Trusting My Intuition: 5 gut feelings that say, “Hey, pay attention!!”

I haven’t always known that my gut feelings are accurate.

I had to learn the hard way by making some choices that went against my gut feelings – and then suffering the consequences.

And even though I was in my mid-30s (I’m 57 now) when I got lots of evidence that those gut feelings were spot on, I still sometimes disregard them. To negative consequences.

So now, at this point in my life, I’m trying to pay attention and to follow those gut feelings – even when they don’t match the pictures I have in my head.

You might be wondering, “Just what do your gut feelings tell you?”

If you’re someone like me, someone who has very accurate (always accurate) gut feelings, this list will be familiar.

And if you’re not sure whether you have gut feelings, you can read through and see if anything in your life is similar.

My gut feelings run a pretty good range. They tell me:

  1. Whether someone is a good or bad person. I get an immediate read when I meet someone. One of my friends calls this his “people feelers.” What we sense is a vibration that is either positive or negative. Immediately upon meeting someone. Throughout my high school teaching career, I’d ask the kids in my classes if they could tell as soon as they meet someone if that person is a good or bad person. In the first years of my career (in the mid to late 1980s), about a third of the class would raise their hands and exclaim, “Yes!!” – while the other two-thirds would look around and say, “What do you mean?” But by the end of my high school teaching career, I’d ask that same question, and two-thirds would raise their hands Yes!, while the other third would look around and say, “What do you mean?” Maybe we’re becoming more intuitive?
  2. Whether someone is an energy vampire. Energy vampires aren’t necessarily bad people who don’t pass my good/bad person gut feeling. They might be good people. But they’re people whose energy drains me. I know someone is an energy vampire when I’m exhausted when I’m around him or her. We can be merely talking, but I’ll feel I need to go home and take a nap. I’ll be SO tired –  for apparently no reason. But it’s an energetic reason. Energy vampires get their energy from other people. I try to limit my time with people like that. It’s hard, because some of them are really nice.
  3. Whether a place is good or bad. I get distinct gut feelings in places – both inside and outside. Some buildings just feel yucky. The energy might feel stuck, stagnant. Some places can even feel malevolent. Those places I get away from as quickly as I can. I had that experience of feeling really bad energy in the Lamar Valley in Yellowstone National Park a few years ago. The further we drove into that valley, the worse I felt. So I finally asked to turn around, to leave the valley, and we did. Once we got out of that area, I felt a lot better. Conversely, some places feel really good. In some homes, you know the people are happy. Those homes just feel good. And sacred places usually feel good. I think that praying in places creates good energy that lingers there. Especially if the place has been prayed in for decades or centuries.
  4. Whether someone is feeling sick or anxious. Sometimes I’ll be with one person or in a group of people, and I’ll feel really nervous or even sick – out of the blue. No nervousness or feeling sick earlier in the day. I used always to think I was feeling my own anxiety or illness, but over the years I’ve discovered that sometimes I pick up on others’ feelings. When it comes out of the blue like that, it’s a sign it’s not my own feeling. I’ll leave that person’s presence, and I’ll start feeling better. Often I experience this when I’ve driven somewhere, and on my drive home I’ll start feeling better. By the time I get home I feel fine. Yep, those feelings weren’t mine. There is a name for this absorbing of others’ feelings. It’s called being an “empath.” I’ve been in groups in which the energy was terrible, with lots of people feeling anxiety. What I feel in those situations is usually a stickiness, as if the atmosphere is sticking to me like something sugary or oily. When that happens, I need a shower when I get home. Water washes that stickiness away.
  5. Whether this is a good situation for me. If a situation is good, it will feel good to me. I’ll feel expansion, lightness, openness in the air. If a situation is bad, it will feel prickly, jangly, claustrophobic, off-kilter somehow. As if the air is charged with a negativity. I hate when there’s something I really want to do (or think I want to do), and it just doesn’t feel right. I’ve ignored that WAY too many times. And those situations never turn out well! So now I try to be conscious of what I’m feeling, when and where and how

This isn’t my full list. But these are the situations that come to mind first when I hear “gut feelings.”

I’m curious to know if you have similar feelings. Or if you have other situations you’d add.

These are ones I definitely need to pay attention to.

They come to give me guidance for better decisions and better FLOW.

And I know now I shouldn’t ignore these gifts!

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Turnaround point in the Lamar Valley, Yellowstone. Yeah, it’s pretty, but . . . BAD energy!

 

 

Just what does a new school year mean for teachers?

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If you’re not a student or teacher, this time of year might mean extra muggy and hot days and the hope of cooler weather in a month or so. It might mean another month for beach vacations and swim parties and grilling outside.

But if you’re a student or teacher around here, early August has come to mean the start of a new school year.

Summer, though still going strong with long, hot days for at least another month, is effectively over for you. You’re back to the daily grind of getting up early and being in your work mode and school schedule.

But what does back-to-school really mean for teachers?

It means a few prep days with workshops and presentations and something new for the school year. And those prep days include – if you’re lucky – some prep time in your actual classroom. Time for getting your classroom space feeling friendly and inviting, making it a space that encourages learning.

It means a pretty sleepless night before the first day of school, a night of tossing and turning as you go over and over your plans, as you wonder what your students will be like and what this academic year will hold for you, as you feel the excitement of a new beginning.

It means meeting new students, watching their faces as they enter your room, as they search your face (openly if they’re elementary school students, furtively if they’re high school students, something in between if they’re middle school students) to try to see what kind of teacher you will be, whether you and they will get along, whether they’ll really like and trust you.

You’ll meet somewhere from a dozen to 150 new students (depending on what you teach and what grade level), learning their names and faces, putting to use your mnemonic memory devices in hopes that you can learn those names and faces in a couple of days. Or a couple of weeks if you’re one of the middle school or high school teachers who has over 100 students on your rolls.

It means starting the year with a clean slate. For your students. And for you yourself.

You’re hoping that a few new strategies will reach those students for whom the usual teaching methods just don’t work.

You’re also hoping that your new strategies – strategies for taking care of yourself, for avoiding burnout, for getting the rest and exercise and nutritional food you need – will work this year.

You’re hoping that you will be more patient, more kind, more understanding, more aligned to what your students need – than ever before.

You’re hoping that your students will be receptive to you. That they’ll want to learn. That they’ll be able to learn. That their obstacles won’t be so big this year.

Though, honestly, you know that last one won’t be true.

You know that the reality is that – no matter whether you teach at a high-poverty school or the finest prep school – you will have students who have challenges, big challenges.

You’ll have students whose challenges will run the gamut – those who have recently had a grandparent or parent or other close loved one die, those whose parents are going through a divorce, those who have just moved from a known and beloved place to a place that feels totally new and foreign, those who have had a parent or significant loved one go to jail or prison, those who are caring for a loved one with lupus or MS or cancer or any number of debilitating diseases, those who have the responsibility for taking care of younger siblings or an elderly relative or even their parents, those who are dealing with some illness or disease or other physical or mental challenge, those who come to school hungry, those who live in a place without electricity, air conditioning, running water, those who have been bounced from foster home to foster home, those who feel tremendous pressure to be the best – the best academic achiever, the best athlete, the most attractive, the most popular – pressure that is too much for a child.

You know you’ll have students with all kinds of challenges.

And you might be going through one or two or three of these challenges yourself.

But you start the new school year with hope. Hope that you can meet these challenges. That you can overcome some of them.

And hopes that you can love all of your students. Even the most difficult ones.

Especially the most difficult ones.

I know you teachers will have challenges that you’ll have to meet this new school year. And I know it’s difficult to do that, to meet them all.

So I send ALL kinds of good vibes to you, my teacher friends!

To all teachers.

You do important work.

Work that is essential for our society. Work that is often pretty thankless. Work that makes a difference for us all – whether we acknowledge it or not.

Thank you for your long hours of work with our children. For expending so much emotional, physical, and spiritual energy for your students. For all of us.

Though I’m not among your ranks any longer, I know how hard your job is.

And I’m grateful for your dedication, for your love for our children.

Your impact runs deep. And lasts long.

You make a real difference.

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Stress x Stress = Survival mode : MY MIDDLE SCHOOL EXPERIMENT, WHAT I LEARNED, PART 4

IMG_0970The everyday stress of teaching students in the throes of beginning adolescence adds up over a while.

AND

The everyday stress of living in poverty (which was about 90 percent of my students) adds up over a while.

Put those two situations together . . .  and you get a classroom full of students – and one teacher – all in survival mode.

That means stress squared.

Even though I only taught middle school for one semester, 90 days, that ongoing stress wore me out and put me into survival mode in Week 1.

And most of my students came to school already in survival mode.

That’s a tough formula for teaching and learning, especially in this high-stakes testing era.

Academic (language arts, social studies, math, science) teachers don’t feel they have enough time to attend to their students’ emotional wellbeing, to take care of the diverse needs of students who are in survival mode every day.

That’s because academic teachers always have testing coming up. They are held accountable for these students’ scores – whether these students are in survival mode or not.

I had more leeway in my careers class – and little academic stress – because the spring testing wasn’t looming over my shoulder every day.

But had about 70-75 students one day, then another, different 70-75 the next, then back to the first 75, and so on . . .  an alternating-days schedule.

That didn’t allow me to get to know my approximately 150 students very well.

It took me almost a month to learn all of their names! (When I taught high school English, I knew all of my students’ names in the first week, most within the first three days).

And by the time I felt I knew these 6th, 7th, and 8th graders at least somewhat well – had figured out their personalities and learning styles and challenges – the semester was over.

Students who live in poverty, whose lives are in constant turmoil and unpredictability . . . well, they need extra support.

Support from people who know them.

That support usually comes from their teachers. 

Teachers who themselves are very stressed.

Students who live in stressful situations often act out, cause disruption in the classroom, make teaching more difficult.

Or they may withdraw, not interact, put their heads down, not pay attention. That also makes teaching more difficult.

And if the teacher happens to be under stresses more than the already pretty intense classroom stresses, that’s a recipe for volatility.

And volatility causes even more stress.

With this much daily stress, soon both the teachers and students find themselves in survival mode.

I went into survival mode very quickly. I didn’t have the physical stamina to be on my feet on concrete floors interacting with middle schoolers five days a week.

And even though I was much better prepared emotionally than when I was a younger teacher, the time in the classroom wore me out.

I had the opportunity to feel a little of what it’s like to try to function in survival mode day after day.

Students in poverty have this feeling multiplied by 3 or 4 or 5  . . . . or 10 or 20.

Plus, they’re only 11 or 12 or 13 or 14 years old. And their hormones are wreaking havoc. And their brains aren’t developed yet.

That’s stress upon stress upon stress upon stress! 

As this new school year is beginning (the teachers in my district go back the middle of this week, and the students start on August 3rd), send some good vibes to both teachers and students.

They’re all in difficult, demanding situations.

Day after day.

They need our support.

Both students and teachers!

(And if you’re feeling really generous, contact your local school to find out how you might help students and teachers. High-poverty schools often provide food and clothing for students – you might want to make a donation. Teachers always appreciate any acknowledgement. Drop off a cake or cookies or something to make teachers feel appreciated. You have no idea how far this gesture will go in making the day of teachers who are stressed and perhaps in survival mode!)

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Not if I can disrespect you first! : My Middle School Experiment, What I Learned, Part 3

How often do you often run into disrespect?

And how do you feel when you do run into disrespect? How do you act?

Our principal at my middle school this last semester wisely emphasized every day that we all should treat each other with respect – students, teachers, staff, administrators, everyone – should treat each other with respect. And he emphasized to parents and guardians that their children would be treated with respect.

It was a daily message.

It’s a message I’ve always emphasized in my classes, from the many years when I taught high school to this last middle school semester.

But it hasn’t been until my reflection time this summer – after my 90 days in a high-poverty middle school classroom – that I really have realized how important respect is.

Respect is important for all of us . . .  but it’s especially important for people who live in poverty.

Disrespect was one of my major concerns when I had community members come talk to my classes about their careers and life choices.

Because my experience with teaching students from poverty was that they are very often disrespectful.

That is one of the most difficult and trying challenges of teaching in a high-poverty school. Dealing with the disrespect you so often encounter.

Dealing with a lack of politeness, a lack of consideration for your authority, a lack of consideration for your feelings, even.

I knew this tendency of my students toward disrespect would be one of the big challenges of my semester.

That challenge would affect me personally, and it would affect my having speakers come talk with my classes. Because this was a careers class, I wanted to have people from a variety of careers talk with my students.

But having community members come into your classroom can be precarious feeling.

Because you don’t know how your students will act.

IMG_9989So I talked with my students about treating speakers – treating anyone who came into our school – with respect. I talked about what that looked like. How you should pay attention and not talk while the speaker was talking. How you should sit up and not put your head on the table or prop your legs up in the chair next to you. How you should raise your hand and politely ask questions that were about the speaker’s topic. How you should thank the speaker for coming to our class.

Before we had any speakers from the community, our principal came to my classes and talked with them about these very behaviors.

My students also heard the respect message every day during announcements.

And usually, my students did well and were respectful of our speakers.

But sometimes they weren’t.

More often it was more minor disrespect, as when they whispered to each other while our speaker was talking or when they asked odd or inappropriate or off-topic questions.

But sometimes the disrespect was more blatant.

The worst was the time we had a fairly high-profile speaker talking with a combination of two classes, and one grade level group of students got rowdy. The speaker completely stopped speaking because the students were so talkative. That got the students’ attention, and they got quiet. He told them that he didn’t have to be there.

And the most openly confrontational and disrespectful of my students said. “Well, why don’t you leave?”

I was mortified. It was exactly what I was afraid of happening. A student actively disrespecting a guest at our school.

My biggest fear had happened.

Even though I had been actively walking around the room giving the evil eye to students who weren’t engaged or sitting appropriately.

Even though I had been speaking quietly to ones who were talking or starting to become a problem.

Even though all that, the group got out of control.

We teachers feel like failures when that happens.

Long story short, that group of students did settle down, and the speaker did finish his talk without walking out. And he even offered to return next year.

But that incident and my mortification at the disrespect my students showed turned into my reflecting about the incident.

I thought about why I wanted my students to be on their best behavior.

I wanted them to make a good impression.

I wanted every speaker to leave thinking (and even telling others in the community), “That school has great kids! They’re very respectful and engaged. You’d never know so many of them come from poverty.”

That’s what I wanted.

But it’s not what I always got.

And maybe that’s not so bad.

What if the best scenario was for my speakers to see my students as they really are?  To get a taste of the challenges in a high-poverty school?

And what if we can all learn from that –  to look at why these kids are disrespectful?

I think these kids are disrespectful because these their lives have taught them that they’re going to be treated disrespectfully.

Disrespect is what they’ve experienced time and time again. That’s how they’ve seen their parents, guardians, relatives, and neighbors be treated.

With disrespect.

So they figure, “I’m going to disrespect you before you can disrespect me!”

At least that way they have a little bit of power.

Not for long, though, because usually some kind of punishment follows.

Think about it. If you live in poverty, often people refer to you as “trash” or “sorry” or some other derogatory term. And if they don’t say that out loud to you, you can see in in their eyes and in how they treat you.

Middle class and upper class people don’t have to worry about being treated disrespectfully very often.

They aren’t seen as worthless.

When they are treated disrespectfully, they are incensed. And they usually have a recourse to respond to the disrespect.

But people in poverty get treated disrespectfully often. Perhaps almost daily.

How would you respond if this were your life?

I was talking with one of my classes about having community members come to help them practice being interviewed, and one of my students said, “If they disrespect me, I’m gonna disrespect them right back!”

I didn’t quite know how to respond. I knew that no one would come to my classroom and treat my students with disrespect.

My knee-jerk reaction was to be dismissive of his perspective. I mean, why would he think that someone I brought into my classroom would disrespect my students??

But I eventually realized . . . he thought that because that’s what his experiences have showed him.

He learned that you’d better show disrespect first or at least in response, because that’s what you’re going to get. Disrespect.

He thought you’re going to be disrespected at some point – no matter what.

So many of my students choose the strategy of being disrespectful before they can be disrespected. At least that way they have a little bit of power (before the boom drops, and they’re punished in some way).  At least then they aren’t sniveling the whole way, being pushed around. At least that way, they can have some pride.

That’s what my students are tying to do when they’re disrespectful – have a litte bit of power in a life that is mostly powerless.

And one of the few ways they’ve seen people be powerful is when they’re angry, when they’re lashing out, when they’re striking first. When they’re being what we call “disrespectful.”

When you’re on the bottom of the heap, when you have little to no power, you try to find some power wherever you can.

And often acting disrespectfully feels powerful. At least you weren’t acting like a victim. Which is actually what you are in this life.

A victim at the bottom of our society’s hierarchy. A victim with many obstacles and few breaks.

That’s what my students don’t want to feel.

And so they lash out.

And that lashing out feels like disrespect to the ones on the receiving end.

But on the giving end it feel like a little bit of power in a life that is basically powerless.

I’m not saying it’s okay to be disrespectful.

It’s not.

But I think that’s why students in poverty are so often disrespectful.

That’s another lesson, a daily one, we have to teach in our public schools.

The lesson that treating others with respect is ultimately more effective. That it is ultimately more powerful. Even when it doesn’t feel that way.

Even when you too seldom receive it.

That’s one thing our school did (and does) that’s really right.

Emphasizing respect.

For everyone at all times.

Our whole society would benefit from practicing respect – from our politicians to our corporate leaders to our religious leaders to those using social media to every single member of our society.

Treating others with respect is the best choice.

And it ultimately has the best outcome.

That’s a lesson that’s hard for us teachers to get across to our students who live in poverty, those who are so often powerless.

So what we have to do is model respect.

Even when our students are disrespectful to us.

Especially then.

Because it might be one of the few times that they themselves get to experience being treated with respect.

And then they can feel what it’s like to be respected even when their behaviors aren’t respectful.

That can have far-reaching effects.

For us all.

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MY MIDDLE SCHOOL EXPERIMENT: WHAT I LEARNED, PART 2. Less ego, more patience.

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As I said in earlier posts, I’m sure I learned more during my semester of teaching middle school than my students did.

And a lot – probably most – of what I learned was about myself.

In this post, I’ll share one of the “good” things I learned.

I learned that I am a great deal more patient and calm than I was back when I taught high school.

I did gradually become more patient during my 23 years in the high school classroom, but I’ve grown almost by leaps and bounds since then.

This past semester quite a few of my students responded with frustration or anger at various times in the classroom.

And hardly ever did I have my typical knee-jerk reactions to them. I didn’t raise my voice, lose my temper, defend my position, get drawn into a debate or argument, or write the students up with a discipline referral.

Smaller infractions, such as when students slipped and said a four-letter curse word or when they’d react with a tiny bit of anger not directed at me, were ones I could deal with immediately with a comment to the offender about the behavior.

For an infraction that was larger, one I thought needed a conversation, I sent the offender into the hall and joined him there when my lesson made a transition that allowed me to step out for a minute.

There, in the hall, I’d ask the student how he could have handled the situation differently. What she could have said differently, or how he could have used another tone of voice. Or how she could have taken a totally different angle than the one she took.

Sometimes the student would have to give me two or three other responses before she could find one that would be appropriate in the classroom.

But, with a couple of exceptions, each student was able to come up with – and model – a better way of dealing with the situation he just experienced.

You see, I finally have realized that we all respond to conflict or difficulty in whatever way feels “normal” to us.

And that “normal” is usually how people in our childhood homes reacted.

So how can I punish a kid who is just doing what feels normal?

Especially if I don’t first show him another way to respond? And give her a chance to try that out in a real setting?

Even as adults, our knee-jerk reaction is usually the one we saw the adults in our household take.

If we had two adults at home, we might react in the way that one of them usually responded. If she reacted with anger, we think that getting angry is how you deal with conflict. If he withdrew, we think that that’s the way to deal with conflict. If he yelled, threw things, stormed around, we think that’s normal. If she pouted, gave the silent treatment, demanded reparation, we think that’s normal.

Only when we are shown another way can we choose another reaction.

Even as adults we too often lapse into our “normal” way of reacting to conflict, the way we saw modeled in our childhood homes.

So, of course, middle school kids react in ways that feel normal!

What I got to see about myself this past semester was that my knee jerk “normal” reaction has changed. I don’t respond with defensiveness or anger most of the time.

This semester I didn’t feel my blood pressure rise, my body tighten, my pulse pound when a kid challenged me, lost her temper with me or another kid, or acted out in an inappropriate way.

I would stay centered, talk with the offender in a calm adult voice, and deal with the issue in a rational way.

Boy, was that more effective than losing my temper!

My students usually responded very positively, and I’d send them back into the classroom where they’d join in with whatever the activity was. They didn’t pout. They weren’t angry.

And I think they had a little taste of how to change their knee-jerk, “normal” reactions.

Just as I have had experiences in changing my knee-jerk, “normal” reactions.

I attribute my change, my growth, to my centering prayer/meditation practice.

And my having been through a breast cancer journey.

Centering prayer and meditation are focused on letting go of the ego, the false self. I’ve been using that daily practice for 16 years now, sitting with my false self, feeling how I use it to escape and to avoid.

For me, a large part of that false self is my “normal.”

And cancer made me take a hard look at that normal. To see if it served me well, helped me in crisis times, helped me to grow.

It didn’t.

My cancer journey helped show me that.

Suffering and pain showed me that.

Many mystics of different religions say (and have said for centuries) that we can only lose our egos when we are forced to do so through suffering and pain.

For me, that certainly was true.

Not that I have totally lost my ego, my false self, mind you.

Not even close!

But my time in the middle school classroom showed me that my ego has been worn down and diminished because of my suffering and pain.

And that is the change in my “normal” reaction to having my authority challenged.

Less ego.

This semester I was usually able to stay centered and not react with anger and defensiveness when my ego was challenged.

That’s some big progress for me.

And you know what?

It feels a lot better not having to defend an ego.

It feels lighter, somehow.

More open, less dense.

Those reactive, angry middle school kids showed me that I’m a little further along on the journey to being the clear, open person I hope to be one day.

For that, for their lessons for me in letting go of ego, I am grateful.

 

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My Middle School Experiment: What I learned, Part 1

IMG_0010It was a month ago that I completed my semester of teaching middle school.

This was a semester – 90 days – of experiment.

An experiment to find out what teaching middle school is like, what middle schoolers themselves are like, what it’s like to teach in a high-poverty middle school, what it’s like to teach a nonacademic class.

And to find out how much I have changed and grown as a person.

To find out how much my perspectives have changed.

I wrote a lot in this blog during the semester about my struggles. About how hard – how exhausting – teaching is. About what my students were like.

I found middle schoolers now in 2016 to be much like my high schoolers were back in the 1980s and 90s.

They are physically like them. Many are just as tall, just as big. I attribute that to the steroids in our foods, but it might also be nutrition. Perhaps nutrition has improved in the last 20 years?

Middle schoolers now are just as worldly, if that’s the right word, as my high schoolers were 20, 25 years ago.

These 6th, 7th, and 8th graders now have been exposed to a lot of adult topics.

They don’t have much innocence. If anything, my high schoolers 20 years ago had more innocence. I attribute that to the internet and my students’ access to almost anything that is out there in our world.

Kids are more savvy now. In both positive and negative ways.

We might bemoan the changes and kids’ exposure, but I think that that exposure is here to stay. Technology is not going to go backward. We just have to be aware of how much kids know now.

But I also found that middle school kids do still have some innocence.

Even the most hardened ones.

They all still have some little kid in them.

Even though they want to act cool, they still respond with enthusiasm to many things. High schoolers don’t do that. High schoolers are definitely too cool for lots of things that excite middle schoolers.

And middle schoolers still like to play.

But I don’t think they get enough opportunity. Unless they have a physical education class, they don’t have much chance to play.

And they crave play.

Once a month, we connections teachers had what we called Fun FridayThat was the last Friday of the month, and we’d take all of our classes to the gym so that they could play.

When I was an academic teacher in high school, I’d definitely have criticized that as a waste of learning time.

But this semester, I saw how necessary play time is. How kids need an opportunity to run around and be silly, to interact with each other in a nonacademic setting, to burn off physical energy.

They seldom get that time now because of hyper focus on standardized testing.

But they need time to play, to be kids, even in school.

Perhaps especially in school, since kids in high-poverty homes too often carry adult responsibilities.

I saw how kids need safe time to be kids, no matter how worldly or how cool they are or pretend to be.

* * * * * * * *

Many of my assumptions and attitudes changed in this semester of teaching middle school.

I’m going to spend some of my next blog posts looking at how and why these changes in my perspectives came about.

But first I’m going to say how much I needed a break after this semester – and how much my trip to Colorado and the Rocky Mountain National Park was just right for clearing out the negativity I was feeling.

And also I’m going to say how much I’ve enjoyed this month of not having to wrangle middle schoolers and their varying emotions.

The turbulent stream of my life is settling, and now the water is becoming more clear.

With that clarity, I’m discovering more and more of what this semester has meant for me.

Stay tuned as I look more thoroughly at what I’ve learned in a mere 90 days with middle school kids.

I’m sure I learned a lot more from them than they learned from me!

 

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Stream near Sheep Lakes in Rocky Mountain National Park

 

 

 

 

 

The Just-Right Trip: Healing the energy of 90 days of teaching in a high-poverty middle school

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Sprague Lake, Rocky Mountain National Park

Though it was right on the heels of a difficult 90 days and the teacher in-service days that followed, my trip to what I call “out West” was just what I needed.

Maybe it’s because it was right on the heels of this challenging time that it was just right.

When I left the house on a Saturday morning to drive to Columbia, Missouri, I was still in the after-effects of a tough school semester with middle school students.

I was still tired. I still felt depleted. I still had negative energy swirling about and within me.

But after only a few hours on the road, I could feel everything shifting.

Sometimes all it takes is a new perspective to jump start a new energy.

Travel always helps me be more in the now, more present to what is going on around me at each moment.

Seeing the St. Louis Gateway Arch that Saturday afternoon let me know that the West, a travel destination I always enjoy, was getting nearer.

I enjoy the clarity of the sky in the West, the brightness of the colors, the largeness of the horizon.

The West does my heart and soul good. It helps clear out the clutter of whatever negativity I am feeling at that point.

And this trip was even more special because my sister joined up with me in Kansas City to drive across Kansas and to spend time in the Rockies with me.

But I was already feeling like a new person when I picked her up at the airport. It’s on the western part of Missouri that I always start getting more “western” vibes. She flew into Kansas City, which is at that western brink for me.

Though it seems most people don’t like driving across Kansas, I do. I love the sense of climbing in altitude as I approach the Rockies. I love the expanse of sky, the wide, wide horizons, the gigantic fields of corn and wheat, the tiny farm towns with the huge silos that you can see from the interstate.

I even enjoy the windiness!

And then, after driving for hours and hours across flatness . . .  to see those snow-capped mountains on the horizon . . . my reaction is always WOW!

WOW, WOW, WOW!!!

The Rockies are SO much bigger than our mountains in the East. And so much, well, rockier.

Their energy feels newer to me. I suppose that makes sense. Our mountains in the East are lots and lots older than the Rockies.

Maybe it’s the “youth”of the Rockies that draws me to them.

Or maybe it’s that they’re craggy, snow-capped, towering – so different from the mountains I see from my back yard.

Whatever it is, the Rockies were the right medicine for me at this point in my life.

Staying in Estes Park, Colorado at the edge of the Rocky Mountain National Park was a delight.

My sister and I went to various places in the park (Moraine Park, Sprague Lake, Sheep Lakes, Lily Lake, almost to the top of Trail Ridge Road) and enjoyed all that was there. Beautiful vistas, different birds than we have in the East, elk and more elk (in open areas, among trees, at the side of the road, crossing the road right in front of us), a handful of deer, one moose far away eating in the middle of a stand of tall bushes that mostly blocked our view, and, finally, a herd of bighorn sheep. We tried several times at the Sheep Lake area to see bighorn sheep. It wasn’t until our last day and a final drive through the park that we saw them. They came out to wish us farewell, I think.

Being in a place so unlike home recalibrated my energy.

I left Colorado and drove back home feeling like a new person.

A refreshed person. A renewed person. A revived person.

And a person who doesn’t take travel for granted.

I know I’m blessed to get to travel.

Not every one gets to have a getaway. I’m sure few of my students do. Their families can’t afford the expense of gas and motels and meals out for two or three days, and certainly not the 11 days of my trip. They perhaps don’t have a car that would get them to Colorado and back.

What a difference travel would mean for them, though. It would expand their horizons, just as it has mine. They would see that there is a larger world than the one they inhabit daily.

They, like me, would have their worlds altered, their energy shifted.

But I know very few of them will get to travel during this summer vacation time. So many in our society simply can’t afford an 11-day trip. They can’t afford time away from work, and they can’t afford the financial outlay.

So I’m especially grateful for this trip.

For all that I saw and all that worked to change me, to shift my energy.

Snowcapped mountains, wildlife, interesting cities, quaint towns, other happy travelers.

I don’t take any of that for granted.

I’m grateful for such a wonder-filled, renewing time with my sister.

She and I have traveled enough together over the years that we know that some time apart during the trip is good for us. We know that we need different experiences.

So some afternoons she went for a hike or walk while I stayed in the motel room and napped and wrote – or I sat in a park and read and wrote. Or I sat in a park and enjoyed the day, no book required.

I enjoyed the time with my sister and the time alone.

My energy level got replenished.

For the first time in 90+ days, I didn’t feel like I was in energy deficit all of the time. I got beyond the tiredness that came with teaching in a high-poverty school.

Beyond the exhaustion of dealing with negavity, of feeling the negativity that permeates these children’s lives.

Beyond their anger, their depression, their sense of hopelessness.

However, I’m very aware that they don’t get to leave that.

My next steps are to find other ways to help, ways that do not put me in a middle school classroom each day but that do allow me to try to help my students – or kids and adults like them – to see and experience another world.

What will those ways be?

I have no idea. Yet. 

But I will be reading and learning more about poverty, talking with community members, talking with leaders of organizations, sharing ideas, asking questions, looking for ways to be involved, ways to help my students or others like them to expand their horizons.

This expansion probably won’t be through travel as it has been for me so many times, but there are other – nonliteral – ways to travel.

I’d like to help provide some of those ways for people who can’t afford to travel.

Because I well know that expanded horizons can be healing.

Just as this trip with my sister to Colorado was for me.

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Elk by the road.

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Two bighorn rams.

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Herds of bighorn sheep and elk by Sheep Lakes.

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An elk herd crossing the road.

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Aspen at sunset

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Sunset at Sheep Lakes

 

 

 

 

 

Teaching Middle School, Week 18: The finale

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Lesson from an assistant principal on how to tie a tie

The much-anticipated Day 90 of my semester-long experiment of teaching a careers class in a local middle school came on Friday. That day was the last one of the semester.

I thought I’d feel many emotions: joy, exhilaration, pride – and most of all, relief.

But, honestly, I don’t feel much of anything.

Except tiredness.

Perhaps it will take me a while to process my time with 6th, 7th, and 8th graders. I suspect that will be the case.

But also I suspect that I’ll need to recover physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually before I can sort through my feelings with any real insights.

Heck, I’ll need to do some recovering before I can even actually feel them!

I’ve learned so much in these 90 days with middle school students. 

About both these students and myself.

If you’ve never taught before, you may not know this: It’s the teachers who always, ALWAYS learn the most!

So my middle school experiment was an experiment with myself much more than it was one with my students and school.

And I have an easy comparison – with myself from the 23-year high school teaching gig I completed 8 years ago.

The person I was at the end of that teaching time is quite a different person than the one who just completed this 90-day time period.

This person is much calmer and much less reactionary and resentful – even if she is much more tired after each day.

During the next month or so, I’ll be exploring the differences I’ve seen and felt in myself.

But for right now, for today, I’m going to rest. I’m not going to think, not going to try to figure anything out.

I have 4 more days at school, days we call in-service days. Days when we wrap up the semester and clean up our rooms. When we complete our academic year and tie it up with a bow.

Days with no students.

So these days feel almost like vacation, even though we’ll be working. Because it’s the wrangling with students that is the most exhausting, the dealing with all of the various energies of middle school kids that wears us out.

By the end of this week, I’ll finish my requirements for a completed semester.

Then I’ll rest and recover . . . in perhaps my favorite way of all. You’ll have to see my next blog post to know what that is  :)

So until then, this old teacher will be putting another teaching stint in the books.

And will be starting to wonder, just a tiny bit, where the path will lead next. . .

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Students help each other tie ties

 

Teaching Middle School, Week 17: “Because we’re bad”

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My students working diligently on their project.

Two comments to me at school this past week have stuck with me.

Both were from 6th grade students.

The first occurred while three of my students were working on their project for the end of the year. They were talking, and one said he had signed up for careers (the class I teach) next year, and another said he had, too.

I realized they thought I’d be teaching that class, so I told them, “I won’t be back next year.”

Their response was the expected, “Why?”

I told them that teaching took too much of my energy, that I didn’t have any energy left over to do the other things that I want to do.

And then the student who made the first comment said, “Because we’re bad.”

I told him no, that they’re not “bad.” It’s about me and my lack of energy, not them.

But I don’t think he really heard me.

And on another day, I asked one of my 6th graders if she had made the team she had tried out for. I was hoping she had. She’s the kid who is probably the most initially disrespectful of all my students, the one who is immediately “bored” and who loudly voices that feeling, the one who is reactionary and disruptive much too often.

But she is also the one who has tremendous leadership potential. The one who can influence an entire classroom to do something. The one who sometimes decides she “has my back” and tells the whole class to be quiet – and they do quiet down.

She’s also bright, has a good grade in my class, actually does enjoy learning – when she can get past her knee-jerk negative reaction.

She has softened during the semester and has let me see a little of the kid that really does want to please, to be liked, to be accepted, to be praised.

So I was hoping she’d make that team. Because being a part of something bigger than herself would be so good for her. And she might have the opportunity to grow into that leadership role.

When I asked if she had made the team, she said “no.”

She added, “Because I’m a bad kid.”

It hurts my heart that these kids see themselves as bad.

That they can’t separate bad behavior from bad character.

They’re not bad. They’re just kids.

Kids who have lots of challenges.

Some of my students may make boneheaded choices at times. Some may be disrespectful now and then. They may be loud and unruly and bouncing off the walls some days. They may not listen well. They may be mischievous. They may get angry sometimes.

But they’re just kids.

They’re not bad.

They can be sweet and funny and kind and innocent. Even the hardest of them.

I find them to be trustworthy. I have no qualms about leaving my purse in an unlocked drawer. Or my cell phone unattended on my desk.

Three weeks ago I put a dollar bill on the top of the whiteboard in my room to remind my students that the team that wins the project competition will get real money.

The dollar bill is still there. No one has taken it.

The “baddest” they have been is to be loud and unruly – and every now and then one will have a disrespectful tone of voice with me. But after I talk with her or him, each one looks me in the eye (at my request) and gives me a calm, reasonable answer (after some coaching) that is much more effective than the “attitude” answer.

These kids aren’t bad.

So why do they think that about themselves?

Where and how have they learned this?

And how do we teach them otherwise?

How do we teach them that “bad” behavior at times doesn’t make you yourself “bad”?

That we all (adults included) make mistakes.

And that mistakes don’t make you “bad.”

It’s weird. This past week was my next-to-last as a middle school teacher. I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. I have 5 days left in the classroom. Friday will be my last day with kids.

But today, rather than being relieved that it’s almost over, that I’ve endured and survived, I find myself thinking of kids who think they’re bad.

Yes, these kids have gotten to my heart.

Not that I’m second-guessing my decision not to teach next year, mind you!

But I do want to be involved – somehow – in these kids’ lives.

I just need guidance into how that might be. What it might look like.

So I’ll be trying to be open to opportunities.

And I’ll be discerning what feels like my next calling.

I hope it will be a way still to be involved with these students – just not as their daily classroom teacher.

Time will tell, right?

Time will give me some indication.

And the Flow will show me the way.

I’ll be watching.

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Rocky Mountain National Park a few years ago.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Teaching Middle School, Week 16: What I find most wearing and wearying

IMG_1504The main feeling I’ve had through these 16 weeks of teaching middle school is exhaustion.

Being in the classroom every weekday makes me tired.

Tired, tired, tired. And more tired.

That’s what I felt at the end of my high school teaching career 8 years ago.

And it’s what I feel now.

If you’ve never taught in a public school, you may be wondering, “What’s so tiring about teaching?”

For me, it’s the negativity and resistance.

I have so many students who respond negatively to anything I introduce.

Do we HAVE to?

That’s SO boring!

I don’t want to!

I can’t!

And the worst of all . . .

I don’t care.

I’ve brought in quite a few speakers, people who are willing to share their life experiences about their careers and personal paths. People who care about my students. People who want to give back.

For every speaker, I have some students who’ll say (out loud!), “This is SO boring” –  before the speaker even has a chance to say more than a few sentences!

How do 11, 12, 13, 14 year olds become so jaded, so negative, so expecting of the worst??

Why do they resist everything at first?

Is this what life has taught them so far? That everything will have a bad outcome?

Or is this their way of protecting themselves? From more disappointment?

As you can tell from my many question marks, I haven’t arrived at answers yet.

But I can tell you this, negativity and resistance are what have worn me down the most during my two teaching stints. It took about 20 years in the first stint to arrive at exhaustion from the negativity and resistance.

In this short middle school stint, exhaustion met me in Week 1 and has persisted throughout.

Negativity is not just a trait of kids in middle and high school, either.

Adults are victims as well.

I know you have felt that negativity in people, do feel it.

Some people and some environments are permeated with negativity.

I sense it as heaviness. Some people, some places are heavy. Burdened with negativity.

And it’s catching.

Negativity is like a virus. Anyone can catch it. It can spread through an organization like wildfire.

But negativity does have its counterpart.

Some people and some places feel light. Happy. Positive.

They are direct contrasts to those who feel dark, heavy, negative.

These kids who live in poverty carry that dark, heavy, negative burden.

Make no mistake, poverty is a burden, one carried by everyone who experiences it – not only the adults.

And those of us who work with kids who carry that burden can feel it.

We’re not immune. It affects us deeply.

I wish I could say that I’ve transcended that weight, that darkness . . .  that I’m unaffected by it.

But I have not transcended it.

I am very affected by it.

It manifests most obviously through my exhaustion.

It’s both wearing and wearying.

So my way of countering it is to expose myself to those energies as little as I can.

Which right now means I can’t continue to teach in a high poverty school, can’t expose myself to that negative energy every day.

It’s too debilitating. Too exhausting.

I have 10 more days with students and then 4 days of post-planning.

And then I can choose to find a positive daily environment.

Or  . . . .  maybe I’ll learn to transform negativity. To take it in and change its charge from negative to positive.

The latter will take a lot of work.

I’m willing to try, though.

Some say that when the student is ready, the teacher will appear.

Maybe I’m ready? Almost?

But first, I’ll need to recover.

If I can just get through 10 more days, I’ll get on the road to recovery.

Just a few more days.

I think I can, I think I can . . . .

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