A Gift from Santa
Happy New Year! I hope your holiday season has been filled with joy and laughter. Mine has been fun. I am ready for some relaxation.
I haven’t written a blog in months. The beginning of this school year has meant more subbing than I expected. Mind you, I don’t hate substitute teaching. I have the privilege of doing it at my school, where I taught for many years. The kids know me and I know them. Still, I would rather be working on building my mindfulness based programs and writing a lot more than I have had time for. I just prefer being a teacherpreneur rather than “sub” anything.
In the past, I have done mostly day-to-day subbing. I try to limit it to twelve days a month, usually two or three regular days a week. That is because it is tiring and in part it is not my passion. Also, I am a great teacher, not a baby-sitter, and when I substitute I expect to be treated as a professional experienced educator. Unfortunately, I make babysitter pay for this hard work. I can’t be less than who I am and just be one of those dreadful substitutes who scream at the kids then look at my phone all day. So I grumble about it more than I like.
This year I’ve ended up with a few longer assignments due to illnesses of my teacher friends. In November, I started in a fifth grade room where the teacher is on maternity leave. (She had beautiful twins.) The class had another substitute for about four weeks who quit at the end of that time. When the principal asked if I wanted to cover the room, I thought long and hard about it. Finally, I told her I would do it 4 days a week. I would not submit lesson plans but I would coordinate with the other fifth grade teachers and basically follow their plans. I would not take papers home to grade, getting them done with help during the hours I work. I set the boundaries for both the administrations’ expectations and to remind myself that this potentially all-consuming task is not my purpose in the world.
This class was a hot mess when I arrived. Their original, very pregnant teacher had only been with them about three weeks when she left. The new guy left suddenly without telling the kids he was going. From what I can tell, the students ran the room while he was there. The result was that my teacher instinct went directly into high gear. It is astonishing how years of routine can go to hell in a hand basket for a classroom in a matter of a month.
Some of the students were happy to have me there. They knew me. They know that I have high expectations. They know I’m fair. Mostly, they know they can trust me. Within a week or two, we were hitting stride and rebuilding the structure of the day. When the expectations and the consequences for good and poor behavior were clear, the kids began to settle in again.
There is always one, the leader of the pack, who is unhappy about relinquishing control. This boy and I are still cracking heads, two months later. He thinks he knows all there is to learn. I know this because he has told me numerous times that he will never need what I am teaching the class – basic skills like multiplying decimals or the topics in social studies. His favorite question is, “Why are we learning this?” The word this is always said with a sneer. He also said the only reason he comes to school is to be with his friends, friends who he readily blames when he is caught doing something wrong, which, much to my chagrin, is alarming - both in frequency and seriousness. It has been rough. He doesn’t seem to get that for all intents and purposes, I am their teacher and I am trying to help him.
I have been pondering this crazy dichotomy of being their full-time teacher as a part time job. It has me confused and unsettled. I find my time away from the classroom being filled with ideas on what and how to teach. I am only somewhat resisting the urge to create units to study. I spend more hours than I want to admit planning my upcoming week.
So, I sat and meditated on it. Then it hit me, I am supposed to be there, for a reason I am not sure of yet. I grumbled to my guides “what about my other work?” I heard them laugh at me and whispering that it isn’t all about Lee-Ann. Darn it!
I had resolved to tell the principal that I would cover the room until the teacher returns – or doesn’t, if she chooses to stay home with her sweet babies. Then last Thursday came. I came back from my day “off” (I work on my business that day) to discover the desks in rows instead of pushed into tables. The classroom was trashed with papers strewn everywhere. A long note was left by the substitute’s (that would be me) substitute (she comes every week when I’m not there.) They had been wild. On the advice of my good friend next door, she wrestled control by separating them, sending at least one of them to another room, and basically silencing them. They did okay until the end of the day in the computer lab, where they started all over again.
I was sooooooooooo pissed at them. One of the things they had told her was that they felt like they had no real teacher. Say what????? I let them have it. I also told them that I spent much of my time planning for them, trying to make this year count, and learning what was special about each of them. I told them I went to bed thinking about them and started again in the morning when I woke up. I had to walk out of the room to keep from crying, I was that frustrated.
They had to earn back their Holiday Party the next day. They did it in stages. First they earned back the right to have snacks. Then they were allowed pillows for the floor to watch our movie. Finally, they earned the right to bring in their sleeping bags. (No sharing pillows or sleeping bags was the obvious rule for fifth graders.) They were diligent about getting their work complete. They cleaned like roombas. They WANTED their party. They also knew they had been kooky, nutsy the day before.
Of course, Mr. Instigator didn’t show up on Thursday, leaving his friends to deal with me. He did come back the day of the party. He was mad at me to discover he had to finish his incomplete work and do some cleaning up of the room before the party. He came back five minutes later with a list of other people who hadn’t completed all their work, gleefully throwing them under his bus.
All of this was exhausting and frustrating. I kept grounding myself and them. I took lots of deep breaths, and shut my eyes to count to ten. I wanted to tell them “Too bad, so sad!” about the party. Thankfully, my guides kept pushing me to be kind, to relax, and enjoy the silliness of fifth graders. During the party, I would hear myself start to quiet them down, and then stop when I remembered to let them have fun.
As our movie was finishing, a student came up to me with a red envelope. “Open it, please,” he said with a huge smile. Inside was a Christmas card. It was signed by all the students. Several had written little Merry Christmas messages. Even Mr. Instigator had signed it. It stopped my anger, my frustration, and my hurt. It was such a little bitty thing. A card. Still it made me feel so thrilled. My monkey mind makes fun of how unimportant it is, but my heart says they recognize that I care about them.
That card has a special spot among my other cards. It is the gift Santa gave me this year. What I wanted was clarity, something I always seem to be searching for. This gift wasn’t what I wanted but maybe it was what I needed. I needed to know that the little things I do make a difference to someone. Thank you, Santa and the Universe. This is the gift that warmed my soul.
I’ll be back in January to torture them some more. Meanwhile, I’m savoring not setting my alarm. Now if I could just convince my body clock that I don’t need to wake up before 6 a.m.
I hope you find surprising gifts in unexpected places. May 2019 bring you delight and wonder.
With much love,
Listen to my interview with Dr. Stephanie Maj. There are two separate podcasts. The firsts is how I found my way to mindfulness and Reiki. The second is how mindfulness is helpful to parents. http://famseekingwellness.libsyn.com/website