With the reminders of warm summer nights etched into my ankles, I look at the bruises left from endless scratching and reflect on my relaxing yet productive summer. It was my hope these scars of summer would be long gone before the start of the school year, but no such luck; I will begin my first year as a 5th-grade teacher with nasty ankles, cut, scarred, and bruised from the annoyances of summer. So much for sandals and a cute dress!
I’ve always said I have become a better parent because I am a teacher, and likewise, a better teacher because I’m a parent. Admittedly, I was not the parent who cared about grades. I didn’t check the Parent Portals that were just beginning to become the main source of contact between parents and teachers at the time when my children were about halfway through their academic careers. I’m much more of the mindset that effort is the driving force behind an individual’s success in life. “Are you doing your best?” was my only concern.
Using myself as an example, I had both good grades and bad grades as a student. I received my first “F” from Mrs. Smith in second grade for conduct. (Notice I said first) I was always respectful in school and I enjoyed going. For me, school was much more social than anything else. Through my elementary years, it was about pleasing my teachers; although I’m not sure just how pleased they were with me. I was quite chatty. Throughout middle and high school, it was totally, 100% about seeing my friends. It wasn’t until I reached my college years when I approached school as an academic.
Grades then mattered to me and I worked purposefully and passionately through higher education. I became a lifelong learner and I have not stopped taking and teaching classes, running and attending or presenting workshops. I have deemed myself an educational junkie because I simply cannot get enough.
Girlfriend and boyfriend drama aside, I can’t ever remember a time when I felt anxious about going to school. I didn’t suffer from test anxiety and I don’t ever remember having teachers making me feel anxious about learning the curriculum. But times have certainly changed and both students and teachers are now feeling high anxiety over the bureaucracy that has brought much negativity into the world of education. This post is not about discussing the rights and wrongs and personal opinions of what has been going on in the field of education, it’s about sifting through all the nonsense and helping our students to feel safe, calm, capable, and connected throughout their days with us in school.
It’s been a conscious, social movement for me to spread the idea of wellness; to choose to make it a part of your every thought, every day. This extends to every aspect of life, including school life. School is such an enormous part of every day, and it can be a major reason for stress in our lives. Last week, CNN published an article on students and anxiety. The article stated the main cause of stress among school-aged children as young as the third grade was homework and standardized testing. A few mentioned not knowing their teachers and what was expected of them once they arrived at school as other reasons, but homework and state testing were top on the list.
“Anxious parents raise anxious children”, was a quote from Kelly Wallace’s article, Back to School: What Makes Kids Anxious. I would add to that, anxious teachers create anxious environments for their students. Together we have to ask ourselves as parents and teachers, and those who are influencing young people: What are we doing to send a message of calm? How can we send the message to students: All will be well?
As a teacher, establishing a classroom community is number one on my list of things to do when I return to school in September. Before handing out books or talking about homework, we take the time to establish a safe and caring community of learners. We have fun with several icebreakers to get to know one another. We discuss the rights of readers and the rights of students. The class creates their own list of expectations for the year and they collaborate on many character building and self-awareness activities. This year, I’m excited about the addition of Meditation Jars. I borrowed the idea from the yoga studio I belong to. You can search how to make them online, they are easy peasy to make and they look awesome. My only hiccup was making them in glass jars. I’m not sure what I was thinking, but being that they will be handled by 5th graders, transferring them into plastic is a much smarter idea.
Every year I’m excited to share The Duck with my students. This little guy was given to me when I first started teaching. I was going through a very difficult time in my life. (That alone could be another blog…book actually). On the day I received The Duck, one of my students was crying. I put the duck on her desk and told her she had the period off. From that moment on, The Duck was born.
The birth of the Duck was organically created as a result of providing a student the opportunity to take a break and take some time to get herself together. I didn’t know why she was crying, but it was clear she would be ok. The Duck gave her what she needed. It was a very tiny gesture of compassion and understanding, and to a child of any age, that small gesture is enough to let them know you care enough to understand their needs.
So the school year has begun and it was my hope to be able to continue to post here once a week. But I continue to work on balancing all that is important to me in my life and it looks like weekly posting is not going to be my reality at this time. Life is a practice and conscious living and wellness is a practice. I want to live the life I encourage others to live. Remaining conscious is essential for me. As I move forward in my new teaching position, it’s become clear I won’t have the freedom to post as much as I’d like. Honoring time and energy is first and foremost, so as I enter into a new realm of education, I pledge to do it consciously, calmly, and gently for both my students and myself. Happy September to you and all of those that you love! xo