Monday, December 31, 2012

Best Teacher Present, Ever.

My principal and our curriculum specialist made one of these for each teacher on campus as a Christmas present.   I love it and it hangs on my classroom wall.

In a sneaky manner, which I suspect involves my assistants, the children in my class were asked to tell something about me.  I love that I am happy, silly, funny, and nice.  Pretty and tall don't hurt much, either!  There is that odd "barbie" comment but I think, given that my children have speech and language deficits, that the intended word is "baby."   Playhouse and baby dolls have been big this year and I try to spend language development time with some of the kids while they are playing in the house and with the babies.

I asked about Teacher.  It was not added by the principal or curriculum specialist.  They added the school name, my name, and my grade level.   "Teacher" came from the kids.

Teacher is a title that has not rested easily for me over the years.  I'm a speech and language pathologist with an authorization for a classroom.   I see myself as a speech and language therapist and resist being labeled a teacher.

The more I look at this, though, the more I am honored and delighted with the title of Teacher.  It is how my children know me and how their parents think about me.   I think I need to shake out the title and wear it with pride.

Sunday, December 23, 2012


Not so very many days ago 28 people died in Newtown, Connecticut.   I usually see 26 listed but a mother and a son died on that day when 20 children and 6 educators were shot to death by that young man.

I've been surprised at my ongoing reactions to this horrific tragedy.  All over the internet there are conversations about how this could have been prevented and what we're doing wrong as a society.  My journey has been more inward.  

I've worked with young children in preschool, daycare, elementary, and special education classrooms since I was 19 years old. (35 years if anyone is counting) There were very few years, even in college, when I didn't have a job working with little children or tutoring up to about 4th grade age.

The first day was simple shock from the horror of it followed by streaming tears of sorrow for all the lives lost and tragedy of that day.  I feel as if I have been grieving for their loss from those first moments even though I don't know them.  9/11 didn't hit me this personally, Columbine and Virginia Tech didn't hit me this personally, nor did the dozen other incidents in malls, movie theaters, and even other schools that we've had happen in the last few years.  It took me the better part of a week to understand.

These are my people these teachers and these oh, so young students.  Their lives are my life and these students are my students.   This has to be similar to the solidarity that firefighters and police officers felt after 9/11 when their people rose with heroism to face horror.

After a only a short while I had to stop reading news stories, seeing pictures, or even going on Facebook.   I would see the faces of the children and then picture the faces of my littles, my preschoolers or those of the dozens of Kindergarten, 1st, and 2nd graders who have been my students over the years.  

I prayed for much of the weekend for the ability to set the grief and horror aside and to reach peace and calmness so that I could be normal in my own class that next Monday.

I'm not so sure there is normal.  This is what I wrote on a message board of women I have known online for over a dozen years:

I am broken-hearted today over the tragedy in Connecticut. Columbine and Virgina Tech didn't stab at my heart this way. They should have, I think, but natural that this is more visceral and emotional as I've spent my entire career working with kids from 3-8 years old.......

.........The things that run through my mind are things like, Do I need to keep my classroom door locked during the school day? Should my door have a peep hole? Are the blinds to my classroom closed so someone like this isn't peeking in? Do I have emergency supplies? Do I have what I need to turn a trash can into a potty? (well, no, but kitty litter is cheap and so is TP.) Are there safe places and safe ways to evacuate? Where do we plan to take 1000 children if we do evacuate? How do I keep track of my 12-15 squirrely ones? I know what to do during a lock down but are there more things I can do inside the classroom to keep my little charges safe? And so on. 

And, to cope, I began to answer those questions and many more.  No, I can't leave my classroom door locked during the day.  I can't teach or lead from a place of fear and I have to trust that if there is an incident at or near my school that a lockdown will be called, that we will respond appropriately, and that we will be safe.

Yes, the blinds to my classroom are closed.  I have one window that faces the playground and behind my classroom are tetherball poles.  In concern over one of the balls flying off it's chain and striking our window I've, by habit, kept those blinds closed.   The blinds on the other side of the room are over the south facing window.  For much of the year it's just too hot not to have the blinds closed so, by habit too, those are closed.

I can now turn a trash can into a potty with the addition of a storage box next to my desk that contains kitty litter, toilet paper, and some emergency food and a few small, light blankets.  We have a water dispenser in the room so I didn't bring extra water.   We almost always have a 5 gallon jug of water unopened.  In fact, we have had extra so I took one out to our playground storage unit so we'd have emergency water there.

As part of our emergency preparedness we have a large manilla envelope on the wall by the door with all of the kids' emergency information.  I've ordered wrist bands to add to that envelope so that in the event of an evacuation all the kids and adults in my classroom will have matching, bright yellow wrist bands.  When they arrive I'll fill one out for each child and assistant.  

That next Monday morning we had an e-mail in our inbox reviewing lock down procedures.  I reviewed these with my assistants.  We had a conversation about what to do in each of the places we are such as the playground, the bathrooms, the library, the cafeteria, going to the buses, and when we're on the move between those places.  We talked about nearest classrooms to duck into if we were out during a lockdown.  We reminded each other that we can lock ourselves into our bathrooms.

I still felt shaken and sorrowful.  Knowing what to do and being prepared take the edge off of what I realize is the underlying anxiety.  As the week progressed I also realized that I don't feel safe at work and that I am mourning the loss of that sense of safety and the illusion of control as much as I am mourning the loss of 28 lives. 

And coming upon these realizations I came to re-learn the benefit of having a brain filled with hymns and choir anthems.  It is these that my heart sings as I struggle with grief, with anxiety, and to learn to live with the loss of a sense of safety at work.  It is the connection of music, praise, and worship that leads me to turn to my Lord with my grief, my fear, and my anxiety.  I pray for wisdom from God our Father to teach from a place of confidence that He is my safety.  I pray for comfort and release from my anxiety from the Holy Spirit, and to have renewed in me the peace that passes understanding.

From this strong connection to God I can learn to let go of anxiety and fear.  Elementary schools may now be targets but I can have safety, peace, and assurance.  My faith won't prevent an incident at work but it will heal my heart, broken over this tragedy, and my faith will anchor my soul and my emotions so that I can work, even in a public school, to give God glory. 

Other random thoughts:

How proud I am of the teachers those who lived and those who died caring for their students.  I am confident that it is in the nature of most educators to do the same should the need arise.  We cannot shrink from talking about what to do and how to be prepared.   Planning helps us react in the best ways to keep our young charges safe.

I mentioned at the very beginning the lost lives of the mother and the son.  Sadly, these too, could have been my people, one of my families.   I have had those young children that I wonder what havoc they will wreak when they are grown as they seem to have no internal control or compass.  A friend who teaches Kindergarten wondered in a Facebook post, when will what teachers see and report be taken seriously when it comes to early mental health and early identification of children in trouble.  We can point to those children who could end up as the young man whose mind and understanding twisted so that he became capable of such violence. 

And I worry, sometimes, for the future of my language disabled preschoolers.  What will happen to them along the way to keep them whole and healthy and how can all of us, educators and parents, work so that the fragile and disabled, whether of thinking, of language, of physical limitations, or of the mentally ill, are protected and supported.   It's not a problem I can solve but I can look for opportunities to advocate for the best education and support that we can provide for the children who are with me today.