Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Two Years

Today marks two years of being back in the States. I had planned this long, long, long, introspective post about everything I'd learned and blah, blah, blah, but I'm not going to do that. Mostly, today is just a day like any other - well, it's my last day before Christmas Break (thank goodness!).

When I was planning to return to the States, I had several big goals for what I needed and wanted in my life when I moved back here. My mission Team leader in Senegal was really helpful in helping me process as I mentally and spiritually prepared to make the change (thanks, Tad!) - I think he asked me several times when we would meet about what my goals would be and it was helpful to have a safe place to process what was happening. (Good grief - me and my processing. It never ends.)

My main goals were these (in no particular order, I suppose):

1. Find a Job.
2. Find a place to live.
3. Find a car.
4. Find a church.
5. Get a pet.

Five goals. I'm happy to say that God has provided me with four out of the five. When I look back over the past two years, though they have been a struggle, I'm amazed at God's providence. I'm always so foolishly impressed by how God has taken care of me. Like He hasn't taken care of me in the past? But, if we stopped being amazed by God's work in our lives, that wouldn't be good, either.

1. Find a Job:
When I landed on American soil on that cold December 2012 morning, I didn't know if I wanted to be a teacher anymore. I was burned out, and I really didn't know. I knew I loved my time in the classroom - I knew I was a teacher to the core (I've never wanted to be anything else, other than a teacher. Well, a world famous Broadway star would be great, but mostly I get my dramatic kicks in the classroom), but I wasn't sure about the all-consuming aspect of teaching. It takes up every part of your mind, body, and soul. I'm sure there are other jobs like that out there, but I've only experienced it in a teaching job. So, I looked for non-teaching jobs, and did not find them. Apparently you need five to ten years of experience to become an administrative assistant making $8.00 an hour. As I looked for non-teaching jobs, however, my heart yearned for the classroom. Stupid heart. So, I started looking for teaching positions, I switched my certification over to Maryland, and voila - I heard of a job opening at a Christian school. I applied, interviewed, and was hired all within the space of a week.

While my experience at that school was less than pleasant, as a whole, God still provided for me. It paid relatively well (anything pays better than DA!), I learned  a lot - about what type of teacher I am not, mostly. It was one of the most challenging experiences in my twenty-nine years; I felt like a fish out of water eighty-percent of the time. Despite that, I made some great friendships and I can say, honestly, I wouldn't take back the year, if I was given the chance.

God provided another job for me in a rather wonderful, last-minute way. And, I think it's right for me. It's so different from DA. It's a different grade level, different kind of community, and certainly, it's public school and not private or Christian, but for now, I'm content there. It's tough, and I have so much to learn, and I'm being stretched in a lot of directions as I grow as a teacher, but it's good work. I know that God is teaching me about loving this country, this city, this community - about being present where I am, and being His hands and feet to the people around me, not yearning to be somewhere exotic and overseas (because let's be honest: Dundalk is the opposite of exotic...).

2. Find a place to live.
My parents bought a house. And I live in it. It's perfect for me - I get to live alone (yes! I am an introvert; get over it!) and I like that. It's small. The rent is incredible (thanks, Dad!) and, it's only eleven miles from my school - which is just a happy happenstance, because I obviously didn't know I'd be working at my current school when my parentals purchased this house two years ago.

3. Find a car.
My little Craigslist Corolla is still going strong. I don't really have much more to say about that (shocking...) - it's exactly what I need at the moment, and hopefully it will be exactly what I need for a few more years.

4. Find a Church.
It took a year and half, but I did finally, finally find a church. And, I love it. It's been exactly what I need - small, multi-generational, solid teaching/preaching, authentic emphasis on community that is practiced and not just something that sounds nice in a motto. I fit there. I can't even begin to explain what a relief it is to feel like I fit at a church. That sounds terrible, but I have never really had a church of my own - where I am not missionaries Jim and Jennifer's daughter. I'm me at DaySpring - they don't know my parents. I'm just...me. No one changed my diapers twenty-eight years ago. No one knew me in my awkward middle school years. I'm just me. (Though...the jury may still be out if I ever got out of the awkward middle school years....)

5. Find a pet.
This is the only goal I haven't accomplished. Mostly because I can't get a dog - and I'm not sure about how I feel about getting a cat. Because if I get one cat, I might have to get two, to keep the other cat company. And if I have two cats, and I'm single, and I live alone, I'm sort of on  my way to becoming A Cat Lady. Also, I hate cleaning litter boxes. Also, my parents took Lola to Mali with them, and I don't know if I can give my heart to another furry creature again, because Lola stole my heart. Stupid heart.

So, that's my (relatively) brief retrospective on my two years in the States. God has been...so Good. I know that He is good, but how precious is it to look back and be able to see God's hand working in  my life, behind, and in front of, the scenes. I don't write these sorts of blog posts for you, my friends. I write them for me, because inevitably, in six months - three months - two weeks - a day! I'll be whining about something, and this post - this is my standing stone, this is my testament:

God IS good. All the time.

And all the time, God is good.

(And the best? And the best?..The best is yet to come.)

Friday, December 19, 2014

Musings on a Friday, 12.19.2014

It's Friday morning - not quite 6:00 AM. I need to finish getting ready for school, but it's Friday morning, not quite 6:00 AM, and I am antsy, and I don't really want to go to school. I want to be leaving on a Jet Plane with my sister, flying off to Africa and sunshine and the beach and my parents and my other sister and my friends and my Home.

But I'm here, and that's okay. I think supposed to be here, but that doesn't make me want to be there any less, at the moment. Fortunately, I do get to go somewhere for Christmas break - I'll be headed to fair St. Louis, MO for the holidays. It'll be good to get away for a bit - hopefully this week will help momentarily quell the every broiling wanderlust in my soul (2014 might be the first year I haven't gotten a stamp in my passport in...more than a decade?).

We still have two - TWO - more full days of school next week. I don't really understand The Powers That Be who decided that keeping kids (and teachers) in school until the day before Christmas Eve is a good idea, but oh well - grin and bear it, I guess - and hand out lunch detentions like candy.

Seriously - the kids' behaviors are so terrible at the moment. They're just all off, and sick of each other, and sick of us, and sick of school. I used to be a little hesitant handing out those lunch detentions. Now I just write the detention pass and move on with class.

It's been a rough couple of weeks in the classroom. Just this past week, I've had two kids suspended or put in in-school-suspension mostly because of their behavior in my class (and if you think I feel bad about that, I don't - when I got the news I jumped and kicked my heels in the air and went and high-fived all my co-workers. No joke. No Sarcasm Sign.) As a result, I've had two peaceful, blissful days in my Mod 7/8, when usually it's a bloody, bloody battlefield - but they'll both be back on Monday.

However, there's been a lot of good. I really love my Mod 2 class - they are my best behaved group (I seriously never, ever have to say anything to them, at all). I really enjoy being with them - it reminds me why I love teaching: the kiddos.

This week we've been discussing fairy tales, and I had them do an activity where they had to stand if they thought a particular story/movie/book was a fairy tale. They had to "justify" their answer by connecting it to the elements of fairy tales we've been talking about - for example, good vs. evil (the bad guy being severely defeated in the end), happily-ever-afters, magical elements, etc.

Some of the examples I had were Up!, Toy Story, Iron Man - and, of course, the ubiquitous Frozen.

Of course, every student in the room stood - yes, Frozen is a fairy tale. But, I wanted them to justify why they thought it was a fairy tale.

"Who's the bad guy in Frozen?" I asked.

Several of the kids said Elsa, because of the ice stuff. Others said: "Prince Hans," which, of course, Prince Hans is the bad guy in Frozen.

"Frozen is a little different than some fairy tales," I said, "Because the bad guy isn't a really, really bad magical being. He's mostly just a jerk. Do you think there's any kind of terrible, terrible evil portrayed in Frozen?"

Most of the class thought about it, and said no.

One little boy raised his hand (see! My Mod 2 raises their hands! And waits to be called on! Imagine that!)

"I think there is a terrible evil in Frozen." He said.

"Okay - what is it?"

"The singing." He said.

Happy Friday, friends.

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Make 'em Laugh

This has been a long, long, long, long week. It's been frustrating. It's been tiring. My body has been fighting...something. I couldn't talk for two days. I had a rough meeting or two that made me cry, and I hate crying (don't worry - I didn't cry in the meetings, I just blubbered for twenty-minutes locked in my classroom afterwards). I'm in the November doldrums. I have an observation on Monday that I do NOT feel happy about (connected to my rough meetings). I feel like pouting and feeling sorry for myself. 

So, to cheer myself up, and put a positive spin on things, here are a few stories from this week to add to the powdered sugar incident.

We have been studying Mayan, Incan, and Aztec culture in Reading. The reading curriculum is kind of all over the place, topically. It's making me realize more and  more that I am not a Reading teacher, but solidly Language Arts/English (Poetry! Characterization! Alliteration! Conceits!), but that's okay - it's not a bad thing to get out of your comfort zone, right? Right?

Anyway, the stories we have been reading have been mostly creation myths. This is the first time I've had a hard time teaching my content as a Christian. I mean, I haven't taught creation myths in Christian school, but to me, when I read creation myths from other cultures, I see so many parallels with the Biblical creation story. I mean...the Aztec creation myth has a flippin' flood that wipes out all the of the people on the earth, except for two people, for the love of Pete! (By the way, I say "For the Love of Pete" a lot, in class, and my students ask if Pete is my boyfriend.) If I was teaching in a Christian school, I would totally be all over the connections to the Biblical story, and talking about why so many cultures have similiar myths that parallel the Bible's. I mean, one of the questions the curriculum wants me to ask is: Why do you think every culture has a creation myth? What answer are they looking for? How do you answer that question if you are not a Christian? I mean, I know what answer they are looking for, but it was hard to lead a discussion about creation myths that was at odds with my own personal worldview. 

But the funny thing is that my students have no compunctions over voicing their worldviews. Out loud. Without raising their hand. As we were reading the Aztec creation myth, a particularly gory tale appropriate to the Aztecs love of blood and live human heart sacrifices, we got to the part where it said that Quetacozaol, one of the Aztec gods, wiped out all of humanity, but two, for being greedy and selfish, in a flood. Sound familiar? 

"NUH-UH! THAT'S NOT TRUE!" shouted Z, one of my little girls who struggles with speaking out of turn. "THAT WAS JESUS!" she yelled. 

It was really, really hard not to laugh. And say: AMEN!

In my Language Arts class, we've been discussing Childhood and the wonders and delights of childhood and the imagination. One of the warm-ups was to describe their favorite make-believe game. Now, I love telling stories (surprise, surprise), so I decided to share about one of my favorite memories of playing make believe when I was a little girl. I made the mistake of prefacing it by saying it was a funny story. Never, ever tell 'em it's funny. Show! Don't tell!

"I wanted to tell you guys a funny story about when I was a little girl. So, I loved to play make believe, and had a really active - stop talking while I'm talking! - imagination. Seriously - Stop. Talking. Rude! Anyway, when I was around three years old, I had an imaginary husband named Baseball Boy. I don't remember all of the details - I think we had some kids. I would tell my parents all about Baseball Boy. He drove a car just like my dad, a Land Rover, and we lived in this park-ish area near the bridge to Kayes'ndi, the other side of the city we lived in. 

"Often, when we drove past the park to take the bridge, I would remind my parents that I actually lived there, with Baseball Boy, and would frequently ask them if they could drop me off there. One day, when we were driving by the park, I asked them if they could stop and drop me off, because it was time I got home to Baseball Boy. So, my parents agreed, stopped the car, and I got out. We waved goodbye amicably. My mother probably asked me to say hello to Baseball Boy, and then they started to drive away. 

"And I promptly began bawling and started running after the car. In my mind's eye, the car was driving away at hundreds of kilometers an hour, but I know that my dad was only driving about 1 kilometer/an hour. In fact, I'm pretty sure the back door of the car was open - they hadn't even shut it after letting me out, and the car wasn't driving fast enough to even swing it shut. [I still see them driving away - it's like a scene in a movie where everything around the focal point of the shot gets blurry.] 

"Of course, as soon as I started running after it, they stopped, and I jumped in the car, bawling. I was so convinced in my imagination that Baseball Boy was real, and that we lived in that park with our children (wish I could remember their names), but I was also convinced, of course, that my parents wouldn't actually leave me there. But they did. And they laughed at me. I still remember my parents chuckling with each other as I sobbed in my mom's arms all the way home."

[By the way, this is the same mother who had me convinced that if you hung upside down for too long, all your innards would fall out - it happened to her when she was a kid, but it was okay, because she stuffed it all back in side with a wooden spoon. This is the same child who then went to school warning off all her friends from hanging upside down on the playground because all your innards would fall out - Nuh-huh! - Huh-Hunh! It happened to my mom! I still remember how red my mom's face was after I told her that I told all my friends at school. It was the first time I realized what "blushing" meant.]

A few students chuckled, and a few asked some questions, just to clarify the details (What kind of park was it? Were there trees in the park? Can I get a drink? How many kids did you have? Why did your parents drive away? How fast were they going? Can I get a drink? They have cars in Africa? They have bridges in Africa? Can I get a drink?). 

Then, K raised her hand, and I called on her.

"Miss Bowers?" She asked, a puzzled look on her face. She looked genuinely perplexed. She probably had to get a drink.


"What was funny about that story?"

Honestly, stand-up comics, you should come and try out your material out in front of 11-year olds before hitting the comedy clubs. They'll be the most honest critics of your material.

Here's to more "funny" stories, to a three day week, and to Thanksgiving Break just around the corner.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

The Most Important Meal?

We have universal breakfast at my school, which means everyone gets breakfast in the whole school (even the faculty and staff), and we eat breakfast in homeroom. It's a pretty cool program, because a lot of our kids might not get breakfast. However, sometimes kids bring in their own breakfast, which we let them eat at the same time.

This morning, one of my students asked for a spoon. Since we weren't eating something that required a spoon, I asked her what she needed it for. She said: "So I can eat my breakfast!" (Duh.)

She then proceeded to show me a pint-sized zip-lock bag filled with a white powder.

"What. Is. That?" I asked.

"It's my breakfast. It's sugar!" she said merrily. (And no wonder she was merry - she was planning to eat sugar for breakfast!)

I don't know what perplexed me more. That she had so unwittingly brought a bag of white powder into a public middle school. Or that she was eating powdered sugar for breakfast. (Frankly, between you and me, this finally explains a lot of the behavior problems from this girl...)

"Go. Put. That. In. Your. Locker. Now." I said.

"Oh! my! gosh!" quipped the 11-year old bundle of sass and attitude as she stomped off to her locker to put away her "breakfast."

Feel free to laugh. Or cry.

Saturday, October 25, 2014

Fiftieth Post!

This is my fiftieth post on The Loquacious Introvert. It's taken me a while! For someone who has declared herself loquacious, I've been more introverted than I would like on my blog. I've been particularily "chatty" the last  month or so, though. My sister commented (I'm paraphrasing because my phone deleted the specific text message) that you can tell when I'm more content because I'm blogging more. I guess I am not one of those gloom-and-doom writers who thrive on adversity. Sorry, folks, you won't be getting a Faulkner-esque Great American Novel from me (though you might get a P.G. Wodehouse-esque novel one of these days).

For my fiftieth post, I'm going to share five of my favorite posts from over the nearly two years I've kept this blog:

"The 10 Stages of Packing for a Procrastipacker."
In which I put off my packing to move back to the States by writing a post about putting of my packing.

"How to Blog Like an Inspirational Christian Blogger"
In which I make make fun of, well, inspirational Christian bloggers. Bless their bones.

"Musings on a Tuesday (3.19.2013)"
In which I talk about random, unrelated things and mostly just amuse myself.

"The President's Parking Attendant"
In which I meet POTUS and tell local dignitaries where to park their shiny cars.

In which I reflect on a challenging time in my life. And bake bread.

Thanks for reading - here's to fifty more posts!

The Loquacious Introvert

Friday, October 24, 2014

Musings on a Friday, 10.24.2014

A few musings on this Friday afternoon:

1. It was the best of times...it was the worst of times...
Last week I wrote about having a really rough class period, and that I was sure I would experience more bad days to come, but that I was glad that I had had that bad day so that I knew I could make it through.

Sure enough, this was a week full of bad days (just that one class). It. Was. Crazy.

I honestly don't even know how to put it in words - nor am I sure I should put it in words. It was crazier than last week. And, it wasn't just me (thank goodness): everyone was having difficulty with these same, crazy kids. I mean, call-the-police-officer-to-escort-them-out-of-the-building-crazy.

And then, today, miraculously- who knows why? - it was a good day. I didn't have to raise my voice to even get their attention. I didn't have to cajole, threaten, or bring out the mean face and voice. I didn't have to call home, assign any lunch detentions, after-school detentions, or make any office referrals. The kids came in, did their work, asked good questions, and stayed on task.
It was...magical. I felt like I could actually teach and not wrangle.

I'm going to savor it while it lasts.

2. Had had.
As much as I love the English language, sentences that require you to say "had had" are stupid. I try to avoid them, but my brain is just too tired to come up with something else.

3. Affected vs Effected
True confessions...even though I am an English teacher, I still struggle with this. I just really can't ever remember what the correct usage is with affected and effected. I know that effect is typically used as a noun, and affect is typically used as a verb but when it comes to writing if something affected something or was effected by something - I can't get it right in the moment.

So. Embarrassing.

4. Ebola in Kayes
Kayes - circa ?? This picture is old, but Kayes doesn't look that much different. I went looking for a "pretty" picture of Kayes. I don't have one. But, it's still home despite it's ugliness. :)

Like most, I've been following the ebola outbreak pretty closely, and like most, have been spending a lot of time praying for the people in the affected countries. It's felt a bit distantly personal as people I know have been impacted by the outbreak. The missions community is relatively small, and so inevitably, you are going to know, or know of, the people working with this epidemic, or even some of the aid workers/missionaries who have contracted the disease (and fortunately recovered) even if you are not personally connected with the three countries most affected by this disease.

But then, it got a lot more personal yesterday, when the first ebola case was reported in Mali - and in my hometown of Kayes (pronounced "Kie"). I don't want to make it about me, because it's not. But then again, I know people who work in the hospitals in Kayes. My parents were just in Kayes last week. It's my home - even though I'll never live there again - and it's hard and weird and I don't know what to feel. It sounds like the little girl (who died, sadly) came into contact with a lot more people than initially thought. I want the people of Mali, of Kayes to be safe. I want our friends to be safe - their names and faces kept flitting across my mind all day as I thought about each precious person, and I was nervous to check my email in case my parents wrote to tell us that so-and-so might have ebola. The chances of someone that I know personally getting ebola just got a lot higher, even though they are still pretty slim. 

Also, I don't normally feel anxious at all about my parents living in Africa but today I feel a pit in my stomach that is never there (a pit I have only felt once before, during the coup d'etat in 2012). Of course my parents aren't going to contract ebola - but it just got that much more possible that they could. Of course, they could contract about half-a-dozen other diseases at any point in time, too - but of course ebola seems a lot scarier at the moment than malaria, TB, hepatitis, or typhoid.

I guess I am just writing to process - I don't really have a resolution. It's hard to be here: I want to be there, in the thick of things, as strange as that sounds. I think the work I'm doing here is very important, and I get confirmation every day that I'm supposed to be here, for now, doing this job and working with these kids. I don't really have any medical skills other than putting on bandaids (though I have read Where There is No Doctor from cover to cover several times and would be a very handy person to have around if you ever get bit by snake or need to build a clean latrine). But there's this itch of wanting to be there, to do something, to help. The "Martha" in me isn't satisfied with prayer - but Jesus keeps reminding me that prayer is the best thing I can do right now to help the ebola outbreak.

5. Back to Curly
And, to end on a slightly "lighter"  note, to follow up my silly post about straightening my hair, when my Mod 2 class came in on Wednesday (my hair was back to it's normal curliness), one little girl looked at me, her face crestfallen:

"Oh." She said, disappointed. "Your hair's curly again."

I felt a little like Jo March in Little Women after Amy declared that she had given up her "one true beauty" after cutting off her long locks of hair.

Until another Friday's (or Tuesday or Thursday) Musings.

Monday, October 20, 2014

"Did you Iron Your Hair??"

Today in the sixth grade there was shift in the time-space-continuum. Our careful, fragile ecosystem was upset...all because I straightened my hair.


"Did you cut your hair?"

"Miss Bowers...you look different."

"Did you dye your hair?"

"You look...beautiful!"

"You look...?"


"I really like your hair straight."

"Your hair is so different."

"What's different about you?"

"Did you...iron your hair?"

"Did you get a hair cut? Something's different?"

"Is it permanent?"

"What happened to your curly hair?"

"Why did you do it?"

You would think they'd never seen someone straighten their hair before. Admittedly, I don't do it often, and it was the first time at this school for this year but people straighten their hair all the time. Even those strange beings called "teachers." Right?
 No matter what age group you teach, no matter what type of school you teach in - no matter what - when you change one thing about your personal appearance, it will be the topic of conversation for the day. It never fails - if I ever straighten my hair, no matter what school I've taught in, it becomes the conversation piece of the day. The comments above are only a fraction of the commentary I got all day long because I came to school with my hair straight (rather than it's usual curly-craziness).

At least I got the straight hair day out of the way. The next is the wearing-my-glasses day. (Let's hope that never comes, though. Glasses. Gross. Shudder.*)

Or straight? 
(Also, side note: the fake-brick wall in my 
living room, that I really don't like, is actually a great backdrop for selfies... :)

No comments about my glasses will ever  top Lee's, however:

Over the course of 2 years, I probably wore my glasses four times total when I taught Lee American Literature and then in AP Lit.

(Side note: I miss teaching those classes - and those kids. Those were the good ole' lizard hunting, machete-wielding days of yore!)

And every. single. time I wore my glasses Lee would ask: "Miss Bowers, are those different glasses than you normally wear everyday?"

I wish that I could say he was being facetious. But he wasn't.

At least in that instance, his classmates (Tanner) would typically mock senseless him for his comments - I barely had to do any mockery at all! - but still: every time, Lee?

Every time.

*Actually, I like the "look" of my glasses - I just don't like wearing them because they give  me a headache.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

In Which it Gets Significantly More Difficult

I came to a realization early this week: my sixth graders are no longer cute.

Those adorable little bundles of cuteness have disappeared, and have been replaced by something other:

Middle Schoolers.

It was a tough week. It was the kind of week where I wondered what the heck am I doing here? I could be in Myanmar teaching perfectly polite Burmese children English literature.

It was the kind of week where I wondered how did I wander into an inner-city school with no one telling me?

It was the kind of week where I started to understand that the kids go crazy in October and don't calm down until December.

That kind of week.

And it wasn't even a full moon.

Please don't misunderstand me - I am not complaining. I'm just processing. And apparently, I need an excessive amount of italics to do that, but whatever. I'll try and stop now.

Between you, and me, and the five other people who read this blog, it's been getting tougher and tougher as the year has progressed. As I began the school year, I was aware that 1) that I was going have a challenging road ahead of me  and 2) that I was going to reach a point where I no longer found it fun - because the reality of long days, absent-minded sixth graders, and lots and lots of extra "stuff" would start to crowd in on those sweet, teachable-moments. Knowing and experiencing are two different things - I'm glad I knew that this was going to happen, but it is hard when it does happen. And, it's not that it's not fun at times, and it's not that I don't like my students - I do! - but the fuzzy little honeymoon period has worn off and this is the reality: I teach a hundred and thirty or so squirrelly, squirmy, eleven-year olds who don't know how to write a paragraph, much less a sentence with all the right capital letters and punctuation.

I think I've mentioned that my school, while not quite in the city, is only a few blocks away from the city line. And, it's a Title 1 school, which means the majority of our students come from low-income families and some rather impoverished situations. I don't know how to put this politically correctly, but with those demographics come behavior challenges that you just don't see in comfortable, suburban USA.

I also knew - and know - that you can read all the books in the world on behavior management, watch every Harry Wong video, attended numerous PD sessions about classroom management, and even have almost eight years of teaching under your belt - but nothing quite prepares you for the day when you have to pick up the phone and threaten to call the police officer to come whip your class into shape.

Yep - it was that kind  of week. The kind of week where you have all five trouble makers in your Mod 7/8 class flare up at the same time, and the kind of week while you're trying to put out fires in one part of the classroom another fire is starting blaze.

The kind of week where you just. don't. know. what. to. do.

About two months ago, I woke up to a bat flying around in my bedroom. And I had absolutely no idea what to do, other than take a flying leap out of bed, scream like a girl, run down stairs and start semi-hyper-ventilating.

It was that same feeling, yesterday, when I could not rein in this particular class. I was so upset that I was shaking (but I did not cry or break down in front of the students, fortunately). Nothing really prepares you until you're in the moment. It's sort of like the first time you absolutely have to get off a hill when you're driving a stick - when no one else in the car knows how to drive a stick, and you are on a steep uphill road in the middle of Letchworth State Park with a million cars behind you, starting to honk and you are not sure if you can do it. But you do - because you have to.

So, I pulled the one kid who was being a total jerk out into the hall, yelled at the rest of the class that decided that was hilarious, threatened to call the officer (but didn't have to), then assigned an escalation of consequences to the girl who was being an absolute terror (lunch detention which turned into after-school detention, and sending her out of the room - which finally resulted in the calm that I needed, indicating that she was the center of the storm [though she was far from calm]). I gave the "I'm extremely disappointed in you" speech to the "good" kids who decided to be bad today (talking, talking, talking!), and assigned their exit ticket as homework because they had wasted all the time.*

*Yes, I know you should never assign homework as a consequence, but in this situation, they would have had time to do it in class, but they wasted the time. The sad thing is, I'll probably get only four back on Monday, but at this point, I'm fine with the zeroes. No more Miss Nice Lady.

Whew - it was rough!

But, I'm so thankful for a 6th grade team who has lots of great ideas, who doesn't blame me for the behaviors because they have them, too, in their classes.

I'm so thankful for a 6th grade team leader who doesn't make me feel like I'm inexperienced when I talk to her, but instead assures me that everyone has "a class from hell" and also gives me helpful strategies to deal with the problems without making me feel like I'm a bad teacher.

I'm so thankful that once I moved the girl out of the class, I was able to regain control of my lesson.

I'm so thankful for the handful of good kids in the class who really didn't participate in the crazy.

I'm so thankful that the majority of my classes are actually pretty well-behaved - and the majority of my students.

I'm so thankful that this was a class I've prayed for a lot - because maybe, it could have gone even worse without the power of prayer.

I'm so thankful that I've figuratively gotten that car off of that hill. I remember that day well (it wasn't a hypothetical scenario). I remember how frustrated and helpless I felt, as I tried again, and again, and again to get my car off that flippin' incline. And finally - I got it. I was shaking, close to tears, extremely embarrassed - but I got it. And I never had a problem with hills and stick-shifts again.

Now, I don't think twice about driving standard. In fact - I'd rather drive a stick than an automatic - but it took me a while to get there. So - and I realize I'm milking this metaphor now - maybe, just maybe, I will reach a point where I'll know intuitively how to handle the challenges and even like working with kids that are so troubled. I want to show those kids that I do care for them - even if they got in trouble on Thursday - and I want to be on their team and somehow let them know I'm on their team, even if it means putting them in after-school detention for their own good.

I'm am not naively believing that I've faced the toughest day that I'm going to face - nope. I'm sure there are many more crappy days to come (October-November: the crazy months). But I think I showed the kids that I mean business - that my threats aren't empty. And I showed myself that I could do it - that I could reign in the crazy, when it flares up again, which it will. I know this will happen again, but I'll think I can survive it.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

Ode to Autumn

Today was the first real Autumn day in Baltimore.

I love Autumn.

I grew up in a world without seasons. Sure, sure - we transitioned from Hot-and-Dry-Season to Hot-and-Muggy-Season to Slightly-Less-Hot-Dry-Season, and back to Hot-and-Dry-Season again in Mali, but in reality? The dramatic shifts in weather and temperature and colors that are the Northern Hemisphere's seasons are nearly non-existent in West Africa.

Fall is my favorite season. It was such a surprise to me in college when I realized that I loved - loved - Autumn. As much as I hated New York winters, that first whiff of Autumn air made me want to sing and do cartwheels around the quad with glee - even if was a harbinger of a Narnian winter of snow and ice for months without end.

Autumn reminds me that I actually like living in North America.

I love the coolness of Fall. Not too hot, but not too cold. I have my windows open, and while it's a bit chilly in my house as I write this post, the fresh, crispness of the air feels so healthy and my house seems filled with Autumn-ness.

It's also not too warm to cook, and so my house is filled with the smell of pumpkin crisp bars and bread-pudding goodness and something stewing in the crock-pot, because Autumn also makes me want to bake cozy desserts and comforting soups and creamy stroganoffs and hearty chilies.

Mmmm, bread pudding. 

I love that Fall means I can wear scarves without seeming hipster-ish and pretentious.

I like to collect scarves from the different places I've traveled to. I think I bought this scarf in Rome. Also - please try to ignore the huge bags under my eyes... 

I love scarves.

I try not to wear them when it's stupid to wear scarves, like the summer, but when Fall rolls around, I am so happy to see my colorful friends that have been pushed to the back of my closet.

Hello, my lovely friends!
I wish I could say these are all the scarves I own. But there's more.

I love that Fall means pumpkin flavored things:

Like pumpkin flavored oatmeal.

True confessions: I bought this.

And pumpkin flavored marshmallows.

I did not buy this.
Fall also means Apple Cider. I love Apple Cider! (I am definitely my father's daughter!)

I love that Fall makes me want to do crafty things that are too hot in the summer time. This weekend I've been crafting - I'm currently making yarn-wrapped wreaths and felt flowers. It's too hot to crochet or work with yarn in the summer. But it's Fall! So I can get my DIY on. (I am definitely my mother's daughter!)
I made this!

Of course I also love the changing colors of the trees, and the leaves dancing with glee - even if that means that inevitably my neighbor will be nagging me to rake up the three leaves that have fallen from the small Japanese maple in the front yard.

Fall even makes me want to go for a long luxurious run (of course, while listening to a podcast of "This American Life" about how much people love Autumn in America). Also, something about Fall makes it not sound so silly that I just put the words "luxurious" and "run" in the same sentence.

My poor running shoes have been rather neglected of late.
Last year's half-marathon...a beautiful, Baltimore Fall Day.

Autumn makes everything seem possible.

Happy Fall, friends!

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Situational Pet Peeves

In Which Danielle Climbs Back Up on her Old Familiar Soapbox

I have a lot of 'situational' pet peeves - as in, pet peeves that come and go, depending on what I'm doing, and where I'm doing it. I mean, one of my pet peeves used to be pushed-in-library-books-on-shelves. It's no longer my pet peeve. Why? Because I am no longer a library book shelver.

I'm not really one of those people who have long standing pet peeves that span all of time and space - like finger nails on a chalk board, or something. First of all, who uses chalkboards anymore? (Oh, I do - that's right - while working for a school district whose mission statement is something like 'training globally competitive graduates for the 21st century' I'm still using chalkboards like it's 1802.)

Here are a few of my current pet peeves:

1. People who write congratulatory statements on Facebook or other social media with no punctuation, or even the appropriate capital letters.

Ordinarily, I caution against excessive exclamation point usage - I never let my students use exclamation points in formal writing (never, ever, ever!) (yes, I see what I did there - it was on purpose). I let them use one or two in creative writing pieces, and even then, I generally tried to steer them away from using exclamation points, except for occasionally in dialogue.

However: If you are going to tell someone "Happy Birthday" on Facebook, why, oh why, oh why would you tell them:

happy birthday


Happy birthday

Or even:

Happy Birthday.

Come on, people! It's their birthday!

Or, there's the people who are actually writing congratulations. My brother just got engaged. (Side note: yay!) (yes, I see what did there, too.) I had to laugh as I looked at the comments appearing under his announcement:





Hello! He just got engaged! Surely you can take your right pinky finger, press down the shift key while simultaneously holding down the one key with your left ring finger.

Surely it's not that hard?

Is it?

Punctuation seems to be a problem for the general population, but something as overused as an exclamation point getting so under used in exactly the situation that a exclamation point is called for.

2. The people behind me who honk at me while I'm waiting to make a left turn.

This. Makes. Me. So. Mad.

I say very unChristian things when this happens that I am not proud of. (But I still don't curse at them, Will Martin, so don't get your hopes up.)

Everyone experiences a little road rage now and again. This makes me actually start to understand the crazy people who hunt other drivers down.

I'm a fairly cautious driver. I don't like to take unnecessary risks just to get to where I'm going faster or to get the people behind me to where they are going faster.

It's one thing when there is clearly no oncoming traffic - or a little reminder toot if the light turned green and you were zoned out - but it's entirely another thing when you know they can't see the oncoming traffic, whether it's there, or not.

My route home includes a left turn that is pretty easy to make, but the oncoming traffic is coming up a hill, so if you are not the first in line to turn left, you actually can't see the cars coming up the hill. And, if there is someone waiting in the opposite turn lane, it's even harder to see as the first in line, much less the second.

I don't know why, but lately people have decided that I should risk my life to scoot out in front of the huge semi-tractor-trailer because they have somewhere more important to be than my accident/death scene.

Seriously. It's ridiculous at the Caton Avenue and Georgetown left turn around 5:00 to 6:30. I've been making this same turn every day for a year and half, and in the last month, I've been honked at almost every time I make the turn (or, don't make the turn), without fail. I'm not being any more cautious than I usually am, but it never fails that the person behind me decides I should go, and decides that I need to know that I should go.

It is so frustrating, even when I am gratified by the car that comes zipping over the hill right after I was honked at.

I wouldn't care every once in a while, but it's ridiculous.

Baltimore drivers...they are not as crazy as Dakar drivers, but I am pretty sure there must be some Senegalese taxi men driving around in some of those big SUVs that think they rule the road and that they have the right of way simply because they are two times the size of my little Corolla.

[And a side note - a few days after writing this, I almost saw a horrible, horrible accident at this same intersection which would have definitely affected me and my car if the oncoming Semi had rammed into the car turning left in the alternate lane - it was horrible. I'm not exaggerating - the left-turning car was saved by about a second (and they had the right of way - the truck was running the light at about 50 miles/hour). Please be careful when turning!]

3. Leggings-As-Pants

Dear Girls and Unfortunate Adult Women,
Just because there are holes in the feet of your tights, this does not make them pants.


I sometimes feel that I am alone in my deep-seated hatred of leggings-worn-as-pants. I just don't get it. It's like I missed the memo where everyone got together to decide that leggings could be worn as pants.

[If you don't know what leggings are, they are either tights-materials (thin, colored hose) without feet, or often a hose in a slightly-thicker stretchy/spandex material, also without feet - sometimes called *shudder* "jeggings."]

This is one of my seasonal pet-peeves. Fall has arrived (yay!) and with Fall the pumpkin spice lattes, the Uggs, and the leggings-as-pants come out to haunt us all like the Great Pumpkin.

In all seriousness, immodesty is an epidemic in North America - and just when you think the weather will finally make some people cover up, it almost gets worse when the leggings and boots come out.

Allow me to clarify: I have no problem with people wearing leggings with a tunic, or something long enough to cover the butt. It's the people who wear a normal length top, and a pair of leggings with no coverage that drive me crazy.

And, while I am a religious person, it's not really just a conservative, religious preference.

How we dress, whether we are in a religious environment, or not, says something about us. Is it right for others to judge us by our clothing and outward appearance? Of course not! But sometimes that's all we have to go on.Whether you like it or not, the clothes that you wear say something about you and will be evaluated by the people around you for better or worse. Of course there is a time to be casual, and a time to be professional - but you never know who you are going to run into when you are out and about in the world. You never know who you're going to meet, encounter, have a conversation with. A potential friend, a potential employer, a potential colleague, or even a potential spouse.

If you're okay with a possible friend, employer, colleague, or spouse already knowing the intimate outlines of your butt - go ahead and wear those leggings as pants.

I'm not working in a situation where dress code is as much of an issue (only a few of my little 11 year olds seem to be pushing the dress-code envelope [and by the way - we do have a dress code and we do enforce it, for those of you who cry out against public schools]), but when I taught high school (oh, how I already long for those days...as much as I do enjoy my squirmy little middle schoolers), that was often an issue. In a Christian school, the girls had heard the Christian message about why it's important to dress modestly a million times, and I know they got tired of hearing it. So, I tried to occasionally couch our dress code in terms of professionalism: we are a school, we are preparing you for not just academics, but socialization and the working world. In the world, when you get a job, you are expected to dress in a certain way. Most jobs require you to dress with a measure of decorum and professionalism that is not that different from the modest dress code of the school.

But, of course, most of the women and girls wearing leggings-as-pants aren't wearing them on the job - they are relaxing after yoga, they are on a run to the store, they are just "hanging out." And why should you care about looking professional when you are on your down time? Of course not - that's not what I'm advocating. But why would you want to dress in such a way that is going to probably gain unwanted attention towards your butt (unless you really, really want that attention on your butt, and most normal women don't - and this post is for the normal women, not the ones craving the the attention). Just because it's comfortable? Because I think most of the women and girls I see are probably just wearing their yoga pants and leggings because they're comfortable. Yoga pants are comfortable. (Leggings, however, are not, and there is nothing you can do to convince me of that.)

My mom has always advised that when you are traveling, dress well. Comfortable, but dress well. She even advised that we don't wear jeans when we travel alone. (And, between you and me, I prefer not to wear jeans because jeans are not really as comfortable as we think they are, especially on ten hour flights - or twenty hour bush-taxi rides) Because if you are dressed well, if you are in trouble, people might be more inclined to help you out. If I'm stuck at an airport (or a bush-taxi gare) (or, God-forbid, a bus station) wearing leggings-as-pants and my uggs, I'm just another one-in-a-million twenty-something American girl who doesn't have a clue. If I'm stuck in an airport wearing a nice (but comfortable) dress or slightly-nicer trousers, I'm just paving the way to sweet-talk that ticket-agent into giving me a hotel voucher for the night since I'm stuck in Lisbon with no where to go - or, to convince the security guard in Lisbon to let me go to the front of the line because I'll miss my flight - or to just give me a voucher for food in the airport because I missed my flight. (The Lisbon airport and I have a long history...).

I don't know...maybe it's a stretch. But I do know that I get good results from ticket-agents, and I do know that the too-youthfully-dressed people in line behind me or in front of me often get poorer service. It also helps that I have been stuck in airports a lot and know how to push just enough for what I want without (usually) ticking off the agent.

I know that this is one particular situation, but it applies to not-travelling - as I said before - you just never know when you are going to be in a situation where you need to impress someone or where you might need help.

Mostly, it just bugs me. In case you couldn't tell from the five-hundred word rant I just delivered.

So, if everyone could just conduct themselves in ways that don't annoy me, that would be great.
Yes, I made this meme myself. I am totes cool. 

4. One last pet peeve:

People who write "tots" instead of "totes."

I mean, for the love of Pete, it's bad enough when people say "totes" in place of "totally" (which is bad enough in and of itself).

But writing "Tots"? Really?

In what kind of universe are we living that the basic rules of phonics are simply being thrown out the window, devil-may-care?

A terrible, terrible one. It's time to make a super-hero movie about grammar.

What are some of your "situational" pet-peeves?

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Supposedly Teaching, Part XI

Welcome back to the first installment of "Supposedly Teaching" in almost a year - pathetic, I know. This installment has a theme: "I'm not teaching High School anymore."

[First, a few words about Becoming Miss Bowers - then on to business.

I loved Becoming Miss Bowers. But, I just can't write two blogs. I can barely write one. So, Becoming Miss Bowers is going to be my account of my DA years. I am officially stating that I won't be posting any more posts there. But, it's still open to the public - feel free to continue to go back and read your favorite posts. Of course, I don't really expect that you'll do that, but a girl can dream, right?]

This week has been a week of reminding me just how different sixth graders and twelfth graders really are. I know I keep saying that. But, the differences just keep surprising me.

1. Sixth Graders are the biggest tattle tales. In the world. I haven't taught every sixth grader in the world, but I am pretty sure that this generalization is true.

So. Much. Tattling.

I thought that it wasn't cool to tattle?

When does it become uncool to be a tattle tale?

And, it's not that I mind kids telling me if someone is genuinely hurting (physically or verbally) another student - of course not! But the "Miiiiiiiiiiiiis, Can you tell him to stop loooooookin' at me?" is driving me up the wall.

"Miiiiiiiissssss, he was makin' fun of me at the lockers."

"Miiiiiiiiisssss, she was blocking my path."


Oh. My. Word.

I honestly don't know exactly what to do...I mean, like I said, I want to encourage students with genuine problems, but I also do not care if so-and-so looked at her.

Call me cold. Call me unfeeling. But I. Do. Not. Care.

And, inevitably, the kid who just tattled on someone for lookin' at them turns around and annoys another kids who inevitably cries out "Miiiiiiiiisssss!"

So, yesterday, I pulled out the Big Guns.

Things that My Mother Says.

"Well, I'm going to tell you what my mom says: if you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all."

"But, Miiiiiiiiiisssssss!"

"No, I'm not kidding. If you don't have anything nice to say, don't say anything at all. Also, stop looking at each other."

"But, Miiiiiiiiissssss."

I'm almost ready to pull out another one of my mom's one-liners (and, of course, the one-liner of every mom in the entire universe - even Borg Moms probably say this some days): "I'm changing my name!" (Or, if you're a Borg: "We are changing our name. Resistance is Futile.")

2. Sixth graders don't have a filter.

Yesterday, I was covering for ALC - the Alternative Learning Center i.e. In-School Suspension - during my prep period. Fortunately, it was two kids that I know, and not any big, bad scary eighth graders or something. They get a bathroom break every period when in ALC, so the two boys were approaching the door to head to the bathroom. I noticed that one of them was carrying a book in his hand (he loves to read).

"Um..." I hesitated. "You're just going to the bathroom." I explained.

The boy cheerfully nodded his head. (Seriously, for being in in-school suspension, he was downright pleasant and happy.)

"So...why are you taking your book?"

"Well." He began. "It's kind of awkward."

I braced myself.

"You see..." He paused, and a huge grin spread across his face. "I kind of have diarrhea."

"Oh." I said.

And I want to point out that I didn't say what I was about to say: "But if you have diarrhea, you should be finished quickly."

Please note that I am growing up and am learning to control my-thinking-before-I-speak-ness.

"Well, then...Just Go." I said, and he rushed off.

(Also, speaking of bodily functions...sixth graders are also really gassy. Just thought you'd like to know.)

3. Sixth graders hand you gross things and think it's okay.

In the middle of class while everyone was working independently, a girl approached me, held out her hand, and put her tooth into my unsuspecting hand.

Her tooth.

Her tooth.

Like, from her mouth.

Into my hand.

I stared at it. I've never been handed someone else's tooth before. Let me remind you that I don't have children. And 12th graders don't lose teeth.

"I just lost my tooth." She explained, somewhat unhelpfully.

"So...what do you want me to do with it?" I asked.

She shrugged.

Child, you put your tooth into my hand, and you don't know what you want me to do with it?

"Do you want to keep it?"


So, I found her a zip lock bag from my lunch box, put the tooth in the bag, and surreptitiously slathered my hand with hand-sanitizer.

And finally, I thought I would share the "goal" of the little girl with boy trouble from the post last week. Keep in mind that their bell-work for the day was to write a note to their future self - at the end of seventh grade, and to talk about several goals they would like to accomplish:

"Dear Future Self,
They only break your heart. Over and over again and if you want to date them break THERE heart."

[Grammatical error left for a little sixth grade flavor...]

That's all for this installment of "Supposedly Teaching." Join me next time for what will surely be an account of me doing something stupid in the classroom.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Settled. Ish.

Well, so far, I've survived exactly two weeks of school.

Physically, I feel a little bit like I've been thrown into the spin cycle of the washing machine - or like I've just been on a ten mile run. I come home from school and basically collapse on the couch till I go to bed. Occasionally, I remember to eat supper. It's probably a good thing I am not responsible for the care and keeping of any kind of pet - or child.

Honestly...sixth graders are a lot of work! I'm am not complaining, but holy cow! It's constant...attention. More so than high school. Constant...redirecting. Constant...awareness. My kids are, well, kids, and more so than any other "kids" I have taught. Sixth graders, at this point in the school year, are basically still in elementary. Knowing that going into this experience is quite different than experiencing it. I always joked: "There's a reason I don't teach elementary school!" (Trust me - there is.). Joke's on me. Here I am, doing "1-2-3 Eyes on Me" and counting down from five and scrambling to remember any and every elementary classroom management strategy I've ever heard of to implement into my classroom.

It's a pretty steep learning curve. I feel like there is a huge well of wisdom and knowledge that I am only just peering into, but can't access except for time and experience (and lots of professional development hours and helpful hints from other teachers). It really helps, though, to have six years of teaching under my belt.

I actually really like my students (so far). There are definitely some stinkers (both figuratively and literally), but they are, for the most part, sweet and eager to please. They smile, laugh at my corny jokes, appreciate my terrible Scottish accent (that drifts into Irish and Pirate if left unchecked) and eagerly approach me in the hallway to talk about the Loch Ness Monster (what we've been studying in Reading - hence the Scottish accent), or to ask me for advice about boys.

(Yeah, the irony of that isn't lost on me.)

One of my little girls keeps asking me, as she lingers before heading to lunch: "Miss Bowers...what do you do about boys?" and has told me on more than one occasion: "I'm having a rough day. Boy trouble." I just tell her that I generally ignore them, and I'm content. Today, she sighed mournfully and said: "That only works for some people."

(So cute! And hilarious!)

People keep asking me if I like it so far. I feel like it's too soon to tell. I'm in a really different place, personally, than I was at the start of the school year last year. A good place. I think I'm in a place, professionally, where I can really grow as a teacher. I've finally found a church (that I love!). I feel like I have a slowly growing circle of friends.

It's taken a year and half.

A year and a half of my adult life to feel somewhat settled, somewhat "transitioned." I honestly never, ever expected it to take this long. Because, I'm a grown-up now and I should know better. And I should be good at this transition stuff after approximately twenty-nine years of experiencing it.

Considering it's taken me this long, to be honest...I'm probably not going anywhere for a little while, unless God really, really smacks me in the face with a change of plans.

And, a year ago - six months ago, even - I would have utterly despaired at writing that statement. But, I think I'm here, for now. It's not easy. My family is far away. My best friends are far away. I am very much alone in many ways. But I'm a little more comfortable with that.

There are days, like today, when I really miss having a roommate, because today was a crazy day - too crazy to write about on my blog for confidentiality reasons. (I was so, so blessed to have roommates and close friends just an apartment away to talk to on the rough and/or crazy days.) There are days I wish I didn't have to pick up the phone to externally process. Or write on my blog about it, albeit vaguely.

But I'm a little more comfortable with that.

I've said many times since being hired last month that I'm pretty sure this is going to be a tough year - it already is in a number of ways. But I think it helps that I feel so much more like myself now. I know last year I really struggled to find myself here in these United States. I still feel a bit lost, but I'm getting there. Even though my new school is yet another (huge) transition, I think it's a place that I can see myself becoming a part of.

So, this is where I am, two weeks in.

Settled. Ish.

What a strange sensation.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

So Many Random Thoughts from this First Week of School

1. Holy Cow. I always forget how absolutely tiring the first week of school is.

2. For some reason that I will never understand, I wore heels to school yesterday (the first day of school). I had to climb the 3 flights up to my floor about seven hundred times. My toes are still numb.

3. Sixth graders are so cute. I know they will turn into monsters in, oh, about a week. But for now, man these kids are adorable.

4. It has been a crazy, crazy week. It's probably been the least smooth "first-day-of-school" since I've started teaching - I've just felt discombobulated. Not entirely sure why.

5. Here's a reason: this morning, I made it all the way to my exit on the interstate...and suddenly could not remember if I had turned off my frying pan. I've been forgetting lately, and I could not remember the action of turning it off. So, yes, I went home and checked. It was off. Part of me hoped that it was on, just to justify the trip and wasted time. Fortunately, my new school is a bit closer than last year, but it definitely was not convenient. But I didn't want to burn down my block...so...I'll double check tomorrow. And I'll proceed to spend the next month telling myself out loud "I turned off the burner on the stove" each time.

5. Wow. So many new acryonms when you teach in public school. I have no idea what people are saying to me. Smile, nod, and google it later, I suppose.

6. So far, I really have been impressed with the general kindness, warmth and openness of the faculty and staff at my school. I think it's a tough population of kids, but I have been inspired by how gracious, compassionate, and genuinely caring the faculty and staff that I have observed have been. Excited to be a part of this group of people.

7. I am quickly learning, as I transition from private to public school, that if you taught in some random school in Africa, well, you haven't taught at all. [Sarcasm Sign] It also doesn't help that I look like I'm 16. Fortunately no one has asked me for my hall pass.

8. Even though I bristle when people act like I don't know what I'm doing because I taught in some random school in Africa (ugg - I'd just prefer to be treated like someone who hasn't taught in public school...not as someone who hasn't taught at all), I feel like it's my first year of teaching all over again. Is it possible to ever start at a new school and not feel that way?

9. Random quotes:
From another teacher: "I don't know what kind of teaching situation are coming from...The principal said you taught in Africa...and that you didn't have electricity there?"

From a sixth grade boy: "Miss Bowers, I hate to break it to you, but if you were born in Africa, and you grew up in Africa...you're from Africa."

From another student: "But how can you be from Africa?? I mean, your hair looks like it's from Africa." (??!) (I should add that this came from, well, an African American student...but, hey, maybe they're confused? Because we also have an African American student with red hair and freckles...)

10. One of the posters I put up by my desk is a "retro" travel poster for Gallifrey - the Doctor's home planet. I didn't expect any one to get it, but one of my kids came up to me and asked me if I liked Doctor Who! I was so excited!

11. Tomorrow is Friday - and a 3-day weekend. Looking forward to being able to regroup and get my head in the game.

It's been a ridiculous three weeks - but I'm so thankful to have a job, and hopeful that despite the newness of it all that I'll find my place and find my teaching groove soon so that I can really help these adorable monsters reach their potential.

Saturday, August 9, 2014

Well, that escalated quickly.

One week ago, I wrote about uncertainty about my future. One week ago, I did not know what was going to happen to in me one week, two weeks, or two months. This may sound melodramatic, but it's true: I've spent the whole summer in this odd sort of limbo, literally (literally! used correctly!) not knowing what I would be doing at the end of August. It's a strange, strange feeling. Sort of like looking at one of those infinity pools at fancy-shmancy hotels, but not nearly as relaxing.

As of today, I have a bit of a better idea! Today, I was officially offered a position for middle school Language Arts/English at a school in Baltimore County (for professional and personal reasons I won't share the name of the school on the blog or social media but feel free to ask privately). I am not even sure what grade yet, though I believe eighth grade. I was officially offered the position, and I officially accepted about three seconds after the offer was made.

It started on Tuesday: I got three different messages all at the same time from three friends at my previous school, letting me know there was a job fair for Baltimore County. Baltimore County is the school district that I stupidly (no, really, it was stupid) missed the deadline for English screening interviews. But, Lo! and Behold! There on the list of six different general areas of critical need was...wait for it...middle school English. I could go to this job fair and interview without having had a screening interview. The most ridiculous and best part of the job fair? They were planning to extend job offers the day of the job fair.

If you smell a scent of desperation in the air, well, it's there - from what I understand, this district has had a record number of retirements this summer, and a record number of vacancies. This is part of the reason I have been kicking myself so hard about missing the screening interviews...if any school district was going to hire me, this was the one because they need able bodied teachers.

Well, the joke's on them, 'cause they did hire me. So there! Take that, deadline! And the receptionist who curtly informed me I had missed it!

The job fair itself was a whirlwind, and somehow I got on some sort of fast track through the interviews that I can only attribute to God, and possibly clerical error.Though I wasn't the first English candidate waiting, I seemed to be sent into my interviews immediately, while the others that I knew were there for English and were in line before me, somehow were not.

I got there too early, and sat and read nervously in my car for 25 minutes before I deemed it "cool" enough to go in (as in, I didn't want to be the first, awkward person there and seem too eager). I was given Number 30, and asked to wait. I waited about twenty minutes, before being taken back into a hallway-acting-as-a-office, passed my documents to the HR screener (after awkwardly sitting in his chair, and then having to switch), who glanced over them, declared that they gladly hired teachers from New York (where I went to college, but hardly where I'm from!) and led me to the next stage of the interviews.

A young woman then sent me into a scary room filled with a sea of interviewers - administrators from the various schools, and sat me down at a table with an assistant principal. We exchanged greetings, and he said: "Well, the position that I'm interviewing you for is eighth grade math. Don't be nervous - you'll do fine," he said kindly.

"Well, actually....I'm here to interview for English. I'm pretty sure you don't want me teaching math," I said feebly. We chuckled together, awkwardly, and I was sent out of the room.

Two minutes later, the same young woman led me to the same table, and the same assistant principal. I was puzzled.

"I'm just going to do your general screening interview," he explained congenially. And we were off.

Job interviews are a funny thing for me. I typically have a hard time remembering what I've said after the fact. I talk so much and so fast and so exuberantly, and I sometimes don't know where the things I'm saying come from, or I find myself bringing up teaching anecdotes from moments I've completely forgotten, but suddenly, there they are, coming out of my mouth as if I had planned to share them (and the actual anecdotes I planned to share are no where in my brain to be found).

After the first interview, I sat down for another five minutes or so, and then was pulled into the intimidating administrator-filled room to interview with another assistant principal - this one for a school actually looking for an English teacher. This interview was much easier than the first, because she just scanned the notes from the first interview, asked me a few more directed questions and then hinted that she was very interested in offering the position.

Twenty minutes after that, I was sitting down with human resources personnel being officially offered the job. Like I said - I accepted in a heartbeat. I had already decided in advance that if offered a position, I would accept. I prayed a lot about it in the days before, and I believe that if God lead me to this job fair, and lead me so far as to actually be offered a job, after waiting so long to find one, that it would be kind of crazy to turn down any offer I received.

I drove home in a daze - an actual daze. I'm not sure how I got back, but fortunately I got home safely.

It's still rather surreal, and I know that it will be for the next week or so - and then, of course, the panic will set in, but we'll cross that bridge when we come to it with, inevitably, another blog post, I'm sure.

Thanks for your prayers. Last Friday I honestly did not really have much hope that I would find something. Again - I was being more realistic than negative (I still hold to that!), because realistically, it's hard to assert yourself when you have no face-to-face access with administrators and no knowledge of the positions available. This job fair was not even on my radar, and I owe a huge thanks to my friends who brought it to my attention. (And, one of those friends is looking for an elementary teaching position - so if you think of it, you could now shift those prayers for me to find a job and offer up some prayers for her - or, if you know of an elementary job opening in the Baltimore area...let me know asap!)

This school is going to have it's challenges. Baltimore County is not Baltimore City (different districts), and so I'm not going to be teaching in the "inner city," though it is only just over the city line. It will be a different kind of population than I have taught. I'll be teaching "blue-collar" kids (as my mom tactfully put it), rather than the children of ambassadors. I say that not to sound pretentious, but to honestly and humbly say that I recognize that this will be a huge challenge for me. I know that I will have classroom management struggles, and I know that the academics abilities and expectations of my students will be different than I have taught. I'll be stretched to make adjustments in my teaching practices, and stretched to reach kids for whom school and academics do not come naturally. But I'm really, really excited - perhaps naively so, but right now, I don't care about being naive. I'm thrilled that God opened this door for me, and I believe with all my heart that God lead me to this place, this school - whatever challenges may lie ahead.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Holding Pattern

It's August 1st, and I'm still waiting for a job. And, yes, I'm still trying to trust that God is going to work it all it out. It's not that I don't believe that it will work out, I'm just in the midst of not being sure it's going to work out because I can't see the future.

Not that I could see the future before, but when you have a job, you at least have a sense of what is going to happen to you one month, two months, six months, twelve months later. When you decide to quit your job (despite feeling an enormous peace that it is the right thing to do), it's a bit scarier. God provides...but of course I am feeling a bit more anxious about that provision as I just got my final pay check.

It's really scary to step out in faith. It's also kind of idiotic, practically speaking. I'm a rather practical person, and so a big part of me keeps kicking myself for doing so. But, there's this other part of me that feels so relieved to get out of such an uphappy situation that I don't care if I end up being a Wal-Mart greeter (or worse - one of their surly cashiers). Actually, I do care if I end up a surly Wal-Mart cashier, but you know what I mean, right?

I've been pretty realistic with myself about my prospects of actually finding a full-time position - that I probably won't. No idealism for me. That doesn't make me want it less, and doesn't make me feel less discouraged at the prospect of not finding one. I say realistic - my parents have told me I've been negative. It's just hard to have faith that something will come along. It's easier to see the glass as half empty so that when something doesn't come along, you don't feel as disappointed.

My attempts at finding a job seem to be rebuffed. All school districts in Maryland are the counties, and every district is the same set up - applicants are placed in candidate pools, rather than being able to apply for individual positions.

I missed a deadline for screening interviews for one school district/county (ironically, the school district that is having record numbers of retirement this year) because of my own stupidity. No, really - it was a stupid mistake, don't try and tell me it wasn't (even though, in my own defense, I was never informed there was a deadline), and as a result I won't be in the candidate pool for that district this year unless by some miracle they run through all of their English candidates. The other district/county that I applied to seemed to be a viable option, but as much as I have pushed the HR department there (ironically, it's the one department where I actually know someone who works there, though she doesn't have hiring powers or interview-setting-up-powers), I haven't been given a second interview (it's a 3-step interview process) even though I was given the green flag to go onto the second interview a year ago. Without that 2nd interview, I cannot be in the candidate pool, and therefore I am unable to be considered for open positions. And, in the third district/county, though I am now in the candidate pool (I had the screening interview last week), I have heard nothing since. New staff orientation starts August 11th. It's up to the individual schools and principals to contact me now, and let's face it...English teachers are a dime a dozen, and though I have six years of experience under my belt, none of that is in public schools and I don't have my master's degree after all this time.

So, I've waited this summer, feeling guilty that I haven't really looked for a non-teaching job yet, partly because I've been financially okay, and partly because of the hope that I would get a full-time teaching job. I haven't been  moping around, as mopey as this post sounds - I've had a pretty relaxing summer. Just so you know, if I don't get a full-time position, I'm hoping to sub, which at least gets my foot slightly in the door, and keeps me in the classroom.

I'm not really sure what the point of this post is. Maybe just to update everyone - or anyone - who cares a bit about my small little lonely life here in Baltimore, Maryland. Maybe just to throw my voice out there, to join the cacophony of people complaining about their lives, and how it isn't turning out the way we wanted it to. Maybe just to ask you to pray, if you pray, for me. Not so much that I'll get a job, as nice as that would be, but that I would have faith, that I would trust, that I would lean not on my own understanding. Because my own understanding whispers in my ear, telling me that I'm no good, that I was foolish to quit my job, that being extremely unhappy is better than being unable to pay my bills, that nothing will come along, and I'll be forced to get an unfulfilling, pointless job. My own understanding is a jerk and something of a liar...and so I need to seek His way, His truth, His peace.

Thanks for listening, friends.

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Musings on a Thursday, 6.12.14

It's time for an update, a vent or two, summer notes, and some prayer requests.

1. It's official!
It's summer, baby. Bring on the beach, the pool, the Netflix and the stacks of guilt-free reading. Today was the last day for teachers at my school. Hip-hip-hooray!

2. A bittersweet decision...
Many know, but many do not know, that I decided to leave my school at the end of this year (which makes today my official last day). There's a short story and a long story (if you want the long story, you'll have to buy me coffee). The short story is, that when all was said and done, I was not a great fit. I think it is a good school, and I thoroughly admire and respect the people who work there (and I will miss the friends that I made there). I believe it was the right thing to do - both for me, and for the school - and I have peace about the decision to resign. The next step, however, is a bit unclear.

3. A leap of faith into the great unknown...
I am currently looking for teaching jobs (again), mainly focusing on public schools for the moment. I am working on scheduling interviews, filling out job applications, and trying to network (even though it feels like I don't really know anyone. I am trusting that 1) God wants me to stay in the United States at the moment and 2) that He will provide for me. If I don't find a teaching position, I hope to sub or find a para-educator position (i.e. teacher's assistant). Prayers would be appreciated! I am not anxious yet, because I am still basking in the relief that it's summer vacation, but I do need to be proactive and I do hope that something will come up in the next couple of weeks. Please pray that I can at least get curriculum interviews with the various districts I'm applying to out of the way. Maryland has HUGE school districts, because each county is a district, and so most applicants are put into a candidate pool (unless you know people, and I don't know know people). I probably won't have school-specific principal interviews until mid-July, as teachers are not required to declare retirement until July.

4. The nebulous prayer-request...
I know, I know - you all thought my nebulous prayer request of a few weeks ago (for my readers who are my facebook friends) was probably about leaving my school. It was, and it wasn't. As I grew increasingly certain that God was leading me from my current school, I started looking for other jobs. Knowing that I had hoped all along to get a job in an international school in a few years, I started looking for international school jobs. I was able to network and found an opening at an international school in Myanmar, of all places. I interviewed and was offered the position - and given a week to decide. I was so sure was going to Myanmar (it was a pretty unique and incredible opportunity)...but every time I composed the email to accept the position, I could not hit send. I just sensed as the week went on that God was asking me to stay in the United States for a little while longer. Believe me, it was hard to give up the adventure, the certainty of a job, and the lucrative salary for life in these United States.

However, I think that God wanted me to stay here because of and in spite of my poor experience this past year - first, that I shouldn't escape to Myanmar because of a rocky first year back in the United States, and second, that there's more for me here than I've discovered - more than just good milk, food trucks, and speedy internet. In part, I think God really wants me to get involved in a church, and to put down a few roots before I go jetting off again - whether to Myanmar - or Mali.

5. A church!
At last, after almost a year and half, I think I've found a church. It seems to have a lot of the things on my unspoken checklist - small, multi-generational, friendly without being creepy, community groups, specific outreach to the community, strong Bible teaching, and moderate music (as in, not a rock and roll concert, but not slow and staid, either). There's a lot more that a person should look for in a church, but these seemed to be items that I looked for, consciously or unconsciously, as I sought a church. I am excited about the opportunities to get plugged in and to get involved in their ministries. I hate to admit this, but I haven't really looked forward to going to church since I've been back in the US, and it's been really...refreshing to look forward to Sunday morning again.

6. A summer project:
I always have big plans for what I am going to get done over summer vacation. Typically, what ends up happening is that I do not accomplish the majority of those things, if any. So, I am going to keep my hopes and dreams relatively small, and just try and do one main "thing." I am planning on creating something like this:
for my classroom for the fall. (Is it counting your chickens before they hatch to create decorations for a classroom for a job that you don't have yet??) I wanted to do something like it this year, but felt that signs pointing to Hogwarts might be frowned upon, so I held off. (Of course Hogwarts doesn't need to be on the sign, but I would know that it needs to be.) I am hoping to have a travel-themed classroom...as in...'a good book can take you anywhere.' I have found all of these vintage-style travel posters (thank you, Pinterest) for places in books, like Narnia, Minas Tiras, or the Hundred Acre Wood, as well as good quality prints of fictional maps. 

I really need to be hired so that I can put my cute classroom ideas into effect. Sheesh.

7. And now time for a vent...
Yesterday, I was suckered into buying a Bath and Body Works Wallflower plug-in and scent. (Stupid sale signs...). I plugged it in this morning...went to school...came home...the house smelled lovely...and I looked at the little bottle and it was empty. The oil evaporated away in less than 10 hours. I'm sorry, but isn't that a little bit ridiculous?? (Yes, it is). Considering it costs a lot more for a Bath and Bodyworks plug-in, than, say, Febreeze or Glade, it is a bit ridiculous. So, folks, it might be nice to have your favorite B&BW scent pumping out into your living room - but a candle will last much, much longer. 

(Hey, that wasn't so much of a vent...there was no shouting.)

*Update, 6/13/14: Someone pointed out that I probably had the plug upsidedown...I checked. I did. I had bought a decorative plug, and I thought the fish was leaping up...apparently it's leaping down! I'm glad! I take back my vent, B&BW!*

8. And now time for a love letter...
To Trader Joe's Mac & Cheese. (Sorry - not that kind of love letter. No actual romance for this gal.) It tastes so, so, so good. So. Good. It should probably be illegal. I am glad that Trader Joe's is relatively far away from me, because I would probably purchase it far too often in the name of "comfort food" and grow horrifically obese - the kind of horrifically obese that would require a crane to lift me out of my house so that I could go buy more Trader Joe's Mac & Cheese. It's that good.

9. Speaking of growing horrifically obese...
Remember that half-marathon I ran last year? That I was so, so proud of? Well, I pretty much never ran again after that. Oh, here and there, but not really, and certainly not any great distance. I was going to run another half in March, but Winter happened, and I just never really could find the motivation to run in the Polar Vortex. But, summer is here, and I have been longing to run lately. I am looking forward to having the time to build an exercise routine into my life again, and hopefully: keep to it. I hope to run the Baltimore Half in October, again - it's such a fun race, and since I know it's a fun race, it's good motivation to train for it again. 

Thanks for listening to my musings and ramblings. Hope that your summers are off to tremendous starts! I, for one, am celebrating by eating Trader Joe's Mac and Cheese for supper (of course!).

Sunday, May 18, 2014

"Taking Stock"

I'm trying a little writing exercise to try and jog the writer's block out of my head. Thanks to Elizabeth at samandscout.com for the idea. I really like her blog - check it out!

"Taking Stock"

Making...Summer plans and lists (warning - summer is probably going to be a big theme of this post).

Cooking...Not much of anything these days. But, I am hoping to try out some new recipes, you guessed it, this summer.

Drinking...Coffee. I've held out all school year from drinking coffee during the school day, but I finally broke down for these last few weeks of school!

Eating...Trader Joe's Mac and Cheese. Oh. My. Word. It should be illegal.

Reading...Not much for "pleasure" recently, but I just finished reading Dante's Inferno with my 10th grade, and really enjoyed it (No, I've never read it, which is probably terrible as an English major). I haven't even allowed myself to make a summer reading list yet - too tempting!

Watching...Crash Course World History videos. These help to make history, well, fun and engaging. Something I haven't really done a good job of this year. I also recently watched The Lizzie Bennet Diaries. Ah-Maz-ing. (Caution: once you start, you can't stop, so make sure you have an open schedule before beginning these.)

Wanting...More motivation and more hours in a day. Is that too much to ask for??

Praying...For God's will and direction in my life. Ah! Why is being a grown-up so hard! This was not what was advertised!

Looking...At all my Class of '10 students college graduation pictures on Facebook. I'm so proud!

Playing...Who has time for playing?

Wasting...Time by writing this post instead of grading the two sets tests I want to get graded by Wednesday! (And please, no snide remarks about assigning the tests...I had to do it!)

Wishing...That I had the answers to some hard questions.

Enjoying...Having my mom here! She's here for 3 weeks for my brother's college graduation.

Mowing...My lawn for the first time with a manual mower. I felt simultaneously old-fashioned and like a hipster (which is basically the same thing, of course).

Waiting...For Thursday, when my mom and I drive to Southern Illinois for Ben's graduation!


Wondering...About my future.

Hoping...To start running regularly again once school is out. And, hopefully do some biking, as well. If you could please not hold me to either of these things, that would be great.

Marveling...That my identity is not in me, in my own works, in my own accomplishments, but in Christ. Wow. I'm also marveling that I need to be reminded of this again, and again - that I consistently forget where my "worth" is from.

Needing... 1) a massage 2) a magical grading fairy.

Smelling...Like Bath and Body Works "Sweet Pea" body spray. I was so thrilled the other day when the checkout girl at Home Depot complimented me on my on my scent - mostly because I hadn't showered that day (too much information?).

Wearing...These adorable criss-cross taupe/nude sandals from Target (nude is the new black, people). They go with EVERYTHING. Yes, I'm aware that I'm shouting.

Noticing...That birds start sing around 4:00 in the morning, and I don't like it.

Knowing...That there are less than 3 weeks of school left (and wondering if I can not unravel before then!)

Thinking...About what I could have done differently this school year.

Reflecting...On God's grace.

Bookmarking...Creative teaching Pins. Thank you, Pinterest!

Opening...My grading folder after writing this post.

Giggling...Over my 7th graders; I like them.

Feeling...Exhilarated about seeing so many dear friends and family members in just a few days!