out there who are managing to teach content more than others, and there are some students who are succeeding more in an online setting than in a classroom. Without a doubt, I know that I am definitely on the end of the continuum where I am working hard at helping students feel capable and secure, and doing a little bit of teaching in between. I am trying to be at peace with that, but it does change my world as I have known it for over 35 years.

Unless you are a teacher, or you belong to education related Facebook pages, instagram or twitter accounts, then you most likely do not see the many memes, posts and comments from teachers across the world that are shared daily documenting this time in history. It is difficult to try to describe what it feels like to be a teacher, or school staff member, over the past eight months. If you are a parent or caregiver of school-aged children, you may get a glimpse of teachers desperately trying to help students connect through computers. You may hear us repeating the same requests over and over to try to find a way to attempt to actually teach them something. The stress while attempting to teach online is one thing, but for me, it is the additional 30 hours per week (I am not exaggerating) trying to plan that causes frustration. Behind the scenes, very little sleep, frantic planning and trying to find ways to keep up with online assignments, learning the latest online platforms, finding resources and keeping up with emails and text messages are a bottomless pit. Not to mention, rearranging my home weekly, bringing more and more books and materials home from school as they slowly but surely take over rooms that were not meant to be classrooms or storage closets. I am now reading my old Feng Shui books to see what I can do to make our home still feel like a home and not a workplace that I can never get away from. And if you really care about me, do not tell me about self-care. I’m doing the best I can with what I’ve got, but it is not nearly enough and it will not be enough for quite some time.

Perhaps the most emotionally wrenching part of all of this is the messages we get that it is good enough that we are not reaching all of our students during this seemingly never-ending pandemic. When every child returns to in-person school, eventually, we will have two lists of names. One list will be those who had resources and home environments, or attention spans and stamina that allowed them to learn something since March 2020. The other list, which grows longer and longer with each day passing, will be the children who are falling off the radar of teachers, schools, communities and decision makers. I am not blaming anyone; I am merely stating a fact. We are all tired. We hear about pandemic fatigue and people not wearing masks or putting parties and their own needs and social life ahead of the greater good, but I recently heard a nurse name something she is seeing in the medical profession as Coronavirus numbers increase again. She called it compassion fatigue. I was driving at the time, and I wanted to roll down my window and shout it out to the world! “That’s it! Compassion fatigue!” For many of us, it’s the same feeling in education. Working hours and hours and watching students become less and less motivated to learn, as we try harder and harder, at the expense of our own health. Six months ago, I said that the way public education was handling the pandemic was not going to be sustainable. I wish I had been wrong. I wish all of the talk about having the opportunity to “rethink education” and make meaningful changes that would address inequities, was actually happening. It has, instead, gotten worse. Do you remember all of the news stories, social media posts, elected officials profusely thanking teachers for being so wonderful? Where is that gratitude now? Sending teachers back to school to see who can be the one who does not get COVID so that employers, parents and government officials can feel better about children being out of their homes? What about teachers who are also parents? What about their children?

Education is changing, but it needs to slam on the brakes and make a U-turn before we lose all of the teachers and administrators who will, in the end, be the only ones who can get things back on track, We need to get out of survival mode and use some common sense. If not, eventually, that compassion fatigue is going to win and our children, our future, are going to lose.

I guess that Hero hat dredged up quite a whirlwind of emotion for me. I wonder if I tap it on my head three times if it will take me back to a more comforting and recognizable world. I mean it worked for Dorothy with those ruby red slippers, right?

Posted in Reflections At Mid-Life

Twenty-Eight Years Ago

September 12, 2020

Twenty-eight years ago, I spent the entire night in Duke University Medical Center, wide-awake, staring out the window at a full moon. Little did I know that I was being given a sneak preview of how exhausted and helpless I would feel twenty-eight years later. Since the coronavirus pandemic hit in March 2020, the impact it has had on everyone across the country has varied; however, I have yet to hear anyone who hasn’t used the word “exhausted” to explain one of the ways they feel. Recently, I found myself trying to explain how I have been feeling. The waves of emotion – tired, joyful, foggy, helpless, hopeful, inadequate, strong, grateful, angry, sad – are so difficult to navigate, because they all come and go constantly. I was trying to compare it all to anything I had ever experienced in my sixty-one years of life. And then it dawned on me. This was the way I felt, twenty-eight years ago, when Austin was born.

The doctors and nurses and residents and medical students kept coming into the room to see if I had progressed any, but the answer was the same over and over again. Nothing. More Pitocin, more labor pains, but no dilating happening. Well, not past 5 centimeters, and the goal for birth was 10. A few days earlier, during my visit to the doctor’s office, “Step on the scale, please.” I asked what the new grand total was. Seriously? How could I have gained seven pounds in one week? She took my blood pressure, and sent me home with directions to stay on bed rest and check my urine daily. My due date was nine days away. At the time, I had no idea what preeclampsia was, but my then husband, a physician, tried to calmly explain the seriousness of it to me. Within twelve hours, bed rest quickly turned into being admitted to the hospital and being induced. I had no idea what I was about to experience. This was my first try at giving birth. The fact that I had gained over seven pounds in such a short time toward the end of my pregnancy should have been a clue, but I had nothing to compare it with, so I thought it was the North Carolina late summer hot temperatures making my body swell up. I only had two outfits left that fit. No maternity bras fit any more, and no shoes could be squeezed onto my feet. At that point I had gained 50 pounds total, which was not easy to carry around in my 4’11” body. The same body that had competed in its first sprint triathlon just one year prior to this birthing marathon. The same body that was swimming a half-mile every day up until the day I was put on bed rest.

Over 24 hours in the hospital of waiting, walking, water breaking, worrying. Many of those hours with a very determined baby repeatedly trying to find his way out, only to keep popping back up into my ribcage. Not a joyful feeling. At one point during this unpredictable time, I was told to get on all fours, as every doctor, resident and medical student in the maternity ward came rushing into the room to watch, when they realized that the umbilical cord was wrapped around the baby’s neck. Clearly, this was way more exciting for them than it was for me. Eventually, I was told that a C-section was necessary. I cried, and reluctantly agreed. I still had one more birthing class to attend. It was the one about cesarean deliveries, so I had no idea what was about to happen. I was swiftly taken to an operating room. Why were they strapping my arms down? Why was I being given oxygen? My physician husband tried to explain things, but his colleagues from his department were away at a conference, so he was on-call. And it was a full moon. He was being called away frequently to answer calls or go to the ER. I was trying not to panic. We had just moved to Durham a few months earlier, and my family lived in Ohio, so we were on our own.

Eventually, Austin did arrive, as healthy as he could be. I, on the other hand, was shaking and shivering uncontrollably. I later learned that this was a typical response to the Pitocin used to induce me, as my body had to regulate its temperature back to normal. There was nothing normal about it. I cried and I worried, about me, and about my newborn son, who was in a room far away from me. So much for the TV drama beautiful moment when they place your baby in your arms and you look amazing and everyone is taking photos and videos. My body was shaking, my teeth were chattering non-stop as if I was locked in a freezer with no clothes on. I could not control one thing that was happening to my body. Where were the doctors and nurses? Where was my baby? Due to the non-stop trembling, I was not able to hold Austin until several hours later, and I had only seen him for a brief moment when his father held him up next to me in the O.R. When the moment he was brought to me to hold finally arrived, I was relieved. He had a full head of black hair and big alert eyes. He was perfect.

Fast forward to one week later. We had stayed in the hospital for a few more days and then headed home to start our new way of living. My parents had driven down from Ohio to help us adjust to this new lifestyle of no sleep and living in a fog. Yet, within hours of Austin’s birth, I wondered how I had even existed without him. Because I had a C-section, I could not go up and down steps and I could not lift things. Thankfully, Austin was a solid eight-plus pounds and a healthy eater, but lifting and holding him was a challenge with stitches and staples in my belly. Three days after arriving home, I was having some unbearable pain, so we ended up going to the emergency room. I had to wake up my parents to tell them that we were going to the ER and taking Austin with us (because I was his source of food). I was exhausted and tired. I cried and felt helpless, even with my mom there. How was I going to take care of my newborn baby if I was sick? The thought of taking my baby and sitting in the ER at midnight on a Saturday night made me sicker. I was diagnosed with an infection, caused by the fact that my water broke so early on while being induced, and I was readmitted to the hospital. We had to fight to have Austin stay in the room with me. They finally agreed, under the condition that I have a family member there every minute, day and night, to hand Austin to me to be fed and to change his diaper. The nurses were not allowed to touch him or do anything for him. They pumped antibiotics into me and within a few days, I healed and we went back home. I was exhausted. Between the nurses coming in every couple of hours to check on me and feeding Austin, I had gotten less sleep than I would have at home.

On September 12, 1992, I could not have predicted how the next twenty-eight years would unfold. Austin has continued to show the same determination and grit that he communicated to me when I was in labor. He and I have ridden the rollercoaster of emotions that life has given to us, and together and we have figured out how to be strong and to follow our passions. On the day he was born, I could not have predicted that he would have a baby sister or that his father and I would divorce when he was 6 years old. It has not been easy, and we have both encountered many challenges, personally and professionally, along the way. This pandemic continues to push me to learn and to bend and to grow. Turns out I had the same feelings twenty-eight years ago this week. The feelings of helplessness and living in a fog were much the same. The moments of joy and the feeling that I could push through were there too. I have watched Austin navigate this pandemic as he lost his job and could have easily given up on his dream, but he has not. In fact, I believe it has made him stronger and more determined. Today I celebrate not only the birth of my oldest child, but also the hope that he has helped me to have to “keep on keeping on” over the years. My birthday wish for him this year is to take what he is learning during this unpredictable time, and make the best of it. I pass on to him what I believe my dad would tell him today if he were still here, “We have no guarantees in life, so live each day to the fullest.” Can I hear an amen?

Posted in Reflections At Mid-Life

Back To School 2020: Lowering The Bar

Friday marked Day 15 for this new school year. I am working on finding small victories, as suggested to me by a talented educator colleague of mine. Just for the record, he too, is struggling. Now that August 17 – Sept. 4, 2020, are history, I am reflecting on those fifteen days and trying to move forward to plan for the next fourteen days. That will bring me just three days away from October. I strongly advise that all teachers take this year in “chunks”, just as we should be teaching (small bits that build to the big idea or concept). At the end of September, I look forward to writing about all of the incredible things I have learned, and how my students have blossomed, and how we can’t wait for another full day in front of our computer screens. Until then, I will keep pushing myself.

Every day gets a tiny bit better. Or does it? I can’t help but feel that I am lowering the bar so I can find and claim victories. I keep telling myself, and others, it’s a pandemic. It’s okay to have different expectations for yourself. It’s okay to make multiple mistakes a day, virtually, in front of students and colleagues. It’s okay to have to replan all of your plans every night until after 11PM. It’s okay to spend more time trying to get students logged onto or connected to meetings and classes and platforms online, than the amount of time I am teaching content. Here’s the thing. It’s really not okay. It is, however, the way it is for now. Is that lowering the bar? My hunch is that most of you reading this who know me well, will say that is ridiculous. I don’t even know how to lower the bar. In reality though, that is how it feels to me. It feels like I am lowering the bar. Granted, I typically set the bar high, for my students and myself. And I am still setting the bar high, but it seems so far out of reach this year. So, I keep digging deep to find my creative soul, because I know that is what keeps me going. That is where I come up with ideas that will motivate students to learn. Maybe one or two moments a day should be good enough. Maybe the bar needs to go up and down, so I can squeeze in some joy and victories, one way or another. I will keep searching for ways to plan for, make, and find joy.

Several years ago I wrote an op-ed for our local newspaper entitled, “Every Child in Our Schools Deserves Joy.” I am a firm believer that students and teachers will learn more when they are feeling joy or successful. Teachers and parents are struggling this year, as we try to find ways to keep students on track (whatever that means). The stress levels are higher than I have ever experienced. Yet, in three long weeks, upon reflection, I have figured out where to find joy. It is in the 25 faces or names (not everyone turns on their camera) on my computer screen every weekday morning. They may be tired, but I have yet had anyone whine or complain about being “at school.” They patiently wait for me to explain where to find assignments, or for me to send them to online breakout rooms, or for me to help another classmate get back into class. They laugh at my jokes. They get excited about learning, whether it is science, math, or new English and Spanish vocabulary words during our read aloud of the book How Tia Lola Came to (Visit) Stay. They are figuring out ways to find and share joy, so I need to keep the bar high for them.

Don’t get me wrong. This past month, by far, has been one of the most challenging months of my 36-year career in education, but I have not given up on trying to make the best of it. I may not feel that way every night or every morning, but I am pushing myself to get back there daily. I am teaching online in ways I could not even imagine happening a couple of months ago. That learning curve remains steep for me. It is daunting, but I believe that if I take it slow, stop to rest and breathe and hydrate, ask for help, and keep putting one foot in front of the other, I will continue to make that climb toward the top. I will surely continue to fall and need to get back up again. I will have moments, days and weeks when I feel like I will not be able to make it, but I will keep going. COVID19 and too many social injustices in our country have taken joy away from almost everyone recently, in one way or another, including me. I know in my heart that we have to move forward and create a better world. My students, and you (and I) deserve joy. We deserve to keep the bar high, and I am working on giving myself permission to lower the bar temporarily if necessary, knowing that it can and will be raised back up again sooner than later.

Posted in Reflections At Mid-Life

Back to School 2020: Day 8


Today started out as a disaster. By 8:30AM, I wanted to call in sick for the rest of the day, but that is not an option. Many students were having Internet struggles this morning. Parents were texting out of frustration trying to get their child “to school.” It was a moment when I thought about how ludicrous this entire situation of trying to do school virtually is. There are moments when it comes together, but that is not yet happening the majority of the time. The students who were able to attend class this morning were tired, and so was I.

I am trying to infuse some normalcy into my class for students, and for myself, so that we have a chance to survive this experiment we are calling virtual school. In between all of my frustrations and doubting my abilities, I try to remind myself that I was an incredible teacher in person. I really was. What parts of that can I bring into this virtual world? Is that even possible? By 9:45AM this morning, there would have been very little to convince me that anything positive could come from this way of teaching and being. If something could have gone wrong, it did. Most of the chaos was due to being online, but some of it was, honestly, because I am not yet skilled at planning for virtual teaching. I have advised beginning teachers for years about how critical planning is if you are going to teach well. It can determine defeat or success for you. This new way of planning, I hope, will come with time. I am currently feeling defeated and this morning, I was feeling like I did not really want to wait to find out if time will help or not.

I tried to take some deep breaths, get through our literacy block, which includes reading aloud the book I delivered to every student’s home last week, How tia lola Came to (Visit) Stay, by Julia Alvarez. So far, so good. It’s a tried and true book for me. After that I had set up small group meetings with students who had not been completing assignments, so I could try to coach them through any problems they might be facing while trying to complete them. These “assignments” for me, have been simple and have been designed by me to give students a chance to practice handing in assignments online, give me a chance to figure out how to assign online assignments, and to try to get a feel for their reading. math, writing and following instructions skills. They are purposely simple, just to get our feet wet. My years of experience may not be helpful in many ways with virtual teaching, but my wisdom does help me to know that if I push these students or myself too hard right now, we will all burn out. In reality, not going full steam ahead is likely a better way to approach this entire situation. Putting the brakes on is not near normal for me though. It also means that I have to reckon with the voice in my head that is telling me that I am incompetent with this virtual teaching task that has been dumped on teachers. I have to convince myself daily (hourly) that I can keep going and that I am not ruining the lives of my students or their families in the meantime. Or myself.

Yesterday after school I delivered another book to five students who will be beginning a weekly lunchtime book club with me. We started today at 12:30pm and it turned my day around. This is me at my best. Reading with students and talking about the book, the characters in the book, and life. These are the moments that I am reminded about my teaching abilities and the importance of this work.

At the end of the day about half of my class returns to me for an end of day meeting. Theoretically, everyone is supposed to attend. Realistically, half of them are spent and likely can’t bear the thought of joining another zoom meeting. Today 13 students joined me. After introducing an “end of day checklist” to them, reminding them about assignments and encouraging them to put all of their learning materials in the bag I gave them last week, I read them a poem. It was titled Belonging, from the book, Dictionary For A Better World. The poem led to a discussion about how hard it is normally at the beginning of the school year to get to know new classmates, but how this pandemic and virtual mess is making it harder. We brainstormed about some possible ways to get to know each other online and then we just kicked off our shoes (well, truth be told, none of us were wearing shoes) and we started to talk and laugh together. Belly laughs. Ten year olds being ten and silly and laughing with one another. It’s going to be hard to top that the rest of this week, but I’m willing to try. One day at a time. Being good enough. Letting children be children. Eight days down, one hundred seventy two to go.

Posted in Reflections At Mid-Life

First Week of School Reflections

August 2020

Let me begin by saying that I will be okay. I am not okay today, but I am also not worried about this state of disequilibrium lasting for the rest of my career or lifetime. I do wish though, with all of my heart, that I could be okay today. I have been teaching for a long, long time. Really. My first year teaching was 1984. It was an incredible experience with ten middle school students who required special education services. They were with me all day in the same classroom, along with Nancy, an amazing instructional assistant. It was a magical year for all of us. Since that year, I have had twenty more “first weeks of school” working directly in schools. An additional fifteen “first weeks of school” as a parent.

My first week of school this year, 2020, this perplexing, exhausting and emotional year, cannot be compared to anything I have ever experienced. I have attempted, several times, to write about what I have been experiencing recently, but I find that I cannot focus long enough to complete sentences or sustain a stream of thoughts that even make sense. So, while swimming laps last night, I came up with the thought that I would write in short blurbs instead. That is exactly how my brain is currently functioning. I think I need to get those disjointed thoughts down on paper so that I can move forward. I have a feeling that there are many others who read this will relate to it, especially teachers, and it may be a relief to only have to digest short blurbs because most of us are in a state of mental and emotional fatigue.

It’s Time To Wear Shoes Again

Not really. About 25 years ago, I wrote an article for a local parenting magazine titled, “It’s Time to Wear Shoes Again.” I was working as a Family Support Consultant at the time. It was an article offering parenting advice for preparing children to get ready for the first week of school. I advised getting back into bedtime routines, morning routines, and other inevitable changes that occur when we transition from summer to the first week of school. And it was time to wear shoes again. New school shoes. A highlight for many children and teens (and teachers) as they switched from summer bare feet and flip flops to their new school shoes. I grew up in a family owned shoe store. Business was booming in late August every year. This year, the year of nothing normal, we are doing school from home. No new shoes required, for students or teachers. Silver lining: no blisters?

New Levels of First Week Jitters for Teachers

I have a terrible feeling that these jitters may be hanging around for the rest of the year. In over 30 years, I never started a school year without feeling nervous about being ready for my new students, or as an instructional coach, ready for my new teachers. There is always something new to learn about or something new to try, and I looked forward to it. I had new students and families or teachers to build relationships with. New challenges to help push myself just a little bit more. This year is different. The level of stress is through the roof. For me, and I know for other teachers and parents as well, the learning curve is beyond steep. We could not have been prepared for a pandemic, and therefore, we are not prepared for school to begin this year. My “To Do” list is out of control. I currently have over 20 items on my list, with 10 marked as a priority that need to be completed by Monday. Each of those ten requires a minimum of 2 hours of my focused attention. That is not humanly possible.

Does Crying Help?

We are often told that crying is good for you. It is cleansing. There are hundreds of quotes about crying. Here’s one: ” You know that a good, long session of weeping can often make you feel better, even if your circumstances have not changed one bit”, from Lemony Snicket. Another, from Eileen Mayhew, “Let your tears come. Let them water your soul.” C.S. Lewis puts a different spin on it, “Crying is all right in its way while it lasts. But you have to stop sooner or later, and then you still have to decide what to do.” I know I am not alone when I say that I have cried more in the past six months than I have cried in my lifetime (61 years if you are wondering). The problem is not the crying, it is what C.S. Lewis said that is nagging at me every day, all day. I still have to decide what to do. I still have to go on. As someone who did not cry often, prior to the pandemic, I don’t really know what to do with all of the crying. It annoys me. This grieving process is real, and I am getting tired of it. I know I am grieving the loss of so many things from my now former “normal” life, and yet I am so fortunate during this time compared to many others. It’s confusing. It’s tiring. It is frustrating. So, I cry. Morning, noon and night. Some days are worse than others. I never really know when it will hit me, but I know that I have to continue to decide what to do.

Frustration Having to Reinvent…Everything!

Relationships. That’s what I do best as an educator. It’s a non-negotiable for me. Frustration for me includes not being able to build relationships with my new students and new colleagues in person. ( I changed school districts and schools this year) So I took the advice of C.S. Lewis and I decided what to do. I spent a good amount of time driving around this first week of school to meet as many of my students as possible. I visited them safely outside of their homes. For others, I was able to drop off a surprise bag of goodies (thanks to donations form my amazing friends) to their front door. (Monday we will all open one of the wrapped gifts together!) I know it will pay off in the end, but that also meant that I did not have much time to learn and practice online teaching skills. That will haunt me the entire second week of school. I know, in my heart, that it is okay. Yet, it is still tiring and frustrating to only see students on a computer screen. Frustration for me includes changing from the person that others relied upon for information and guidance at work, to the person who knows the least. Teaching online is like learning a second language to me. Learning a second language requires practice. A lot of practice. I have no time to practice, and yet I need to be teaching this new language to my students, with confidence. They are depending on me. Their parents are depending on me. Frustration for me also includes having a huge set of skills that seem useless now. My toolbox used to be overflowing, and it is now near empty. I am learning a new school and new curriculum. I am learning to teach in ways I don’t think are what’s best for children. I am frustrated, but I am, learning to refill my toolbox. Slowly, but surely.

Self Care: Let’s Stop Pretending This is Normal

It’s a pandemic. Still. Self Care needs to stop being the new buzz word. It is right up there with “synchronous” and “asynchronous” as stress causing words for me. It stresses me out more to think that I am not taking care of myself or that I am the cause of someone else not taking care of themselves when I ask for help. How are parents with school age children supposed to take care of themselves? Are we really expecting parents to find it natural to set up a learning space for their children at home? Monitor their children ALL day to make sure they are logged in, focusing on online classes and meetings? Feed their children ALL day? Are we really expecting teachers to be in front of a computer screen, ALL day, while juggling answering texts and emails and phone calls from parents and colleagues who need help? What about the teachers who are also expected to manage their own children who are supposed to be in front of a screen all day? I want to scream to someone (besides my poor husband) that it is not healthy for any child or teacher to be in front of a screen ALL day! I do not have the solutions to make this better instantly, but I can tell you that the way we are doing this, full steam ahead, is not the answer. We, meaning students, teachers and parents/families, are all going to crash sooner than later. Then what? I met a mom last night during one of my home visits who was fired from her job yesterday because she needed to be home with her child the first week of school to help him (he has a disability). She does not have the luxury of working from home for her type of job. This is honestly, just wrong. In March, we heard a lot about “the new normal”, but we seem to be forgetting that we are still not close to finding a new normal that works for everyone. Let’s stop pretending that we are all okay. What is happening in schools (at home) is not even remotely acceptable. Pun intended.

Kindness Matters

Now more than ever, kindness matters. I can’t believe how kind and patient the parents and families of my new students have been to me so far. Between my tears (offline), the kindness from parents, friends and colleagues, past and current, and my family, has kept me going this first week of school. My fifth grade students have been amazing. If we learn anything this year, I hope it will be that we must treat each other with kindness. I know that I will be told to treat myself with kindness too, but honestly, that is easier said than done. My expectations for myself are high. I don’t know how to just settle. It’s not in my blood. The learning curve is steep for me on many levels this new school year. I am trying to be realistic, yet hopeful. I will be okay. I’m not so great right now, but I know I will find a way to make peace with this new way of teaching. I will learn, I will grow. I will have more gray hair. I will have more e-tools in my toolbox. I will be okay…and so will you.

Posted in Reflections At Mid-Life

Who Cares?

I am usually grateful for having the parents, family and mentors I’ve had in my life. Today, not so much. If I hadn’t been raised to care so deeply about others and not only to understand, but live my life knowing that social justice should always be a priority, I would probably be able to enjoy life right now. I do care though. I care deeply and it is working against me right now.

I am sure that anyone walking past me at this moment in time would assume that I am enjoying life. I am writing this as I sit outside, near the ocean, in almost complete solitude. The sun is shining down on me, and there is a perfect breeze to keep me feeling comfortable. It is not lost on me that not everyone is having this kind of day today, or even this moment. I am healthy, able to go buy and cook food that I like and that I know will nourish me and keep me healthy. This morning, Day Two of my 2 ½ day solo retreat, I put my laptop in my backpack and walked to this serene spot where I can take some deep breaths, reflect on my thoughts and try to make some sense of all of the chaos and sadness that has been so prevalent in our world lately. I guess I am practicing self-care. Self-care is a buzzword that gets tossed around a lot these days. I preach it to teachers all the time. You can even earn credits for licensure renewal taking “self care” courses. Truth be told, I wish it were that easy. I wish self-care could wipe away the sadness; the injustice, the hurt and the anger that I know so many others are experiencing during this pandemic and ongoing fight for equity for all. It seems to me, that there are plenty of people who are oblivious to it all. As if there were no coronavirus taking the lives of people daily. As if there was not yet another brutal murder of a Black man or woman by a white police officer. As if the riots that have broken out because of the continued blatant racism in so many cities across our country, are not important enough to pay close attention to without seeing it as only an act of irresponsible vandalism.

I am having difficulty grappling with all of that right now. I can’t just turn off my caring button. In reality, I know that my taking a couple of days to rest, write, read and scrapbook does not make me a less caring person. Nor does it make me any less sad or angry. Maybe it’s Catholic guilt (although I thought I gave that up over 40 years ago?) My hope is that it re-energizes me so that I can think clearly and move forward to do the work that my heart wants me to do.

There is nothing to be gained by wishing you were someplace else or waiting for a better situation. You see where you are and do what you can with that. –Jacob K. Javits

I am an educator. Always have been and always will be. I firmly believe that education is the best chance we have at creating change. The changes that need to happen are systemic changes, and that’s a huge undertaking. Without educated, empathetic leaders, we will not get to the much needed, positive changes that will make a difference. I am not convinced that we are even close to being where we need to be, and I know for a fact that public education needs to change drastically if we are to begin to develop young people who can think for themselves, based on facts, accurate history and compassion. Systemic change can only happen if there are people with the intelligence, passion and courage willing to change it. This change will need to come from younger generations. While I still consider myself young, I realize that sixty-one is not young to anyone under the age of forty. I caution our young, passionate game changers though. Do not be so self-righteous that you do not listen to and learn from your older mentors, colleagues and leaders, and those younger than you. Our future leaders. Don’t ever get to a place where you do not value every single voice. It’s easy to get caught up in emotions. It’s easy to rationalize our every word and action. It’s easy to judge others because they think or act differently than us.

I haven’t given up. Although, this turbulent time in history has brought me closer to giving up than I ever have before, I do know I can get through whatever gets tossed my way. That’s part of being in elementary education. I see the potential in our younger generation. They have so much to give and so much to teach us. Their world is going to be much different than mine was while I was growing up, and we all have a chance now to make sure it is a safe and positive place for them to live, love and grow. We will see who really cares. Not only about themselves, but who actually cares about others. That’s the change I think we need. Do you care?






Posted in Reflections At Mid-Life

73 Days

IMG_9798Eighty-four (84) days ago I was shaking hands and hugging thousands of people as they stood in line waiting to vote in the primaries. I was there because I was on the ballot for our local school board election. While I have so many distinct memories and images etched in my brain from that day, it all seems so distant now. Ten days following the election, our schools shut down due to the impending COVID-19 pandemic. My days quickly transformed into a “new normal”, although there is almost nothing normal about my days right now.

As the days go by, seventy three (73), to be exact, more and more articles, tweets, blogs, and podcasts are being written about the many ways that the COVID-19 pandemic is changing the way we work, play and live. Writing is one way of processing my emotions, and in late March I thought I would be writing daily, or at least weekly as I tried to navigate this pandemic. That made perfect sense at the time because I could not imagine being quarantined in our home for a few weeks with time to fill.

Biggest lesson learned so far: nothing makes perfect sense any more.

Not only have I not written daily or weekly, but three weeks has turned into almost three months, with a forecast for many more to follow, including a strong chance that all of this staying at home, mask wearing, and contactless living in public, is not going away for many. many months (I am avoiding saying years, because that is too much to think about right now.)

One thing that has not changed is that I have children and teachers heavy on my mind. As every profession has been tossed into the whirlwind of change and are spending hours daily trying to function from new places and perspectives, I have watched, listened and lived through two months of total mayhem in public education. In particular, my life has been tossed around within the world of elementary school mayhem, which looks and feels a bit the same, but definitely very different from high school and college level education. 

Two weeks ago, I celebrated my sixty-first birthday. Over half of those years I have been working in public education. I started my career teaching middle school, then high school, then elementary school. I started teaching at the college level twenty five years ago. Besides the obvious difference of ages of the students, there are vast differences in the learning environments, based not only on the students, but on the teachers. The adults in these environments are different as night and day, so the fact that this pandemic is being handled differently in each educational environment, is of no surprise to me. In fact, I believe that the solutions for each needs to look different as we move forward.

In the elementary school world, like other places, there are waves of emotions that keep coming at us, often without warning. The feeling of being inadequate is constantly there. Teaching, especially elementary school age children, for most of us, relies on face-to-face contact. Proximity is a key factor in learning for many students. Being able to speak quietly and gently to a child who needs reassurance or calming requires being close to them and giving reassuring smiles and eyes that show genuine care. Some of us are having a hard time thinking about ways to do that part of teaching differently. We were already concerned about the screen time children had during the day, and now that is what we are relying on to make contact with them. If you have no way of connecting virtually with a student, then it’s as if they dropped off the face of the earth. Many sleepless nights for teachers now can be attributed to that factor alone. I hear from teachers who feel as if they should be doing more. While I tell them that they are doing plenty, and they are doing enough, I can’t change their teaching instincts and how they are feeling, solely by reassuring them…remotely.

March and April are usually the time of year when you see the fruits of your labor in a classroom. Everything you have been trying to teach your students starts to come together, children mature, and things just start to click. It’s the reason we all change from our December, “I can’t do this anymore” mantra to sharing success stories day after day in the springtime. By mid-May, we usually begin to prepare for the end of the year. There are celebrations, awards, assessments, end-of-year checklists. Packing up the classroom. Saying good-bye for the summer break, with some sadness and some relief, to students and co-workers. Our heads already full of ideas for “next year” and reflections on what worked and all the new things we learned and we want to try in the new school year.

This year, our 2020 hindsight is different. Our brains are still full, but moving at rapid speed and there seems to be no end in sight. We have very little idea how to “re-imagine school”, which is becoming a common term in the education world. As teachers, we also know that odds are slim that anyone will actually ask us to be part of the proposed solutions. We already have almost no control over COVID-19, but in our world, we also, usually, have very little control over the decisions being made that will impact us directly in the coming months.

Truth be told. I’m tired. 

Since the pandemic hit NC, my typical week, for the last 10 weeks, switched from going to work in an elementary school to coordinating food deliveries for families from our school. This is my new normal, which I fully expect to change again, as “summer break” approaches:

Sunday: Prepare food delivery list, assign gift cards, assign teams to families, print out groups with family names and addresses. Send an email to teacher volunteers to confirm that they are all able to help deliver meals and gift cards (and books and masks) to families on Monday to 50 families.

Monday: Respond to emails, texts, phone calls from colleagues. Attend virtual meetings, go pick up food at the district food warehouse. Take food to school parking lot to meet 14 volunteers. Sort food, pack up cars, hand out lists and gift cards, deliver food. Go home. Respond to emails, texts, phone calls from colleagues. Attend virtual meetings.

Wednesday: Respond to emails, texts, phone calls from colleagues. Attend virtual meetings. Work on online PD for staff. Attend virtual meetings. Go to local food bank to pick-up more food for families for Thursday/Friday deliveries. Confirm with teacher volunteers for deliveries to be made to 15-20 families.

Thursday-Friday: Sort food at home and prepare boxes for teachers to pick up for families. Respond to emails, texts, phone calls from colleagues. Attend virtual meetings.

Everyday: Check in with teachers by phone, texts, emails. Attend virtual meetings. Work on list of tasks for school, including updating Adopt-A Family student lists and donor lists. Attend virtual meetings. Go for a walk and listen to books on audible or podcasts.

Some days: Go to the bank (drive-thru) to deposit checks from donors. Go grocery shopping, with mask and gloves. Work on online PD for staff. Watch webinars for my own learning. Call my 90 year old mom in Ohio, who has been self-isolating since March and is “getting tired of this whole thing.” Work on jigsaw puzzles with my daughter, who came home from Chicago in March, who is attending grad school from home temporarily. 

Nobody really knows what the next seventy days will look like. Nor the seventy days that follow those. I know that I will slowly, but surely, develop my new normal, and give what I can to others as we try to figure this all out together. I know that I will continue to have days that go by quickly and feel productive, and days when I begin to cry for what seems like no reason at all. I first experienced loss when I was 13 years old. My friend, Mike, from Junior High (Middle School) died from Leukemia, then my grandmother died from a brain tumor, then my 27 year old uncle died from cancer. All within a few months of each other. Since then I have felt that emptiness and those mysterious emotions over and over when young friends died, my dad passed away, I got divorced, I moved to a new state,  or I changed jobs. This pandemic has stirred up all of the same emotions, over and over. I know that I pushed through in the past, and I will push through this too. The unknown is the biggest challenge, but I do know that this pandemic is causing more unknown than usual. I am going to push through the next seventy days with what I know: kindness, patience and common sense. Mid-August will be here before we know it. No need to change what has worked for me in the past. I hope that others will join me.

Posted in Reflections At Mid-Life

Do All The Good You Can

Do all the good you can,
by all the means you can,
in all the ways you can,
in all the places you can,
to all the people you can,
as long as ever you can.
– John Wesley

May 1, 2020: We keep seeing and hearing the words “unprecedented” and “uncertain”, over, and over, and over. One thing that remains the same is that each of us can do good things. That looks different for every single person. For some, it is staying home every day to keep themselves and others safe. For some it is taking care of their family. For some it is donating something to keep others safe or fed during the pandemic. There is no right or wrong way. For me, because I am able, it has been trying to make sure families from our school know they are seen and they are valued. Valued enough that they deserve to have good food for their family, valued enough that a teacher or school staff member will check in with them regularly to make sure they are okay, valued enough to receive masks so they can go to the store without being being judged for not caring about others or being uneducated.

I cannot stand wearing a mask, but I will do it as long as I have to because I understand why it matters. My smile and my facial expressions have been my way of letting people know that I care for most of my life. These masks, no matter how beautifully crafted some of them are, are stifling me (not to mention fogging up my glasses), but I will wear one until they are not necessary any more (fingers crossed that is sooner than later). Hugging children has been my natural response when I see students for over 35 years. I have adjusted to smiling with my eyes, yelling through cloth so people can hear me and not hugging children, for now. That’s what it takes so I can do all the good I can, during a time when I don’t know what else to do. I really don’t know what else to do or I will sit around and think too much and then I will just cry. I still cry, but it is less frequently as I keep myself busy knowing I am doing what I can. Because I can. One day we will all look back at this time in history with disbelief, but we will go on. We will be okay. We can do this. Each in our own way.