When You Wonder if You Did Enough

My classroom is quiet.

Today was the last day of the school year, and I’m sorting through papers and materials—attempting to save only what is necessary. But I hold on tight because what if. What if I need it next year? Or the next?

What if I change my mind and teach Frankenstein again? (Good news, juniors…I won’t.) What if I need that one page out of that one workbook from 2005? What if my computer crashes and I loose all my files and I need that hardcopy?

Those aren’t the only what-ifs I’m asking.

I also find myself haunted by the hard questions. The painful and guilt-ridden ones.

You see, the faces of some students haunt the classroom of my heart. Not the scary ghost-story kind. But rather those who are the subjects of my did-I-do-enough questions.

I think of S. The third grader my second year of teaching. The one I didn’t know how to teach. The one from a crazy, broken home who could be sweeter than lemonade one second while he bounced and flitted and yelled and screamed and never listened the next. The one I gave up on because I was out of ideas. I think of S., and I’m filled with shame.

I think of T. The eighth grader who called me a b!#*&. The one so angry at the world he carried violence in his fists. The one expelled because my discipline referral for his spewed word was the very last one he was allowed to get. I didn’t know. And I think…if only I hadn’t written him up. Maybe he wouldn’t be in jail today?

I think of C. The junior girl filled high with entitlement. The one who looked down her nose at me, sighing big with sarcastic eye rolls. The one who showed up for her AP exam and never wrote a single word or bubbled a single letter, knowing her score affected me. I think of C and wonder if I stayed angry with her too often.

It’s not that I think I can save students. Or that I see myself as some sort of high-and-mighty teacher able to fix all the problems of those I teach.

Neither is possible. I know that.

But it doesn’t keep me from wondering if I did enough to help them. Or if my actions hurt them.

Every year I ask the what-ifs…

Was I as kind as I could have been to the kid who never stops talking? Did I handle that discipline situation correctly or was I too nice about it? Was my class too hard? Was it too easy? Did I require their best? All the time? Did I give my best? All the time?

Truth is, I never close the door on a school year feeling like I did all I could.

I think about the lessons I could have put more effort into. The papers I could have spent more time grading. The days I could have been more prepared for their possible questions. The days I could have kept them better engaged.

All the times I could have done more, more, more.

I know I’m not the only teacher who feels this way. And you don’t have to teach to understand the questions of what if and did I do enough?

Reflection is good if it spurs us towards change. But when reflection beats us black and blue, grinding us down under the heavy weight of guilt? We can’t move forward.

And I want to move forward. Every year.

I want S to remind me never to give up. I want T to remind me how deep my students hurt, how much they need my prayers, and how sometimes consequences are out of my control. I want C to remind me that behind every arrogant façade, there is a brokenness needing my compassion, not my anger.

I always want to improve—to be a master learner of my teaching craft.

And how I reflect on the year will determine if I move forward. Do I bury myself under the weight of unmanageable guilt? Or do I take sand paper to the rough edges of the year?

And in the process? I must remember some edges can’t be smoothed over. There are some things out of my control. Some students I’ll never reach. Some failures unpreventable.

I’m learning there will always be more I could do, say, or teach. Nothing will be enough to ensure a perfect year.

Because bottom line? Life isn’t neatly wrapped in red ribbon.

So how I respond to my what-ifs is really a question of whether or not I will allow in grace.

Grace to remember the year is done. Grace to realize I finished well, despite the imperfections. Grace to forgive myself for my mistakes.

Reflect, my dear friends. Reflect and move forward. Refuse guilt and fling wide your arms for Grace.

And the most beautiful stain-glassed Grace for the teacher?

Beginning anew in August.

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I’m Already Proud of You

Oh, my sweet girl. My young, beautiful ballerina.

This week I’ll watch you walk into the studio for hours and hours of rehearsal for your part in next week’s performance of Coppélia. After the final curtain falls, and your muscles are weak and tired, you’ll look for me.

You’ll want to know, Did you see me dance, Momma?

Of course I did.

I love watching you dance. My breath catches, and I don’t trust myself to speak. Salty tears threaten to spill out the corners of my eyes. You will never understand how much I adore witnessing your talents on display.

I love watching you dance.

But lean in close, my sweet girl. Because what I’m about to tell you is one of them most important things you will ever hear from me. Something I want you to stuff into every dark corner of your heart. Something I want you to pull up every moment you feel disappointment  well within–moments when you need light. Something I never, ever want you to forget.

I’m already proud of you.

You could miss a step, a beat, an entrance. You could decide to never dance again.

None of those things matter.

Because I’m already proud of you.

I’m not proud of you because you dance beautifully. I’m proud because in order to do so, you work with incredible perseverance and determination.

I’m not proud of you because you make the honor roll. I’m proud of you because you strive towards excellence.

I’m not proud of you because you’re well liked by friends. I’m proud of you because your kind heart draws others to you.

You see, treasured girl, I’m never proud of you because you display a talent or a gifting in certain areas.

I’m proud of you because of who you choose to be.

When I see you welcome the unloveable, face the hard things, get back up after a fall, extend grace to those unkind, embrace challenges, refuse to give up, respect people of all backgrounds, be blind to the color of one’s skin, stand strong in your convictions? When I see these things?

This is when I’m so proud of you I can’t stand still. My joy wells-up and spills out.

Are you a daughter of character? Do you show resilience when you want to give in? Is your heart one that seeks to please God and not man?

Because you will never please man. Humankind will always want more and more and more from you. There is but one heart to please, daughter. And His is the heart that created you and numbered the silky hairs on your sweet head.

I will disappoint you with my humanness. It’s not if but when. His love will never disappoint.

If you only danced for me. If you only made good grades for me. If you were only kind for me. If you only ever chose to do things to make me proud, then when the road becomes difficult and you fail a test or trip on stage or lash out, you will lose your way.

You won’t know who you are.

Never dance for me, Ella-girl. Dance for your Jesus. And dance because you love to spin across the floor on your toes. Never change or mold yourself to fit some kind of person shaped the way you think I want you to be.

Don’t misunderstand, darling. I love to watch you twirl. Your grades make me smile. My heart warms at the friends you call your own.

But my pride in who you are? You can’t gain something you already have.

So when the curtain falls Sunday. When you curtsey. When you smile into the audience. Hear these words from my heart…

I’m already proud of you.

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Dear Teacher on the Tired Days,

I get it.

I had a student hurt my feelings today. Words that cut deep and wounded because there is always an element of truth perceived by the one being sarcastic.

And I’ve been icing my bruises all afternoon.

The school year is winding down, and I’m tired. I know you’re tired, too. Exhaustion is seeping in. We’re wondering if we’re going to end better than we began, or if our students will be dragging our limp bodies across the finish line.

My seniors may have three weeks left, but they checked out a month ago. Some days I wonder why I even bother to have a lesson. I could just assign a reading passage and the questions to answer from the end for the next fifteen school days.

There are teachers out there who do that…

I understand why.

I spend days and weeks begging and pleading, attempting to try anything that might, just might, get my students to read the books I assign.

I craft lessons and talk about stories and show video clips in every attempt to get my teens to think outside of themselves—to see the world and its nuances. Then I spend lunch wiping the tears of the one bullied and outcast.

I stay up to grade essays and comment on ways to improve their writing. Hours spent away from my family only to wonder if it makes any sort of difference when I see those same essays in the trash.

So by this time of year, I’m ready to call it quits. Every year wondering if I can do it again.

I know you understand. I know you feel the same. I know you have nights you wonder why you chose this profession, this teaching, this pouring out of your life into hearts day after day after day.

But really? You didn’t choose teaching.

It chose you.

For me, college was spent denying the very thought of teaching. It was only a far-in-the-background safety net if the writing thing didn’t work out.

The only job I could get right out of college?

Yep. Teaching.

By Christmas that first year I said never again.

I’ve been teaching thirteen of the last seventeen years, and now there’s no other job I’d enjoy more. (Unless being a travel writer for Condé Nast was an option…Are they hiring? Tahiti sounds like heaven right now.)

It is my calling. It is my purpose.

But here’s the thing about calling. God doesn’t call us to the easy. He invites us to the hard. The get-your-hands-dirty difficult. We are not promised perfect just because we are fulfilling our life’s purpose.

Because that kid with the bitter sarcasm? He or she may still need your smile that you might not want to give.

And your class after lunch with 20 big teenage boys and only five girls, all hyped-up with sugar, dyes, and processed foods and IEPs and 504s? They need to know they’re worth the effort even when they themselves show none.

And those children from broken homes with parents who shatter each other with words or fists? They need a quiet heart to stand beside them, even though you know politicians only see their test scores and not their homes.

And those students with apathy so thick you fear they will never feel anything? For anyone? They need to see that transparency breathes a beautiful life. They need to see it in you, even when the see-through heart leaves you an easy target.

Teaching was never about us. If this profession has called your name, you’re only ever in it for the students.

That’s why it hurts so much when they act like they don’t care or when the disrespect slaps us hard across the face, and the sting burns for days.

I know you’re tired. You’re battle weary with wounds seeping and scarring. But they still need you.

They need to see your fight.

Don’t give up, my friend. You can’t. I can’t. The stakes are too high. This calling, this profession, this teaching—it changes the future.

Our students are worth starting new tomorrow. They are worth giving it all we have one more day again and again and again.

Because there are students listening. There are students learning. There are students caring. We must refuse to allow the loud voices of a few to drown out the soft voices of teachable spirits.

Let’s fight together, friends. Let’s end this year better than we began. Let’s cheer each other on tomorrow and the next day and the next until we hear that final bell ring.

This is our calling. These are our students.

They deserve our fight.

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Whispers and the Still, Small Voice

I know I’ve been quiet lately—here in this space.

There’s no singular reason, but rather it’s been the spinning plates or the different hats or whatever metaphor you want to give to the busy-ness of a teacher-mom running fast.

While a full life is good, and I wouldn’t want it any other way, it sometimes sucks the creativity right out of me. Despite my silence here, I’ve been thinking about how God and I communicate.

It’s not always a neatly-tied-in-a-ribbon package of greatness.

There’s this quote that floats around. I’m not really a fan.

Something about the teacher being silent during the test, and how that’s like God when we’re tested with the struggles of life.

I guess, as a teacher, the reason the statement feels a bit like sand in my shoe, is because I’m not always quiet when my students are testing. Especially when a student asks for help. While I may not give them the answer, I don’t ignore them. I’m not silent. Instead, I work to guide them, whispering to them at their desk.

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about how I talk to God. How He speaks to me. All of those things.

A few months ago I lost my voice which is not the best scenario for a teacher of juniors and seniors. Throughout the day I could barely croak out a whisper, but my students were incredible. After they stopped laughing at me (because really, who wouldn’t?), they all became quiet.

They were intent on listening. Hearing my whispered voice.

Now. Their quietness wasn’t what I found strange. I expected it because teaching 101 tells you the better response from a classroom occurs when you lower your voice, not raise it.

What was strange to me was that they whispered back.

Time and time again my students responded in small, quiet voices and not because they were trying to be funny. Except for a few, their natural response to my hushed words was a whisper.

They whispered back.

This is where I have my communication with God all wrong.

I’m not proud of it, but I’m a tantrum thrower. My first reaction to anything straying from The Plan is anger and frustration and finger pointing and fist shaking toward Heaven. I pitch a fit, fussing at my Creator.

I don’t react well to any test or struggle. I don’t guess many do.

I don’t ask God questions in whispered words so I can hear His still small voice. Instead, I’m stomping my feet, yelling about the unfair problem on page three.

I allow panic and fear to take over when I’m facing the struggles of this life. I allow anger to bubble up when I don’t understand why bad things happen. I allow frustration to drown out any chance of hearing my Teacher’s voice.

But I don’t want to stay this way.

Here is what I want to learn—I want to learn to whisper my heart to my Daddy-God. I want to learn how to not shake my fist but to feel the quake in my soul that comes with Holy Communion.

I want a heart that quietly approaches the throne of God with my questions and struggles and tests instead of storming the gates of Heaven which will leave me battle weary and bruised.

God’s voice can be loud and clear. But most frequent in my life, it is still and small. It breathes a gentle wind into my soul.

Is God quiet during our tests? Maybe. Sometimes.

And is it oaky to come to Him with our questions and our anguished hearts? Yes.

But more often? I think I just can’t hear Him because I’m too busy screaming my questions instead of whispering them.

I’m drowning out the voice of God with my loud words.

I learn to learn to whisper back.

Whispered prayers prepare our hearts for His still, small voice.

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Notes to Self as I Turn Forty

I turned 40 yesterday. I’ll be honest. I’m not sure how I feel about this giant leap into middle age. But I know how I’d like to feel.

I’d like to be great with aging. I’d like to believe it only gets better. I’d like to embrace each wrinkle and ache and pain with wisdom.

I’d like to feel free from wondering what people think.

Sharing a bit of my musings on forty with Orlando Moms Blog today. I’d love for you to click here and head on over…

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Because the Village Still Matters

We sat across from one another sipping our coffee. She was traveling back to her college campus and had asked if we could meet. I jumped at the chance to hear about how her life was going. We talked for hours. I smiled at the adult she’s becoming.

It’s the best part of my job—these deep and true conversations with students who’ve left my classroom but still desire to connect, to seek advice, to fill-me-in on their lives.

I left that afternoon with a heart overflowing. I was grateful. Grateful her momma, my dear friend, allows me to be a part of her daughter’s collective village. Grateful my friend had no expectations that I share the conversation I had with her girl. Grateful I have so much to learn from my friend…

To continue reading, please join me this afternoon as I share why the village still matters with Orlando Moms Blog.

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Because Sunday Always Comes

Today, Love was crucified.

Today, Hope was buried.

Today, Light was shut in a tomb.

Grandma always said the sun hides its face behind a darkened cloud at some point on Good Friday afternoon. As if nature still remembers the blood spilt and poured—the blood of the innocent.

The earth considers, and still it shudders.

On this day I always imagine the disciples, the followers, the Mother of Jesus. How hopeless they must have felt.

I imagine they expected a miracle, maybe? They watched a tortured, beaten, bloody Jesus in agony. Surely the Christ would call forth the angels? He walked on water, wouldn’t He save himself?

Surely.

But then Jesus takes his last shuddered breath. They watch as his body is lowered. A tomb is found. His lifeless form is sealed behind a giant stone and giant guards.

Hope is lost. Not even a crumb left to feed the desperate soul.

It is finished.

They didn’t understand God’s plan. They didn’t realize the greatest miracle was just ahead. They didn’t know Sunday was coming.

Good Friday was nothing good 2,000 years ago to the followers of our Lord. Good Friday was the definition of a hopeless world. In their eyes, death had won—to evil the spoils of victory.

How darkness must have clouded their hearts. This is not what they had signed up for. Doubt and sadness and confusion. They had just walked with Jesus yesterday.

Yesterday.

And now He’s dead.

Theirs was a crucifixion that had yet to taste the sweet relief of Resurrection.

But we know. We know Sunday’s coming.

When I try to match my hopeless moments to those who witnessed Christ’s death, I realize I don’t know hopeless as they did. I don’t know hopeless because I live in a world of the Sunday Resurrection.

I am never without Hope.

Hopelessness is a world where the Light never cracked open the tomb. It’s a world where Hope stayed buried. It’s a world where Love never rose again.

But I live in a world of the Sunday Resurrection.

You do too.

Today may seem dark. It may seem as if evil has crept in and pressed down hard. Life may feel as if all is lost. Your dreams and goals have shattered, and you’re walking through the broken glass.

But Hope is not gone, my sweet friend.

No.

Because Sunday’s coming.

Sunday always comes.

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Slipping and Sliding and Finding a Rhythm

Sometimes I go slipping and sliding over the rhythm of a day, a week—never finding a cadence, a beat.

Recently my Court Jester has been all about the basketball. He carries it through the house. Bounce. Bounce. Bouncing. The muffled puff, puff, puff as it pounds carpet. The ting, ting, ting as it taps tile.

There’s a rhythm.

And there are days I wonder if I’ll find mine.

Off kilter. Running willy nilly through the hurried days of here and there and everywhere with this kid now and that kid later. No space between the bouncing left to breathe.

Bouncebouncebouncebounce. Puffpuffpuffpuff. Tingtingtingting.

But maybe that’s a rhythm too?

I don’t know that life truly has a singular tempo because for almost forty years, things are ever changing. Instead? Maybe life dances along a symphony of rhythms and notes. A symphony no one’s ever played before where keeping time can be a guessing game. We’re sight reading sheet music before a panel of judges, skipping notes and missing beats.

I hear all these ideas on how people should have balance and rhythm, and I’m sitting here wondering all the time if the “people who should” actually includes me?

Because what if my life of bounce. bounce. bouncing one day becomes bouncebouncebouncebounce the next?

And what if that’s beautiful too?

Is life really supposed to be unhurried and balanced? Slow is different from rest and worship—life-giving necessities. Without doubt there’s a time for the slowing to meander. There is the life that is too busy. But lately I’ve wondered if I yearn for a slow that’s never meant to be.

Because when I slow, when I find myself slipping through more than a few days of nothingness, I can quickly spiral into the dark. Depression always lurks, waiting in the shadows.

If I’m honest with myself, I thrive when my life’s tempo is quick and fast paced.

So my question becomes—What if I learned to dance with the vast and various rhythms of life instead of attempting to control them?

I’m beginning to see life is about doing the things in front of you well—one action at a time. Walking through the slow bounces of the ball. Running when it speeds up. Knowing when to stop ting.ting.tinging the ball on the tile. Giving yourself permission to acknowledge that the beat is ever-changing.

Rhythm would be boring if it played the same beats always and continuous without ever stopping. I think that would be even harder to bear.

My Jesus promises a full, abundant life.

He doesn’t promise slow. He doesn’t promise same. He doesn’t promise easy.

But a full and abundant life of beautiful, varied tempos and symphonies of music and bouncing basketballs?

Those are rhythms I don’t mind slipping and sliding along with.

And there it is.

Life is playing my song.

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Will the Real Valentine’s Day Please Rise?

Valentine’s Day.

I have a love-hate relationship with the day. I know I’m not the only one.

It began in middle and high school when I would watch girls parade through the halls with their flowers and teddy bears and chocolate and balloons. I was a senior before I had a real valentine.

My sweet Daddy always sent flowers to the school so I wouldn’t be empty-handed. Bless his heart. I’m smiling now at the tenderhearted gesture. I’m a blessed girl to have a daddy like him.

Yet, every year as the Valentine’s floated through campus, I felt disappointment well up. I felt left out. I should have realized Daddy’s roses were sweeter than the gift of a teenage boyfriend. But I didn’t.

The inner-Valentine turmoil continued into college.

There was the year “I was but I wasn’t” dating a guy. We were just friends. We had mutually decided not to celebrate the day together. Yet I secretly hoped…

I was left disappointed.

Sharing my Valentine’s Day heart with the mommas of Central Florida today. Please continue reading over at Orlando Moms Blog.

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To the Momma Rolling Her Eyes at My Students,

I know watching 40 teenagers walk into a fast food restaurant must have been intimidating. They were loud. They were large. There were so many of them.

I know our line stretched through the aisles. I know you weren’t expecting us.

I know how you were probably clutching to the edge of sanity with your newborn and two toddlers in tow. And how meeting your friend sitting next to you with her children was your moment to breathe today.

I’ve been there. I get it.

But when you rolled your eyes at my teenage students? When you mouthed angry words into your cell phone about a bus full of teens interrupting your lunch? When your body language huffed and puffed?

My hinges loosened and the glue sticking my emotions together just about lost its grip.

From my place in the back of the line, I silently dared you to say just one mean word to my students. Just one. Because I would have asked you some questions.

Questions that might have gone something like this…

Have my students touched your children? Have they yelled obscenities across the restaurant? Did they run through the aisles shoving people out of the way? Were they disrespectful to you? Did their eyes roll into the back of their heads when they saw your adorable children happily eating their nuggets?

I watched. I watched my girls ooo and ahhh over your babes. I watched my large-taking-up-lots-of-space boys attempt to make themselves small to avoid bumping your table. I watched their uncertainty at the crowded restaurant.

You did nothing to help their insecurities. (Teens are full of those…)

They were a bunch of high schoolers trying to each lunch.

Just like you.

Yet you instantly assumed my students were hellions bent on destroying your playdate. They weren’t. I promise.

Can you remember sixteen? Because I sure can. It was torturous. I felt lost, unsure of what identity even meant, much less owning my own.

Students today? Oh, how their lives face a sea of issues that didn’t even exist when we were their age. For teenagers right now? It. Is. Hard. Like the kind of hard we can’t define or put shape to.

I feel like you need to know some things about my students.

Did you know one of those big-tall boys played with my five-year-old Caleb for hours at a football game this fall? And that was before he knew the kid was mine. My student simply saw a lonely little boy tossing a football in the air when he began to play catch with Caleb.

Did you know the bus of students had just cheered on our school’s cheerleaders at a competition? Did you know their hearts were broken when our girls lost?

You didn’t get to see how those same students cheered for other teams who had no one at the competition to support them, did you? You didn’t get to see that.

Did you get a chance to see how patiently they waited for their lunch? Or did you notice not a single student was disrespectful to the staff? And that these scary teenagers did everything the other chaperone and I asked them to do? (Without a single eye-roll, I might add.)

Did you know those babies at your table will be teenagers before you can even blink? How do you want the world to see them?

I know I offer my observations from a biased perspective.

But here’s the thing. I see these students every day. I know their rough edges. I know their flaws. They aren’t perfect. I know that. Neither am I.

I’ve cried with the teens who’ve lost parents. I’ve held the shaking shoulders of students facing the wound of a broken friendship. I’ve watched the blank eyes of children walking through their parents’ divorce.

I also know their hearts. And given the chance—teens can show you souls deep and wide. I see how they want to make a difference in this world. I see their dreams.

They hold your future.

So, Momma Who Rolled Her Eyes, I’m just sad. Disheartened because you didn’t take even a split second to see.

To see the humans in front of you.

They’re more desperate for your approval than you realize.

Than they realize.

It only takes them one hot second to read your judgment. Because teens? They see right through a façade. Right straight through.

So yes. They saw you roll your eyes. They may have played it off, like no big deal—just another adult in their world that doesn’t take the time.

But even though they don’t know you. You still hurt my students.

And that’s not okay.

Do you know what I hope? I hope the next time you see a teen, or even a group of teens, I hope you smile. I hope you make eye-contact. I hope you say hi.

No. They may not say hi back. They may be too busy being surprised.

But you’re the adult. You’re the one needing to set the example.

How else will they learn?

Sincerely,
Momma Bear Teacher

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If you enjoyed this blog, you may also like reading: Because Teens Are Incredible Humans, Lessons My Students Teach, I Need You to Fight For My Students, and A Letter to My Students.

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