Monday, June 29, 2015

I Can't Fix This

Countless times the last few years I’ve turned to my husband, tears streaming down my face, and said, “I can’t fix this.”  Oftentimes these meltdowns have centered on our inability to have a baby.  But many times, my heartache has stretched farther.  Infertility has threatened my self-esteem, my relationships, my sanity, and my faith. I’d like to say I’ve kept the upper hand, but too often, I’ve let it defeat me.

Whenever we’re faced with a difficult situation, we can only hope we’ll handle it with grace and with dignity.  As adults, we know better than to grovel, to panic, and to self-implode.  But the pain can be blinding, the circumstances overwhelming, and those are the times when our emotions overtake our intelligence, our maturity, and even our peace with God.  I’m a perfectionist, which really just means I struggle with pride.  Once I’ve let myself slip, I find it hard to find the motivation to even try to improve.  I continually battle the feeling that it’s all or nothing, and if I can’t have it all, I may as well have nothing.     

This attitude has been costly to my quality of life these last few years.  While there have been plenty of good days (the number is ever-increasing and I’m thankful) the bad days have been dark, hopeless, and biting.  Only just recently I’ve begun to face the truth that my attitude has been damaging not only to myself but also to those around me.  It’s nobody’s fault what I’ve been through, but I am responsible for the way I’ve handled it.  I wish I had handled it differently, but the fact is I did the best I could at the time.  Forgiving myself means pushing aside my pride: both admitting I’ve made mistakes and not letting those missteps keep me from moving forward.

I can’t fix the damage I’ve done.  I can’t go back and attend baby showers with a genuine smile instead of a fake one.  I can’t erase terse, unfeeling texts and e-mails I’ve sent in response to baby news from well-meaning friends.  I can’t unsay the lies I’ve yelled at my husband as he’s persistently tried to love me through this.  I can’t just pretend it’s not awkward with people I’ve distanced myself from, sometimes on purpose and sometimes before I’d even realized what I’d done.  I can’t get back the days I’ve wasted not growing in my relationship with God because I was angry with Him.

The only thing I have a chance at fixing is the future.  I can celebrate at that next baby shower for what God has given, rather than resenting what isn’t to be.  I can be genuinely happy for others as their families grow, remembering their journey is for them and mine is for me.  I can let my husband love me through it all and be thankful for all that we have, instead of fixating on the one thing we don’t.  I can slowly but surely work to close the gaps I’ve created with my bitterness, my envy, and my regret.  I can do all this by not wasting another day stagnating in my relationship with God all because His plan for my life didn’t match mine.

I can’t fix this.  But God can.  He specializes in redeeming our mistakes for His glory.  We only have to let Him.  Yesterday morning, I noticed a quote in my Sunday School book that spoke directly to my heart: Failure is the opportunity to begin again more intelligently.” -Henry Ford  

Let us live like we believe it.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Dare to Dream- Immeasurably More

It’s week two of the TPT Seller Challenge, and this week’s challenge is called “Dare to Dream.”  I will admit I laughed when I first read the title, as my thoughts on this cliché have become more cynical in my thirties than they were in my twenties.  It’s not that I don’t “dream” anymore, it’s just that I fully realize “my” dreams may or may not come true the way I envision them.  However, the good part is I also realize THAT’S OKAY! 

Last week, I attended church camp with the youth group from my church.  The theme for the week was “More” and it was based on Ephesians 3:20, “Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us.”  I can’t help but see a connection between this week’s challenge and last week’s theme; for me, they go hand in hand.  Rather than choose a particular dream for my career, my personal life OR my spiritual life, I’d rather live day to day and put it in God’s hands, knowing that it’ll be immeasurably more than I can ask or imagine, as I let His power work through me.

While I do think it’s important to have goals and to visualize where hard work toward those goals can take you, for me it’s all about the journey.  One day at a time, one step at a time or in the case of TPT, one product at a time, one follower at a time.  I truly believe my personal quote on my TPT page that says, “To know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived.  This is to have succeeded.” (Emerson)  I clearly remember what it was like to be drowning as a new teacher, and it thrills me that TPT can hopefully alleviate some of that for new teachers now.  I want to reach new teachers, as well as veteran teachers who are just looking for new ideas.  I’d also like to help colleagues get started with their own TPT business.  In short, I’d like to reach more teachers!

I also love the fact that more success on TPT means more resources for my own classroom.  Whether you’ve been teaching one year or ten years, there are never enough hours in the day to create everything you’d like to offer your students for optimal learning.  TPT is such a timesaver, and I like to think of it as a bartering system.  The money I make on TPT creating resources that I’m good at creating allows me to get resources that I’m not so good at creating.  Knowing that little people around the world are using the resources I create in their classrooms also makes me smile.

When I first started teaching, I struggled with the lack of genuine feedback about what I was doing in my classroom.  Administrators and colleagues are so busy with their own responsibilities that it’s hard for them to get a handle on what’s REALLY going on in individual classrooms.  I love the fact that TPT allows me to receive genuine feedback on products I’m using in my own classroom.  Being able to compare what worked well or didn’t work well for my customers to my own experience has taken my teaching to a whole new level!  For me, TPT means more feedback that helps me do my job better.

Let’s be real for a minute.  Everyone likes more income.  I’ve always scoffed at the fact that I work just as hard as my husband (or harder) (well for ten months a year anyway) and make a fraction of his salary.  TPT still hasn’t exactly leveled the playing field, but it makes me feel like it could one day if I keep up the hard work and the stars align.  I love that feeling of professional empowerment- that what I do IS valued and DOES matter to more than just the twenty-some kids I teach each year (not that it wouldn’t have been enough if it was only them). Most importantly, more income means more opportunities to do good for others.  Again, "to know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived- this is to have succeeded."

With TPT, I really do feel that the possibilities are endless.  It’s been an amazing journey so far and I can only hope that there’s immeasurably more to come.  If you’re a teacher and you haven’t yet given it a try, either as a customer or as a seller, I’d love to tell you more!

Monday, June 15, 2015

A Book Report Makeover

Today I was going through posters I had my students make entitled, “Top 4 of 4th.”  They highlighted four things they enjoyed about fourth grade, and I’ll hang them in the hall for Open House in August.  Most of the students illustrated topics like field trips, games they played at recess, or even talking to their friends at lunch.  But what really surprised me is that a couple of kids drew their book report they just completed for an end-of-year project.  Granted it was fresh on their minds but I was still surprised to see it made anyone’s Top 4 list.  Must not be half bad for a book report if I do say so myself!

One of my greatest missions as an upper elementary teacher is to get kids excited about reading QUALITY literature.  No offense to the wimpy kid and his diary, but sometimes I cringe at the difference in the average book I find in my fourth graders hands compared to the ones we read in elementary school.  One way that I encourage my students to read meaningful books is by requiring each of them to read and complete a book report on a Newbery Award winning book as their final project at the end of the year.  Then, we share these book reports the last week of school and it gives the kids some ideas for summer reading (hopefully).  

I signed up for a TPT Seller Challenge and the first challenge was to make over an existing product from your TPT store.  Since it had been on my mind today, I chose to make over my book report.  I love this product because it is Common Core aligned for third through fifth grade, so you can mix and match the pages that fit your students.  There is a page for EVERY Reading (literature) Common Core standard for each grade level.

For Makeover Madness, I updated the color on the cover and changed the title so that it could be used for any quality or award winning novel, not just a Newbery winner.  I had unnecessary headers and footers, so I nixed them and updated the fonts.  I also noticed this year that my students had trouble fitting their writing on some of the pages, so I enlarged the graphics to give them more room to write.  I'm so excited about my new and improved book report!

My Award Winning Book Report a great way to review the standards from the previous year at the beginning of the year, or it can serve as a capstone to review a year’s worth of standards.  And the best part is it’s on sale for 20% off (only $1.60) Tuesday through Friday this week!  Check it out…

Friday, June 12, 2015

Thoughts on a Tough School Year

I said goodbye to 29 amazing kids this week.  Each of them took a piece of my heart as they walked out that door for the last time.  Some of them couldn’t get out of there fast enough.  Others lingered for one more hug this afternoon with a tear in their eye.  I understood both because I was feeling the brunt of each sentiment equally.

I truly love my job and I try hard not to complain about it.  No one goes into teaching because they think it’ll be easy.  If they do, they don’t last long.  But any teacher will tell you every year has an entirely different feel to it.  Some years make you feel guilty that you even call it a job; others drain every ounce of your energy and every corner of your heart.  For me, this year was the latter.

I’ve found myself fighting a lot of guilt this week.  Twenty-nine kids is a lot and simply put, many days there wasn’t enough of me to go around.  I know there are times I’ve been short-tempered, I know there are kids who needed help they didn’t get, and I know I missed out on getting to know some of them as well as I would’ve liked.  I both taught and loved those kids with all I had for an entire year, but today was still met with more a sense of regret than a sense of accomplishment.  I’m always left feeling I could’ve done more, but this year more than some.

I’ve said many times over the past months, both to my class and to other people, that it wasn’t always their fault when we had a bad day.  When you’ve got 29 children in one room, someone (usually more than one someone) is hurt, mad, sad, confused or all of the above almost every minute of the day.  Those kids grew in patience, self-control, and compassion this year, as did I as I tried to guide them.   Rarely did a day go just as I planned, but we adjusted and stretched ourselves, together. 

One of my favorite things about the school experience is that it simulates real life in a controlled environment, teaching kids how to interact, cope and persevere within those four walls.  This year might not have been perfect, but it was real.  We fussed, we fought, we flipped out from time to time… but we also had fun and developed friendships.  I’m sure a lot of those kids went home frustrated some days, just as I did, but I can only hope that one day they’ll look back on fourth grade and remember our classroom was a place they could be themselves and feel accepted. 

The most meaningful experiences in life aren’t easy.  They leave us feeling drained, sometimes laden with regrets.  But it’s in those times that we’re stretched outside our comfort zones that we discover our true capabilities.  Every time I’d think I couldn’t possibly field another question, apply another Band-Aid, listen to another story, or calm another student, I’d take a step back and remind myself that the 20th plea meant just as much as the first to the ten-year-old making the request.    That student who was tugging at me during dismissal at 2:45 deserved my best just as much as the one who had marched straight to my desk at 8:00 am with a concern.  So, I dug deep and I did the best I could, every day for the last 10 months.  And just like it wasn’t always their fault when we had a bad day, it wasn’t always my fault either.  It’s called real life, and boy did we live it in Room 319 this year!

I’m not sure I’ll ever look back on this school year and say, “Wow, that went great.”  But already I can say, “Wow, it was worth every second.” I love each of those kids just as much as I love the kids on an “easy” year, and in some ways, maybe more. There’s something about going through something difficult together that bonds you and that’s why today I had a tear in my eye just like some of my students did.  It may not have been easy, but I dare say given the chance, most of us would do it all again.  That’s the other thing I love most about the school experience- come August, we will.