Learning to Take Care of My Damn Self

Growing up I watched my very motivated father work his fingers to the damn bone. If there was a retake needed by a football player, he’d stay until 6 to give it to them. If a parent meeting needed to happen at 5 am or 9 pm, he’d make it happen. If he needed to learn Spanish or trombone to get the information across, he’d do it.

Every evening I watched him get home late and fall asleep minutes after sitting down. And every single school break I watched him get horribly sick and spend his time off recovering.

When I started teaching I promised myself I would find a way to work for my kids, to give them every chance I can, without burning myself out.

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I have been blessed with a team of co-workers who are caring and understanding, who always look out for me. My co-teacher tells me often to take care of myself. The beginning of every department meeting is either a self care check-in (where we talk about our specific self care goals and what we are doing to reach them this week) or a self care practice (Tai Chi, guided meditation, etc.) My Assistant Principal meets with me once a week to lesson plan/unit plan/revise curriculum/talk about what’s not working and how to fix it. My in-school mentor meets with me once a week to talk about literally anything I need help with.

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I’m supported, much more so than a lot of teachers. I’m lucky and I know it. But still I got caught with a case of ignoring my own needs.

Last Monday I got up at 4 and laid on my couch sobbing because my head was pounding so hard I couldn’t move. I called in sick but by noon the fever, headache and general ick was so bad I couldn’t stop crying.

I went to the clinic in the afternoon (I’ll be honest I went mostly because I wanted to be at work the following day) and found out I had a high fever, a sinus infection, and an ear infection.

My point is: don’t do this. Don’t let it get this bad. I was sick, really obviously sick and tried to push too hard through it and for what?

Americans especially have this notion that if you are not absolutely killing yourself at work, you’re lazy. I can’t say this enough times: that’s bullsh*t.

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In Peru, we would work from about 7- or am until lunch, go get lunch and take a nap or spend time with family, and then go back to work from 3 until 5 or 6. Yeah, that’s a three hour lunch. We also took 20-30 minutes breaks throughout the day to sit and talk.

At first I was torn apart by the difference and went to the go-to argument so many others have used (or at least thought in their head): well maybe if they worked more, their country would be more advanced. This, my friends, is also bullsh*t.

The reasons that many countries struggle has more to do with internal structure and corruption than with amount of hours worked. Hard work may be important, but worker bees working their buzzers off with no break  will not improve a country or a city or a workplace or a person.

I suppose the moral of the story is: put in the work, do whatever it is you do the best that you possibly can, but remember that half of being your best is treating yourself well. Work hard, self care hard.

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Best of luck.

Learning to Take Care of My Damn Self

A Soul Cleansing Moment

I sat on the train this afternoon, I’ve been sitting on trains a lot lately, in a frantic rush. I didn’t want to be late, to waste one precious moment I could spend talking to this woman who has meant so much to me, on this dumb train.

It was cold on the train and hot on the platform. I didn’t feel like putting make up on on the train so I listened to music instead. Chambers street, right? Right. Then the path and my first time to New Jersey. On the other side of the river, a breeze existed; cool air and suddenly it smelled like the ocean. It only ever smelled like city in New York. It was chilly in the breeze but warm in the love of my friends embrace.

Friend? Mentor? What do you call someone who inspires so much in you, who believes so deeply in you, who you admire so fiercely. She taught me how to be imaginative and creative in education. She taught me to think outside the box. She taught me things I’m only just now learning that she taught me.

Seeing people from home in this big, bad city feels like a deep breath after months underwater. I tell people I miss hiking, that the train is hard to navigate. I tell people I miss fresh air, that there are too many people. I laugh it off, New York is great sure sure sure. But this glimmer of hope from home brought me to life again. She breathed into me and renewed my entire being. She told me I was great, in real, human words. It wasn’t implied or alluded to. It was said. When so rarely these words are earnestly spoken.

Everyone should be told that they are honestly, perfectly, entirely great and that they should let their greatness flow. Have you heard that yet?

Yes you have, you just did.

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Best of luck.

How Do I Positivity? Dealing with a Bad Professor

The positivity train took a serious hit this week (think hitting an elephant not an opossum) and nearly derailed.

Ah, where to begin.

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I have this professor who exemplifies not only the scourge of the educational community, but possibly the scourge of the earth. It’s not that he’s particularly unkind, he’s simply not a good teacher, and at a horribly expensive Ive League graduate school for teachers, I expect excellence.

I could also tell you that he’s a social dum-dum. To a classroom of grad students from varying backgrounds, he talked for nearly half an hour about how state schools give lacking educations and if you don’t attend an Ivy League, you’re probably not very smart. Oh and then he explained how public schools are terrible too. Perhaps now he can explain to us how people with student debt are idiots and hit all of his bases.

Know. Your. Audience.

Lord.

This week we got a paper back, one of only two for the semester. I’ve been worried about it for weeks even though I put in a lot of good work on it. The assignment was enormously confusing and the content is barely covered in the course despite his incessant lecturing. The only thing I was certain about were my citations.*

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Luckily, in this school, there’s very little option to fail: mostly the focus is on mastery learning so almost every assignment can be re-written. Great, cool, on top of everything else I’ve got, I’ll just re-write a paper that I still don’t understand. Sure, great.

Needless to say, I was fuming. I think my lips were pursed so hard and my eyebrows knitted together so hard that I gave myself wrinkles. I knew that I needed to pull myself out of it; there is literally not enough time for me to slow down to be angry.

If you find yourself on the brink of madness like me, try these tactics:

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  • I tried fantasizing about my life one day living far from this stressful city, perhaps on an island, teaching students who worship me and drinking piña coladas on my porch which doubles as a dock.
  • I tried fantasizing about a melodramatic trial in which my professor is stripped of his job and his title and then left in stockades overnight where I would lead a hoard of my adoring students to throw rotten fruit at him.
  • I tried to take the high road and consider that perhaps he simply wasn’t taught how to teach, perhaps he’s having an off semester, maybe he doesn’t mean the stupid things he says.
  • I tried to put it in perspective; remembering that I have to opportunity to redo the assignment, I have the freedom to attend school and follow my aspirations, I have running water and enough food and shelter, I have much more than many women in the world. I am balancing on the top of a sharp pyramid of privilege.
  • I considered pooping in a bag, lighting it on fire, and leaving it on his doorstep…or even just pooping in his office.

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I honestly can’t tell you which one of these worked, I’m sure it was a combination. In the end my rage and frantic energy dissipated and I remembered that at the end of this semester he will continue living his life and I get to carry on rocking mine. One of us wins.**

Best of Luck.

 

*Never a good sign…

**It’s not him

Positive Charge

Today is going to be a good day.

This is what I tell myself everyday when I wake up, hoping that one day it won’t be followed by “I think, maybe, well at least it probably, hopefully won’t be the worst day ever. Unless it is. Oh no. I’m so behind on homework.”

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I would not consider myself a natural optimist. Nor would anyone who has ever met me. I am a sarcastic, hot headed and often negative individual. This is despite the fact that I know negativity gets me absolutely nowhere and positivity can push me to fascinating new places. I know this, I do. I also know that ice cream is bad for me and running is good for me but I wore my leggings this morning because of the utility of the stretch waistband, not for my afternoon run. Facts may be facts by my ability to ignore them is the real wonder.

I bring this up because this week was…weird.

On the negative side of things: I was stood up by my therapist, twice. I had to say goodbye to my students forever. The electricity in my apartment has stopped consistently working. I got hit (bumped really, but still) by a car, while crossing in a crosswalk.

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However, for the positive side: I passed my first teacher certification test, I presented my oral history project and it went swimmingly, and I taught a history lesson (all of WWII in 55 minutes, mind you) and it went so well the kids petitioned for me to keep teaching for the year.

While the bad was pretty bad, the good was pretty damn good. And yet I find myself bending to the negativity and focusing on that bad stuff.

Far too many times in my life, I have been the negative voice and it hasn’t done much for me. It’s just easier. It’s easy to decide that something is stupid and make fun of it and hate every moment involved with it; it’s much harder to decide it’s maybe not for you but still has value, or maybe it isn’t valuable but you have to deal with it. And if you have to do something, better to do it with a little bit of light than a whole lot of darkness.

So here’s to a shinier future for our outlook and our hair.

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Best of luck!

Holidays!

Feelings Friday: A Sense of Community

This thanksgiving, I spent the holiday with boyfriend’s family. While I’ve known them for many years as the friend, an official holiday with them as the girlfriend was moderately scary.

At the end of the weekend, boyfriend’s mother told me “Becca, Boyfriend is so lucky to have you.” While I replied with a witty remark, it really did touch me. Not only had I not totally failed family thanksgiving but I was welcomed into their community.

Community. What a concept.

I recently watched “Happy,” a documentary about, well, happiness. The conclusions about how humans find happiness were not groundbreaking. Not money, not fame, not even chocolate cake.

Community.


When I was a kid, everyone I met had the potential to be my friend. It didn’t matter who you were or if we’d just met, we could be besties.

I remember vividly when that changed. My best friend in kindergarten, Megan, told me one day that we had to beat up our mutual friend, Karen. When I asked why she explained that Karen wasn’t cool anymore and some cool kids told us we wouldn’t be either if we didn’t beat her up.
I had no idea what cool was but I was desperate to be it.


We didn’t actually beat her up, but I began to doubt people. Not everyone could be my friend. Not everyone was cool.
This was the standard for my youth, whether or not someone was ok would decide whether my group of friends welcomed them like a family or shunned them. Even being shoved out myself a few times didn’t push the idea out of my brain.

Rather than wondering what life could be like if we all created a kind community, I focused on how to find a way back it.


I wish I could say we all grew up and as an adults we are welcome everywhere. But that would be a lie. Adults are cruel too they just mask it better. A fact that has made me incredibly aware of genuinely kind people.
As a substitute teacher, I’m in at least one new school every week which means new rules, new schedules and new coworkers. I’ve experienced a range of behaviors, but the kind ones stick.
Sure, there have been front offices that were rude or ignored me, who left me to wander around the school trying to find my room. But there have also been people who have started by thanking me for coming, showing me to my classroom, making sure I had all the information I needed. It’s amazing what a few extra moments can do.

When I feel welcome in a school, I teach better. When I feel accepted by my peers, coworkers, neighbors, I am better. This can’t just be me.

So stop worrying if someone is cool, or shunned or unwelcome or if you don’t feel like the effort today, and wonder if anyone has introduced themselves yet or if you should go first.
Best of luck.