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 Teacher’s Schedule

2:00 am

Wake suddenly either from a half-baked nightmare where the students begin eating their homework instead of doing it and you’re blamed for endangering their safety, or due to a moment of panic about whether you’ve fully planned for tomorrow’s class (spoiler alert: you haven’t).

5:30 am

Wake again and wonder if you should maybe switch the third period jigsaw for a stations activity. Wonder if you should assign the essay earlier, if you should weave in more test prep for state testing next month, wonder if you’re getting enough sleep…

5:45 am

Give up on sleep, get up and get going. Review lessons while reviewing news for the day while replying to the emails you’ll never catch up on while attempting mascara.

7:20 am

Arrive at school, take a deep breath, try to let out said breath in something softer than a scream. Find hope, remember that you love them and your work.

8:19 am

Run around wildly trying to collect your things before going to first period. Forget your keys and wonder how time speeds up around the start of the day.

First Period

Teach and remember all the reasons you love your students. Because they are sweet and hilarious and great. Until one (or all) of them turn on you and put their heads down/curse you out/call you obscenities. Wonder why you do this. Run into that one kid who always makes you laugh while leaving class. Remember why you do this.

Prep

Walk to teacher’s lounge, stare at blank browser on laptop for a full twenty minutes. Ask other teachers if it’s just you, find that it isn’t. Begin writing lessons for next week, or maybe tomorrow, why are you never far enough ahead? Get excited about the lesson you’re writing and how the kids will respond.

Third Period

Teach, expecting chaos. Be pleased when none is thrown your way. Inspire students to make the world better with their intense greatness.

Lunch

Lead women’s study hall or regular study hall or maybe you’re in the gym today…? Receive hellos, hugs, high-fives from students. Answer questions. Tell students that coming to school on time/showing up for study hall/doing homework will make life easier in the long run. Smile.

Prep

Sigh, a lot, like you haven’t slept in days. Check your email while eating the lunch you packed last night. Ask other teachers for advice. Drink your fourth cup of coffee and say repeatedly it will be your last. Breathe and don’t forget to pee before class.

6th Period

Teach. Laugh. Get a little silly because it’s the end of the day and aren’t we all kind of losing it? Run out of staples. Show a video clip you thought they’d hate and find that they are actually engaged and interested. Do an activity you just knew they’d love and watch it fall apart.

7th Period

Teach. Teach like you are dragging yourself through the desert. So tired. Speak quietly so they’ll have to stop talking to hear you. Make a dumb joke and watch them try not to laugh. Remember that they are kids. Be proud of them while being irritated with their behavior. Watch the world stand still for a second while you take in this moment with these beautiful souls. Watch the room stand still for a second when someone knocks the pencil sharpener off the table. Call for a custodian. Tell them to have a wonderful afternoon.

After School

Get visits from students who struggled through your class last term. Perfect a jumping high-five with Pete. Chat with Jorge and Ally about their other classes. Yawn. Lesson plan for too long and then realize how late it is.

5:00 pm

Head home and hope you’ll get a little time to relax and maybe spend time with people who are not your coworkers or students.

5:45 pm

Arrive home because the subways were delayed. Stare at wall. Listen to Boyfriend who is also exhausted. Watch something on Netflix and eat dinner.

7:00 pm

Lesson plan, research, lesson plan, answer emails, wonder if your students are getting enough reading and writing practice, wonder if Elci’s father is still hospitalized, wonder if Franklin could get any more ELL supports for testing, wonder if you’re getting enough sleep.

10:00 pm

Try to get some sleep. Remember all the smiles and jokes and hugs. Love your students and your work fiercely and steel yourself to do it all again tomorrow.

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5 Things I’ve Learned in My First Month Teaching

I’ve officially been teaching now for over a month (6 weeks and 1 day, but who’s counting) and I learn something new everyday. I’ve had a bit of time to marinade on the big things, so I thought I’d share the top 5things I’ve learned on this magical adventure in exhaustion and joy.

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Being Authentically You Is Everything

I’m not the strict disciplinarian type, and I’m certainly not a cool kid. Struggling between getting control of my rowdiest class and wanting them to not hate me, I think I’ve finally found my own identity.

This is such a necessary thing, to be you, just you as a teacher. I can’t be really strict because it’s not who I am, I also can’t pretend to like everything my students like because that’s not who I am. At the end of the day, they seem to be a lot more open to me when I’m being who I am, not who I feel like I should pretend to be.

Lesson Planning is the Worst

About six months ago, when I was applying for jobs and doing demo lessons, I spent a solid two hours on a lesson plan and thought to myself “I’m going to have to get better at this.”

I’m starting from scratch on three different classes and trying to differentiate for four classes of kiddos. Turns out that means a lot of lesson planning. And no I’m not quick or efficient yet. But amen for google slides.

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A Good Department Team Can Save You

The history department at my school is small but fierce. We meet twice a week to discuss and plan and it’s cut out a lot of unnecessary double-planning because we’re able to share resources and ideas with each other.

In teaching, sharing is caring, and stealing is quite frankly the only way you’ll ever get it all done. Everyone needs another lesson idea and someone else out there has it to give to them.

Grad School No Longer Applies

I’ve learned some valuable things in my almost year at Columbia so far. The chief of these things however has not been curriculum mapping or school structures, it has been that teacher education programs are too far away from reality. I knew this but until I started teaching and learning at the same time, I didn’t realize how impressive the distance.

Doing a teacher preparation program while full time teaching is like working at Starbucks while talking classes about the chemical make up of each variety of coffee. Sure it’s interesting and might be useful one day, but no one taught me how to make a latte, so I’ll just be over here burning the hell out of my hands while I try to teach myself.

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When Things Go Sideways, There’s Still Love

I’m amazed at how deeply I already care about my students. They are some of the funniest, kindest, strongest people I know. Do they drive me bonkers sometimes? Of course. But I want everything for them.

A couple of weeks ago there was a physical fight in my room. It escalated quickly but eventually it was contained. Truth be told, I’d been waiting for some big thing like this to happen. My mistake was thinking that I would be irritated or annoyed at the students involved. In reality I stayed up worrying about them: what would their punishment be? Were they ok? Had anyone stopped and talked them through their thoughts and feelings?

The students are fine now and things will be getting back to normal soon, but it struck me that even in the worst scenarios, there’s always love.

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So, that’s basically how you teach. As you can tell, I’m totally an expert now. Or something…Either way, I’d love to hear/read your thoughts, particularly from any current, previous, or future teachers.

Best of luck.

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How To: Batch Cooking

I’m back!*

So a couple of days ago, a friend asked me for advice about batch cooking/meal planning. I’ve been doing it consistently for a while, mostly because it makes for fast lunches when I wake up late and quick dinners when I come home tired, but also because it’s hot as balls in NYC this summer and turning on the stove once a week keeps my teeny apartment stay much cooler.

Seeing as school is starting soon, fall is coming for us, and change is around the corner, it seems a good time to share some of my hard-earned knowledge.

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Am I a professional cook? Absolutely not. Am I an expert of kitchen tools and food quality? Not even a little bit. What I am is a perfectly average cook with an interest in saving time and a propensity to walk away from a cooking session with at least two bandaids. I do not own a zester of any kind and for the last four years I’ve either cooked in the corner of a tiny studio apartment or shared a partially outdoor and entirely oven-less kitchen with a Peruvian family.

So why am I, the oft injured non-expert, writing about batch cooking? Because I can’t be the only one with a lot of interest and almost no skill. If we all read advice from only the experts, we’d start to get worried about our abilities. This one’s for you, average cook with very little time, I raise my box of bandaids to you!

Lessons I Learned While Batch Cooking:

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Have a Plan

Sure this seems obvious, but until you’re splashing boiling water down your pant leg because you have thirty seconds to strain it and oh sh** you should have but the meat in before the greens and is that FIRE, THAT’S FIRE…you don’t understand just how little you can wing it.

This is particularly important in the beginning: planning not just what you want to cook but the order in which you will cook it and a rough timeline is key.

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Mix Up Staples and New Recipes

This took me a while, but especially starting out, you don’t want to have to cook some new and impressive recipe for every meal. That’s 21 new recipes.

I don’t know about you but around 20% of the new recipes I try are sub-par. 20% of 21 is more than four meals. Four meals that you have to box up and eat later, knowing they aren’t going to be very delicious.

Avoid this by choosing 1-2 new recipes for the week and sticking to what you know for the rest. It’s also important to mix it up, cooking some full meals (ex: Beef Curry on Rice, Cracklin’ Chicken) and some things that can be mixed with other things (ex: boiled carrots, vegetable mix**).

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Ask For Help/Take a Damn Break

Cooking food for the entire week is not a simple task. While I’ve gotten better at it, almost every week I end up either hurting myself or getting tired doing it. Boyfriend has gotten very good at stepping in about five minutes before I hit this wall to help me finish up and clean the kitchen.

If you don’t have someone right there to help you, consider planning in a place to take a break and sit down with a glass of wine for twenty minutes. This does not make you weak, it makes you smart and less likely to injure yourself.

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Choose smarts, not the emergency room.

 

I hope these tips help in your future kitchen adventures and may the odds be ever in your flavor (Yeah).

Best of luck!

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*At this point, I’d like to say that I’m going to pick up the blog, cradle it in my arms, and rekindle my loving relationship with it, I would really like to say that. But I don’t want to lie to you. I’m starting the year of my life where grad school and full time work as an NYC public school teacher intersect and I’m still trying to figure out how to fit eating and sleeping in. But right now, I have a vacation and I’m going to blog, because even in the darkest times, something something, idk I’ll write when I can. But I do love you, you perfect cupcakes and I appreciate you reading the blog at all.

** Pre-cooked vegetables make for really fast omelets in the morning.

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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.

Can I Be a Friend Right Now?

Life is stressful these days – I’m fully immersed in a big old pool of grad school, which often sometimes feels like drowning, while preparing for my first year of teaching in a New York City public school.

I’m fine. Everything’s fine.*

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In my time here, I’ve met some amazing humans, a few of whom are responsible for my ability to get through all of this madness. I love and respect them so very much.

I’ve been trying to improve my listening skills for the last few years because, well, listening is really important and a huge part of knowing someone deeply. I’m practicing this because I want to get better, because I love my friends and want to hear them.

Trouble is, sometimes hearing everything creates a battle between being a good friend and anxiety.

An example: there’s this paper due at the end of the month for a class I’m taking and it’s a doozy. I won’t get into the details but the issue is that it’s very involved and no one really seems to be clear on the topic, the expectations, or the process. We’re all shooting in the dark, we’re all nervous wrecks.

So we talk about it. A lot. Sometimes I’m really upset and nervous and emotional about it and sometimes I’m not. When I’m not feeling negatively about it, negative talk around me brings me down. So it’s a cycle of panic that none of us can seem to escape.

Some of my pals got an extension but I chose to turn my paper in on time; I’ll get my grade next week and I’m scared. Every time the paper comes up, I think about what happens if I messed up. What happens if I failed? It’s not a useful thought. So the conversation comes up and I get anxious about something that has yet to happen, something that might not happen.

So the answer is to stop engaging in the conversation, right? Well, remember that ‘being a good listener’ thing…?

I want to be a good friend but I also can’t hear another damn thing about this paper while my fate hangs in the air. And how do I even express that without hurting the people I love?

“Oh hey guys can you shut the hell up because I’m avoiding my feelings?”

This is a post without an answer. I don’t know what to do or what I will do. I don’t know what you should do if you’re in a similar situation.

Thoughts?

Best of luck.

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*But don’t you dare tell me things are only get harder from here because I will cut yell at you.

 

I’m (finally) a Teacher

I’m sitting on the 2 leaving Brooklyn, over the bridge and into Manhattan. The bustling hipsters change places with suits who mix in with the common folk as we move north. I’ve had a stupid smile on my face for half an hour. I’m not even using headphones, which makes people glance at me like I’m a crazy person.

I just saw my classroom. The one I’ll be teaching in. Mine. My classroom. It has four windows that overlook the courtyard, it has an old chalkboard I’ll cover with paper and a new smart board I’ll cover with confusion and intrigue. It has a TV mounted low on the wall for the use of a previous video game club. It has bookshelves and beanbags and potential.

The principal asked me if I need anything else, any other supplies. All I can think is: how could I ask for more when you’ve given me all I’ve ever needed. Except students, I’ll need them too. I’m waxing poetic and I know it and I don’t care. She just laughed and tells me I’ll be issued a laptop later in the summer.

We talked for a while about curriculum and schedules and mentors and she reminded me several times that I don’t need to remember everything, there will be time to learn it all. I don’t care, I’m just happy to be given so much information. Maybe I’ll be scared later but I’m elated right now. I’m a teacher. For real this time.

As we exited the building, I said thank you again and walk down the street.

Who do I call?

Dad. My father has been an educator for my entire life plus many more years. He’s hiring his own teachers for next year, he told me about the young social studies teacher whose personal statement sounded like mine.

I told him I just saw my classroom, mine, my classroom and it has four windows and I’m teaching civics and US history and I have a smart board and my principal is great. I breathed it all out in one breath and found myself gasping in the 95 degree, 95% humidity July air. I heard him smiling over the phone.

I’m sitting on the subway and I can’t stop smiling. I know there’s hell coming between government bureaucracy, students failed by the system and the burnout of balancing teaching and grad school.

I don’t care. I can’t stop smiling because I’m finally a teacher.