The Notebook

Year: 2

I am not about to discuss Nicholas Sparks, I promise.

We are deep into the season of stress and disappearing motivation. Although this year is (genuinely unbelievably) so much better than last year, it is still a time of the school year that is stressful. Students are behaving particularly rebelliously at the moment, and teachers are reaching a level of exhaustion. About a month ago, I began looking for new methods of stress-relief and techniques for maintaining a positive mentality.

There is now a notepad in my desk drawer. It’s not fancy, but it sits in my desk drawer, easily accessible. Every day, I write the date; after every class, I write at least one good part of the class. Most entries are silly or small (ex. “A student wrote “BUTTS” at the bottom of my class sign-in sheet). I’m not writing down life-changing teaching moments. I’m writing down the tiny moments that are so often forgotten in the turbulence of November and December.

I try to write down as much as I can for each class, but some days, I only scribble down one note per period. That’s okay. I’m not trying to get to a specific number of notes every day. I’m trying to remind myself how many good, funny, sweet, positive moments exist in a day of teaching.

It is such an incredible reminder, when I sit at the end of the day and glance at this notebook, how good days can feel like bad days simply because of stress. I’m stressed, yes – but, in reality, my days are pretty good. This notebook is just one small way to help keep a healthy perspective in mind.

Weekly Review

Monday: Day off!

Tuesday: Today, after class, a former student came in to say hello to me and found out I was hosting study hall. He called home to ask if he could stay and I overheard him say, “yeah, I wasn’t planning to stay, but my favorite teacher’s hosting study hall, so I can just take the bus after if that’s okay.”

Wednesday: Halfway through class, one of my students raised his hand and asked for a pencil. I asked him what happened to the pencil he’d been using. With a look of pure, painful confusion, he replied “Um. It went…. under the wall.” (I have not told them one of the walls can fold back between classrooms.)

Thursday: The highlight of my day today was discovering a student wrote “BUTTS” on the class sign-in sheet. I looked at it and, calmly, silently, tore off the bottom of the sign-in sheet before turning around. As soon as I faced the class, a boy in the back turned bright red and began hysterically giggling in his hand. Naturally, the only appropriate response I found was to take a photo of the culprit – him – holding the paper.

Friday: Today, I told one of my more rowdy students that he should be in theatre (because of how dramatic he was being in our conversation). He threw his hand to his chest, dropped his jaw, and – genuinely, I think – said, “thank you, Miss!”

Remembering the Reason

Tonight, I attended one of the school’s plays, a back-to-back showing of two one-acts. It was hilarious and silly, and as I applauded for my students and former students, it was a very serious reminder to me why I chose this career.

I need to be more aware of those reminders when they pass me by. They are so, so important.

Today was not the most fantastic day of all time. There were some pretty disheartening moments, honestly. Two of my four classes felt totally checked out of the lesson, leading to a lot of poor behavior and thus discipline, and one of my boys got suspended while already attending in-school suspension.

Then I had study hall. Two of my all-time favorite kids, both of whom are former students and currently working with special education kids in our school, asked me to wear purple for epilepsy awareness next week; one gave me a bracelet that he made for the occasion and told me, “I got you, Miss, here is your purple” so that I could represent.

These are kids I love, kids I would do anything to help. They are kids I spent a year with, who I will remember for the rest of my life.

I stayed at school after study hall, planning to grade until the play; I mainly just talked to other teachers and hung out, drinking coffee, before wandering over to the auditorium. It was wonderful. I saw former students, kids who were teeny-tiny and awkward and uncomfortable with themselves last year blossom on stage and deliver hilarious one-liners throughout the performance.

As they all lined up to bow, and I cheered and applauded with everyone, I made sure to tell a few of my former students how proud I was of them. What a cool thing it is to be able to have connections like this with kids, and see them grow into themselves. What a privilege it is – even with the stress, and the anxiety, and everything that I’m still learning how to struggle with, I had the opportunity to cheer on students that I no longer teach but still support. That’s pretty damn cool.

Weekly Review: Halfway

Monday: Before school started, I left my classroom to put in copies for later this week. Immediately, I saw a student lying on the ground. He was fine. He just wanted to lie down and stare at the sky (at 7:20am). You know. Chillin’.

Tuesday: One of my former students brought a “book of puns” that he drew. My favorite was a picture of a grandma skateboarding. The caption was Insta-Gram.

Wednesday: During my planning period, I walked across the empty campus and spotted a kid dancing to his own reflection in the window of the library. I called out to him and reminded him that it was a window, not a mirror, and that people could see him. He genuinely didn’t seem to know that.

Thursday/Friday: I’ve taken some rare time off to go to a wedding out of town, and just gotten back into town.

Self-Care Checklist

It’s so easy to ignore personal health as a teacher. It’s so easy to feel too tired, or too busy, to take care of yourself. Considering that, I’ve made a “self-care checklist.” I try to do one thing for myself from each category, daily, to take care of myself.

Mental Health

  • Meditate. I try to meditate daily, in the mornings. There isn’t a ton of research about meditation (at least, not credited research the way we think of it in the West), but the research that is there suggests you’ll benefit the most from it if you meditate between 5-10 minutes a day.
  • Write in a journal. Vent, reflect, do whatever you’ve got to do.
  • Laugh. Watch a stand-up comedy, listen to a funny podcast, laugh with your friends.

Emotional Health

  • Call a friend. Real communication helps with stress immensely.
  • Go all out on a “personal night.” face mask, wine, favorite movie, whatever it is. Spend the night relaxing.
  • Go out. Get out of the house. Seriously. Depending on what you need, it may not be a night at home alone, but a night with friends.

Physical Health

  • Take a walk outside. Sometimes, I’m so stressed after work that I need a physical separation between my hours at work and my hours at home. Walking for 15-20 minutes helps with that.
  • Exercise. Anything, really, helps you when you’re stressed. I love running, biking, lifting weights, and yoga. (Generally, my rule is that when I really don’t feel like working out, I have to work out that day.)
  • Spend time in nature. A growing amount of research suggests that spending time in nature – even an hour or two a week – helps lower anxiety, stress, and depression.  Take a hike.
  • Eat healthy. This is one I struggle with frequently, but it is incredibly important. The food you eat can drastically impact your mentality, and the healthier you eat, the healthier your mind and body become.

 

One of the habits that improved my mental health, generally, during my first year of teaching was when I began giving myself regular “check-ups.” I started to become more conscious of my behaviors and thought patterns as they related to my health. I began paying attention to the signals my body sent me, trying to figure out what I needed most on different days. I tried as many different ways to be healthy and to lower my stress level, but I focused heavily on physical health because I knew how much it could affect my mental health.

Finding the Balance

Year: 2

Today is a Wednesday. We’re officially halfway through the week.

Within the last week, there have been seven fights in the high school of my district. In my school, there have been two or three fights. One student has been hit by a car. Two of my students have been sitting through in-school suspension. I’ve given four lunch detentions for behavioral disruptive. Generally, students have been highly fidgety, emotional, and disruptive.

Today is a Wednesday. We’re halfway through the week.

This is not normal for my school district, but if you were to spread out all of these incidents throughout a school year, this would not be normal for the average school district’s full year. I work in a district that is in an area of town with high poverty, high trauma, and all the cyclical symptoms of high poverty and trauma within families. This, of course, drastically affects students’ health and behavior.

One of the difficulties of teaching in a school like this is that, in addition to the normal difficulties of teaching generally, you’re confronted regularly with two problems: the problem of incessant worrying and the problem of normalizing. Last year, I had the problem of incessant worrying; I’d go home, thinking about the trauma my students held, feeling guilty about my safe apartment and my healthy diet and all the things I had that my students did not.

This year, I have the problem of normalizing all of these terrible traumas. I still worry about my students and still think about how I can help them, but I have stood close to some extraordinary pain. I have seen students wait for their mothers to be possibly deported. I have seen students under the stress of extreme poverty. I have a seen a student die. I am embedded in this world, this environment, every day, and I cannot help these students to the extent that I want to help them. I regularly have to remind myself, this year, that my students’ behavior is due to these terrible traumas. I have to remind myself that not every school would see this level of trauma in children.

It feels to me that these are two ends of the same spectrum. To worry constantly, and fixate on the pain my students endure, is to drain myself of the energy I need to function well on a daily basis. To normalize it is to dull the natural emotional reactions to witnessing such a trauma. I don’t know what the healthy balance is between these two ends. I don’t know where I should be in the spectrum, or how long it will take me to get there.

Weekly Review

Monday: One of my former students came by to tell me that she misses me. It’s not a funny story, or something odd, or even particularly noteworthy, but it was the highlight of my day.

Tuesday:  In my last class today, I’d just begun reading an article to my students when my door opened and my student from another class walked in the room. She had cupcakes (I have no idea why) and was coming into my classroom (who knows why she was leaving the class she should’ve been in) to give me one. They were Halloween-themed, and the whole class groaned in jealousy when I picked out a cupcake. They asked to split it. The whole cupcake, split 30 ways.

Wednesday: Today was Halloween, which is always an odd day to teach. It’s difficult to discipline when you’re dressed as a fictional character and have a box of Eggo Waffles on your desk as an accessory.

Thursday: I read a poem to one of my classes, and because I want them to be interested, I tried to read it with as much emotion as I could. One of my students reacted to that by saying, “Miss, you should be a preacher.”

Friday:  Today we had class in the library. Halfway through the day, a student asked me at the end of class, “Miss, do you let all of your classes come to the library, or are we the only ones who go?” …. Nah, just you guys.