Love Needs Help

As a middle school teacher, there are several days throughout the school year that you need a little extra strength to make it through…the days before any holiday break, Halloween, any full moon, Valentine’s Day, April Fool’s Day, etc. This year for me, Valentine’s day came one day after grades were due for teachers. Particularly exhausted, I geared myself up for a day of wired kids full of sugar and middle school love. During my third period class, as my students were working quietly and diligently on a map of Asia, I was filled with an overwhelming feeling of responsibility.  I thought to myself, all 32 of these kids are mine. For these 90 minutes, they are my responsibility. I looked around at them and thought of something good about each one of them…and yes…even something good about the ones that give me the most trouble. Little did I know that not long after I had that brief moment of realization, teachers halfway across the country would be putting that responsibility into action to save the lives of their students.

My last class of the day was rough. The combination of sugar and emotions of either getting or not getting a valentine had all of us on edge, and the 20th incorrect answer of “HAWAII” shouted to answer a question put me over that edge. I ended class early with a new seating chart and silence from students in their new seats for the last 5 minutes of class (as opposed to their anxious line up by the door where we often chat about after school/weekend plans). I hated the way I left things with that class. A few of them apologized on their way out, but it did not matter. I let my kids leave class on a bad note and it did not sit well with me. My mind immediately went to places it shouldn’t. “What if something happens to them on their way home and this was their last memory of school? What if something happens to me and they think I was truly mad at them?” I sulked over to my desk and opened my drawer to take a look at the accumulating notifications on my phone. That was when I learned of the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida. There I was, upset that my students were going to think I didn’t care about them because they were talking while I was talking, while the students at Stoneman Douglas were learning just how much their teachers care for them as they tried to keep them safe during a shooting.

I did not watch much of the news coverage that night. I finally forced myself to read some articles and watch the news the next evening. The details were horrifying. Many people immediately blamed gun control laws for the massacre, others were quick to blame mental health issues, and there was a widespread urge to simply be kind to each other and love each other. I don’t think there is just one single thing to blame. I think it’s a combination of all of the above.

To the community of Parkland, Florida: there are no words to express the sorrow that I feel for you. The bravery of the teachers, students, and first responders is truly incredible. Please continue to use your voices and know that there are many who support you on the journey ahead of you.

To my students: I love you. Even on the days that you think I don’t, I do. And I’m sorry if you ever think anything else. My hope is that you will always feel safe and welcome in my classroom and at school in general; that the headlines, “another school shooting” are no longer commonplace in your world; and that your parents can leave you in my care for the day without a shadow of a doubt that you will be safe.

To those of you who say it’s a gun issue: I am with you. But it’s not the only issue.

To those of you who say it’s a mental health issue: I am with you. But it’s not the only issue.

To those of you who say “love each other”: I am with you. But, know this: teachers love their students, even when it’s hard to love them. Teachers love their students even when they make bad choices. And when their students make bad choices, the teacher wonders, “What could I have done differently to help them make the right choice? How could I have loved them better?” When a teacher loses a student, they wonder, “Could I have saved them? Why them and not me?” Let me say it again. TEACHERS LOVE THEIR STUDENTS. Teachers educate, love, tie shoes, put band-aids on boo boos, listen when no one else will, discipline, encourage, and the list goes on. But my goodness, we need some help. We can’t do it all on our own. I guarantee, there are many talented, passionate teachers saying right now, “I love teaching and I love my kids, but I don’t know how much longer I can do this.” We do our best to teach kids to love, but we can’t be the only ones to teach that lesson. While I do believe that love is a powerful force, maybe love, like teachers, needs a little help too. So….

To our lawmakers: PLEASE, HELP! It’s not too soon to talk about gun control. It’s not too soon to talk about mental health. In fact, it’s too late to talk about it. It’s too late to talk about how many school shootings there have been in 2018. Because one school shooting is too many. It’s time to stop talking and it’s time to do something. I don’t have the answer, but guess what? It’s not my job to come up with one! I can play my part by voicing my opinion, by calling my congressman, and by voting; but, I can’t make the decisions after that. I don’t know what the solution is, but I do know that the solution is NOT to just keep talking about it. By taking no action, it appears as though the people we elect to make choices for us, to help us “become a more perfect union”, don’t care enough about us at all. For the sake of the future of our country, for the young people who need to learn to love and trust that THEY MATTER — please — stop talking, start listening, and do something.

Re: Charlottesville, VA

Today is Tuesday. I sometimes like to call it GratiTu(d)esday and think/write about and recognize the things I am grateful for. Today, I am grateful for a lot of things. One of those is living in a country where I have the freedom to think and speak freely; unfortunately, some people take that right a little too far and use it to spew hatred. And the fact that such hatred still exists is what brings me back here to my blog after quite a hiatus.

Here I am again writing about a tragic event in the United States involving race, hatred, and violence. The last time I wrote here was after I exercised my First Amendment right to peacefully assemble and stand up for something I believe in. The victims of the Charlottesville terror attack were doing the same. When something like this happens I am usually struck with a sense of sadness, confusion and anger. After a little bit of time to process, my brain starts to kick into gear and I begin to try to find some sort of logic and reason behind why or how something so tragic could have happened. As a teacher, I have to admit that I often feel more afraid for my students than ever before; but, I can not let that fear creep in to my head or my heart because fear is one of the factors behind these kinds of hateful, terrorist acts. They are motivated by fear and meant to cause fear, and if you know me or have read some of my other posts here, you know that I spent many years conquering my own fears and anxiety about things that are out of my control. So, in trying to reason with what happened and the current situation, I have come to the following conclusions:

  1. People fear what they do not understand. When we grow up learning one thing, and then all of a sudden someone tells us something different than what we are used to, it can make us feel pretty uncomfortable. Looking at our current events from an historian’s standpoint I am deeply concerned because I can see many parallels to events that have already happened in the past. I am also not surprised because when we learn history, we most likely learn it from the point of view of the victors. In our case here in the United States, it is from the point of view of white men. So, I think when it comes down to it, if the majority of what we learn is from the point of view of only one type of person, it leaves a lot of room for misunderstanding, and therefore, fear of what we do not understand. Furthermore, Many people do not understand those who are different from them. This is a natural thing. The whole “birds of a feather flock together” idea comes to mind. But, it doesn’t mean that we should not try to understand those who are different from ourselves. And when we get down to it, we are all human so we truly are all the same in the most fundamental ways; but part of coexisting with so many other humans with different ideas, belief systems, and experiences is by trying to understand each other. This can be difficult, especially when we often fear what we do not understand.
  2. We need to talk about race. Alright, this is where it might get a little uncomfortable for some of you and THAT’S OKAY. Nothing will ever change if we just stay in our comfort zone, so if you really want things to change, you have to get a little uncomfortable. It’s not just race that we need to talk about, but white privilege specifically. I will say this now and I will never be able to think otherwise – there are things in my life that have come easier to me because I am white. There are things that I do without fear because I am white. There are places I will go without fear because I am white. This is white privilege. If you are a white person and you cannot admit those things right now, then I encourage you to dig a little deeper into your soul and think about all of your life experiences and then ask yourself how it would have been different if you were not white. And if you have trouble thinking how it would have been different, then read Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates. If you’re not into reading, try watching I Am Not Your Negro, which can be found on Amazon currently. If movies aren’t your thing you could also check out the Netflix series Dear White People. As you are reading or watching ask yourself “what if that was me?” in the place of the main characters and see if you just might be able to change what you think about white privilege. Admitting that white privilege exists does not make you a bad person and it does not make you a racist. NOT admitting it and allowing racial injustice to continue in our country because you benefit from the color of your skin is unacceptable and exacerbates the problem. It’s important for everyone to understand that changing ideals such as these is not going to happen over night. It takes time, it takes effort, it takes A LOT of talking, listening, thinking, self-awareness, and empathy. Take baby steps. But take them forward, please. It’s also important to note, that I have primarily mentioned the discussion of race between black and white people, but our discussion of race is not and should not be limited to that. This article provides a much wider range of books, articles, and videos addressing the discussion of all races.

    3. Hatred still exists. Neither of the aforementioned conclusions are justifications for the actions that took place last weekend in Virginia nor any other terror attack or hate crime in our country. The unfortunate fact is that hatred still exists in this country. It is taught and learned. And while I will never fully understand how or why that still happens, I can’t help but think that fear and the lack of understanding of is one of the reasons it still happens. I also think it still exists because we allow it to exist. If we continue to stand by and let it be okay for someone to say hateful things and commit hateful acts against one another, then we allow hatred to exist. We teach kids all the time about how being a bystander to bullying is just as bad as bullying itself. What is so different about that when it comes to our country? I want my students to know they can and should use their voice for good. I don’t want them to be afraid of doing so; but after last weekend I can understand why they might be.

I wish I could fix it all. But I can’t. So I’ll just do my best to do my part and hope that you will, too.

The Ending of What Never Was

One of my goals of 2016 was to blog once a month. That clearly did not happen. But, I have become much more comfortable and confident with myself as a woman and an adult-ish-type person. So since 2016 is coming to an end, I thought I would get one last blog post in about something that I learned through this new-found confidence in myself. Hopefully this one blog post about a profound realization of mine will make up for my lack of achieving all the goals I set for 2016.

This year, I found myself in a situation that seemed one way, when it was really another. It was like a major grey area most of the time. Well, I say that; but actually, I knew it was not what I wanted it to be, but I spent so long pretending it would change that I had to end something that never really existed in the first place. I had to end something that never was. And now I don’t know how I’m supposed to feel. Part of me feels sad, like I have lost a really close friend who just gets me like no one else. And even though I know I have so many amazing other people in my life, it still doesn’t fill the little hole I feel without this other person. Another part of me feels so dumb and ashamed for spending anymore time and energy on this thing that never was. I think, how can I really justify feeling sad over all of this? And lastly, the other parts of me feels incredibly selfish for these sad feelings, which I know will subside, while others are truly suffering and going through tragic loss in their lives. How can I possibly be so sad over this thing that never really was? (It’s like I’m talking about Voldem…er…he-who-must-not-be-named).

These feelings have made me realize two important things about myself. The first one is that I am comfortable with being single and on my own, but I am also very social and would enjoy someone to spend time with and share my life with. I am happy doing things for myself and taking care of myself and I don’t care if society says I should be settling down and getting married and having babies. It is a little bit scary, and hard for some to understand, even me sometimes. But it’s where I am in my life right now and I only wish I had figured this out sooner! And I think more and more people are like this which is making dating and relationships more difficult. We now allow ourselves to just go without ever defining what our time together means to us because if we “don’t put a label on it”, we won’t get hurt, or we break the social construct and expectation that we disagree with.

The second thing I realized is that I have a choice in most of the situations I am in. So, I have no one to blame but myself when I find myself in a situation like the recent one that never was. I have found myself saying over an over again that, “I’m not looking for a relationship” and the more I say that, the more I think to myself, wow, I’m almost 30 and I’ve never had a serious relationship (i.e. I’m a modern-day Phoebe Buffay). Now, what I really mean is that I’ve never called anyone my boyfriend for longer than four months; but I HAVE had relationships because it’s what we do as people…we build relationships. And in trying to avoid getting hurt by not having a “boyfriend” relationship, I found myself in a situation that ended up hurting me just as much (I assume). Spending almost two years saying “I’m not in a relationship,” didn’t keep me from actually building one with someone for whom I care deeply, and it didn’t keep me from getting hurt. I guess there is just no avoiding any of it. What makes it even worse is when these “never were” things end amicably. They end because one or both of the people know it’s not going to work out for some reason. One person wants to get married and the other one doesn’t. One person wants kids and the other doesn’t. One is religions and the other is not. One person has a vision for the future and the other is a drifter. One person says, “I can’t commit,” and the other person hears them, but lies to him or herself, pretending to be okay with it because they don’t want anything serious either, or they think the other person will change their mind; but, mostly they really don’t want to cut this person out of their life. That one is the hardest. When one person wants it to work and the feelings aren’t reciprocated.

I’ve worked my way through several of these situations, but this most recent one really hit me hard. I find myself thinking of all the reasons that it needed to end, even if it never was. And in reminding myself of all the ways that it would not and could not work out I finally understand that the reasons it ended are probably the reasons it never was (kind of a more confusing, less cliche way of saying it wasn’t meant to be). Which helped me to realize that I do have some control over who I build relationships with and how I build them.

Here’s to making better choices in 2017.

Giving Up Social Media

This year, I gave up social media for Lent. I usually give up something like chocolate or diet coke, but this year I really wanted to challenge myself. I am sad to admit that one night when I got home late from work, I spent the rest of my evening before bed just perusing all of my social media sites and felt like I had been sucked in to a black hole when I finally looked up. It just kind of hit me that I spend a lot of time looking at my phone screen, reading list articles about “what his texts really mean” and just rolling my eyes at them, or seeing people engage in the most POINTLESS comment wars over all kinds of issues. I needed a break. It’s important to note that I also read some very valid news articles via NPR, NY Times, etc. and follow some very uplifting social media pages including Amy Poehler’s Smart Girls (one of my faves!) So it was after this realization that I really do spend a lot of time on social media that I decided to give it up for 4o days. The forms of social media that I gave up were Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Snapchat, and Timehop. I did NOT give up dating apps, but have since given them up because…well…that’s a story for a different post! By giving up social media I thought, “I will be so productive! I will read so many books, and study every night for the GRE, I will journal every night, and my apartment will be spotless, because I know I waste a lot of time on social media and without it will have so much free time!”

Here’s what really happened:

I was not really that productive. I didn’t finish any books. I didn’t study every night for the GRE. I did not deep clean my apartment (what a joke that would have been!) Truthfully, I missed social media. I even found myself thinking about what my tweet or status update would be for certain situations, or thinking of clever captions for photos that I took. “Gosh, I am SICK,” I thought to myself. How could I be so consumed by something like this?!

The part I missed the most, though, was connecting with the people that I actually talk to the most in real life. Ironically, they seem to be the ones I communicate with the most via social media. They would check in on Facebook when we went out places, or tag me in photos that I couldn’t see. They would find funny videos or Instagram posts that I couldn’t see. And it made me see how people sometimes connect as much in real life over social media as they do via the forms themselves. I mean, think about it, how often do you hear someone say “I saw this thing on Facebook” or “did you see so and so’s tweet?” etc. I hear it a lot. There were times that I not only felt disconnected without the apps but occasionally I even felt disconnected from the people right in front of me.

I also confirmed something that I already knew to be true: I get so much of my news from social media! I was staying at work late enough to miss the evening news, and going to bed too early to see the night time news, and leaving for work too early to see the morning news. I listen to music in the car or chat on the phone with my mom (hands free of course!) so listening to news is not part of my routine. I had to be much more deliberate about accessing the news, and I didn’t mind it. It made me seek out the things I was interested in and ignore the things I didn’t care to see or know. I realize that yes, I do have the power to filter posts and things that I see on social media, but I can’t control what people share and a lot of the times I end up seeing things shared by others that just rub me the wrong way and put me in a weird mood. Seeing only the news I WANTED to see online was something that I really enjoyed about being off social media.

The best thing about taking a hiatus from social media was that it forced me to spend some time really connecting with people, but mostly with myself. I was much more observant and aware of what was going on around me in the most mundane situations. While on this break, I felt better, I slept better, I thought a lot about my goals and my future. It allowed me to focus on what makes me happy and what does not. It also made me think about how I will continue to use social media in the future. I am much more selective with what I post and when I post. I think about why I want to share something and how it might impact those who see it. Is it going to make someone’s day brighter, or encourage them to think? If the answer is “yes” I am more likely to post or share. If it might make people feel discouraged or lose hope in humanity (because I sometimes feel this way when I scroll through my Facebook feed these days) I more than likely won’t post it. I also turned off my Facebook and Instagram notifications, and did not even re-download my Twitter app. This makes me much more cognizant of the time I spend on social media. And for someone like me, who tends to over think everything, spending a lot of time on social media without intention can be detrimental. I might find myself comparing my life to those of others that I see on social media, wondering if I will ever accomplish my goals as they have; I might see photos of people I have drifted apart from and feel sad they are no longer in my life, etc. This is not fun. (Yeah, I just revealed some insecurities there, so what? I’m only human!)

Clearly, it has been a while since I’ve taken this break and I have been back on social media for over a month now. Tonight I saw something on Facebook that reminded me why I gave it up to begin with and frankly, it made me want to give it up again! But, it also inspired me to finally write this post!

So in conclusion, may I please remind you that it does NOT say R.S.V.P. on the Statue of Liberty!….wait…that’s from Clueless…sorry. I always think of that line any time I say “in conclusion”. Okay back on track…In conclusion, I encourage you to give up your social media outlets for a while and just see what you might learn about yourself and those around you!

Remember This Feeling

Today I began my new journey as a sixth grade teacher. The past four years I have taught high school World History and Macroeconomics, and coached volleyball and soccer. I will always be grateful for the years spent at my first school; I gained experience, met some wonderful friends, and most importantly, I got to teach incredible students! Leaving them was the hardest part. But something was missing during my fourth year as a teacher/coach, and I decided that it was time for a change. So, to sixth grade I go!

This summer leading up to my new teaching gig provided ample time for me to do all sorts of activities. Unfortunately, I managed to spend a significant amount of time thinking and over-thinking about the approaching school year. What if I fail miserably at being a middle school teacher? Generally, I was feeling the normal reluctance that comes with a big change. Nervous excitement mixed with a little bit of worry and anxiety. And as my first day inched closer and closer, my anxiety grew. Why can’t I shut off my brain?!

Yesterday was my first day at the school. I worked with other teachers to prepare for the new student orientation that we are having this week. It was a good day. I met new teachers, got comfortable with the campus, and got my room functional enough for about 20 sixth graders to do an arts and crafts activity. But it was for today, the first day with students, that I was really looking forward to because it would be a test run with my new students. Would they like me? Would I like them? Would I get frustrated with them? Are they going to be bouncing off the walls? Will they think our arts and crafts activity is too elementary? I mean, this is middle school after all! Only the day would tell….

At the end of the day, after all the glue, pom poms, pipe cleaners, googly eyes, and beads were strewn about my classroom and the kids successfully created a decoration for their locker; after I helped students find their lockers and set up their combination locks; after I saw initially shy kids come out of their shell and make new friends, I felt that feeling. That feeling that says. “this is exactly where you’re supposed to be.” I thought I had lost it there for a little while; but, I’m happy to say that I have not. Today I realized (again) how much I love teaching and how amazing it feels to know that I have the ability to help our youth reach their maximum potential. I somehow got that feeling from a half hour class period with three different groups of students making a simple craft. And I realized that all that worrying was for nothing. Isn’t that how it always goes?

So, I’m writing this today to help me remember this feeling. Because I know that come the Dark Evil Vortex of Late September, October, November, (DEVOLSON) this feeling may have faded, and I might need a little reminder that I am doing what I love.

Talk, Listen, Act

Yesterday morning, I woke up to the news about the shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina. I cannot wrap my mind around the fact that we still have such heinous acts occurring in our country. Throughout the day I watched different news media outlets broadcast the information that they had about the crime; I also came across many opinionated posts, articles, videos, and photos about the event on social media outlets. Among the different opinions on the matter, the one that stood out the most to me was the belief that we need to talk about the problems at the root of this crime. And while we do need to talk about the problems that are associated with this event, we also need to be mindful of how we talk about them. We need to listen to each other, because listening is crucial to every discussion. But most importantly, we need to do more than just talk. We need to act.

How should we talk about this? Well, let’s try actually talking about it.

With the Internet and social media, everyone has a platform. Anyone can write anything about anything and post it online for everyone to read. From there, just about anyone can respond to those posts. People from all over the world can connect. Cool, right? Maybe. What I was seeing the most of yesterday as people were making their opinion known, were negative posts, negative comments, hateful words. People were bashing the education system, parents, the government, the media, people of different races and religions, etc. And I thought to myself, WHAT?!  Why would you continue to put hateful words and thoughts out for everyone to see after this crime was rooted in that very ideal? What good is that doing for this situation? Obviously, we will not have many happy, positive things to say about a crime that left nine innocent people dead; but we certainly are not helping anything by continuing to say hateful things to each other and about each other. It is so easy for us to hide behind a screen and a keyboard and write what we believe because it takes out the emotional connection we might have with other people. So instead of just writing about it on your chosen social media outlet, actually talk about it with other people. Parents talk to your kids. Students talk to your teachers, or your peers. Talk about it with your friends, and family members. But talk about it face to face.

Don’t just talk about it. Listen.

This one  seems easy, but we all know that it can be difficult. Listen to what people have to say. And really listen. Don’t ignore something just because it is not what you believe in. By listening to others, you might learn something, or begin to understand something from a different perspective. After you listen to someone, you can use that to help you respond in a respectful, constructive way; in a way that will move us closer to solving problems rather than continuing to enable the behavior that allows them to exist.

It’s not just about talking and listening. It’s also about how we act.

We can talk and listen all we want, but if we don’t put our words into action, nothing will change. And if we keep talking in such disrespectful, hateful ways to each other, then eventually it will be those words put into action. Maybe that’s part of the reason we still have some of the problems we have. When you speak, speak kindly; when you listen, listen kindly; so that when you act, you will act kindly. If being kind is to everyone is too difficult, then at least don’t be hateful. Hate is learned. But so is love. Simply being kind and showing love seems small; but it might just be the biggest thing that we can do.

What About the Coaches?

Here we are at the end of the school year. We’re all tired and hanging on by a thread, when we get this little boost of encouragement known as Teacher Appreciation Week. Stores and restaurants have specials for teachers, people who aren’t teachers express their gratitude for the job we do each day, and occasionally we get some sweet gifts from parents and students. It’s a nice reminder for the weary teacher soul in the month of May, that we are appreciated. As I have been seeing some of the posts about Teacher Appreciation Week on social media, I got to thinking about teachers that I have had that I still appreciate to this day. I was lucky to have had so many caring, compassionate teachers at all levels of my education. Recently I realized that they influenced the way I am not only as a person, but as a teacher as well.

But, I am also a coach. There is no “Coaches Appreciation Week”, (that I know of anyway), so I want to take some time to consider coaches as teachers also. Even if they do not teach an academic subject in a classroom, coaches teach skills that are invaluable: discipline, accountability, and collaboration are just a few that come to mind. In fact, any time I refer to my former coaches, I find myself saying things like “he taught me how to play on a team with people I don’t always get along with”, or “she taught me that it’s sometimes better to play every minute of every game on the JV squad instead of sit the bench on the varsity squad”, or “he taught me that if you’re early, you’re on time, if you’re on time you’re late, and if you’re late, you’re unacceptable”. They TAUGHT me.

Unfortunately, coaches who are also classroom teachers sometimes have a reputation of being bad teachers, because “all they care about is sports.” I, myself, often get caught up in the mindset that I am a “teacher first and a coach second” and tend to undermine my own teachings as a coach. But, I think that regardless of what the stereotypes of coaches as classroom teachers are, we need to also recognize that coaches are teachers too.

All of this has been on my mind this week, not just because it’s Teacher Appreciation Week, and I am a teacher and a coach, but because yesterday, a loved and honored coach from my hometown passed away. Coach Joe Clements was a beloved member of my hometown community and a football legend in the state of Texas. Although he was never my coach, I feel as though I learned from him. The legacy that he left on the athletics programs at Huntsville High School was tremendous. The lessons I learned as a high school athlete that have carried over into my career as a coach were shaped by him and the legacy that he left on our school and athletic programs. But probably the most significant way that I learned from Coach Clements, was through my dad, who played football for him.

The past four years for me as a teacher have been challenging, but I have always felt confident in my ability as a classroom teacher. My confidence in my ability to coach athletics, however, has often times been shaky. And it was through conversations with my dad, where he would tell me stories about playing football for Coach Clements–the things that he said and did to build up his players as individuals and as a team–that really stuck with me. This year in particular, as I took on a new role as head soccer coach, my self-doubt lingered in my mind. My dad told me stories about Coach Clements leading his teams to victory, and accomplishing goals that they had never met before (much like the way my team was accomplishing goals they set for themselves that season). These stories reassured me of my ability as a coach. In a way, by telling me these stories, my dad was modeling for me what Coach Clements had done for him and his team. It wasn’t until yesterday when I found out about his passing, that I realized how this coach–a coach I never even had– in many ways has impacted me as an athlete and a coach, through the impact he made on my father.

So moving forward, when we think about appreciating our teachers, maybe we should also think about appreciating coaches as well, for they are teachers too. But most importantly, I think we should understand that the impact that teachers and coaches make don’t stay with just that one student or athlete; it can shape the way they treat others, the they way they live their lives, and impact more people than just the student or athlete themselves.

With all of that being said, thank you, teachers and coaches!!! I would not be who I am today without you!

Senior Year of Teaching

Entering into my fourth year of teaching at the same school, I was feeling quite confident. Several teachers from the previous years got new jobs, so I was now considered a “veteran” at my school. I knew the ropes. I have taught almost every single junior and senior in the school, so the students know me and respect me, and I’m teaching the same subjects that I have been teaching since day one. This should be a breeze, I thought…

WRONG. Just like many senior students feel entering their final year of high school, I also felt a sense of wisdom and as much as I hate to say it…I was a bit over-confident. Like many seniors, I was not expecting some of the challenges this semester threw my way. Many of my seniors have been accepted to their college of choice, or are anxiously awaiting an acceptance letter. They are comfortable with their lives in high school and have finally gotten the hang of this balance of school and extracurricular activities. But things are about to change for them very soon. And their senior year, while they might think it should be the easiest one, is often times their most difficult.

It was on one of my worst days this semester that I realized while the Class of 2015 is in their senior year of high school, I am in my senior year of teaching. The challenges I faced this semester were unexpected and not enjoyable. Probably gallons of tears were shed. I think I could have done a big load of salty laundry with all the tears I cried this semester. And the challenges, at the time, were unwelcome. “I don’t have time for this!”, I would think to myself. But, I had to make time for them and I learned some valuable lessons that would only be harder to learn later, so I might as well get it over with. Now that the semester is over, I am able to look back and laugh at some of the things that brought me so much grief. I am also able to remember that I will probably face these challenges again in some way, and will probably have to keep learning these lessons as I continue to grow not only as a teacher, but as a person. Here are the most important things I have learned so far:

People are not always going to like me.

This one was the most difficult, but seems to be a recurring theme. It sounds kind of stupid, but I had to get over my Elle Woods complex that everyone likes me. Most of my life I have tried to please everyone, often at the expense of my own happiness. I thought that by doing this, everyone would like me. NOT TRUE! I had also often been told by many that “you can’t please everyone”, but it was not until this semester that I truly had to face that fact. As a result, I learned that some people really have a problem when they don’t get their way and will let you know how they feel about it. They will be rude, and my feelings will be hurt. I learned that some people will always try to blame someone else for their problems. I learned that there will be students and parents that do not like me. But, I think about people in my past that I did not particularly care for at times, and am grateful for the lessons they taught me. Hopefully one day those who do not like me now will look back and thank me for that one time they really couldn’t stand me, because it taught them something valuable about life.

Being in charge is not all it’s cracked up to be. 

WillFerrell_Kicking-and-Screaming

This year I am the head coach of the girls varsity soccer team at my school. After being the “fun, cool assistant coach” that the girls considered their “friend” for the past three years, this transition has been tough to say the least. Not only do I have some added responsibilities on the administrative side of coaching, I now have the weight of all that goes wrong falling on my shoulders. Every. Little. Thing. Is my fault. But it comes with the territory. I never knew that my tendency to over-apologize would be so helpful! I don’t know how many apologies I have made this semester for soccer-related issues and it’s not even our district season! So, next semester should be fun. The other big lesson I have learned from this is that I can no longer be the “fun, cool” one. There is a fine line between having fun at practice and improving, and having fun and practice and just wasting the hour and half training session. I have to stick to the standards that I set for the team and not waver. Sometimes I wish I was still the assistant coach, but I know that this will be an invaluable experience. My goal is to make this the best soccer season yet, and of course, teach the girls something about more than just soccer, but something about life. If being “mean” or “strict” is how I have to be to achieve that goal, then so be it.

Keep going.  

energizer bunnyMy fourth year of teaching has been more similar to my first year than I thought it would be. There have been times where I just wanted to give up. “I am so done” was probably the most common phrase that came out of my mouth this semester. But I haven’t worked as hard as I have to let these challenges keep me from doing what I love; from something that I am meant to do. Because these challenges are going to be anywhere I go. There’s no escaping them. So, while my seniors go through their final year of high school — feeling anxious, worried, excited,  and “so done”  — I know from experience that there is so much more in store for their lives. As I go through my senior year of teaching, I know that unlike my students it is not my final year in high school, but hope that like my students, there is more in store for my life as an educator. I just have to keep going.

Hate to Love Soccer

Let’s get this straight: I love soccer. It brought so much joy to my life as an athlete and continues to fill my life with joy as a coach. But every four years during the World Cup, I do start to feel like I hate to love it. As if I didn’t hear it enough from people growing up, seeing Facebook and Twitter posts about soccer “not being a real sport” or “being so boring” or asking when “real football” is going to start always gets me a little riled up; however, for every negative post there seems to be at least two or three positive posts, so for the most part it’s not too bad. But I recently read an article that just really got my blood boiling. It takes quite a bit to make me mad, but this article did it. Now, I’m not going to get into all the ways I completely disagree with every single thing about that article; but, I am going to use it as a catalyst to address the most common issues I hear people dislike about soccer, and to address some of the ways that I believe soccer has a positive impact on the world.

As with most disagreements, misunderstanding is often the common cause. I think that a lot of the “soccer hating” comes from a lack of understanding, so let’s try to clear up some things!

“Soccer isn’t a real sport.”
A professional soccer game is 90 minutes long with no time outs and often added time to the end of the halves to make up for lost playing time (due to injuries or incidents that delay regular play). Soccer players have to be in top shape to run, jump, change directions quickly, and play in an over all very physical game. Not to be rude, but the last time I checked, there are some NFL and MLB athletes that are nowhere near the shape of professional soccer players. I know the skill sets for those sports are different, but if we’re taking athleticism into account — soccer is most definitely a sport.

“But it can end in a tie?”
Soccer games do often result in a draw. But when the game is a deciding factor in a title or tournament result, the game is played to a definitive result. In the World Cup, they play with a point system. Volleyball does this often, only they usually call it “pool play”. You play a certain number of games in your “pool” made up of three to four teams and the winners of the pool go on to play in another round. See, soccer is not so weird after all, because volleyball is normal and a real sport, right?

“We lost but we still advanced. That makes sense?”
Most of that is addressed in the previous paragraph with the point system, but I would like to relate this to other sports scenarios. Think about it this way: in Major League Baseball, the two best teams play in the World Series to determine the best team in the league. This consists of a best of seven game series. A team might lose the first three games of this series and then come back and win the next four games to become the “best team” in Major League Baseball; therefore, they lose a game and can still advance. They also played many games during the season and more than likely they did not win every single game. Can you imagine what would happen in life if every time we lost at something we were no longer allowed to keep trying? Yikes!

“It’s SO boring!”
This is probably the thing I hear the most about soccer that just gets under my skin. I love baseball. Seriously, I do. I have been watching baseball since I was in the womb. But I’ve got to say, it can be really boring. And football? I love it too (hello, I’m from Texas) but sometimes I can only take so much of the 300+ pound men tackling each other and moving down the field in ten yard increments. Perhaps it’s that watching soccer on TV doesn’t do the game justice, so people can often get bored. Or maybe it’s that people can’t focus long enough on a game like soccer that never stops! I really think this whole “boring” thing just needs to be reconsidered.

Finally, I would like to leave you with the idea of soccer making the world a better place.

Soccer is played around the world. Baseball, football, basketball, are not as common everywhere. Every four years these soccer teams qualify to meet to compete for the title of the best team in the world! Sure, the US teams have not always finished with the best results on the world stage, and maybe that’s also why some Americans have had trouble getting on board. Well, guess what? It’s okay to not be the best at everything. The fact of the matter is, the World Cup provides a chance for many countries in the world — even the most conflicted countries — to be united by this sport.

Soccer and the World Cup brings hope and pride to countries who might be going through a difficult time. Take Bosnia-Herzegovina for example. This is their first year to qualify, which has brought some happiness to many people struggling there. Mexico wasn’t even expected to qualify for the World Cup this year. And let’s not forget our own red, white, and blue. Going in to this tournament in the “Group of Death” facing Germany, Portugal, and Ghana, we were not expected to make it out of group play. But to the surprise of many, we made it out of the Group of Death and into the Round of 16, where if we lose we go home, and the games do NOT end in a draw. It’s go time for the USA!

So despite the many different opinions on the topic, hopefully my generation and the generations to come who have been around the sport for much of their lives, can start to use soccer as a uniting force instead of a divisive one.

 

Long Run Aggregate Life

In my three years of teaching, I may have learned more than I taught. Mainly, I learned things about teenagers; how much they change when they start driving, that fashion has made a complete 180 since I was in high school eight years ago (I mean, girls wear clothes that are too big for them and boys wear clothes that are too small!), they are tired all the time, except after lunch and the last class of the day, and my vocabulary has also flourished (turn up! turn down! turn….left?…right?….whatever). I have also learned things like how to say no. Okay…so, I’m still working on that one….but I’m getting better at it! I have learned quite a bit about myself and it wasn’t until recently that I realized how much a particular subject has actually impacted my life — economics. Yep, I said it. Probably the most boring subject to me as a high school and college student (and teacher at times) has finally come around to slap me in the face and practically say, “HELLO! ECONOMICS IS YOUR LIFE!!” Here’s why:

Recently, I made a few decisions that, while difficult at the time, were the right decisions in the long run. “Long run” is a term we use in economics and it means pretty much what you think it means. The effects of something over a long amount of time, not the effects of something immediate or in a short amount of time. Some of these decisions are still difficult for me to wrap my head around. As I was thinking about one of them, and replaying things over and over in my head as I tend to do, it hit me: my life is a long run aggregate supply curve! Then I felt like a super nerd and tried to shake off that idea because I couldn’t believe that in the midst of my first full week of summer break I was comparing my life to the subject that had at one time been the bane of my existence!! What was wrong with me!? But I couldn’t shake the idea and my brain just kept going and going. So, I will try to get by without giving you an entire lesson in economics and do my best to just explain it as simply as possible.

In AP Macroeconomics, there are certain subjects that tend to be more heavily covered on the AP exam. One of them is aggregate demand and aggregate supply and all that comes with that glorious topic that came close to making my life a living hell the first time I had to teach it. First, we learn just demand and supply where we look at the price and quantity of just ONE product in a market and the things that cause demand and supply to change (or shift, if we’re using economic terms). Get it out of your brain that as one increases, the other decreases because that will just confuse you. Get into your brain that there are certain factors, or determinants, that cause supply and demand to change — things like consumer tastes, increased technology, the number of buyers or sellers in a market, expected future conditions, etc.

basic_supply_demand

Later, after we have mastered the concepts of basic demand and supply, we look at what we call the aggregate demand and aggregate supply. We will find that many of the determinants for the basic demand and supply will be similar to the aggregate concepts. Now, who can tell me what aggregate means? (this is usually how it goes when I start teaching this subject because most kids are thinking, “uuuuggh we already learned this demand and supply stuff!) but they have to understand the difference. Usually the answers are things like, “a group” or “a total” and to that I say, “YES! VERY GOOD!” Then I go on to explain that we will now look at the TOTAL demand and TOTAL supply of goods and services in the economy, instead of just one good at a time like we did before. The sighs and groans continue, to which I answer with a stern reminder that this WILL be on the AP test, so the ones actually taking it at least, straighten up and hunker down to really get this information through their 90-to-nothing, only focused on graduating from high school brains.

Now, when we learn about aggregate demand and aggregate supply, we also throw in what is called the long run aggregate supply curve. On the graph, this curve is vertical and the short run curves cross over it at equilibrium price and output. Equilibrium is always our goal. We always want to return to equilibrium.

LRAS

Alright, are you still with me? Hang in there! I’m about to finally get to why my life is the long run aggregate supply curve! So, the reason the long run aggregate supply curve is VERTICAL (see figure above) is because it is at the natural rate of output, and as the factors in the short run change for demand or supply, the curves shift and eventually meet again to be at equilibrium, or at the natural rate of output — the long run aggregate supply curve (see below or watch this guy if this still isn’t making sense because I know you REALLY want to learn it). See how both of the SRAS and AD curves intersect at the LRAS curve?! See!?!

LRAS2

As I was thinking about some of these recent decisions I’ve made and how right now, I kind of feel a little “off”, I realized that much like the way the short run aggregate supply curve and aggregate demand curves shift due to immediate changes in the determinants, so too does my current life with the decisions that I make; but over time, it will return to equilibrium at that long run aggregate supply curve — or for me, it will return to equilibrium as I start to see these decisions work out for the best and no longer feel “off”. I also realized that our lives, much like the aggregate curves, are a sum of the decisions that we make, along with the greater plan that was laid out before us. And so you see, my life IS a long run aggregate supply curve!

Okay, maybe this is a stretch. Maybe I am just so desperate for a justification that I have actually applied macroeconomics to my personal life. But maybe not. Maybe it is a way to help me see that it’s hard for teenagers to view their current lives in the long term; they have a hard time seeing “the big picture”. The current determinants in their lives are often so clouded by the need for instant gratification that they have trouble seeing the potential they have for the future, or that just because something is hard right now doesn’t mean that it’s going to be that way forever. Maybe this is a way to help me teach my teenagers how to see that the choices they make in the short run can greatly affect the long run — the rest of their lives. Maybe it is a way for me to teach my students (and continue to learn myself) that life, just like economics, is all about choices and sometimes the most difficult choices to make are often the correct ones; but, eventually it all returns to equilibrium.