The Care and Maintenance of Teachers (especially at the end of the year)

Dear students (of all ages) —

Please consider these suggestions for the proper maintenance of your student/teacher relationships as we come to the end of the year.

  1. Do not, under any circumstances, separate a teacher from her coffee.  Especially at this time of year.  She is likely NOT sleeping at night, catching up on for pleasure reading that she hasn’t been doing all year, or grading final projects, or wrapping up lesson planning for the year, or spending time with her family.  If possible, supplement her caffeine intake with Dunkin’ Donuts or Starbucks.
  2. When only eight days remain in the school year, it is in your best interest to avoid suddenly becoming interested in catching up on everything you’ve missed for, say, the last three quarters.  Instead, redeem yourself for the quarter, if possible, and do extraordinary work on your final projects.
  3. Your teacher teaches approximately 100 students.  She cannot possibly remember every class you’ve missed, every assignment you didn’t turn in, or your calculated average at a moment’s notice.  So try to advocate for yourself: ask your classmates what assignments are due, check your eSembler, or subscribe to your teacher’s Remind 101 for notice about upcoming deadlines.
  4. Smile at your teacher.  Say, “Good morning.”  Ask her about her weekend.  And be sincere.  Don’t follow these comments with ANY request.
  5. Understand that your teacher is a human being.  She is not perfect.  She might be a little snarky, she might get emotional, she might come across as a little rude, she might have a huge chip on her shoulder.  But she doesn’t hate you.  She doesn’t want you to fail.  In fact, she desperately wants you to succeed, if for no other reason but that you don’t have to take her class again.
  6. Complete your work.  On time.  And turn it in.  Don’t leave it crumpled at the bottom of your book bag.
  7. Listen to your teacher’s directions, the first time.  Try very hard not to ask a question about an assignment that she already answered.  Her patience gets thin when she has to repeat herself.
  8. When in disagreement with a teacher, be kind, respectful, and honest.  That will get you further than any amount of pouting, yelling, eye-rolling, sighing, head-tossing, or other form of attitude.  If a kind attitude doesn’t work, take a deep breath and take your seat.  Wait until after class to try again.  Or send an email.
  9. If your teacher apologizes to you, accept it with grace.  Then return the favor to someone else.
  10. It may seem impossible now, but one day, far in the future, you may look back at these moments, at this teacher, and realize that her persistence, her bullheadedness, and her resolve were actually awesome.  You’ll realize that she actually taught you something, and it probably isn’t about English, math, social studies, or science.  When that happens, find her on Facebook, send her a carrier pigeon, write her a note and tell her so.

Sincerely,

Mrs. P, a concerned teacher (in desperate need of a good night’s sleep)

To my daughter, on her ninth birthday

We’ve had a big week for Cari this week. On Saturday, I got Cari all dolled up for her dance recital pictures (much easier this time than the four times before). I sat at the studio for a couple of hours while Cari posed for pictures for her two routines, then practiced her routines in costume. By the end if the day, we were exhausted and cranky, so the perfect solution was a nap.

Then on Sunday, we dressed up pretty for a Mommy and Me photo shoot in honor of Mother’s Day with our friend Stephanie Beaty of Lifeography. It was one of those experiences that caused me to have a glimpse of the future before me. I stood in the bathroom, behind my blond baby, who isn’t a baby at all anymore, and I saw us on her wedding day. We both wore white, and I just had a flash of her shiny blond hair spilling over the shoulders of her wedding gown. I didn’t see her face, or even mine, in that moment.  But I realized that I needed to be present. So I put on my makeup with extra care, because I didn’t want to waste any of that precious day worrying if I wasn’t pretty enough.  So Cari and I joined Stephanie at a treasure of a little park, called James E. Grey Preserve, a place I have lived minutes away from for years but never knew existed.  We drove down the little dirt road to the entrance, and Cari was a little moody.  She wouldn’t talk or give me a smile in the rearview mirror.  I realized that my girl isn’t so little anymore; she’s entered the pre-teen years with gusto.  Where she would happily preen for pictures a year ago, now she gives goofy grins that don’t capture what her real happiness looks like.  So we made a deal: when the pictures were over. we would stop at Dairy Queen on the way home for smoothies (obviously. I’m not above bribery).

Stephanie has never photographed us before, but I knew from seeing her work online that I trusted her vision, so I allowed her to direct us, even though it is in my nature to seek to control.  We had a number of model-moments, where we supposed to look moody and serious, but neither Cari nor I could manage it.  Cari gave her awkward little half smile, as if to say, “My mom wants us to be doing this, but I’m not entirely sure I care to be here.” Or, “Miss Stephanie wants me to laugh, but I don’t see how anything about this situation is funny.” Or, “Can’t we be done already? I want my smoothie.” My favorite moments were the ones that were real; when Cari would throw her arms around my neck, or when she sat on my lap like she has for the past 7 years, from when she wasn’t snuggled anymore in my arms, but when she would climb into my lap, belly to belly, with her legs dangling behind me. Stephanie captured some truly silly, but still perfectly US moments. I looked like I was in love with my kid. So pretty much they came out perfectly.

Then Cari celebrated her ninth birthday on Wednesday. In a flash of inspiration that any Pinterest parent would approve of, I decided to ask Cari some questions about her preferences today to commemorate the occasion.

  1. What is your favorite color? Blue
  2. What is your favorite toy? Woofie, of course
  3. What is your favorite fruit? Watermelon
  4. What is your favorite tv show? Liv and Maddie
  5. What is your favorite movie? Frozen
  6. What is your favorite thing to wear? Dresses
  7. What is your favorite animal? Bunnies
  8. What is your favorite song? Let It Go, or Problem from Arianna Grande
  9. What is your favorite book? Judy Moody
  10. Who is your best friend? Mommy
  11. What is your favorite snack? Cheese Its
  12. What is your favorite drink? Water
  13. What is your favorite breakfast? Waffles
  14. What is your favorite lunch? Macaroni and Cheese
  15. What is your favorite dinner? Chicken and Broccoli
  16. What is your favorite game? The Subway Surfers
  17. What is your favorite thing to play outside? Play in the playground
  18. What is your favorite holiday? Christmas
  19. What do you sleep with at night? Woofie and Bear Bear
  20. What do you want to be when you grow up? I don’t know, a teacher?

Cari is the best thing I have ever done in my life. She is sweet and silly; she loves to snuggle with either Stu or I, and she would eat chicken and broccoli as every meal if we let her. She is incredibly comfortable at Hudson, since she’s with us ALL THE TIME. For Take Your Child to Work Day, she left my classroom, and I assumed she was going to my husband’s classroom. But when I saw him 30 minutes later and he didn’t have Cari, I got a little concerned. Well, she went to the front office to hang out in our assistant principal’s office. Yeah, that’s my kid: fearless in social situations. Cari is like her mommy; when she’s tired, she doesn’t always know to rest. Instead, she gets really cranky until someone convinces her that she won’t miss anything if she takes a nap. She sings and talks to herself (technically, she speaks for her animals). She has a stuffed dog named Woofie that she loves to pieces. Literally pieces. Woofie has had more than one reconstruction surgery by my mom. Cari is tall and has big feet, like grown-up feet. She has her daddy’s blue eyes, and the most enviable hair EVER. Her least favorite chore/job: drying her hair. That’s a fight every night. She knows how to use the word ironically correctly. She doesn’t ask for a little brother or sister because I think she knows that we won’t have as much time for her. She keeps her room neater than we keep ours. She cleans the toilet and the sink for fun.

I know that every parent is crazy about their kid. I’m crazy about mine. She’s not perfect, and I’m so glad. I couldn’t bear it. But she’s a wonderful human being and I can’t wait to see what the next nine years will look like.

(Yikes. In another nine years, she’ll be 18 and going off to college. How’s that for a wakeup call?)

Careless comments

Last week, I received an email that had my blood boiling.  Perhaps it was just the end of a long week and I was stressed; perhaps I was just so tired of endless emails that I couldn’t help but get mad.  Whatever the reason, I took the email too personally, and this notorious author of offending emails had gotten under my skin.  My vision blurred a little on the edges until I managed to get myself under control, demonstrating enough restraint to not respond immediately with some snarky comment.  I taught the rest of my day, but when the final bell rang, I walked next door to my teaching partner-in-crime (a reader) to ask him to intervene on my behalf.

“You’re going to have to deal with this,” I said.  It wasn’t until I explained my request, that he speak with the author about her email transgressions, that I realized my mistake.  My partner-in-crime is guilty, too, and had gotten himself in trouble for a poorly timed suggestion sent to our department.

“You’re asking me to deal with this.  When I can’t avoid making people mad, either,” he said, smiling ironically.  “I just don’t read emails from that sender anymore.”

So I returned to my classroom, feeling little relief.  I’m too Type A to resort to auto-deleting emails from someone on the staff.  I was left to feel a little sad for my school.  By May, teachers are overwhelmed, tired, stressed, and very interested in catching up on TV they’ve missed over the last eight months.  So we’re abrupt, hurtful, and occasionally mean to one another, as if we’re not still on the same team.  There are moments in education (and I imagine in every profession) when the appropriate, professional solution to these issues is to take a deep breath and imagine that the offender didn’t mean to come across that way.  Perhaps she meant it as a joke? 

This isn’t the first time I’ve found myself hurt and disrespected by colleagues.  During the Homecoming dance two years ago, I found an unsigned note taped to the wall above the copy machine.  It asked, “If we’re so concerned about student achievement, why do we waste a week of school on Homecoming?”  Apparently, the note had been taped there nearly the whole week, but I was too busy running Homecoming—selling dance tickets, organizing lunch activities, taking questions from students and sponsors—to notice.  But I noticed it the night of the dance, when Stu and I had a school filled with more than 500 students at an event that had taken months to plan.  I was running on very little sleep, had spent every night until 10 or later at school at one event or another.  I didn’t make it to the front office before I was sobbing, snotty, hysterical sobbing.  Ironically, it was the hall monitor who I don’t like very much (he fusses at me for not writing passes) who caught my tears and sent my assistant principal to take care of me.  I was so hurt that one of my colleagues had so little respect for the hours of work by dozens of people for such an important event.  When I got my tears under enough control to tell my AP what had happened and why I was so hurt, my AP, in her wisdom, explained to me that some people would never “get it.”  Would never get how much work goes into these events, how much these memories mean to so many kids, how precious the relationships formed while decorating for the Homecoming dance are for some kids, and for some sponsors.  Those who don’t get it, she said, would never get it, no matter how we try to explain.  So that note wasn’t worth the energy or the tears.  It was probably an offhand comment, likely stemming from a moment of annoyance, perhaps his students weren’t paying enough attention in class, and the writer simply blurted the very first thing that came to mind without considering anyone else’s feelings. 

If I’m honest with myself, I realize that I’m not innocent: I sat in a meeting this week and explained, with little compassion, that their plan was wrong, only realizing afterward that I was a *little* harsh.  I’ve made kids cry every year that I’ve taught.  I told a kid who seriously struggles with my class that under no circumstances would I allow him to videotape a speech to ease some of his stress over public speaking.  I have been impatient with people who don’t do their jobs as well as I expect them to.  I’m quick to take offense, but fail to realize when I’m being unsympathetic or cruel.  That’s a tough pill to swallow. 

The lesson, I guess, is that we’re destined to hurt one another, whether we mean to or not.  But we do control our reactions.  I don’t need to get twisted over a careless email; it doesn’t do me any good.  Nor will it change someone’s behavior.

Has anyone’s careless comment ever made you spittin’ mad?  Ever made you cry?

This is the end?

I made it!

This month of blogging has been enlightening and energizing.  I’ve so appreciated having an outlet for some of the thoughts that have been rattling around in my head.  But I’ve discovered that it isn’t really that tough to engage in the practice of writing when I make it a priority.  While I’ve been blogging this month, I haven’t been watching TV (though I still do watch plenty of YouTube).  I haven’t been folding laundry (sorry Stu).  I haven’t been sleeping as much (well, that’s a given).  I have been more observational.  I’ve practiced the craft of writing in such a way that should make my work as a teacher easier, and should help me write novel #2 with some flair.

But 22 posts is child’s play.

I’ve decided to keep it going.  For now, and for the foreseeable future, I’ll be blogging on a more relaxed schedule (I’m thinking Tuesday and Friday).  I hope to blog more photos eventually, once I get better at photography, or once I have less to say.

Thank you ALL for reading.  Thank you to my most loyal commenters (Dad, I’m talking to you).  Thank you to my friends at school who have encouraged me by telling me you think I’m doing a good job.  Thank you for my silent followers who never comment but read everything anyways.  Thank you Stu and Cari for being patient with this endeavor.  Thank you Stu for suggesting that I could be the next Ree Drummond (shows me how much you believe in me).

Click here to check out an infographic I created from this experience (do it!  Click!  It’s really cool!)


 

In honor of this last day of Camp NaNoWriMo, I thought I’d offer some superlatives for this blogging experience:

Post I’m most proud of: I loved writing and thinking through Thinking about inspiration, because it made me feel scholarly and erudite.  But I’m also really like You may not know because it was just fun (and easy).

Most popular post: A beginning got the most likes, followed closely by Daddy’s girl.  Sure does help that my dad’s followers are some of MY most loyal followers!

My most dedicated follower: My dad.  I’m so lucky to have a dad who loves to support me and my work.  Thank you, Dad.

Best comment: I got an incredibly thoughtful text from a parent when I posted We’ve got spirit, yes we do!  I never set out to get support or validation from this blog, but it has been a happy surprise to hear the wonderful things my friends, colleagues, and followers have to say about what I’ve written.  But that text.  Wow.  Worth the whole month of blogging.

Weakest post: It’s Easter, y’all.  At some point in the future I’d like to write a post about my relationship with Jesus, and I started that post with the intention of doing that relationship more justice.  But it turned out weak.  I’ll do better.  Soon.

Most awkward post: I learned when I posted If I leave, a response to The Daily Post, that I should perhaps warn Stu about my posts, or at least be sensitive to his needs when I post about personal stuff.  He was blindsided by my thoughts in that moment about leaving, or being reluctant to leave Florida.

Anyways, thank you ALL for reading.  Thank you for your support, for your comments in the hallway, for your comments on Facebook and Twitter, for following my blog.  This has been an incredible, enlightening experience.

To share, or over share?

I realize that it seems a little late to consider the question of over sharing. I’ve spent the last month hoping people would read this blog despite the vomit stories. I get a little surge of pleasure to watch as I get more views on my stats page, and I’m thrilled when I get comments and likes.  But I’ve been going through something lately that I very much want to write about, if only to work out how I feel, but I can’t share here. If you were all faceless readers, perhaps… But I know, in real life, several of my readers, and that gives me pause.

That’s the thing with social media today… In the interest of openness, we sometimes often manage to over share. I follow lots of my students on Twitter, and all the time I see stuff there that I would never, EVER want or need to know. One of my former students posted a picture of her fake ID. Another posted a picture of a friend pooping. A friend that was also a former student. I’ve seen pictures of fights, of illicit drinking, of entirely too much skin.  Facebook isn’t any better: I see (and, let’s face it, post) endless status updates about family and work drama, pictures of meals, comments about politicians or athletes.  But do those status updates, pictures, or comments replace real talk, real relationships?  We comment on our friends’s Facebook posts or like their pictures, but we so rarely speak to people. It’s like we only want to communicate with people in our own time, under circumstances that make sense to us, without thinking about the needs of the people we seek to communicate with.

As a result, we don’t know HOW to communicate. I think about the world of Pride and Prejudice sometimes, where people were forced to build relationships, in all their awkwardness, through conversation. And they couldn’t even share for real… They had to talk about the weather or state of the roads. They couldn’t hide behind their cell phones, and yet relationships flourished.  And those characters valued conversation.  Elizabeth Bennet “perfectly remembered everything that had passed in conversation between Wickham and herself, in their first evening at Mr. Phillips’s. Many of his expressions were still fresh in her memory.”  I’ve often wondered at Elizabeth’s perfect memory, but she can’t help it.  She doesn’t have nearly as much to remember.  Any interaction was a significant one.

Instead of relishing in the significance of conversation, we would rather do just about ANYTHING than speak with people that we don’t already know.  My students are notoriously guilty: I made the mistake of NOT changing seats in my AP Literature class for nearly a quarter, so today, when I wanted them to work with DIFFERENT people, there was nearly a mutiny.  The activity was needlessly challenging because they didn’t know how to express their own ideas without feeling insecure, and didn’t know how to express when they didn’t like how another person expressed a common idea.  I’ve had students come to me to address a problem with another student so minor I couldn’t believe they couldn’t handle it by themselves.  They are juniors and seniors in high school, and I have to ask them if they’re tattling.  So often a simple conversation will resolve all of the drama these students are experiencing, but my students would rather be mistrustful, skeptical, and wary.  I can be better at this communication than my students are, but I get awkward and nervous sometimes in speaking to people who are unfamiliar, or in handling conflict.  I struggle with building relationships beyond the early “Hey, how’s it going?” or “What do you do for a living?” questions.  As a result, I do most of my serious talking with a very few people, and find myself asking “Does that make sense?” because I don’t trust myself to communicate effectively.

I’ve been struggling with this since before college, but one of the best things that ever happened to me was going to Mary Washington College and rooming with two of the best girls in the world.  Chrissi, Casey, and I, along with Kim (who lived down the hall) forged relationships through chats that kept us up nearly all night.  We talked about silly things, about serious things, about hurts and high school, about boys and love and religion and school and favorite foods and everything.  I still value those relationships over almost all of the relationships I have made since, even though we don’t talk near enough and it’s been years since I’ve seen them and they have babies that I haven’t met yet.  Those are real relationships, but even those can suffer for lack of conversation.

This current embargo on talking has led me to feel a little alone and so hungry for real relationships, not the (sometimes) superficial relationships cultivated by Facebook and Twitter.

Falling in love, in fifty words

If you’ve been reading here this month, you should know that I don’t have any trouble with word count.  I’m pretty verbose.  My dad often complains that I take forever to come to the point of any story I tell, and any application that requires 100 words MAX causes me to have a fit.  And I almost NEVER write only 100 words; the readers of those applications don’t actually count, do they?

Well, I’m writing this post as a response to this Weekly Writing Challenge, the Fifty.  The challenge is really poignant for me, especially since I can’t manage to be concise.  The object: write a story in exactly fifty words, with the purpose of using every word, every sentence, every thought purposefully.  So here goes.  (and if you’re interested in irony, the preface to this post is 126 words.  Good grief)


She crouched to pick up her dropped papers, stunned by his intense glare that revealed only pity at her clumsiness. Kneeling, he reached to hand her a sheet that escaped her, grazing his hand over hers. Embarrassed and intrigued, she stammered a thank you. His answering lunch invitation stupefied her.


Can you tell I’m a romance writer?  This felt a lot like writing a haiku, but now even I’m excited about the story that can come from this little nugget.

As always, thanks for reading!

Bad teacher

It seems that there are new stories every day about teachers making bad choices.  This morning, while Stu and I finished packing for our upcoming trip to Orlando with students for the Florida Scholastic Press Association convention, I heard a news story about a teacher who had been filmed in class screaming at a student and was being fired.  Captain Jeffrey Daughtry, a math teacher at a Sarasota military academy, was filmed for 18 seconds berating a student, shouting “Open your mouth again and you will die.”  This story comes only a few days after a Polk County teacher was arrested and subsequently fired for having sex with a student, and the Pasco county PLACE supervisor who was found in possession of thousands of images of child pornography.  Ugh.

It makes me so angry when teachers, or, at least, the very narrow population of *really* bad teachers, make us all look bad with their actions.  The thought of one of my peers taking advantage of her position of authority over a student makes me feel ill.  But sitting in the car with the two students I was charged with driving to Orlando, listening to them complain about their teachers, I realized that it’s not just the *really* bad teachers that are making teachers look bad.  It’s the teachers who don’t care, who don’t do the work necessary to be good at the job, who are impatient, who are rude, who are lazy.  I spent a lot of the trip trying to shed some light on how teachers think.  I told these girls that there are plenty of kids who don’t like me, and plenty of days when I don’t feel like working as hard as is necessary, and I’m not always very nice to kids.  I was attempting to explain away some of the complaints that they have about teachers.  But I know that I beat myself up over these infractions.  I strive to be better, to write better lessons, to grade student work more quickly, to be kind even when a kid has made me crazy.  The worst damage to my profession doesn’t come from the few serious offenders, but the more pervasive threat of teachers who can’t be bothered.

On the other hand, in this age of very prevalent social media, teachers often find themselves as digital stars.  Daughtry, a veteran, was fired for a rant that was captured on video, but claims that those 18 seconds don’t represent who he is.  I have to confess that I’m not proud of every 18 seconds that happen in my classroom.  Anything, taken out of context, might be construed as inappropriate, offensive, even damaging to a student’s self-esteem.  We’re encouraged to allow our students to use their cell phones and other technology in the classroom, but those same cell phones are used to capture moments that we don’t necessarily plan or approve.  Also, we’re human.  Kids are human.  By nature of our humanity, we are regularly in conflict with one another.  Can you remember how you treated your parents growing up?  Can you remember a time when your parents lashed out at you?  Yeah, that happens in the classroom.  Teachers see our students at least one hour every day for more than 180 school days.  It is inevitable that teachers will come into conflict with their students.  That’s good teaching.  If we allowed students to do whatever they want, our classrooms would be chaos.  But in order to maintain control, we must exert authority, authority that is occasionally frustrating to students.

I’m not condoning nor condemning Daughtry’s rant.  I just know that if I were in the same situation, I would hope for a certain amount of grace before administration and the community judged my behavior.  I also hope that I have earned enough respect from my students that they refrain from filming me, even in my silly, goofy, and awkward moments when it is most tempting.

What you see when you’re actually looking

A few years ago, some family from Virginia came to visit Stu, Cari, and me in Florida, and we went to Downtown Disney for dinner and browsing.  Our rich meal didn’t agree with all of the members of our party: one of our visitors (who will remain nameless) was pretty uncomfortable, pained, and, most notably, pretty gassy that night.  Fortunately, in that group, she wasn’t embarrassed, and made a joke of her predicament.  In one of the high end shops that sells art glass and figurines, she sidled up to me, feigning interest in a piece I was looking at before leaving a ridiculously stinky fart behind without any warning.  I covered my nose and complained loudly while getting clear of the fumes, and she was delighted in my irritation.  Later, as we walked past a similar family group walking in the opposite direction, she delivered an epically deadly but silent fart that has become legend in our family.  We knew it happened because her step quickened and laughter started shaking her shoulders in the same way she had tormented me earlier in the evening.  But when one of the women in the family we passed said “Oh my god” in a voice that was audible to us even as the distance between us widened, our whole group erupted into spontaneous peals of hysterical laughter.  We couldn’t help it.  I’ve often wondered at how observers of our family interpreted that moment.  For us, it was the culmination of a whole lot of little jokes that had happened all evening long.  It was an example of how free we felt together, comfortable enough to fart in front of one another, and comfortable enough to laugh at one another about it.  But I can only guess at what the crowds around us saw in that brief moment, if they were even looking.

I caught a similar moment today: driving through Pass-a-Grille, I lifted my eyes to watch the beautiful houses for a moment when I watched a woman walking behind another woman and a child brush her fingers past her face, grimacing in the obvious reaction to something stinky.  I couldn’t help chuckling to myself.  I had witnessed such an awkward moment, on the same level as turning to the car next to you to observe a 40 year-old man singing passionately to some Taylor Swift.  A private moment that most people wouldn’t be pleased to know someone else had observed.

It occurred to me in that moment that I had opportunities to see plenty if I would only pay attention, but I hadn’t been–I had my nose buried in my cell phone.  In that moment, though, I decided to watch more carefully.  As a result, I spent the rest of the evening seeing silly and striking things.

We ended up at a restaurant called The Moon Under Water where Stu, Cari, and I were seated on the porch between the bar and the hostess table.  There was a 30 minute wait for a table, so most patrons gave the hostess their names and walked past us to the bar where they would pass the next thirty minutes drinking (mostly) large pints of beer.  It is a pub after all.  After a few minutes, Stu caught on to my game, and we watched the passing customers with great interest.  There was first date couple, two very fashionable young people who tried to navigate the awkwardness of making small talk before settling into the comfort of a table with a menu to discuss.  Then there was the older woman who incongruously double fisted two enormous handled jugs glasses of beer.  Or the woman who applied her pink lipstick to her entire face as she walked from the restaurant.  Or the woman who put on her scarf with such determination that she hit her companion in the face.

I managed to observe some pretty impressive beauty in St. Petersburg, too.  I am still struck by how the trees of Vinoy Park grow so elegantly, romantically.  The boats on the water were proud and graceful, their sails snapping a little in the wind that made my hair fly all around my face.  Then there were people captured in beautiful moments. I caught a very intense conversation between a father and his teenaged son: the father seemed sympathetic and kind toward his son, but his son just looked away.  There was a family much like ours that decided to treat their young daughter to a ride in the Cinderella-style horse drawn carriage, providing the girl with the princess treatment, complete with beauty queen waves to her loving subjects.  And there was incredibly thoughtful trolly driver who told us about the best restaurants in the area and drove us to USF St. Pete (outside of his normal route) because I said I had taken a class there.

There wasn’t anything especially remarkable about tonight.  My family decided to take a drive to St. Petersburg, walk around a bit, share a meal, and take a ride in the trolly.  But because I had managed to take off my blinders for a little while, I managed to see more of the world around me.

I’m so guilty of distraction that makes me lose focus of what’s happening around me.  For the whole year that Stu had an iPhone before I did, I complained incessantly that he couldn’t get his nose out of his phone.  Now, I’m pretty certain that I’m even worse than he was.  I troll Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, commenting on the lives my friends have instead of living in my own.  I guess the lesson is that sometimes it’s important for me to disconnect from the things that distract and force myself to engage in the present.  When I do, I’m never disappointed.  Facebook can wait.

Showdown.

In an average day, I encounter conflict pretty regularly.  Conflict, as in “an incompatibility between two or more opinions, principles, and interests.”  My opinion, for example, is that the students in my third period class should NOT use their cell phones during my recent lesson introducing The Crucible.  Their opinion, on the other hand, is that they should.  Thus, an incompatibility.  But I rarely allow my temper to flare in those moments; I don’t escalate arguments with kids.  I’ve learned that with high school students, a teacher shouldn’t ever cop an attitude that she wouldn’t want a kid to respond with.  So I calmly ask them to put their phones away, and while they may grumble, they *mostly* do as I say.

This is a pretty significant departure from how I responded to conflict when I was younger.  In those days, my parents would demand that I do something, and I would storm off, my vision blurring a little on the edges until I was out of earshot, and I would explode, picking up some laundry and throwing it against the wall.  I was never dumb enough to actually throw something that could cause damage.  Or I would scream into a pillow.  Lord, I got so mad.  The memories of those moments are clear as day…  I see the laundry area of the house I grew up in in Alexandria, I see the wooden stairs, I see the linoleum floors, but I don’t remember what made me so mad.  How is that?  I certainly had a lot of anger, but I always knew better than to explode at my parents.

But the conflict in my life is a much bigger deal now.  If I have conflict in my classroom, I make a hostile work environment for myself and my students.  I have to see them too often for that.  Plus, I really do love my job, and I wouldn’t want to HATE going there.  If I have conflict with Cari, as I often do because she’s sassy and I’m surly, I try to control my temper.  Sometimes I succeed, but other times, I fail miserably.  I’ve responded to her telling me “No” with ugliness I’m not proud of.  But I try to apologize if I’ve done that, mostly so she knows that I love her even when I’m not being loving.  If I have conflict in my marriage, I feel like a piece of my life is askew.  I can’t stand to be in conflict with Stu for long.  That means I apologize a lot sooner than I would like to because I know someone has to make the first move, and Stu has the most forgiving wife on the planet.  Stu would probably disagree.  While I’m getting my emotions out, I can be panicked, loud, irrational, even cruel.  He will shut down and refuse to talk to me.  We go to our separate corners, and calm down.  I often extend the olive branch to start up the conversation again, this time more peacefully.  I only mind a little that I’m often the first one to budge.  Winning an argument is a whole lot less important than being on good terms with my best friend.

How do you approach conflict?  Do you blow up?  Do you shut down?  Are you an eye roller?  Do you use the Hate word?

This post is in response to the Daily Post.

You may not know…

I’m a little short on inspiration today, and yesterday for that matter.  I only have seven more days of writing for my Camp NaNoWriMo challenge, but I don’t really feel like writing.  I want to snuggle under the covers and go to bed early.  But one thing about NaNoWriMo, or any writing challenge really, is that on days like today, when the struggle is real, I can count on my pride to be enough motivation to get me through.

So I’m going to share some things you, my readers, might not know about me.

  1. I’m afraid of walking on broken glass.  You can thank my dad who let me watch Die Hard a little bit too young.  I haven’t been able to stop worrying about pulling shards of glass out of my feet like John McClane.  Ouch.
  2. I’m blind as a bat.  I started wearing glasses when I was in late elementary school, ensuring middle school would be even that much more awkward.  I almost never wear my glasses now because I see better with my contacts and I’m a little too vain to endure wearing my thick-lensed glasses.
  3. My favorite color is yellow.  Or pink.  But I always wear black.  I’m told I look pretty in blue.
  4. I value time alone.  A friend from church posted a really funny status on Facebook about how she’s likely sleep deprived because she values the quiet of a sleepy house too much to waste it on actual sleep.  I couldn’t agree more.  I value getting lost in a good book, and I am energized by my time alone.  But sometimes I say that I value time alone when I’m not so much seeking peace but pushing others away.  Yeah, not always a good thing.
  5. I’m really sad because one of my favorite foods in the world is movie theater popcorn, but when I went to see The Muppets with Cari, the smell made me a little sick.  Am I growing out of one of my favorite things?
  6.  I took piano lessons when I was in elementary school, but I complained enough that my parents called them off.  I could tell you that my teacher pushed mechanical pencils into my fingers when I played the wrong notes, and that was the reason for my complaints, but I hated practicing.  I’m so sad that I didn’t stick with it and I would love to learn.  I have a feeling that I’ll be a 50 year old taking lessons one day, playing scales and arpeggios or preparing some piece for a recital with a bunch of 9 year olds.  Do 50 year olds taking piano lessons for the first time even play in recitals?
  7. When I was in high school and college I worked as a lifeguard during summers for extra money.  In Virginia, it is more expensive to NOT have a lifeguard and pay for the extra insurance than it is to pay a teenager $8/hour, plus they keep the place clean.  I had to certify to be a lifeguard twice, which meant I had to take a swimming endurance test that involved holding a brick over my head while I tread water for three minutes.  I thought I was a strong swimmer, but that test wore me out.  I made it and worked as a guard through college, taking days off after I had graduated to interview for my first REAL job.  I was super tan.
  8. I dated a boy in college who threw rocks at my window to get my attention.  At the time I thought it was super romantic.  I look back now and realize that he was kind of a creeper.  He had tattoos and a drinking problem.  Not the wisest choice.
  9. I have three tattoos.  I got the first one when I was 18, at college, and didn’t need to ask permission.  But when I came home for summer break and knew I would be wearing a bathing suit all summer (see #7) I decided to tell my mom.  She was driving on Route 66 on our way to Tyson’s Corner Mall (that’s a pretty busy stretch of road).  I started the conversation by saying, “Mom, I have something to tell you.”  We’re lucky she didn’t run off the road for all she thought I was going to say.  She took it in stride, though, and made me tell my dad.
  10. My mom took me on a trip to Thailand after I graduated from college.  I realized how sheltered I had been and how much bigger the world was than I had ever imagined.
  11. Jane Austen is my favorite, but she hasn’t always been.  When I was in college, I studied abroad in Bath, England, with a program called Advanced Studies in England.  A handful of students from my college, Mary Washington, enrolled to take a film studies class on Stanley Kubrick and Alfred Hitchcock.  We also had to take one of two core classes, and I took Jane Austen in Bath.  Persuasion, set partially in Bath, was required reading.  The experience was phenomenal.  We traveled to Cornwall, to Wales, to Stonehenge, and I fell in love with Austen and England.
  12. I hate folding clothes.  Ugh.  If you came to my house, you would find an pile of laundry on the floor in the living room that no one particularly cares to deal with.  I would rather be reading.  Don’t judge.
  13. I got everything I ever wanted when I started teaching AP English in 2009.  I realized then that I needed to make some new goals for myself because I’m not sure that I’m one of those people who can teach in the same place for 30 years of a career.  There’s a stability and security in that, but I want more.
  14. Stu and I sometimes communicate better by text, especially when we’re fighting.  I guess it helps us to get our frustrations out without saying something that will really hurt.
  15. When we are too busy, we calendar date nights and family time.  We share a Google calendar so we can see the stuff we have on deck.

Whoa.  That was a much easier 1,045 words than I expected.  Thanks for reading, everyone!