Back to Teaching

I love that when I feel like sharing, I have this space to come to. No matter how long it’s been since I’ve decided to post, or how long it’s been since I’ve felt like I had anything useful to share, I can sign in, type away and publish for the world to see. Pretty cool, actually.

I’m back to teaching. Finally. Long story short, I became very, very ill last year in February and it took me months to get “better”. I put quotations around that word because my health improved steadily from about May onwards and, depending on who you talked to, I was better in June, or better in July, or better in August, or better in November. According to me, I’m still getting “better” because I’m continuing to improve my fitness level and haven’t yet reached the overall health goals I’m aspiring to. This is partly because it’s been too darned cold for the last 2 1/2 months to run outside (my go-to for getting in really good shape) and partly because the illness in the spring knocked my fitness levels way lower than they’ve been in awhile so it’ll take some time to get back to where I want to be.

Anyway, I should return to the ‘back to teaching’ story. I worked from September-December as a TTOC (teacher teaching on call, more commonly known as a substitute teacher) in the three schools in my little town and only started back in my classroom at the beginning of January. Now let me just say that, 20+ years into my career, to be a TTOC going in to all the classrooms K-12 in my town for four months was a very interesting experience. I stole…oops…borrowed many good ideas from my colleagues. I met almost every kid from the age of 4 to 18 in my community (many of whom have one or two parents that are my former students!). I learned so much about teaching and learning and the community and schools and leadership styles and kids that I don’t think a hundred blog posts could do the experience justice. Would I rather have been in my own classroom for those four months? Yes, absolutely. Did I make the best of the situation anyway? Yes, very much so. It was a good overview of the profession, of the system and of students. It brought perspective and depth and understanding. I didn’t realize how muddled and foggy my viewpoint had become.

One reason it was a good four months of learning and growing is that I found a way to fit my professional learning and work into my new philosophy on life. One of the contributing factors to my illness and to the fact that I was out of a regular classroom position for 9 months was that I needed to give my head a shake and make some major changes in my life. I’m hoping to share that journey in some way soon but for now I’d just like to say that I’m glad I got sick. I’m glad I went through one of the worst times of my life last year. It was a good thing for me. A very good thing. I think, in retrospect, that I was so far off the path of where I am supposed to be heading in life that I was lost, running in circles, way off in the distance far from where I should have been. Or maybe it was more like I was crashing over a waterfall. Oh! Falling over a cliff. Or maybe all three. Regardless, I was completely lost and my priorities were all messed up. I had to claw my way back to health one day at a time and rebuild my outlook on how to live the life I want to live. I had to find my way back to the path I was supposed to be on one step at a time. And patience with myself is not a strength so there were some good personal life lessons along the way. Looking back I realize that the experience was empowering and where I’m at now feels right so I believe the chaos and crash were necessary to set me straight.

But I digress. Again. No surprise, really, if you know me…

As I was saying, I’m back to teaching and I’m fortunate to be working with a lovely class of grade seven students. I was, admittedly, a tiny bit worried that after all the time off and all the time out of a regular classroom position that I’d forgotten how to teach. Or that I’d forget what to do. Or that I’d not be well enough to do it. But with my new outlook and new approach to life (which of course includes a new approach to how I fit teaching and work into my life) the last four weeks have flown by and they have been excellent! I love the job more than ever. And that’s saying something because those of you who know me, know how much I’ve always loved teaching kids every day. But it’s even better now.

It’s kind of crazy to me how much I’ve changed and how much my approach to everything has shifted. I think there were some who doubted my resilience and my ability to get back on track. But those people don’t know me very well. People who really know me aren’t surprised. Concerned and keeping an eye on me to make sure I’m still getting “better”, yes. Surprised at how well I’m doing and how far I’ve come? No. Those amazing people make up an important part of the reason why I am doing so well. I wouldn’t be where I am without them. But that’s another part of the story for another day. I’m not surprised I found my way back to the right path but there are still moments of disbelief, if that makes sense.

 

To the end of the earth

I’m feeling thankful, grateful and mentally energized in a way I’ve never felt before. And hopeful. Very hopeful. I guess that’s a good place to leave this story for today. Hoping each of you finds a reason to be thankful and grateful in the days ahead. Thanks for reading!

Photos above used with permission, accessed January 27, 2017 from, www.publicdomainpictures.net/pictures/70000/nahled/forest-path-on-a-misty-morning.jpg, https://c1.staticflickr.com/4/3126/2551405230_c97a6000e6_b.jpg and https://www.flickr.com/photos/31457759@N00/32336204/

From Teaching to Life’s Teachings

For the last few weeks I’ve been on a medical leave from teaching. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with me that’s life threatening but there are still a lot of unknowns with my medical challenges at this point. Even with a few weeks of resting, I’m still sick. I don’t think there’s anything happening that I can’t recover from. I’m hoping there’s not.

My job right now, then, is to heal and commit to self care. I need to be the priority. I’m not good at that. Even feeling as rotten as I do, it’s hard to convince myself that resting is actually useful. It’s difficult for me. I was complaining at the start of all this about how much I love my job and working with the kids and how guilty I felt about the medical leave and how much I love teaching. The person I was talking to said, well, now you need to focus on life’s teachings instead of teaching. Huh. Simple shift, really. So, for the first time in a long time I’m focusing on myself and paying attention to life’s teachings.

What life is teaching me right now is that I need to sleep (10-11 hrs a day of that deep, healing sleep right now…it’s crazy…). I need to exercise – walking and yoga are part of the plan to get better. Drawing and writing seem good (time to blog? me? weird…). I’ve been reading and taking photos. I’m spending time with my kids. One big daily goal is to try to find food I can eat. That is a huge challenge. I can’t get better if I can’t eat so this is a priority. I can eat next to nothing without an allergic reaction or a variety of other symptoms but I’m learning what sits well and what I need to stay away from.

I need to stay away from certain mindsets too. I need to not become housebound and slide into an unmotivated slump. It’s my biggest fear. I’m not a good stay at home person. I get bored and disinterested when I’m not faced with a ton of external pressures and responsibilities. I’ve said before that, as much as I love spending time with my sons, I’d be a terrible stay at home mom. I have to keep my mind active and make sure I live each day and not just exist, if that makes any sense.

I was quite hesitant about writing this post because I don’t know how long I’m off work at this point and this is my professional blog. But, I’m only human and humans get sick. I’m still a life-long learner regardless and I want to write here regularly while I am off. I love writing. I’ve missed blogging. A lot. I think reflection with the purpose of writing in this space will be valuable learning and a great way to focus on what life is teaching me, right now.

Summer Reflections Part 3 – Feeding Teenagers, Driving your Husband Crazy and How to Lose Your Voice at the PNE

I started working and preparing for the upcoming school year this week. I had one full day of collaborating and planning with the ECC team last week, but, at that point, the first day of school still seemed very, very far away. After that collaboration day, I went on a short holiday to visit family and have some summer fun before the return to work. Since arriving home, it’s go time. Time to get ready, time to start thinking about all those expectant kiddies who will walk (or skip, or run, or something) into the classroom in eleven days!

Unfortunately, I hit a block today. I can’t organize another pile of ideas, or write another email, or even think about work at all. I’m going blank. All I want to do is write and think about the summer which gave me a perfect reason to sit and think about summer while writing the final instalment of my summer reflection blog posts…sounds so fancy when I write it like that!

So, in addition to part one and part two posted earlier, here are a few more things I learned this summer:

1) Never, ever, ever, buy a puzzle with the words ‘endless skies’ in the title. Don’t ask. Just take my word for it. What was supposed to be a pleasant diversion ended up being a project that was equal parts frustration and enjoyment.

2) Eating carrots and tomatoes and other food grown in your own backyard is totally worth all the time and effort it takes to put in and maintain the garden.

3) The best place to swim is a beautiful lake surrounded by mountains. The best time to swim is right before dusk on a night when the water is smooth as glass and the beach is almost completely deserted. Oh, if I could do that every day of my life…

4) The PNE is a ton of fun! While I went every year as a little girl when I lived in Vancouver, I hadn’t been for ten years. One unexpected thing I learned is that you can lose your voice from screaming throughout the Haunted House and while on rides like the Wooden Roller Coaster. It was worth it though! So. Much. Fun.

5) When going for a long walk, it drives your husband crazy if you stop every two minutes to take photos like these:

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There are 43 more from that one walk, but those are two of my favourites.

6) Always feed your teenagers before asking them to do anything. Actually, let’s just shorten that to ‘always feed your teenagers’. Life is just so much easier.

7) I still love my job and am following the right path in my life by continuing on my journey as an educator. While I love being home with my boys, and summer is a lovely respite from work, I am excited to go back to school. This will be my 20th year as a teacher. A real milestone for me. And I’m super excited, a bit giddy, energized and ‘up’ about going back to work. That’s so reassuring and feels really good. Nice to know I’m still doing what I’m supposed to be doing.

Well, I think I’ll stop on that note. Thanks for reading along as I’ve shared my thoughts and reflections from the summer. If you’re in the middle of a school year, or just returned back, or starting soon, I hope your school year is wonderful and makes real, positive change in the world.

 

Summer Reflections Part 2 – Photos Included

A couple of weeks ago, I shared a few reflections on my summer so far, including the fact that I’m learning how to use a Canon E60 this summer. It’s been fun something other than my iPhone to take photos with and I love being able to zoom in on my subject! As promised in my earlier post, I’m sharing some of my favourite photos from the summer (so far!) below. One thing, I haven’t done any digital processing on these at all – they are straight off the camera.

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A good portion of summer this year is on the road. This photo of the Tantalus mountain range (above) was taken from the Tantalus viewpoint on the Sea to Sky Highway. It was a bit hazy from forest fire smoke in the air, but other than that I’m pretty happy with how it turned out and I’m awed at the natural beauty of British Columbia.

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The blue moon at the end of July was stunning! This photo (one of my favourites – ever!!) was taken just after moonrise above Fountain Ridge just west of my hometown. I posted this to the #bcedchat summer slow chat and received good feedback!

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There is a large osprey nest on top of a local bridge. It’s a perfect place to go take photos because you have the Fraser River, an old bridge and the osprey nest complete with chicks!

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Whenever he can, my older son loves to ride his skateboard. He’ll spend hours, days, weeks, trying to perfect different kickflip tricks and I love this action shot of him attempting a no-comply pressure flip (yup, skateboarder mom). And yes, he does wear a helmet when he’s riding vert (vertical ramps/bowls, etc) but not when he’s practicing street or learning flip tricks.

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Ever summer, my younger son spends as much time as possible swimming in local lakes. He loves snorkelling or swimming completely underwater. One memorable moment this summer was when he popped up out of the lake excited that a 20 centimetre trout was right beside him!!

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If I could sum up the perfect summer, it would include something like this last photo. Water, a beach, flip flops and time to just relax and enjoy the sunshine.

I’m learning quite a bit about the camera and enjoying the quality of images as compared to all the photos I take with my phone. I don’t like the extra step of putting photos onto the computer before I can share them out on flickr, twitter or instagram but that’s the only frustration so far. That and remembering to bring the camera with me – I keep forgetting to bring it with me and have missed some great shots as a result!

More summer reflections coming soon…

 

Renewed Sense of Purpose

There has not been a regular public day of school in BC since the middle of June. Between the strike and the summer holidays, we’ve pretty much had the entire summer season out of school.  

During this extended summer, I can count the number of times I got up to start my day before 8:00 a.m. on one hand. I am not an early bird, though strangely I have the most energy and seem to be at my most positive and peppy first thing in the morning. So, being off work I slept in. I told myself because I was staying up later at night that it was okay if I took my time getting out of bed in the morning. I worried a few times that I was falling into a pattern of being lazy. I worried that I was falling into depression. I was happy enough and I had a fantastic summer, but there were many times when this nagging sense of doubt entered and I worried about my discipline and overall motivation in this seemingly endless summer.

Fast forward through that endless summer to last Friday, the first day of work for all public school teachers in BC. Last Thursday the majority voted to accept the tentative agreement offered, thus ending the teacher strike. So, at 9:30 last Thursday night, approximately 41000 teachers realized that they had three days to prepare to teach students as students are back in school tomorrow, Monday morning. If you’re a teacher, or live with a teacher, you can imagine how overwhelming that Thursday night was. For me, personally, I was super excited to be going back to work, and super freaked out about how in the world I could possibly be ready for students on Monday because I usually work at least 7 full days at the end of August to prepare for the first day of school.

One of my main concerns at that time was simple – how am I going to get up in the morning? Would I be able to get to sleep at night? Strangely, Friday morning at 8:00 I was already in my car driving to school. I’d been up since 6:30. I was wide awake. I was excited. I was full of energy.

As I was driving, I thought about everything in that last paragraph. I thought about all the days I’d slept in. I thought about my worries surrounding my sleep cycle. I thought about how great it felt to be up and almost at work. And as I was thinking all that, one word popped into my head.

Purpose.

With a return to work came a renewed sense of purpose. I love being a teacher. It is much more than a job to me. It is a calling. My calling. It’s what I’m supposed to be doing, has been for the last 25 years. Longer actually, but I initially refused to listen to that calling because my parents were teachers and I told myself that I wouldn’t follow along in their shoes (can you say teenage rebellion?).

I was ecstatic, joyful, and motivated Friday morning as I drove to the school earlier than I’d practically driven anywhere in the past three months. I need to teach and be surrounded by children and help them learn and help them along in their path in life because without it, I’m a little lost. And this is third major reminder in my life that yes, teaching is where I should be at this point in my life.

I must say that my own two children are an even stronger calling and I do find my life’s purpose in them every day. But I have said many times that I wouldn’t be a good stay at home mom. I need more. I’m a better mom when I’m a teacher. So for their sake, and my own, I’m glad that I have this renewed sense of purpose to motivate me and get me out of bed earlier every morning.

 

Stormy Skies, Rough Seas, Deluge

I’m thinking that this has been the longest gap between posts in my blogging history. Not surprisingly, the reason for that is that life has been incredibly full. That’s not an excuse, just my own reasoning and, as this space is for me to share as I choose, that’s as good an explanation as any.

The phrase “incredibly full” is a simple statement that encapsulates a very complex five months of life. Last year was one of the most difficult of my career due to reasons beyond my control. During the last few months of the school year, when the stress I was under manifested as medical issues, there was a personal tragedy within the family of old, very close friends and this affected our entire community. At that point, my body and mind went into survival mode and I had to make my health a priority. Life was pretty dark and rough for awhile.

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On top of a difficult year end, personal tragedy and medical issues, there were months of chaos and uncertainty surrounding contract negotiations between the teachers in British Columbia and our employer. A breakdown in this process meant that the school year ended suddenly as teachers in BC walked out on a full scale strike two weeks before school was supposed to end. Even now, two months later, there is no resolution in the dispute and while the beginning of the next school year is scheduled to begin in less than a week, teachers may still be on strike.

I like to keep this blog a positive place full of ideas and thoughts that need to be clarified, deconstructed, remembered and shared, so it was a conscious decision not to write and pollute this space while in a negative deluge of life. I only share these thoughts now because it’s time to move forward and to do that I need to clear my mind by consciously placing the struggles and negativity behind me and firmly into the past. Basically, acknowledge and shift forward.

Tomorrow I’d like to shift my mind further into the renewal that comes with a new school year (even if we are still on strike) by remembering and sharing all the goodness that came with the summer. And there was a lot of it – “incredibly full” from above also refers to a whole bunch of fun. I had a wonderful summer, the best in years. I’d like to end such a great holiday by reminding myself of the abundance of blessings in my life and then carry that feeling as I move on into the transition ahead. So, another post tomorrow I hope, full of fun and happy times, to balance out the darkness I let in above. Until tomorrow…

Photo Storm Light by jekrub

Time for a Change

For the first time, I’m hoping that the audience that reads this is small. I’m hoping that hardly anyone I know will notice, especially not my students or my colleagues, or, dare I say it, the administrators in my school or my district. TEN FORTYISH

The truth is, it’s time for a change. Soon…

I’ve been a teacher for 14 years now. I love it. I love my job. I love doing something important, I love the challenge of being an educator responsible for students 190 or so days a year, and I love that learning seeps into every day of my job.

I’m an elementary trained teacher with a specialty in the intermediate years. My first 7 years of teaching were at the elementary level. In that time, I taught all grades from K-7 in some sort of teaching assignment.

Nearly seven years ago, I transferred to the local high school as the art teacher. It’s a dream job, my own little utopia, really. The art program thrives with ~2/3 of students in the school spending time in the art room each year. This is partially due to the constant popularity of the photography courses which constantly transform as more and more technology finds it’s way into my practice. When I started in the school seven years ago, the only photography course was 10 weeks long and offered an introducation to black and white photography using traditional darkroom techniques and manual SLR cameras. Now I teach two Media Arts courses that have curriculum ranging from the basic traditional black and white approach, digital photography and image editing units to video projects on the only Mac computer in the school.

The change I can feel coming, the change that I feel deep in my being as needing to happen, is the move back to being an elementary teacher.

History lessonI miss being an elementary classroom teacher. I miss the classroom experience. I love my job at the high school but I miss the younger students and I miss teaching the full range of subjects. I miss teaching writing, I miss teaching math, I miss teaching science and I miss that rythym that comes from teaching the same students in the same room day after day. I love my multi-age classroom that always seems to have students working in at least four different courses at once and I know that there are many things about my current job that I’ll miss once the change is made, but regardless, the change needs to be made. The risky thing, the toughest part to reconcile in my mind is, once I leave, there will be no going back. There will be no returning to that perfect job. And yet I still want to leave.

I’ve thought about this for some time now. I’ve sensed for awhile that I would not want to retire as the art teacher. I think of my mother telling me that it’s not good to teach the same thing for more than about five years or so because it gets routine,it can get boring and you get tired of doing the same thing over and over. I’m not the type of person who does well with boredom.

One of the things I love about teaching is that it is never boring, it’s never routine and I never do the same thing over and over again. But after teaching in the same job, even with all the changes I’ve made each year, I do feel that routine setting in. That boredom. That sense of sameness. It took me ten years to have the same teaching assignment for the third year in a row. At the time I loved it – the joy and relaxation of being able to take out a unit taught and tweaked twice before! To not have to re-invent the wheel, only shine it up a little…  It was heaven! But even with all the tweaking, and the endless approaches to teaching drawing, painting, art history, and photography, I’m finding it too much the same. 

One of Those DaysIt’s sad really.

Not unexpected, but still sad. I’m one of those people who needs stability to thrive and I know that change is coming.

It’s coming, whether I like it or not.

 

Images from Flickr: TEN FORTYISH by btm,  History lesson by Elephi Pelephi, One of Those Days by Tim Cummins