Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Happy Birthday Miss

Last week I celebrated my 30th birthday. It was one of the best birthdays I have ever had. Second in comparison was my 25th birthday, during my first year of teaching, when all my students stopped class to sing the Stevie Wonder rendition of Happy Birthday. This year, not only did family and friends send their love through phone calls, emails, text messages, cards, hugs, and birthday drinks, but so did my coworkers and even my students (minus the birthday drinks part).

In my advisory we had a holiday celebration filled with cookies, chocolates, cupcakes, apple cider, candy canes, and a Hanukkah cookie cake brought in by a parent. We filled the classroom with two fake Christmas trees, several strings of lights, garland and wreaths, holly, and the tiniest string of blue and silver Hanukkah decorations, essentially all the holiday decor we could find stored in the room from the last two teachers who resided here. We listened to holiday music on Pandora, skipping the songs that felt just a little bit too religious for school. It was a wonderful 90 minutes.

Kids I hadn't seen in days, weeks, or even months made an appearance, wished me a happy birthday, gave me a hug, asked me how old I was to which I replied "59" while they ogled the abundance of sweets before them. One student hugged me a little too tightly and for a little too long and signed my birthday card, "I <3 U". Another student believed me when I told him I was 45 saying, "You're the same age as my mom! But she actually looks younger than you." And the rest just asked, "What you doing tonight? Going to the bar? You gonna be hungover tomorrow?" To which I just played dumb and said, "I'm going to spend time with some friends." And in my head thought, "Hell yeah, I'm going to the bar and I'm not coming in until noon tomorrow!"

Thursday, December 11, 2014

The "Curse" of the Holidays?

The holiday season is here. For teachers, it can be the toughest time of the school year. It's when the kids act out the most, when they disappear from school, and when they get into fights over the most mundane disagreements. Something about the holidays, brings out the worst. As teachers, we count down the days until winter break, until we have nearly two weeks of freedom, of relaxation. For students, the winter break could be little more than a disruption in the most stable part of their lives. At school, there is food, there is heat, there are rules and consequences, there are adults who care, and people that have your back. Many students don't have these luxuries at home. As we, the teachers, excitedly cross the days off the calendar, we must also try to contain the chaos, diminish students' anxiety, and work to maintain a positive school culture. Despite the stress that comes with this task, I have found that this is also the time of year when I feel the most thankful to be a part of my school community.

Every year my school holds a Thanksgiving luncheon for students. Everyone on staff contributes whether it be donating funds, cooking two turkeys, making their "famous" mashed potatoes, mac n cheese, stuffing, collard greens, cranberry sauce, green bean casserole, gluten-free cookies, pumpkin pie, or their "healthy but delicious" roasted vegetables. Parents donate food and some even come in to help serve. We all pitch in to make sure our students know how much we care about them and make sure they have at least one special Thanksgiving meal.

One of my favorite moments this year was when I sat down with a group of students who talked about how delicious the food was and thanked us for cooking. One of my colleagues spoke of a conversation she overheard. A student complained about the meal saying, "It wasn't that good." He was immediately shut down by another student who said, "In what other school do your teachers spend their personal time at home cooking for you and then serve you a plate overflowing with food? They have families and friends they could be spending their free time with, but they weren't. They were cooking for you. How dare you complain." And it warmed my heart all the more when the students sitting around the table listening to this story all concurred: We are lucky to be at this school.