I. Am. Tired.

Today was nonstop, but that’s not really remarkable. That’s pretty much par for the course as an elementary school teacher. What’s making today stand out for me is how clearly it illustrates the challenges teachers are facing. Today feels a bit like a textbook example of what it means to be a teacher in 2022. (It should be noted that I have one student ‘on pause’ because a family member tested positive so I have to make sure I post assignments in our LMS and open zoom for our focus lessons three times per day.)

I have multiple students with diagnosed anxiety disorders. I would find that surprising, given that I teach third graders, but my oldest was diagnosed at about this age and these kids, in their own ways, remind me so much of her.

One of these kiddos had a pretty good day today. There was a lot of need for attention from me and confirmation that they were doing okay. But that’s normal. There weren’t any tears or meltdowns. On the whole, the day went smoothly.

Another one wasn’t as lucky today. Something went wrong at P.E. (during which time I was giving a prospective colleague a tour of the building and being a part of her interview). By the time I got on the scene, a half hour or more later, the poor kiddo was basically in the fetal position at the foot of the stairs by our gym. One of our amazing counselors, another phenomenal teacher, and a rockstar IA were all there trying to help. The IA agreed to pick my class up from their special and take them back to the room to grab their snacks (bonus that it was that simple in that moment) while I stayed with this friend to help.

Maybe because this poor kiddo had been coping with this situation for so long, they were able to talk to me about it once the stairwell cleared. It was probably the first time all year this kid had been able to talk about what happened and what they needed. They weren’t sure why they had been so impacted (the impetus was a pretty small thing) and that makes total sense to me. It was, I think, the straw that broke the back, not the one thing that caused the problem. We managed to talk a bit and then go back to the room. I needed something from the office so I sent this kiddo with a note, which gave them even more of a break. By the time snack was over, they were ready to play strategy games with friends without a problem.

When I think about today, I’m struck by the constant need to be on and serving others in some way. From 9:00 am, when kids first began arriving in my room, until almost 4:30 pm, when the last one left, I had, at most, 20 minutes to myself, when I ate my lunch. Otherwise I was teaching, working with kids in small groups or one on one, or being a part of the interview process for this prospective colleague.

That is a lot. It is exhausting. It requires mental and physical stamina.

And then, a kid hits the wall and needs A LOT more from me.

That’s what it is to be a teacher. Anytime, but especially right now. The needs are constantly changing, shifting. It’s one of the things that has kept me in this job. It is a challenge again and again. I can’t get complacent. I have to keep learning, keep growing, keep trying to be better.

It is also exhausting. I’m tired and not sure how much I can keep giving kids all they need and deserve.

Looking for Positives

It is easy to see the tough moments, the errors made, the disappointments. They’re also hard to forget. The high points feel good in the moment, but don’t always stick with me as strongly as their counterparts. I have to be conscious of that and focus on the wins so that I can keep going.

There were many low points today. Some that can be laid at my feet and others over which I have no control. I’m not going to write about those. They weight heavily enough without me giving them extra time and space in my brain right now.

This morning, during independent reading I spent a bit of time pulling some things together and getting some stuff organized. As I bustled around the room, my third graders read. At one point I heard a gasp. I turned to see what caused it and saw a kiddo reading History Smashers: The Mayflower by Kate Messner. So I had to send a tweet.

When I saw her response later, I pulled this kiddo aside and shared it. He headed back to his table at least two inches taller.

We close out our day (when I can remember) with a tweet. One of our daily class jobs is our Tweeter. After today’s Tweeter composed a tweet about our day, I showed my class the tweet from Kate Messner. By chance, we’re currently reading her Solve This! Forensics so we sent a tweet from our class account. Tomorrow, when we tweet at the end of the day, we’ll see if she’s responded. It brings my third graders an immense amount of joy to hear from authors on Twitter. It’s amazing.

As I took my class to music we passed a sixth grade class, as we do daily. They’d just finished lunch, which they eat in the band room because the cafeteria can’t host them all with good distancing. They were waiting for their teacher. I noticed one girl holding a box of Cheez-Its. I paused to share how much I love them too and then noticed that she had Cheddar Jack Cheez-Its and I always stick with the original (or reduced fat to make me feel less guilty). She immediately asked me, “Would you like to try some?” and poured some into my hand. I’ve never met this girl before. I don’t know if I would have enjoyed those Cheez-Its as much if I’d bought them as I did when they were gifted to me so generously.

As I reflect now, both of those highlights were the result of generosity from someone. We all have so much on our plates and so much weighing on us. Even now, when things are hard in so many ways, there is such generosity and kindness out there.

Finally, this was seen by the fabulous sub who was in the classroom next door to me and her sharing it cracked us all up.

Things are hard. There are many low points and many barriers to success and calm. But I have a fabulous job and I am so lucky.

A Letter to those Fighting Masks

Dear parents and families,

We’ve been a long time in this pandemic. You’ve had your kids at home a lot more than you could have anticipated. Your kids are struggling with all the things they want to do and can’t because of COVID. You are probably feeling the same. I’m right there with you.

You and your kids are probably ready for a lot of these restrictions to go away. I know I am. Teaching in our current setting has limited many of the things I want us to be doing, many of the things we’ve done in previous years. I’d like to have kids sit right beside friends and read together or play a math game. I’d like for kids to be able to choose where to sit and to move when they feel another spot would work better for them. I’d like to have kids gathering on the carpet, listening to a book, and talking to each other about it. My classroom space and our daily routines aren’t what I want them to be and aren’t what I think best serves kids.

I hate that. I truly do.

Even more, though, I would hate it if I thought a student in my classroom was exposed to COVID, took it home, and exposed immunocompromised family members. Or younger siblings who can’t yet be vaccinated. Those young children are ending up in the hospital far more these days than at any point in this pandemic. If wearing masks, keeping distanced, and limiting contact so we can easily trace who might have been exposed will keep those people safe(r), then it is worth it to me.

Since we came back to school in person, almost one year ago, I have not had one student complain about wearing a mask. Do they like wearing them? I doubt it. They do it because they understand it keeps them and others safe(r). They don’t mind making this sacrifice for that.

When you argue that masks should be optional or should be banned, you are teaching your child that their own convenience and comfort are more important than caring for others.

Children learn many unintentional lessons from us everyday. They are watching and listening and absorbing all we do and say. They may not understand what they are learning but that doesn’t stop those lessons from sinking in. We may not intend to teach them some lessons but if our actions and words send a message, kids get it.

Right now, many kids are learning that selfishness is acceptable and their own comfort is the most important thing. Our young children are internalizing this message. They will continue that way without some motivation to change.

Is that really what we want to teach our children? Would it not better serve us and our society to teach children that we should all care for one another? That taking care of each other is everyone’s responsibility?

There have been so many losses in this pandemic. We have all lost so much, whether that is family or friends who have died or whose health remains impacted by their time with COVID, whether it is income lost, whether it is opportunities lost, whether it is time with family and friends lost, whether it is a detriment to mental health, whatever it may be, we have all lost so much.

We can, however, make sure that the next generation does not carry those losses with them forever. We can model for them what a caring, strong society can look like. We have a powerful moment here, an amazing opportunity. Please, remember that when you decide what to show your children. Please, remember that when you decide what you (and we) should and do value.


A mother and teacher

Another Nightmare

Heads up, this is not education related. I don’t think. I’m honestly not certain yet.

I woke up this morning nearly an hour before my alarm was set to go off. I’m getting older so waking up in the middle of the night isn’t that unusual. Normally I can use a strategy to slow my brain down and get back to sleep. This morning wasn’t one of those times because I woke up from a nightmare.

It hasn’t even been two weeks since I last wrote about having a nightmare. That one definitely seemed to stem from subconscious anxieties. This one, less so. This one is also more gruesome, so if you’re like me and prone to nightmares, you may want to stop reading and walk away.

I was watching a foot race. It seemed pretty basic and low-key. No big inflatable at the finish line, no timing chips and pads for the runners to cross. Just a long, straight, dirt path with a banner across at the end. And only a handful of runners, all of them women if my memory is accurate (and that’s never certain when it comes to any kind of dreams). I could hear an announcer doing commentary before the race began. The racers/women were stretching at the starting line. The race began and the announcer did his thing (it was definitely a male voice), talking about who was doing better than expected and who might still pull it out.

Racers finished and collapsed just past the finish line (which seems kind of silly, since in my head, the race was super short). The final racer didn’t make it. She tripped just before the end. I don’t know if whoever came in last was stuck no matter what or if there was some kind of time limit that she missed. As she scrambled to get up, looking terrified, race officials (both male) grabbed her from both sides and held her out, just short of the finish line. A jaguar (or some sort of very large, wild cat, it’s just clearly labeled a jaguar in my mind) leapt forward and attacked her. The attack, which my subconscious mind was hoping would be minor, was deadly. I woke up with a jolt.

I knew I couldn’t close my eyes again without continuing to see that image. So my regular, slow-my-brain, soothe-my-soul routines were not an option. It’s going to be a long day with that image seared into my brain.

Was it a result of subconscious anxieties or other emotions? I think dreams often do relate to what we’re going through so it seems likely but I can’t make this one make sense for me. I have some thoughts:

  • the racers were all women
  • the announcer and officials were all men
  • a race is often an analogy for a school year (and many other things, of course)
  • the need to be successful because your life is on the line, quite literally feels like it could mean something

I’m in a profession that is overwhelmingly female while being led overwhelmingly by males. That feels connected to this dream but I can’t make the whole thing make sense. And, honestly, I’d like it to make some sense. It would feel more reasonable and, somehow, slightly less terrifying if I can understand what caused my brain to create this horror.

Small Wins Help

This year, like last year and the year before that, is rough. Like many, probably most, teachers I am feeling overwhelmed and exhausted. Knowing that and being many years into my teaching career, I am trying to find the positives and wins in my daily professional life. I don’t manage it daily. Yet.

Yesterday afternoon we worked on this math problem.

It says, “At the pet store there are fish in 5 tanks. There are equal numbers of fish in each tank. If there are between 50 and 75 fish, how many fish could there be in each tank?”

We did it mentally and all together as part of our preparation for a more challenging problem.

The first student proposed that there were 10 fish in each tank. We confirmed that if so that did mean “equal numbers of fish in each tank” and then calculated that there would be a total of 50 fish. (I briefly pointed out that 50 isn’t actually between 50 and 75 but we accepted the response and moved on.)

The next student suggested 20 fish in each tank. Again, we confirmed that it met our expectations for equal numbers and then did the calculations. The student told us that there would be 100 fish total. We checked the problem and realized that was too many fish.

I watched that student, a strong math student who is regularly successful in school, had clearly not anticipated being wrong, especially in front of their classmates, wilt visibly. I was recently chatting with a preservice teacher and, in response to one of her questions, I said that teachers need to share when they make mistakes and to find the positives in their students’ mistakes.

I am not always good at doing the latter. (Several years into teaching, I worked hard to get good at the former. I rock at it now.) Yesterday I paused and considered the 20 fish in each tank and said, “This is fantastic. We already knew that 10 fish in each tank was barely enough to meet the parameters of the question. Now we know that 20 fish in each tank is too many. X has helped us rein in our thinking and figured out where we need to focus. That’s really helpful in problem solving.”

We continued working on the problem with lots of energy and enthusiasm. Students went off to try the more challenging problem (a farm has chickens and cows, there are 20 animals and 56 legs, how many chickens and cows are there) raring to go. I am confident that my response to a ‘wrong’ answer is part of why.

Not only does stopping to recognize and celebrate this small win lift my spirits and give me hope, it reminds me that this is something I value. Hopefully it will help me to view and respond to mistakes in this way more often. It’s not only my students who are used to being right who need me to help them use their mistakes positively, it’s all of my students.

Problem Solving Teacher Shortages

On twitter, Jenn Binis frequently shares #PairedTexts. They fascinate me. Right now, I feel like I’m living a #PairedText.

A school board not too far from me has been discussing burning books and fired their superintendent in a way that is very likely to get them sued.

The governor who was inaugurated on Saturday has issued an executive order that said that school districts can keep mask mandates but parents can choose to have their children ignore them.

I’ve never thought more seriously about leaving the profession. And I’m not alone.


Lawmakers are working to make it easier for people to join the profession.


Lawmakers are working to make people not want to join the profession.


It feels like it gets worse everyday. Somehow I still love the job. I’ve got six more years. I hope I can keep loving it enough to do right by my students for that time.

Unexpected Poetry

I absolutely adore Bud Hunt. Which is likely an odd thing to say about someone I’ve spent very little in-person time with since I met him more than a decade ago at Educon. But it’s true.

His brilliance is only one of the reasons for adoring him, but it’s what I’m focused on right now. He wrote a post about Wordle that has me looking at it differently. Not while I’m working on it and not just as I solve it (something I’ve managed to do each day so far but I’m sure won’t last much longer). In fact, usually I feel such relief when I solve it that I totally forget about Bud’s brilliance. At some point, maybe a minute or two later, maybe much later in the day, I recall his post and click back to my Wordle tab. It means that Wordle brings me joy all over again.

It’s a poem. Not intentionally as I have no brain space for more than simply solving the Wordle. But I completely agree with Bud that frequently a poem emerges from my attempts.

Nightmare Warning

I woke up at 3:00 Friday morning in a panic. I had been dreaming that my two teenagers and I were in something of a post-apocalyptic world. My kids were about four years younger, I think, than they are now. So my youngest was about ten in this dream.
from Jevgenijs Slihto’s flickr
We were alone, just the three of us in an outdoor pavilion in some parkland, being attacked from a distance with flying weapons. That was terrifying and we were running to some woods nearby in an attempt to escape. As we got to the woods, we were attacked by a wolf and I woke up, just as I thought my youngest was done. It took a long time before I could close my eyes again, much less get back to sleep. Nightmares aren’t new to me, although I have them less often now than at other points in my life. I don’t always remember them this clearly, hours and days later, especially if I’ve managed to get some more sleep as I did that night. For whatever reason, this one is still clear in my mind and, not surprisingly, has been something I’ve thought about again and again since then. I could be wrong, and yet, I think this nightmare may be a sign of the fears I’m living with every day. I. Can’t. Keep. Kids. Safe. That was true in my nightmare, vividly and painfully true. In my daily life it is simply a constant, low-key, nagging fear. Teaching always, if done well at least, involves some thinking about keeping students safe. This might be as basic as outdoor recess expectations and limitations and routines around kids leaving the classroom with a partner rather than alone. It goes farther, though, and includes thoughts about how to care for kids’ emotional and intellectual safety. Keeping kids safe is not a new thing for me to be focusing on. It’s never felt like this though. And for all the anxiety dreams I’ve had about school over the years, I’ve never had nightmares about keeping kids safe.

Trying to Be Curious, Not Furious

This is our first week back after more than three weeks away from school. That time just happened to coincide with the serious omicron surge that is happening right now. For my third graders, this pandemic has been a significant percentage of their living memory. The majority of their lives that they remember have been lived in this time. I have to keep reminding myself of that and of what it might mean for at least some of them. Yesterday, one kiddo arrived teary, worried about a sister with a stuffy nose. We chatted briefly in the morning and the child shared worries about the older sister as well as worries about how they were supposed to go home that day. None of their concerns seemed huge to me but they clearly were for the child. Fortunately, a (fairly) normal school day seems to be have been a positive. The kiddo left at the end of the day, cheery, without any sign of the morning’s worries. Another kiddo seemed fine until the afternoon when they felt like throwing up and just seemed to feel awful. They went home but before leaving, I took their backpack down to them at the office. They were teary and worried their family would be upset with them. Again, their concerns seemed, to my adult thinking, unfounded. I reassured them of their family’s love for them and told them that they needed to let their body take care of getting better, that their family will definitely be wanting that for them too. I’ve been at this job long enough, spent enough years with kids between the ages of five and twelve, to recognize that kids’ brains and developmental stages mean they process differently than we adults do. Things that seem tiny to us, can seem huge to a kid. Yesterday that’s what I was thinking about my two kiddos. This morning, as I brushed my teeth, I was thinking more about these two. They’ve been with me all year (not a guarantee when you teach on a military post) and this behavior seemed out of character. As I continued rolling this around in my brain, it hit me that the ongoing stress of a pandemic could be the cause. These kiddos have lived with constant discussions of fear and anger around COVID. No matter how careful adults in their lives might be, and that varies greatly, they are hearing things and feeling the anxiety and/or anger of the adults around them. We, the adults in their lives, work hard to make sure that they are getting as ‘normal’ of a childhood experience as is possible right now. Is that what we should be doing? Are we adding confusion by acting, at least in some ways, that everything is as it’s always been? Would it be better if, as I’m sure some families have done, we addressed this pandemic more directly with kids? I don’t know. My own children were teenagers with this began and there was no question about discussing it with them. We didn’t have to decide what to tell them and what to keep quiet. I do know that kids, no matter whether they’re in school buildings or virtual, whether they regularly wear masks or don’t, whether they’ve directly known people who’ve been infected and sick or not, whether they themselves have had COVID or not, no matter any of these factors, kids are impacted by this ongoing pandemic. We can’t truly know, not yet at least, how it is impacting them or how it will impact them long term (academically, intellectually, socially, emotionally) but I am certain it is doing some harm. And I am equally confident that we, the adults in our children’s lives, are not always aware of that harm.
from Chad Davis’s flickr
Reminding myself of this is one of my goals. Remembering that my students are kids and kids whose lives have been severely disrupted for a lot of those lives. Title comes from this Edutopia piece.

Controlling Fear

When I was pregnant with my children I didn’t drink any alcohol (aside from one glass of bubbly at my husband’s PhD graduation luncheon). Intellectually I knew that a drink every once in a while wasn’t a concern, that the danger to the fetus comes from regular, heavy drinking, it didn’t matter. Knowing something intellectually wouldn’t have stopped me from feeling shattering guilt if there had been any health issues with either baby. I would have blamed myself. I could control not drinking alcohol. There were so many factors that could impact my babies’ health that I couldn’t control. I was going to hold on to the ones I could. I’ve been feeling similarly for nearly a year now. We went back to school in person in March of 2021. Since then, for the past ten months, I have struggled with how best to do multiple things all at the same time:
  • teach third graders (I’ve done that for a few years so it seems like it shouldn’t be that big a deal)
  • keep third graders (and myself and my colleagues and the other students in my building and my third graders’ families) physically safe from COVID
  • support third graders in dealing with whatever emotions, and possible trauma, have impacted them throughout this pandemic
  • help third graders ‘make up learning loss’ from the beginning of the pandemic
  • and all the other hats elementary school teachers wear on a normal basis
I feel like I did when pregnant, grasping at ways to keep my students safe, even when so much of it is out of my control. They could get hurt anywhere. They could catch COVID anywhere. In fact, given where I teach, I think they are more likely to catch it elsewhere as at school we require masks, have done a good job distancing when kids are eating, and are a highly vaccinated population. None of that matters. I feel a huge sense of responsibility to keep my students safe while they are in my care, whether I truly have control over things or not. Right now, just like back in March 2021 and again in September, everything I think about for school is through the lens of COVID.
  • Flexible seating is out (again) because we can’t contact trace if the kids change their seats all throughout the day.
  • What should I do about breakfast? Should I assign seats when kids arrive so that the ones eating are spread out around the room?
  • Can we gather on the carpet at all? Can we do a small part of our morning meeting there together, keeping it under 15 minutes? Or should we stay at tables all the time?
  • Can kids get beanbags and pillows for reading if they are more than 6 feet away from classmates? Do we have enough space to do that?
  • Can they take their masks off at recess?
  • Can I meet with small groups? Should we meet on the carpet to spread out rather than at my table? If we meet on the carpet, will it be so loud other kids can’t focus?
  • Do I need to turn my picture book read alouds into slides so the students can see the pictures from their seats all around the room?
  • And on and on and on and on…
It’s overwhelming and exhausting. We were virtual in 2020-2021 for six or seven months. It was far from ideal. I could spend all day listing the ways my students didn’t get what they needed academically and socially and emotionally. I saw it with my own teenagers. So I get the urge to keep kids in schools. I love teaching kids in person. Normally, anyway. Right now, feeling the love is a bit tougher. Right now, in school doesn’t look like it did two years ago. At all. That was true when we went back in person in March 2021 and it’s even more true right now. With the current rates of infection, we’re going to have kids and adults out A LOT.
I’ve been tracking positive cases in my health district since March 2020. You can see, in the last three weeks or so, how cases have skyrocketed.
What happens when kids have to stay home because they test positive? We stream to them but we aren’t moving virtual so we’ll just be live streaming our classrooms. We aren’t modifying for virtual kids the way we did last year. It’s hard to imagine that being super meaningful to a kid sitting at home. What happens when we don’t have enough adult staff to have a functioning building? We can put kids in with other classes, but only to a certain point. It sounds like a possible plan is to have kids in large spaces (cafeteria, gym, auditorium, library) doing asynchronous work, if it comes to that. It’s hard to see that being super meaningful. The goal to keep kids in school seems to be simply to be sure they are in school. It won’t be that in school is actually participating in learning and socializing in the normal ways. But they’ll be in schools so families won’t have to worry about what to do with them. All of the arguments being stated for being in school won’t actually apply to what school is likely to look like for the moment. When I am able to give the #OpenSchools folks the benefit of the doubt, I think that they really don’t understand what open schools are really going to look like for a period. When I can’t give them the benefit of the doubt, I just get angry.
This is one (of many) example. I want to believe that UNICEF sees the choice as virtual learning or in person learning the way it has always looked. That’s not the choice.