Beyond Sharpening Pencils

Preparations for the new school year are beginning all across the country. Back to school sales have popped up in stores and this last weekend was one of the biggest shopping weekends of the year. I have already taken advantage of 50 cent marble notebooks and crayon boxes at Walmart. In my classroom I have begun my own preparations for the new school year; desks have been arranged, name tags laminated and cut, and pencils sharpened.

But preparing for a new school year is so much more then cutting lamination and sharpening pencils. Instead it is a preparation of the heart, making room for the twenty-or-so eager souls about to embark with you on the 180 day journey in the sacred space we call the classroom. This last week, I finished up my summer graduate course and was encouraged to consider my “Philosophy of Learning.”  I dug through old discussion posts and uncovered my old philosophy from undergrad and as I began the work of piecing the old with the new what I truly discovered was the foundation for why I do what I do everyday of the school year. I was so excited by how this process prepared my heart and what I discovered was that my beliefs about learning shape the teacher I want to be and the space I want to create for my students this year.

Philosophy of Learning

By nature, learning is a vulnerable process. It means one must expose what one does not know.  It means one must admit that they do not have all the answers. It necessitates risk and failure so that growth and success are possible. Fundamentally, learning also exists in the context of relationships and connection.  These relationships take many forms: teacher to student, student to student, teacher to content, student to content, teacher to self, and student to self.  Because learning is both vulnerable and relational, creating a community of learners founded on mutual trust and respect is imperative for the educational process to be successful. This community empowers students to become participants in their own learning by becoming “meaning seekers,” “problem solvers” and “active creators of knowledge.” (Bas, 2015, p.113) Students take an active role in their own academic learning through goal setting, reflection, developing intrinsic motivation, practicing higher order thinking processes and creativity.  It is in this context that my students will be able to learn, grow, take risks, fail, learn from failure, and succeed.

In The Heart of a Teacher, Parker Palmer (1997) proclaims that, “good teachers share one trait: a strong sense of personal identity [that] infuses their work” (p.2). Creating a sense of self-hood becomes our most important work as teachers because we teach who we are. In the district which I currently work, teachers are called “lead-learners” and this resonates with my view that all members of a school community are both teacher and learner.  While learning content knowledge is important, what is even more important is the development of students’ thinking abilities, metacognition and their own journey towards developing a sense of self-hood and identity. Influential teachers eagerly continue to take the posture of a learner, welcoming their students into this vulnerable, risky and communal process by demonstrating the life-long learning themselves.

References:

Bas, G. (2015). Correlation between teachers’ philosophy of education beliefs and their teaching-learning conceptions . Education and Science, 40(182), 111-126.Retrieved May 14, 2017, from http://eds.a.ebscohost.com/eds/pdfviewer/pdfviewer? vid=6&sid=2f51644a-aa68-4db4-9266-f1be979b3d84%40sessionmgr4008&hid=4208

Palmer, P. J. (1997). The heart of a teacher. Change, 29(6), 1-15.

 

A Little Boy’s Race Track

Since becoming a mom, I have felt emotionally distant from God.  Whether from the sheer exhaustion of that first year of my child’s life or from simply settling into a less emotional faith, I’m not sure.  So this morning as I sat down on the couch with my book, I prayed that God would simply meet me.

As I read through the one page devotional, I felt the sensation of tiny car wheels rolling up and down my legs and I looked down to see my 19-month old deeply concentrating on maneuvering his toy car on its makeshift track. This is one of those \moments that epitomizes motherhood, when even your body is the playground of your little one. And even though I often times weary of a lack of moments alone, simply to take a shower, exercise (or pee for goodness sake), I love when he drives his cars over my legs or arms.

Today as I looked down, I delighted in his concentration but even more I delighted in what it means. It means my child is so comfortable, familiar, and free with me that he doesn’t hesitate to make my arms and legs into a race track. As I looked down with sheer joy, I thought of how God must look at me not as an interruption, but with pure delight.

To my First Class at Broad Street

Just one week ago I said good bye to first class at Broad Street Elementary School. The end of a school year is always a celebration of a years worth of memories, learning and community. It is also grieving that those same littles will no longer enter my classroom door again as my second graders, will no longer sit together in a circle for morning meeting, learn lessons on the carpet, gather around the guided reading table or share in laughs, challenges and moments together. It is both bitter and sweet.

Below is the letter I wrote and shared on my last day with my first class at Broad Street:

My dear Meassick Meadow,

You did it! 180 days of second grade spent learning and growing. Think back with me to our very first day of school. For all of us there was a lot of NEW. We all adapted to something new, whether it was a new school, or new friends, a new building or new routines, a new teacher or new classmates. It was even a brand new school and district for me. Starting something new can be very hard and it was challenging for us at first. The people in our classroom felt like strangers and some of you, like me, were walking completely new hallways. Sometimes it felt uncomfortable to be in a new place or to be with new people.

But we did it! Now, 180 days later when I look around our classroom instead of the unfamiliar I see memories. I see you all studying plants and the solar system. I see you learning to tell time and solve three digit subtraction problems. I see us reading delighting stories around our table, you excitedly sharing your connections and predictions. I see you popping out at me during lunch with the teacher. I see our classroom decorated for holiday parties. I see the environmental center, field day, and field trip to Landis Valley. But most importantly I see friends where strangers once sat and I see each one of your very special personalities light up our room. You are all incredibly precious to me as my first class here in Mechanicsburg. Thank you for helping me and allowing me to learn and grow right alongside all of you.

Your teacher,

Mrs. Meassick

(As a note, our school district underwent some changes in which many students were moved to new building. So while I was new to the building so were many of my students.)

Be Mine.

img_4213I’ve always liked Valentine’s Day. It must have something to do with a simple family tradition started by my parents back when I was a little girl. Each year we would roll out a red gingham table cloth on the floor of our living room and cover it with greasy French fries and Kentucky fried chicken. Our Valentine’s Day indoor picnic. When middle school rolled around, I had friends who hated the it and they would lament that they didn’t have a Valentine date. Still I loved the holiday because of our little tradition.

Today, I cherish it in a new way, decorating my home with little reminders of love and rolling out an indoor picnic blanket for my new little family. Check out the small touches around my home that I’ve used to decorate this Valentine’s Day:

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This year our back porch door is decorated with a wreath I made a few years back from a pool noodle, gray yarn and some felt hearts. Last year I added the LOVE banner to kick it up a notch. In the kitchen, the light streaming through the windows of our cozy breakfast nook illuminates the wax paper hearts I made in college. These may be the reason I got fined by Residence Life for damages to my dorm room at the end of the semester (hot irons, crayon wax and carpet don’t mix) but it was worth it.

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img_4223On the small little table of this space, I am tending a budding new succulent flower, until it finds a more permanent home with Broden’s daycare teacher as her Valentine’s day gift. On either side are two heart shaped candy dishes I always fill with seasonal Sweet-tart hearts (my flavorful pick over the traditional conversation hearts that often taste like a combination of toothpaste and chalk).

This fall, Cody and I made our first big furniture purchase and bought a new kitchen table to replace our temporary tile one. I’m still getting used to the idea of decorating our table seasonally and I’ve enjoyed brainstorming centerpiece ideas. I picked up this white tea pot years ago at a thrift shop and I love filling it with flowers but for the month of February I fill it with some twigs I attached paper hearts to with hot glue. It’s set on one of our leftover wedding centerpieces and draped with some lace (but I’ve ordered a lace table runner from Amazon and I can’t wait for it to get here!)

 

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The mantel is one of my favorite parts of our house to decorate. The letters that spell BE MINE are another item repurposed from our wedding. The backdrop of hearts  the swags in the front are simply made from paper, fishing line (for the backdrop) and twine (for the swags).

Our last little festive area was inspired by a post from a friend. About a week ago she shared about the ways, her and and her husband have avoided baby-proofing by making their home a place where each member of their family can live and thrive without traditional cabinet hooks and drawer locks.  (Read more about it here) I took a cue from her post and made the bottom two shelves of our family room bookshelf a kid-friendly nook for some of Broden’s toys, even using his blocks and some children’s books on love to add to the merriment.img_4211

Winter & Mom Guilt

In my eyes, Broden Andrew Meassick is the cutest thing that has ever walked the planet Earth.  He’ll be curiously exploring his little world one second and then will come over the next to grab me around the neck and say “HEY!” just to get my attention again. He gives his dad a high-five and then a low-five proclaiming “YAY!” and he’ll press the tips of his pointer finger against his father’s saying “Booooop” in the cutest one-year-old boy way. He’s got bright blue eyes, a teetery walk, and tufts of curls at the base of his neck. I simply can’t think of anything cuter.img_4108

This past Tuesday, I was thrilled to receive an email mid-school day with the news of a three-hour early dismissal. Visions of snuggly blankets, warm mugs of tea and giggles with my cutie danced in my head. In the frigid Pennsylvania January, I scooped up my little guy from daycare and drove home. It started off well, with nap time and cuddles.  My vision seemed to be coming true…………

Fast forward a few hours to find a completely different scene. Instead of excited and giddy, I felt anxious, bored (can those really coexist??) and guilty. Why the switch? What happened?

Maybe it was a fierce colliding of dark, cold winter days, mom guilt and my Type A need to keep doing.

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As our snowy afternoon progressed, it looked a little less like cozy blankets and cups of tea and more like laying in the middle of the living room floor, buckets of toys dumped all around me, my toddler crawling all over me as he played, cried, laughed and demanded my attention for the next SEVEN hours.  (I applaud you stay-at-home moms who do this every day!).

On morning drives in the darkness to work, I dream about days like this. “WHAT IS WRONG WITH ME??” I shout in my head. “I LOVE MY KID AND WANT TO BE WITH HIM!”  “BUT I’M NOT LOVING THIS!”  An internal battle ensues. A war of opposing forces. On one hand, my overwhelming need to “be productive,” to write all the lesson plans and get more and more and more ahead because, you know, I complain on the weekend about needing to do work and this is my opportunity to do it….I follow that rabbit trail for awhile.

On the other hand, there is this feisty guy who demands my attention and begins crying or banging on my keyboard as soon as he notices I’m doing something other than paying attention to him.  I hop on social media because at least I can distract myself from the boredom of staring at my toddler and trying to occupy his one-minute attention span with the next toy that sings “The Wheels on the Bus” over and over and over again. Cue the mom guilt! “I SHOULDN’T BE ON SOCIAL MEDIA!  I SHOULD BE PRESENT WITH MY LITTLE CHERUB, playing beside him, ogling over his every moment.”  The harsh voice of criticism circles in my head.  Frustration ensues.  I can’t even leave my house because it’s already dark at 5:00 pm and quite literally -10 degrees. Finally, despair sets in.  I can’t be productive.  I don’t enjoy hours of staring at my kid (cue more mom guilt).  And I don’t even have the ability with this little one stealing my attention, to do what I want to do, or even the energy for it if I did.

[For any of you wondering why moms of littles post a BAZILLION photos of their toddler on Instagram, it is not because we are simply obsessed with them (well that may be part of it) its because, if any other moms are like me, we are fighting in a insane mental battle of mom guilt!]

Today I don’t have all, or even any, of the answers.  But to you moms out there struggling with mom guilt, I see you.  You are not alone in this journey.  I don’t know if I have any of it figured out, but perhaps it has a little something to do with what Paul says in his letter to the Philippians about being content in all circumstances (Phillipians 4:11-13).  It also might just have a little something to do with taking time for myself.   Maybe it has something to do with being okay with boredom, despite the constant pressure for stimulation that society bombards me with.  Or most of all, it could have something to do with not letting the truth that I don’t want to spend endless hours of undivided attention with my little one, this cute boy Broden, define how much I love him.

My word for 2019 is “settle.”  For some, the word might be a turn-off.  The idea of “settling” has the negative connotation of giving up and giving in.  For me, those are not such bad things right now.  In our little family, change has been the norm for the past three years and we are ready to settle.  Settle into daily, mundane rhythms.  Settle into knowing that I am good enough right where I am, that I am not defined by constant working.  Settle into the understanding that just because I have free time I do not have to fill it with more doing.  Settle into boredom at times.  Settle into the fact that the limited love I have for my little boy is just enough.  Settle into the love our Savior has for both of us.

 

First Birthdays & First Steps

Nov. 18, 2018

One year ago, it was my first night as a mama and tonight I sit in your darkened room as you take heavy sugar-coated breaths stuffed full from two delicious first birthday cupcakes. Memories of that night in the hospital cause me to both wish I was back in that moment and give thanks that I am here a year later instead.

During your first days spent coccooned in our postpartum room, time stood still. I remember feeling complete peace in that place, our small family changing from two to three before my eyes with nothing to do but be present to the new little person I had brought into this world. I remember looking out dark hospital windows at lit rooms across the way and felt that I was in a sanctuary. I didn’t move from that hallowed ground for three and a half days as we discovered you, held you in our arms, learned to change, bathe and feed you, becoming parents in a matter of moments. I spent those days and the next six weeks tucked away in the sacredness of your new life and my heart swells with the memories of your tiny beginnings.

I would love to go back and sit for even one moment again with you as a little infant, yet at the same time I am glad to be here, on the night of your first birthday, belly full of cake, house full of friends and family, mind full of memories and heart full to the brim with some of the deepest love I have ever felt.

As I look over the last year, I see the hard moments too. The late nights, struggle to breastfeed, fussy evenings, smashing of a bag of diapers in the driveway, heading back to work earlier than I wanted, complete exhaustion, unpredictable hormones, the shedding of many tears.

However, when I peer into your bright blue eyes, I am overtaken with my immense connection to this little person I have spent the last year discovering.  It’s why I would love to go back and yet would never want to.  In these 365 days, I have begun to discover you and I am overwhelmed by love for who I am finding, the silly and serious, tender and adventurous, strong and determined, joyful and curious little soul. A year of moments and memories, a year of you.

I would never want to go back to a place where I knew you less, because to know you and continue to get to know is one of my life’s greatest gifts. I am so thrilled to be your mama. Happy First Birthday my little Broden Bear!

Nov. 29, 2018

Two weeks have passed since your first birthday and just yesterday you took your first real steps. Your daddy and I have been trying to get you to walk for weeks, propping you up, our hands under your tiny armpits and releasing you to walk a few steps before you finally lunge forward into our arms.  But yesterday was different. This time you turned away from the couch and toddled a few steps all on your own before collapsing into my arms.

Today in your bedroom you did it again and as I watched your arms outstretched as you balanced I could see in your eyes the delight at your new found independence. I could hear it in your claps as I chanted “Yay Broden, yay Broden!”

And then I had one of those mama moments.  As you were walking toward me, all of the moments you will walk away flashed before my eyes. Maybe it’s because I just finished a twelve-hour day of parent teacher conferences and I was brimming with emotion.  But I saw it all clearly:  you walking away into your elementary school, you walking into your dorm room, and all the other moments where you will grow older and walk away from me.  Those precious future memories were all wrapped into the way you looked tonight as you took those first, faltering steps.

Immediately, as I saw how tall you looked and after I cheered you on, I said aloud to you, “I don’t want you to walk, I will miss my little crawling buddy.”  I will miss the way you crawl around our home and barrel forward head down like a rhinosaurus to go as fast as your little limbs will carry you.  But you must walk.  And you must walk away.

I’m sure the rest of momhood will look a lot like these moments of first birthdays and first steps. Cheering you on, yet tenderly clinging to the memory of all that you have been as I get to know you my little bear.

Baby Clothes

Here I sit surrounded by piles of baby clothes that you’ve already outgrown. For only ten months of life you already have enough clothes to fill two tubs ready to be stored in our basement. When I look at the tags of your clothes now, I am reminded of the days where I thought these 12 month onesies would swallow you alive and now they stretch taut over your growing frame. As the seasons change and summer fades into autumn, memories descend into my mind like falling leaves and I’m consumed by the fact that it was this time last year we were in the final stages of preparing for your arrival.

I think one of the things that packing up your baby clothes reiterates the most is that we are rounding the bend of the last of the firsts. There are not many moments of the calendar year that you have yet to experience for the first time. As I fold miniature pjs, I see the outfit you wore just days after your birth for your first Thanksgiving. I stack the onesie you wore to church for the first time with the piles of newborn zip ups that fill my memories of maternity leave with you. I sniff the red striped jumpsuit that you had a blowout in just before the Christmas Eve service at church. I wrap up the arms on the set of PJs you wore on your first Christmas morning and the one that took you late into the night on your first New Year’s Eve. I fold the outfits that I once stuffed into ziplock baggies to send to your first days of daycare and others that I dressed you in on treasured mornings when I had delayed openings at school in those beginning days away from you. I crease the “Cuter than Cupid” outfit and pile it with the collared Easter button down. I see the pajamas that filled our challenging bedtimes and the sleepless nights that I thought would never end. I spy the clothes you wore when your baby fresh skin felt the first warm sun rays of spring and I tuck away your first swim suit.

The weird thing about baby clothes is that you won’t open up this box in the winter the way I cycle through my seasonal wardrobe change. This realization shouts the finality of your infancy and exclaims that you will never be as little as you once were.

While I will miss your teeny tiny-ness, know that I also love the little boy you are becoming. Yesterday, we laughed for fifteen minutes straight as you knocked over the ten month sign that I kept trying to prop up for your monthly picture. You do silly things like squint your eyes when you laugh and I gain a sense of your ever growing personality. Now you daily crawl over to me and pull up on my legs. You say, “ma ma ma ma ma,” over and over again and I know the days are just around the corner when you will start to associate those words with me. Your crawl will soon turn to a walk and you know what, as much as I’m sad to be packing baby clothes I’m loving every minute of having more and more of a relationship with you. I just can’t get enough of you.