Thursday, December 31, 2015

Unshakeable Reflections: Chapters 1-3

I am participating in a book club that is reading Unshakeable: 20 Ways To Enjoy Teaching Every Day...No Matter What by blogger, podcaster, and consultant Angela Watson.

Chapters 1-3 Reflections

This was an easier read than I anticipated. I was worried that it would not be something I wanted to continue to pick up for some of the very reasons stated in these chapters. I did not want my school life invading another part of my personal life. After reading the first three chapters, I felt like it was less of an invasion and more of a reflection/extension exercise.

I have read other things by Angela Watson, and, as a teacher of 25 years, I tend to be skeptical of persons who are no longer "in" the classroom after spending "only" a few years on the front lines. I feared she would be the Teaching Pollyanna, and I would, yet again, feel inadequate because I was not "choosing" optimism for my profession. I was pleasantly surprised that this book went a different, real direction.

Chapter 1 Share your authentic self to bring passion and energy to your teaching

The first part of this chapter was a validation chapter for me. I enjoy sharing parts of me with my students that make me "real" to them. They typically leave a year with me knowing that I have two sons, knowing that I talked too much in fourth grade, knowing that I love dance aerobics, knowing much about me.

Around page 14, Watson discusses energy.  "The point here is awareness," she states.  "We must be aware of and plan to manage not only our time, but also our energy." I had not thought of planning energy before, and I will say I needed to do so years before now.

She discusses the need to re-energize--that time naturally replenishes itself, but energy does not.  We must replenish our energy.

Watson winds up the chapter discussing the teachers that appear to do it all, and she asks the question, "Why do people like that get so much more done?" She indicates that replenishing energy levels and having a passionate vision are keys to becoming an efficient teacher.

Chapter 2 Allocate your time and energy wisely through productive routines

I have learned a lot by trial and error in this area over 25 years.  I agreed with many of her points in this chapter.

She recommends going to work in order to, well, work. During the day, she recommends not doing things that can detract from the bigger picture. She made points about e-mail (check it when everything else is done) that made me grateful, as I never have time in my day for e-mail.  She considers it something that can get productivity off-course.  She recommends coming in early, and, in theory, I agree that you can get quite a bit done. However, teachers with their own children have a much harder time getting in early.  I am a stay later kind of gal, although this year I am getting there earlier because of my son's earlier start time. It's like I have an extra prep in my day.

I laughed at, and appreciated, the two things she said one should not schedule for the morning: what puts you in a bad mood and what is essential for your day.  TRUTH!

On page 22, I found a takeaway that I want to put into action: creating a morning ritual for an easy transition into my day.  I really think this is something that will benefit me.

Watson gives some interesting insight to plan time. I wholeheartedly agree with her that you cannot depend on your plan time. Inevitably, something comes up that throws you.  Then, on page 25, her statement, "Sometimes you need your prep period to consist solely of sitting in a quiet, dark classroom while taking deep breaths and eating half a box of chocolates." I realized at this point that I was considering that I always needed to be a worker bee during my prep period.  Sometimes, it just needs to be used to chill.  She spends time discussing lunch and where you have it, but does not push one opinion as a primary one.

Chapter 3 Establish healthy habits for bringing work home and decompressing

HELLLLOOOOOO.  Anyone who knows me knows that this is the chapter I dearly needed.

Watson recommends decompressing with ONE co-worker that you trust. This makes sense, and is something I will try better to incorporate.  Otherwise, you just re-open the wounds, and, for me, get angry all over again. Plus, you run the risk of being labeled a complainer.

She hits upon something we do well at my school: socialize.  I think we have this one covered.  We are celebrators, for sure.

The big takeaway for me in this chapter is the idea of scheduling my time outside of school. On page 39, Watson says, "The goal is to spend your evenings and weekends doing the things you enjoy most, so try to bring home the work you get personal satisfaction from completing." She also addresses making your work time at home pleasant and comfortable. She then stresses reframing your thinking to give the work a more positive spin.  It reminded me of the simple change of saying what you "get" to do rather than what you "have" to do.  Two final points that she makes ring loudly true for me.  On page 46, she asks, "When and how did exhaustion become the standard for a productive day?"  For me, that happened early on in my career and became a horrible habit.  I will say I am critical of newer teachers who zip out of school at the end of the day.  It is an expectation of my generation of teaching: If you are new, you better be busting your butt. That typically equates to having a long day. I need to readjust that attitude so that workaholism is not held as the ideal.  There has tto be a balance between bare minimum and overboard, though.

Lastly, and most importantly, Watson states, "The key is to make sure that the way you spend your time is aligned with what you say you value the most.  Create time for the people and activities you care about most before you make time for work." While this seems like common sense, it is so easy as a teacher to imbalance your life.  Or at least it happened for me for many years.  I continue to struggle in this area.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

First Break

Ig's first break has come and gone.  He is en route to the train station as I type.  In less than three weeks, he will be back.  

My metaphor: At the birth of a child, God puts a piece of duct tape on the parents.   As years go by, He ever so slowly lifts parts of the tape.  Then comes college and---RRRIIPPP--- off it goes.  And then it gets stuck on again when you see each other and ---RRRIIPP--- again when he leaves.  I am hoping that the adhesive dulls over time.

Just sayin'.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

November 9. Again.

People recognize anniversaries of all sorts of things.  Birthdays.  Weddings.  First dates. Passings of loved ones. Major national events.

What is November 9 for me?  Tomorrow will be 9 years since the ugly specter of depression has been a diagnosed part of my life.  Nine years since the day which started with the high-pitched, unending screaming of a toddler who could not tell us what he needed.  Nine years since I could not step foot in my sixth grade classroom because I could not pull myself together after 16 years of teaching middle level, mainly because I had no patience left by 7:45 AM.  Nine years since this metaphor rang true: You must put on your own oxygen mask before you can assist your children.  Nine years ago, I thought for sure my sane life was over.

What has happened over the last nine years?  A grade-level change that I viewed as temporary, but God keeps reminding me is actually the best thing for me. Going back to school with the hopes of surviving year after year, when, in fact, I thrive.  Expanding my circle of friends and colleagues.  Relying on God more than ever before.  Realizing that anything can be lived through.  An exceptionally wonderful son raised to age 18, who completed high school and is commencing through college.  Losing 40 pounds, gaining 40 pounds back, a result of going on and off meds.  Saying my earthly goodbye to my grandmother, as well as some friends.  Going through the diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorders with both of my sons.  Getting an equally wonderful son into school and making sure his needs are met every year.  Moving closer to some friends, and farther away from others, like the ebb and flow of the sea.  In and out of therapy.  Creating my own therapy of scrapbooking and cardmaking.  Attaining Master's degree number 2 in Educational Leadership.  Moving in and out of people's good graces in my work life because I insist that things be said and not ignored.

As I type, I am trying to wean off of my second SSID.  I am not sure this weaning is a good idea after today and the motivation suck it has been, but it HAD been going well.  But this weekend involved embracing the death of another loved one and its grenade-like shock on my soul.  Death is always a catalyst for depression in me.  But I am fighting like hell to smack it down this time.  We shall see.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Here. Now.

Quiet.  Unbelievably quiet. His dad watches the hugs with tears filling his eyes.  Quiet knowing glances.  Last pats with the dog. Sitting.  Slow tears (mine). Texts.  Calls.

Max is, of course, the matter-of-fact one. "We'll see you in October, and then Thanksgiving, and then Christmas, and then summer break." Indeed, we will.

I find that others warn you of this day, much like the day he entered this world. The baby who failed part of the APGAR because they needed to make him cry. No one can fully describe the moment they launch as adults.  Its similarity to Kindergarten is shocking.  He's ready.  It's time. We've given him wings, a map, and a net.  And our hearts.

Milestone experienced.

Sunday, June 28, 2015


Just one of those simple, overpriced pictures they take at Six Flags when you walk in.  They are hoping that you will buy their merchandise.  I did, indeed, purchase this after a trip to Six Flags in Gurnee with Ignatius.  I believe he was nine at the time.  Maybe 10.  

Tonight, I looked in it only to see he and I as both younger people.  So much had not happened in our lives at that point.  It was just Mom and Ig enjoying a day together.  

As of late, I have been thinking about the reality of what is to come.  He will really be going to Virginia, and I will really be staying here.  It's the end goal.  It's what I was working for 18 years to have happen.  Right?  So why does the mind play its tricks? Why is there sadness involved?  It should feel only like success.  Instead: ambivalence.  

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Explaining Autism

If you follow this blog (apologies for my looooong absence), you know that we have had many blessings, coupled with several challenges, in this life of ours.  One of the challenges is helping our sons navigate the world as they deal with social communications disorders.

We have been upfront about Asperger's, what it means, how it manifests itself, and that my elder son deals with it on a daily basis.  Since he was diagnosed around age 10, we have been openly discussing and naming the disorder.  

My younger son was a different case.  He was only two when diagnosed, and he is a totally different kid with completely different needs.  He was diagnosed with autism disorder (they would both now be considered persons with autism spectrum disorders). We struggled to get him speaking and acclimated to advocating for his needs.  He learns very differently from his brother, and he struggles with the minutiae of the academic world.  It was difficult to determine when we should name why he had the need for sensory, why he struggles with math and reading comprehension, why sometimes kids do not want to play with him, why he repeats, shouts, and the like.  I always felt I would know when to have the conversation.  It never seemed right because he was constantly flipping out if anything about him seemed atypical.  Well, the opportunity did, indeed, present itself.  Now, my son has a name to answer many of his questions.  Autism.

In 2007, I created a scrapbook called "Speak to Me."  The scrapbook was dedicated to Max's journey through the communication struggles he was having.  Max has loved this scrapbook--honestly, he loves all scrapbooks--because it was solely about him.  He also loves that it has buttons to push and a variety of audio recordings from that time.  So, after introducing him to the word "autism," we grabbed the scrapbook (which I made before his diagnosis) and read through what was happening with him at the time.  I cannot tell you how valuable that scrapbook was to this process.  God knew.  He gave it to me as an outlet, then as a guide.
Does he "fully" understand the breadth of his ASD?  No.  None of us does.  It's a developmental mystery that is different for each child who is on the spectrum.  However, he almost seemed relieved to have a name for the things about him that he knows are different from the norm.  We will move onward with building his confidence in the many ways he is unique, special, and in some ways, completely typical of any 10 year old boy.