3.18.2012

decision: learning to imitate the trees

Every year around spring I am amazed that plants come back to life. But see, this is where I mess up because they have really just appeared dead. They'd been secretly living all along. The tree had to shed its leaves to provide enough oxygen and goods to its other, more essential parts for that season. When it dropped its leaves did it cease to be a tree? Did it cease to keep living? No. It just had to respond differently to its new climate so that now, in the Spring, it could continue to live the tree way of life. 

I feel a little bit like a tree these days. I feel like I needed to shed some leaves to adjust to my new climate in order to continue to live the way I need to. 

So, for those of you that don't know, this means I have decided to stay home when my daughter arrives. For me to feel like I can provide oxygen to the most essential parts of this tree for this season, it means being home with my daughter. 

This decision has not come easily. If you know me, or if you have read this blog for more than a month, you know that I LOVE my job. It is more than a job to me. I truly feel the Lord has led me into teaching and has blessed me  with specific abilities that allow me to be a great teacher. When I wake up in the morning and drive to work, I look forward to what awaits me. I enjoy being in my classroom with my students. I refer to my students as "my kids." And there is the hang up…in a week or so they will no longer be "my kids." I will have my own child. And I want to pour my days into her with the same passion I have poured myself into my students. 

It doesn't surprise me that as I'm writing this I'm getting teary eyed. I am so very excited to meet and welcome my daughter and bring her home. I am looking forward to devoting my days to her. However, I still feel a loss in letting teaching go for this time.

Teaching has become my identity for the last four years, and when I look back on college I realize this identity has been mine for closer to eight years. When someone asks, "So what do you do?" I respond proudly, "I am a teacher." And my answer to that question is about to drastically change. I have spent years of my life having conversations about writing and reading and curriculum and classroom management. I have built a network, a community, among other educators. I know myself, and am known, as a teacher. 

Middle and high schoolers have become my way of life for 4/5 years. I have sat in my classroom and just stared around countless times in the past couple of months. I look at their work sprawled all over the classroom walls and wonder if I will miss being the one to drag that poem out of them; if I will miss being the one to help them tap into something they'd never thought about tapping into before? I wonder if I will miss the silly, inside jokes we share? While I look at the blue chairs, covered in grime and dirt of hormonal teens, I wonder if they will be okay without me?  I wonder if they will like their new teacher next year? I wonder if their new teacher will actually like them the way I do? I wonder who will speak love into their hearts if I don't? 

And beyond these questions, I also wonder: if I take "teacher" out of my response, out of who I am, do I change? When 100 students don't consistently need me each day, what places inside me will stop growing? When I shed these leaves I know they are gone, even if I am doing it to let new ones grow in their place. 

But…

I want to be with my daughter. I want to be the one that holds her when she cries. I want to be the one to sing her a lullaby when I lay her down for her nap. I want to be the one that teaches her where her nose is. I want to be the one to kiss her boo-boos when she falls. Do I think women who work and don't stay home are making the wrong choice? Absolutely not. But for me, I want to be with my daughter. 

And to sustain this part of the life I want to live, I must shed the other leaves. This does not mean the tree is dying. Even though when someone asks "So what do you do?" I won't be able to say,  "I'm a teacher", I will still be, and will always remain, a teacher. Those parts of me that God has created to teach will still be there. I will still use them. 

As I shared the news with my principal and my colleagues they were all so very supportive, which helped tremendously. When I shared the news with my students they were…well, not as supportive but we're managing and making the most of the last of our time together. :-) And Brent, not surprisingly, is supportive and excited and willing to do whatever it takes to make this dream of ours a reality. 

And I will return to teaching someday. There is not even a sliver of doubt in my mind about that. But for now, I want to focus on being a mother. I'm sure it will prove as challenging and leave me even more exhausted than my first year of teaching did.

I want to leave myself with note, similar to the one I wrote myself four summers ago before that first hot August in my new classroom in Kentucky. When I am ready to go back to teaching, I want to read this note to myself and remember the joy that it brought me; I want to have something to reignite the passion if it has wained. 

Dear Kelsey,

I'm writing this so that you remember just how much you love being a teacher. I am writing this so that you will remember that this is more than a job-- it is in your very marrow.

There will be days of frustration: the kids will be wound up, or cranky, or lethargic and the lesson will seem to fall flat. There will be days where the kids seem to pluck at all of your ever-lovin' last nerves. But hang on, keep coming back, because there will be even more days when the kids make you laugh, and you make them laugh, and it clicks and they understand why the protagonist of the story had to catch that bad break because all stories thrive on conflict. There will be days when that one student who you sometimes secretly hope is absent will be the one to say, "I look forward to your class everyday." 

When parent teacher conferences come around again, be confident in your abilities and decisions. Establish relationships with parents BEFORE these meetings come around, so that when they ask about a certain grade, you are not defending yourself or disagreeing with them or painting their child in a bad light, but rather you are continuing a conversation that began weeks earlier. And when another parent rushes to your table, waving their daughter's End of Course scores in their hands, don't assume they've come to yell… because they may be coming to thank you and they may be coming to inform you, with tears in their eyes, that they never thought she would be able to score in the "basic" category for reading, but that she did it! And they will thank you for that accomplishment, and it's okay to get a little teary-eyed with them. 

When you have a student that just can't seem to "get with the program," and you're about to throw in the towel, look for just ONE GOOD THING. And when she does that one good thing, whether it be remembering her book for class every.single.day that week, or only missing two on her quiz, or turning in her homework twice in a row, send a note home to let her parents/grandparents/stepparents know just how awesome you think she is. And then don't be surprised when she gets with the program. 

Although there will be days you want to, don't yell at your students. You are only waisting your breath and their time. Just expect them to behave, at all times, always, the way you want them to, and they usually will do just that. 

Pray for your students. When you are loving them and things are going well, thank God for them. When you are frustrated and exhausted, pray for them and for you. 

Get involved in activities with them outside of the classroom. Be the teacher that they see show up to their ball games. It only makes sense that when you show up for stuff they care about, they will "show up" in your class. 

Give them fair warning when you have a headache/stomach ace/back ache/or you just woke up on the wrong side of the bed. They will appreciate, and usually heed, this warning and both of your days will be smoother because of it. 

If they don't LOVE writing, or the novel you're reading, or the project that's taken you days to prepare for, it's okay. You can still be excited about it and even if they don't buy into it, they'll appreciate your passion. And on the flip side, when you're teaching grammar, or Puritan literature, or something else obscure that you HAVE to cover, be honest with them that they may be bored to tears, but that you're all just going to pretend like it's fun.  They'll appreciate your candidness. 

Trust your students. And don't just fake-trust them, really trust them. They can tell the difference. The same goes for respect. 

Create a routine in your classroom that works for each class. What works for one group, may not work for the group next hour. Be open and flexible. But still create a routine. 

Make sure your classroom is a safe place for everyone. Make sure everyone feels validated. Make sure everyone knows it is not okay to laugh at someone else's expense. And the first time that happens, make sure you deal with it publicly, sternly, even vehemently, so that all present can see that you are serious about everyone being in a safe place. But beyond that, deal with conflict in private. If a student misbehaves, stop the action, but confront them about it one on one. They will be surprised by your control, but even more surprised that you've taken away their audience. 

Share your life with them. Don't expect them to be open with you if you are not open with them. 

Be creative. Don't settle for bookwork when a hands on activity can accomplish the same lesson. Don't make them sit in their seats when they could be writing on the sidewalks or walls. Don't make them stay awake through a lecture when they could be interacting with one another in conversation that will teach them the same thing. 

Remember you are good at what you do. They can tell when you are confident, and they want you to be confident. 

And above all, remember that nothing done in love is ever wasted. 

Sincerely,
Kelsey

And so, when this sweet daughter comes and I wrap this school year up, I will be closing this chapter for a little while. I will pack up my classroom, pray for whomever will fill its space next year, and leave the building with tears in my eyes. I will stay a teacher at heart, and when the Lord gives me a nudge back in that direction I will read the above letter and return. 

But I will remind myself of the trees, and how they must shed leaves to produce healthy new ones. I will cherish the time I have with my daughter; time I do not have to share with work and other demands that it would entail. So do not be fooled, this tree is not dying-- it is just sustaining life in a different way now. 

And I will still remind myself every day that nothing done in love is ever wasted. 



5 comments:

Anonymous said...

That is beautiful, Kelsey. I have no doubt that you will be a wonderful mom, just as you are a wonderful teacher. And you are right, you will still be teaching - just in a different class room. Can't wait to meet your daughter, who will be blessed because of your choices.

Love you, Aunt Lois

Anonymous said...

You will be missed, Mrs. I.
We love you.

Cathy Utley said...

I am continuously amazed by you! You are making the right decision because you know it in your heart.

momiss said...

You will never regret it, Kelsey. I am so glad you are going to do this.

julie said...

This brought tears to my eyes and I'm not even a teacher! I really respect your decision to leave something you love so much for your daughter. You will be (and already are) a great momma for that sweet baby. :)