"It's as if a great bird lives inside the stone of our days and since no sculptor can free it, it has to wait for the elements to wear us down, till it is free to fly." Mark Nepo

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Vulture Encounter

The honeymoon ended on Thursday. Right on schedule. Except it was one of many things I'd forgotten about, and caught me completely off-guard. So instead of feeling like a normal part of the process of beginning a school year, the day felt like a confirmation of all my fears. Fears I'd kept at bay during the happy sunny beginning as I fell in love with my class.

I went home Thursday night shaken, my limbs leaden, my heart protesting. Sad that the new self I'd brought to the classroom seemed to last only last six days. Wondering how I was going to get through the next 174.

Then, as I have so many times in the last weeks, I decided to take fear on.

Yes, the kids wouldn't stop talking. Yes, I spoke to them sternly. No, nothing I did seemed to work.

However, I have good systems in place. I wasn't using them because I didn't want to seem mean or too strict. Too many chances, too many warnings, with the result that we were all frustrated.

Yes, it was a long day for us all—three hours without a break in the afternoon. Yes, it would have been better if I'd taken them outside for a bit. No, I didn't think of that because I was too busy trying to push through.

So the bigger problem was a too long stretch of time without respite. Easily solved.

Yes, I'm behind in just about every way possible. Yes, the workload is unrelenting, two new demands appearing for every one I manage to meet. No, I'm not going to be able to live this way for an entire year.

I brought work home for the weekend, and spent most of yesterday slogging through the piles of tests and standards and unfinished curriculum maps. Walt made forms for me, and self manager badges for the kids. He got groceries. He held me. At the end I could feel my breathing ease and my whole self loosen.

Friday was as good a day as Thursday was not. Returning my focus to having fun and building connections (as opposed to the pressure to catch up, to teach more faster, to do it right), I planned a day of community building. We did math, but we also had our first auction and the kids got to change their seats for the first time. We practiced vocabulary, but it was a game. The silent ball game we always end the day with might have been a little longer than usual. Everyone left for the weekend smiling.

Yesterday morning as I sat by the river while Toby dived for rocks, I watched a vulture sit uncertainly at the top of a tall snag on the other side. While I couldn't see clearly enough to know for sure, he seemed young. Maybe it was the way he kept throwing his wings out for balance. Or the way he edged himself gingerly out on a branch before flapping himself to the next snag over.

I enjoyed his antics for a long time, thinking as I often do with vultures, how misunderstood they are. They symbolize and live on death and decay. Yet they're highly social and curious. On the ground they look like giant pin-headed chickens, but if you don't look too closely at their heads they are incredibly beautiful, especially in flight.

Maybe fear isn't so much different. It definitely peddles death and decay. No one's happy to see it arrive. But examined more closely, confronted and studied, fear's just another bird with a job to do. It's not nearly as powerful as its appearance would lead us to believe. Information is provided. I have the power to choose what to do with it.

I'll go in early again tomorrow. As I sit here writing I remember I need to do my parent letter first thing, plus there's copying and setting up for the day, and, and, and. And my stomach contracts—fear, sneaky and silent in its approach, does a fly-by. I breathe, enjoy the beauty of its black wings, and allow it to soar out of sight. Today is for playing. Tomorrow is for work (with generous helpings of play). I can handle both.


Rita said...

That is so true--how one day can be so bad and the next so good. Vultures have their place in the world, too. Love the photo. I hope this will be a really good week for you. :)

Katie Gates said...

I like that metaphor: "fear's just another bird with a job to do." I'm sorry you had a rough day last week, but I'm guessing -- as Friday apparently proved -- that the gratifying days will far outweigh the burdensome ones.

#1Nana said...

Your writing took me right back to all the emotions I felt in the classroom. I hope you have more good days than bad...it's such a high when everything is going well and the kids are learning.

Retired English Teacher said...

Remember that. Remember what you said: "Today is for playing. Tomorrow is for work (with generous helpings of play). I can handle both." You will only get through the next 174 days if you do.

I remember those feelings. I am angry that you can't just go in and teach. Those demands that are imposed on you, standards and curriculum maps, designed in unrealistic settings, sucks the life out of the teacher and create such unnecessary stresses to produce, to stay on target and to catch up with unrealistic, preset goals made by others.

You will get your "teacher legs" back yet. It takes time to adjust and to pace yourself. In the meantime, enjoy the rest of today.

Linda Myers said...

You teachers are a gift. Hope the year continues on a smooth, interesting, fun trajectory.

Linda, Wander to the Wayside said...

I'm always amazed at what teachers are paid for the work they do - definitely not enough! My daughter is an elementary school counselor in an area of Chattanooga where a good portion of the kids live in motels, and she has ALREADY come home many nights in tears because the kids are so unruly in the classrooms. The other night stayed until 8pm just to catch up on paperwork. She says the teachers in her school are the hardest working she's ever seen, and they are physically and emotionally drained at the end of the week. I hope they, too, use their days off for rejuvenation and reflection as well as recreation...you all deserve it.

Lavi said...

Ah, you're cheating fear though, warding it off with confidence and hard work. I'm glad that you are turning such a destructive emotion into something positive. I hope you'll have an enjoyable school year.

Desiree said...

Lavi's comment is so succinct and well articulated, I am unable to equal it. For such a young woman she has great depth and is very perceptive and wise. I hope your new week starts and ends well!


Just know that we are out here supporting you and cheering you on. Fear gave you a lovely post. So some good came out of it! The photo too, beautiful.
You are one of a group of people I admire because you teach my grandchildren to read and write and so many millions of other things I cannot name. Never sell yourself short, Deb. You are much loved and needed by society. We just don't show it enough and certainly as someone mentioned monetarily.
I'm here in Ohio cheering you on. Give those kiddies all you've got and keep the rules going. Kids need rules and guidelines.
Bless you for doing what you do. Barb

She Writes said...

Moment by moment. Being held and breathing in between. I am learning this like you.

Journaling Woman said...

School "work" squeezes the life out of you like a ringer washer. Keep in mind, if you make a positive difference to the life of just one child your entire career, you have made a difference in the world. But of course, I know there have been many.

PS We have buzzards here mostly and they are one of my favorite birds. Totally misunderstood.

Elisabeth Hirsch said...

Such a wonderful analogy about fear--I'll never forget it.
Your writing is beautiful :0)

Sandi said...

Oh Deb, I was so with you on this one! I'm glad you know to give yourself space, and be gentle. It's been a couple years, and while a lot of teaching is inborn, there are some things we forget.

Ironically, I've been tougher than usual, and let myself be. No chances! It's working, so far, but someone is going to push and challenge, and it will likely be tomorrow!

I'm so glad you're back in the teaching 5th grade saddle again, selfishly, I know. Forgive me that I'm glad . . . ok??

With love and a big hug!

Wanda said...

Just throw your wings in the air to regain your balance. All will be well.

DJan said...

So very well written, I could feel myself in that classroom with you. I know it will be hard, because nothing worth doing is easy. Your kids are so fortunate to have you!

JennfierL said...

"fear does a fly by" AWESOME!!

Mark Lyons said...

What a powerful post!!! The insights that you draw on to move from one day to the next...realizing the truths behind the perceptions, find strength from experience and a greater understanding of yourself. I'm not surprised that Friday was so much different from Thursday. I worked with good teachers long enough that they know how to make that happen.

The year will pass by, you will reestablish your footing in confidence and security...and we shall soon be reading a blog that shares your reflections after a full year back in the classroom.

I love you

Jenny Woolf said...

With an attitude like that I know you'll conquer the fears and problems.

Dee Ready said...

These comments, Deb, and the praise showered on you by those who follow your blog say much better than I ever could what a blessing a gifted teacher is to children, community, and world.

I hope that as you bear the burden of all the silly bureaucracy and testing that is now required in schools, you will be able to sort the chaff from the wheat and find ways to assess the children's progress without having to grade a phethora of papers. Maybe through games and having the children do some teaching of their peers and through simply learning together how to build a community of seekers and learners.

As you show your compassionate and humorous and sincere and yes, sometimes the necessary strict side of yourself, the children--I'd bet my bottom dollar--will merge into a community that melds into Oneness.

Oh, Deb, I wish you joy.

LauraX said...

"But examined more closely, confronted and studied, fear's just another bird with a job to do." indeed my friend, indeed.

Stacy Crawford said...

I understand this so completely. It's hard to get people to understand the dance a teacher has to do. The oodles of paperwork and demands of perfection and DATA, DATA, DATA.

One thing that pulls me through when I'm at this point is "brain breaks." Turn to your neighbor and tell them two things you just learned, stand up and tell (whom ever you choose) about...

When I "control" the talking it makes everyone happy. Not sure you wanted advise, but their's my two cents that you can take or leave.

As you well know, everything gets done, eventually. It's okay to relax and most important, it's important the kids get to know and trust you, then the true learning comes!

colbymarshall said...

Fear is a good thing to me in a lot of ways, because without it, so many things would be very different.

Barb said...

Your resolve is amazing, Deb. Keep scheduling time for yourself - you need the respite.

kario said...

Oh, God did I need this today! I almost always read your posts right when they come out and I don't know why it's taken me all week to get to this one, except that I do. I needed this today.

"I won't be able to do this for an entire year." That is absolutely where I am right now and the knowledge that you can step back and take that on and acknowledge it and work through, around, against, in spite of it gives me strength. I've been sitting here letting it slowly undo me, lace by lace. You have inspired me to relax in to it and ask for help.

Thank you.

BECKY said...

Deb, what a beautiful post. I'm always touched when someone shares so much of themselves. It proves once again how we are all connected. We can relate, even if we don't share the same careers. I needed to read this tonight, too. Thank you!

Pam said...

Hang in there Deb. Can relate to it all. It's a strategy isn't it, to be one step ahead. The special school where I work is a more gentle environment and gives me a bit of breathing space for when I plunge into mainstream high school teaching work, which is really full-on as you can imagine. I alternate between the two.
From teacher to teacher, I wish you every success and may you be blessed with boundless energy when you need it most!xxx

Amber said...

"fear's just another bird with a job to do." --

love. All of it. And I do believe you can and will find your way.


Midlife Jobhunter said...

'fear, sneaky and silent in its approach, does a fly-by. I breathe, enjoy the beauty of its black wings, and allow it to soar out of sight.'

How often fear slinks into our lives, causing doubt, unhappiness. Breathing - I'll remember that. Especially when I'm not.

Loved the post.

Kathryn Grace said...

Teachers, good teachers who care so much about their kids, have always been heroes to me. You work for lousy pay; put in long, long hours; and all too often, spend too much of your own money on supplies for the classroom, sometimes even a coat or shoes for a neglected or impoverished child.

I give gratitude for the intelligent, caring, dedicated teachers my children enjoyed. I pray no one ever has to have the bad apples they got here and there along the way.

And I wish to goodness some caring parent, with time and the brains to know how to be of use, and who shows up on time, would offer to assist you for the entire year.