2, 4, 6, 8 Who do we appreciate?

Admit it! You just read that title in your head like a cheerleader. Don’t lie, ya’ll. No shame! ūüėČ

In case you didn’t know, this week (May 5-9) is National Teacher Appreciation Week with Tuesday being National Teacher Appreciation Day. As a teacher myself, I can assure you, I don’t think it’s coincidence that this weeklong celebration of educators comes in early May. In many parts of the United States, the school year ends in late May, so to have Teacher Appreciation Week in early May is fitting, because this is the time of year when we need it most! For you¬†athletes out there, think of the last few weeks of the school year as comparable to the last few miles of a marathon or the last few minutes of a nailbiting game: mind over matter, minute to win it, mad dash¬†to the finish. There is no relax and eat bon bons after standardized testing is over. Are you crazy? Teachers have to maintain order in the court until the last bell rings on the last day. So, yeah, teacher appreciation in May is appropriate, and most of the teachers I know are grateful for the kind words and extra gestures not just in May but all year-round.

Most of the time, this blog is about Hayley. One of the hardest things about being a teacher is it’s¬†often hard to seperate your teacher self from your personal self.¬†Honestly, it seems impossible at times.¬†The people who take¬†my group¬†fitness classes say I teach aerobics with my “teacher voice.” While¬†working on housebreaking with my new dog, instead of scolding her for¬†peeing in the floor I caught myself saying, “Lizzy, are you making good choices?” It causes me physical¬†pain to¬†not get onto misbehaving children in public, and I can’t resist¬†seeing a child¬†engrossed¬†in a book without asking them what they are reading and whether or not they like it. No matter how hard I try to take the teacher hat off,¬†Ms. Lynn just doesn’t go¬†away. That’s why, during¬†Teacher Appreciation Week- a week all about all of¬†the awesome teachers out there, I am choosing to write in response to this prompt:¬†“Sometimes, teachers learn the most from their students. Have you ever had the tables turned on¬†you when you thought¬†you were teaching, but underwent the largest change yourself?”¬†Have I¬†ever had the tables turned on me and learned from¬†my students? Um…yes. Often, and they are lessons we could all use, so let me present to you a brief¬†list of things my students have taught me:

1. Celebrate life’s small victories-¬†In¬†a modern, competitive world, it’s easy to get caught up in the push to be the best of the best of the best. We want first place, good scores, the leading role- the big victories. In fact, the bigger, the better. We set big goals with big dreams and big visions, and we celebrate them with grandeur. Then, we turn right around and set an even bigger goal. Don’t stop. Keep pushing. On and on. It’s the pace of our hectic lives.¬†There’s¬†just no time to get excited about the little things…but there should be. When I taught first grade, one of my students, a very struggling reader, was¬†being tested on recognition of¬†52 basic sight words.¬†The, they, at, in, etc. Easy enough, right? Wrong. One day, every word he saw on the card was “do.” Even when the word on the card wasn’t “do” his response was “do.” On card¬†#4 and card #37…the same thing…he saw “do.”¬†With my patience waning and¬†both¬†of our¬†frustration levels mounting, I tried every¬†clue I could think of¬†to help him recognize any of¬†these words. Nothing worked. Then, when we were almost through the¬†entire set of words, there¬†it popped up…”do.” His little face¬†lit up with genuine recognition¬†as he shouted, “DO!”¬†Relieved, I high-fived him¬†and said, “Yes! You got it!” He¬†immediately responded with a little endzone happy dance and said, “Oh, snap!”¬†That small victory was huge for him. He carried on with excitement until I had to be stern to get him back to work, but sometimes, the small things are worth an excessive celebration penalty. ūüėČ

2. Be silly- Sometimes, when my¬†third graders ask what we are having for lunch, I reply, “Booger sandwiches.” They always giggle, because it’s¬†funny when your teacher says booger.¬†When¬†I am¬†reading¬†a story out loud that contains the word underwear, they giggle, because it’s¬†funny¬†when your teacher says underwear. When I say things like, “Is it ever ok to sit on your friend’s¬†head?” or “What is the funky goop growing in your lunchbox?” they giggle, because¬†it’s funny when your teacher asks questions like that.¬†When I say, “Guys, for real. It stinks in here. If you need to go¬†to the bathroom, just. go.¬†Seriously. Stop it.” they giggle, because they know what I am referring to, and it’s¬†funny when your teacher is talking about a toot. And do you know what¬†happens when they giggle like that? 9 times out of 10,¬†I¬†giggle, too. Giggling is infectious, and we all need to be¬†infected with some silly sometimes.

3. Embrace differences- One of my favorite verses¬†in the Bible says, “I praise you for I am fearfully and wonderfully¬†made.” (Psalm 139:14).¬†I love the concept of¬†being “fearfully and wonderfully made.”¬†All the quirks of our bodies and¬†personalities…everything that makes us who we are…fearfully, wonderfully made by Him. I think it is the sweetest way to think of a child, and I wish I could always think of every child I meet with that mindset, but it’s hard to do that. Teachers, you know what I mean. We’ve all had that kid…yeah, that kid. That kid who says your name so many times a day you want to join the Witness Protection Program. That kid who when you are making Christmas decorations glues Santa’s pants on upside down. That kid who¬†always steps to the left whenever¬†you say step to the right.¬†That kid who when you threaten them not to say one more word always has to say one…more…word. That kid will¬†give you gray hair before your time or send you back to the colorist sooner than you can afford, but¬†I have¬†also learned that kid has a lot to teach us if we just pay attention.

One year at Valentine’s a kid who I will call “Sam” (not his real name) was decorating his box for our party. I had doiles and¬†glitter and foam sticker hearts and all the perfect shades of pink, purple, red, and white laid out. Visions of Pinterest perfection danced in my head. Then, Sam came to the¬†table. He was a struggling reader with a¬†pronounced speech impediment. He didn’t fit¬†“the mold” nor did he¬†want to. He was often “that kid,” and he didn’t care. “Where’s the black? And the green?” I told him this was Valentine’s Day, and¬†I hadn’t put¬†any black or green out. (Hello? Martha would not approve.) I went back to what I was doing thinking¬†he would go straight to work, and he did.¬†He used my perfect pink, purple, red, and white all over his¬†box. Oh, and black and green markers from his desk to color the doiles which he¬†glued on with¬†enough glue to hold together a spacesuit.¬†And let’s not forget the glitter that¬†was supposed to spell out his name but looked like he had written it¬†while¬†riding horseback. My eye¬†twitched. My OCD was showing. The boxes¬†didn’t look like this on Pinterest, but maybe…maybe if I just wiped this off here and straightened this out here…I reached my hand out to¬†start trying to fix the mess I saw, and Sam pushed my hand away with an unexpected ferocity, “No! Dis is my box! It’s boo-te-ful just like dis.”¬†I paused. I didn’t know what to say at first, but then I said, “You’re right.” And he was. It was his box, and it was beautiful and perfectly imperfect…just like him. How’s that for fearfully, wonderfully made? You know “that kid” in your class? Give them an extra hug tomorrow. You won’t regret it.

4. Get excited to the see people¬†you love.-¬†Remember¬†being a kid and seeing your teacher in public? Wasn’t that the funniest thing? You couldn’t believe they went bowling or bought groceries or went to the pool. You would scream their name five aisles down in the store just to make sure they saw you even though you both just left school 30 minutes before. You had to wave at them¬†from the bus¬†window when their car pulled up beside¬†you. You had to run and give them a hug even though you would see¬†them tomorrow. It¬†was so exciting to see your teacher, because they were always excited to see you! (Confession: I’m 31 years old, and I still get excited when I see my favorite teachers.) My friends who are not teachers think it is so funny when a gaggle of 8 year old paparazzi members pounce on me when I am spotted in public. You know why? They remember how special it was to be that excited to see someone and for them to be that excited to see you in return. It just makes you feel good.¬†Here’s what’s really awesome: that kind of joy is not just limited to excited kids and their teachers.¬†Get excited to see someone¬†you¬†love this week. I promise it will make you feel good, too.¬†

5. Love your kids-¬†This was actually a lesson taught to me by¬†one of my favorite teachers, but my¬†students reinforce¬†it in my heart.¬†This teacher of mine, who is now my friend, gave me this advice when I first began my teaching program in college. He told me to¬†support my kids,¬†defend my¬†kids, teach my kids, praise my kids, protect my kids, and above all else,¬†love my kids.¬†He warned me I would have moments when¬†it would seem so hard to love¬†a student that¬†I would wonder if it were possible, but that a teacher’s heart must always hold love for their kids. Nine years in to my career, he will vent and let me vent in return. Then,¬†right before he cuts off the¬†teacher talk for something more casual, he always says to me,¬†“But don’t forget…you gotta love ’em.” He’s right. Even when they don’t like me, my students love me. I hear it in their¬†giggles, see it in their smiles, and feel it in their hugs. Teachers are charged with many duties, but above all¬†else,¬†“you gotta love ’em.”

So, 2, 4, 6, 8 who do I appreciate? Teachers, of course, but most of all, my students. The kiddos who wind me up and wear me down but always keep me coming back for more. I am thankful for all they teach me.


                             Hayley and Riley (the dog who would love to come to school with his Mom!)    


A Moment Like This

I don’t get to blog during the week, but it’s a cold, snowy late March day in East Tennessee, and the pup and I are confined to the house. My agenda for the evening is light, so I am happily procrastinating with a little writing. Here’s the prompt for the day: “What are the three most memorable moments – good or bad, happy or sad- in your life?”

This is another one of those posts where I feel like I just can’t narrow it down to a small number of items. I was so torn about what to do that I solicited Mary Grace’s opinion like she is supposed to know the movie reel of my life and what has stood out most to me, but like many of our conversations, the mindless chatting about it brought the ideas to mind without her even knowing she had helped. (Actually, many of my favorite moments of my adult life are Steph-Hayley-Mary Grace moments, but I am saving those stories for the satellite radio show Steph and I are going to host someday.) Anyway, without further adieu, here are the three most memorable moments of my life (as of 6:23 PM on 3/25/14. Seriously…who can pick out just 3 that will never change?)

1. Christmas 2013 at school- For those of you who read this and do not know me, I am a 3rd grade teacher. For those of you who don’t know anything about teaching or education, let me just tell you this: It’s. Hard. Really, really hard. Oh, and I love it. It’s the hardest job you could ever love. Let me tell you about the hard parts. You have 20+ kids from 20+ backgrounds with 20+ learning styles and 20+ different emotional needs. Sometimes their parents blame you for everything that goes wrong. Sometimes their parents don’t know your name. Sometimes you have to attempt to teach things like analogies, elapsed time, and latitude and longitude all in one day…to people who pick their noses and forget to tie their shoes. (There isn’t enough Tylenol on those days.) You teach academic skills, social skills, technology skills, health skills, and life skils like “don’t forget to tie your shoes.” You go home emotionally drained, mentally exhausted, and physically weary, because you feel like you are charged with the task of curing all the world’s ills in a seven hour day. It’s. Hard.
Hard? Yeah, it’s hard, but it’s also a profession known amongst teachers for just the right little joy at the exact perfect moment. I had one of those this past Christmas on the day of our Christmas breakfast. All of my kids were trickling in delivering treats and presents to my desk. Some kids bring homemade and handpicked items straight from their hearts. Other kids openly admit, “My mom said to give this to you.” I smiled and hugged them all the same. I opened their gifts and “oohed” and “aahed” and laughed at their cute notes in their cards. I was happily chatting with guests at our party when I opened a card from the parents of a particularly challenging child- one of those who makes you check for gray hairs- and I read these words: “Thank you for being a champion for our son. Merry Christmas.” It still gives me a chill when I think about those words. These parents had heard a lot from me that semester some good, some not so good. Those are the ones from whom you aren’t sure what to expect in a Christmas card. They gave me something far more precious than I ever expected- a moment when I knew in my heart this job is so hard, but it is so worth it. “Thank you for being a champion for our son.” You’re welcome. Thank you for being a champion for teachers. You keep us going.

2. Goodbye Mamaw- If you have been reading my blog for a while, you will probably remember reading, on more than one occasion, my description of being with my sweet Papaw when he died. That will always be a powerful moment in my life, but I’ve done that one, so I chose another related moment- saying goodbye to my Mamaw. I was closer to Papaw, and I documented my relationship with Mamaw in a previous blog post, but saying goodbye to her was a totally different thing for me than it was Papaw. I don’t know if I can pinpoint one “goodbye” moment, but I will go with finishing the eulogy I gave at her funeral. In her eulogy, I detailed all of the many things her hands had done in her life…taken care of babies, cooked for her family, sewed doll clothes, swatted behinds in trouble, handed out medicine, and adoringly stroked Papaw’s face. Her hands were busy hands, and they were loving hands. They told a tale of her life that connected all of us in that church, her family, neighbors, and friends, together in some way. They were hands that kept going and doing after Papaw passed away. In many ways, her busy hands helped soothe me when I missed Papaw. Even as dementia set in, when she was still going and doing, she still seemed like Mamaw, and it made Papaw being gone seem a little less real. I will never forget standing in front of my childhood church to give Mamaw’s eulogy talking about all of the love and life her hands brought into this world and saying these last words, “The work of her precious hands is finished.” Finished. Over. Done. No more Easter bunny cakes with licorice whiskers. No more just-right doll clothes. No more swatted bottoms. No more hand peeled, yard picked apples. No more Mamaw. No more Papaw. That one line of my eulogy made the finality of it all sink in. I knew Papaw had been gone for four years, but saying goodbye to her closed the chapter of my life in which the main characters were the two most precious, perfect people I have ever known. It’s a memorable moment that hurts, but have mercy, I am so very blessed to have such precious memories that would cause that moment to hurt.

3. Driving Miss Daisy- If you know me really well, you know I love to tell funny stories about my Papaw. Not only was he as sweet as pie, he was hysterically funny, and I love to relive his antics by telling stories about him. That being said, my last passage made me miss Mamaw, so here is my memorable moment totally 100% dedicated to her and the funny side most people never knew she had.
In the last few years of Mamaw’s life, I spent time in the summers helping take her to doctor’s appointments. As her dementia grew worse, she became more and more stubborn and difficult to get out the door on doctor days, but all the while, she remained the same woman she had always been: stern, austere, a statue of a lady. I affectionately called our doctor trip days “Driving Miss Daisy.” If you’ve ever seen that movie, the cold, seemingly unyielding, omnipotent character of Miss Daisy is so much like my Mamaw that it’s scary. Now, don’t get me wrong. She was a wonderful grandmother who loved the heck out of my brother and me, but she was a lady to core, and she did what ladies do, and she did not do what ladies didn’t. No cussing. No smoking. No white after Labor Day. No drinking out of a can. The end. Forever and ever, Amen. That was Margaret Lynn, you get the picture?
One summer day, I came to pick Mamaw up for a round of appointments. I had heard my uncle tell her multiple times that I was going to be driving her to the doctor, and yes, Hayley is old enough to drive, and yes, Hayley is smart enough to talk to the doctor. (We were at that point in her dementia). Finally, she decided she was ready to go, and I said, “Alright, Mamaw, let’s get in the car.” She looked at me very alarmed and said, “In your car? Are you driving me?” I gently replied, “Yes, Mamaw, I’m driving you. Is something wrong?” Without missing a beat, my very own Miss Daisy looked at me and said with the seriousness of a Supreme Court judge, “Yes, something’s wrong. You can’t drive worth a s—.” If you have a Miss Daisy type in your life, eat those moments with her up, ya’ll. They are more precious than gold…even if they don’t help you learn to drive. ūüėČ

Hayley and Riley (the dog who agrees his Momma could use some driving lessons)