4.9.20 Musings of a Teacher in a Pandemic

It’s 11:39 pm on April 9th, 2020. I have been in quarantine for 27 days. We are down to our last 2 rolls of *regular* toilet paper (you’ll see why I say regular in a minute). Yesterday Cody found a bonus roll digging through his camping stuff in the garage and it was like striking gold. We took that shabby, squished and flattened tube and gave it a place of honor in our extra basket behind the seat. Cody’s order of novelty toilet paper also arrived. It’s the only we could find in stock…think tp with soduku and “I hate the Pittsburgh Steelers” on it (which I will NOT use so as not to bring shame to my paternal ancestors residing in the Steel City). Cody insisted we spend the $37 dollars because, “it’s about to be your time of the month and we can not have no tp in the house.” We also can’t find plain old chicken breasts anywhere. I have been hunting it down spear in hand for weeks to no avail.

Today was a heavy day. It rests on my tired bones like molasses, sticky and thick. Even the weather today mirrors my inner landscape, torrential downpours and heavy gusts, interspersed with glimmers of springtime sunshine, chaos and beauty swirling together in random bursts. Around 11 am I learned that PA schools would be closed for the remainder of the school year, just before I was about to jump on a Zoom call with fellow educators to help them learn some technology tricks and tips. Teachers were in tears, videos paused and muted as they processed the news. Adrenaline kept me coursing through the day as I met with more colleagues and tried to push out information about remote learning starting Monday. How to say so much succinctly to parents who didn’t sign up for this gig while juggling work or sudden unemployment.

Now as I lay here exhausted but wide awake, my own tears flow. I think of my students, those school lovers whose disappointment is audible in their cries. My students who process this crisis through their child like lens. Students whose security or sense of stability is in question. I think about chairs that won’t be filled again by those same 22 kiddos and an empty classroom filled with our things just as we left them. A lonely room that misses us and aches for our return. I remember March 13th and rushed goodbyes and uncertain hugs. I think of my own little guy, how we drove familiar roads today near his daycare teacher’s home and he declared “we can’t go to Miss Kasie’s house…Miss Kasie’s house is closed.” Then past the library, “we can’t go to the library.” Even at two, he knows, he senses something amiss. I lay here awake on the knife edge as one day turns to a another and let myself feel this day before it passes…

Bird Cams and Social Distancing

If anything this pandemic and social distancing has given me time to enjoy the simple things. By nature I am pretty easy to please under regular circumstances (my usual birthdays gifts can include children’s books and markers as an indicator) but this time has made enjoying simple things even more crucial. Yesterday, we spent part of our afternoon observing the ants scurrying across our kitchen floor and at the moment I have the Cornell Bird Lab live feeder streaming into our living room.

But even for someone who is naturally predisposed to the simple joys of bird cams and ants, “social distancing” has not been easy. This moment in history is not easy. Yesterday morning my gloomy, meh state gave way to anxiety cleaning all of the sock drawers in my house (though anxiety cleaning is something I do on a regular basis, because slowing down is HARD for me). It also meant extra technology time and a lunch of cookies for my little, just to be granted a bit of extra time to wallow in my bleh feelings.

These feelings also got me thinking about my twenty-two seven and eight year olds that I am missing each day as we are unable to meet in the safe and sacred space of our classroom. It got me thinking about all of the mixed emotions they might be feeling in these uncertain days. I thought about how at times they might be super excited for extra time to play with toys or video games. Or that at other times they might feel sad not to be seeing familiar friends and teachers or going to favorite places. I thought about how they might be feeling excited, worried, thankful, lonely, out of sorts, energized or lazy. Probably our children are feeling all of these things all wrapped into one, just as we are as adults through this unexpected time. In order to help them with these mix of feelings I wrote them the following letter:

To be quite honest, I wrote the letter to my students, yes, but I also wrote it to the little girl within myself, who needed to hear these words yesterday morning and honestly needs to hear these words many mornings in these quarantine days (and quite truly most regular days as well).

I hope these words help a little person (or maybe a big person) in your life today. Or maybe just maybe they help you as well.

Yours,

Sarah

P.S. One of Broden’s daily activities throughout this time is pushing vehicles around his car rug. He calls the traffic lights “stop-it lights” and I’m secretly hoping he calls it that for the REST of his life!

The Gift

Today is the birthday of Esther Joy (Maret) Goetz. Throughout her years she has had many names; daughter, sister, friend, niece, wife, mom, aunt, confidant, anti-TV mother (a hilarious headline in our local newspaper), “Dolly Mama” (on her blog) and one of my best friends. One of my favorite things about my mom is her deep wisdom built through a life of intensely loving others and committing to grow herself. One of the little mantras my mom likes to remind me of often is that aside from my striving and actions I am a gift to others. Today, on her birthday, I want to sing from the rooftops what a gift she is to me.

Mom,

You were my gift when you embraced your rounding belly, swelling with my tiny figure just months into your new marriage. You were the gift because you taught me love.

You were my gift when I would pad into your room in the middle of the night to be consoled during a nightmare. You were the gift because you taught me comfort.

You were my gift when you created enduring memories and traditions, including annual pumpkin picking, tree cutting and stockings. You were the gift because you taught me to make memories.

You were my gift as you helped to find cures for my overactive three year old bladder and my preteen-teen migraines. You were the gift because you taught me what it was like to have someone fight for me.

You were the gift as you shuttled me around from piano to soccer to field hockey, art classes, lacrosse, bassoon (for goodness sake!) because you wanted me to love what I loved. You were the gift because you taught me to be myself.

You were the gift when you let the whole neighborhood into our home after school and on snow days and weekends. You were the gift because you taught me to value people.

You were my gift as you both coached and cheered for me from the sidelines. You were the gift because you taught me to be a part of a team.

You were my gift as you filled our evenings with dinners around the kitchen table; room for good food, “I’m sorrys,” laughter, and stories. You were my gift because you taught me family.

You were my gift as we budgeted my money while also helping to support me through my first car, college and even daycare. You were my gift because you taught me gratitude.

You were my gift as you taught me tools to manage my mental health; counseling, relaxation and chamomile tea. You were my gift because you taught me the beauty of vulnerability.

You were my gift as you hugged me in the kitchen the night before I left for college, both holding me close and letting me spread my wings in the same instant. You were my gift as you taught me the importance of making room for grief.

You were my gift as you planned my “teacher shower,” organized my first classroom, and talked with me everyday for four years on my hour and a half commute. You were my gift because you taught me service.

You were my gift when you welcomed Cody into our family and fiercely loved him as your own. You were my gift because you taught me inclusion.

You were my gift when you consoled me over the phone, crouched down on the floor of my closet confused about my unexpected pregnancy while also celebrating the beauty of the new unfurling life in my womb. You were my gift as you taught me that it’s okay to feel the both/and.

You continue to be my gift each and every time I see Broden excitedly run for his Meemaw. You are my gift because you are his gift.

You are my gift because of the fierceness with which you love. You are deeply devoted to people, growth and hope and I have never met someone else with the capacity to invest in so many so well.

You are my gift because you are my mom, one of my closest friends, and quite simply one of the most incredible people I know.

What do you give to the person who gave you quite literally everything in the gift of life, except to remind you that YOU are the gift.

I love you! Happy birthday!

Thankfulness

Love this reminder from one of the best.

Sarah, Plain and Tall

Every November, I dig out an old, homemade “thankfulness” journal I created in the fall of 2006, the year I transitioned from my cozy middle school in our small town to a large regional high school. Tremendous anxiety overwhelmed me as I dealt with the busyness of classes and playing a high school sport. When November came, I started recording simple things I was grateful for, one every day leading up to Thanksgiving. This simple act did NOT fully rescue me from my anxiety, but it DID provide a glimmer of hope in the darkness.

A few days ago, as I transitioned out some of the spooky Halloween decor in exchange for turkeys, I pulled out my old journal. Cut out of a cereal box, covered in orange paper and decorated with a googly-eyed turkey, it holds 13 years worth of November gratitude. As I opened it, a hand-turkey with…

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Thankfulness

Every November, I dig out an old, homemade “thankfulness” journal I created in the fall of 2006, the year I transitioned from my cozy middle school in our small town to a large regional high school.  Tremendous anxiety overwhelmed me as I dealt with the busyness of classes and playing a high school sport. When November came, I started recording simple things I was grateful for, one every day leading up to Thanksgiving. This simple act did NOT fully rescue me from my anxiety, but it DID provide a glimmer of hope in the darkness.

A few days ago, as I transitioned out some of the spooky Halloween decor in exchange for turkeys, I pulled out my old journal. Cut out of a cereal box, covered in orange paper and decorated with a googly-eyed turkey, it holds 13 years worth of November gratitude. As I opened it, a hand-turkey with a bandaid spilled out (reminiscent of my “broken and beautiful” days), along with a letter of thanksgiving from a little girl I used to babysit who became the flower girl in my wedding.

Recording thankfulness each November guided me through many seasons. The daily practice sent reminders of hope while navigating high school and college, dating my first boyfriend, adjusting to my first teaching job, walking through the first year of marriage and what seemed like endlessly long days as I anticipated the arrival of my first child (10 days late! He turns two next week!).

This is my 14th year recording gratitude and once again I find myself in need of these little sprinkles of hope as I finish a challenging season of graduate school, along with being a teacher, a wife and a mom.

November 1 My cheeks hurting from smiling through our class Halloween Party planned by creative room parents.

November 2 Laughing on long car rides with my mom, as we joke about the massage our husbands are getting from the front seat of the fancy car while we cram in the middle row with a car seat.

November 3 A morning spent at Young’s dairy farm in Ohio, watching Broden sit on a tractor next to the daughter of a life-long family friend.

November 4 Warm socks that keep toes toasty and comfortable all day long.

November 5 An unexpected hour by myself at a coffee shop in Hershey to sip chai and write (this post!).

More to come…

On Thanksgiving morning, while the parade plays in the background, I will whip out my makeshift journal and transfer all of my little thanksgivings from the month that I have kept recorded on my phone to its pages, a tradition of 14 years that I will continue for a lifetime.

 

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.

 

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.)